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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

30 October, 2004


Salted beans
Swirling in the green
Liquid, like submerged elephant-gods

I dip my finger
Into the verdant concoction
Parting the colliding
Waters, like a modern Moses

A delicate softness
Steamy yet sublime
Wet yet velvety

I lick my finger
A twang of lime
A breath of garlic
A whisper of coriander

Sorted tastes
Each in its well-defined
Corner, combining to form
Culinary confabulation


Untitled ...

Love, touch me sweetly softly shy
Love, feel me what my thoughts belie
Love, show me all unimagined
Love, fly me on the wings of wind
Love, hold me till they scream: my veins
Love, hurt me till they bleed: my pains
Love, seed the flower over where I lie
Love, hover nigh as a butterfly


A new story...

You pocketed
My secrets
In the folds
Of your white shirt,
And walked away.


You’ll stand
And watch
My dazzle act
And grin silently, arms
Folded, in the shadows.

You’ll watch
As I distract
Lesser men, with my
Dangly pearl ear-rings.

You’ll see
More of me
When I but raise
An eyebrow, you’ll push
Another mocha smirk my way.

Just admit
Before you touch
Another hidden chord,
You were ravaged too,
And not exactly unwillingly.


29 October, 2004


These keys
That I tap
For sonic delight
And literary sunlight
Produce packets
Of ancient lore
Covered by cobwebs of thought-bore
I blow away
The colluding threads
With the breath of my dreams
So do you see them now?
Lilac-colored tales
From the digital entrails
Of the cyberoptic underground



Is Your Face A Mirror?

I want to first write a poem and then, request the erudite reader to go down scroll down and read a Japanese folk tale which says the same thing.


Often I have turned up my eyes
after reading a paper that suffocates
my soul, to see sheer boredom all around

and ofen with galvanized movements,
I've looked up to see electric responses

and irritating bits of news
mushrooming all around as sheets of pique.

Voices carry,
and don't be surprized
if your hidden fears
get refected magnified and rebounce
to shake up the whole world.

House of 1000 Mirrors
Japanese folktale - Author Unknown

Long ago in a small, far away village, there was place known as the House of 1000 Mirrors. A small, happy little dog learned of this place and decided to visit. When he arrived, he bounced happily up the stairs to the doorway of the house. He looked through the doorway with his ears lifted high and his tail wagging as fast as it could. To his great surprise, he found himself staring at 1000 other happy little dogs with their tails wagging just as fast as his. He smiled a great smile, and was answered with 1000 great smiles just as warm and friendly. As he left the House, he thought to himself, "This is a wonderful place. I will come back and visit it often."

In this same village, another little dog, who was not quite as happy as the first one, decided to visit the house. He slowly climbed the stairs and hung his head low as he looked into the door. When he saw the 1000 unfriendly looking dogs staring back at him, he growled at them and was horrified to see 1000 little dogs growling back at him. As he left, he thought to himself, "That is a horrible place, and I will never go back there again."

Moral: All the faces in the world are mirrors. What kind of reflections do you see in the faces of the people you meet?


The Bridge


Pausing for breath
I stand in the middle
Of a rickety old bridge
And see
The sun setting in front of me
And the moon rising behind.
I stare at my shadow
In the red
And my reflection
In silver.
The waters rise.


I am now thirsty
And I sleep on my feet
Like a horse
Like a tired racehorse,
Sleeping to forget
My dry throat.
I dream
Of stars
Burning the sky
And falling
Like tear streaks.


Must have made
This old bridge
For others to cross
To the other side.
I think
I should jump now
And swim.
Perhaps then
I’d develop
Muscles on my arms.



An inexplicable deep anxiety grips my soul.
I am tormented by the thought that love still eludes me.
Dejection, rejection and castration
Are all I can offer myself
While content with the knowledge that
My person is no less beautiful than any other.

I am coming to terms with my selfishness,
I am learning to accept it slowly.
It’s distasteful but true.
I feel ashamed of it but see no stolid reason to change.
Even the little change I do adopt now and then
Is hypocritical, I know:
A thin shell that can crack in a whim

I like to be brash but cannot take brashness.
My ego hurts terribly when
My vanity faces silly encumbrances.
Am I really this shallow a person? I must be.

I’m looking for love
But my motive is selfish nonetheless.
I can’t bear to look at myself
That am desperate for someone else
To find any faint resemblance to goodness in me.
And there again I’ve lost
For the lot I’ve thrown myself into
Is the only lot that might appreciate me.

Life is a sick game.
They tell you the good will win in the end
And if you listen and they do then you’re lucky.
But the signs are otherwise.
The signs favor the bad
So supposing you’re good and then bad wins,
You miss out on everything.
Tough luck huh!

I feel sadder each day,
With a huge sorrow growing only deeper inside me.
Something I’m too scared to share with anyone.
Something I can’t share with anyone.
How much I loathe myself!
I feel stupid asking God for forgiveness -
How many times will He just go on?

I know I can’t promise
Not to stray from the path of righteousness.
Do I hurt people? Yes.
Do I lie? Blatantly.
Dishonesty - it kills you from within.
I wish I could stop myself.

I’m such a weakling and I pretend to be so strong.
My whole life is a pretense.
What’s my purpose? What’s my purpose?
I cannot go on living like this.
It hurts.
My existence has absolutely no meaning.

Why am I like this?
The pleasures that have me hanging on to them lustily
Are so veneer. Why can’t I let go?
Why will I not succor what’s important?
People bore me to death.
There isn’t anyone whose company can hold me in a spell.
I just flow on with the masses.

You know what I’m talking about don’t You?
I’m desperate.
I know I’m not sick or maimed
But if I needed help ever,
I need it now so badly.
My heartbeat has vanished and so has my will
I am living the life of a zombie.



27 October, 2004

A Prayer

Dear God
Make me a virgin
As the Magdalene,
Staring into the mirror
Of her forgiven immorality
Searching for an evidence
Of the Devil’s accusation;
Finding only
The death skull behind
And the rising light
Of the world’s candle
Before her.

With reference to the painting Magdalene at the Mirror by Georges de La Tour.


26 October, 2004


When i went out, it was sunny,
so i put on my shades.
And you said I forgot
to tell you I’m getting married.
Please be happy for me.
So i put on my shades and smiled.
People in the train looked
at my red eyes and straggly hair.
i could have assured each one of them
that it wasn’t a hash induced glaze
but it seemed much easier to put on my shades;
So I came back enclosed
in my portable, personal dark.
And then i took off my shades.

From long ago and far away



At nineteen, I wasn't like this.

I didn't talk innuendo;
I didn’t know how.
and I just knew, love was waiting
for me to graduate.

At nineteen, I did not practice verbosity.

I wrote for intra-mural participation certificates.
I wrote, for they told me, I had poetry in me…
Terrible rhymes, I wrote, contorted into lameness
in the effort to rhyme.

At nineteen, I was not a funny shape.
I was not plump and thin, smooth and scarred.
I worked, resisted work,
And hid in the bathroom. Tears -
my shame and pride.

At nineteen, I had no tricky charm.
I smiled rarely, if at all.

I grasped the world, without grabbing it,
nor grappling for my two column worth in it.

At nineteen, I wasn't homeless,
nor Godless.
I knew a home and took a bus back.
Fought one God in a chapel and found another tramping in the Dargah.

At nineteen, I strained at the leash that was me.
At nineteen, I waited for life.

Written long, long ago... I wrote bad poetry, much beyond nineteen.



You throw your hammer at me you Thor,
Convert my dreams to ashes and perform
My funeral rites.
Think it not too much expense of energy dear father,
All this to keep me worthy of your sky
That I may rise from my grave? I turn
And suffer from insomnia.

I have not always agreed with you,
With your great light, your thundering voice
You threw me in shadow, you stole my music,
I played my guitar
And heard my semi-breve’s whimper
Like dotted hemidemisemi-quavers
In the rotundness of your presence.

I tried so hard to salve the stabs
On your tender heart and ended up
Causing more with my blunt knife.
Father you have now woken up to exact revenge
On your negative Elektra,
Can’t you see I have put down my weapons?
Oh, I forgot, I had gouged out your eyes.


Stories at the Coffee Table contest: Last date for entries extended

You now have more time to hone and polish your entries. The last date for you to send in your entries to the Stories at the Coffee Table contest is now 15th November 2004. We look forward to receiving yours.


What are your favourite online writing and reading resources?

