Archive for October, 2011

Wonders of the Modern World: #49

October 20, 2011 in Wonders of the Modern World | Comments (0)





Rem Koolhaas’s 2004 masterpiece, the









































































Do publishers accept bribes?

October 18, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)


Correspondence with Chaudhrey M…


October 13, 2011

‘As I know that you are a famous writer of Penguin Books India, I a 13-year old student and I want to get published like you by Penguin India. Can you help me out? Or tell me that will the editorial team accept bribes to publish one’s manuscript.’

Chaudhrey M…


Oct 14

Dear Chaudhrey M…

I am glad to know that a thirteen year old boy has enough money to offer bribes to editors. This is certainly evidence of rapid economic and educational progress. At your age I had very little money and I don’t think I had any idea what an editorial team was. And if I’d known I certainly would not have thought of spending my pocket money on them.

Fortunately I have not (so far) had to pay bribes to anyone at Penguin India or any other publisher. In any case, I doubt I could afford it because most of the people who work at Penguin India seem to be extremely well off. If they have a going rate it is likely to be out of my reach.

My general impression is that bribery is not very common in the publishing industry. But now that you have brought it up I think you may be on to something. I have certainly wondered sometimes how certain books managed to make it into print.

Perhaps you could organize a ‘sting’ operation and film it with your mobile phone? I am sure the major TV channels would be willing to offer a good deal of money for such a tape.

If you should happen to proceed with this experiment I do hope you will keep me informed. I would be most interested in the results.

Best wishes

Amitav Ghosh


Oct 15

I do not have the money yet but my plan is to fist e-publish it, collect money and then bribe. So It seems a quite difficult task indeed so I want you to do some “sifarish” for me to Penguin India or just edit it to fix it according to the “Penguin style”.

Chaudhrey M…


Oct 16


Dear Chaudhrey M..

By coincidence, I have just received an e-advertisement that may provide a good solution for you (below). It will certainly be a lot cheaper than a bribe.

Best wishes

Amitav Ghosh




Our Prices End Where Others Begin

At Accurance, we want to do all we can to help you publish your manuscript, so we put everything in one convenient package and do it all for you
We are once again offering our Whole Nine Yards Package:
-Complete Copy Editing
-Interior Formatting
-Custom Cover Creation
-Print Publishing Account Set Up
-Print ISBN
-Proof Copy
-Global distribution to,, etc.
Everything you need to turn your manuscript into a published book
(reg. $799)
Comparable packages elsewhere cost thousands…

*Based on avg. 333 words per page/250 pages (80,000 words) per book and online pricing as of 08/10/2011



Occupy Seattle

October 17, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)




Oct 17, 2011



Early this morning the police cleared the Westlake Center, but a few occupiers remained.



[If it’s supposed to be a Free Country then why are we being kicked out of a park???]


Westlake Center











‘Stop letting corporations control our politics and destroy our destiny’








‘THINK for yourself

LEARN what they don’t want you to know

TEACH the sheeple you love’









‘Human Needs. Not Corporate Greed’


‘Where’s OUR Bailout?’


Leon, who was holding the signs, said his health care insurance costs have doubled in the past year, and he sees foreclosed homes everywhere. ‘Some of these kids here owe more in student debts than I owe on my mortgage. Our country isn’t working very well. Our big product is to learn how to steal without letting you know.’









‘Open Applications for Spooning’












‘Take $ out of politics’









Kathy Beem, who is from Seattle, said she was out with her friends because ‘it’s been too easy for the media to say that this is all about some crackpot kids. I’m sick of being ruled by the big corporations.’











‘Jobs not Cuts’








After being moved out of the Westlake Center , some of the occupiers were resting a few blocks away, on Stewart and 2nd Ave.















Theo is from Canada and was traveling around the US when he got involved. His friend had brought along a kerchief as a precaution against teargas. They said that yesterday there were signs that something was going to happen; there were helicopters circling above Westlake all day. They thought they might be moved out at night, but it happened at 5 am.






