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A collaboration over too much coffee.
coffee and pen

31 October, 2006

Kafka on the Shore

(My first book review so feel free to rip it apart. Originally posted here.)

It is hard on a writer when one of his books becomes a popular phenomenon. It is inevitable that all his later offerings will be compared to that which transformed him into a literary superstar. Is the new one better than that? Has he evolved? Is he deliberately trying to write differently to avoid any comparisons with that book? Most authors wilt under such close scrutiny and can never equal their former glory, if we can be arrogant enough to assume that that is what every writer tries to do. Even though Joseph Heller himself stated tongue-in-cheek (he being a perfect example for the case in point), “When I read something saying I’ve not done anything as good as Catch-22 I’m tempted to reply, ‘Who has?’”, there are many writers who break free from such artificial barriers and continue to produce quality work.

Haruki Murakami is one such writer. His fifth novel, Norwegian Wood, became a youth phenomenon in his native Japan when it was published, much to his dismay. So much so that he fled Japan to escape that sudden fame. The majority of Japanese youth (and indeed many in the rest of the world as well) connected with the poignant tale of lost love and youthful sexuality.

However, Murakami did not succumb to the pressures generated by such adulation and lose direction. He continued to write in his signature style, a mixture of pop culture elements and magic realism, written using language so simple that every book of his is instantly accessible. And that is one reason for much of the criticism directed against him as well. That his novels are all MTV style and no substance, easy to read sentences devoid of any deeper meaning. But his writing style can easily deceive. His books might be accessible but they are in no way superficial. Each of his books deals with profound issues, ranging from incest to infidelity. But let us not get into an academic discussion about the profundity of his writing. That is not the purpose of this essay. The purpose of this essay is to talk about his most recent novel available in English translation (at the time of writing), Kafka on the Shore.

The novel broadly deals with two characters who are as different as chalk and cheese (excuse me for the clichéd metaphor) but are somehow connected by events beyond this realm. The first character is an adolescent boy who calls himself Kafka Tamura. He runs away from home, and from his father’s dark prophecy. His mother had left him when he was a child along with his sister. He no longer knows where they live or what they do. So he sets off on a bus towards the south of Japan. Little does he know that he is in fact moving closer to his destiny.

The other character is an old man named Nakata. Ever since a supernatural accident he had while in school during the Second World War his mental faculties have been diminished. But because of that he also gained the ability to talk to cats. Later, as an adult, he makes use of this unique ability to take on paid jobs to find lost cats. One day, while on one such search for a cat, he sets off on a journey as well.

On their respective odysseys they run into fantastic characters that could only be present in the Murakami universe. Two WWII soldiers who haven’t aged a day since the war, the mascot of Kentucky Fried Chicken, an androgynous librarian, talking cats and many more such equally fascinating individuals people the pages of the novel.

Each of the characters in the book is battling some kind of personal demon and is trying to make peace with it. And in the process, some set off on long journeys hoping to run away from their fate, some resort to casual cruelty, some remain lost in memories of the past, and some try to help strangers by going out of their way.

Murakami succeeds in taking us into the minds (and understanding the motivations) of the main characters. It is not so much a detailed description but more like the reader being an invisible presence beside every character, privy to his or her thoughts and actions. And there is Murakami’s uniquely own style of magic realism. Everything is possible in his universe. One moment he might be talking about why Beethoven’s Emperor (Archduke) concerto is so special and the next moment he will be take us to a magical forest which serves as a gateway to another world.

It is a book worth sinking your mind into. The plot is intriguing, the characters memorable and the pacing smooth. If I had to nitpick, I was a little disappointed with the ending. It was a tad too pat and tame as well. Without giving away too much, it was as if, having touched the boundaries of what is acceptable by society, he hesitated from breaking beyond and instead chose to take the safer route back home.

Did that last sentence seem too vague? That was on purpose. To make you pick up the book and read it. Go ahead, I’m sure your imagination will be enriched. Mine was.

28 October, 2006

2100: The Long Commute


The year 2100. Another morning, another commute, I groaned. I parked my mini electric car at CBD Belapur station and saw my friend Shashi N emerging from the thick yellow-tinged morning fog, wearing a heavy jacket made of bullet- and bomb-proof material. He is a technical writer and so am I, and, moreover, he is the only friend, and relation I have in this world. We are close.

We work in Bangalore, only a two-hour ride on the 500 kmph train from Beloved Leader Sharad P. Railway Station, the erstwhile Vashi Station, Bombay, named after the last of the great Marathha politicians. The former island of Bombay was totally destroyed in the great flood of 2047, and the then New Bombay, nearby, had assumed the identity of Bombay, for commercial and historical reasons. All that is left of Bombay is a few islands where the hills were, inhabited by the die-hard hill tribes who once used to boast that they were a superior race as they lived on Malabar and Pali hills. The CBD Belapur station hasn’t been cleaned, Teflon coffee cups and dazed sleepers lie around in careless disarray.

“Hi Shashi N.,” I greeted him. Surnames weren’t to be mentioned as religious fascism had peaked and religious mercenaries were everywhere planting bombs, shooting through small, light-weight, rapid action Mauser pistols. One could get killed if one’s surname was known.

“Hi,” he acknowledges morosely.

“Late again?” I ask.

“Yes,” he said mournfully, “I reached home at 2 a.m. this morning, and slept for hardly three hours. I had bought a thousand units of electricity and didn’t know I had let my computer on through the day, and when I reached home there isn’t even a single unit to light a bulb, or even heat some water for a bath.”

He looked shabby and unwashed, his hair matted with dust and dirt, as if he had slept at the station like the P.O.O.R. people lying around us with their impact-proof blankets. Electricity was strictly rationed and had to be paid in advance. No electricity meant nothing would run in the house, everything depended on electricity, and there was such a big scarcity. Gas and petrol was the privilege of the super-rich who owned cars run on fossil fuel, a scarce commodity.

“What’s that you are licking?” I ask.

He was licking the last slobs of a gooey liquid from a tube, shaped like a toothpaste tube.

“My breakfast. It contains enough nutrition to last me till I reach the Goohoo canteen.”

Goohoo was formed when Google and Yahoo decided to merge in 2085 when the Lin-Baden-run Vironi Corporation operating from Babylon unleashed deadly viruses on the networks that almost destroyed all World Wide Web servers.

I was wearing my bullet- and bomb-proof jacket and an old-fashioned helmet with a radiation-proof visor. Violence was common after members of the parliament fought with automatic weapons inside the law-making body and the Consortium of Corporations (called CC, in short, dominated by Goohoo) had taken over the legislative functions of the country. The transition was overseen by Beloved Leader Sharad P. who maintained that instead of corporations funding the government it was better if the corporations took over and gave politicians a percentage of the profits. There would be less wastage. Politicians drew a handsome salary sitting at home. The executive authority stayed in the hands of the policing machinery, now controlled by the Consortium, or, CC. They are the ones who introduced high-speed trains between Bombay and Bangalore. It was a big success.

