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Saturday, June 30, 2012

A question of illiteracy

OCCASIONAL RANT NO. 4:

Headline in the Economic Times, June 24 — "Why the big four Andhra Pradesh-based infrastructure companies GMR, GVK, Lanco & IVRCL are in trouble?"

That question mark at the end is a clear indication that an illiterate person was on duty on the ET desk that day. I have seen such headlines in regional newspapers, but in ET? This is a shocker.

That headline should have been written thus: "Why the big four Andhra Pradesh-based infrastructure companies GMR, GVK, Lanco & IVRCL are in trouble" (meaning, read this article to know why difficult times are looming for the four companies named).

OR, if a question mark was needed, thus: Why are the big four Andhra Pradesh-based infrastructure companies GMR, GVK, Lanco & IVRCL in trouble?
  • Thank you, Ankana Sinha, for the alert.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Anurag Kashyap's tour de force

To truly appreciate — and understand — Gangs of Wasseypur and to prepare yourself to appreciate — and understand — the soon-to-be-released sequel, you need to watch the first part (and, presumably, Part 2, too) twice.


  • The best review I have read of Gangs of Wasseypur is by Sanjukta Sharma in Mint. Here's an excerpt:
The director is at his pinnacle. Although much of the passage of years is unexplained and the middle slacks somewhat, Kashyap designs the film with such tenacious intelligence that we keep taking it all in. There aren’t many close-ups in the film, a tool usually used to hide the lack of thoughtful visualization. Every visual pulsates with the details of surroundings. So even without the obvious context, we plunge headlong. In routine action films, I often just switch off, and miss nothing. I couldn’t take my eyes off the sequences here, breathlessly following each scene. 

Read the review in its entirety here: "Explosive treat".

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Starting trouble

Can a sentence begin with "and"? Are you allowed to begin a sentence with "but"? These are two questions I'm asked every year by our new students. And when I tell them, of course you can, they are sceptical. But this is not what is taught in school, they tell me.

What does one of the world's greatest newspapers, The New York Times, have to say on the issue? Yes, you CAN begin sentences with "and" and "but". Writing in a Times blog on usage and style, Philip B. Corbett asserts that “but” is preferable in many cases to the stilted “however,” and “and” is simpler than “in addition” or similar phrases.

Corbett, who is the associate managing editor for standards and also in charge of The Times’s style manual, has compiled, in one post, answers to some of the most common questions regarding grammar, usage, and style, including the following:
  • ‘None’: Singular or plural?
  • ‘Like’ or ‘Such as’?
  • Are split infinitives acceptable?
  • Should a sentence ever start with ‘and’?
  • Is data singular or plural?
  • Where’s the comma?
Follow the blog here: "After Deadline: Notes on Usage and Style".

Also read: "The most comma mistakes", by Ben Yagoda, who is a contributor to "Draft", The Times’s series about the art and craft of writing.

Upliftment? UpliftMENT?

OCCASIONAL RANT NO. 3:

In The Times of India Crest Edition of June 23, Purnima Sharma interviews Salima Raza, writer and director of a new play about the great Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz and his Irish wife, Alys. Here is a quote from the interview:

"Their camaraderie was like a meeting of souls. Alys, like Faiz, was as intelligent, passionate and as committed to love as to their common cause — the upliftment of the poor and deprived, " says Raza.

That should be "uplift of the poor", madam.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Here are four ways to "quiet your presentation anxiety"

It can be unnerving for some youngsters to walk to the front of a room, or go up on stage, and make a presentation to twenty or thirty people, forget a few hundred, in the audience. Is there a way to quiet their anxiety? Yes indeed, writes Selena Rezvani on the Forbes website.

Rezvani, who recently had to present a workshop to more than a thousand women around the globe at a "webinar", says she began feeling the pressure as the event neared.

As the registration numbers climbed prior to the event, so did my anxiety. I fussed and fretted and it wasn’t until I found a list I’d jotted down last year that I got my focus back; that list contained four strategies that I’d focused on and upheld during my best presentations.

Rezvani then shares those four strategies:
  • Don’t be self-centered!
  • Find your right rehearsal level
  • Get right to it
  • Think connection, not perfection
These are all excellent tips, which Rezvani elaborates on in her article. Check it out here.
  • UPDATE (September 20, 2013): Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte, an American company that specialises in "turning ideas into persuasive presentations", has this important advice to offer:
Let’s clear something up: you, as the presenter or speaker, are not the most important guy/girl in the room.

