The other side of the coin – or is it ?

This is a pretty controverisal take on Jerffrey Archer by Shobha De. I dont know if it is true or not, but I think it should be also read by everyone. Not being judgemental here, just the information provider. ( I thank Sonali and Arushi for giving me this).

Excerpt from her blog:

Jeffrey Archer is a real character. I’d been invited to an intimate dinner the last time he was in Mumbai to promote his books. I found him racist, impatient, arrogant and conceited. All he did was complain. About Mumbai’s traffic, Mumbai’s readers, Mumbai’s everything! Just before we exited India Jones, someone at the table asked him if he had read or heard of any Indian authors. He dismissed that question instantly…. but swiftly thought better of it, perhaps anticipating more such questions from the desi press. He turned to me and asked who my favourite Indian writers were and I mentioned R.K. Narayan and Vikram Seth. The canny Archer looked totally blank, but being a smart cookie, asked for some paper, pulled out a pen and requested me to jot down their names and the titles of their books. He also asked about the contents of Narayan’s novels. Perhaps he did take the trouble to pick up the books at the airport and has indeed read them before whizzing into Mumbai again. He has been dropping both names at every press conference.I didn’t want to meet him one more time and skipped all the functions – alas, I’d seen through the guy. He has obviously sensed numbers in the India market and is determined to create a record here. Fair enough. Which author doesn’t want to sell in great numbers?? But in every interview, I notice with glee, he trots out the names of Seth and Narayan like he has been following their work for decades. Intellectual dishonesty? Or just good salesmanship and P.R.?? You decide…

– Check out more of this on http://shobhaade.blogspot.com/

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An evening with Archer

This one is going to be big. More for myself to read and re-read and relive those amazing moments.

It all started with an sms. Being a Landmark Fellowship member, I got an sms saying that Jeffrey Archer would be in Landmark Chennai on so-n-so date. I was disappointed about the fact that it was something I was going to miss and with a great effort put it out of my head. All that until an advertisement appeared in the Pune times saying he was going to be in Landmark today. (17th May, Sunday). It was decided. We had to go.

I was all excited to meet this author whose nearly entire collection I have read. It all began with ‘Shall We Tell the President’ and then I read my favourite books of all time ‘The Prodigal Daughter’ and ‘Kane and Abel’. This man was a genius. I enjoyed his short stories the most, ‘A Twist in the Tale’ being my favourite collection. As I sat impatiently drinking lemon juice in The Coffee House, I kept thinking what an evening it would be! It was remarkable indeed.

We got chairs in the fourth row from the dias (only that it became 6th later since they made additional two rows last minute so unfairly- its India man, such things are bound to happen) and we picked up our copies. He was here to promote his new book ‘Paths of Glory’ which I had already finished reading a month back. They didnt allow us to bring our old copies inside so we had to buy new ones. Sonali hadn’t read his books so it was an easy choice for her. For me though, it was very difficult. The point being, I had read all his books except the Prison Diary series and I racked my brains to remember if there was any book missing from my collection. I found the answer. ‘Not a Penny Less, Not a Penny more’ was in the form of a battered old copy of my dad’s which had the last two pages missing. It was also the first book Archer wrote. It would be perfect to get this signed and so I bought it. The rest of the hour as Landmark slowly filled up, I engrossed myself in reading ‘Oxymoronica’, an interesting book full of paradoxical quotes and sayings. It was enjoyable to listen to people’s views, mingle with a crowd of well-read, decent people and watch as the excitement in the crowd grew. I was also super excited to see him.

