Life happened because I turned the pages~~Alberto Manguel

Sunday, October 31, 2004

The End is Nigh

Courtesy Anil Dash, the ultimate list of spoilers.

Alice in Blunderland

I can understand why Randa Jarrar (blogging over at MoorishGirl) and Noggs are upset at Daphne Merkins' profile of Alice Munro. Every piece about a woman writer feels it necessary to comment on the way she looks, talks and dresses, whereas men get away with the single-adjective description: "rumpled", "intense", "dapper". And yes, it's demeaning and incredibly, reflexively, sexist.
For all its length, the profile is short on moments like this:
''I've tried to write novels,'' Munro says, sounding slightly annoyed with her own intractable methods. ''They turn into strange, hybrid stories.'' And then, an almost imperceptible note of defiance enters the conversation, as though she were having an argument with the powers that be, whoever they be, with all those who would tell her how to behave or how to write: ''I haven't read a novel that I didn't think couldn't have been a better story. I still go into bookstores and look at how few pages you can get away with in a novel. I actually stand there, deducting the white pages in between and adding up the number on my fingers. Do you think you can get away with 110?''
It's a bit of a waste, given that Merkin makes such a big deal over the fact that Munro rarely gives interviews.

The Life-Before-Rowling department

Oh, good, the Boston Globe has profiled Brian Jacques. "Redwall novels are long -- 350 to 400 pages -- and while critics marveled that kids would read the doorstop Harry Potter novels, it passed unnoticed that they have been reading Redwall since 1986."
I'd read the books ages ago, in my longlost youth, but had no idea that the man was such a character:
"I like the good old yarns," he said. "My dad would say to me, 'You want to read that, lad; that's a good yarn.'" In the 1960s he and his two brothers, along with their father and friends, performed traditional music in Irish pubs in Liverpool.
"I was the spokesman," he said. "They were all great singers but didn't talk to the public. So I would get up and say, 'Good evening, we're the Liverpool Fishermen, and this is a little song we used to sing at my mother's knee, or some other low joint,' and carry on like that, 'a little song titled, Don't Go Down to the Shrimp Boats, Mum -- Dad's Coming Home with the Crabs.'"

Saturday, October 30, 2004


From Adam Lipkin's Fear Factor Index, on Bookslut: "...[H]orror, by its nature, doesn't always allow for series. A successful science-fiction or fantasy novel, even if intended as a one-shot, often involves a lot of world-building, and turning a successful one into a series doesn't take a lot of work. Likewise, a successful mystery or crime novel usually provides a heroic character who can continue to solve crimes in future novels. But horror novels, of course, often end with most of the protagonists dead or otherwise unlikely to continue to face the supernatural. Thus, Shirley Jackson didn't exactly hurry out there to write The Haunting of Hill House 2."
Which is why Thomas Harris is doing another prequel to Silence of the Lambs. Behind the Mask is due out in early 2005, and promises to tell us where Hannibal's appetite came from. I remember thinking, while reading Hannibal, that part of Dr Lecter's charm came from his resistance to being analysed by blunt little tools: it was deeply disappointing to be handed a yarn about his sister being killed and eaten by soldiers, and that particular section of the book read as though it had been written by early Jeffrey Archer, not vintage T Harris. The Lecter books illustrate one of Adam Lipkins' points, though: horror is about upping the ante, and in Hannibal, it was upped to the point where it became almost ludicrous.
I can almost imagine Harris thinking: "So the next monster in human form is going to make a coat out of skins--oops, no, done that; okay, so he's going to...serve his victim's organs at a dinner party! Great idea! Nope, did that-got it, how about killer pigs and, no, wait, a dinner party where he eats the guests! Great twist! Brilliant! Now how do I top that? Damn, get back to the early years. They're always good for a bit of recipe-sharing: how to strain human teeth out of soup, sort of thing."
On the other hand, any takers for a Hannibal cookbook? I'd buy that. And given some of the "talent" that reaches my desk, I might even use the damn thing.

