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Daddy- Long-Legs

Written by Friday, 12 July 2013 09:38

aaaThere was one book from my early teen years that was just as good and better as its cover promised. It showed a girl in a long, rather chaste nightgown, perched on a windowsill above a chest of drawers, slightly open for her to climb as if it were a flight of stairs, engrossed in a book. It was that cover of Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs that gave to me a lifelong penchant for choosing windowsills to read my books. In no house that I have lived in have I had windows so high that I needed a chest of drawers to reach up. And yet, when I think of how I want to spend a beautiful afternoon all by myself, it always involves an old house with wide windowsills and the rest of what that edition of the novel had on its cover.


I don’t have a favourite book. Or a favourite song, for that matter. These things change, they are meant to. Yet there is something about this 100-year old novel where everything fits into a near perfect whole. Like the movie Casablanca. Perhaps it is the innocence of the story of Jerusha ‘Judy’ Abbott, an orphan who has an anonymous benefactor funding her college education. In exchange she has to write letters to him, which she fills up with childish scrawls, girlie gossip, her dreams, fears and even boy trouble.


Daddy-Long-Legs is a fairy tale, a love story. Like hot milk and cookies on a cold winter afternoon, like vanilla ice-cream in sweltering May, like a butterfly flitting over a bush of wild roses, this novel is about all things nice, simple, sweet and happy. Even a century after it was written, the story remains just as fresh, and Judy, just as relatable.


That is what makes it a beloved, timeless classic story. 

Don Apron

Written by Friday, 12 July 2013 09:33


Offering much more than a bunch of unusual recipes, journalist Samar Halarnkar’s The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking is a treat all by itself


aspThis isn’t the kind of cookbook you’ll want to head straight to kitchen with, and that, we’d say is a good thing. For once, there’s a cookbook that appeals not just to the kitchen enthusiast or the foodie in each one of us but the booklover too. And Samar Halarnkar’s The Married Man’s Guide to Creative Cooking and Other Dubious Adventures does this without taking away from the core of the genre, the recipe guide.


Halarnkar is the former managing editor of the Hindustan Times and author of a book about India’s internet revolution, Nirvana Under the Rain Tree. His latest book though, is a guided tour through his culinary experiments, but in language that is kitchen-friendly as opposed to connoisseur-ish. The names are familiar and, the methods welldescribed and the ingredients the kind you won’t have to bend over backwards to procure in your neighbourhood.


The recipes are creatively named, and are simple enough to put at ease even a beginner in the pots and pans department. You could choose between Chicken With No Name, Mushy Chicken or Twice-As- Nice Spiced Rice, all of which are accompanied by illustrations that add a dash of humour as take on the task of cooking them head on. While a chicken leg and mushroom are caught in embrace on the Mushy Chicken recipe page, you’ll find a cow trapped in a jar in the section on beef pickle. The recipes aren’t region-specific and coastal favourites come alongside the likes of Bengali doi maach (fish in curd sauce). The vegetarian section is considerably smaller when compared to the non-vegetarian one, but the cover photograph and the author’s confession to meat addiction in the early pages ought to be fair warning.


This book though is best left untouched by purists, as this creative cook doesn’t shy away from occasionally relying on packaged Thai paste or tossing in a ‘Maggi’ chicken stock cube into his preparations. A scribe by profession, it’s not surprising that Halarnkar’s recipes are liberal with the use of alcohol in cooking; there’s Old Monk Pork Chops, Flamed Chicken being topped with beer sauce and cognac used in plenty to flavour fish.


But, it isn’t the highly adaptable recipes that set this cookbook apart in the crowd of similar ones in the genre. It is the introduction to each of the sections where Halarnkar professes food theories, talks about his predisposition to meat eating and offers exercise tips too, laced with humour that make you laugh out loud. In one such chapter he dwells on what he’s labeled the ‘the raja-beta-syndrome’ that “manifests itself in doting mothers who indulgently serve their sons and adoringly watch them eat” and which handicaps Indian men in the culinary department.


In some picture-filled centre pages are stories of the author’s culinary travels, in snapshots of course. Family pictures come printed with doodles intact. The personal touch of the passionate foodie is what makes this book a must-read if not a must-do.