After being moved out of the park they brought their things to this corner. But they will probably not be there long.






A police car appeared while we were talking and they were asked to move again.










Behind them was a shop window.



‘There is a revolution happening in your country right now. You should not be fucking shopping. Go to Westlake right now. Love. B-side.’










I do NOT have a Twitter account

October 16, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (9)


I was asked today whether I have a Twitter account. Apparently someone is tweeting under the name ‘ghoshamitav’.

I would like it to be known that this is not me: I do not have a Twitter account and have not been sending out tweets.

Amitav Ghosh


‘The Shadow Lines’ optioned by Anupam Barvé

October 15, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (4)



Anupam Barvé wrote to me through my website on May 19th this year.


Hello Amitav,

My name is Anupam Barve. I am a film director originally from Pune, India, currently teaching Film Direction at the University of Westminster in London. I have been an avid fan of your work ever since I (almost accidentally) laid my hands on The Shadow Lines at a JNU bookshop in 2005, and have since read every book you have written, most of them even twice or thrice. (Penguin India had an online competition on its website when Sea of Poppies released in 2008: Whoever answered 20 questions related to your previous work correctly would get a signed copy of the book. The signed copy was delivered to me 6 months later and it still stands up front on my desk here in London!)
I have been trying very hard to get hold of your email address for quite a while now. I tried to source it from friends, writers, publishers, teachers of English literature, no luck. I only found this contact address after your website was recently revamped, so I hope this email reaches you.
Amongst all your work, I find The Shadow Lines to be the one closest to my heart. It has been a great literary influence on me and I myself having travelled to London recently for education and work, can identify with the protagonist on so many different levels. The way the book talks about memories, travelling – physical as well as imaginary, the way it blends family history with that of a nation’s, and most importantly the ease with which it weaves across the decades, is mesmerising. Being a filmmaker, I have always dreamt of one day getting to adapt this for screen. There was no way to find out who had the rights to the book or whether they were already acquired by someone else. I had almost started working on it nevertheless with the help of a screenwriter. Every now and then, when I visit my editor friend who lives on Mill Lane, I leave my place a little early, just to be able stroll about in the streets around W. Hampstead station. I recently even wrote (with Vaibhav Abnave) a pitch and treatment for a short film which is based on my own experience with The Shadow Lines, called ’44 Lymington Road’. There is so much I want to say about the book, my love for it and how I imagine it coming out on film. I have always been curious as to why none of your novels have yet been adapted into films. I remember an acquaintance from Delhi mentioning a feature on The Hungry Tide, but never heard anything more about it since.
I have booked tickets to attend two of your events, one at The Royal Society of Literature and the other at The Asia House in London in June.
It will be the biggest honour for me if I can get to meet you very briefly to talk about this. Anytime, on any of those two-three days of your stay in the UK. I need one opportunity to pitch to you what I have in mind.
Looking forward to hearing back from you and possibly meeting you next month. Cannot wait for The River of Smoke much longer now!

Warm Regards

Anupam Barvé


This was my response:

Dear Anupam

Thank you for this wonderful letter! I am really glad to hear of your long-standing interest in the Shadow Lines: it is evident that the book means a lot to you (which is very heartwarming for me).

‘The Hungry Tide’ has been optioned by two Delhi based producers, Shernaz Italia and Freny Khodaiji. They now have an excellent screenplay for it too. ”The Calcutta Chromosome’ has also been optioned – by the Italian production company that made ‘Gomorrah’.

‘The Shadow Lines’ however is not under option, and I would be glad to talk to you about it. But I should warn you straight away that my film rights are dealt with by my literary agent in New York (I feel I should tell you this, because I’ve noticed that some Indian film-makers are averse to dealing with agents and the like).

If you would like to take this further I would be glad to meet with you in London. They are going to keep me quite busy while I am there, but I could see you on Sunday, June 5 in the late afternoon. Or else before the Asia Soc event on June 8 – they have asked me to be there for an early soundcheck so I’ll have a little time before the start.