Just because you’re on a stage or in front of a crowd does not make you the savior everyone has been waiting for. (This applies whether you are addressing a conference of ten thousand or holding a team meeting with three people.)

Recognize that you are Yoda, not Luke.

The most important people in the room are your audience: make them the heroes of your story. Defer to them, because if they don’t engage and believe in your message, you are the one who loses. Without their help, your idea will fail. Become the mentor in their story and whisper guidance in their ear, empowering them to be the agents of change and achieve greatness
.

Read Duarte's post in its entirety here: "Like Yoda You Must Be" (I hope you have watched the Star Wars movies, or know about this cultural phenomenon.)

A serious attempt to give poetry the space it deserves

Mint Lounge has just launched a fortnightly series that is sure to warm the cockles of the hearts of poets and poetry lovers everywhere. "Poetry Pradesh", which will bring readers "stories about publishing, writing, and preserving poetry", is a serious attempt to give space to an art form that many Indian publications ignore.

In the inaugural column published earlier this month, Rajni George admits that selling poetry is tough. She writes:

Being ignored as well as sometimes blindly adored by the masses is the birthright of poetry. Even dedicated readers do not always have time for it. Out of everyone reading the books pages, a few might read this piece.

However, George asserts, poetry is still a vocal player in its tough corner of the market and she then puts the spotlight on a small group of publishers who, as she says, comprise India’s independent poetry scene today.

Read the piece in its entirety here: "Limited edition".

You can also savour two poems here, one by Adil Jussawalla, and the other by Tenzin Tsundue.
  • You may also like to read Aakar Patel's scintillating explanation of why Gulzar and Javed Akhtar need to be considered among the  great poets of Urdu, alongside Mir, Ghalib, Iqbal, and Faiz:  "The list isn't complete".
  • UPDATE (July 1, 2012): In the second column in the "Poetry Pradesh" series, Gayatri Jayaraman puts the spotlight on the lack of poetry archives in India. Also on offer: Two poems from Adil Jussawalla's archive.

A prime example of an illiterate sentence

OCCASIONAL RANT NO. 2:

In "The Fantastic 40s", its cover story on June 24, The Economic Times on Sunday features Mumbai trauma surgeon Anand Patil in a sidebar with this ghastly faux pas in the caption:

"New goals for life: For eg: To run all five great marathons of the world."

Here's the problem: "e.g." is an abbreviation for the Latin phrase "exempli gratia", which means "for example". So you CANNOT write "for eg".

Monday, June 25, 2012

Who can say no to a weekly interestingness digest?

It is not often that I can be persuaded to subscribe to a blog by parting with my e-mail address and signing up to receive a weekly newsletter. I am picky that way. So far, I have only opened up my in-box to one blogger and that is Dr. Mardy Grothe. But, a couple of days ago, I chanced upon Brain Pickings, a veritable treasure chest lovingly handcrafted by Maria Popova, and after having studied the wonderful "pickings" on offer, I have just now signed up for the "free weekly interestingness digest". Who can say no to an interestingness digest?

What first attracted me to Brain Pickings was Popova's post about nine books on reading and writing. Many of my favourite books, including The Elements of Style, Stephen King's On Writing, and Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury, are on the list. There are some books here that were new to me: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott; How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One, by Stanley Fish; and Ernest Hemingway on Writing. (Flipkart — here I come!)

Of course, it's not just the list that I found interesting but what Popova had to say about each book and the excerpts she has chosen from each one. Here is her introductory comment on the The Elements of Style edition that is No. 1 on her list:

If anyone can make grammar fun, it’s Maira Kalman — The Elements of Style Illustrated marries Kalman’s signature whimsy with Strunk and White’s indispensable style guide to create an instant classic.

And here's Popova on How to Write a Sentence:

It belongs not on the shelf of your home library but in your brain’s most deep-seated amphibian sensemaking underbelly — an insightful, rigorous manual on the art of language that may just be one of the best such tools since The Elements of Style.

Surely you want to read more? And possibly sign up for the "free weekly interestingness digest"? Here you go: "New Year’s Resolution Reading List: 9 Books on Reading and Writing".
  • Illustration courtesy: Brain Pickings.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

You are your... ATTITUDE

Ability is what you're capable of doing.
Motivation determines what you do.
Attitude determines how well you do it.

