Thursday, December 31, 2009

My 2009 in Books

2009 was the year I got introduced to the graphic novel and leaped into a torrid love affair with the same almost immediately. I was extremely fortunate to have friends with a common passion which meant that I got some of the best novels without spending a dime.

Apart from graphic novels, there were other books I enjoyed. And thanks to Twitter I managed to keep track of my reading this year. Here’s a list of all the books I read (not as many as I’d have liked!) this year. Just for the record (in descending order)

1. RONIN – Frank Miller

Sci-fi meets samurai in this tale of revenge, corruption and high-tech gadgetry. I found the story a bit hard to follow, but it has one of the best love scenes I’ve come across in a graphic novel.


Ok, it doesn’t really count as a book, considering it’s just a few pictures and funny captions thrown it. I finished it in 4 minutes flat. But couldn’t bear to leave it out of the list.


I liked the movie, but this book in the series was just too bizarre for my liking.

Fantastic, inspirational book about how broken dreams (climbing K2) can sow the seeds for something far more monumental (schools for Pakistan’s deprived children).

5 & 6. MAUS 1 & 2 - Art Spiegelman

A hauntingly brilliant graphic memoir of the Holocaust. Art Spiegelman captures his ageing father’s account of surviving the Holocaust, and in the process shows what it’s like to ‘survive the survivors’. I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after I finished reading it.

7. RUNNING WITH SCISSORS – Augusten Burroughs

Outrageously outstanding. Reading about the author’s bizarre childhood with a kooky mother and her nutjob psychiatrist, was enough to make me go on my knees and thank God for my ‘normal’ childhood. Written with a rare wit and candour.


Neat story, interesting characters. It’s quite cool to find the protagonists have their dark sides. One’s an opium addict, another uses his ‘invisibility’ to mess about in a girls school, a third is a rumoured lesbian.

9. EAT, PRAY, LOVE – Elizabeth Gilbert

Not being one for ‘chicklit’, I resisted reading this book for a long time. But when I finally did, I found it quite likeable. It also came to me at a time when I was restless and looking for a change in life, quite like the protagonist. Change did come, not quite as I expected. But that’s the topic for another book…

10. MW – Osamu Tezuka

Exposure to a deadly chemical renders one of the characters morally corrupt. And the other protagonist, a Catholic priest, spends his life trying to cover up for him. The story is rife with homosexuality, rape and other deadly sins. Simply brilliant. Amen.

11. ENDLESS NIGHTS – Neil Gaiman

Seven fantastic stories, each about one of seven immortal siblings – Dream, Death, Destiny, Destruction, Despair, Desire and Delirium – collectively known as The Endless. If you read nothing else by Neil Gaiman, read this one!

12. MY STORY – Kamala Das

Her poetry shines through her writing, and even the mundane details appear grand. Loved her story and her sass in standing up to a chauvinist society.

13. BLANKETS – Craig Thompson

A coming-of-age tale about love, Jesus and redemption, beautifully drawn.

14. EMBROIDERIES – Marjane Satrapi

Iranian women talking about their love and sex lives. Gutsy and funny.

15. 100 BULLETS: FIRST SHOT, LAST CALL - Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

If you could get away with murder and revenge, would you do it? Delicious dilemma and each of the 100 stories hinge on that decision. Of the 3 stories (bullets?) in the book, I liked only the first one. The rest got a bit repetitive.

16. KARI – Amruta Patil

Dark and dense. It was hard to tell where fantasy ended and reality began. But that was what added to the intrigue of Kari. Saw shades of myself in the lead character (not the lesbian bits, ok?)

17. PERSEPOLIS 1 & 2– Marjane Satrapi

I read it with my jaw on the floor the whole time. Satrapi’s graphic novel of growing up during the Revolution and how it shapes her thinking. The details are stunning, especially her memories of people. Persepolis is a thing of beauty…

18. PUSH MAN & OTHER STORIES – Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Dreadfully bleak stories of depressive Japanese middle class people stuck in dead-end lives. I couldn’t get enough of it. I read the book twice!