How to torture Seymour Hersh

I love it when a sentence like this pops up in a review: "Do you want to be allied to a country that calls the Geneva Convention 'quaint'?" Nicholas Lezard, on Guantánamo.
And Seymour Hersh, who's making waves (what's new?) with Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, gives Lakshmi Chaudhry a rough but entertaining ride:
LC: So what does the Abu Ghraib scandal say – the fact that it happened and the way it was handled by the Bush administration ...
SH: Oh, c'mon. You can ask a better question than that.
Of course, it gets better.
Hersh makes an interesting point here: "When I wrote my first stories about My Lai, I remember vividly a Minnesota public opinion poll that showed that more than half of the American people didn't think I should have published that story. They weren't accusing me of doing anything wrong, but they didn't think I should have written about it. So you always have this resistance to an ugly truth."
Axis of Logic got off easy. The San Francisco Chronicle got the unexpurgated Hersh:
"Ask him why the Abu Ghraib scandal is important, and you'll get an earful. 'Why are you asking me that question? Are you trying to torture me? Is that a torture question? If you can't answer that question, I'm not going to answer it.' He's picking up speed. 'Why is it important? It's important because -- let me tell you why it's important, in a nutshell! It's important because it's a symptom of a lack of care by the people at the top,' he said.
'The president and (Vice President Dick) Cheney and (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld dehumanized the opposition from the beginning -- out of fear, out of anger, out of want of payback.'"
Here's an excerpt from the book.