This quote, by retired American football coach, Leo "Lou" Holtz, who is now an active sportscaster, author, and motivational speaker, was one of the many gems I received last night in an e-mail from Dr. Marty Grothe (I am a subscriber to his "Quotes of the Week" newsletter).

What he has to say about the importance of attitude is so apt, and so beneficial, that I am reproducing his piece in full, complete with homework assignment:

DR. MARDY GROTHE
"Would You Benefit From
an Attitude Adjustment?"
By Dr. Marty Grothe


Most people think that the word "attitude" refers to people's opinions or feelings. And while that is reasonably accurate, the primary definition of the word is "a position of the body or limbs, a manner of carrying oneself." In this primary sense, synonyms of the word are posture, carriage, pose, and stance—all words that refer to the characteristic position we assume with regard to the world about us.

So when I ask the question, "Would you benefit from an attitude adjustment?", I am speaking as a kind of chiropractor of the mind, and my question is suggesting that your mental alignment may be slightly off—and possibly even in need of a treatment. Okay, I realise the metaphor may be slightly forced, but bear with me for a moment as I pursue it further.

Just as our skeletal alignments can be "off," so can our attitudes about the world. We see it all the time with people whose emotional states are not in synch with the reality of their lives. Many worry when there is no rational reason to do so. Others are fearful when there is no good reason to be afraid. Some are tight-fisted and penurious, even when they are well off, or even wealthy. You get the picture.

If you're living a completely healthy, effective, and satisfying life, then you can skip over the rest of this section.


But if things are not going as well as you'd like, then it's possible you might benefit from an attitude adjustment.

So here's a homework assignment. Select a half-dozen trusted people and ask them to peruse the "attitude" quotations that appear at the end of this paragraph. Then, one by one, ask them this question: "Having read over these quotations, I'd like your feedback on how well my attitudes are working for me. In what ways are they serving me well, and where do I need to make some changes to function more effectively?"

Once you ask the question, listen attentively. When the person stops talking, don't offer any reactions. Simply ask, "What else?" And then listen some more. Before you embark on the assignment, though, let your thinking be stimulated by these observations of the subject:

  If you don't like something, change it.
   If you can't change it, change your attitude. Don't complain.
         Maya Angelou

  A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances,
   but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.
         Hugh Downs

  It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which,
   more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.
         William James

  The last of the human freedoms
to choose one's attitude
   in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.
         Viktor Frankl

  The essence of spiritual practice is your attitude toward others.
         Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

  Every extreme attitude is a flight from the self.
         Eric Hoffer

  Ability is what you're capable of doing.
   Motivation determines what you do.
   Attitude determines how well you do it.
         Lou Holtz

  Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently,
   but life itself would come to be different.
   Life would undergo a change of appearance because
   we ourselves had undergone a change of attitude.
         Katherine Mansfield

  A healthy attitude is contagious but don't wait to catch it from others.
   Be a carrier.
         Tom Stoppard

  If you can't change your fate, change your attitude.
         Amy Tan

  If life becomes hard to bear, we think of a change in our circumstances.
   But the most important and effective change,
   a change in our own attitude, hardly even occurs to us,
   and the resolution to take such a step is very difficult for us.
         Ludwig Wittgenstein

  • Want to know more about Dr. Mardy Grothe? Check out this Reading Room post which I published last September.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Love music? Love the blues? You will love Shillong's Soulmate

Thank you, Shubha Mudgal, for introducing me to music and musicians that I did not know existed.

Mudgal, the noted singer of Hindustani classical music, writes a regular column called "Music Matters" (a clever title that) in Mint Lounge. It is from reading Mudgal's most recent piece that I learnt of Soulmate, the Shillong-based band, and Tipriti Kharbangar, Soulmate's lead vocalist.



That's Tipriti above, performing Voodoo Woman with Soulmate in the US last year. After you watch this video you will have no trouble understanding what Mudgal meant when she described Tipriti's voice as "gut-wrenching and intensely tuneful".

Tipriti also sings in Khasi, her mother tongue. Here's Mudgal's observation after listening to Soulmate perform Shillong (Sier Lapalang):

I had no idea what the words meant but there was this give-it-all-you-have abandon and sense of conviction in her voice that was both stunning and riveting at the same time. In fact, there was this lament-like quality about the song, but not a resigned lie-down-and-cry-your-heart-out kind of lament. It was a wild, uninhibited howl-like lament that brought down an attentive hush on the listeners.