“Nice Jacket,” I say.

“Five million rupees,” he says, “even after a special discount to Goohoo employees.”

Around us are a milling crowd all wearing hooded jackets and helmets. A small mean-looking person pushes us apart and scurries toward the platform. He is skinny; his walk is jerky, but fast. He is wearing a computer screen on one sleeve of his jacket and on the other has a keyboard. He is typing something on the keyboard even as he is cutting a neat swathe through the hundreds of morning commuters.

“Did you see him?” I ask.

“Yes, he is a Code Devil who works in Goohoo. I know him.”

Code Devils are the elite programmers trained by corporations like Goohoo. In a world totally dependent upon programming they are the new stars and idols, as movie actors used to be at one time, in another century.

The train arrives with a great sonic boom. It is bulging with commuters, all going to Bangalore, the technology capital. There are people clinging to it everywhere, even some mysterious hooded forms sitting on the roof. Life would be hell for them, what with the cold and chilly slipstream.

I close the visor of my helmet and Shashi zips up his jacket. Entering the train would be like squeezing through a fruit juicer.

A posse of women surrounded by heavily armed women police arrive and the jackets of all the desire sensors worn by the men on the platform light up and shimmer with desire. The rare creatures were escorted inside the train even before there is the possibility of Cupid aiming an arrow or two.

“Hey, to think that once they used to mingle with us!” I say.

“Blame skewed sex ratios. If they mingle they would be raped and killed. The CC did the right thing. At least, they have security now,” he says wistfully.

He knows. He has a girlfriend and is in love, a feeling the CC has patented and copyright controlled. Due to a variety of reasons including the population growth the CC legislated that all love should be a copyrighted commodity, like a program, and any use should attract a heavy Love Tax.

Therefore these desire sensors were mandatory. Anyone not wearing it could be sentenced to the Love Dungeons and anyone found coveting the opposite sex would immediately be arrested and confined for breaking the copyright code, unless Love Tax was paid.

For procreation the CC’s Ministry of Love had arranged for exclusive hospitals where a woman could walk in and have a sponsored baby and donate it to the care of the Consortium which would train them to be Code Devils. The consortium needed only programmers and the risk of casual flings upsetting the genetic engineering code was terrifying.

“How is Sangita?” I ask.

Shashi’s girlfriend’s name is Sangita. He had written and posted a love poem to her on the online forum Neterati. The Ministry of Love’s detection department had sensed this in their latest Love Audit. They also found that Shashi hadn’t paid Love Tax which should have been deposited in advance before a man and woman can fall in love.

“I feel so hopelessly torn apart. I haven’t met her in a week though we work for the same corporation. She is in a glass bubble across the lawns but I, I am so helpless, I can’t meet her. I fear for my life and hers, they are monitoring my thoughts, I can feel it, and I am broke, I can’t afford to pay Love Tax,” he says as we find a convenient corner inside the door of the train.

“Then give her up. Break up and tell her you can’t afford her.”

“It’s easy for you to say that, yaar. We are way too much involved.”

“But the most they could do is ask Goohoo to pay on your behalf, since they have the controlling interest in CC, and are represented on the governing board.”

“No, stupid, that won’t work. I get these fainting fits. When they monitor you they fill you with fatal love thoughts that almost kill, just testing us. Of late, it is happening frequently. I am afraid for my life. Even you are at risk if you are found with me.”

The CC had embarked on a Total Asexualization Drive to curb the sexual instinct that they hoped, rather vainly, would boost productivity in the workplace. This was fully supported by Narayana Premji and Azim Moorthy (grand children of the two pioneers, the second generation having inter-married) who had all along maintained that corporate goals should be above personal goals.

“Then what about all the books, novels, films on love and longings and the love poems that existed and still exist in libraries on this mysterious feeling called love. I don’t understand; I am lost,” I say. I haven’t felt any love for a woman since I haven’t been near one in years. I don’t even know who my mother is, or, rather, was. May be Shashi could explain what it was all about.

“Ah, that was the twenty-first century you are talking about. That was the time when Neterati was still an online forum of free expression for writers. I remember, a lot of love poems were posted there, a few of them were really atrocious, some were even spelt, ‘Pomes.’ Now they are underground. I still attend their meetings, though, surreptitiously.”

Shashi and I are wedged closely, inside the door, almost out of the train. The wind is howling around our ears and the sound is deafening as the train levitates within the field created by two powerful magnetic rails above and below it. I think of the hooded men I had seen sitting above the train. They would be shivering and their hands would be almost frozen by the cold.

We pass the Project of Outcasteing Religion (P.O.O.R.) areas between Poona and Bombay. These are the areas where the religious zealots live. Areas are marked by communal flags and their extreme poverty is obvious from the shabby hovels in which they live. They are all uniformly greyish, probably, the soot emissions from Alliance’s giant petroleum refineries in the area.

This is the dark space I had heard about, I mean, the P.O.O.R area. There is no electricity and life is as it was in pre-1879, the year the electric bulb was invented. They can’t afford electricity. The police ignore the denizens of these slums, they are afraid for themselves. Killings and riots are quite common and the CC is quite content with letting them decimate each other. After all, the Consortium assumes, it is their mistake that they didn’t learn to write programming code, or even understand computing algorithms, preferring to sow the seeds of religious hatred.

“So how are things at Goohoo?” I ask.

“Bad,” Shashi says, “at least for technical writers,” he has opened his jacket hood a little so that I can see his sleep-deprived eyes.

Poor man, I think, squeezed from all sides, not able to meet his girl friend, and, somehow, to add to all that the insecurity with his job.

A series of staccato explosions shake the train as it speeds across the vast arid land, still under a thick fog. The heavy rains had cut fissures through the landscape and the recent heat waves had all but burnt the earth to a greyish-black.

“Cluster bombs,” Shashi mumbles. The sounds grow distant. CC has instructed the train driver to disengage the compartment if there are any explosions in it. “Production should not be affected,” was the sole mantra. The rest of the train hurtled forward.

“Why is it bad?”

“It is bad, bad, bad, so bad I can’t tell you. My very existence in their mammoth air-conditioned bubble is at risk.”

“Why? Tell me no, why?”

“You know what those Code Devils have gone and done?”


“They have written a program to author help manuals. They don’t need technical writers any more in Goohoo.”

“What?” I am so astounded I knock my helmet against Shashi’s head. He curses me in choice Malayalam invectives I won’t mention here.

“Yes, a bloody program writes help manuals. It writes stuff like “For p=p+1, next p” for something as simple as ‘turn to the next page’,” imagine, and the managers are happy with it. ‘After all, who reads help manuals,’ they say.”