Lollipops and blurbs

There are many things about the publishing industry that mystify those in the outer circle of initiation... hell, there are many things about publishing that mystify those in the inner circle. Like blurbs, which require someone, usually famous, to read a book written by someone else, famous or obscure, and sum it up in a few pithy sentences. Paul Theroux called it one of the most painful chores of a writer's life, and except for professional blurb whores, most writers would agree.
The original blurb was often just the opinion of the publisher or the editor, and it was intended to be read as an advertisement for the contents. Then came reviews, and publishers began printing enthusiastic endorsements by reviewers. Not all of them blurb whores, though you can often tell dubious praise by the number of ellipses included.
(Art of the Blurb 101: always find the complete quote. What reads in the blurb: "a of.. genius" might be, in the original, "a stunningly incompetent piece of crap, illuminating nothing but the paucity of modern publishing. This is the work of an utter moron, clearly persuaded by a cohort of
specious friends as intellectually challenged as he is, if that's possible, that he is a genius.")
But relying on reviews creates several problems for publishers. One is that reviews tend to come out only after the book does, so you have nothing to cut-and-paste from for the jacket. Then reviewers tend to be a little inkstained wretchy, a little nonfamous, and who cares if some obscure guy called Brad Malkovich from The Georgian Free Press has hailed a book as "stunningly...illuminating" or not? (There's also the fact that reviewers, to the annoyance of editors and publishers, frequently don't share the ed's opinion of a book, but we'll let that pass.) So... you need a Famous Writer, or at a pinch, a Famous Reviewer (which is all too often an oxymoron) to produce the necessary burble for the blurb.
And Famous People are notoriously busy, yes? And even non-famous reviewers may not get around to reading your book in time to produce a decent review, let alone a blurb, yes? Thus was born the existence of the "proof copy" or the "early embargoed copy". These are preview copies of the book handed out either to Famous Authors who will then hopefully write a stunningly illuminating blurb, or to reviewers on the understanding that they get to read the Book of the Season earlier than hoi polloi.
This can cause confusion. Recently, Vinod Mehta, editor, Outlook wrote of Suketu Mehta's Maximum City:
"So, I’m looking forward to reading Mr Mehta’s book even though the book jacket and the publisher’s press release appear guilty of gratuitous "corruption". Both instruments of sale have some generous plugs from the likes of Salman Rushdie, Amitav Ghosh, William Dalrymple and others. It is possible that this portrait of a fascinating metropolis deserves all the showered praise. Alas, the manner in which it has been obtained seems to be suspect.
Maximum City has only just been released, therefore, one is justified in asking how these ‘reviews’ were acquired and in which publication they appeared? Was the book submitted for formal reviewing? Or did the author send the manuscript or advance copies to select friends and admirers with a request for some publicity? This kind of duplicity and deception—possibly under pressure from Penguin-Viking—is unnecessary since it is more than likely that Mehta has written the definitive work on Mumbai. Private plugs masquerading as public notices is a corrupt practice which needs to be condemned."
Bibliofile, the gossip column on Outlook's books section, gleefully recorded what followed: "All hell broke loose when Outlook editor-in-chief Vinod Mehta in his Delhi Diary questioned the ethics of "friendly" authors providing a pre-publication endorsement for debut books. Calling it a "nasty little tirade", Penguin's enraged executive editor Ravi Singh denies any publishing house, 'and certainly not in India, is big or foolish enough to 'pressure' major authors for such endorsement.'"
Outlook's highmindedness is amusing; they run an entertaining books page, but they've also seen nothing wrong in asking Boria Majumdar to review a book by Ram Guha. (The two had a very public disagreement on the subject of sources shortly before Outlook's review was commissioned.) Or getting Balbir Punj, author of rightwing columns you should read with tissues at hand to wipe away the excess from his frothing at the mouth, to review a serious work of history. They've done good stuff on those pages--published essays by Dalrymple, Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy--so I suppose a few contentious decisions shouldn't count. All the same, they'd be best off examining their own ethics while they're at it.
And they've left the whole question of blurbs wide open. If most readers are aware that blurbs are an advertisement, then writers who provide blurbs, before or after the publication of a book, are performing the same function as celebrities who're endorsing soap. We don't expect Amitabh Bacchan to really use the products he plugs (and indeed, there are so many of them these days that he'd have to build a new house just for them). But we do expect Salman Rushdie or John Updike to mean it when they give a new author the thumbs up. One of these days, it'll occur to publishers that it would sell far more copies of any book at hand if you got Madonna and the latest boy band to endorse it, and that'll be the death of blurbs masquerading as honest opinion (even if we all know they're just ads, RIP).
But is it ethical to release a book to any writer/reviewer, however famous, before actual publication? It depends. If you hand Michiko Kakutani the latest by Tom Wolfe, she'll spit on it anyway. (And, as Publisher's Lunch pointed out, she'll do it a few weeks before the book comes out.) Hey, she's too busy to check on embargoes and publishing schedules; she has venom to manufacture, right?
"Because Mr. Wolfe begins by depicting these characters as representative types, he has a hard time turning them into credible individuals. And because he wants, intermittently, to sentimentalize their dilemmas, he has a hard time generating genuinely potent satire.
Add to that his inability to nail the externals of his characters' lives and his failure to conjure the campus mood (never mind the national zeitgeist), and the result is a disappointingly empty novel...."
So this is the situation, as Kitabkhana sees it. We have pre-published books, ready to walk, talk and do the fandango several months before they actually hit the bookstores. We have pre-packaged authors, with marketing teams working out flow charts on the demographics (for the lucky ones; the rest just get brown-bagged). We have authors who're pressurised or persuaded into pre-reading the pre-published books so that they can produce previews that will show up on the blurb. And as Kakutani just demonstrated, there's no reason why we can't turn the review, usually timed for the arrival of the book in stores, into a preview, and never mind whether the book's in or out, up or down. For all we know, undaunted by the NYT Lady's bodyslam, someone's already working on writing the blurb for Wolfe's next novel. And no one cares. Except for the editor of Outlook, bless his soul.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Shaikh Zubair, reprise

Just when you thought the Bard had been claimed by pretty much everybody, here's a bid from the Sufis:
"Shakespeare would have delighted in Sufism,' said Lings, who is 96 and an adherent of Sufism. 'We can see he obviously knew a lot about some kind of equivalent sect or order.'
Lings argues that the guiding principles of Sufi thought are evident in Shakespeare's writing. The plays, he believes, depict a struggle between the dawning modernist world and the traditional, mystical value system. And, like the Sufis, the playwright is firmly on the side of tradition and spiritualism."
On the other hand, given that he wrote "It is not enough to help the feeble up, but to support him after", the Babu is confident that Shakespeare knew all about the trials of Bikram Yoga.