19. ABANDON THE OLD IN TOKYO - Yoshihiro Tatsumi

You pass them by on the street and don’t spare a second thought. Tatsumi does, and that’s what makes his stories so compelling. Ordinary people, devious lives.

20. CORALINE – Neil Gaiman

Am glad I didn’t read this story when I was growing up. Downright scary!


My first encounter with Gaiman. Although it took me a while to get ‘into’ the story, I enjoyed the trip. Unlike anything I’d read before. Looking forward to reading the rest of the Sandman series.

22. HALF OF A YELLOW SUN – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Heard her speak at the Emirates Airlines International Literature Festival 2008 and came away impressed. Read her book and was further impressed. Hadn’t heard of the Biafran War until I read the book.

23. OUTLIERS – Malcolm Gladwell

Geniuses aren’t born, they’re made. By society, by fluke, by bloody hard work. That’s the essence of this very unputdownable book.


Or How A Terrorist is Born. A little gem of a book. The love story is very sensitively etched.

25. WATCHMEN – Alan Moore

My baptism into the bewitching world of Graphic Novels. What I learned: not all superheroes are good and noble.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Around the world in 3six5 days

Imagine a diary of 2010 written by 365 different people from 365 different corners of the world. And you'll have an idea of The 3six5 Project

The brainchild of two self-professed geeks from Chicago Len Kendall and Daniel Honigman, The 3six5 Project is a social experiment of sorts, to create 'a crowdsourced journal of 2010', which may (or may not) be turned into a book.

My first thought on coming across the project was, 'I've got to be part of this!' But first I had to convince Len Kendall about the 'unique perspective I could bring to this compilation'. I wrote that I looked forward to sharing about 'life in a city with the world's tallest building, richest horse race and the largest pair of chopsticks (22 ft., as recorded by Guinness Records!)'.

Perhaps, Len was really impressed by the ginormous chopsticks, but it turns out I'm going to author August 2, 2010.

There are still a few 'dates' left, so hurry over and pick one. Email with a short bio of yourself.

Monday, December 07, 2009

International Volunteers Day

Saturday, December 5th, was International Volunteers Day. And having offered my services a few times to an organization called Volunteer in Dubai, and also curious to meet people working in social development, I headed to The Shelter in Al Quoz, where a small event was being organized.

The studio was already packed with about 50-60 people when I entered. There were presentations by a few people about the work they were doing on their own or in partnership with other NGOs. And it was both humbling and inspiring.

There were several interesting things that I noticed at the event. One was that most of those involved in social work weren’t the hoary sorts who’d taken up social work in their twilight years or bored housewives with time on their hands. The four presenters were all in their mid-20s. Some worked with the underprivileged along side their regular nine-to-fives, while some of them had made it their life work.

26-year-old Masarat Daud shared how she quit a lucrative government job in 2008 to start a programme to educate and empower women and children in her village in Rajasthan. Through her initiative called the ‘8-Day Academy’, she has taught basic computer skills and public speaking to children and teachers, while also demolishing age-old chauvinistic structures in the process. She’s also planning the first rural TEDx Shekavati with an inspiring theme – IDEA REVOLUTION.

Mobisher Rabbani shared his guiding philosophy, ‘We can begin small but why should we think small’. And the long list of The Rabbani Foundation’s initiatives from community development to women’s empowerment to disaster relief, proved that he took his philosophy quite seriously.

At a time when Afghanistan seems to be one of the most dangerous places on earth, journalist and RJ, Natalie Carney headed to Afghanistan not once, but twice, staying there for a month and documenting the stories of the war orphans. One of the most touching moments in her documentary was a parent saying, “We sent our daughter to an orphanage so that she could get an education.”

Another interesting detail was that almost none of the presenters handed around leaflets or any other ‘literature’. I didn’t see too many visiting cards being exchanged either. All of them directed the audience to ‘look them up online’. Either on Twitter or You Tube or Facebook or through their blogs and websites. As Mobiasher mentioned to me, “I mostly operate through Facebook.”

