Hamish McDonald wrote The Polyester Prince in 1998, on the rise of Dhirubhai Ambani. Legal threats kept it out of the Indian market — but now there is a sequel. An interview with the author.
What is new in this book?
A third of the new book is about events since the old book finished, which was ’96-’97, so it gets the last years of Dhirubhai, including the oil refinery at Jamnagar and the jump into telecom, and then the split [between Mukesh and Anil], and it runs up until the Supreme Court judgement in May this year. It contains a lot more analysis and opinion and delves into the myths and counter-myths and tries to explore the issues this ascent has raised for India, particularly the relationship between big business and government. (more…)
Q&A: Timothy Knatchbull
Here is a transcript of my interview with Timothy Knatchbull, grandson of Lord Mountbatten and survivor of the 1979 bomb which killed the former viceroy and three others, including Knatchbull’s identical twin brother Nicholas. The loss of his twin, the slow process of accommodating to that loss, and all that the author learnt while, a quarter century later, collecting information about that terrible day and its aftermath, provided material for the memoir-like book Knatchbull has written about his life before and after the bomb. From a Clear Blue Sky: Surviving the Mountbatten Bomb was published last year to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the attack.
The interview is long, but I think interesting. I’ve added a short explanatory/expatiatory note at the end. (more…)
In Muzaffar Jang, first-time novelist (but award-winning short-story writer) Madhulika Liddle has invented a new kind of character for Indian historical fiction — the amateur detective. Muzaffar follows in an old tradition, as Liddle reveals when she describes her reading tastes. He is a maverick in Shahjahan’s capital: an aristocrat with friends in low places. When one lowly friend is wrongly accused of the murder of a wealthy tax inspector in the Lal Qila, Muzaffar swings into action and puts himself in harm’s way. (more…)
Caught between “the inexorable bulldozers of mostly male-driven hard porn” and “people setting fire to the forest from inside” (that is, Hindu Talibanisation), writes Ruchir Joshi, our inner Brindavan is being subjected to a “double rape”. Brindavan, of course, is the forest on the Yamuna riverbank near Mathura where Krishna romanced Radha and the gopis. (more…)
Q&A: K S Subramanian
Jayakanthan is a prolific and influential Tamil writer whose work spans half a century. Dissonance and other Stories (Katha, 2008) contains 10 stories from his early, highly political writing days. The book was shortlisted for the latest Vodafone Crossword Book Award. An interview with the translator, Jayakanthan’s long-time friend and literary workaholic, K S Subramanian. (more…)
A handbook of Delhi’s modern architecture casts familiar buildings in a new, collective light
Few speak of Delhi’s architectural heritage beyond what the sultans, badshahs and British built. Architect Rahul Khanna and photographer Manav Parhawk set out to challenge this paradigm. Many of the 47 masterpieces of Delhi’s modern architecture they describe in this slim handbook are institutional buildings and embassies, but there are also homes, places of worship, memorials… An e-mail interview with Rahul Khanna. (more…)
French author, essayist and public intellectual (in his case, a deserved appellation) Guy Sorman has written over a dozen books in the last quarter-century on topics concerning the state of the world, from the environment to economics and human rights. Since 2000 he has written research-, interview- and travel-based accounts of countries like China, India and the USA. A handful, including The Genius of India (2000), are now out in English. (more…)
Despite his wine- and Cognac-making roots, Jean-Sébastien Robicquet turned to distilling fine vodka. He talks about Cîroc.
You have a long history of winemaking in your family.
It goes back to the 16th century, [with a member of the] family being mayor of Cognac, and then after the 17th century where we had one of the first cognac businesses. But now it has disappeared with the Revolution and all. We had some chaotic times! (more…)
Q&A: Thubten Samphel
Thubten Samphel is the spokesperson and information secretary of Tibet’s government-in-exile. In this memorable coming-of-age novel he tells the story of the lives of a handful of Tibetans from their student days in Delhi in the early 1980s into adulthood. The main character Tashi founds a Tibetan Communist Party (offending his fellow exiles, not least the narrator Dhondup), but is eventually recognised as a high reincarnated lama. I met the author at the refugee settlement of Majnu ka Tilla. (more…)
Q&A: Ramachandra Guha
Walter Crocker spent eight years in Delhi as Australian high commissioner to India during Jawaharlal Nehru’s premiership. He found himself mesmerised by the PM. Two years after Nehru’s death, Crocker published an “estimate” of Nehru as a politician and as a man, and of his role in shaping independent India. Crocker’s excellent little book went out of print decades ago, but was recently rediscovered by historian Ramachandra Guha, and this new edition is out in time for Nehru’s 119th birth anniversary. Guha answered questions by e-mail. (more…)
Q&A: Mike Bryan
Mike Bryan is a year into his job as Penguin India’s CEO and president. His arrival in 2007 coincided with the first Penguin Annual Lecture in India, by globalisation guru Thomas L Friedman. On October 13, former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten will speak on the “dark side” of globalisation in the second lecture in the series — and also launch his book, called What Next? Surviving the Twenty-first Century, on the same topic. We spoke with Bryan, who has an international sales-and-marketing background, about Penguin’s prospects. (more…)
Q&A: Aman Sethi
AIDS Sutra: Untold Stories from India
Negar Akhavi (editor)
Random House India
xii + 340
India’s first charity book (according to the publisher) will raise money for Avahan, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation AIDS initiative in India. It contains 16 essays by leading writers (Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth, Shobhaa De) on their firsthand experience of aspects of India’s AIDS crisis, from at-risk groups like hijras, addicts and sex workers to stories of individual sufferers and those at the frontline, including doctors, policemen and lawyers. Aman Sethi, journalist and essayist, hitched a ride down NH 31 from Siliguri to Patna in a truck piloted by “ustaad” Sanjay, to learn about the sexual life of the highways.
What’s behind the food crisis, according to farmers’ rights campaigner Raj Patel
“All data is political,” says Raj Patel, researcher, writer and campaigner for farmers’ rights and against the global “food system”. He uses data to draw an hourglass-shaped figure — a simple graph which represents the inequality in the food industry, where large numbers of growers and eaters are separated by a tiny number of large corporations. In his book he tries to show how governments and trade agreements work in favour of the few rather than the many.
Q&A: Usha K R
Usha K R won this year’s Vodafone Crossword Book Award for English fiction with this memorable story of three generations of a family in small-town south India. The novel is mainly set in Mysore state during the freedom movement of the 1930s, but there is also a voice from 1987. The two are interleaved so as to gradually reveal the truth behind the characters’ fate — which operates almost in the manner of Greek tragedy. She answered questions by e-mail.
Q&A: Gita Krishnankutty
Gita Krishnankutty is an award-winning and well established translator from Malayalam to English. Her work won her the first Crossword Indian language fiction award in 1999, and this year two novels translated by her have made it to the Vodafone Crossword book award shortlist. Dr Krishnankutty has also won two Katha awards for translation. She has studied English literature and French, and lives and works in Chennai. (more…)