Thursday, June 28, 2007

On the Jubilee line

She is leaning against a scratched plexiglass surface, reading the paper when the train pulls in to Westminster. She grimaces and braces herself for the onslaught of dark suited City types with their lap top bags and single note, bespoke fragrances. She coils in to herself as a tall man comes and stands in front of her presenting his broad back and the pinstriped wool that is stretched over it. His hair is a floppy and the colour of sand. Tousleable. Is that a word? He smells like vanilla. The hairs at the back of her neck prickle and she feels a faint, long forgotten stirring below. It has been a while, a year to be exact. As the train arrives at Waterloo she allows herself to lurch forward with it, her hand reaching out to steady herself on his shoulder, her cheek grazing the wool, her nostrils delicately flaring out and inhaling his essence. She mumbles an apology and tumbles out alone on to the platform.

Friday, June 22, 2007

tagged again

Which book I read first – Kiran Nagarkar’s Ravan and Eddie or Allan Sealy’s The Everest Hotel - I can not remember. Nor can I recall what I thought of the books, other than the fact that Nagarkar’s books seemed full of rude bits (or so it seemed to my puritanical young mind) and Sealy wrote long, beautifully descriptive passages.

Indian authors. So much is said and written about them, so my initial reaction was: what on earth do I have to add to that? Plus, I’m terrible at writing about my reaction to books, cinema and music. The emotions I feel when reading a book or watching a film elude me when I sit down to write about them. But, I have been tagged, and since I have nothing else to blog about, why not? (Please ignore any previous blog posts which may have stated that I will never do another tag)

So here, in no particular order are Indian authors I enjoy reading.

Anita Desai: I first read Fasting and Feasting and was struck by how beautifully Desai captured small town India and some of the small minded people who live there. Since then, I’ve read many of her short stories, ‘Twilight Games’, ‘Diamond Dust’, ‘Private Tuition by Mr.Bose’ – the last a particular favourite: the slyly flirtatious student, Mr. Bose’s increasing embarrassment and fluster and his wife furiously making puris in the kitchen, one eye on the tuition room the entire time. Next on the list: In Custody.

Ambai: It’s a deep regret of mine that I cannot read Ambai’s short stories in tamizh, or rather that if I attempted to would take me the better part of a day to complete a few paragraphs. When I bought ‘In a forest, a deer’ in Madras last year I had heard of Ambai briefly as someone my mother read and didn’t really know what to expect. I was hooked after the first story though – ‘A rat, A sparrow’ – where a woman living in Bombay is both overwhelmed and disgusted by the city, overjoyed to hear the sound of voices speaking in tamizh but disappointed when she meets tamizh people. The story captured so many of my own feelings when I first arrived in Bombay and then London.

Rohinton Mistry A Fine Balance and Family Matters are two books I will always treasure. His writing fills me with horror, evokes tenderness and can make me laugh all in the span of a few pages.

VS Naipaul: Till recently I had only read Sir Vidiya’s non-fiction. And then Falstaff recommended Miguel Street. What a joy the book turned out to be. The stories are all narrated by Boy, a young lad living on impoverished Miguel Street where the likes of Errol, Hat, Mr. Popo and the poet B.Wordsworth lead their bizarre, funny, outrageous, indolent lives. I had to stop reading this book on the train because it made me laugh aloud far too much.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Meanwhile... Is jail hot too Paris?

An edited version of this piece appears here.

In, out and then maybe in again.

No, no that’s not the theme of the next Paris Hilton ‘film’ but the heiress’ on again off again tryst with the slammer which has been getting more attention than Ash-Abhi at Roland Garros (really Abhi we need to talk about you wearing a three piece suit to a tennis match.)

Now, back to Miss. Hilton.

‘I forgot.’

It’s such a wonderful excuse isn’t it? Especially when combined with raised, well shaped eyebrows, wide eyes and for added effect finger tips resting against a perfectly round mouth. It’s even better when used by delinquent celebrities brought before frowning judges. Better but not very believable. Somehow it’s just hard to accept that someone didn’t know or forgot that prostitution/shooting endangered animals/shooting up/driving under influence/driving with a suspended license/wearing a black bra under a white t-shirt is illegal. Even more so when those who claim temporary amnesia have an entire entourage who have been employed to remind them of such things.

