Under my byline

Above and beyond

Posted in Books, Health, Profiles by Rrishi on 16 August 2011

Maj. H P S Ahluwalia in front of his beloved hospital - H P S Ahluwalia CC BY-SA 3.0Tea with BS: Major H P S Ahluwalia

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…)


Denis the blessing

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


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…)

Lone ranger

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 4 September 2010


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…)

The game of life, translated

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 21 August 2010


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…)

The good person of Ahmedabad

Posted in Art, Profiles by Rrishi on 14 August 2010

Danseuse, activist, teacher and politician Mallika Sarabhai plays Ramkali in an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Person
of Szechwan

“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.

Mallika Sarabhai used the poem as one element of the dance performance she gave instead of a TED talk, at TEDGlobal in Oxford this year. (more…)

Right on the left

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 29 July 2010

A life in polemics

Hitch-22: A Memoir
Christopher Hitchens
Atlantic Books
pp x + 436



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…)

Queer reads

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 25 July 2010

A year after homosexuality was decriminalised, Shobhna Kumar has founded India’s first online LGBT bookshop

“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…)

Hits and near-misses

Posted in Architecture/Design, Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 23 July 2010

An idiosyncratic history of human flight, by a modern air adventurer and entrepreneur

Reach for the Skies: Ballooning, Birdmen and Blasting into Space — How a Handful of Pioneers Risked It All to Make Dreams a Reality
Richard Branson
Virgin Books
pp viii + 344


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…)

Twain time

Posted in Books, Living, Profiles by Rrishi on 22 May 2010


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…)

Mysterious moves

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 24 April 2010


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…)

Past speaking, in Arabic

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 3 April 2010

Two Egyptians explain why Palestine is so central to their writing

Ahdaf Soueif and Radwa Ashour met for the first time in India last week. The two Egyptian writers were invited here by Women Unlimited, the feminist publisher which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. (more…)

After the bomb

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 13 March 2010

Lord Mountbatten’s grandson lost his twin in the IRA attack that killed their grandfather. Thirty years on, Timothy Knatchbull has written a book about his journey of healing

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…)

Fundamentally decent and slightly wonky

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 30 January 2010

Alexander McCall Smith, creator of lady detective Mma Ramotswe and other good-hearted heroes, is as nice as his lead characters

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…)

Ideology is not dead

Posted in Books, Profiles by Rrishi on 16 January 2010

Slavoj Žižek on history: “First as Tragedy, then as Farce”

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…)

A Pepys a day

Posted in Books, Living, Profiles by Rrishi on 9 January 2010


“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…)