Under my byline

Love of the land

Posted in Books by Rrishi on 11 September 2010

A historical romance set in colonial Coorg wins NRI author Sarita Mandanna lavish praise. But has she acknowledged all her sources?

Sarita Mandanna’s Tiger Hills was born with a silver spoon in its mouth. Not only was it championed by David Davidar, until recently a big wheel at Penguin, it also won the attention of David Godwin, a top literary agent. UK rights were quickly picked up by Kirsty Dunseath of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, who compared Tiger Hills to Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds and Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. (Early reviewers said its heroine Devi recalled Gone with the Wind’s immortal Scarlett O’Hara.) And in April 2009 Penguin paid a huge sum to acquire India rights to this debut novel. Trade rumour says the sum was around Rs 35 lakh. (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…)


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…)

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…)

Between dog and wolf

Posted in Books by Rrishi on 7 August 2010


In the morning paper is a news photograph from Kashmir showing two policemen and a young protester. The policemen are restraining the young man from joining the funeral procession of a fellow protester who has died as a result of police firing. The man is shirtless, and the two policemen have placed a hand and a finger, respectively, on his bare chest — in a gesture more officious than threatening — to indicate that he and the others with him must go no further. (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…)

It’s the Net, stupid

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


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…)

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…)

Save them from history

Posted in Books by Rrishi on 15 July 2010

A historical novel/spy thriller on the British victory over Siraj ud-Daulah makes one wonder: when will the great Indians be fictionalised?

One of Gore Vidal’s seven historical novels covering the rise and “fall” of the American empire is Lincoln: A Novel. In it, he views Abraham Lincoln and his presidency through the eyes of the president’s contemporaries and close associates — real historical individuals, including members of the cabinet and even Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd Lincoln. Published in 1984, the book drew praise as well as fierce criticism — Lincoln is, after all, one of the secular saints, and Vidal is held by many to be a great sinner. (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


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…)


Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 25 June 2010


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…)

The buttered toast war

Posted in Books, Living by Rrishi on 5 June 2010


Writing this review of three new Nepali novels, I was left wondering what happens to idealism in times of war. In the case of Nepal, in these few books at least, idealism among the Maoist cadres — though triggered by poverty and inequality — where it survived appears to have been the result of a certain amount of brainwashing.

Not so, perhaps, among the volunteers of the International Brigades. These were the foreigners who rushed to Spain to support the left-wing Republicans in the 1936-39 civil war against the nationalists who had tried to seize the government. (more…)