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Friday Links 091016

For a while now, I have been using twitter for my link dumps. But, searching for something in twitter isn’t exactly easy. So here is a summary of this week’s links –

Junot Díaz at Oprah on trying, and failing, to write his novel every day for five years (via @allvishal):

a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway

Books are not babies – a great read on revising a novel over.

My three main tools at the moment, as I work through the rewrites, are: a synopsis; a chapter-by-chapter breakdown; and a page of character notes. I have found them all unbelievably helpful for keeping me focused.

And if you like the little word counter on her blog, you can get it at Writeropia. Copy paste into the template and fill in the appropriate numbers. Thanks @impossiblecat.)

A hilarious read at the New Yorker on the current state of book publicity  (via @adropofwisdom):

We use CopyBuoy via Hoster Broaster, because it streams really easily into a Plaxo/LinkedIn yak-fest meld. When you register, click “Endless,” and under “Contacts” just list everyone you’ve ever met.

Neil Gaiman is Crowdsourcing a Story via Twitter. How cool is that! (via @prathambooks)

This talk is fantastic. Chimamanda Adichie talks on Tedtalks about the danger of a single story . A balanced view on how we are all influenced by stereotypes.  (via @spotjogger)

Earlier in the week, I asked for websites where I could order t-shirts online in India. Thanks all for responding. Here is the consolidated list:

Craft my gift

Posted in Links on October 16, 2009

Nigeria – a photo essay

A photo essay based on pics from my Nigeria stint below-
You can see the whole set at [link].

Please upgrade your flash player!

Posted in Travel on September 19, 2009

The obsession

The silverware glistened in the golden light from the elaborate chandelier that hung from the ceiling. She looked up to admire the sixteenth century painting that was beyond the light. A slow breeze from the sea side, and the waiter rushed to hand her a pashmina, which she really wouldn’t have needed if she hadn’t let vanity talk her into wearing his favourite shoulder baring black dress. The tripes a la mode de Caen was heavenly. As were the chardonnay and then, the platter of cheese that came with it. “Camembert, Neufchatel, Pont-L-Eveque, Livarot,…” she couldn’t even focus on the waiter’s captivating discourse on the Norman cheeses. All she could think about was that, it had been eight days.

She glanced at her watch. No, it had been seven days, twelve hours and fifty minutes. To be a bit more precise. Not really precise. To be really precise, she would have to go into seconds. She considered whether it would be too anal to delve into that. “Is something wrong?” his voice woke her from her momentary lapse. She should not let it bother her. Eight days ago – we are back to being imprecise now – she had decided that she could live without it for eight days. And she was almost there. Just this dinner and then the night and then by mid-morning, she would have it. Again. Available. Anywhere. Anytime.

Image conveying feel of restlessness

She hated being so addicted. As a kid, she had heard stories about alcoholics. How they had no control over their lives. How they squandered their money, beat their wives and eventually ended up bankrupt and homeless. She had read about drug addicts in the newspapers. She had wondered why anyone would voluntarily give up control over their own bodies, their own selves. How anyone could give in to hallucinations and speed trips and be at the mercy of dealers. She had scorned at smokers and the scary statistics about the damage done to children because of the parents’ chain smoking. In fact, she had even helped out in the Quit Smoking campaign in her office, all the while not quite understanding why people couldn’t wake up one morning and kick the habit. In fact, she abhorred addictions of all kind.

She refused to admit that she was addicted. She stared into his deep dark eyes and tried to think of the eight blissful days they had just had. She wanted to focus on the beautiful beaches they had lounged in, the charming chateaus they had slept in and the quaint French streets they had wandered in. But she couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking about. And that led her back to it. Maybe, just maybe, he was thinking of it too. No, this is anal. She chided herself. It is just 8 hours, 7 minutes and 12 seconds more. Oh darn, she had done it. Precision was a sure give away for obsession.

“Cafe, mademoiselle?” she was jolted out of her trance again. She resolved she won’t let herself be addicted. She won’t think about it anymore. She will have some good coffee and then, some fine conversation will now follow. She will look around and enjoy the wonderful art that was on display at the restaurant. She will have a wonderful time. She imagined a thick black blanket in her mind. She covered her obsession in it, tied with a thick blue rope, placed into an solid copper box, closed it with its ornate heavy lid and pushed it into a dark corner of her mind. Not to be opened again. Until it was time.