‘So many good books go unnoticed’

Written by Friday, 05 July 2013 07:15

Lipika Bhusan, former marketing head at HarperCollins India speaks about her new venture aimed to help authors market themselves


zczWhat’s the idea behind MarketMyBook?


It was an idea I was toying with for a while. The purpose is to help an author with all aspects of marketing. I headed marketing at HarperCollins India for six years. Though we did the best we could, it was not always possible to make a writer’s book stand out in the crowd. It is also true that every writer’s book needs that exclusive attention. So many good books go unnoticed.


How essential is marketing in the book business now?


In most other industries that I have worked in, marketing was a key area. In publishing though, it always came after other things like editorial services. But, that is rapidly changing. The industry is no longer made up of people who are in the love for it alone; there are also those who want to make serious money. Marketing is increasingly becoming the focus. Also, with the recent success of some writers who have done well with marketing efforts, people are taking notice. All said and done, it is still important to tell a good story.


How will first-time authors benefit from MMB?


For first time writers, it won’t be just about PR. We assist them in every way, be it sponsorships, promotional campaigns with bookstores, online campaigns or advertising.


Penguin merges with Random House



Publishing g i a n t s Pe n g u i n and Random House have formally announced their merger. The new company, Penguin Random House will be the world’s biggest publisher with control of more than 25 per cent of the global market.


Their combined revenues last year exceeded Rs 21,000 crore, and the the number of titles published every year stood at around 15,000. In the picture though, is a mischievous imagning of what the logo of the combined entity will look like, by Marco Leone, a New York-based product designer.

L is for Lightroom

Written by Friday, 05 July 2013 06:59


The newest independent bookstore in town is a kiddies’ delight, and offers the right mix of the quirky and the dependable


The city’s independent bookstores have a special place in the hearts of every book lover who has ever entered them. Lightroom Bookstore is the latest to make it to their ranks, albeit in the children’s books category. Situated in an obscure Frazer Town by lane, Lightroom has forayed into the otherwise non-existent category of bookstores stocking children’s books produced by Indian publishers, a majority of them based in Bangalore and Chennai. They also have books by publishers abroad.


The store is minimalist (without books spilling over in the racks), with attention paid to display, just how one would imagine a children’s bookstore to be. The walls are white with odd but colourful paper decorations on the ceiling and counters and shallow racks for displayed books. A large and bright overhead lamp in the centre of the room though, is what makes the store live up to its name.


The bookstore seems to be owner Aashti Mudnani’s dream project, but means serious business. It has an exhaustive list of titles by publishers like Tulika, Tara Books and Pratham Books. Tulika’s bi-lingual books including several ‘Learn Hindi’ ones find a special corner all to themselves. There is also a fairly large collection of picture books by the acclaimed Chennai-based publisher Tara Books, including some titles rare to come by in bookshops, like Toys and Tales, a series of books published jointly with the National institute of Design, Ahmedabad. City-based publishers Duckbill also find place on the shelves here with their books for children in different age categories. Their series of quirky ‘hOle’ books (literally books with a hole so they can be strung together) find special display.


Besides the eye-catching variety, there are somewhat discreet shelves dedicated to the run-of-the mill Enid Blytons, Nancy Drews and Hardy Boys. Some find their place in the (unmarked) young adults’ section. We were surprised to find a clothes’ rack and a few other trinkets like cushion covers and gift boxes in what seemed like a nofuss bookstore. The burst of colours brought in by the collection, the city-based Grasshopper’s line of children’s clothing, adds some visual drama to this otherwise monochrome space.


At the heart of it, Lightroom may be a cozy, well-stocked children’s bookstore, but it is well worth a visit for adults too.


Lightroom Bookstore is located at 35, Wheeler Road Cross, Frazer Town


Written by Friday, 28 June 2013 09:21

‘No, I mean, when you got up and left your comp just now, where were you? In the loo?’ He couldn’t have been out of the room, obviously, because Ruchi and I were standing right here. ‘Or the balcony?’ Though that sounded stupid the minute I said it—why would Mikey go to the balcony? He turned slightly, just enough so I could see a part of his profile.


voIn the light of the monitor he looked a bit less chubby than usual-probably the angle or the light. ‘Never got up. Never went any place. Been sitting here for the past hour and a half.’ He paused. ‘Since the pizza arrived.’ He added after a moment: ‘Get the door, will you? And get a life.’ I shut Mikey’s door slowly.