That’s a holler. It is real bad news, without writing jobs both Shashi and I wouldn’t have anywhere to go, I think, as I look at the cold morning transforms suddenly into a hot mid-morning with temperatures hovering around 95 degree Fahrenheit. Presently we all are sweating.

“Global warming,” Shashi says, loosening his jacket, “they don’t seem to care. They have their climate controlled apartments in the Goohoo campus, and their minders and managers to assure them nothing is wrong. Why, even their television news channels are doctored by the Consortium. They only see the news CC wants them to see. They never travel in trains, and if they venture out, it is from their roof-top helipads to their private jets. What do they know about the long commute?”

“So if a program writes help manuals we writers would be out of jobs, what would we do?” I ask.

“Good question, dumbo! Even I don’t know,” Shashi shakes his hooded head, “What do they care? They say product life cycles are short. Before they can finish reading the help manual, the product is obsolete; the next model is in the market. So why write product help manuals?”

I shake my head, too. My career as a creative writer hasn’t taken off. Most of my manuscripts come back with form letters wishing me “all success in finding a suitable publisher.”

One publisher even said, “If you want to be published, become famous first.” That means if you are a woman, get laid by a famous man and write about the number of moles on his private parts, or if you are a man, well, the only alternative is tell all about the idiosyncrasies of corporations like Goohoo. But that could put my life in danger.

This could be the end of me. I would end up in a call center, after all, something I dreaded all along. I would be measured each day by the number of calls I make. I hate call centers. I hate them for being so uncreative, unoriginal, and so mechanical. There is software that senses and blocks all calls but they still persist.

Zap, zap, zap! Everything seems to spin around me. I am feeling a lot of love, er, feeling of being loved excessively. Though I have never been loved, I have sometimes fantasized about a queer feeling that came over me sometimes, and had given in to its frenzied rhythms.

Suddenly epiphany strikes. Am I also being monitored by the Love Auditors as I am with Shashi? Shashi is reeling, he holds on to me. His face seems a blur, so also the faces of all the hooded forms around us. The train, or what is left of it after the cluster bombs have struck, is hurtling along a vast desert that once used to be the Deccan Plateau, now laid waste by periodic meteor hits, as the outer atmospheric shield around the earth has mitigated to a very thin layer around the earth. The wind howls, the hooded forms, unzip their hoods, and I can see their eyes bulging, as they stare at us.

“You are Love Offenders. Get away from us,” their eyes accuse us.

I recover. Consciousness comes back at once. It was one of those Love Audits, and they seemed to have exonerated me. But what about Shashi? Shashi is slumped against me, his hood askew, drool at the corners of his mouth. I shake him, slap his face. No response.

“Is he dead?” I ask the man standing next to me. He has a red cross sign on his jackets and “Goohoo” written below it, apparently, a doctor working for the world’s biggest corporation. He is familiar with such situations as he has ministered to many employees who have died on their computer workstations.

“Yes, your friend is dead, you must throw him out now,” the doctor says.

“Should you be so cruel?”

“CC policy 11.13287.9840 on corpse disposal states that dead organisms could disturb the creativity index of the Code Devils who are travelling to Bangalore, and further, that dead bodies of Love Offenders should be dispensed of immediately.”

“But can’t I give him a funeral or something?”

“No, the body could putrefy by the time we reach Bangalore in this heat.”

I knew it was no use arguing.

Slowly he and other Goohoo employees, there seem to be quite a lot of them in this train, say a company prayer written in C--, nudge Shashi N, my only friend and acquaintance in the world, towards the door and push him out. Helmets, bullet- and bomb-proof jackets watch as the body disappears from sight into the fast-receding landscape outside the speeding train. The blazing afternoon is a blur. I close the helmet visor and say a prayer for Shashi. I must phone Sangita and tell her, if at all she is alive.

Of Words, of Writing

(originally posted here.)

I want to write. I want to write until the stars stop exhaling light. I want to write so as to embrace myself with the cuddly comfort of words well formed. I want to write like a Homer or a Valmiki, a vessel for words flowing out from my deepest wellsprings. I want to write until dust begins to settle on the tips of my toes. I want to write until the emotion wringing my heart is sated and put to sleep. I want to write till the tears behind my eyes translate into beautiful words. I want to write till I can feel no more. I want to write until all that is there ceases to exist and all that is to come is taking birth between my words. I want to write like God breathing life into mud and fire.

I want to write about languorous love, about lingering dew, about an orange dawn and a melancholic dusk, about wise whispers of the old, about sweet nothings of new lovers, about wintry mornings and rainy afternoons, about fresh air flowing through my lungs, about glorious feelings and wistful youth, about adolescent heartbreaks and everlasting love. I want to write about all the feelings that travel, tremble and tumble inside and around us.

I want to write about the many loves I found, about the sadness I learnt, about the warmth I gained and the memories I cherish. I want to write about you, me and everyone. I want to write about a bright tomorrow, a rosy yesterday and an unnoticed today. I want to write about moments we do not remember, like flowers smiling outside the window, like sunshine warming our hardened skin, like words we hear but do not listen to.

Oh, I want to write until I’m drowning in the thousand different voices of my words. I want to write until my fingers ache with a sweet pain. I want to write until the song in my heart fades into a distant echo.

I want to write until verbs weep, adjectives inspire and nouns conspire with the help of mischievous adverbs. I want to soar on the wings of ecstatic adjectives, joyous verbs keeping me company while I taste the lilting sound of nouns rolling around my smiling mouth. Words, words, words, I want to swim in their glittering midst, forgetting the mundane life outside their limpid depths.

I want to learn with my words, as they arrange themselves in perfect order, conjuring meaning out of chaos. I want to grow old in their nostalgic company, leaning on them for support in a lonely and loveless life. I want to be laid to rest with a wreath made of my words and a couplet carved in stone as my headrest. And if there is an afterlife or a heaven, I wish I’ll still have my words to sing me eternal songs of all that is wise and wonderful, of all that is a pure and divine joy.

26 October, 2006


Posting this reminded me that I have a lot of stuff that I've been meaning to post here, but never got down to. Here it is. Bits and pieces picked from my columns. These are sites that have some relevance for writers. Hope you like them. The long URLs lead to the specific columns. The site names link directly to the sites reviewed.

(One thing. The format of the columns—a very tight word count, a certain number of sites per column—has meant that I've frequently written far less than I would have wanted to. Please feel free to add your views too. Either here, or on my archive—the long raw URLs .)

What was that word again?
Word Spy
You know all those I'm-so-cool words that suddenly come into vogue with the with-it corpo crowd? That get bandied about by the young B-school grads with the power ties? This site is a good place to figure out what the heck they're saying. Seriously, though (and before my MBA friends put a fatwa out on me), the site is a fascinating repository of what's new and happening. It calls what it does “lexpionage,” or the sleuthing of new words and phrases. And the words it chooses aren't the made-up variety of doubtful provenance that descend into your inbox with monotonous regularity. Word Spy includes detailed citations of each entry.