And then, it was time. 8 hours, 7 minutes and 12 seconds were over. She clicked on the small orange icon with the three small men. She entered the eight magical numbers, clicked OK and waited. She felt the joy of watching a lotus blossom. And then there was light. You have new mail. Happiness. Bliss. Joy. Contentment. Was it wrong to feel happy? She looked across the table. His face radiated the happiness too. He looked up and smiled.

Some obsessions are just not worth fighting.

Posted in Fiction on September 4, 2009

Remembering a journey

The thoughts of a person who is writing are restrained by the speed of his own writing. It does not gallop like unreined wind. Instead it flows smoothly like a river flowing down a mountainside. It twists, turns and it follows different paths..but it never loses track of where it has been.

Silent Eloquence was born, five years ago – on 26th August 2004, as “a blog that celebrates the beauty and power of words.”

Life is a journey. You can choose to stay close to home or wander off to unknown lands. I chose the latter. Silent Eloquence – as I toggled between Silence and Eloquence – has been with me for the recent part of it. This post celebrates that journey, as I look at the path this blog took, through the lands covered, and the meanderings en route – the beautiful beaches, dangerous deserts, forbidden forests, wonderful waterfalls, unexpected avalanches and the peaceful valleys.

Five years can be a long time or a short time, depending on how you look at it. For me, it is a time where a lot happened. A lot changed.

As I changed, as my environment changed, as my life changed, this blog changed too. The topics I cover, the frequency in which I write, my tone of writing, my political sympathies and even my readers, changed. But I also realized that beyond all the superficial changes, there is the me that doesn’t change. No matter what you do to it – put it in a blender and smash everything to pieces – and there is that bit that just doesn’t disintegrate. The real me.

There is a reason I know that, and this is in the only “advice” I want to share with anyone who cares – try, try out everything out there that interests you. Sure, I have paid my price for it – instability, career with weird trajectories, friends spread out all over the world, family far away – but I have gained so much, so much more. Sorry for the digression, but I feel so strongly about it, I just have to say it, and repeat it. Experiment – some fail, some work. Learn and move on, to another experiment. Silent Eloquence has been a constant companion through all those experiments – a fellow researcher, an enthusiastic cheerleader, a harsh critic and most of all, a diligent documenter.

Yes, now, let’s look at that journey.

Posted in Catch-all on August 26, 2009

Ignore everybody

Here’s the new addition to my work wall (well, the wall behind my work chair)

Ignore everybody

(image:gaping void)

If I don’t reply to comments, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you..:)

Posted in Catch-all on August 6, 2009

Bourbon biscuit cake recipe

I hardly ever post recipes, but I am so proud of this one I need to put it up.

I had to clear the bourbon biscuits in my kitchen, because I needed to use the container for something else. I couldn’t find a good recipe anywhere on the wide world web, so I had to be a little innovative. If I may so myself, my little experiment turned out quite fine (and its super easy to make), so here we go:


    10-12 bourbon biscuits
    6-8 cubes of chocolate (I used dairy milk)
    A block of butter
    2 tblspn honey


  • 1. Line a container with clingfilm, leaving enough to fold over when full
    2. Melt the chocolate, honey and butter (each separately) in a microwave and mix together
    3. Grind / crush the bourbon biscuits to fine powder
    4. Mix the biscuits with the melted chocolate/honey/butter mix
    5. Add milk to the mix and mix well, till you get a slightly viscous consistency
    6. Tip the mixture into the container. Refrigerate for ~2 hours.
  • Tips:

      Goes well with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.
      You could try throwing in fruits and nuts, if you like.
      Try it out with other brands of biscuits

    Posted in random on July 20, 2009

    Never ending story

    Foolish child, don’t you know –
    A broken heart will never mend,
    A true love story will never end.