The proceedings began very promptly. He was there in Landmark at 7:05pm, with a permissable delay of just five minutes. Clad in white khakis and a blue sweater (?), he ambled up the walkway and everyone stood up. Lord Jeffrey Archer was here in person. He spoke immaculately. His British accent in place, he narrated with extreme poise and confidence his hilarious experiences about his books and publishers which made the crowd holler. He narrated that he was turned down by 14 publishers before his first book ‘Not a Penny Less, Not a Penny More’ got published. He went on to add his funny experiences in promoting Kane and Abel in the USA ( the ones where he had to share slots with Mickey Mouse whose policy was ‘If its the last question, never stop talking’ or the Radio Chat show where his introduction was replaced by Edmund Hillary’s and he wasn’t given a chance to speak!). He did tell his story about the part-biographical latest novel ‘ Paths of Glory’ with the main lead, George Mallory being a real person. ( I didnt know that). He also remembered how he kept nagging his publishers to publish just  25,000 more copies of his book ‘Not a penny less, not a penny more’ every month when the publishers would tell him they werent going to publish any more. Today, that book has sold more than 23 million copies worldwide.He added that R.K Narayan was one of his favourites, Malgudi days being his best book and he considers him to be one of the best authors ever. It was heartening to hear him appreciate Indian fiction and he was all praise for the educated youth of India and also the Indian women. 😀 He also added that he wont write a book based on India since he believed that it was wrong to dwelve into someone else’s world. To prove his point he said ” Perhaps R.K Narayan could never write anything like Kane and Abel just as I can’t write Malgudi days”. Absolutely right he indeed was. In addition, he also showed us the subtle differences between a story-teller and a writer ,emphasizing that he is a story-teller and a story-teller is one who prompts the reader to keep turning the pages like Charles Dickens who is the grand-daddy of story telling. Writers are those whose works are heavily laced with literature and the Nobel prize winners are precisely those people. He proved that people tend to prefer love story-tellers than novelists.

He added that he has re-written ‘Kane and Abel’ and the revised version will be released October 3rd this year followed by another collection of short stories and followed by a family saga. He answered many questions from the audience and gave a few key tips to budding novelists and authors. Some questions were funny like the one where one person asked ‘ Aren’t your plots predictable, I mean you always kill the bad guy’, to which he cooly replied ‘If it worked for Shakespere, it’ll work for me’ which sent the audience into pearls of laughter.

Post this, the signing of books sessions started. He promised that he would be there till the last copy was signed. I got mine signed rather quickly being in the front of the crowd. Landmark was distributing hot spinach puffs and jam tarts with mango juice to everyone present. I ate the snacks waiting for Sonali to emerge from the crowd near the dias. After she did, we bolted to The Place, the most amazing sizzler joint just down the road to eat our dinner. We ate with gusto, hungry after all the waiting and excitedly discussed our amazing evening. It was an evening none of us were going to forget.

I met my favourite fiction author. I am on cloud nine. It couldn’t get any better.

My precious solitude

I go for a 3-4km walk/ jog every morning. It is not something I am forced to do and I can easily afford the luxury of sleeping till a comfortable 8 am. But I do it because I love it.  Even back on campus, it was easily the best time I had. The quiet roads, the breezy mornings, the teachers with their dogs on morning walks…hmmm…it still brings a smile to my face.

I continue that habit in Pune. Though summer is easily my most hated season of the year (monsoon is the absolute favourite), there is something about a summer morning that you never enjoy in any other season. The cool air of the night before, the flurry of early morning activity,the bright sunlight at 6:30 am, the slow heat rays beginning to burn/tan your skin, the people scurrying to catch local trains, and the empty roads only to become unrecognizable a few hours later. I enjoy the walks with my ipod diligently playing my favourite collection of songs. Those few precious minutes (just more than an hour) give me the strength to face the day somehow. It erases the memory of the unpleasantness of the evenings before, the bitterness of words, the tensions, the deadlines. It somehow literally gives me a fresh start. It makes me revive my inner self and voice which gets drowned in the cacophony of the world everyday.

I am a nature lover. Big one at that. I enjoy walking around trees, looking at the various animals still surviving our brutalities on their habitats. The occasional chirping of birds, the bark of a stray dog, the cackle of hens, the roosters, the playful puppies in the gutter, the bird’s nest high up on the tree. I wonder how strong and resilient those creatures must be to survive in the concrete jungle, still keeping the traces of nature alive in our brick-and-mortar world. It has been my deepest wish to do something for these dogs and cats and all animals since I was a very young child. Brought up in lush-green garden filled homes and spaces, I cannot imagine my life without animals and trees and shudder to think of a future without them.