Click to find
This is what the net was supposed to be: free information across borders.
This site is one of many (we'll cover some more in future columns) that give you online versions of books, absolutely free. Bartleby is best known for the invaluable set of reference books it offers. (A small sampler: Roget's Thesaurus, Fowler's King's English, Strunk and White's Elements of Style, World's Orations, Oxford Shakespeare, Gray's Anatomy, World Factbook, Oxford English Verse, the Bhagavad Gita, the King James Bible, and much more.) But it also has sections on non-fiction, fiction, and poetry.
Worth a virtual bookmark, hmm?

[Great source for the SF&F writer]

Myth Universe
Encyclopedia Mythica
An encyclopaedia of mythology, folklore, and religion, it offers as much to the serious student as it does to the casual surfer. Myths sorted by region, folklore in various categories, the site can keep you occupied for hours. It also has an image gallery, a fantastic bestiary that covers all manner of mythical creatures from different cultures, a gallery of legendary heroes, and even a growing set of genealogical tables. The site also has a section on Hindu mythology. And you can subscribe to its RSS feed. No, that's not what you think. That stands for Really Simple Syndication (among other things), which is a way to read fresh news or blog feeds via a feed reader.

It gnows what you like.
Gnod - The global network of dreams
An experimental project, Gnod is a “self-adapting system, living on this server and ‘talking' to everyone who comes along.” Here's the way it works. Type in the name of an author (on, and in a whirling matrix - you'll have to wait a few seconds for it to settle down - it gives you other authors you might like. Likewise with movies . For music , the site first asks you to name favourite artistes, and then makes recommendations based on your choices. A related site that I didn't find a link to on these sites (and in fact the way I found them - Thanks Nilanjana S Roy) is , which does the same whirlpool act with musicians, bands and singers.

“It was a dark and stormy night…
The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest
“…the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” Named for Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who opened his book, Paul Clifford, with the preceding sentence, the Bulwer-Lytton contest asks you to write the opening sentence of the worst of all possible novels. Started in 1982, by a professor in the English Department at San Jose State University, the contest has a cult following on the net. It now features entries in various categories, aside from an overall prize. The archives from previous years should keep you occupied on many a rainy day, even if you don't want to enter the contest.

The Power of One
One Word
Feeling a little blocked? Need that challenge to get the synapses moving? One Word might help. The site gives you sixty seconds to write whatever come to mind based on the one-word cue you are given when you hit the “Go” button. “it is not about learning new words.” the site says, “nor is it about defining words. the real purpose of this exercise is to alleviate our natural tendency to edit everything—and learn to flow.”

If you love something, set it free
BookCrossing wants you to free your books. And you do so by deliberately losing them. Leaving one in a train, say, or in a restaurant. But first, you register the book on the site and get a BookCrossing ID number, with which you label the book. Then, every time someone picks up the book and sees the label, they can log in to the site and record a journal entry for the book. And you get notified by email every time that happens, so you can “follow” your book on its travels, and read what other people think about this book that you loved enough to want to share it with the world. Just make sure it's not from the library, hm?

Don't read this
Forbidden Library
Take a look at the date on top of this page. It's 2005, yes? You wouldn't think it from the way, even now, we have self-appointed custodians of culture that exists only in their narrow minds wanting to decide for us what we shouldn't wear (hide those legs, girls), whether we can send roses on February 14th, and yes, what we shouldn't read. This site has neatly sorted lists of books that have been banned or challenged over the years, telling you why they were considered bad for the innocent public. A fascinating and scary view of narrow minds through the ages.

Past Imperfect
National Mission for Manuscripts
Launched by the Ministry of Culture (no, that's not an oxymoron), this Mission's worthy, um, mission is to locate, catalogue and preserve India's manuscripts, and to enhance access, spread awareness and encourage their use for educational purposes. In typical sarkari style, sucky site design and navigation, with page after page devoted to restating its objectives. I'm told that in the real world, they have been very successful so far, though there's much still undiscovered. Should be site worth bookmarking when they're done (it's a five-year project that was launched in 2003), but in the meanwhile, I recommend visiting their photo gallery, which has some lovely pictures of manuscripts on paper, cloth and palm and bamboo leaves.

Werds are all I have
The net is full of wonderful reference sites. Dictionaries, thesauri, what have you, it's all there. But this site is a home for all those words that will never make it into the more, ahem, respectable resources. The words - make that “werds” - that “might only exist in the language of one neighbourhood, one family or even one person.” You can contribute stuff from your own private lexicon, and even have a custom (you do the tweaking) version on your own site, so people know what the heck you're waffling on about. [Statutory warning: not for children.]

Literary Traveler

“Explore your literary imagination,” says the site's tagline. And, even though I disapprove of people who spell “traveller” with only one “l” (them that pays the cheques rule, sez this writer), I must tell you that there's plenty of great reading on this site, if you're a lover of both travel and books.
Literary Traveler's main offering is articles about writers and the places associated with them. Some are obvious: Hemingway and Pamplona , Robert Louis Stevenson and Samoa , Neruda's Isla Negra in Chile . Others less so, like James Joyce and Trieste , or the “ dismal swamp” that Robert Frost almost never came back from. The quality of writing is high and most articles come with links to more information on the location or the writer. You can search according to the places written about, or check the authors' names to see if your favourites find a mention. The site attempts to earn its keep with ads, yes, but they're not intrusive, and you do get the feeling that it's one of those increasingly rare animals, a genuine, old-fashioned labour of love. One assumes its founders also get revenue from their listing of Literary Tour Operators (you can, if you choose, do a Jane Austen tour or wander the haunts of the Beat poets in the San Francisco Bay Area). Oh yes. There's also a newsletter to subscribe to. Quibbles? The locations and authors covered are mainly in the USA, with some representation from Europe, with the rest of the world, and its literature, going largely unrepresented.

My Favorite Word
Tell the world what your favourite word is, though you'll have to remember to type out the URL spelled in American. “Money” was taken, though “food” and a certain three-letter word weren't, so I might just go back and send one in. Yes, I'm a very basic kinda guy. The people behind the site plan to turn all this into a book, and they say nothing about sharing the royalties, so you may choose not to contribute, But browse through the entries, from “ Abstemiously ” (!) to “ Zaftig ” (which means “full and shapely,” or as a friend put it, “fat in a nice way.”). And no, I'm not going to explain the title above this paragraph. Go look it up.