We have a large selection of links that we hope writers and readers will enjoy. You'll see most of them (sorted alphabetically) in the left panel here, under "Recommended," and a sorted list on our site.
Do tell us what you think of the selection.
If you have some links of your own to recommend, even better. Either mail them in, or leave a comment here, with the URL and why you think that site is a useful addition. (Note to the Contributors: perhaps you can post reviews of the sites you find most useful? Feel free to pick up one of the existing links, or choose one of your own.)

25 October, 2004


At low tide
I found love
By my side
By the blue dawn
Perceptive and indulgent

At high tide
I found love
Tortured by pride
In broken sea shells
Brittle and suspicious

At dawn
I found love
On my green lawn
Lying naked
Vulnerable and cruel

At night
I found love
Hidden from sight
In my heart
Like a metaphor of emotion
From Nature’s breast



24 October, 2004


to my whispers,
electric streaks
tearing across a deaf sky

an inscrutable universe
vibrating knowingly

dissolving into whorls
of possibilities...

(c) Max Babi


23 October, 2004

SMS verse contest

Inspird by ths.herez d rulz.up 2 160 charctrs,includng spaces.NE subjct.SMS abrevs & bad spelng encuragd.prizes:2 Gmail inVt8ns.entries only via commnt buttn.*

22 October, 2004

Stealing lines

my lines seep into you
your lines ooze from invisible cracks
smack into mine

my thoughts hover around you
like a barely felt miasma

my feelings crackle into the indolent
body of your spaced out emotions

your thoughts fuel me on this endless quest
your feelings prop me up when I fall in a heap
your emotions sparkle through my darknesses
your words leave my mouth

the mouth that has hungered for so long...

(c)Max Babi



As the rickety bus
screeched to a thudding halt
I idly looked outside,
sure enough,
a young lady on the curb
put out a hand,
her glistening eyes full
of pure mischief,
contrasting terribly with
feigned driving-need for help

our eyes met, and I laughed
abruptly she laughed too...
with gesture implying
futility in its infinite endlessness
she pulled back

and my heart lurched
soon as I realised
her right leg was missing
from mid-thigh downwards
-but the bus lurched onwards.

Those joyfilled lustrous eyes
that irrepressible joie de vivre
that impatience to get back
to horseplay with buddies

ever so sharply
with a platoon of worried
sick everyday faces

swooshing down on me
like a phalanx of restless
ghosts with eternal hungers

leaving me to
wonder, and untangle
the severe strands of confusion.

(c) Max Babi



are moments of lucidity
flashing playfully scenes
that the mind fears to conjure

like faith belief trust
are simply the invisible glue
holding the self together :
sternly mocking at our pseudo
-notional excesses

in their pristine purity
never ever lie
it's just that our mercenary language
mindlessly distorts them
beyond repair
beyond recognition.


(c) Max Babi



have I encountered
truth falling like a splinter
out of my own

- Sonia Menezes


19 October, 2004

SMS verse

I hug your indifference tight;
Trying to comfort
my tired nights.
Our fire leaves my soul cold;
lashes wet.
I am still defrosting
from the time
we last met.

--- Read on Oct 16, Caferati Meet, New Delhi


In Search of Jiya

How did this silly yellow notebook change the way I’d thought about her for 30 years? I touched the plastic cover. She wouldn’t have bought a notebook with a plastic cover to write her most private thoughts. This was a woman who loved natural fabrics, the beauty of texture and touch. I’ve seen her in bookshops, caressing books and folders and files. Sometimes if she didn’t like the cover, she wouldn’t read a book. How did she pour out her words into this ugly little ‘diary’?

Poo often asked me, “What is Jiya like?”

And my reply would be different each time. There were so many facets to Jiya. Usually I would end with “mature, warm, one of the few people I know who copes best with what life offers and turns it into joy”

Poo would say, “What does she look like?”
Why do people always want to know what other people look like?

And I would say , “ She has a smile and eyes that talk all the time”.

Poo said, “That’s not what I mean. You don’t even have a photograph. Is she tall and slim? What is her hair like? Is she fair? Compare her to someone we know.”

I can’t compare Jiya. I could never compare Jiya to anyone else. I turned to Jiya whenever I needed my life interpreted. I turned to Jiya to talk about the world, the human condition, God. She was quick, she knew what I was going to say almost before I said it. She became me while I said what I had to. We talked and it was like she moved my thoughts around, gently, playing with them, dropping some, adding a few, and by the time I said “OK, I have to run”, I was happier, lighter and the world made more sense.

I said to her once, “Jiya, you weave magic” and she laughed and said “no, I just live life… but you know how it is, life is magic.”

Many lives ago I realized that it wasn’t just me – Jiya wove the magic for many of us who were part of her life. No, I don’t think we were part of her life – she was a part of ours. Her life was her mind and heart, her husband, her family and the project of the moment!

“No, Poo, I don’t put her on a pedestal; no, she isn’t an exotic creature. She is ….” I shrug. Poo rolls her eyes but she is intrigued and will bide her time. She would wait to meet Jiya.

But whom was I going to introduce Poo to now? Who was this woman in the dirty ochre yellow book? This fickle creature whose thoughts swung first one way and then another like a pendulum trapped in an unceasing madness? This woman who loved and hated and despaired and struggled through the mundane irrelevance of life. This woman sounded like an ordinary mother, like a petty sister, like my neighbor’s raucous wife, like those women in inane television soaps. This woman lamented the very spirit Jiya had celebrated. Where was Jiya? My mind ran into empty rooms searching in panic for a life Jiya always said was never permanent.

I looked at my wife. Poo is a special woman. She recognizes signs. There were photographs of Jiya around us. Now finally Poo could see her, and now Poo didn’t know what she looked like at all. She could see the death of a Muse in my eyes.

When I am better, Poo and I will search for Jiya.

- Anita Vasudeva, 2002

The Wind

sweeps the
noon silver
of wind

Waltzing the
leaves in
one rhythm

wind, blow
firm, shoo my
cares away

weave me into
your floral

- Sonia Menezes



held my breath for a minute,
was there more?

of her life?

like tendrils,
she crawled upon my chest,
words, nails, poetry.

my dreams
are too endless
she exhaled.

and some of that ether
mingled in,
some wafted away
as air.

what remained
i captured.

held my breath
for a minute,

was there more?

(C) Sunil R Nair

(I borrowed a stanza from Manisha Lakhe's poem For you which appeared in this blog. Had to write this poem, my first in some months)


For you

My dreams are too endless,
My mind knows no fatigue,
I do not want
peace with you,
I want you


In Remembrance of Agha Shahid Ali

Priya Chhabria, spoke to me about Open Space, located smack in the heart of the city, Deccan area, where the senior writer Dilip Chitre was going to read and talk tonight. I must thank first of Deepa Gahlot to have put me in touch with Priya, what a wondrous evening it turned out to be.

Dilip began reading from one of the three books of verse by the late Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali who had lived for a long time in the US and developed his own sytle of writing wherein the language was English but the ethos was Indian / Kashmiri / and drilling downwards, one could see a south Asian influence. ASA died young as recently as two years ago with brain cancer. Dilip showed us an autographed copy saying how much ASA had enjoyed the evening at Pune.... there was some disagreement about the date, but 1989 or 1990 seemed to be favoured by most.

Fourteen persons were present. I knew Priya, and Arshia Sattar who runs Open Space... I recommmend all to click on and see some of the enormous work they all have been doing..... the other faces remain a high speed blur since quick introdutions were swept aside and the evening's main discussion began somewhat abruptly. Dilip's knowledge of Urdu poetry is excellent, and so is his pronunciation -this was the first time I met him though we knew each other from the email circuit and common friends like Sujit Patwardhan the environmentalist and Jazz aficionado. Four foreigners had turned up too. Some of them were doing scholarly research on Indian poetic traditions.

Dilip explained the ghazal format, its inherent rigidity and how the Urdu poets masterfully manage to beat around those restrictions and produce ambivalent couplets which can carry opposing meanings. ASA tried a lot to get this sort of playfulness and amazing skill into his writing, though he wrote in English. Someone wanted to know about inevitability of local politics affecting his poetry. Blood bath cannot leave a poet untouched, So amongst the many poems we read turn by turn, one poem dealt with the paradise on earth having turned into a veritable, impenetrable hell.

Dilip, Arshiya, Priya and myself, we all read one or two poems each-this emboldened others to try out their skills in reading too. The ensuing hydra-headed dicussions went on for another two hours.

All in all a wonderful evening though no coffee nor tea were served -producing rather a hollow feeling inside. God, have I turned into a hardcore caferato ? Sunil, caferati is
plural as my smattering of Italian tells me. Graffito and graffiti... cognoscento and cognoscenti so on and so forth.... correct me, readers if I am wrong.