Ed, thank you

From Edward Champion, The Literary Hipster's Handbook:
"Clarke": (v.) To write endlessly about a frivolous and often misunderstood topic. (Ex. Friends urged Roger to throw in the towel, but he couldn't stop Clarking his 800 page epic about two battling pieces of macaroni during the Napoleonic Wars.)
"Edinburgh": An undesirable place to head to, such as a city or a building, generally populated by attention-starved individuals. (Or. The Scottish capital.)
"Jelinek": (n.) A person snubbed unreasonably because of personal success, often one unknown before said emolument. (Ex. Ana Marie Cox, once so admired by the commonweal, was shuttled with the other Jelineks after nabbing her lucrative book deal.)

1942, 42 years later

Irene Nemirovsky was deported to Auschwitz in July 1942; she died the next month in the camps. She left a suitcase containing family papers with her daughter, who discovered three decades later that what she'd thought was a journal was actually part of a novel, Suite Francaise.
"Now aged 74, Denise Epstein says the book is not just a novel. "Above all it is a log-book written by my mother through the dark years. All the people she writes about and takes such pains to create -- we knew them. All the situations -- we lived through them," she said.
"During the 1930s my mother wanted to believe that France would defend the Jews. Afterwards she was for years seen just as a victim and her talent was forgotten. I hope this book will do justice to what she was above all else -- a writer."

Yup, I'd have to agree that the use of the phrase "literary sensation" is justified.

Who was that, again?

I'd decided not to post anything further on the NBA awards shortlist for the very good reason that the authors nominated are so obscure that no bookshop in Delhi is willing to punt on when--if--their novels will ever get here. But the Christian Science Monitor offers a bluffer's guide to "the strangest, most obscure" set of finalists in recent years. (Link via Beatrice.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Love comes third... Germany. In a competition to find the most beautiful word in the German language, Habseligkeiten, meaning possessions, belongings or effects, was the winner. And 'Geborgenheit, meaning "a feeling of security" came in second, with "lieben" a distant third.
Before we start in with those German jokes, a question: what would the most beautiful word in Hindi be? (In Bengali, given the Babu's brethren's obsession with food, I'm betting "rosogolla" or "maacher-jhol" would rank somewhere in the top three. On second thoughts, add "mochar chop" to that, and you can forget about "bhalobasha" even getting a look-in.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Load-of-Crap dept

Jonathan Yardley: "Rereading "The Catcher in the Rye" after all those years was almost literally a painful experience: The combination of Salinger's execrable prose and Caulfield's jejune narcissism produced effects comparable to mainlining castor oil." (Link via Old Hag.)

Bootlegged before the book!

This is what's called the spirit of free enterprise. I take it Gabriel Garcia Marquez was not amused.

Naipaul is controversial. Again.

What else happened while the Babu was awol? Naipaul made provocative and controversial remarks, yes, well, doesn't he do that all the time? (For the record, he slated: Indian writers (quit boasting, he advised), the new technological civilisation, and yes, he declared, yet again, that the End of the Novel was Nigh.
It doesn't matter; Sir Vidia,Philip Hensher still loves you. In a piece on judging the Booker, Hensher wrote:
"Worst of all was the passing over of V S Naipaul's extraordinary and daring Magic Seeds.
If the judges were seriously proposing that a novelist such as Sarah Hall is more worthy of praise than a piece of vintage Naipaul, they must have lost their marbles."
A piece of vintage Naipaul? A House for Mr Biswas; vintage Naipaul. The Enigma of Arrival, India: A Million Mutinies Now; vintage Naipaul. But Magic Seeds?
This is the novel that sounded tired from page one onwards and went downhill from there. I could cite several reviews, but I'm going to limit myself to two, the first by Mike Philips in the Guardian, who said: "There may be many reasons to admire the body of Naipaul's writing. This book is not one of them." Or there's Paul Bailey, whose review was titled Such a long (and boring) journey: "I wish I could record that Magic Seeds is written with Naipaul's customary elegance, but I can't, because it isn't. The prose is repetitive, set down in a faux-naïf manner that soon irritates. If Willie is the principal character in a third novel, I shall not be following his further progress. Enough is truly enough."
It seems that Naipaul agrees. I don't know about the "shocked" audience in Delhi who responded tearfully to the news that the master may not write another novel (hey, didn't he say that before Half a Life? And after?), but some of us yobbos in the cheap seats were cheering. (Nothing worse than reading an author you once admired and realising that he's passed beyond the point of greatness to plain vanilla tedium.) And some were, tongue firmly in cheek, thanking Naipaul for not realising that they hailed from Bengal.
Oh, and Bangalore still loves him too.

