Friday, June 30, 2006

Second hand love

To Mummy,

Hope you enjoy it!

Love Andrew, Anne, Olivier

I have a friend who only buys first hand books. He loves that fresh, new smell and the feel of crisp pages between his fingers. My friend’s obsession extends to newspapers as well, so much so two sets of papers are bought in his home – one for him and one for the rest of the family to crease, bend and scribble phone numbers on.

My own book buying habit began rather late in life. My family preferred library memberships. My father and I used to visit Easwari Lending Library in Royapettah and later on to Eloor in T- Nagar every Sunday afternoon. After a good hours browsing we would head to Woodlands Drive In or Gangotri and study our selection in detail over hot coffee and bondas. I somehow never felt the need to buy books.

All this of course changed once I got married and moved to Bombay. In Madras poky, ramshackle rooms that masqueraded as libraries could be found on every street corner. Alas, Bombay was bereft of a motley crew of Shakti/Murugan/Swami lending libraries. So after my husband and I had exhausted the contents of each other’s meagre collection, we proceeded to buy books. At first it was once every few weeks, when we went to town and were driving by Oxford. On moving to south Bombay, Crossword opened up down the road it was impossible not to pop in every other week and have a nose about.

By the time we moved to England our collection had grown modestly. We had 3 small cartons of books that thankfully fit in the oak bookshelf our landlord had provided us with.

In London, I once again found myself with a library membership. Our local council library was free and had a rather good collection. What’s more, books can be quite exorbitant here and picking up even 3 can set you back quite a bit.

Until I discovered charity shops. While Madras has Azhwar on Luz Corner and Bombay has the pavement shops near VT, in London the charity shop rules. Not to be confused with city’s excellent second hand bookshops that dot Charing Cross and the city’s many markets, charity shops are a different breed altogether. From Oxfam to St. Isobel’s Hospice, charities great and small in England have stores that allow patrons to contribute everything from their grandmother’s doily collection to 1930’s rocking horses. These are then resold at bargain prices, the proceeds going to fund the charity’s noble cause.

Though I’ve picked up my fair share of Victorian beer bottles, cast iron Spanish horses and other tat, my favourite charity shop buys are always books. Starting from as little as 50p and going up to hundreds and sometimes even thousands if the book in question is a collectors item, charity shops stock an amazing variety of titles. From Penny Jordan to Proust and William Shakespeare to old editions of Women’s Own they’re a great place to buy books. And perish any thought of old books in tatters and with pages missing. Nothing could be further from the truth. A few months ago I bought a hardback copy of Vikram Seth’s Two Lives that looked brand new for £2.At that price it seemed stupid not to buy it!

That’s the thing with charity shop books, the price alone can convince you to reach for your wallet. Books that you wouldn’t really want to pay full price for (Sex and the City) suddenly seem appealing at 49p. You can take risks at charity shops. Paying £12.99 for a book you’re not sure about is hard. But when the same book costs £1.99 it makes life so much easier. I’ve made some good, indifferent and excellent purchases at charity shops. While Joanna Harris was a little too sweet for me, Penguin’s Anthology of Women’s Short Stories introduced me to Angela Carter and Banana Yoshimoto.

Sometimes I buy books for silly reasons. The ‘To mummy…’ at the beginning of this piece was in a book called Slow Boats to China by Gavin Young. When I saw the spine of the book today, I realised it was the name of a blog I read. Intrigued to see what had inspired the name, I picked up the book and saw the inscription inside. It somehow made me want to read the book.

I like the idea that a book I’m holding has been read, loved or hated by someone before me. I like to think that fingers over the grainy pages and tucked old bills or pressed flowers as bookmarks. I like to think that someone else was amazed by the writer’s lyrical prose, incensed by a character’s actions or horrified at the sudden turn of events on page 234.

I don’t know if ‘Mummy’ enjoyed the book. I hope she did.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

on beauty

It seemed the world had been taken over. Dominated by faces and bodies so perfect they were freakish. Patrician noses that were once crooked. Straight, white veneers that masked 20 years of chain smoking.

She sneered at the trout pouts. Mocked the surgically enhanced feet that would be forced in to unforgiving shoes. Such vanity. Such desperation for social acceptance.

‘Why don’t you ask your boyfriend to take care of his physical inadequacies first?’ she asked friends who were under pressure to go up a cup.

The medias obsession with physical perfection made her ill. She wrote impassioned letters to networks that commissioned plastic surgery reality shows. Look 10 Years Younger. The Swan. Extreme Makeover. What was the point? So that mourners would have something nice to look at as they passed by your open casket? So that the worms and maggots that would feast off your flesh would have plump, botoxed skin to feed off.