When life gives you lemons...
Spam Poetry
We all live with spam, those unwanted commercial emails (and now, even SMSes) that offer us companionship, free advice, loans, prescription medication, Viagra, porn, millions of dollars if we'd only help the widow of an African dictator get her fortune out of Nigeria, and heaven knows what else. This blogger channelled her irritation into putting that spam to work. She writes poetry that puts together the subject lines of spam she receives. The result? She says it best: “A little bit Found Art, a little bit Whimsy, and mostly, just to find a way for me to find a peaceful intersection between digital communication and my life.”

By all that's holy
The Internet Sacred Text Archive
I'm not big on religion, but this site's first lines hooked me: “This is a quiet place in cyberspace devoted to religious tolerance and scholarship.” Not a rant in sight, just texts (mostly in English translation, but some with in the original language too) from just about every religion, tradition and belief that produced texts that we know of, from African religions to Zoroastrianism. The archive pulls together material from a huge variety of sources: scans from books and articles, material from early internet FTP archives and BBSes, even transcripts and retellings from religions with an oral tradition. It has over 45,000 files, some of them unique. For instance, comprehensive translations of the Upanishads and the Rig Veda that are unavailable online elsewhere. Amen.

No, really!
That's the wonderful thing about the web. You can take your pet peeve and devote an entire blog to it. And if it's a word that's misused as often as “literally” is, hey, there's a lot to blog about. Here, you get examples from the media and elsewhere of the word's incorrect and unnecessary usage, and, just to be fair, its proper use too. Good fun. Literally.

Found in translation
Cipher Journal
The web is a helpful place when it comes to helping you understand other languages. Automated translators, freely available, can give you the gist without too much pain. But without the flavour, the nuances that only a professional equally at home on both languages can provide. This site aims believes that translation inspires better literature, and it publishes “creative works of art & literature that call attention to the process of translation. We will also include reviews of translated literature—both new and old—with a special emphasis on the merits of the translation.” What's available online thus far isn't, um, voluminous, but it should be site worth watching.

Argot finder
Dictionaries are all very well, when you're looking for random words. But when you want to look up specific categories, you would be better off checking out a specialist glossary. This site helpfully lists industries and categories, and then links to glossaries in those niches. Not all links work, but it's still a might useful site. Horrid thought: I'm shooting myself in the foot here - there are enough links listed here for me to fill out the next few columns. Mutter, mutter, grumble grumble.

Everyone has a book in them. Or at least a chapter.
I have been checking out collaborative writing sites, to see if there's an idea or two I can steal for my own writing group. Stumbled on this via a newsgroup (thank you, Ambika Sukla). The has “preview” in its masthead, so perhaps it's going to go paid soon, or maybe it's just got more features coming up. In the meanwhile, it's a fun place to try out your writing skills. How it works: a user outlines a story and ideas. Other members contribute their thoughts, and then take a stab at writing a chapter. Democracy takes over from there, with users then voting on whose rendition is best. And so on. Worth watching, to see if the hive mind can replace the single author; though Stephen King won't lose sleep yet. What do you think?

How do I love thee, let me count the electrons
Poetic Table of the Elements
Pure fun. A mix of science and poetry – unusual bedfellows at the best of times – the site features a Periodic Table of the Elements, where you can click on any of them and read poetry that is “original poems about, inspired by, reminiscent of or otherwise related to that element.” Much enjoyment, with some decidedly informative verse, which, methinks, should be included in school curricula. And yes, you can also contribute your own flights of poetic fancy. Registration isn't required. (And, by the way,, the parent site is a great resource for the bard in you.)

Formula Stories
Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction
Remember the Poetic Table of the Elements from last week? Here's another site that finds the Table inspirational. This one isn't open for entries, though, or collaborative either. It's a bunch of short Science Fiction tales, one to each element, all by the same author. I would imagine this took a while to write, and there were points where he wished he hadn't started – heck, I haven't finished reading the lot yet – but it's a great effort. The standard varies, but I personally like his toungue-in-cheek style, even when he's vamping his way through. I particularly liked Germanium, Argon and Xenon.

Verbivores only
Luciferous Logolepsy
“Dragging obscure words into the light of day.”With a motto like that, I don't really have to tell you what the site is about. But hey, this noble publication actually sends me a money (sort of) to write this column, a practice one seeks encourage, so one must macarise the countercasters and deliver a full complement of words. The site lists and defines over 9,000 words, with a self-confessed leaning towards the archaic, because they “tend to be more evocative – as if their very age lends additional meaning or overtones.” It's a wonderful treasure house for students and lovers of the language. If you just want a little fascinating reading, pick a letter from the menu, click, close eyes, scroll down blind, and read the first few words you see. To find a word related to a term you know, there's a convenient search option. Oh yes. The site name. I'll save you the look up. It means “an illuminating obsession with words.”

More for the logolepts
Worthless Word for the day
A site with its heart in the same place as the previous one. Except that this one takes itself less seriously. No reflection on the quality of the content, though. In fact it scores higher in my book because it offers context and examples of usage. And, as the name suggests, it has a fresh offering every day. And yes, there's a good search function too. Negatives: the archives are selected, and not comprehensive. There is a complete word list, but that only offers definitions. And the site's frames, architecture and generally layout are, well, not the best. [Link courtesy: Megha Murthy ]

Spring has sprung
Asinine Poetry
(And quick link to show you that we don't have intellectual pretensions after all. Well, not too many.) Bad poetry is easy to find online. Heck, be nice to me and I might even show you where I hide mine. Anyway, thanks to the easy availability of free web space, blogs and the like, everything that sensible publishers reject can find a home, and an audience. Theoretically. But I digress. Asinine Poetry, says this site is “Not necessarily bad; mostly kinda funny.” And they deliver. Read via their list of contributors, or stroll around at random. Rewarding any way you choose. And the site also hosts contests. There's one for asinine haiku open right now. Let's see.. Web columnist fancies / Fifty dollar prize: / newspaper doesn't pay enough. What say?

We are like this, what to do
Dick & Garlick
That rare and welcome creature, a blog that discourses with both wit and erudition on the various regional strains of Indian English and street slang, and the resulting neologisms, mixing links and citations with his own views. One character flaw, though. The chap behind it seems to take really long breaks. He's on one now, the second since I first began following the site, and I'm hoping that this will bring him back. Well-written blog. Go visit and pprod him into posting again. And while you're there, ask him to explain the name. I think I have it, but if I'm right, I can't reproduce it here.

In the beginning was the word
The Wordplay Website
The first sites were all words. Most of us till experience the Internet primarily via text. Add to that the fact that the web started out in the English-speaking world, and that the most represented language is still this notoriously quirky language, and it isn't surprising that there are so very many sites that pay homage to the word in English. This site features “over 500 pages of word puzzles, games, amazing lists, and fun facts.” Play with their Anagram Generator , explore Palindromes , Spoonerisms , Pangrams , Malapropisms , and much, much more. Do see my personal favourite, Tom Swifties . BTW, there's even a section called Net Lingua . Invaluable, IMHO, for those of you who find web argot incomprehensible.