The Booker: Airs on a G-word string

Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty is "the first book with a strong gay theme" to win the Booker; gay novelist wins the Booker; gay fiction beats the hot favourite to win; tale ofgay life in Britain wins Booker etc.

All done. Now can we get past the sexual orientation thing, please? Maybe not, suggests this article by the BBC:
"Admired in literary circles, his books have a strong gay following, but they are about to fall into new hands.
But Hollinghurst hopes that his new audience will not fall into the trap of thinking of him as a "gay writer" penning "gay novels".
"I can't dispute the terms in a way. But I get depressed when people use them, as if to suggest that is the principle or only thing of interest about the books.
I have always tried to write books from a gay viewpoint and with their gayness as given. And I use that to write about all sorts of things in life.
I'm afraid the gay issue, the gay sex thing, crowds out other things in people's notice."

The Man Booker blog carried a minute-by-minute update of the Booker ceremony. (Link via Tingle Alley.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Moby lives, ok

It's been far too long outside the whale. Glad to see him back at a time when others are threatening to leave and some have turned off the lights already.

Mwahahahaha moment

We're conquering the world.
"A British language expert predicts that "Hinglish," or Indian English, will overtake standard English as the most common spoken form of the language globally."
A year ago, The Week ran a piece on Hinglish as she is increasingly isspoke these days. Other variants include: Pinglish (Punjabi English), Bonglish (Bengali English), Tamlish (Tamil English) and some claimants even swear there's Ginglish (Gujarati English).

Good on yer, mate

Yup, she's back in the news again.
From The Hindu: "Comparing Australia's aborigines to India's untouchables, controversial Indian author Arundhati Roy has accused Canberra of genocide and said she wanted to donate her USD 50,000 Sydney Peace Prize to aboriginal political activities to further their work."
The Bulletin reported her as saying:"It is funny, I've spent so much time in South Africa recently and the white South Africans have a fascination for Australia.
"So, I was talking to some black friends and they laughed and said, 'yeah, it's because they think the Australians got it right. They just killed the blacks. The South Africans let us survive."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

From the Utterly-Useless-Stuff Dept

I love the classified ads. Among the hundreds of hopefuls extolling their "gorgette prints", you have benefactors offering relief for those "tensed and depressed by heavy pressure of creditors". "Survical body massage by male to male" competes with Tanisha, who will "service only elite family member", and others who will "hell both body and soul", should you be in need of helling by "beautiful m/f masseses".
Tender Notices (don't they make business deals sound, well, so sensitive, so sweet, so touching?) rest cheek by jowl alongside appeals by the Bathinda Municipal Corporation to animal welfare organisations, who are informed: " control problem of Stray Cattles in Bathinda a Cattle Pond has been set up. A large number of unclaimed cattles are available. In case any NGO is willing to take cattles they may write to us."
But this one, found in The Hindustan Times, really made my day.
It's filed under Business, by the Jammu & Kashmir Industries Ltd, Old Sectt, Srinagar:
"REGARDING LEASING OUT OF THE SHODDY PROJECT: J&K Industries Ltd intends to lease-out its Shoddy Project...on an as-is-where-is basis." No wonder they're leasing it out, I said to myself, if it really was, as the ad goes on to state, a Shoddy Plant as well as a Shoddy Project.
Then I found out what Shoddy really means.