(c) Max Babi

18 October, 2004

Am I all that different?

Am I all that different?
Of what am I so proud?
Can I stand myself apart?
Or do I just mingle with the crowd?

Am I hopelessly shackled to verbal inventiveness?
Have I lost the art of being mundane?
Am I forever supposed to be creatively different?
And is my pursuit of literary greatness insane?

Why can't I pick my own roman nose??
Or strip my fingers of their nails?
Why can't I create a public ruckus at the drop of a hat?
Why should I write letters when I can use email?

Is there a rule that's built to govern human behaviour?
One that forces us to desist from being ourselves?
Maybe thats why all those wonderful thoughts I think
are gathering the dust of unspokenness on my mind's shelves

How technical can you get at poetry?
Is this now, an art form or a science?
Can I not combine a flowing rhyme with free verse
I mean, Can't I just mix up the lines??

What awards in life do we covet?
Should we write acceptance speeches in advance?
And how horrendous a scene if we were unprepared,
if we did win on an offchance

Is there a pattern to the way that people react?
Or is all human emotion just a sham?
I know I'm asking very many stupid questions
But I can't help it, That's the way I am

Answers galore, I seem to find,
when the questions aren't floating around
Ofcourse when they do make an appearance,
Well I dunno, I guess I'll just have to have this poem rewound...

- October 17th 2004


SatCT press coverage

Menka Shivdasani mentions the SatCT launch in her column on the Daily Star, Letter from Mumbai.


Unheralded, you hogged the telescope’s field.
You came unannounced, unalmanacked,
elbowing every cosmic fire
out of the lens’ ken. Your incandescence blacked
the firmament out entire,
and for a while, your brilliance sealed

the retinal mind’s edges. Your diamond hail
blinded us, and stupored eyes scrummed
for shafts of countless winking stars.
Past all wonder, senses numbed,
we watched your rainbow showers
scatter magic in their trail.

And then – nought. As swiftly as you’d blazed you were gone.
Poor Halleys we, we trawled in vain
the mocking void for telltale gleam, lambent spoor.
But black, resplendent, king once again
answered but with tawdry glass, a charlatan’s lure.
The spaces stared unmoving, blank of where you’d shone.


Three poems


You touch me with politic ardour.
You touch me to fraternize.

I dare not touch you.
Touch tells tales.

[March 2004]

Morning - IV

I think of you with dry toast and early mornings
that last longer than mornings should.

Longer than dawn, longer than noon and even
through sunsets, it's still morning...

And you are still with me -
swilling my tea,
stirring in sugar,
sipping from my glass.

My eyes open, but I am
glazed, shut up
in a sleep-like box,
where the whiff of dry toast and morning and you
steeps into me.



They say I could be almost white.

Almost white,
if it weren't for my genes.

but not white white.

Someone had once called me a white buffalo.
How right he was!

White, but tropical.
White, but still,
a black-hide animal on the inside.

but not quite.

[From the Oct 16th reading at Anita's]


Delhi's first Caferati meet - Oct 16, 2004.

First things first - there was cake!
Not cheesecake, not orange-n-walnut cake, not raisin-n-chocolate cake. But soft, homemade lemony, light-on-the-palate cake. Mmmm!

That said, let me proceed to thank Anita (and her sister-in-law who did the baking, I believe) for the goodies we partook of (yes, yes, I know. Archaisms don't go down well with everyone, but this is MY report.)

I walked in to Anita's Defence Colony residence, and was led upstairs into a warm living room where I was introduced to Madhu (editor of and fellow-ryzer) and Meera (who kept introducing herself as "I'm not yet a ryzer" until we told her it wasn't necessary). Meera works at the Greek embassy, is a voracious reader and buys a lot of books, which I trust will make her very popular with this network. She is going to join Caferati very soon, I hope.

While we waited for the others, I indulged in some light-hearted nostalgia and told the others about our first reader-meet, at Bandra Bandstand.
Harjaap, a new member, was the next to join us, followed by Gaurav (who's into business writing for mighty search engines and the like) and Yamini Dhall, who came all the way from Chandigarh. Somit Makar and Shilpa Bhatnagar were next. There was the usual reticence to begin with; most people did not bring anything to read.

Anita began by reading something that she wasn't quite sure how to describe - a short story? An extract?
As it turned out, the piece seemed rather complete by itself, though it could just as easily metamorphose into the first chapter of something larger. Her protagonist, Jia, was likened to the character played by Anuradha Patel in the film Ijazat. I still remember one of the last few lines - the death of a muse... in my eyes.

Yamini was prevailed upon to share one of her short poems. She hadn't got any written out, but she'd saved as an sms on her phone, so it was available anyhow. I trust she will share it here as well.

I read out three poems. The first one, White, drew mixed reactions. Some noticed the... well, the whiteness of it. Others commented on the lack of grey, which led to a short discussion on the white, black and grey of the mind and its reflection in our writing.
And the second one drew a question about why the toast was dry (refer to the blog for the whole poem), which enforced a revelation of my breakfasting habits.

I followed this up by reading out Keki N Daruwala's 'Chinar'. Simply because it's such a favourite with me.

Anita set us off on several discussions by asking us what we were all reading/writing. And this led to an interesting tangent about letters and diaries. Anita, it turned out, is writing three sets of journals. One is a set of letters to her young son. Another is her rant-diary, and a third in which she pours out her gratitude.

The next interesting bit of information came from Harjaap, who's great-grandfather has put together a set of letters in a book called 'Letters From Jail'. The title is self-explanatory, but let me add that these were letters from India's freedom struggle era.

I have to admit that I couldn't keep track of all the parallel conversations happening in the room, and soon, we were all getting restive about getting home. We left promising to meet again next month, tentatively on the afternoon of 20th of November, though the details will be finalized a little later. We've debated the pros and cons of another venue, especially with the infamous Delhi winter upon us, and Anita generously offered to play host a second time.

Needless to add, we all had a very nice time.


Upper Case and Lower Case - origin of the terms

Here's the story. In the time and age of linotype hot lead composing machines there used to be an urn of molten lead connected to the back of the composing machine. To compose each line of text the compositor would press the key and a type mould would roll on to a horizontal scale and the molten lead would be poured into it and would solidify into a line of text. These lines were then arranged in a “galley” to be printed. That is the beginning of the term “galley proof.”

There used to be two cases placed above the compositor. One case contained the capitals letters, which occupied the upper position so it is the "upper case" and one case contained the ordinary type so it is the "lower case." So the compositor had to press a lever to change from one case to the other.

The magazine I worked with at the start of my career would use this type of composing. The compositor used to confess that he won't live long as some of the lead would get into his system with constant handling. The result: lead poisoning! The maximum he expected to work was ten years. But he was happy with his job.

In those days people put their lives at risk working on these antiquated machines. Now we have computers to do the job, spelling and grammar checks, and autocorrect that corrects without our intervention. But still people are lazy and lethargic and prefer to consider themselves "geniuses" in the language who do not need editing.

17 October, 2004


Amidst the dark tired green
of older leaves
shoots up a fresh leaf
like hope amidst
cynical ruins of defeat.


Novel Ideas

First a disclaimer. What I write here is solely for the purpose of starting a discussion. I do not intend to pass off as an expert, though at places I might sound like one. At best I am a student of the art of fiction writing, and this perhaps is my day's assignment.

I think it was yesterday's Pune times - I can't rememeber exactly - but somewhere I read Sir Vidia Naipaul's interview. Cut out in a bold block letters, right in the middle, was something he said about the current state of Indian fiction.

I have forgotten the exact words and can't seem to find the paper right now. But it was something to the effect that ...the present Indian writing is autobiographical and archaic. It needs to come out of this style and try new things...

I was rather taken aback. I could not understand what he meant by that. I thought about it, turned it over in my mind, questioned it and analysed its possible import. Indian writing, especially fiction, seemed to me to be doing great presently. We have right now, some of the most expressive story-tellers in the English language. Many of them, acknowledged globally as masters of the trade.

The statement appeaered quite meaningless to me. And then it suddenly struck me while reading Jerome K Jerome's Three Men in a Boat. Its a masterpiece, undoubtedly - that book. Terribly funny and full of wonderful insights on life.

But reading it, as with every book of that era, is like following a river on its way to the sea. The river is never in a hurry to reach. It meanders from its course, loops, stays put and then suddenly starts again. The journey is delightful but it takes an awful amount of time.

The mordern reader, pressed for time, influenced by hundred different factors, would love to travel along the river, but simply cannot afford to. The average reader who picks up a novel from the bookstore, loves reading. He intends to devour every single word. He would love to draw a mental image of the story, its characters and its scenes, from every sentence.