Site of record
Internet Indian History Sourcebook
Part of a larger set called the Internet History Sourcebooks Project , that is one of those old-fashioned – in web years – labours of love. It is information presented freely, profusely referenced and linked, combining piles of original texts, translations, and links to other sites. Objectivity test? It links also to ‘nationalist' sites, with a caveeat. Definitely worth your while whether you're a student, teacher, researcher or plain old dilettante. Or a textbook re-writer in search of stuff to rant about / copy from.

[Useful when you're trying to get context for a date in history for your writing perhaps?]
This day, that year
ANYDAY Today-in-History
Pick a month, pick a day, hit the button. You get a massive listing of historical events (with a bit of a Western tilt), anniversaries and birth and death days of famous people. After you've checked out your own birthday (yes, no shame to that, everyone does, I share mine with Edison, Sheryl Crow and Archie Andrews), you could go look up some other stuff to make for interesting cards, trivia and just plain bugging your pals.

Verse for Commuters
Poems on the Underground
Twenty years ago, three poets talked the Underground (London's commuter railway) into an act of beauty. The Underground, like public transport in most cities, carries ads. When those ad spaces are blank, said the poets, let's use the space to carry poetry. That year, poems, some classic some contemporary, began to appear inside trains. Commuters loved it. It was so successful, the selected verses were published in a book (now in its tenth edition), and the idea has been replicated in other metropolitan transport systems. This site lets you sample those poems. Enjoy. Psst: Anyone have the CR, WR and BEST PRO's email addresses? I tried contacting them years ago to push this idea, but I suspect my letters never got to their desks. Think about it: would you rather be perusing every last word of a Coaching Classes ad on your way to work? Imagine, instead, Ghalib, Faiz, Ramanujan, Tagore, Kolatkar or Moraes for company...

Start here
Long ago, a lady called Debbie Sankey dreamed of a reference work that would recommend which book of any given author would be the ideal introduction to her or his oeuvre. To quote the site, “Start reading an author with a poor or atypical example of his work, she observed, and you would likely never read that writer again--perhaps losing in the process a world of pleasure and knowledge. On the other hand, since there would seldom be one right book to read first, the resource would have to be a compendium of opinions.” And that's exactly what this site delivers. Search by author or genre, and see what the site's registered users have to say. With a simple sign-up, you can be one of them too. And what of Debbie? She died two years ago, aged ninety. This site is a vibrant memorial.

On the tip of your tongue
One Look Reverse Dictionary
Online dictionaries are a boon when you want to look up the meaning of a word quickly, or check a spelling, but what if you can't quite recall a word you want? If you know its meaning, but the word is just out of reach, somewhere in your memory? This utility (part of a larger dictionary search site , which claims to index “7,934,909 words in 974 dictionaries” and is worth a visit), lets you input a word or words, even a sentence or a query, then gives you a bunch of words that could be related. I find that it gives you too many answers, but it's still in Beta, so it's worth keeping track of. Meanwhile, it even has a way to help you solve crossword puzzles!

Fresh words
Word Mint
Regular readers (all two of you) will know that this column has a weakness for sites about words and language in general. This blog falls into that category. It makes up words, the world needs, and serves them up with definition, pronunciation, an example of usage (though that's usually the weakest section) and an etymology. It's a CollaBlog (no, not one of their words, this one I made up several years ago, and it actuallu caught on!) run by a dozen or so bloggers, so there's fairly frequent posting. And they're open to new members, so you could join in.

Bookmark this!
The World eBook Fair
Project Gutenberg and the World eBook Library will make 300,000 e-books available from July 4 to August 4 at this site, which bills itself as the “first World eBook Fair.” It will feature “..eBooks from nearly every classic author on the varieties of subjects previously only available through the largest library collections in the world. Now these books are yours for the taking, free of charge, to keep for the rest of your lives.” There's more. Aside from the free downloads, you can also upload your own eBooks, though the site doesn't saw how yet. There's more to look forward to in future editions: half a million eBooks in 2007, three-fourths in 2008, and a full million in 2009.

Poets are generally held to be gentle souls, abhorring conflict and suchlike. Perish the thought. I could tell you about... Never mind, let's talk about this site. QuickMuse as an idea isn't all that unusual: it pits poets against each other one on one, gives them a cue and a time limit, and lets them loose to write. Technology steps in here. You can “watch” the process, tracking the poet's pauses, their erasures and editing, the speed (or lack of it) with which they put down a line or a word. And no, you don't have to be online at the precise moment the poet is. The archives let you see not just the finished poems but also the “recordings” of the writing process. And no, you won't be subjected to random outpourings from netizens with nothing better to do. A select list of highly-regarded poets have featured thus far, among them, Robert Pinsky , the US Poet Laureate.

All your's
Apostrophe Protection Society & The Dreaded Apostrophe
Dedicate'd, unlike so many signboard painter's, advertiser's and (the horror) newspapers, to the correct use of that poor, harassed mark of punctuation. The first sites page's are full of photograph's and other example's of misuse, plu's a forum. The second ha's detailed example's of proper usage, with lot's of little tip's. Both feature set's of interesting link's the grammar lover wo'nt find uninteresting. Now, I'm looking for someone to set up a forum dedicated to sticking lighted matches under the fingernails of people who use “you'll” (which, fercryingoutloud, is a contraction of “you will”) when they mean “y'all.”

Online Etymology Dictionary
Etymology, the study of the history and derivation of words, is fascinating. And has many surprises in store as you dig around this excellent, well-written and -researched site. At the very least, you'll have lots of fodder for small talk. “Camera,” for example, is worth the look up—and then you'll find out why it sounds so much like the Hindi “kamara.” Or you could figure out the relationship between my first name and the Hindi “pathar,” both of which also share meanings and Indo-European roots. Actually, just look up “the.” Or “mean.” Much fun. Oh, did you know “radical” is closely related to “having roots?” Go. Goof off. (And yes, they're related too.) Enjoy. Speaking of which, did you know... Never mind.

Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur
Latin Quotes and Phrases
Veni, vidi, vici, you know. And if you're an Asterix fan, chances are you know a few more. Like perhaps, nunc est bibendum and alea iacta est. (Of course, if you're a lawyer, you can probably write a dictionary yourself.) Many of the words we use today in English (and indeed many other languages) have Latin roots, but while that's a good reason to study this small index, the fun bit is finding a few more shall we say, not-so-classic terms. For instance, the Latin for “That's the way the cookie crumbles,” which is “.Sic friatur crustum dulce.” Or “Obesa cantavit,” which means “The fat lady has sung.” The title to this paragraph, by the way, means “Anything said in Latin sounds profound.” See what I mean?