Beyond East meets West

The Babu was goofing off when the new Hindu Literary Review came out--go visit.
Their lead story this month is by Tabish Khair, commenting on the bits of Indian immigrant history that don't make it to fiction often enough: "There are so many Indian English novels now in which the love angle is always with someone from France or the U.S. and not with someone from Nepal or Japan. There are too many novels in which the protagonist emigrates to England or Canada and not to Dubai or Cape Town. True, these "Indo-West" stories have to be told — and all of us writing in English probably need to get a novel or two along those lines out of our systems — but surely there are other stories waiting to be told too?"

Awards, awards, awards

The Giller Prize shortlist was announced a few days ago: Shauna Singh Baldwin, Alice Munro, Wayson Choy, Pauline Holdstock, Paul Quarrington and Miriam Toews made the cut.

Nearer home, The New India Foundation has been busy--so busy, in fact, that they don't seem to have updated their website. Tch tch.
Outlook reports: "...The foundation is also awarding a Rs 1 lakh prize for the best non-fiction book. It's a mixed bag on the shortlist, with a Dalit autobiography and a travelogue competing with academic works. The shortlisted books: Jootan: A Dalit's Life (Samya) by Omprakash Valmiki; Out of God's Oven: Travels in a Fractured Land (Penguin) by Dom Moraes and Sarayu Ahuja; Dalit Assertion and the Unfinished Democratic Revolution: the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh (Sage) by Sudha Pai; Locked in Place: State-building and late industrialisation in India (Tulika) by Vivek Chibber; and Contesting Marginality: Ethnicity, Insurgency and Subnationalism in Northeast India (Manohar) by Sajal Nag. The award and fellowships will be announced at a special lecture meet at Delhi's IIC on December 3."
And one of the unwritten requirements to qualify clearly was the presence of a semicolon somewhere in a long and meandering title. You sense that Jootan: A Dalit's Life is almost distressingly terse.

On a lighter note, if you're Indian, convinced that you write better stories than Seth, Rushdie and Lahiri put together, but haven't yet put your talent where your mouth is, this Bombay blog's running a fiction contest. Please note that Caferati only wants entries via email, so if your manuscript is written in copperplate across twenty-seven violet-scented onionskin pages, start typing. don't push your aunt's heptalogy on Bangalore's sewers

From the ManBooker International Prize 2005 website:
"Please note that submissions for the prize are not invited - the judges will be compiling their own longlists."
From The Independent:
"The Booker Prize, currently under fire for concentrating on fashionable and quirky writers, will this week attempt to regain its reputation for high seriousness with the launch of the 'super Booker', a worldwide search for the living greats of fiction.
While the winners of the main prize, due to be announced next week, must come from Britain or the Commonwealth, the new £60,000 competition will be open to all comers.
The IoS understands that the reading list for the inaugural international prize - compiled at a recent secret meeting in Rome - already includes V S Naipaul, the 2001 Nobel prize-winner from Trinidad; Margaret Atwood, the Canadian who won the Booker in 2000; John Updike, the Pulitzer prize-winner; Gabriel García Márquez, the master of magic realism; and Philip Roth, whose collected works are soon to appear in a Library of America edition."

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Three reasons to be happy today

1. From Publisher's Lunch:
Knopf has confirmed what Lunch reported in part earlier:
Random House will publish Gabriel García
Márquez's MEMORIA DE MIS PUTAS TRISTES in a simultaneous
Spanish-language release on October 27, through both
Vintage Espanol (paperback) and Knopf (hardcover) in the US,
and Random House Mondadori in co-editions with García
Márquez's traditional publishing companies elsewhere.
There seems to be slight confusion over whether this is the second volume of his memoirs, or a work of fiction as the media's reporting, or perhaps just thinly-fictionalised memoirs. I'm all for option three.

2. Sex and the Umma has been updated after a long break; read Zuleikha Mahmood's Lesbo Goes to Muslim Bridal Shower here. Or for pure joy, read the comments here (scroll down to bottom of page). Immoveable spluttering hordes of the pious meet irresistible articulate force of the damned.

3. And this.

Just a sec till I potchke this in...