But then, there are so many other things that he must do. Like earn a living, raise a family, check email, watch TV, watch a film, Today, given a choice he would rather take a flight over the river, skippng the myriad minute details and seeing only the most intersting sights enroute. He would want to finish the journey faster, than walk along the meandering river.

I took a quick scan of the latest Indian fiction in English. And everywhere I found this river. Book after book was replete with flowery language and descriptions, beautiful analogies and insightful anecdotes. This style of writing has held sway over the literary scene of India for decades perhaps. Masterpieces of literature all, these were the books that Sir Vidia had shot down.

And I realised that he was probably right. The meandering river must be replaced by a six lane superhighway. For the novel as a medium of expression and entertainment is cometing with rivals unprecedented in history. With multiple media for telling a story, the faster ones have an edge.

So is the novel, as we know it today, going to die? Will we have to dry up this river of literature and build tar roads instead? Is that what Vidia Naipaul meant by the statement he made?

My conclusion is that the present novel will reclude. It will never die because it has a spirit of its own. It will remain alive in the hearts of men and women who worship literature. Poeple like us, boatmen and fishermen who live off the river. We shall always keep following its meandering path.

But for wider acceptance, for the regular reader to keep reading, we probably need to come up with "novel" ideas to write our novel "ideas".

15 October, 2004

machilipatnam syndrome: mindless ramblings in the middle of a busy day

i just want to write and be liberated,
my soul is captured in a net of mental bondages.
and every day is a battle between the mortal me and the immortal me,
i am a river,
trapped by worldly desires and responsibilities
by relations and reasons,
by loyalties and treasons.
and everyday i walk
with a knowledge that i dont want any of these
and that they are nothing to me and i am nothing to them
and still i carry on,
with self consuming zealous strength.
this albatross around my neck
when i know that liberty is all i desire
why, o why
can i not sever the strings and fly


Utilities & Futilities

Sitting with her
as he threw pebbles in the pond
creating ripples .
she said
you are engaging in futility
Dont you think ?

Why do you need things to change ?
Why not let status quo remain ?
What wont change , wont change ever
the pond wont change and let the pebble float
it would always sink , Dont you think ?

He took her hand in his hand & whispered
look he said as he threw a pebble in the pond
watching the pebble hold the storm
dancing from ripple to ripple
the pebble danced all along
kissing the rising waves
caressing the ebbing maves
trying to hold her ground
the little pebble drowned

Sinking with the sucking craves
she lived the moment ,
caressing each and every drop
feeling his soul in every flop
fully aware of the consequences
realising the inferences
never to come back on ground
the pebble would lie in her pond

He looked at her and said
life my dear does not give the same inferences
utilities and futilities are personal references

Futile things are better known to satisfy
since they dont give , they dont deprive
its not a question of what I think
the pebble always knew she would sink
thats what love is all about
dont you think ?



Clean Page

Please take your
divine eraser
and slowly
but surely
rub out
that I think
that I feel
that I believe
is me.

gently blow on the paper
so the shavings are gone too.

I don’t want
I don’t need
or anything
called me


Mixing Colors

When I dipped my red paintbrush
Into your paint pot of white,

I saw you smile.

I also watched the red
Swirl lazily in the white.

You began to laugh.

I spattered more red in
Brashly, just to be unruly

You just shook the pot.

I saw then -- the blues, greens
and my red, all swirling inside.

You made me see.

My brush is white now
But it paints rainbow colors.

I smile the same smile as you.


The Blade of Grass

The approaching daylight hid within its glorious folds
Consummate trauma for the lonely blade of grass,
Having sown its dreams of everlasting togetherness
In the soothing embrace of the innocent dew,
To have its castle of hopes razed callously
For no apparent reason but the whim of the glaring Sun!
Who could tell the blade of grass otherwise?

Avi Das
Read at Manisha’s, October 9th


14 October, 2004


Cradled on his knees
I heard my father rattle off
Partition's horror stories -
my dreamscapes' sky turned red.
And I shuddered.

As an adolescent
I came face to face
with corrosive venom
spewed by frothing missionaries
of false pride.
And I cringed.

I read about genocide in Africa,
a victorious general
forces the rebel loser
to eat his own recently carved-out kidney.
And humanity crumbled.

Driving from Bergotel Bestei to Dresden,
I pass a signpost on the road
"To Auschwitz."
Half a million corpses rose.
I swallowed my tongue.

Nearer home,
they smashed an infant's head on the kerb,
shoved an iron rod two feet deep between a schoolgirl's legs,
carved open a lady lecturer's stomach and stuffed burning rags inside.
I shrunk.

Now, in my green heaven,
where crickets and frogs
fritter away their songs,
I hear the distant rumble
of the invisible walls
closing in.

(c) Max Babi

Gracias Muchos, Peter Griffin
-your sense of aesthetics is truly
that of a blueblooded connoisseur...


13 October, 2004

Quality equality!

Some basic thoughts on BWC and my experience.of working with it. At the very beginning, correct me if I am wrong, the impression created was that it was a free forum for aspiring and established writers to come together and read works, works in progress and take hesitant baby steps into the art of writing.

If it develops into a forum where only the best contributions are read then I would have to go find another forum that would accept me however raw that I am. I confess I am not the best writer there is, though I believe I am far better than I was a year ago. I am editing my own novel and I think I have matured and fermented as writer since my earlier rewrite. A writer always evolves and to evolve he needs the support of a peer group and I guess BWC fulfils that promise that it started with. I still need inputs about my work and one forum is BWC because the members though unsparing in comment are supportive.

Let me draw a parallel here. You know those tasty south Indian dosas? A writer’s career is like that of a dosa. It is ground mercilessly by peer review then left to ferment with the author’s own experience and then fried on a skillet, which is the ultimate publication and acceptance of a writer by the public at large.

BWC I think is the grinding stage in which a writer is ground to bits by peer reviews and is prepared for the ultimate frying of the dosa on the skillet. The idea is to break a writer from the shell of his own making and make him more experiential and open to new viewpoints. Only then can the writer mature or ferment and be accepted for publication that is the frying on the skillet. At the outset, we had agreed that if an author is sensitive to criticism of his work then he has the option of requesting nothing but positive and constructive criticism and no barbs or tearing to bits. That was accepted so I guess it still stands. If I felt my work is still undeveloped I would request the audience to spare me the “tearing to pieces.”

Believe me the ultimate stage of publication is a merciless and ruthless process as any published author will know. In the ultimate frying on he skillet, they grill you, grind you, burn you and crucify you. So BWC prepares you for all that torture by some peer criticism and review. I am sorry to say BWC readmeets cannot change into the frying on skillet stage in writing because then it becomes not a forum but a commercial, corporate, profit-seeking entity.

On the other hand, SATCT is our showcase, our show-window in which we can show the world, “Look these are the promising writers we have discovered and encouraged.” Those writers who are chosen for publication in SATCT are in the frying stage and they should be able to withstand trenchant tearing to bits. So for SATCT we can have plenty of quality control and vetting of the stories we receive, not in the BWC readings.

We had a policy of allowing the writers on a “first-come-first-serve” basis I guess that still stands, or does it? Two poems would be adequate for a poet and a short story or article for every writer would be reasonable enough acceptance criterion. A list is prepared of the first posting on the event page and we follow that order at the readmeet and if you are the fiftieth, please make sure you are the first in line for the next readmeet. From the discussion (even the expression on the audience’s faces) the write will know where he has gone wrong, if more effort is required. I discovered so many different aspects to a novel I am writing from my first reading and subsequently I am doing a rewrite with the inputs I have received. I have in mind all those faces who sat before me (Ratna, Annie, Fiza, Hema, Sunil, Peter, Ankur, Vijay, etc) and I know from their reactions what was good and what was plain bad and needed reworking.

An author works in the isolation of his own mind. He need to know his audience and the best way to get an audience is to go and find a peer group that will be supportive. He is already unsure of his work and if he doesn’t come out of his shell and find his peer group he will never ever come out. If he reads an atrocious poem or article he will get the hint from the expressions on faces around him that that he has to work harder, no need to be turned down by a quality control committee. I guess BWC is a good forum in that one can keep in touch with discussions online and can contribute at the readings.

Writer members should not think that they would be panned or drawn over coals and shouldn’t withdraw into a shell because I guess BWC cannot afford to have quality checks. Quality check should be there only for SATCT. But then SATCT has to have quality checks because it is the medium to create a corpus to expand our future activities. If BWC readmeets have quality checks, I am sure, in the end it will become subjective and will depend upon the quality controller’s personal whims and fancies and aspiring authors and writers would never benefit from the experience of reading their works and would withdraw further into their shells.