Regal largesse
Royal Society Journals Digital Archive
It's the longest-running journal in science, with Volume One, Issue One published in March 1665. And every issue from that one up to the current lot is available on the site now, for free. But. Only up to December this year. Nearly 60,000 articles, with pretty much the who's who of science in the bylines list, names familiar to us from high school science and everyday life. A small sampling: Bohr, Boyle, Cavendish, Chandrasekhar, Crick, Darwin, Davy, Faraday, Fermi, Fleming, Franklin, Halley, Hawking, Heisenberg, Herschel, Hodgkin, Huxley, Joule, Kelvin, Linnaeus, Lister, Marconi, Newton, Pavlov, Pepys, Priestley, Raman, Rutherford, Schrodinger, Turing, Volta, Watt, Wren.. But why am I prattling on? Go see! You have less than three-and-a-half months to catch up with three-and-a-half centuries of scientific study.

Attention-deficit stories
55 word fiction
Flash stories, also called short-shorts, are very short stories, usually not more than 500 words, frequently less. Micro-flash specifies far lower word counts, and fifty-fivers are even tighter: not more (and, the purists insist, no less) than 55 words. Here, you'll find attempts from the blog world. Not one of them longer than this paragraph. (Which was 55 words precisely. Not including the contents of this parenthetic statement. Gah. Now I've ruined it.)

Edward Lear would be so proud
The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form
This rather unusual lexicographer;
His online word finder is half a
standard dictionary,
but it's extraordinary,
'Cause the definitions are all perfect limericks, unlike this one.

In their own words
The South Asian Literary Recordings Project
Whoop-di-doo! Just right to fill in those gaps in my iPod. If you're an admirer of fine writing, and, by extension, of its exponents, you'll love this. Brainchild of the USA's Library of Congress Delhi office, it was set up to celebrate the LoC's overseas bicentennial. It features well-loved authors reading from their own writing. You'll find Mulk Raj Anand, Faiz, Kaifi Azmi, Keki Daruwalla, a certain A B Vajpayee (as a poet, not a speechmaker, thankfully) and many, many others, over eighty of them in all, in recordings ranging from 30 to 60 minutes long, in 22 languages from all over the region. Warts and all—accents, mistakes stumbles, and the more endearing for that. And yes, all available free, in Real Audio, and the more friendly MP3 format. Bliss.

Ex Libris
You know how some people (and you know who you are) borrow books and never return them? Well, this site makes it all official. It works simply: you register for free, and list the books you want to give away. And you can check out what others have to offer, and mooch their stuff. You gain points each time you list a book, send one off (postage is your only expense) or acknowledge receipt of one, and you use them each time you receive a book. Go see. And, er, by the way, you can save yourself the bother of registering and just send your books to me…). [Link via Prayas Abhinav and Joan Pinto]

Updated (23rd November, 2006). Hope you enjoy them. :)

You've got book
Books by email? A chapter at a time? Not as strange as it sounds. As the site explains, many of us who find ourselves with little or no reading time spend hours a day reading email (or, if you're like me, generally reading online all day). So the site offers you books mailed to you in bite-sized segments that should take you around five minutes to read. If you find yourself with a little more time on a given day, simply mail in for the next bit to be sent immediately, rather than the next day. All books currently available are public domain, so while you're not going to get the latest bestsellers, you will get quite a few classics. [Link courtesy Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan .]

So you don't have to
Squashed Philosophers
Back in school, there were these books we'd pore through before exam time; guides to the various textbooks, question sets and the like. (I remember people who never bothered with the actual prescribed texts; they just read these.) This site is similar. Except that it scrunches entire philosophical texts into digestible chunks, with estimated reading time and percentage of condensation helpfully indicated alongside. It covers only western philosophy, starting with Plato, working its through other ancient Greeks and Romans, then leaping forward a thousand years to chaps like Machiavelli, Descartes and Spinoza, to Darwin, Thoreau and Nitetzsche, and to thinkers from the last century, like Russell, Sartre and Turing. Philosophers, says the site's owner (who has done most of the squashing), “are generally appallingly bad writers and you're after ideas, not precise words.” There is also a section on the Divines , condensing a few religious texts, and Writers , which has a huge collection. Here, the bad writers bit clearly does not apply; most of the books lose much in the squashing. But if all you need is cocktail party conversation crutches, head on over.

Re: search
Research Beyond Google
This column doesn't normally link to specific pages within a site, but this case is a very worthy exception. For most of what we search for on the web, Google and other search engines deliver. But, despite the eight billion pages—give or take a few million—that Google indexes, there's even more data out there. As much as 500 times that, some say, in what is being called the invisible or “deep web.” This page explains the concept and lists, and links, to “119 Authoritative, Invisible, and Comprehensive Resources.” Invaluable for any specialist. See also this article that explains the Deep Web concept . [OEDB link via Sunil Shibad .]

Ultralingua Online Dictionary
There are many online dictionaries out there, and on-the-fly translators too. This site combines a bit of both, covering the Romance Languages. It works like a normal look-up, of course, but also offers grammar resources, and lovely add-ons like the ability to conjugate verbs in those languages, or get words for a number (eg.: enter 935, and it will give you the German neunhundertfünfunddreißig or the Spanish novecientos treinta y cinco). But the best bit, to me, is the ability to produce a dictionary-enabled version of any web page. Enter the URL, choose a dictionary, and you get a page where every word can be clicked to yield a pop-up definition. Invaluable if you have a shaky grasp of a language and need help often. [Via Ethan Zuckerman .]

[Planet Read is worth looking at for the way stories are told and translated / transliterated.]

Planet Read & Desi Lassi
Movies in other languages with subtitles in the one we read? Common. But subtitles in the same language? Think of it this way: not all who understand or speak a language can read it. So Planet Read aims to use Same Language Subtitling to help spread literacy. Stands to reason: karaoke-style subtitling below the visual does help increase understanding. Among its off-shoot projects (some commercial) is Desi Lassi, which streams music videos from Bollywood at you, with subtitles not just in Hindi but also transliterated in Roman script, and translated. (And so, for the first time, I actually figured out the lyrics of Chhainya Chhainya. I have to admit, though, it was difficult to keep one's eyes on the words and not Ms Arora...)

On the Origins of Darwin
The Complete Works of Charles Darwin
Darwin is one of the best-known names in science. The impact he made on our thinking was immense, and this site could show you why in a way that's far beyond the bits we learned in school. It claims to be the first ever complete collection of all Darwin's publications, bringing many of them to the to the web for the first time. Among them, transcripts of some of his handwritten diaries, like the one he kept on the Beagle. It features complete text, down to publishers' ads, and gives you both formatted text and scans of the original pages. There's a complete bibliography, naturally, and translations as well, and audio versions, plus works by others that help you understand Darwin, like contemporary reviews. of his books or obituaries and recollections of Darwin. A good entry point to the site is .

