Under my byline

A lot of little

Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 8 April 2012

Bill Bryson, by James DawsonFrom Bill Bryson, another short history of… stuff

A colleague and I came to blows over this book. It happened like this: I said “Bill Bryson doesn’t know how to write,” and she hit me with her copy of At Home. It isn’t a slim paperback.

As it turns out, we were both right. (more…)

Business magic

Posted in Architecture/Design, Books, Living by Rrishi on 13 August 2011

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Six days after it opened, three months ago, I happened by the Spell & Bound Bookshop & Café in SDA Market, a prosperous corner of South Delhi. The market has restaurants and coffee places and one of the better-stocked thekas in the city. Primed by years of Harry Potter products, my eye was instantly captured by Spell & Bound’s forest-green and olde-worlde facade, with its promise of cosiness and warm bookery. (more…)

Turning the page

Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 23 July 2011

The old-style generalist bookshop is under threat. For the moment it is holding its own against competition from big chains and online retailers — but can it survive into the next generation?

It’s as familiar and as timeless as morning chai, this kind of bookshop: owned by three generations of the same family; current owner-manager elderly, knowledgeable and forgiving; opened its doors before the British departed; a short roster of illustrious customers and regulars tending toward the cultured rather than the merely famous; stacks of eccentrically placed books making it not terribly easy to find the book you want, but that book not being the point of your visit… (more…)

‘Everything is rotten. It has to be changed’

Posted in Living by Rrishi on 25 June 2011

OVERLEAF 99

Back in the summer holidays of 1990, not yet 13 years old, I sat down to write a letter to Mikhail Gorbachev. He was then still General Secretary and head of state, and beloved of Time and Newsweek, which came regularly to my school reading room.

I wrote about myself and my family, that we liked the movies shown at the Soviet Cultural Centre, that my brother attended the Botvinnik Chess Academy, that we read Progress Publishers books. A sheaf of pages in, I still hadn’t done what I had started out to — to thank the General Secretary for being a good man, for giving proof that the world could be a better place today than it was yesterday, for never looking like he wanted all the credit. (more…)

Denis the blessing

Posted in Architecture/Design, Books, Living, Profiles by Rrishi on 8 January 2011

OVERLEAF 87

September 1998 was a good month. That month, Google first went live. Already by the end of the year it had been praised by PC Magazine as having “an uncanny knack for returning extremely relevant results”. Also in September 1998, the Arts & Letters Daily website went live. ALDaily, too, was a near-instant hit.

Google quickly became as commonplace as furniture, as useful and almost as invisible. That was its success. ALDaily, however, I fell hopelessly in love with. (more…)

The winner’s a loser

Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 25 December 2010

OVERLEAF 86

The last passenger into the plane had a large carry-on bag — large enough that there was no space left for it. An airhostess trotted up to ask him to let the staff put it in the hold instead. The passenger looked like an office-goer in his late thirties. He took the standard recourse of the thwarted Indian: milking his status. He looked down at her and spoke loudly, demanding to know why the check-in staff had not told him about this, and how inconvenient it was to be held up at arrival by having to wait for his luggage at the carousel. (more…)

Before and after

Posted in Architecture/Design, Books, Living by Rrishi on 11 December 2010

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There are few things as instantly arresting as the before-and-after photograph pair. Two photos side by side become an essay in images: the beginning and end are before you, and the story lies in between. Usually one can easily fill in the story: a person has aged or had a makeover, a place has been revitalised or destroyed and rebuilt, a forest is now a shopping mall, a snowfield is now a desert… (more…)

‘First, they laugh at you’

Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 27 November 2010

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So nice of President Obama to have talked to us about Mahatma Gandhi. Unfortunately he’s not in a position to do as Gandhi. Someone who is, ironically, is the future king of England. Prince Charles has a new book out, called Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World, and in it he lays out his version of a Gandhian approach to saving our planet and civilisation. (more…)

Imperial summitry

Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 30 October 2010

OVERLEAF 82

Obama meets PM. Sarkozy meets PM. Medvedev meets PM. Wen meets PM. Cameron already met PM. That makes all five heads of permanent Security Council states guests of India within a year. Good thing we did some housecleaning for the Commonwealth Games.

Historically, this is very unusual. Before modern times, rulers rarely ever met except in victory and defeat. Humayun met the Shah of Persia, but only after Sher Shah Suri had snatched his kingdom. Alexander met Porus, rajas and sultans regularly met their usurpers, the British King-Emperor received his subject Indian princes… (more…)

Brain-dead beauty

Posted in Architecture/Design, Living by Rrishi on 11 October 2010

BS blog 20

On the day of the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, chief minister Sheila Dikshit gave a TV interview in which she managed to appear at once smug and humble. She tut-tutted gently about the mess in the run-up to the Games, when preparations were not directly in her hands, and, because she was far wilier than the interviewer, was allowed to dwell upon what she described as her government’s success at cleaning things up at the last minute. (more…)

Shortchanged?

Posted in Architecture/Design, Living by Rrishi on 17 August 2010

BS blog 18

How many of you readers like the new rupee symbol?

I don’t (despite a caveat, which we’ll get to). Here’s why. (more…)

It’s the Net, stupid

Posted in Books, Health, Living by Rrishi on 24 July 2010

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Reading article after article online at breakneck speed to complete this column, I was almost set to laughing by the irony: here I was, trying to summarise what people are saying about the effect of Internet and the asteroid-field of small doses of information with which we are surrounded, not to say bombarded, and I was scarcely getting the time to assimilate what I was seeing. Amusement turned to worry as opinion, in the articles I was (let’s be truthful) skim-reading, turned to fact — courtesy an essay by Nicholas Carr in the June issue of Wired.com magazine. (more…)

Make way for something small

Posted in Architecture/Design, Living by Rrishi on 12 July 2010

BS blog 17

In the lane behind the office is usually a long row of illegally parked cars. Most are drably coloured: grey, brown, white. Most days, however, the line is brought alive by a flash of mango — that is, a mango-shaped and mango-coloured Tata Nano. It’s a delight to see it there, seasonally correct on a sweltering day under a green tree.

The funny thing is: like some of the larger cars nearby, the Nano too comes equipped with a driver, who sits in the rear seat fanning himself with a newspaper. (more…)

The India in Indochina

Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 3 July 2010

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On a stone pillar in Mỹ Sơn, an ancient, now-ruined temple town in central Vietnam, is a long inscription in Sanskrit. It records that Bhadravarman, a king who ruled at the cusp of the 4th and 5th centuries, donated wealth to the nearby temple of Shiva. After declaring exactly what land and people were gifted, the inscription ends with a royal admonition: (more…)

Grounded

Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 25 June 2010

OVERLEAF 74

Fuss was made this week over Delhi’s new airport terminal. Passenger trials got under way, publicity photos appeared, and the likeably inarticulate G M Rao of chief contractor GMR walked the talk with Shekhar Gupta on TV. The photos were interesting. They came captioned with superlatives like “stunning” and “world-class”, but the vision they offered of acres of shiny floor, glass walls and lines of booths was pretty much what anyone has come to expect from a large modern airport. That is, dull and efficient — despite the supposedly Indian touches like giant moulded glass hands in various dance mudras.

I’ve got no argument with efficiency and quick dispatch, but think about the human context of going to an airport. (more…)