Coming from an accomplished vocalist herself, that's high praise indeed.

TIPRITI KHARBANGAR. Photo courtesy: Baia Marbaniang/Ivory Cottage Creatives

Read Shubha Mudgal's column in its entirety here: "Talk to the Blues".
  • UPDATE: Five minutes after I posted the link to this post on the Facebook wall of Commitscion Baniaikymaw Lydia Shanpru, who hails from Shillong, she returned the favour by sending me links to some Soulmate tracks on in.com. Thanks so much, Baniaikymaw. 
  • UPDATE (June 22, 2012): Commitscion Nishal Lama not only commented on my Facebook link, but he also provided a link to Soulmate's music on MySpace: "Thanks for sharing this one. They are simply amazing. In fact, one of the best blues bands from India. I am lucky to have seen and shot a couple of their gigs in Bangalore. Tips and Rudy make an amazing couple. I remember Shubha Mudgal mentioning one more artist from Assam, Angarag Mahanta, in of her pieces in Mint. You should check him out too. Cheers!" And here's the MySpace link: "Soulmate".
  • UPDATE (February 9, 2013): Mint yesterday featured Tipriti and Rudy in "Love Issue 2013". Read the article to know more about the couple: "Shillong sung blue".

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

DNA's headline blooper

Occasional rant No. 1:

Headline in DNA today — "Empower mothers to control children's sexual abuse"

"Control" as in, say, "control a child's access to the internet"? Meaning allow the child access to the internet but exercise control over the websites the child visits.

Is "control" the appropriate word in that headline? Shouldn't it have been written as "Empower mothers to prevent children's sexual abuse"?
 ·  · 


Sunday, June 17, 2012

How mature do you think you are?

"Maturity is the ability: to do a job whether you're supervised or not;
to finish a job once it's started; to carry money without spending it;
and to bear an injustice without wanting to get even."
~ Abigail van Buren (often misattributed to twin sister, Ann Landers)

(My view exactly — except I have never been able to articulate it as well as Abigail van Buren, who, way back in 1956, founded the extremely popular advice column, Dear Abby. To read the column, which is now being run by Abigail van Buren's daughter, go here.)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A tribute to the courage and commitment of a Tehelka photojournalist

Early in May, Tarun Sehrawat, Tehelka's staff photographer, accompanied the magazine's reporter Tusha Mittal to Abujmarh, the Maoists' stronghold in Chhattisgarh.

Tusha is 27 years old; Tarun was just 22.

Tehelka managing editor Shoma Chaudhury, in her "Editor's Cut" column of May 26, told us what happened in Abujmarh:

At one level, this is a glorious story of courage and commitment. Two weeks ago, these reporters had gone into Abujmarh, the unbreached citadel of the Maoists, walking 40 km on foot into remote and hostile terrain. They had nothing but a few bottles of drinking water and some packets of biscuits. But they refused to turn back when water and food ran out. They refused to turn back even when they saw notices from the Maoists warning of mines and traps ahead. They wanted to bring back first-hand accounts of life in the villages there and they stayed their course till they got the story they wanted.

Read the column in its entirety here: "Living in cities, we walk like tourists, unmindful of the hellishness of others’ lives, until it actually hits us".

Then, three days ago, Chaudhury gave readers the sad news. Sehrawat, who, along with Mittal, had contracted a ravaging fever while on the field trip, had lost his battle for life. (Mittal, thankfully, has recovered and is well, we are informed.)


In a magnificent tribute to Tarun Sehrawat, posted on the magazine's website on June 15, Tehelka has showcased not only the photographs he took in Abujmarh but also the pictures he shot for Tehelka over the years. Read the tribute here: "Tarun always made the most difficult choices with the lightest smile".

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Are you revealing more than you should on Facebook?

You really, really shouldn't. Not unless you want to scupper your chances of getting a good job. Not unless you want to risk being fired from that good job.

A "revealing" article on the U.S. News & World Report website by Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter confirms what I believe and what I have been telling my students for years now: Recruiters and HR executives are trawling the Web, especially Facebook, to get the inside scoop on both job candidates and employees. There are at least two methods they employ, writes Barrett-Poindexter. They research you through a friend of a friend. And they use deep Web searches.

So is there anything you can do to protect yourself? The answer is yes. Here are Barrett-Poindexter's tips:

1. Don't trust privacy settings.
2. Avoid negativity.
3. Internet conversations are (somewhat) indelible.
4. Be careful what you share.
5. It's OK to unfriend.