With my best wishes



Shortly after this exchange, I went to London for the release of River of Smoke. I met with Anupam during my stay and was enormously impressed by his enthusiasm his encyclopaedic knowledge of film-making. I am glad to announce that we recently signed a contract giving him an option on The Shadow Lines.

Last week Anupam sent me a short bio and a synopsis of 44, Lymington Road, the script he wrote with Vaibhav Abnave. They are posted below.


Anupam Barve is a film maker from Pune, India currently based in London. After a brief detour to science college, he opted to complete a graduation in Performing Arts(Dramatics). Before moving to London to pursue a career in Film Direction, he also spent a few years doing drama, making documentaries and running an environmental organisation. He is currently teaching on the University of Westminster’s MA in Directing: Film and TV course in London. His most recent Short Film- ‘Fresh Suicide’ has been very successful at various festivals and competitions all over, including a nomination for the ‘Golden Palm Tree Award’ at the 42nd International Film Festival of India and a special screening at the 13th London Asian Film Festival 2011, amongst others. Anupam is currently in development of future film projects.



Film Synopsis

44, Lymington Road

“….a place doesn’t merely exist… it has to be invented in one’s imagination…”

Ghosh, A. The Shadow Lines (p.21).


Migration implies one’s encounter with the alien, the unknown, the unseen.

Yet when one migrates from a past colony to a current metropolis, a land that promises

opportunities, one is already filled with the anticipation and intense desire of what one

is going to encounter. A lot of the so-called unseen and unknown has already been

constructed essentially within one’s imagination. The actual physical encounter with

the unseen merely completes the act of seeing/knowing something or some place,

thus, becoming an encounter with one’s inner self. Migration, ironically thus, instead

of uprooting the postcolonial subject from the homeland, fulfills its desire of actually

encountering one’s invented and intensely desired inner landscapes. It is this inventive

imagination of us humans which makes even the alien an integral, indivisible past of

one’s self.

44, Lymington Road, a short film, tells the story of how one invents any place in

his imagination without ever visiting it. The protagonist, a young filmmaker from Pune

(India) is an avid fan of Amitav Ghosh’s writing and has passionately read The Shadow

Lines over and over again. 44, Lymington Road in West Hampstead, London is not just a

place that merely exists, it’s a mystery, a myth and an invented reality which also exists

in the imagination of the anonymous protagonist in the novel, who has already ‘seen’

this place through his uncle, Tridib’s, eyes, who has stayed in this place as a child and

has absorbed the minutest of its details. Through Tridib’s passionate recounting of 44,

Lymington Road and the other places around it- Mill Lane, Sumatra Road, West End

Lane etc., the protagonist in the novel as well as the readers, have invented each and

every corner of these places in their imagination

Our protagonist has now gotten an opportunity to come to London and pursue further

education in film making. He is haunted by the idea of searching for the actual place

in present day London. In his imagination he has already visited the place twice before

through the book, firstly through Tridib and secondly when the protagonist of the novel

visits it as a young man coming to London for education himself. One day he sets out to

actually look for the place, carrying a small digital film camera with him. As he steps out

of West Hampstead station, he notices a stranger, an English woman in her mid thirties

sitting in a roadside café by herself. The woman strongly reminds our protagonist of

May, Tridib’s love and one of the enigmatic female leads from The Shadow Lines. He

goes and tries to start a conversation with her. As their dialogue unfolds, she is intrigued

by the myth of 44, Lymington Road and they decide to step out of the café. As she starts

guiding him through all the places in the neighborhood that he refers from the novel, she

is astonished by how much the young man already knows without ever having been there.