When it clicked softly, Ruchi flinched. I turned and stared at her. I was starting to understand why she was so freaked. ‘Ruchi, when I looked into the room just now ... Mikey ... He wasn’t there just a minute ago, right? He wasn’t sitting at his desk, right?’ She shook her head.


What had she said when I found her in the passage? ‘Just now, just this minute. He was sitting there. And then he wasn’t!’ And now he was sitting there again. As if he’d never gotten up at alland he even said he hadn’t gotten up. And I didn’t see why he would be lyingor how he could be lying.


I was standing right here when he appeared at his comp, after all. I would have seen or heard something if he had come from the bathroom and sat down at his desk. Which left only one explanation: Mikey had disappeared from his chair, then reappeared moments later. Actually.


Excerpted with permission of Duckbill Books


Ashok Banker—whose first sci-fi novel is just out—has few kind words for popular Indian English writing, whatever the genre. He explains why he is so disappointed

Ashok Banker keeps producing bestsellers at such a steady pace that some people suspect he is, in reality, an organisation. Among the few Indian English authors who were writing popular fiction long before it became fashionable or lucrative, Banker is now known for his retelling of mythological stories. But that’s just one of the many genres he has published in. His work ranges from crime thrillers to literary criticism. He has now come up with a science fiction book, Vorpal Shockwave, which he says he thought up as a teenager. Excerpts from an email interview:


Why the foray into science fiction?


I’ve been writing speculative fiction for most of my life, since I finished my first SF novel trilogy at age 15. That was in 1979. I’ve published a few SF, fantasy and horror stories internationally since then, been nominated for several genre awards, won a few, been translated into several languages. It’s only in India that my work has been labelled as mythology or in some chain bookstores, Religion and Spirituality (which is absurd, since it’s clearly fictionalised, but chain bookstores live in their own alternative universe!). So it’s really a question of applying labels rather than switching genres.


Do you think Indian readers are open to science-fiction?


Anyone familiar with our ancient Indian epics knows that we have more exciting ideas, technology and fantastical scenarios than any dozen sci-fi novels. I think the Indian mind associates these tropes and devices with the ancient past, as part of reality then. Many people believe even today that we possessed great technological knowledge and that somehow that knowledge was lost or misplaced. Whereas the sci-fi genre is based on the assumption that we are not sufficiently advanced and that’s why it looks to the future where sci-fi writers posit such sophisticated technology. To us in India, that’s ancient history! So yes, I think that’s why the Indian mind doesn’t readily accept sci-fi as a genre itself. Though I have no issues if Vortal Shockwave becomes a runaway bestseller!


What do you think of sci-fi written in India?


There is no sci-fi written in India. At least not Indian sci-fi. There are many who attempt to imitate, or aspire to write sci-fi. But it’s sadly derivative, self-consciously literary, and mostly quite mediocre. I don’t claim to be better: in fact, I don’t claim to be writing sci-fi at all. To me, science is only one possible explanation for events and phenomena. There is always a character in my sci-fi stories or books who insists that there is nothing scientific about what’s happening, it’s all supernatural. To me personally, the journey of the characters is more important than the ideas. In Vortal Shockwave, there is science involved, but the characters and what they go through is more important than the sci-fi elements.


How was the idea of Vortal Shockwave born?


It was a story that came to me in my mid-teens, about an Indian family separated across multiple parallel worlds. Again, not an idea, but a story. I lived with the story for almost twenty five years before finally starting it in 1999 and completing it almost ten years later. This edition is a further revision, thanks to some very perceptive changes suggested by Sayoni Basu at my publisher Duckbill. So I can honestly say that this book took me over thirty five years to write!


Do you think of the new crop of best-selling mythological fiction is distorting the epics?