Poor Paris Hilton. She obviously didn’t practice her ‘I forgot’ in front of the mirror before she was hauled in to a California court for driving with a suspended license. The heiress was sentenced to 45 days in jail after Judge Michael T. Sauer failed to accept her excuse and claims that her perma-tanned, Persian cat stroking publicist Elliot Mintz told her to go ahead and drive (ok, so all entourages aren’t entirely reliable). Apparently Mother Hilton never used the ‘If your friends tell you to jump off a bridge’ lecture on her daughter. Or the ‘always wear underwear’ lecture for that matter.

Personally I think Paris should have been locked up a long time ago. Now I have nothing against thin, blonde women who drive Bentleys and will one day inherit millions of dollars. But I do have a problem when they decide that shopping, chemical peels and retouching their highlights is getting stale and that it’s time to inflict themselves on society at large. Ever since Paris became the cynosure of the giant, unblinking public eye she has steadily gone on to assault each and every one of our senses. Reality television shows with other rich-(now) thin-sometimes blonde girls, acting (I use the word very loosely of course), writing a handbook on how to be an heiress (I think every mother who bought that book for their pre-teen daughter should be thrown in the slammer with blondie), creating a signature scent, releasing an album which contain the profound lyrics ‘give me a little more room just to prove it to you, what do I gotta do?’, parading about with a number of sweater-vest clad pets including Chihuahuas, ferrets and Nick Carter, trying to get a patent on ‘That’s hot’ and worst of all, going out in public in a leopard printed Alice band and matching sweats. 45 days seems too lenient a sentence if you ask me.

There are those who disagree. The heiress tried tears and apologies, her mother attempted a hissy fit in court and fans took their battle to the internet. A petition was set up by one loyal subject at that beseeched California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to intervene. The petitioners claimed that Hilton should not serve time as ‘she provides beauty and excitement to our otherwise mundane lives’. My hysterical laughter (apparently echoed at the Governor’s office) was silenced when I saw that tens of thousands of people had added their names to the petition. Compare this to the few hundred people over at the ‘Paris must be jailed’ petition and you’ll understand why we should all despair over the future of this planet.

Paris’ staunch defenders must be overjoyed now that she’s been sent home to serve out the rest of her sentence. Apparently the poor dear was on the very of a mental breakdown which may or may not have been caused by officials forcing her to watch her film The House of Wax on loop. I like how the prison official that made the announcement kept insisting that Paris had been ‘reassigned’ and not ‘released’. I wonder how many other felons get reassigned to multi-million dollar mansions in Beverly Hills that they just happen to own. I have a feeling prison officials had no other choice - the other inmates probably threatened a riot if they didn’t get rid of the person who once said ‘I don’t really think, I just walk’. Who knows, vapidity may be contagious.

Paris will no doubt bounce back from her ordeal like a pair of perky silicone implants. A book about her prison experiences (she and Lord Archer can swap notes), a jail bait chic clothing line, an accessory line in the form of crystal embellished electronic monitoring tags, endorsing memory plus tablets – the opportunities are endless.
Paris, I hope you’ll spend your time in solitary confinement (in prison or in your pool house) wisely, contemplating your comeback. If nothing else, a month spent in the orange boiler suit they’re going to put you in might just wean you off animal prints.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The New York Minute

What exactly is a New York minute? To a baby boomer, it’s a song by those plaid-clad crooners, The Eagles. For the baby boomer’s tween daughter, it’s a movie starring the forever-shrinking Olsen twins, Mary-Kate and Ashley. For most, though, it is the exhilarating, accelerated passage of time that one can only experience in Gotham. Time is a luxury not everyone can afford, so what should one do if a New York minute is all one has in New York?

Read the rest here.