I stood silently watching a litter of puppies play with an empty tetra-pack of milk in the drain, smiling ever so slightly. I will do something for them,whatever little I can right now, but something  definitely substantial in the future.

I have decided.

Yes, I will.

Road-craze

It is ironic indeed. Pune is one of the most-industrialized cities, the smaller brother to one of the largest metropolis and houses the finest and the biggest industries. But there is something that goes beyond the infrastructure that tarnishes its image in less than an instant. For Pune, it is the crazy traffic.

For starters, the traffic signals are mostly disobeyed. The number of two-wheelers are in such abundance (thanks to the lack of public transport) that it is virtually impossible to drive without losing your cool or completing one auto ride without praying to God. People, however educated they might or might not be, seem to have NO sense whatsoever about traffic or roads or any rules or regulations of that sort. Pathetic is the only word that strikes me. In all the places I have lived in so far, Pune’s traffic is perhaps the WORST. The traffic sense here stands right at the bottom of a long list.

I was jolted out of my thoughts one morning on my way to PS as a PMC bus zipped past me at more than 40 kilometers an hour, a mere 4 inches away from my shoulder (with me walking outside the road on a mud-track), motorcyclists regularly brush past despite having the whole road to themselves and the ride in an auto is really very scary since the trucks and buses seem to appear like giant monsters ready to crash into you anytime. People verve, swerve, turn, stop, walk simply anywhere.

The old Mumbai-Pune highway is full of huge circles, squares and crossings and people seldom bother to stop at signals despite them being fully-functional. It makes life for pedestrians like me total hell and the mere task of commuting a real pain. I wonder if people missed out some crucial lessons on road-sense. I just hope someday they get atleast a little of it!

Till then, I will continue to pray everytime I travel in Pune.

Jai Bhim!

Having grown up outside Maharashtra, I never bothered to look beyond the Tamil new year and goodies to eat on this holiday of 14th April. Tamil New Year, Bengali and Assamese New Year, Baisakhi etc are commonly celebrated. But Ambedkar Jayanthi was nothing more than two words written on a calender under the date marked in red. That was until today.

The creepy, industrial district of Pimpri-Chinchwad came alive. Usually the first to empty out after the industries give over and then echoing with the whirring of the huge trailors and trucks taking out consignments to different locations, things were unrecognizable today. As I walked back from the city, filled to the brim with Mocha’s Chocolate Avalanche (being my friend’s brithday) my eyes widened in wonder. There were multiple processions, colourful and bright with blaring music and people dressed as if a carnival was on. It was in fact. Women, children, men and entire families dressed in their finery, dancing, singing, celebrating. As we walked back, processions after processions followed and it was truly entertaining.

Ambedkar’s photographs were in collage with Shivaji, Gautam Buddha and a host of other deities/ leaders. Entire statues of his carved in plastic, fresh huge garlands of flowers draped around them, little replicas of his stupa in Nagpur were distributed all over the place. Traffic jams ensued for kilometers on one of the busiest highways in the country. Professional DJ’s were called and dard-e-disco and I am a disco dancer blared from powerful loudspeakers, disco lights were set up in the middle of the streets and the most unruly sect of our country was dancing. It got scary after a while to see hooligans jumping up and down on the road.

A little anger started creeping up inside me. He is the sole reason for this reservation crap in our country. I’m not even starting on that topic since I lose my cool every single time I think about it. It was perhaps needed then but in today’s times, reformation of those laws are what is most needed. But then, I decided to empathize. Maybe, if there was this individual because of whom me and my three further generations can blissfully enjoy special rights in all the right places, I might as well join that gala procession.

In the midst of this, my Tamil New Year lay forgotten. A lot of unexpected things to come this year and all I can hope for is that it all works out well.

I still can’t get over the sight of Ambedkar’s photograph morphed with that of Shivaji and people dancing dard-e-disco under it with disco lights on the highway with a near 4 kilometer long traffic jam behind them.

I love my country. It surprises me no end!