    A translated Zemenian song that captured my imagination
    (source: Monk S07E06)

    Posted in random on July 15, 2009

    On literature and mass-market writing

    Srijith and I have different interests in movies – an occasional chick flick or a romantic comedy are stuff I enjoy, while the not-so-better half is more of what I call a cine-snob: those artsy movies which make me snore after about ten minutes are more his cup of tea. After nearly ten years together, our interests are beginning to converge or rather, we have both learnt the fine art of compromise – I enjoy the occasional slow movie with the dark humor and he has agreed to watch the new Harry Potter with me this weekend (he still won’t be caught dead watching a real chick-flick)

    But turn it over to books, and I would be the first one to denounce pulp (at least no compromises required there). There was a time in my life when I would have voraciously read anything, anything that I could get hold of. But then, thankfully, I grew up and became very selective about what books I choose to spend time on – after all, any serious investment of time requires some thought. I read almost exclusively by personal recommendation or trusted reviews.

    Now that I have begun to think of myself as a writer, I realize that the lines are not that clear. Every time I write a romantic scene, I read it again and again and ask myself – is this more Mills & Boons or Anita Shreve? The setting I am currently working on might be called “exotic”, but I didn’t choose it because of that. I chose it because it was one of those rare places that moved me and jolted me back to the pleasures of travel, the world-weary traveler that I had started to become. And yes, it is different, if that’s what we mean by exotic these days – but that’s what makes the human story there interesting for me.

    I am just a novice, and the last time I studied language for the sake of itself was about fifteen years ago. All I have, in terms of any training, is the many books I have read – some days I like to look at my bookshelf, read the authors’ names and pretend that I have apprenticed with all of them. For what is an apprenticeship if not the close observation of a master’s work? I believe love is universal, and a part of my story talks about love – how can I avoid writing about it? I believe that no matter how different the lands that people come from are, they are fundamentally the same – how can I not write about exotic lands? But how do I prevent myself from writing something I would loathe – for now, I use the simple test: Am I writing something that I would read? And if this were a movie, would it be something that I won’t watch?

    I wonder, is my choice of books just a snobbishness in disguise? Is my choice of movies a lack of artistic appreciation? Or is it just a case of each to her own, no judgements appropriate. I am curious: what’s your take on it?

    In related reading:

    Jaideep verma , author of Local, laments about the rise of pulp fiction over at the ToI:

    “This is the House Of Blue Mangoes syndrome — this month’s specials include Kardamom Kisses, The Hills Of Angheri and Bougainvillea House. It’s ludicrous because sometimes genuinely good writers are mis-slotted by this idiotic practice (like Kavery Nambisan, four of whose books are Mango Coloured Fish, The Scent Of Pepper, On Wings Of Butterflies and The Hills Of Angheri — she’s actually an honest contemporary writer who eschews exotica, but that’s not enough for her publisher).”

    This blog post by felinemusings has some interesting thoughts too:

    “Populist writing is like a Govinda or a Priyadarshan movie – the masses love it, the classes shrink from it; but at the end of the day slap-stick comedies and garish masala movies are the ones that rake the most moolah. And somehow, this trend is emerging in what people are reading and enjoying. With younger readers, in stiff competitive worlds, always running short of time and with stress levels bursting at the seams, we cannot deny them the pleasure of their “quick-bus-ride” or “light-after-dinner” reading material. Chic-lit and populist novels are selling like hot-cakes, pointing to the facts that many people are reading, and publishing houses are ready to experiment and cater to changing audience and reading habits”

    Posted in Books on July 14, 2009


    I can feel you very near
    It’s as if you are here
    Is it a mirage, is it a shadow,
    Or memories from long ago?

    Celebrating my new blog template that allows short posts,
    Remembering all those that have come and gone before.

    Posted in poetry, random on July 4, 2009

    Honesty in Writing: Lessing, Madhavikutty and more..

    I just started reading Francine Prose’s Reading like a writer. It makes me wonder why I choose to read the books that I read.