The film juxtaposes their walk through the West Hampstead neighborhood of

today with the images of the same locality in two different visual textures from two

different time periods from the book, as imagined by our protagonist. The present,

the memory, the imagination and the intense anticipation of the actual encounter

all seamlessly gets interwoven in to each other in the narrative of the film. As the

narrative progresses we experience our protagonist’s excitement about shooting his

actual encounter with the place of his imagination but when they actually hit the place

the protagonist goes quiet. He decides to switch off his camera before entering 44,

Lymington Road. He wants to preserve the mystery of the place, which he believes each

reader of The Shadow Lines has to invent for himself. To each his own 44, Lymington


Occupy Wall Street: October 13

October 14, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (7)




‘This is not a protest; this is An Affirmation of the vitality and idealism erupting under the present American nightmare.


‘I contain multitudes

… do I contradict myself?

Then I contradict myself.’

Walt Whitman

[From his poem about Lower Broadway]




‘ [The] 99% is taking to the streets from Madison to Madrid to say ‘No. We will not pay for your crisis.’ That slogan began in Italy in 2008. It ricocheted to Greece and France and Ireland and finally it has made its way to the square mile where the crisis began.’ [Naomi Klein, writing in the Oct 8 issue of The Occupied Wall Street Journal].











‘Many people have drawn parallels between Occupy Wall Street and the so-called anti-globalization protests that came to world attention in Seattle in 1999… But there are important differences too. For instance we chose summits as our targets: WTO, IMF, the G8. Summits are transient by their nature, they only last a week. That made us transient too. We’d appear, grab world headlines then disappear… Occupy Wall street on the other hand, has chosen a fixed target. And you have put no end date on your presence here. This is wise.’ [Naomi Klein, writing in the Oct 8 issue of The Occupied Wall Street Journal].














‘We are not pleading… for electoral reform. We know electoral politics is a farce. We have found another way to be heard and exercise power. We have no faith in the political system or the two major political parties. And we know the corporate press will not amplify our voices which is why we have a press of our own. We know the economy serves the oligarchs.’ [Chris Hedges writing in the Oct 8 issue of The Occupied Wall Street Journal].










‘The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and unfettered capitalism are natural law, some kind of permanent and eternal dynamic that can never be altered. What the elites fail to realize is that rebellion will not stop until the corporate state is extinguished.’ [Chris Hedges writing in the Oct 8 issue of The Occupied Wall Street Journal]



‘I will stand for my government when my government stands for me.’









‘Boeing, Lockheed spend $ millions $ Lobbying Congress

Greed Kills’








Coaching Visionaries

We are a coalition of Certified Professional Coaches

Who have come together to empower

Everyone who supports the Occupy Wall St

What is your role in the movement

How can you start making it happen today?’










No list of demands

We are speaking to each other and listening…

The exhausted political machins and their PR slicks are already seeking leaders to elevate, messages to claim, talking points to move on. They, more than anyone will attempt to seize and shape this moment. They are racing to reach the front of the line. But how can they run out in front of something that is in front of them? They cannot. For Wall Street and Washington, the demand is not on them to give us something that isn’t theirs to give. It’s ours. It’s on us. We are going anywhere. We just got here.’ [Editorial note: Oct 8 issue of The Occupied Wall Street Journal]





‘We need Congress to work for US, not the big corporations. I bet if we prohibited our representatives from accepting bribery and paid them $70,000 a year they would be out here protesting with us. Let’s force our representatives to represent us.’









It was nice to meet a reader, Eva Friedlander, who spoke very warmly of Sea of Poppies and The Hungry Tide. She said she’d spent many years in India (Dhanbad) and had taught courses on South Asia in New York area schools and colleges. Some of these courses have now been ‘downsized’ but Eva remains closely in touch with the Indian subcontinent.









Aroon Venugopal, who has been covering the Occupy Wall Street protests for National Public Radio and Television. He was on the story even when it was being ignored by the mainstream press. He is married to the novelist Mira Nair and was once a neighbour.








A shrine, in one corner of the park.




















































‘Isn’t fraud a punishable crime? Shame on you Atty Gen Holder.’