So BWC members no need to be afraid of quality checks and vetting. Come out of your shells and contribute. If you don’t come out of the closet now, you never will and will regret all your life that you never had the guts to stand before an audience and be heard. This is the best peer group that you can find for your work and ideal group to grow as a writer. Take the first step to publication and contribute a story to SATCT project and if your contribution is selected you will share all the glory and if not you can still be read and accepted at BWC readmeets.

I have poked the burning embers, stoked the fire, now for more coal nuggets please!

12 October, 2004

Writing and the King

Stephen King's On Writing is, i think, essential reading for any writer who's learning and honing the craft. Authors on the Web asked seven professional writers "what they thought about the book and how their own writing style corresponds to King's." The resulting round table discussion makes for a fabulous read.

New poems from Silhouettes

Two Words

Wordy rhapsody,

Soul searching,

Captive minds,

Seeking avenues,

Emotions burnt,

Deathwish follows,

Ultimately death,

Learnt flying,

Touched skies,

Now laden,

Kissing ground.


Wonder what your hands feel like,
If I were to just hold them and run my fingers on them.
Wonder how your hair would fall,
If I were undress them in the bold sunlight.
Wonder if the brown of your skin,
holds the smell of wet earth.
Wonder if I were capture your words,
And bottle them in a little transparent jar,
would they shine like the fireflies of Konni?
Wonder if the rivulets of water that slide off your back,
acquire the salted air of the seas. Wonder if your confused breath,
breathes life into a million questions in your mind.
Wonder if somewhere along now and eternity,
would get you up and walk off into the midday haze
Wonder if the edges of your lips would curl into a smile,
or do they jump into a laughter.

Wonder if you realize all of this and think yourself to be divine.

Wonder if I realise I am immortal in your presence.

Wonder if you would be human when real.

Wonder if I would be myself.

Wonder if you are still alive in that air.

Wonder if I am breathing.

Wonder if death is like this.

Wonder if being reborn could be explained.

Wonder if Gautama was in love.

Wonder if Krishna was loved.

Wonder if…

Why not?

All questions need not have an answer!

Coffee Shop Blues

Orange predominantly in my mind,
Even the cheery Barista has an orange tee.
There are no deep meanings within this verse.
It is written for having had an urge to write,
And then not having anything to write about.

You know that these things do happen,
When they do happen, there is a fear.
Paranoia of losing my words, my voice.
Of being like that young man at the signal
Clanging the bowl, mumbling words,
That never formed syllables.

I have been seated here for an hour, in this coffee shop by the sea.
Orange swirls around like the sunset.
Some three hours away.
Am I having coffee shop blues or is it just one of those days?

(c) Sunil R Nair, 2004.

Please do comment. Please do tell me what you feel.

Sunil R Nair


11 October, 2004


I am lilac.
I stop short of being blue
                               or true
And I cannot brave the excesses of red.

So, I’m lilac.
Mixed up, flowery, almost

I lie twisted between
the weight of purple and the fragility of mauve.
I am lilac.

Annie Zaidi
Read at Manisha’s, October 9th


Someday, this tale of you and me
Will be banished from civilisation,
Exiled to the edges of determined silences.

It shall wind its way through the rain forests of repeated conversations
And stop at a random cottage where the smoke
Gives away the promise of home.

Up the tiles, it will scramble, careful lest the children awake
And sliding down the chimney
of a warm after-dinner coffee,
It will rush back.

And they will say –
‘Look! The face of love is black.’

Annie Zaidi
Read at Manisha’s, October 9th


Crossing continents, slinking through borders
              Frequenting temples, challenging tombs,
Escaping to gutted houses
with a fierce feminism and foreign shoes….

                          Books read half-way, then abandoned
                                     Singing on the window-sill…
                                                 Too much coffee, too little sleep –

                                     And all because I cannot have you

Annie Zaidi
Read at Manisha’s, October 9th



Having, reluctantly, concluded
that i am now too old -
we will draw the veil
over questions of ability, please -
to become
      an engine driver,
       Olympic champion
       or matinee idol,
knowing one cannot learn to
       carry a tune,
       visit new planets,
       or be dimpled,and
having ticked off
       snowball fight,
       river running,
       being published,
       being on stage,
       and dancing,
i look now
to my remaining ambitions:
      to climb a mountain,
       to swim once in every sea
       to start a religion,
       to be tough enough
       to intimidate my daughters’ admirers,
       to write words that you wished you had.
should keep me busy.

Read at Manisha's, October 9th


So you want to read my poems

Fancy seeing you here!
I was just leaving.
But i’ll stay
if it’s me you’ve come to see.
If you’ve just stopped by
to see the paintings
I’ll leave you the keys.
When you let yourself out,
please leave them under the doormat.

Read at Manisha's, October 9th


Bachelor Appartment

It’s a mess
Don’t come in
If you’re not going to stay
I’m not going to even try
To be nice
If you’re not going to stay
Had enough of tidying
For visitors
Who don’t stay
I’ll light the fire
And put on some music
If you’re going to stay
I’ll change
And shave
If you’re going to stay
But, please,
Don’t come in
If you’re not going to stay

Read at Manisha's, October 9th



Back then when i was immortal
When i knew i wouldn’t - couldn’t - die
when we were inseparable
when we loved one another, you and i
             (do you remember that far back?)
we were wild. and so amusing
we had it all sorted out
more used to winning than losing
more willing - and able - to shout
             (now we talk in decorous undertones)
you’ve put on weight...i’ve lost some
and some hair as well
no longer pretty, not quite handsome
why exactly, we couldn’t tell
             (how deceptive, these telephones)
outside “our place” it’s warm and bright
but the conversation’s strained
not enough in common to start a fight
it might as well have rained
             (remember those silent walks in the rain?)
i found your jokes not as amusing
and somehow, i couldn’t make you laugh
             (Lot’s had changed, but then, so have you and i)

Read at Manisha's, October 9th


The Placebo Effect

Well the placebo effect is as old as mankind, and this must seem rather a bizarre topic here at the blog.

However, in may rambles across the nation, ran into an ageing junior metallurgist [ oxymoron intended] who likes to trade stories, in this polluted congested and noise-filled city of Hyderabad. The curious thing is, having met thousands of metallurgists, this happens to be the first one who tells me he married another metallurgist -and this tribe is pretty small, lets not forget.

Riding his two wheeler we were discussing his sinus problem that has reached the migraine level, not a pretty scenario, and the haze of pollution is abetting the diseased portions to go berserk. He told me he wants to avoid micro-surgery, and there can be no argument aganst that, as he has faith in medicine. Said both his parents are doctors, so medicine is a homebrewed art perhaps.

I told him about my ability to cure small infections and mild fevers, which by the way I love as my mind races at double the speed, mutilating the keyboard as now -all based on deadlines to meet and promises to keep. He didn't seem impressed, this young upstart.

I told him my golden anecdote about the typist in Baroda who was diagonosed with TB some 50 years ago and with only half a lung functioning, the good doc had given him six months to live. The guy went home, closed all windows in the narrow bylane where barely an auto-rickshaw could pass without crushing cats or dogs on either side, and gave the matter a thought. I have three kids, I have an unsteady job, a chronically ill wife -I have to get them educated, send them abrod, get them married off. No, I don't want to die. He went back to the doc who said there was a thin chance he could survive. He followed the advice and walked fifteen KMs a day, ate fresh fruit, shifted to an area where there was fresh air without pollution [yes once upon a time Baroda was unpolluted]. He is alive today, whilst the wife died 45 years ago. Kids married off, with great jobs and families, all abroad.

He didn't seem impressed. Whew, what a waste of a whopper I thought, this was a whale of a story that went phutt..

Thus spake the young man : and now I know he had a bigger bombshell up his sleeve. It seems his parents had gone to see an interesting movie, wherein in the middle of the movie some guy started asphyxiating as if he had a fit. An epilectic fit or something worse. Is there a doctor in this crowd? his companion yelled throatily. Our man got up rushed to him, pulled off a button from his own shirt and shoved it down the throat of the man foaming at his mouth. Swallow this, don't chew he said. In five minutes, the victim was laughing with Mehmood and yelling at Madan Puri as if nothing had happened.

Talk about the placebo effect... it's 99% faith and the rest is the curative powers of the medicine.

Cheers, keep smiling and better still, laughing.

Gulliver's Travels

It’s about the times when I was a year old in the teen world.

