It is a large room, and he a figure behind a broad desk at the far end. The wall to the right is a set of windows with an unusually wide door opening onto a broad balcony. On the long wall to the left is a panoramic photograph taken from the top of Mt Everest, in the snowy blue shade of morning and high altitude. On the wall nearest the entry is a mid-size oil painting of Registan Square in the city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, with its three tall darwazas.
But one doesn’t see all this, not at first. (more…)
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…)
For a man who spent 40 years’ worth of working days seated at desk K.1 in the Reading Room of the British Museum in London — the room that once harboured Marx and Lenin — Eric Partridge was unusually alive and kicking. (more…)
Wiping away tears, I’m thinking in amazement: “This really shouldn’t work.” But it does. I’ve just finished reading the death of the hero in Premchand’s novel Rangbhumi. The blind beggar Surdas dies like a saint, with forgiveness for those who once beset him, and with humility. Almost his last words are “Ram-Ram”. His village mourns him, and when his body is mounted on its funeral pyre every man, woman and child is there. (more…)
“I rise” is the refrain of Maya Angelou’s thumping feminist poem “Still I Rise”. Here is one relatively mild stanza:
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
A life in polemics
If one can be flattered by one’s mimics, what about by one’s critics? Few people are clever and stupid enough to flatter Christopher Hitchens with imitation — but he does tend to attract some of the finest critics. (more…)
“It’s about mainstreaming,” says Shobhna Kumar, explaining why she co-founded Queer Ink, India’s first online LGBT bookshop. LGBT stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender”, and that is more or less the core demographic that celebrated, this month, the first anniversary of the decriminalisation of gay sex in India. On July 2 last year, the Delhi High Court decided the 150-year-old Section 377 violated fundamental human rights; so the law has at last ceased to apply to things that consenting adults do in private. (more…)
An idiosyncratic history of human flight, by a modern air adventurer and entrepreneur
He doesn’t seem to have made a single one of his record attempts and record-breaking journeys without having stared death in the face. If it wasn’t weather, it was equipment failure, or extreme bad luck. (more…)
An enviable immortality is available to those few of our race who can fuse wit and wisdom to greatest effect. Look through your email inbox for collections of “funny” and “thought-provoking” quotes that friends have forwarded you, and very likely you will see these names: Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Disraeli, Socrates, Eleanor Roosevelt, Billy Crystal, Groucho Marx, if you’re lucky Mae West (“I didn’t discover curves; I only uncovered them”) — and Mark Twain. (more…)
God moves in mysterious ways. If there is a God. It’s not the question for the individual conscience that I mean here, rather the shifting tide of publications that seek to lay out arguments one way or the other, to testify, cast into doubt or convince. If there is a God, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens — both of whom have written books saying that the universe neither requires nor shows signs of God, that God is a human delusion or tool of social control — will surely be condemned to Hell. (Hitchens has even been known to smoke and drink, at the same time.) Others have written to show that the application of logic to such a subject is self-limiting — how to evaluate something outside of logic with logic? (more…)
It’s disconcerting how easy it is to like the Hon Timothy Knatchbull. “Please call me Tim,” says this jeans-clad grandson of Lord Mountbatten, godson of Prince Charles and nephew of Queen Elizabeth, before we sit down on his publisher’s balcony in Delhi. It’s a joyously sunny day, and in close proximity with this aristocrat his blue blood is plainly visible: there are blue bags beneath his eyes. (more…)
Caveat lector: this article will not meet standards of journalistic objectivity. It cannot, because Alexander McCall Smith is much too nice. At the end of the interview, when he learnt that this reporter’s mother was a huge fan who was unable to come along on account of a bad cold, the author took out his fountain pen and wrote her, without hurrying, a kind note in his tiny doctorly scrawl. (more…)
Three hours into the lecture, the auditorium was still full, the aisles and corners were still packed with reasonably alert listeners, and the lecturer himself was showing no sign of running out of steam. Above the audience hung a faint mist of winter air and sundry exhalations, which may in a more innocent era have been the tobacco smoke generated by an intense discussion on Marxism. Here and now, instead, thin people in casually scruffy clothes and intellectual beards focused on the two figures on the stage. (more…)
“For these two or three days I have been much troubled with thoughts how to get money to pay them that I have borrowed money of, by reason of my money being in my uncle’s hands.” With these rather prosaic words opens Samuel Pepys’ diary entry for 9 January 1660. The ninth day of the year is also the ninth day that he is keeping his journal. He kept it for 10 years. (more…)