And finally, what was most heartening to note was the presence of confident, articulate Emirati women making a difference. Two young Emirati woman along with their non-Emirati friends, shared their vision that had helped start the group ‘Promise of a Generation’ to ‘promote respectful intercultural interaction to improve our own understanding of the world and our responsibilities in it’. Even the event organizer, Nabila Usman, seemed far more advanced than her 20-something years , given her philanthropic vision and desire to make a difference in society.

As I drove back home, inspired and uplifted, I couldn’t help remembering a quote by Mahatma Gandhi – ‘Find purpose, the means will follow’.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009



A man's voice shrieks orgasmically on the radio.

I cringe.

My first thought is that someone's neck is going to be on the block for allowing this spot on the radio. (4 1/2 years of doing Sharia-compliant advertising, and your internal censor is always alert).

My mind races to deduce the product being advertised.

Condoms? (No WAY!)

Fine dining? (Nah... Too Harry met Sally-ish.)

Some get-rich scheme? Hmm.

The spot ends soon enough...

I would never have guessed.

It's for a men's magazine.

Ironically, titled 'iQ'

The spot signs off with the line, 'Because men need mental stimulation'.

So that explains why men have sex on the mind.

Julia & Meryl Streep

I hesitated before watching the movie Julie & Julia on the flight. I'd recently been gifted the book by the same name, and I didn't want to spoil my enjoyment of the book. But anyway, given the choice of movies offered on the flight, Julie & Julia seemed the lesser evil.

The book is about an unhappy woman who in a moment of despair decides that the way out of her melancholy is to cook her way through a French cookbook written by Julia Child. And to blog about her adventures/misadventures. I loved the theme given my interest in cooking and, well, blogging.

Interestingly, the movie is based on not one, but two books (three, if you count the cookbook!) One, being Julie Powell's cook-blog. The second, is Julia Child's memoir of her year in France when she really learned to cook. And that really is the saving grace of the movie.

Meryl Streep is magnificent as Julia Child. From the first scene where she falls in love with Paris, to the last, in which her portrait hangs a museum, you get a sense of her passion for cooking. She starts out as the somewhat bored wife of a diplomat who in order to find something to occupy her time, takes cooking classes, and ends up not just mastering elaborate French cooking, but also writing a book about the same.

The movie intercuts between Julie's attempts, most of which turn out surprisingly well, and Julia's journey. But the former sorely lacks the passion and joie de vivre of the latter. Apparently, when the real Julia Child was asked what she thought of Julie's blog, she mentioned that she hated it.

I haven't read the book yet, so I'll reserve comment. But let's say the 'Julie' part of the film Julie and Julia was a little bland on the palate.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

You've got grand mail

An unusual mail popped into my inbox today. It seemed like spam at first glance, and I almost hit the 'delete' button, before I took a second look. 'Anybody home' it asked in the subject line. I opened it to see a one-line mail in blue in the the typical Helvetica font that spammer's seem to adore.

This message is to determine if the email address is correct and will contact my grandson Josh?????

I could just picture it: grandpappy William sitting in front of his newly installed desktop, peering at the crumpled note of paper where Josh had hastily scribbled his email address. Perhaps he had just set up his first email account and was trying to contact all members in his family. Maybe he'd even sent out a couple of mails to Josh only to have them bounce back. And so the 'message to determine...'

It seemed sweet that a grandfather would attempt to contact his grandson by mail. I wondered what it would be like to receive an email from my grandfather. Not that I would, of course, considering he'd passed on when I was 13, but even if he were alive, I doubt he'd have gotten interested in email.

There are few things I remember about my grandfather, and they are mostly the quirks. Like the snuff box he always carried around, from which he pulled out tiny amounts of brown snuff which he tucked into his nostrils. It would result in thunderous sneezes which shook the room, and made his thick bushy hair stand on end. A bit like Einstein.

My granddad wasn't big on conversation. I remember him standing at the living room window, looking out at traffic on the busy Eastern Express Highway for hours on end. Or he'd sit on the black sofa lost in thought, his eyes hidden behind blurry spectacles, while his feet shuffled involuntarily. The only time he got really animated was while watching cricket on TV. If the cricketers ever heard the insults and abuse heaped on them, they would turn red with shame, and would probably rush to seek out alternative careers.

