Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Godstone

The most important thing about it right now is that it's written by a Dubai-based author, Stuart Land, and was launched four days ago at our very own Magrudy's. I've just finished it in one sitting.

Alex Haley meets Wilkie Collins meets Dan Brown, but it manages to be unique for all that. The plot is interesting, the twists in it are genuinely surprising and over-all you definitely want to know how it ends. Unfortunately the writing is not yet able to handle it. Not yet, because it is a first novel – as is betrayed by some gaucherie and hesitancy – so indictment is not warranted.

There are some irritants. The occasional descriptions of Dubai sound like tourism plugs (which is frankly suspicious). Now and then, there seems to be a touch of the Great White Hope school of thought (which may well come easily to a Caucasian male who's been knocking around the Middle East for a while). But, most irritating to me, there were explanations - as in, a thobe is such and such worn by so and so, in a place where the translation is irrelevant and inconvenient. I can't see Marquez, for example, allowing the explanation imperative get in his way.

But read it, I enjoyed the story as much as Da Vinci Code. And I'd like to say to Stuart Land - write the next one, but don't be so concerned with not offending anyone. When half your friends disown you and your book is banned, you sleep the sleep of fulfilment. Ask Rushdie.

Also maybe use another publisher, one that has proofreaders.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Year of the space rodent

A stranger just gave me a little toy rat. First he asked me if I was finding the internet speed alright because he was having trouble. This has become as familiar a gambit as “do you have a light?”. And telling them I’m busy when I actually am is almost too easy for someone who can conjure a social force field from nothing in seconds. Anyway, this one left me this because I look like an “Indian friend” of his and returned to his table before I could do anything about it. He’ll probably resume efforts as soon as I get up. Just the thought of it means he’s intruding on my personal space from twenty feet away.

Someone once described my force field as “anticipatory intimidation”, but I don’t know if it will work on people who go in for large-scale distribution of tacky Chinese soft toys.

My waitress – who saw fit to inform me that next year is the year of the earth rat, whatever the hell that is – is going to be rewarded with a lovable little furry rodent keychain, meticulously crafted in China using ancient techniques handed down verbally through generations of softtoysmiths, from organically grown and humanely harvested polyesterworms. Not tested – or based – on animals. Any resemblance is coincidental. May contain traces of nuts.

I should go back to my regular cafe – better the psychos I know.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Mr. Bojangles

He lived in a room down a side road. Or so I seem to remember being told. He was always alone but any loneliness you felt when you saw him was most likely to be your own. He was safe within his head. He may have been very old or he may have been only in his forties, but old in neglect. We knew nothing of him, nor did we want to then. There must have been a teenager once with passions and infatuations. There must have been a young man who went to work or wanted to. There must have been a love or a hate. A family or a friend. How does someone become quite so alone? We used to see him at the club, he came to the dances and always got a drink. And he danced. In worn out shoes, / With silver hair, a ragged shirt and baggy pants, / he would do the old soft shoe. He danced by himself, all night, and seemed content. But when he died, it was not by himself. It was the loneliest death of all - in public, but isolated by pointing fingers. His name was Mr. Wise, and a more inappropriately named person I have yet to meet.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

'Tis the season to be sentimental

There’s a pocahontas on my table. It has red leaves and breathes the yuletide spirit. I’ve put it in the cream and gold pot that was a birthday present from the person who can’t pronounce poinsettia.

On my long-suffering frangipani, I’ve hung a delicately latticed white candle-holder that I once found under a Christmas tree with my name on it.

The carols in the supermarket inspired me to buy fruitcake, and now there are two in the house.

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Usually, when you return to things you used to be intensely involved in in your hometown, they tend to have grown small and pathetic. As Neil Diamond put it: “All I’d see are strangers’ faces and all the scars that love erases”.

But happening upon news of a repertory group I used to belong to, I felt the absolute opposite. Jagriti – as it is now called – has become a Trust and a Foundation, its aims much larger, its future much brighter than the old Artistes’ Repertory Theatre would ever have imagined.

None of this is news to me. I’ve seen the plans, walked in the foundations of the building. I knew the name was going to change; my feelings were even consulted. But the reality, the enormity of it was only clear to me when laid out in unmistakable print on the impersonal pages of a website.

I’m still struggling to identify the emotions. There is definitely a swelling pride and a triumphant whoop. But there are also other things, harder to define.

This new Jagriti – a redundancy there, since jagriti is sanskrit for awakening – is a stranger. There’s another one in my mind, the Jagriti Farm where we played, worked and rehearsed, not just for the latest play, but for life itself.