The article elaborates on each of these tips. Study them here: "5 Tricks to Keep Facebook From Hurting Your Job Search".
  • Thank you, Pallabi Mitra (Class of 2012), for the alert.
  • Jacqui Barrett-Poindexter, a Glassdoor career and workplace expert, offers helpful advice on a host of work-related topics. Check out her columns here.
  • UPDATE (June 29, 2013): From an article published in Bloomberg Businessweek two days ago: "Think before you post, especially if you’re looking for a job. Seems like common sense, doesn’t it? Yet despite all the advice and warnings to be cautious with social media, job applicants continue to get burned by their online profiles." Read the piece in its entirety here: Hey Job Applicants, Time to Stop the Social-Media Sabotage.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

"Seven ways to improve your writing … right now"

James Chartrand is confident the following advice will make you a better writer:

1. Be concise and be clear
2. Keep it short
3. Stick to three
4. Watch your tone
5. Talk Food, Sex, and Danger
6. Break it up
7. Stay on topic

You may already be aware of some of the points on this list. What makes this post on Copyblogger interesting to read is the snappy writing. What James Chartrand preaches, James Chartrand practises.

Elaborating on "Watch your tone", for instance, Chartrand says it’s easy for writers to assume readers can pick up on our mood and tone from our writing:

After all, we certainly know our feelings, humor, intent, and state of mind at the time we write. But for readers, it’s clear as mud. They’re guessing at your tone — and they may guess wrong.

Here’s an example:

    Honey. Please.

Was I exasperated and rolling my eyes? Smiling and gently teasing? Acidly sarcastic? Or maybe just eating toast and reaching for the bear-shaped bottle?

As a reader, you have no idea unless the words around that phrase cue you into my written tone.

That's great advice. In fact, all of it is great advice. Not to mention, a treat to read. Go for it here: "7 Ways to Improve Your Writing … Right Now". Also scan the "popular articles" list provided alongside. Take a look at "11 Smart Tips for Brilliant Writing". Read "How Twitter makes you a better writer". Compare this post with mine: "Two benefits of Twitter I can think of".
  • Are you curious to know more about James Chartrand? Would you like to know why James Chartrand wears women's underpants? Check out this post.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It took him just two hours to write a poem, half a day to finish a short story, and nine days for a full-scale novel.

You will have to write and put away or burn a lot of material before you are comfortable in this medium. You might as well start now and get the necessary work done. For I believe that eventually quantity will make for quality.

This practical advice on writing, which I share every year with my students, comes from Ray Bradbury, the American author of more than 500 published works (so he knew what he was talking about).

For Bradbury, who died earlier this week in Los Angeles, writing was playing. "I don’t think I know what writer's block is," he said. "I never had it. My typewriter goes everywhere I go. I get up at 3 a.m. every day, head for the keyboard, laugh a lot, then go back to bed."

This gem of a quote is from The Writing Life, edited by Maria Arana, who tells us in her introduction to Bradbury’s essay in the book that it took him just two hours to write a poem, half a day to finish a short story, and nine days for a full-scale novel.

FULL OF LIFE: RAY BRADBURY AT A BOOK SIGNING IN CALIFORNIA IN 1997.

Zen in the Art of Writing, which he first published in 1990 (and which was my first Flipkart acquisition), also gives us a peek into Bradbury's enjoyment of his work. I remember taking a quote from Zen and posting it as my Facebook status update soon after I began reading it:

If you're writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you're only half a writer.... For the first thing a writer should be is — excited.

The book is packed with practical — that word again — tips on writing from a man who was clearly a master of the craft. If your aim is to write and to enjoy writing, I can't recommend Zen in the Art of Writing highly enough.
  • The New York Times was exuberant, fittingly, in its praise of Ray Bradbury the day after he died. Read the obituary — and learn why more than eight million copies of Bradbury's books have been sold in 36 languages — here: "He Brought Mars to Earth With a Lyrical Mastery".
  • The day before he died, the New Yorker published an autobiographical essay by Ray Bradbury, in which he described the influences that shaped his life as a boy and that later had an impact on his life as a writer. Read the essay here: "Take Me Home".