But one thing I'll always remember my grandfather for is the greeting cards. They always arrived early; the harbinger of birthdays and festive occasions. The writing on the envelope was unmistakable, a beautiful, unusual handwriting. And the cards always felt like they were specially created only for you. Where the printed wishes ended, my grandfather would continue with his personal missive. The entire blank space in the card would be filled with his wishes, counsel and blessings. And right at the bottom, he'd sign off with the date. Sealing off a moment in time. Even now, when I browse through the cards, I can recall the moment of receiving them. And relive the feelings of being an 8-year-old (with a birthday party to look forward to).

So yes, I doubt my grandfather would have embraced email communication. And I doubt I would have enjoyed receiving a mail from him without his trademark handwriting. And without the faint scent of snuff.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


She mostly spoke in whispers, not wanting to offend with the sound of her voice. Her shoulders were perpetually hunched, so as to not take up too much room. Sorry, she said, before starting any sentence. Sorry, but I think you're stepping on my sari. Few knew the colour of her eyes; she rarely, if ever, made eye contact. Only the fish mongers in the bazaar loved her. She never haggled when they quoted their price, but only pursed her lips, and twisted her handkerchief around her fingers, before nodding slowly. It took them two weeks to notice she was missing. And another four days to find out that she was dead. Even her decomposing corpse didn't reek. Under her bed, they found box after box of handwritten manuscripts. Poems, stories, fragments of conversations overheard, long rambles on life, love and longing. Who knew she had so much to say, they murmured, shaking their heads.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

I am grateful...

... for big windows without curtains

... for the almost uninterrupted view of the sky through them

... for the cloudy sky this morning

... for the slivers of sun which peeked through

... for a sight that reminded of something a friend once said, "It's like God watching you."

... for being the observer and the observed

... for the spaces between thoughts

... for being alive

... for being

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Little Wonders

It took Kirk 6 years to learn how to eat the normal way. Until then, he'd been fed through a tube in his nose and later, through a tube in his stomach. Unlike his twin, Jadyn, Kirk had been born with a vocal chord dysfunction, which not only made speech, but also normal swallowing impossible.

Give it time, he'll get better, doctors told my friend, Ro, year after year, surgery after unsuccessful surgery. And Kirk grew up knowing that he should never put things in his mouth, not even by accident. It was heartening to watch Ro hand him a chocolate chip cookie with the instruction, "Only to hold, not to eat." And Kirk would be content doing just that. Once in a while though, he'd grab Jadyn's water bottle wanting a few drops of water to trickle down his throat. It would, more often than not, result in a coughing spasm which brought tears to his eyes.

In every other way, he was a playful little boy, the more mischievous and boisterous twin. "Ya-ya," he rasped, when I met them for the first time two and a half years ago. "Not Ya-ya," corrected Jadyn, "her name is Yee-ya."

There was another surgery scheduled last month. And Ro, who had held onto every hope, however slim, had even thought about approaching a Shamanic healer just to help them get through the surgery.

A week ago, I received a text message from Ro, "Kirk is swallowing well and is now allowed to eat pureed food under supervision."

I could only imagine the look of triumph on all their faces watching each spoonful going down. What could be a better birthday present for a 6-year old than finally tasting his own birthday cake?

So to the awesome twosome who turn 6 tomorrow, wishing you a truly magical, special day. And an unshakeable faith in miracles.

A little more about the twins here, here and here

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Be Prepared!

(Another story written for the Writer's Group. You can read an earlier one here.)

If you happened to run out of sugar for your morning cup of tea, or perhaps, needed a candle when the lights went out, or even, if you wanted to refer to last week's newspaper for some reason, there was only one person to contact - 'Eveready' Marie Braganza.

Most people in the seaside village of Kasaulim called her that, and truthfully, she didn't mind. She'd lost both parents when she was barely a teenager and the responsibility of 8 younger siblings had fallen on her tender shoulders. She'd learned early on that the only way to stay in control (and stay sane!) was to plan for the worst and take pre-emptive action.