[Good fun, all these parodies. It's an art form, done well.]

Green Eggs and Dr Seuss
Dr. Seuss Parody Page
Everybody's come across a bit of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr Seuss. At the very least, you've come across a parody or a rip-off, but didn't know it at that time. Well, this fan has a bunch of links to parodies of his works and style. On the main site. , you'll also find links to a brief bio, to other sites, and to his books. Just to make it clear, this is not an officially-sanctioned site.

Suggestions continue to be welcome. Mail, PM, or (for users) tag them for:zigzackly.

21 October, 2006

Kiran Desai Reads from the Booker Prize Winner "The Inheritance of Loss"

To hear Kiran Desai read from her Booker Winning novel "The Inheritance of Loss" click here. Also here is the article by Pankaj Mishra that accompanied the reading in New York Times an excerpt from which appears below:

"This leaves most people in the postcolonial world with only the promise of a shabby modernity — modernity, as Desai puts it, "in its meanest form, brand-new one day, in ruin the next." Not surprisingly, half-educated, uprooted men like Gyan gravitate to the first available political cause in their search for a better way. He joins what sounds like an ethnic nationalist movement largely as an opportunity to vent his rage and frustration. "Old hatreds are endlessly retrievable," Desai reminds us, and they are "purer . . . because the grief of the past was gone. Just the fury remained, distilled, liberating.""

My grouse with diasporic writers is that they tend to denigrate, or, patronize India by writing long passages about the exotic India where Indian live in an antique world full of superstitions, mangoes, pickles, snake- and monkey-charmers (Remember "Hullaballo"?), run down neighbourhoods without actually learning about the hearts and minds of the people who inhabit them. They try to exoticise without really understanding the undercurrents of Indian society. What Desai calls "shabby modernity" is also what is turning out brilliant programming code that runs most of the world today. Thus Jhumpa Labiri's "Namesake" which I am reading now, is full of India though it is set in the US, about customs of a Bengali family, and a lot of visuals that would be a treat for people who say they like India.

Seems Indian Writers in English have a great disadvantage here. They aren't so far away from their country that they can gauge what would appeal to Western audiences, nor do they know how to describe things they see everyday in a language that would make it seem like a setting from a period movie.

Cross posted from my blog.

13 October, 2006

Something in the Way

(originally posted here.)

There is a lasting value to classic rock records that, even after years of repeated listening, manage to provide a new insight into the artist’s inner thoughts and feelings. One very good example is Nirvana’s live MTV Unplugged album. It is one of the rawest and most nakedly emotional records in rock’s history. An aural testament to all that Nirvana’s front man, Kurt Cobain was going through. The pain exuded through every song is heartfelt and visceral. It was as if the band knew that this would be their last record together. It was Cobain’s open suicide note to the world, in song. It is a record that even now, after all these years, does not lessen its emotional impact, making it one of the few rock records that is difficult to listen to in one sitting. This is not some pleasant background muzak. This is one man’s pain and anguish channeled through songs that retain a grain of infinite beauty at their core. And dare I say it; even celebrate the finer points of life with their lean but not mean melodic tones. It is this essential contradiction that makes this album still as relevant today as it was when it was first released, just after Cobain’s suicide.

After all, how many unplugged records are out there that offer songs from such disparate artists as David Bowie and Meat Puppets, a folk standard, mixed with grunge’s finest moments, all in one place? It is difficult to single out one song from a record that is consistently excellent, from the opening hope of ‘About a Girl’ to the slightly creepy take on the closing folk standard, ‘Where Did You Sleep Last night?’ But my favorites are undoubtedly ‘Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam’, a song by the The Vaselines, Bowie’s ‘The Man Who Sold The World’, and Nirvana’s own raw cry, ‘Pennyroyal Tea’. However, if I had to pick one song it has to be the hauntingly beautiful ‘Something in the Way’, which stripped bare, takes on a new avatar here. It is as if the song is hiding a deep dark secret. Even though, on the surface, it has childishly simple lyrics, they come with a certain morbid fascination attached. And perhaps that’s the reason why it was used with such chilling precision to demonstrate the surreal boredom of war in the film ‘Jarhead’.

There is some humorous banter too, in between songs, between Cobain, his band and the audience. He was having fun. Everyone was having fun. But in retrospect it comes across as gallows humor. And that makes the record all the more tragic.

So what are you waiting for? Go on and pop that record in on a lonely and grey evening. It will make you cringe, perhaps even take you to the pits but in the end you will come away cleansed. An out and out cathartic record if ever there was one.

10 October, 2006

Green and Orange and Blue

Nonsense verse that will only make sense (kind of) to Gtalk and Gmail users. :)

Every little while
the dot is seen
to turn to green—
and I, I turn too,
to a brighter hue,
and type out a smile.

But then, but then,
it fades, that glow,
and as we all know,
nothing rhymes with orange.



02 October, 2006

Remembering Mahatma Gandhi - "Bapu" to us

Today is 2 October - Gandhi Jayanti - the birthdate of Mahatma Gandhi - the man the world remembers for bringing down a powerful empire through non-violence. The man the world needs most in these warring times.

The man we Indians fondly call "Bapu" - or father.

Here's why I admire Gandhi Ji, and this is not just because I have watched the recent movie "Lage Raho Munna Bhai" that has made Gandhigiri (Gandhihood) hot again.

6 reasons why I think Gandhi Ji was really cool:

1. He was fearless: "No one can escape death. Then why be afraid of it," he said in his speech on All India Radio on January 15, 1948. "In fact death is a friend who brings deliverance from suffering," he continued before he broke down and cried.

2. He taught people that they could agree to disagree: For example, in his prayer meetings, he would have scriptures of various religious read aloud. It would be asked if anyone disagreed. A few did. They were asked if they were willing to keep quiet while the reading was done. They agreed. The readings continued.

3. He sought no political office or power: Gandhi Ji held no government post in Independent India, although he was the one man who the entire nation listened to and followed. He became more than any politician ever did - the father of a nation - remembered by millions even today not just in India but around the world.

4. He won the respect even of those adversely affected by his freedom campaigns: Gandhi Ji's movement in India to wear homespun clothes and boycott foreign goods meant loss of jobs for textile mill workers in Britain. When he met them on his visit to the country, one of the British workers said: "I am one of the unemployed, but if I was in India I would say the same thing that Mr Gandhi is saying."

5. He had a sense of humour: Gandhi Ji's simple and minimal khadi dress was mocked at by many. Winston Churchill had called Gandhi Ji a "seditious fakir, striding half naked". After his meeting with the King of England, a reporter asked Gandhi Ji whether he had enough clothes on for the meeting. "The King," he quipped, "had enough on for both of us."

6. His favourite passage in the Bible was the Sermon on the Mount: So is mine!

Crossposted at Who Wrote That?, UAE Community