‘99% FED UP

If not now













‘Meditation Fri 10 AM under Big Red Thing’








'Big Red Thing'





‘God Forgive This World’



































‘No matter what they try they will NOT stop us!!!’







‘We need Congress to work for US, not the big corporations. I bet if we prohibited our representatives from accepting bribery and paid them $70,000 a year they would be out here protesting with us. Let’s force our representatives to represent us.’

Announced yesterday!

October 13, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)

2011 National Book Award Finalist,


Deborah Baker
The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism
Graywolf Press


What drives a young woman raised in a postwar New York City suburb to convert to Islam, abandon her country and Jewish faith, and embrace a life of exile in Pakistan? The Convert tells the story of how Margaret Marcus of Larchmont became Maryam Jameelah of Lahore, one of the most trenchant and celebrated voices of Islam’s argument with the West. A cache of Maryam’s letters to her parents in the archives of The New York Public Library sends acclaimed biographer Deborah Baker on her own odyssey into the labyrinthine heart of twentieth-century Islam.


Deborah Baker’s first biography, written while she was an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, was Making a Farm: The Life of Robert Bly, published by Beacon Press in 1982. After working for a number of years as a book editor and publisher, in 1990 she moved to Calcutta where she wrote In Extremis: The Life of Laura Riding, which was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize in Biography in 1994.  Her third book, A Blue Hand: The Beats in India, was published by Penguin Press USA and Penguin India in 2008. In 2008-2009 she was a Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis C. Cullman Center for Writers and Scholars at The New York Public Library. She divides her time between Brooklyn and Goa.


Arrowsmith in India

October 11, 2011 in Letters,Uncategorized | Comments (1)



I’ve only met Rupert Arrowsmith once. I was doing a reading at Wolfson College, Oxford, and we talked briefly afterwards. He handed me an article of his: it was on the sculptor Jacob Epstein and the Asian influences on his work. It was a revelation and I wrote to tell him so.

Earlier this year, Rupert sent me his recently-published book Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African and Pacific Art and the London Avant-Garde (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011). I wrote a blog post about it (Modernism and the Museum, 21/7/11) in which I said:  ‘Arrowsmith is that rare thing, an art historian who is equally well informed about the traditions of ‘West’ and ‘East’, ‘modern’ and ‘pre-modern’. He holds a Doctorate in English Literature from Oxford and has also spent a great deal of time in Asia; his web page informs us that he has lived for three years in Burma, where he was also ordained as a Buddhist monk.’

The post happened to come to the attention of Vivek Menezes (see my post of 12/7/11) who has long been an advocate of the unjustly neglected Goan artist, Angelo da Fonseca. It so happened that Vivek was organizing a conference and he decided to invite Rupert.

Rupert traveled to Goa a couple of weeks ago and I am told that his presentation caused a great stir at the conference. I have since received several very interesting letters from Rupert (even though they came by email, they really are letters, not messages). I am posting excerpts from our correspondence below (with Rupert’s permission of course).


Sept 24

Dear Amitav,

I have been blown away by my two days with the da Fonsecas – there are some world-class masterpieces there (no exaggeration), and their references to various world cultures combined with a measure of newly fashionable-again academic technique makes this exactly the right time for them.  Frankly I’m amazed that so little work has been done on them.

Not to mention that some of them are just exquisitely beautiful.

I have always been a sucker for Fra Angelico, and find da Fonseca to play on a similar type of delicate beauty.

There is definitely a book in it, and Ivy da Fonseca has convinced me to go up to Pune with her on the bus on Monday night to see some more paintings and to have a look a the Ashram where Angelo spent a lot of his time.  If they will let me change my flight, I can also go up to Mumbai from there and look at the Fonsecas in the Heras Institute.  That will also give me a chance to drop in on Tasneem at the Bombay City Museum and see her forthcoming hoard of JJ School stuff.

The prospect of researching a book on Bombay-Goa Modernism in different parts of India is far too exciting to refuse. I really think that Vivek might be capable of bringing about a kind of renaissance along the Panjim-Aldona cultural axis.