So even today, you'd never find her without her black, folding umbrella. "But what if it rains?" she reasoned with Joachim the gardener, when he pointed to the cloudless sky. If you asked, "Marie, got a safety pin?” she'd counter, "Which size, dear?" If someone coughed in Church, he'd quickly find a Halls lozenge pressed into his palm.

As much as they admired Marie, the people of Kasaulim also felt a little sorry for her. Especially when every Friday evening, she hobbled over to Mac's Laundry, with a bundle of clothes tucked under her arm.

"Hello Mac, fine evening, isn't it?" she said, just like she did every week. "I've bought Arthur's shirts to be washed and ironed. Remember, not too much starch. And pay attention to the collars."

Mac would nod solemnly and toss the clothes onto the laundry pile. When Marie would leave, he'd look at his assistant, Joe, and both would silently shake their heads.

Arthur Braganza had gone out to sea in his fishing boat two years ago, and had never returned. The Coast Goard had mounted an extensive search operation. Even the local fishermen went as far into the sea as their boats could take them. But neither Arthur nor his boat was ever found. The old timers reckoned that a strong wind had carried Arthur and his boat into the high seas.

Marie took the loss of her husband of 32 years quite badly at first. She simply lay in bed, refusing to meet anyone. Even Fr. Victor was turned away. The Ladies Prayer Group brought her casseroles which they found unopened. Marie had simply given up on life.

And just when the people of Kasaulim began to fear that she was slipping away, Marie inexplicably and serenely bounced back. James and Dolores, from the green house across the compound wall, were the first to notice that she was back to her usual routine. The fish market in the morning, siesta in the afternoon, St. Jude's Church in the evening.

Everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief, but that soon turned into a gasp of dismay.

"Two mutton cutlets, please. Arthur loves the cutlets for lunch," she'd tell the nonplussed counter salesman at Chic's Cold Storage. From her kitchen window, Dolores began to spot Marie talking to the empty rocking chair in the house. Disconcertingly enough, she was going on as though Arthur was still a part of her life.

“Maybe that's her way of coming to terms with Arthur's death," Dr. Kamat told Dolores and James. "Give her time, and she'll move on."

But two years later, Marie hadn’t moved on. Greeting cards would still be signed off with ‘Love, Arthur and Marie’. His black leather shoes would still be polished every day. And a plate would unfailingly appear on his side of the table at meal times.

Initially, people shuffled uncomfortably when she spoke of Arthur in the present tense. But over time, they came to accept her delusion. In every other way, she was still the helpful, generous 'Eveready' Marie they'd known. So they merely nodded indulgently when Arthur popped up in the conversation and shook their heads later.

One wintry evening, Marie was shuffling home from Mac's Laundry, when a fierce wind began blowing in from the sea. The sky turned dark and foreboding. Soon, fat droplets of rain began pelting down from the sky. People bounded to the nearest dry spot. Only Eveready Marie shook open the folds of her black umbrella, and continued walking. The sudden shower brought with it deafening thunder and lightning. Children howled and rushed to hide under their mothers' skirts. Shopkeepers downed their shutters in haste.

"Marie, hurry up. A storm is coming in from the sea," shouted James, as he grabbed her elbow and led her up the garden path to her house.

Marie reached her doorstep, shook her umbrella, and stepped inside the house. The lights had gone out, but it didn't faze her. The candles and matches were in the rosary drawer just next to the door. She lit a dozen candles and placed them in saucers all around the house, and then took one candle to the kitchen to ready the supper.

Suddenly, the front door crashed open and an icy gust of wind blew into the house. Marie rushed to bolt the door and had turned to re-light the candles which had gone out, when the front door crashed open again. Marie whipped around with a start, her chest thudding. Hadn't she just bolted it securely?

And that's when she saw someone move near the main gate which was wide open. James must have come back to close it, she thought. A sudden bolt of lightning illuminated the area, and she recognised the silhouette coming up the garden path. It wasn't James. Her body went limp, and she stared unblinkingly, unmindful of the uproar caused by the rain. She slowly backed into the room as the shadow inched forward towards the door.