Rick Klaw has a wonderful column on the fine art of pochkeying (or potchkeing, as Tingle Alley, where we found the link, learned is the correct term).
The Babu is no writer, but he observes a direct correlation between a rise in blogging activity on Kitabkhana and the size of his workload. It's amazing how days when the deadlines loom large are the ones where he has a manic, uncontrollable urge to post on everything under the sun. Like today, he said, as another deadline makes a whooshing noise as it goes by.
And on the rare occasion when there is Real Nearly-Author-Type writing to do? That's when you should drop by, because that's when the Babu's going to be spending three hours in the kitchen making batches of pasta sauce, mochaar chop (which requires eons of time just peeling the stupid banana tree bits involved) and gingerbread, which everyone knows you can't make in quantities less than ten loaves at a time, minimum.

The Hungry Corporation

Amitav Ghosh remembers visiting the Sunderbans as a child; more recently, he spent a long period in the mangrove islands of Bengal researching The Hungry Tide. He met dolphin researchers, dusted off the files on the massacre of refugees who were encroaching on Project Tiger land in Morichjhapi and listened to old legends, tales of Bon Bibi and Dakkhin Rai. In this quietly passionate essay, he argues against a recent proposal to build a boutique floating hotel in the area:
"The Sahara Parivar claims that it will open ‘virgin’ areas to tourists. But the islands of the Sunderbans are not ‘virgin’ in any sense. The Indian part of the Sunderbans supports a population of close to four million people—equivalent to the entire population of New Zealand. The Sunderbans are an archipelago of islands, large and small. Many, if not most of the islands, have been populated at some time or the other. In fact, several islands were forcibly depopulated in order to make room for Project Tiger.
In 1979, the Left Front government evicted tens of thousands of refugee settlers, mainly Dalits, from the island of Morichjhapi. The cost in lives is still unaccounted, but it is likely that thousands were killed. The eviction was justified on ecological grounds: the authorities claimed that the island of Morichjhapi had to be preserved as a forest reserve. It is scarcely conceivable that a government run by the same Left Front is now thinking of handing over a substantial part of the Sunderbans to an industrial house like the Sahara Parivar. It runs contrary to every tenet of the Front’s professed ideology.
The Sahara Parivar’s project would turn large stretches of this very forest, soaked in the blood of evicted refugees, into a playground for the affluent."

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Endgame for Derrida

Apparently Derrida used to open his lectures for many years with this quotation: "Oh my friends, there is no friend." It's supposed to be from Aristotle, but can't easily be traced back to Aristotle's works--appropriate enough for the man who declared that there was nothing beyond the text. I met him once in Delhi, when he delivered a lecture at the Delhi School of Economics a few years ago: it was a bizarre experience listening to him, like being mesmerised by words that sounded like absolute brilliance one moment and wet cotton wool in verbal form the next. The corridors were packed, but what I remember most was one student who had begun by scribbling meticulous notes in beautiful, minute handwriting. The scribbling became slower and slower until it almost stopped; at the end of the lecture, I took a peek and read, in large, calligraphic letters, this single sentence occupying an entire page: "I understand everything, I understand nothing."
Derrida has died, of cancer; I wish I could eavesdrop on his inevitable meeting with the Ultimate Deconstructionist. One imagines that the late French philosopher was the one person who would not be lost for words during that particular encounter.
Obits here and here, though more should come up soon. There's an early article by the LA Times, circa 1991, here, which makes interesting reading in the light of more contemporary reflections on Derrida. And if you're mourning the man and missing him already, go genuflect at the shrine of the Postmodernism Generator.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


I know the bright blokes over at the Swedish Academy never make mistakes and that they're committed to the Cause of Literature, but somehow this brief biography does not make me want to read the works of the newest Nobel Literature Laureate, Elfriede Jelinek. Her website with the anatomically tortured Bambi figure is more entertaining, though.
Bob Corbett has a collection of Jelinek links. And on second thoughts, any author who defines herself as a "baroque avenging angel" can't be that bad.
And this is the citation: “for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society’s clichés and their subjugating power”.

Saturday, October 02, 2004


The Babu has packed his best dhoti, monkey cap and muffler and is taking a break until next week. Kitabkhana will be back on October 7; until then, do drop by the good souls listed on the lefthand side under Addictions, they'll have all the dope.