When it comes to writing, experience is NOT everything

Here is a job ad in the latest issue of The Economist:

Vacancy: The Economist is hiring a finance writer to cover hedge funds, private equity and insurance. Experience is less important than the ability to write simply, insightfully and entertainingly. Applicants should send a copy of their CV, along with a 500-word article on this bit of finance, by June 15th to financejob@economist.com.

Now you know why The Economist, which was first published in September 1843 to take part in "a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress", is considered one of the world's best magazines.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The pleasure is all ours, Anjum!

Bangalore's very own Anjum Hasan will be celebrating the publication of her new book at an event at the British Council here on Tuesday. (Anjum spent her early years in Shillong and is now the Books Editor of the venerable New Delhi-headquartered Caravan magazine — but it is in Bangalore that, I like to think, she found her calling.)

Difficult Pleasures,
the new short-fiction collection that was released in March, has already earned praise from critics. "The 13 stories ... are a good indicator why Anjum Hasan is widely regarded as a rising star on the literary horizon, as fluid in prose as poetry," wrote the reviewer in The Hindu earlier this month.

How did Anjum get her start? Who are the short story writers she admires? What does she think of short stories? Here, in an excerpt from an e-mail Anjum sent out along with details of the launch of Difficult Pleasures, she provides the answers to those questions:

As a child, I learnt the concept early — the name of the ingredient crucial to storytelling. It was a word my parents used often and approvingly for clever people, the word ‘imaginative’. I knew that if I had to count for anything, I would have to learn to make things up. From the tidy and well-stocked shelves in the children’s section of Shillong’s municipal library, one could pick out and immerse oneself in any made-up world one wanted to. Then there were the stories that one didn’t choose but loved all the same — the English high school reader khichdi of such supposedly immortal texts as an excerpt from John Buchan’s 1910s thriller Thirty-Nine Steps or that terrifying Chekov story, ‘The Bet’ or the highly sentimental ‘The Last Lesson’ by Alphonse Daudet — set in the French region of Alsace-Lorraine which, after the end of the Franco-Prussian war, is on the point of passing into Prussian hands.

When I got to university, one of my monthly pleasures was the arrival in the library of cracklingly new copies of American journals such as Partisan Review and The Southern Review. Before the poems, I would turn to the short stories. What would impress me were not so much the stories in the stories — in the sense of the chain of events described — as the texture — clothes, food, the way people spoke, how colours were named. I envied that texture; I wanted it. I started writing poems as a way of telling stories, trying to locate the specific, the expressible in my own world.


Many short story writers I admire, such as Qurratulain Hyder or Mahasweta Devi, are not writing individually distinctive stories as much as describing in each story a slightly different facet of the same world. Several recent collections of short fiction have been billed ‘linked stories’ because a single background runs through the collection, and characters recur. But that idea of ‘linked’ is often implicit without needing to be highlighted in the older writers. RK Narayan’s An Astrologer’s Day and Other Stories is obviously a compact — stories about tradesmen and professional men who must undertake various minor and comic negotiations in order to keep going in an imperfect world.

Perhaps this is true of many short story writers. Raymond Carver’s stories can each seem to have a different quality of strangeness but aren’t they usually about people like himself, the unsentimental, the down and out, the working poor? I’m fascinated by this ability in a short story writer — to create a world in relation to which each story is but one expression.

But I’m also fascinated by the opposite — how a single story, or even a glimpse of a single character within it, does not necessarily have to rely on larger references for its appeal. My own characters are often solitary individuals whose choices are no longer so determined by older social mores, but who therefore have to invent their freedoms. They don’t draw on a world as much as try to locate one. Have I succeeded, therefore, in making things up? Is it possible, walking down a dark street and seeing a lighted doorway, to imagine the world beyond it? The mystery of that lighted doorway is what keeps the story going. You can never walk through it, every story is a just a means of trying.

I just love that phrase, "The mystery of that lighted doorway is what keeps the story going." Back in 2010, Anjum had visited Commits for an interactive session with our students, who were so captivated by what she had to say that two hours just whizzed by... and many students didn't even get to ask her their questions. So, later, I sent them to Anjum via e-mail. You can read those questions and her responses here: "A-1 advice from an author".

For more details about Anjum Hasan's works, visit her website: AnjumHasan.com.
  • I have already bought a copy of Difficult Pleasures. After I finish reading it, I'll place it in the Commits library, next to the copies of Neti, Neti and Lunatic in My Head.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Yes man" redefined... and given a new sense of purpose

Find a way to say yes to things.