The rain pelted into the living room, creating little puddles near the entrance. But Marie couldn't bring herself to shut the door. She felt the couch behind her and sat down heavily on it, her eyes peeled on the shadowy figure now almost at the doorstep. Through the flickering candle lights she saw him, clothes ragged and soaked, seaweed clinging to his bony, shrunken feet. A thick stench permeated the room - the smell of the sea mixed with the odor of decay.

"You’re late," said Marie, a slight tremor in her voice. "I've made roast beef for dinner," she continued. "And change into a dry shirt. Or you'll catch your death of a cold."

Monday, June 08, 2009

All that you can't leave behind

(Had written this for the Writer's Group a while ago. One of my first attempts at fiction.)

There are 50 ways to leave your lover
Yell at her, curse her, just don’t shove her
And when she looks at you with aching eyes
Tell her the reason for saying goodbye.

“You’re doing it again, dammit,” shouted Lawrence.

Lorraine looked at him, eyes brimming. Her lips parted but no words came out.

“Don’t look at me that way, Lorraine,” said Lawrence. “You knew this was coming.”

Knew it was coming?
Not in a million years
Hadn’t we shared more
Than dreams, hopes and fears?

The muscle in Lawrence’s jaw twitched and his eyes narrowed. Lorraine looked away. Eighteen months together, and he could read her mind, it seemed.

“You can’t help it, can you?” he said, with a bitter laugh.

Lorraine was trapped. Saying anything would prove him right. Maybe if she didn’t say a word, he’d change his mind about leaving.

“If you’ve got nothing to say, I’ll leave,” said Lawrence.

The words flew out of Lorraine’s mouth before she could register them,

“Please I beg you, please don’t go.
You must know I love you so.
If you leave I’d be so lost
My heart would be in permafrost."

Lawrence pounded the table sending the cutlery flying. Lorraine started, and the tears she'd been holding back, spilled down her cheeks.

“Tell me Lorraine,” roared Lawrence, “can you utter one sentence without making it into bloody poetry?"

Lorraine was sobbing now. Lawrence was right; she just couldn't help it. Call it a gift or a curse, but ever since she'd learned to speak, the words had tumbled out in rhymes. Her parents had taken her to several doctors and therapists, but they could offer no explanations, nor prescribe a cure for her quirk. Eventually, her parents accepted that her brain was just wired differently.

But outside home, acceptance wasn't so easy. In second grade, her teacher made her stand outside class for an hour for 'being cheeky'. All Lorraine had said was,

"I did my homework, I really did slog
But then it got ate up by Billy my dog."

There were times when her 'habit' as she called it went into remission. And for months at a time she spoke normally, but it only took one harmless little verse to set her off again.

The last time it had happened, she was on her way home after her first date with Lawrence. She was so happy and radiant, the words wrote themselves in her head.

I think we'll be together
Come sunshine or rain.
Lovers now and forever
Lawrence and Lorraine!

Initially, Lawrence thought it charming and funny, and even encouraged her to write a book of verse. But when she broke into rhyme during intimate moments, he wasn't as amused.

And right now, he was livid.

"I can't take it anymore, Lorraine," said Lawrence, clutching his hair. You're a nice girl, but this rhyme thing you do... it's driving me out of my mind."

Lorraine wiped her tears with, and said in a quavering voice,

"I love you, is all I can say
And maybe this is the price I pay
Someday you'll come to see
The beauty in my poetry"

Lawrence strode out, slamming the door. By the time he had reached the road he was breathing heavily. He needed a smoke and he needed to get away. He walked fast, his hands jammed into the pockets of his denim. He'd get over her, he knew he would.

He walked into the petrol station and barked at the attendant behind the counter,

“One Marlboro, one espresso. And some chewing gum, to go.”

The attendant paused before ringing in the bill and said, "Hey you know what mister that rhymes". He didn't notice the colour draining from Lawrence’s face.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Still alive...

... still kicking.

A real post coming soon.