Although living in civilized man's version of jungle, I was lucky enough to have some greenery soothing my eyes. Daily on my way to the math tuition, I had to cross a field where grass grew without any fear. I remember how I chose a single path to tread on. Since I wanted to create a track between the grasses, a mini road! By trampling the grass daily, I had somewhat succeeded in my plan and wanted to cement it further.

The rainy season was another favorite. After the rain gods had done their duty and things settled down, I loved watching the rainwater flow to its unknown destination. It was not the mystery of its fate that caught my fancy; I wasn’t old enough to philosophize. The rainwater rivulets attracted me. Oh! How a stream flowed along the plains, traversing the ups and downs of the sand dunes to merge with another of it's kind - gaining strength. I nearly launched a shipping company floating paper-ships!

Plants-in-pots. That is all of a garden, people living in the civilized man's answer to pigeon cages can afford. I used to sit beside the 'money' plant and look through the camouflage of leaves. What I saw inside was a different world altogether. Snails and other insects roamed freely, going about their daily chores. Occasionally when watering the plants the snails would retread in their shells. They had their hideouts, homes, shelters, ponds and mini hills.

So, what's the POINT!?

Well, now when I probe my tendencies I feel that all these three accounts have one thing in common and that is my inclination to see a mini-world in things. Treading the grass to create a path was about a mini-road; the streams in rainy season linked to seeing mini-rivers and the money plant being a mini-world. Maybe imagining all this gave me a feeling of being larger. A Gulliver in this world without even dreaming!

Or perhaps it was the natural beauty of these things that visualizing them in their miniaturized form was so wonderful. Not that I don't enjoy them now, but after transmigrating from the teen world into adulthood, I am repressed from taking part in their activities.

So if you don't get the point or can't appreciate it, try it! Try being in those situations. Transport yourself to the teen world. See if you can explain their beauty in a better way.

10 October, 2004

No Games Just Sports

Its a phrase from one of my favourite movies ,well,favourite simply cause it makes me laugh ,where a cheeky Mel Gibson walks his way into Helen Hunt's heart with his charming ways and caniving means...
But what has most importantly struck me is this one phrase from the entire movie-No Games,Just sports.
The context in which it is used there,may have been relevant to the movie,about sellign sporting goods to women who are the more confused and worried of the two known genders of our times.
But if we look at it in a larger perspective ,in relation to our lives ,gender irrespective it would be so beautiful.
Think about it ,we are constantly playing games in our lives,be it in our family ,in our office ,in our social circles.Games that we want to win under any circumstances.The winning streak comes in many forms ,winning over the affection of our family members through bribes and sweet words which otherwise have no weight,that next promotion or raise by inflating our credentials ,even stealing whats due to others.,by being politcally correct all the time for fear of getting the wrath of the boss.
By gaining on the popularity charts amongst our social circles,having the most lavish parites (never mind if it leaves a big hole in our pockets),by potraying to be happy amd making them laugh with stale jokes and false anecdotes.
Now ,what if we looked at life like it were a sport.PLaying just for the fun and pure blissful enjoyment with no end in mind,no ulterior motives,living with family members and loving them for the simple joys it entails.Giving and tolerating in bad times for the sheer statisfaction of it.
Going to office and working for the fiery passion you feel in your belly about the work you do and standing up against unfair means and exploitation for the sake of the general humaities and our own integrity.
Spending time with friends and genuinely being there in their times of need ,for understanding and experiencing the true meaning of friendship.
Wouldnt life be much better and more fulfilling if we played more sports with our lives than games.
If we notice the people who are successful and have a fulfilling life ,we can see that they have played more sports than games in their lives.
Doing what they know best with pure fun and joy ,not always thinking about the end or worrying about the winning in the last lap.Giving it all they have simply because they loved doing it,whether it was loving their loved ones,being there for their friends ,building large organisations ,writing great works of literary geniuses,creating exquisite works of art...
The laurels just followed without exception.We have so many examples around us -Narayan Murthy of Infosys,Sonal Mansingh-the famed danseuse,Anjali Bhagwat-the ace shooter.
I agree that playing games is easier than playing sports .Sports involves a lot of grit and determination ,courage and resilience ,which not everyone in their lifetimes manages to find within themselves.
But still think about it,if we played fairly even in our small circles of influence,it would take us a long way in giving us the feeling of having lived our lives with gratification.
So the next time ,your partner or children want you to stay with them or go for a drive just for no reason ,do it.Dont subsititute these moments with monetary compensations.
And if its the gift you are wanting ,dont look at the price tag,look beyond and understand the feelings and effort that have gone into it.
These are small steps in moving towards playing more sports and less games in life.
Think up your own unique ways of doing it in your everyday lives.

The Solitaire up above

The Moon was shining down at me,

I felt humbled by its brightness..

By the Magnanimity,its beauty...Like an elusive solitaire ,

It hung itself in the vast expanse of the sky....Prussian and Grey ....

Awed by it brilliance ,Seeing it shine itself down on the waves of the sea,

Every drop seemed like a broken piece of the solitaire........

As if the moon was showering a million diamonds on the sea.


The read meet on the 9th at Manisha's place, ended in too many discussions and suggestions.

Sunil and Peter will post the changes, and also details on the next read meet.


What poetic form are you?

09 October, 2004

Writers Today

Met a geek who, fed up with technical writing [amazing that never happens with me] turns to writing fiction. Not bad, but the trend is interesting -bringing back echoe of many other such meets and discussion. Mental block -one of the whipping boys of writers reared its fuzzy head and we flogged it some more... indeed one tumbles into a bloc, and gets out an unpredictable duration later, all on one's own steam.

Having read the synopsis of The Rogue Angel, he asked an oft-asked question : whether I had been to all those places. Well yes and no said I, for the story is based on someone close to me, and having heard hours upon hours of experiences that person had -it would have been a miserable failure of imagination not to come up with something like this. Plus my week long stay at Sofia, Bulgaria a couple of years back,with Balkans breathing down on its shoulders -practically next door.

Another interesting point was whether one can write convincingly about places one has never visited... gave him my favourite example of Lawrence Durrell whose Alexandria Quartet hit me so hard in my post college incubation in industry that it took me years to recuperate and feel my feet on terra firma again. One lives through such books, Justine which I discovered lying forlorn on one of the hugely long pavements at Flora Fountain [like hundreds of other masterpieces I read later on] and then its sequel Balthaazar -discovered at Moore's Market in Chennai, and further Clea and Mountolive from Bangalore. Powerful books, so powerful that the movie made on this quartet seemed insipid, and as flat as yesterday's coffee left to simmer its anger away in the sink.

Lawrence Durrell born in Darjeeling India, had never visited Alexandria even once in his lifetime. This mammoth piece of literature was a decade long research in the libaries he used to haunt in UK. Amazing fact, and one that can inspire today's writers.

Frequently excellent novels have made poor movies -perhaps, it appears, the director cannot do any magic with the story which has powerful narration by the author. Any amount of graphic jugglery cannot replace this magic of narration... for instance in case of Dr. Zhivago, the movie seemed a travesty of this delicate love story. I had been living through the book when I came across it during college days -and it took me years overcome this phobia and enjoy the movie by itself without comparisons.

Shashi Thiroor in an interview said Salman Rushdie was no great shakes as compared to himself because the latter wrote autobiographical stuff which anyone can do, but the former put himself in the shoes of another person and writes... infinitely more difficult.

I wonder.

Once I had mailed a short story to the BBC, and though I have forgotten the name of the lady editor had rejected it saying I had tried to imagine myself in someone else's place, and according to her wisdom, a story can ring true if you have lived it yourself.

I wonder, even more.

For the writer today, I think this should be a challenge. Try both, and shine out. I've done that, though shining out still remains to be seen...

cheers !

07 October, 2004

Only In London : A Novel by Hanan Al-Shaykh

This is one of those surprise packages –one picks up an attractive looking paperback, reads the blurb and conjures up hilarious images of a London that can be perceived only by an outsider, such as Hanan Al-Shaikh, a lady from Lebanon living in London and writing punchy novels in Arabic.

This Bloomsbury paperback is impossible to put down once you start reading it. Actually very few connoisseurs of literature would opt for reading a translation, with the unadmitted fear gnawing at the innards that all the bite and fire of the original work may have got diluted in translation. This book defies such a preconceived notion, a commonly held belief and kudos to Catherine Cobham who has done such a lovely job. The crisp freshness of narrative is sustained very professionally throughout this very humane tale of amazingly crazy characters.