    I read Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Long a Solitude, because the life of a book destroyer in Prague intrigued me, it was beyond my imagination before I read it. I read Briane Greene’s The Elegant Universe because I was in a phase in my life where string theory fascinated me, and thought perhaps that this was indeed the answer to all man’s questions about the universe. I read Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower, because I admire the woman for her grit – how many Somalian women have managed to fight every adversity that fate threw up and go on to become a famous model? I read Ryszard Kapuscinski’s Shadow of the Sun, because I was on my way to Africa for the first time, I was alone and a bit scared of what awaited me in the dark continent and I mistakenly thought the book might make me feel better on the flight. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t read book after book about Bengali immigrants in America, but I devour every Jhumpa Lahiri book I can lay my hands on, because every sentence she writes is like a musical note that has been perfected through hours and hours of playing.

    I might read for many reasons, but I admire writers for one quality. A rare quality that not even every one of the great ones share – honesty. It is hard to write an honest book. It is hard even to write an honest post. Yet, those are the stories that grip you and make you realize that life is not all pretty and dainty, but you are not the only one confronting the ugliness either.

    I recommend Doris Lessing’s Grass is Singing, for anyone who wants an honest read. If you are in a mood for a comfort read, this is not it. But if you are ready to look life in the eye, with its ugliness right there with all the beauty that we like to see, this is one of my favorites.

    “When she saw him, she stopped dead, and stared at him with fear. Then her face, from being tormented, became slowly blank and indifferent. He could not understand this sudden change. But he said, in a jocular uncomfortable voice : `There was once an empress of Russia who thought so little of her slaves, as human beings, that she used to undress naked in front of them.’ It was from this point of view that he chose to see the affair; the other was too difficult for him. `Was there?’ she said doubtfully at last, looking puzzled. `Does that native always dress and undress you?’ he asked. Mary lifted her head sharply, and her eyes became cunning. `He has so little to do,’ she said, tossing her head. `He must earn his money.’
    (The Grass is Singing, 1950)

    Set in Southern Rhodesia under white rule and slavery, Doris Lessing’s first novel is at once a riveting chronicle of human disintegration, a beautifully understated social critique, and a brilliant depiction of the quiet horror of one woman’s struggle against a ruthless fate, and like almost all of Lessing’s work portrays life as it is; no apologies, no excuses and no smoke curtains.

    The first writer whose honesty struck me was Kamala Das or Madhavikutty or Suraiyya (I don’t know the other names she goes by). A true icon of Malayalam literature, I have read her works in English or the ones that had been translated, never quite attempting to read page after page in my mother tongue. When she passed away last month, she left a void in Malayalam literature that no one can really fill.

    When I was younger, I used to wonder why a woman born to a comfortable life in Kerala would have subjected herself to so much controversy? Wouldn’t it just have been easier to write beautiful stories about pretty things and let the harder facts rest in peace? But then, now I realize, it is not the easier road that is the more fulfilling road, and a writer’s satisfaction comes from writing whatever it is that he/she feels like, the consequences be damned.

    But why does honest writing have to have so many consequences? Why is it that if a woman writes:

    “Gift him what makes you woman, the scent of
    Long hair, the musk of sweat between the breasts,
    The warm shock of menstrual blood, and all your
    Endless female hungers …”
    (The Looking Glass, from The Descendants, 1967).

    ,she is judged to be sexually provocative, not just as a writer, but also as a person. By the time I had reached a mature reading age, I think the literary press was more interested in sensationalizing Kamala Das’ personal life rather than her literary achievements. Magazines printed more of her life’s stories rather than her short stories, which was a real loss for my generation.

    But then, perhaps, asking a reader to judge a book without judging the person is hypocritical too. Afterall, there are times when I read Lessing and I wonder whether she experienced any part of her stories herself? Whether it is her opinion or the character’s? How much is fact and how much is fiction? But fact in fiction, or fiction in fact – does it really matter?

    I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a yellow sun a little while ago. A haunting book, it has many raw scenes and offers an honest look at the Biafran war that changed Nigeria forever. Towards the end of the book, the narrator opines that the story of a Nigerian war is best told by Nigerians. Why really? What is the point I am missing? A different perspective doesn’t make the story any less honest, it is just someone else’s view point. If we all chose to write stories about the lands we were born to, the literary world wouldn’t be half an interesting place as it is today. Should we all just be reading the story of India by Indians or the story of America by Americans? Why is Nigeria any different? Whatever be the context, aren’t we all better off reading multiple perspectives?

    Posted in Books on June 22, 2009