Say yes to invitations to a new country. Say yes to meeting new friends. Say yes to learning a new language, picking up a new sport. Yes is how you get your first job, and your next job. Yes is how you find your spouse, and even your kids.

Even if it's a bit edgy, a bit out of your comfort zone, saying yes means you will do something new, meet someone new, and make a difference in your life, and likely in others' lives as well. ...

Yes is a tiny word that can do big things. Say it often.

— Excerpt from the commencement speech made last month by Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt (pictured above) at the University of California at Berkeley

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A novel you will want to finish reading in one sitting (or standing or sleeping)

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I first came upon The Devotion of Suspect X at the Crossword bookstore in Garuda Mall. I was intrigued by the tagline on the cover. "The Japanese Stieg Larsson" read the blurb from The Times.

When I next visited the Just Books library, a couple of days later, a quick search at the computer kiosk told me it was available, and I picked it up and began reading it as soon as I got home.

The last time I found a thriller "unputdownable" was a few years ago when I raced through Johnny Gone Down, by Karan Bajaj. Now I had found a worthy successor.

I returned Suspect X to Just Books after I was done but I wanted more people to read it, so I ordered a copy from Flipkart. My wife is reading it now she is thoroughly captivated and afterwards I'm going to place it in the Commits library so that my students can enjoy reading it.

I guarantee even non-readers will love this one.
  • UPDATE: My young friend in the US, Ankita Maurya, wrote to say she doesn't really like the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. "Is this still a good book, even with the comparison with Larsson?" she wanted to know.

    "Ironically, Ankita," I replied, "this book is nothing like Larsson's books; that is why I found that Times blurb a bit of a mystery. I think what the reviewer meant was this book also is a cult favourite and a bestseller, just like the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the sequels. Go ahead and pick up Suspect X you'll love it." 
  • UPDATE (March 18, 2013): Today, at breakfast, I began reading Salvation of a Saint, Higashino's follow-up to The Devotion of Suspect X. Now I can't wait to get home from work and be done with my gym workout so that I can sit down again with Salvation of a Saint.
  • UPDATE (January 18, 2015):  Salvation of a Saint, featuring two of the main characters in Suspect X, turned out to be a page-turner too. So when another of my young friends, the Toronto-based Nasatassia Michael, told me that one more Higashino mystery had just been published in English, I immediately pre-ordered the book, Malice, on Amazon. I am glad to report that I was wowed by Malice. Once again, almost from the beginning, we know who has been murdered and by whom. And once again we keep turning the pages breathlessly, this time to try to learn why. With every Higashino book I read, my admiration for his writing skills grows exponentially. How on earth does he do it?

Monday, June 4, 2012

For a journalist's wife, trouble and strife

It can be exciting to be a journalist.

But to be a journalist's wife?

To have to wait up till all odd hours for your husband to return from work? To know that he can be called out on duty even in the midst of celebrations for your anniversary or for your child's birthday? To have to attend office get-togethers where all your husband's colleagues insist on talking shop and boring you to tears?

That can't be much fun. And it isn't.

I was reminded of what it means to be a journalist's wife (I can't speak for journalists' husbands) when I read Stephen Manuel's heart-felt tribute to "our better halves" on JournalismPakistan.com.

Steve, who was my colleague at the Khaleej Times in Dubai many years ago, and who is now the chief editor of JournalismPakistan.com, which he co-founded, begins his post on journalist's wives with a humorous reference to an incident narrated by another Khaleej Times colleague, Asif Ullah Khan, who hails from Jaipur and who is now the editor of Brunei Times. Steve then gets to the crux of the issue:

Looking back now I realise just how hard those times were for us that worked on the night shift at the Khaleej Times and just how much harder it must have been on our wives. I can certainly recall mine waiting up till 3.30 am for me, heating my "late dinner" and giving me a good cup of tea. She didn't have to, but she did.

Night duty is not easy on a journalist's family, Steve writes.

They [the wives] have to take the kids to school, get in household supplies, take care of the utility bills, cook, and even put up patiently with the office stories their husbands bring home.

Spare a thought for journalist's wives, is Steve's fervent plea.

Read the post in its entirety here: "Dedicated to our better halves".

UPDATE (July 30, 2016): Does it help if both partners are journalists? Perhaps it does. Read this piece by NDTV reporter Saurabh Gupta who fell in love with, and married, his colleague, Shivangi Shukla Falling in love over a TV news bulletin.