We find four different characters from the Arab world thrown together during a flight to London, who do not even suspect that their lives will be intertwined terribly very shortly –there is beautiful but drifting Lamis, recently divorced from her Iraqui husband : Nicholas a young Englishman, and an expert on Islamic daggers working with Sotheby’s; louche and overtly dramatic Amira, a Moroccan who has adopted the world’s oldest profession so casually that bending or breaking the law does not bother her at all; and finally Samir the transvestite with a monkey hidden in his basket. Explosive material to begin with, and Hanan does wonderful jugglery with it.

It would be unsporting to spill all the beans here, but hats off to Hanan Al-Shaykh for drawing up a delightfully wonderful world, the Arab quartersin London, where the displaced persons lead their own lives –some sticking much more fiercely to the traditions, and some spending money on Anglicising themselves whether it is engaging a teacher to learn agneuninely British accent, or buying expensive dresses. Samir and his hilarious exploits with an uncontrollable monkey whose toilet habits become the centre of existence for a few people… that’s a story by itself.

The novel is not only comedy, or the black-hued comedy at that, but it is full of ethos and humane values which ultimately drag it almost to the brink of melodrama towards the end. A veritable feast for those who love to read the other side’s version : London through foreign eyes, with a liberal dollop of human drama unfolding leisurely throughout.

A wonderful book.

The land beyond the mountains

In the land beyond the old mountains, where the sea makes deep inroads, there was a little village of salt makers. Simple people making there living from the salt of the sea. Drying seawater and selling the salt in the cities. They were far from rich. But they were self-sustained and happy.

But my story is not of these thirty odd houses in the village. It is about that one house - situated at a little distance from the village, where the land finally runs up to embrace the boundless freedom of the sea, and the waves in joyous mirth raise their arms, as if to welcome it. There, just under the abandoned lighthouse, surrounded by thorny shrubs and large deposits of salt, is a ramshackle little hut.

Two sweet children live here - eula and gnu - with their mother and father. If ever you can call a family beautiful then it is this family. And I cannot at this moment think of any better word to describe them. The mother and father were honest, hard working people. They did their best to make life in that arid salty land easy for their dear little children. And the children were like to flowers in the wilderness.

Eula, the elder one, was a young girl of 15. She had inherited the simple beauty of her mother - the beauty that is only found in places yet untouched by the falsities of modern civilization. It was strange to see how the ruggedness of the land and weather had worked wonders, instead of eroding her beauty. She was her mother's darling and her father's pride. Gnu was a lad of 13. But he was already a man from all angles. The hands of necessity and environment had molded his clay into a frame much tougher and mature than his equals in less hostile places. He was his father's right hand even at that age.
You would think that such a family would be completely happy - as happy as one could be in that place. For the recipe of happiness only needs two ingredients - love and satisfaction. And they had plenty of both. But life has her own mysterious ways - incomprehensible to us mortals. She is forever playing a huge game of chess, and humans are mere pawns on it. Her strategies and her actions are her own.

There was everything in the air of that household except happiness. It was as if the inhabitants had been stricken with some mysterious ailment, which prevented their smiles. As if a curse lay on the house that made smiling and laughing fatal. And a curse it was - in an indirect manner. That beautiful girl of 15 - that flower of wilderness - had from a very early age lost the use of both her legs. All day she sat at one place - below the lighthouse - watching the men work in the salt quarries and the ships pass in the distant sea. People passed by her - and smiled - as you smile when you see a beautiful flower on your way. She smiled in return, staring with clear guileless eyes that were as deep as the ocean.
Then there was gnu. At 13 he was tall and strong and looked 18. But he had a strange affliction. He could not work for long hours now. It happened last year when he and his father were out in the ocean. He had fainted suddenly while rowing against the waves. This happened again the next week. Then three times in a day. The doctors in the city examined him for long hours and told his father that gnu had a hole in his heart. And that he must be operated soon - or he would die. It was just a matter of time.
Everything needs money in this land - even the right to life. And therefore gnu was denied the right to life. But the poor are strong in their own way. Once they have understood a situation, they learn to live with it and make the best of it. And so gnu lived his life and made the best use of his numbered days.
In this way, sadly, yet slowly, the four of them lived their lives. Till one day, life moved her next pawn. The land in that area had been sleeping for centuries now. But now, something deep within the earth caused it to awake - and like an angry giant, whose slumber has been unnecessarily broken, it moved restlessly. It was a bright sunny morning. The entire village was in the salt quarries or out in the sea. Only sweet eula was sitting under the lighthouse.

The first one to hear the land's movement was the sea - and in its own silent way it tried to warn the little girl. Giant waves rushed into the land - towards the girl and tugged at her. It was as if the sea itself was trying to pull the girl away to safety. Asking it to run away from the lighthouse. The girl did not understand. But had she understood, what good would it have come to. She could not even stand on her own. And there was no one there to help her.

The lighthouse did not fall on her like a tree. Instead it went down into the ground - sinking like the ships sink in the sea - as if it had learnt that art through watching them. And with it sank poor eula. The land suddenly opened itself to embrace her into its fold and free her from her earthly burdens. In a matter of few minutes that wild flower had disappeared forever.
By the time the villagers realized what was happening, the huts had all been reduced to rubble. And the monster within had gone back to sleep. The destruction had been swift and complete. Huge chasms had appeared in the earth and eaten up there homes. A dozen lives had been lost - the sick and the old - and our little eula.

The government earthmover dug continuously for two days. And finally reached the foot of the lighthouse - where eula was sleeping in her natural grave. For those two days the grief stricken family stood and watched the mechanical movements of the earthmover. And just as they had never known happiness, it was difficult for them to get acquainted with the grief that visited at their doorstep now. So they just stood there and waited. When the digging was over and the body was visible, the earthmover moved away. The whole land had been laid waste and the machine was urgently needed elsewhere. So the father and the brother went down in the pit to bring up their beloved girl to the surface - for the last time. But as they picked her up, to their astonishment, they saw a huge chest - a very old and rust eaten one.

Long ago, when the sea was the main mode of trade and transport; the high seas were full of pirates. For there are always some men whose greed is insatiable. They are never satisfied by what they get - always clamoring for more and causing death and destruction in there wake. But they forget, that while they are at it, life from her high seat is laughing at them. For though they think they are the masters, life knows that they are nothing more than small chessmen in her big game.

Some such small chessman had perhaps, in a forgotten age, left his treasure buried under the earth on that forbidden tract of land. Little did he know that he would never return to claim his blood tainted treasure. Little did he know, that centuries later, a boy of 13 would get a new lease of life from the money he had hoarded. Little did he know that a large part of his treasure would go to the rebuilding of a village of salt makers.

In that village, situated at a little distance from the houses, where the land finally runs up to embrace the boundless freedom of the sea, and the waves in joyous mirth raise their arms in welcome, where there once stood an abandoned lighthouse and a ramshackle hut, there now stands a beautiful little garden. And at the center of it sits a beautiful girl - carved in pure white marble - smiling and staring at the ocean with clear guileless eyes.
Did that chessman know all this? I do not think so. How could he? These were never his plans - they were a part of the big game which life herself plays. One last thing. Gnu grew up to be a fine young man. The family prospered and moved to a big city. But till today they do not know whether to be happy or sad. Or whether there is any difference between such things as happiness and sadness, joy and sorrow, birth and death? To them all these things are like two sides of the same coin. One leads to the other.

06 October, 2004

Caferati's site - an update

Caferati, the website, is now at the URL it was supposed to be at in the first place,
Please update bookmarks accordingly.