From those insecure teenage years I’ve grown into a real person, with my own self, my own larger future. For one moment today I felt all my age and my distance from who I feared I might become. It was a great feeling of renaissance.

But also, across that distance, I recalled suddenly, vividly the summer scent of grapes ripening on the vines that used to grow across the road. The December morning glimpse of a field of hyacinths in the mist. And three boys cajoling roses by the armful from the neighbouring wholesalers, for the latest of their many crushes.

Perhaps it is best left, as most things should, to the words of Simon and Garfunkel: Time it was and what a time it was, it was / A time of innocence, a time of confidences. / Long ago it must be, I have a photograph.

Looking back there was much laughter at the farm, the tears were brief and few. There was creativity (as evidenced by the many ingenious ways in which the boys sought to kill themselves with Diwali fireworks), dedication (they renewed their efforts every year, in spite of their repeated failure to blow themselves up), teamwork and faith (you needed a lot of this for the elaborate system of backstage signals that were necessary in the days before walkie-talkies).

It is wonderful then, to know that the spirit of Jagriti is to spread its wings and fly wider and higher, to nurture and be nurtured by others. And so continue for a long, long time independent of us, its first graduates.

Friday, December 07, 2007

My funny valentine

The greatest danger of a blog is that you forget you’re talking to people. You write things sometimes that you wouldn't say out loud. And now I’m writing so much in so many places, it's hard to keep track.

It’s such a novelty to have all this time to myself that I’ve spent nearly all my waking hours for the past week writing, in some form or the other.

I don’t know if buying the laptop was such a good idea – I’m practically grafted to it now, the way some people are to their mobile phones. My book lies unread, my Sudoku, undone. New DVDs lie around unwatched and my cable TV is growing cold in the wires (but this is hardly new. A friend who left town left his TV behind for me, so I could finally upgrade to something that at least has a flat screen and a remote. It’s two months since he left and the TV is still lying in someone’s warehouse).

I think I may need to talk out loud to some real people. Saying “latte” to waitresses doesn't count as conversation, even if they stop to chat about the weather.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The book of love is long and boring...

Now and then, the couple at the table next to me sound like they’re in love, but mostly they just sound like a shrink and his patient. Sure, it’s a good thing to talk about your problems as a couple, but sometimes you should just give it up and tell jokes.

He says he’ll tell her some of what he does and where he goes but not everything - but she can be sure that he will never lie to her. She says she’s thirty years old and has lost her beauty (sister, you ain’t even begun). He seems to feel that she looks like an angel - this should be gratifying, but not noticeably. He says he doesn’t want her sympathy. Which is strange because she hasn’t offered any. Now he tells her she has the longest memory in the history of mankind. Considering that this refers to his sitting in his ex-girlfriend’s pocket at a party, I really don’t blame her. He’s admitting that he took her for granted.

It emerges that this is a post-break-up meeting. He’s asking her to consider how much it hurt him. He says he’s literally sobbed over her because he didn’t have access to her life. If, as it seems, she left because she felt he spent too much time with other girls, he needs to try a different tack. She’s very quiet.

I feel sad for them now. They’re in that terrible “can’t live with or without you” stage. And, looking at it from the outside, they clearly still like each other. But there’s no telling at this point if they will work it out or let it go, to regret it when it’s too late.

For such an important conversation, they’re being too loud in too public a place.

If I was his girlfriend, I would have left him - maybe for dead - just for using phrases like “access to your life”.

Two whole hours later: It sounds like they’re getting married, but that seems to involve a lot of exhausting talk as well, so I can’t really tell.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

No more reruns

I’ve finally got around to reading Hemingway. “The Sun Also Rises”, of course (what would you expect of someone with a closet preference for compilation CDs?). I would have done this earlier, except that I haven’t lately been able to rouse myself to more than the merest pulp fiction and re-reading of the books I already know too well. New authors have been a difficult leap to make - as the great man said, people are strange when you’re a stranger.

Now that I’ve self-diagnosed softening of the brain, I’ve taken on the books that I have continued to buy even if not read, as if the mere act of browsing in a bookshop were enough.

To get back to Hemingway... well, I can’t review yet because I haven’t finished the book. But for me, Hemingway is one of the few authors whose name alone conjures an entire, romantic world. Kipling is another. Hats and g-and-ts on a patio, bougainvillea on white walls looking out to sea. It also reminds me of how redolent life in the Middle East can be of the old-fashioned expatriate luxuries. And the megrims.... not even a quarter of the book through, and I’m already using that word.

Blog Archive