Her friends took none of her rants seriously.

‘What do you know about sagging boobs and flabby thighs. You’re gorgeous and thin.’

‘Plenty’ she thought as she stuck her finger down her throat for the fourth time that day.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

fifty 5

'Asshole! Stupid fucking moron what the hell do you think? What, I’m supposed to just roll over and do exactly what you want me to you pretentious son of a bitch? There’s no fucking way I am going to agree to that. Bastard.'

She nodded her head in agreement.

"Of course. Whatever you say Sir."

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Happiness is...

piping hot Leo coffee made from the very first decoction of the day

(She started it! Carry on bloggers)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

somewhere in a hotel room

It had been so long since she had stood before a mirror naked. The long and lean reflective surface was embedded in the ageing almirah of their hotel room and she prayed it would be able to contain her full figure. Her eyes fluttered over to her husband asleep on the bed. He had surely forgotten what she looked like naked. With every pound of flesh she had gained their bedroom had become a shade darker.

The light was now a flattering pale yellow. But not flattering enough. Her breasts cast misshapen shadows on the wall and the vast, lumpy expanse that was her stomach. She knew what lay below but was shy, almost afraid to look. As though it was rude to stare at one's own private parts. She glanced at her husband again to make sure he was still asleep, and then reluctantly let her eyes touch the sparse growth of hair that nestled between her thighs. Thighs that rubbed against each other with every step she took.

She turned, trying to find something she liked. But all she saw was her low slung behind. Her stomach looked even bigger from the side. She protectively cupped its drooping weight with her two hands like women did when they were pregnant. But there had never been anything there. Nor would there be.

She took in a deep breath and held it, standing straight and staring at the shadow she now cast. Everything seemed a little higher now. Her breasts. Her chin. Her mood. She smiled and crept back in to bed her mind holding on to the image it had just received.

Monday, June 12, 2006


We don’t have much time together. Just a few fleeting moments of togetherness before you are whisked away. I want to make the most it, but am so busy telling myself not to squander our time together that I do just that. I want to stand there and bask in your glory. Absorb every particle of your being in to my skin and soul. Instead I cower in the shadows and feel sorry for myself.

‘I’m here now! Make the most of it’ you say. But all I can think of is what it will be like when you are gone. Cold and desolate. All I can think of is how I will miss the feel of you against my skin. I sullenly reach out and as our fingers brush a warmth spreads over me.

‘Stay a little longer’ I beg. ‘Just a few more months.’

‘You always do this’ you chide. ‘You know I’ll be back’

We hold hands one last time, and as you pull away the air becomes cooler.

Goodbye summer.

(I know summer has just begun. But this is definitely how I’ll feel once this glorious season has come to an end. And my sincere apologies for not replying to any of the comments in the previous post. I fully intended to, but kept putting it off. And then didn’t. SORRY!)

Friday, June 02, 2006


Dear white people I work with,

I realise that I am one of the few Indians you encounter in your day-to-day life apart from the waiters at the local balti (who are probably Bangladeshi by the way), but I really need to clarify a few things.

1.I do not know why Indian Call Centre operators call you up 10 times a day offering you new and fantastic cell phone deals. I do not know why your bank’s back office operations in Madras have your telephone number from three houses ago. And before you crib about the fact that they cannot pronounce your name correctly, try saying Kannika Parameshwari or Somayajulu or Veerabadran.

2.Please stop asking me about female infanticide/ human sacrifices/ elephant headed Gods and poverty. I have told you all I can as best as I can. Once more, and I will be asking you about the sad state of your overly promiscuous 12 year olds who are snorting coke in class (teachers tried to wake up a ‘sleeping’ student in class only to realise that she had od-d on cocaine) and delivering babies in their bedrooms (‘I dint know I was pregnant till the baby came out. Thought it was indigestion.’ Of course you did dear).

3.I understand that your country is yet to discover that apart from black and white other colours do exist. But stop twittering every time I come to work in red or orange about ‘How it does suit you people.’ I assume by ‘you people’ you are referring to those of us that are aware of other colours. Also, please do not assume that since I display a knowledge of other 'exotic' colours it is appropriate to give me a gigantic gold bag for Christmas. It is not.

4.Yes. Ha ha. People sing and dance at regular intervals in Bollywood movies. The rest of the nation does not follow suit.

5.My grasp of the English language is far superior to yours. So please, stop whispering to one another and checking my copy. Someone who says ‘Crikey is bloody hot today innit’ probably thinks a semi colon is situated in the human body and will be unable to confirm whether it should be in a sentence or not.


The blue kurti wearing copywriter who was almost offered as a human sacrifice to a 23 aardvark headed God.