Of course, they are. That’s the attraction, apparently. To me, as someone who grew up without awareness or knowledge of Hindu culture, mythology or religion, it was the original stories that were so attractive. That’s why even in the most fantastical portions of my Ramayana Series I stick firmly to the path of Valmiki in plot, character and dharmic substance. But the books that are selling in lakhs are the ones that ignore our puranas completely and make up their own fantasy versions of our past. I guess for Hindus or Indians in general who have grown up with these ancient stories, it must be refreshing to see such different versions. I personally prefer to read the original Valmiki Ramayana in Sanskrit, which has such beautiful language and so much detail that most people don’t know about even today. But then again, I’m not a reader of mythology bestsellers, just coincidentally, the author of a few!


Has your non-Hindu background ever come in the way of your retelling of Hindu mythology?


Many people mistakenly assume from my surname that I’m a Parsi (I’m not, the ‘Banker’ surname is a Gujarati name and the only Hindu heritage I have) or that I’m Christian or some other religion. I’m of Dutch-Scots- Irish-Sri Lankan-Goan-Gujarati parentage! That’s confusing enough, but to compound it, I don’t follow any religion—I am not even the least bit spiritual—and my mothertongue is literally English. To most people, this is confusing. As for being hindered, most Indian publishers assume that only a ‘Hindumentalist’ would be writing Hindu epics—which is true of some other authors of mythology, no doubt. So ironically, some socalled liberal editors and publishers refused to even read my work because they felt it was ‘Hindu.’ Strange, isn’t it?


You have written crime thrillers as well. What do you think of the quality of Indian writing in this genre, of which there seems to be a flood?


It’s similar to all genre writing in the country: derivative. We have yet to see either homegrown stories that draw from the local milieu or highly original stylistic works. There’s a lot of pseudo-artsy stuff like the Mumbai Noir anthology stories by Akashic, which completely bypasses the entire country and restricts itself to a handful of pretentious writers writing for each other. But there are several good writers who are working in the genre who are doing honest good work, and every single one of them just happens to be female. So that’s highly encouraging.


What do you enjoy writing the most— mythology, crime or sci-fi?


Oh, that’s an easy one. Humour is my favorite genre. Romance is a close second. I am not a mythology buff, as I said earlier. I do read a lot of crime fiction and enjoy writing it too. But, to me, a story has to be suspenseful, funny and have an element of sexual tension to keep me fully engaged as an author and I guess romantic comedy would be that genre. Vortal Shockwave actually manages to use some of those elements in a juvenile thrillerish way that was really fun to write!


What is the idea behind your e-book project?


Simple. Making available all the books I’ve written, which are taking years to get published in print or not getting published in print at all. It’s also meant for readers who find it hard or impossible to get a copy of one of my books. But mostly it’s meant for those who really enjoy my work enough to want to read everything I write.


By putting up your works as e-books even before finding a publisher, are you not killing the market for your physical books?


I think Paulo Coelho killed that myth long ago: he was a struggling author unable to sell more than a few tens of thousands of copies and no western publisher wanted to publish him. So he pirated his own work, set up a website of his own just to get readers to try his writing. Within a few years, his sales had jumped to hundreds of thousands, and then millions. There was no looking back for him. Books are not movies which get pirated and affect boxoffice sales on the first weekend. The problem with books, as author Cory Doctorow put so well, is that we need more people to read them, not less.

When writers pick favourites

Written by Friday, 21 June 2013 06:54

When writers pick favourites


When fifty well-known writers write about their favorite fictional work, the result is bound to be a treat, as this book is. Titled 50 Writers, 50 Books, this collection of essays edited by Pradeep Sebastian and Chandra Siddan, seeks to examine the entire corpus of Indian novels through the eyes of contemporary writers. Being writers themselves, it’s a pleasure to follow the essayists as they revel in their favourite fiction.

‘Graphic novels will have a larger cultural impact’

Ari Jayaprakash
Graphic novelist


What are your plans post The Kuru Chronicles?


The first book I’m planning is The Kuru Genesis, which is sort of a precursor to The Kuru Chronicles. Post-Kuru, we have something called The Art of Kuru, which features a lot of complex art work which I have done with 10 other artists.

Pics meet fiction

Written by Friday, 21 June 2013 06:45


The Stopover, a product of a collaboration between a Bangalore-based author and a photographer, is a tolerable attempt in the old-yet-new genre of photo-fiction

The lawyer who killed his wife

Written by Saturday, 15 June 2013 09:06


The famous Devadas lives in a huge estate, and gets into an ugly spat with his veena-playing spouse

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