The Launch - a Max's-eye view

Oxford Book Store, as one enters it, hits you suddenly as a piece of ultra-sophisticated housekeeping, almost like an embassy of another advanced nation on our soil. The ambience, the design, the upkeep and the general get-up are tremendously seductive. On Friday 1st Oct., 2004, seven-thirtyish on a drizzling evening, as I entered the store I heard a soft and cultured voice, discussing writers and publishers. A disembodied voice wafting in the cool air, without a source…. I knew I had come to the right place, and yet this lightly accented voice floating around seem to belong to a Britisher –not an Indian author, leave alone one of the Caferati.
Walking through the maze of lip-smackingly inviting books to the end of the store I saw a motley crowd of familiar faces –and Peter Griffin holding forth with a wireless mike. He immediately expanded his speech to welcome me, for a travel from Pune to Mumbai for a half an hour launch of the book, Stories At The Coffee Table, seemed a staggering adventure to most of the participants. I was touched, caferati.
It was like this : about 25 hungrily listening souls in the ubiquitous white plastic chairs, with four luminaries facing them, Manisha Lakhe –the lady with a razorsharp sense of humour, Peter Griffin- the grand master of ceremonies, Deepa Gahlot – the prim and unbending organiser always in the background, in the chairs on the dias, and Sunil Nair the main ghost who has been haunting others right out of the woodwork, to come to the fore and claim their fifteen minutes of fame to quote Andy Warhol [ whom Gore Vidal had described as a genius with the IQ of a moron] –were holding forth.
After the customary nice words about the enterprise, and words of hope : for SATCT happens to be in the eyes of the participants, [and n number of as-yet-silent lurkers], a unique venture with its own momentum, its own crisply righteous sense of belonging and its own place in history, for writers nowhere have ever tried to come together and beat the publishers at their own game. SATCT will always be the first enterprise at self-publishing by writers whose works may have never seen daylight…
There were a couple vociferous interruptions from the restive audience, who probably had a boiling cauldron of queries, but shot off only a few at the foursome facing them. Satisfactory answers were provided by major domo, P.Griffin who had done his homework well, and whose MC-ing also kept the queries at short leash – wonderful time management, for there was no overshooting the schedule.
The traditional lamp was lighted by yours truly, Manish, Peter, and Deepa to mark the launch of the ambitious venture. The audience clapped in glee, and the custodians of the BWC, good old Rats, Vijay, John, Manisha, Brahmanand, Dilfiza, Pranay, et al also got up to circulate around as the tea was served with a very intriguing tea-cup holder made of a silver alloy.
The whole event was stage-managed with astonishing precision and élan. One met a lot of new faces, one of the most notable ones being Meera Warrier, the Bookshop Gal to the ryzers – who was the hostess, and a very gracious one at that. Met Sir Lancelot [ Lalit] also –good old Brahmanand Singh had come alone minus the better half who always shines like a thousand watt bulb and lights up any assembly of limpest possible mortals. Met Avi Das, who has been posting interesting messages and even a whole short story [to yours truly for assessment] – who seemed to be oozing ideas about the future of the enterprise.
Well what is half an hour? Talked a little with a handful of others and it was time to go… yours truly had another long journey to make so a quick exit seemed in order.
All said and done, an event to remember, very professionally staged, despite the lack of celebrities and the camera wielding media teams. Dilfiza was in charge of photography assignment and she has promised one and all the results in a few days.
Keep the flag flying, BWC and caferati, a wonderful kick-off!

Max Babi


The Launch - from the inside

For something that started on a lazy afternoon, the BWC has been rocking. With chapters in Pune, Bangalore, Delhi, San Fransisco, the Bombay Writers' Cafe now seems to be heading towards becoming something bigger than what I imagined. There were murmurs of calling it Indian Writers' Cafe and rumours that the guys behind it are attempting something so big that serious established writers are beginning to sit up and take notice.
That Friday at 6 pm people started to filter in one by one. Manisha was the first, ok ok I was there before her, but then I am the guy who communes with the shelves and hence I dont count. The lamp was there and the wicks and Meera the lady from Oxford had the press kits ready.
It was decided that tributes be paid to the greats who passed into history last month. Manisha read out Mulk Raj Anand's Moustaches - a story about how the society in India is divided by the style of the Mouchie. Then Vijay took over and read out the first poem from Arun Kolhatkar's Jejuri. I would have loved to have a few more of those glass poems read out but the launch had to happen.
Deepa - the Chief Editor of SATCT took over and introduced the concept of SATCT and the Bombay Writers' Cafe. Then Peter spoke about the rules and the dos and the donts and spoke about the website.
There was a brief session of questions and answers, where the audience cleared their doubts. The Lamp was lit by Max Babi and the candle was passed on to the others who are the custodians of the forum.
It was chaitime thereafter and the Cha Bar was generous with the cookies and the masala chai. People interacted for over an hour. Menka Shivdasani - renowned poet was part of the audience and shared her thoughts and ideas on how the forum can progress. There were publishers who wanted to pitch in. A young man from a finance consultancy who wanted to help with sponsors.
The evening ended with people promising to write the stories and help in making the BWC rock and grow into a revolution.
I hope it does.

Sunil R Nair

P.S. on a personal note - a gentlemen old enough to be my grandfather walked upto me and tapped me on my shoulder. He spoke words which I will value forever. He said that he had been a part of so many writers forums in the past. He has rubbed shoulders with Nissim and Dom and many more. But this evening was important for him. He saw that there were no egos, there were no prima donnas. And he said he knows this will grow. I was overwhelmed and thanked him profusely. Unfortunately I could not ask him his name.


Read meets - a recap

When BWC, so far a virtual community, decided to go real, members met on a July evening over a Musings in the Rain session.
The venue was a subject of intense debate because several members felt that readings held at an expensive café was a distinctly bourgeoisie practice, offensive to the sensibilities of some who believe that writing is getting to be a class thing, as well.
So, there was the monsoon, there was Bandra Bandstand, there was the wind, the sea on one side and romance on the other three sides. And there were eight of us (those who RSVPed and did not turn up have since been grudgingly forgiven).
John Mathew bravely read out the prologue to his novel, got plenty of feedback, and he graciously accepted all of it, including the brickbats. This was followed by chai, conversation and a bit of staring at the waves.
On the eighth of August, the second BWC reading was held with the venue being a much-debated subject again. However, the rain scared us indoors and the group met at Deepa Gahlot's place.
This time, there were eight people reading! There was poetry, there were short stories, there were surprise visitors and there was some yumm cake and coffee (and a lot of other munchies, which we shall not list here).
Apart from the poetry itself, there was a warm discussion about whether or not poetry should be edited. This discussion has since spilled over into subsequent readings and continues to perplex aspiring writers, as it has for decades past.
The third reading was held on the first Sunday of September, again indoors, at Pranay Srinivasan's place. More coffee, more cake, homemade grilled sandwiches and yes, more poetry.
This time, the reading took on an interesting turn when two of the members (Ratnalekha and Manisha) read out some prose, inspired by their own frustrations with the current state of education in schools and the overwhelming admission process. This led to a discussion on our flawed education systems, in general, and this was followed by some more poetry.
There was another debate on the merits of rhyme in poetry and whether free verse should be given a free hand.
Most of the work read at these read-meets can be found in the August and September archives.

Annie Zaidi

"Maa!" "Beta-tester!"

Be a poppet and go to, register, and mess around a bit.
It's an experiment - a free message board facility i want to eventually use for Caferati's website. Have set up a few trial categories and fora, but you can add your own, or reply to topics, etc. Have fun. Use the Gossip topic for general faff. The other categories are self-explanatory.
Nothing you do will be seen by the world, aside from your fellow bakras - er, beta testers. Will delete the entire board later (once some feedback is in, and we have learned a bit more about tweaking the controls) and create a new one for Caferati.

04 October, 2004

What this cafe is all about

From an old article in the Hindu's archives, Ranjit Hoskote's Revolution in the cafe
...a forum for discussion and leisure, despite such stern Irani restaurant injunctions as 'No Discussion' and 'Do Not Linger'. In the cafe, people could meet as free-floating, free-thinking individuals, rather than as envoys of the social groups to which they happened to belong.
By emphasising the voluntary nature of these human associations, the cafe became a symbol of freedom and liberalism: like its forerunners in Paris and Vienna, the cafe in Bombay began to act as a site, over the 1930s and 1940s, for the formation and circulation of new ideas and opinions in a new public sphere.
In later generations, the coffee house would serve as a place where writers and film-makers, painters and critics could meet, share their thoughts, read to each other: in the films of the 1950s and 1960s, the cafe bulks large as a recurrent motif and locale, as the site of fantasy and romance, but also as the place where the marginalised poet or the optimistic dreamer finds solace from the cynicism and cruelty of the big city

03 October, 2004

another subcontinent

Something in the mailbox that should appeal to both the other contributors and our readers:
dear folks at caferati,
i don't know if you've already come across "another subcontinent"
( but i'd like to invite you all to join us in our discussions of south asian art, film, food, literature and music (and lots else too for that matter).
arnab chakladar
Have just popped by and registered. Seems like an interesting place that could offer us more views from the other side of the world.
And i was thinking, this is rather complex. Me, partly descended from another, long-ago diaspora, someone who has never been out of this country, stepping into a community mainly populated by Indians and people of Indian origin on the other side of the world... i love the internet.

Stories at the Coffee Table - the contest is now open

We're thrilled to be able to tell you that the Stories at the Coffee Table contest was launched on the 1st October at Oxford Bookstore. You'll find contest rules, guidelines, terms and conditions, etc., here. We're just as happy to tell you that our website is now up. Please drop by and let us know what you think.