The keeping of secrets

She sits on the couch, hugging the secret to herself. It is not someone else’s, but her own. Unlike other secrets that are corrosive and gnaw at one’s insides, this secret is like a cup of dark rich cocoa that warms the palms of her hands.
She has always believed that secrets should be kept. In fact she has always discouraged others from telling her their secrets, an act that only spurred them on. Making them whisper stories of infidelity, betrayal and greed in to her ears. She began to bloat, turning in to unwieldy repository of other people’s grief and joy, aspirations and shattered dreams. She moved slowly, unsure of herself and unhappy. She stopped answering the phone, feared the office water cooler and no longer went out. And then one day without warning she burst like a dam.
She began stopping strangers on the street and telling them about her boss’s fetish for paper cups. She told her landlord his wife was sleeping with the factotum. Her mother was informed of why her only son would never marry. Everything came pouring out. Everything but the one secret she had always kept. The one about herself.
She wonders what it is like, telling a secret to someone. Wouldn’t that cheapen it? Devalue it somehow? Take away the mystery that made it so delicious. Once you have told someone your secret, it is no longer a secret but a tawdry tale.
So she decides to say it out loud. In her empty living room. She whispers her secret softly and slowly, pausing at all the right places.
When she is done she wishes she hadn’t. The woman in the Ravi Verma print is smiling. Knowingly.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Amma look what I won!

The winners of the Penguin Decibel Prize 2007 have been announced (scroll down to the second item).

Can you see a familiar name? (Hint, mine!)

Friday, June 08, 2007

in memorium

The memorial plaque read: "In honour of the 30 lives tragically lost in the fire of 82."
It was 31.
Not 30.
The media had a field day
'More proof of the Council's incompetence'
'Hardly worth the 25 year wait', they jeered.
The Council promised an enquiry.
The sculptor went in to hiding.
The families protested.
As they picketed and shouted they were all thinking the same thing.
'Please don't let them have forgotten my child'

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Raise your karandi if....

You've ever felt like this.

Now, where's that take-away menu...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Off Broadway

Yesterday was one of those warm sunny days that Londoner's dream of all winter long only to start whinging about how hot it is after 5 minutes in the sun. A day like yesterday is a day not to be wasted. It is a day that should be spent out and about. Not at home, not at Tesco and not at The British Museum (which, if you ask me is one of the best places to be when as the Brit's charmingly say 'it's pissing'.)

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So yesterday was spent at Broadway Market in Bethnal Green. Compared to sprawling, magic mushroom infested Camden Lock and posh Notting Hill, Broadway Market is small and sweet. Situated on a sliver of a road off Regent's Canal the market mainly hawks fresh produce, artisan food (any food that does not come out of a microwaveable plastic dish is now artisan), vintage clothes, eco-friendly skincare products and a smattering of chic, independent stores.

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The street was packed with people weaving in and out of the stalls helping themselves to free olive & cheese samples, buying their fruit and veg for the week and trying out vintage sunglasses. This man was doing brisk business:

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Women were trying out lovely long maxi dresses over what they were wearing, kids were running about petting other people's dogs, pale skinned girls in barely there dresses sat on the curb sunning themselves, the fragrance of ylang-ylang from an incense stall ('Guaranteed to neutralise negative karma waves') mixed with the familiar smell of oily samosas from the 'Gujurati Rasoi' stand. It felt like a big street party.

What I love about market stalls is how chatty and friendly the owners are. Sure, they have to be if they want to make money but it's still nice to be chatted up by a good looking man of a certain age while you try on a pair of leather sandals (£15 and very comfortable). While some of the stalls are rather focussed on what they sell, others are an eclectic mish mash - like the woman selling everything from vintage buttons and trim, handmade bags, old toy cars (at 40p a piece)and (my favourite) stacks and stacks of old Ladybird books. She sat their knitting away quite happy for kids to come and bang those cars at her feet while their parent's looked at old military style brass buttons.

There are some great indi shops here too. Black Truffle has beautiful shoes and bags while Art Vinyl MixArt&Music currently has an exhibition of record sleeves on. With it's worn wooden floors and threadbare killim rug The Broadway Bookshop seemed to be a (much) smaller version of Daunt's on Marylebone where the books are largely categorised by country. So whether you're looking for a cookbook a travel guide or a good old yarn about Peru it's all there under one section.

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What I loved about Broadway Market was the sense of community. Sure I didn't know anyone else there and know one else knew me, but everyone was smiling, saying hello and chatting with one another. People weren't afraid of strangers smiling at their children. I'd like to think the market had something to do with that. Or maybe it was just the weather.