Very best,




Sept 24


Dear rupert

Our emails just crossed. It is wonderful to know of your enthusiasm for the da Fonsecas – it is amazing really that they are so little known. I am delighted that you are thinking of writing about them and will look forward to hearing more after your trip to Pune and Mumbai.

You are right about vivek – his energy and ambition may well be transformative for the goa arts scene. I’m so glad that this particular initiative has worked out so well!

all best






September 30

Dear Amitav,

[28th Sept] I took a sleeper bus the other night to Pune with Ivy da Fonseca – it was quite an adventure; the regular bus broke down and they replaced it with an old Leyland one from the 1970’s with red velvet curtains and everything.  Still, we got there in the end.  I have seen some more of the paintings (frescoes, mainly) and find them impressive – Fonseca has quite a Japanese hand for calligraphic brushstrokes that he may have learned at Shantiniketan.

[1st Oct] So much to talk about; very very many things of interest in Pune, a fascinating place, though without many places to get online, as I mentioned in my arm-wrestling message.  I went out to the mountains and saw an eerie derelict church in an army base that had served as a POW camp for Germans in WW2, then stood under a Pipal tree and heard the wind strumming the aerial roots like the wires of a Hindu-Buddhist zither.  It has been great getting to know Mrs Fonseca, and I feel humbled as well as enlightened by her company.  We were this evening drinking some Feni that she got from some German friars in Goa decades ago – I think its vintage quality would even have impressed Mr Cecil Pinto – the world authority on such liquor.

The ‘Apocalypse’ – Angelo’s last painting, which occupies Ivy’s living room – is really a masterpiece and has been seen by only a tiny handful of people.  It is scarcely believable that his work has gone unnoticed for so long.


Angelo da Fonseca: Apocalypse (courtesy Vivek Menezes)



Tomorrow I’m for Bombay, and hoping to be able to navigate my way through the colossal suburbs and find my hotel, which on Google Maps (that often misleading periplum) looks close to the Heras Institute where the rest of the Fonsecas are apparently located.  This has turned into a bit of a pilgrimage, and I am greatly enjoying the opportunity of some wandering with a legitimate objective.  I will let you know what happens in that city of 20 million souls.

Very best,




Oct 2

Dear Amitav,

I took a bus to Bombay yesterday after seeing the ashram, now derelict, where Angleo spent a lot of his time.  Some old photographs of it led to that jarring sensation where the past disconnects with the future – but then classical black and white always has the effect of making everything seem simple and inevitable, whereas the colours of the present are all too susceptible to bleeding and smudging.

I always like the sensation of entering a very large metropolitan space from the countryside; the landscape slowly getting more complicated and regularised, and then finally, as you enter the heart of the metropolis, becoming layered.  I find Bombay to be the quintessential city of layers – social strata, historical strata, and also actual, physical layers of humanity lying on the pavements, populating the vehicles, or sitting above it all on high balconies.  I always like to walk cities, and find that its best done alone and without a map.

Started at 8.30 this morning and went from my hotel room (in a disreputable chowk) down through the markets around Kalbadevi Road and down to where a number of cricket matches were happening with the Victoria Terminus in the background.  The rounded off towers and the cricket reminded me a bit of Christ Church meadow, except the teams had more interesting names – I particularly noted the ‘Young Zoroastrians Cricket Club’.  Always found Zoroastrianism interesting – so much of it feeds into later montheistic cults such as Christianity and Islam that a lot can be learned about those belief systems from it.

From there I found my way along past what seemed to be a Naval base, and then to the area near the Gate of India.  I knew that I was getting close to a tourist area because there were suddenly beggar children and touts – I had not seen either that day until this point.  Gate of India is a curious anomaly.  You are invited to see it as an entrance to, or perhaps as an exit from the subcontinent; but in fact neither works because it has been bypassed.  Flows of people, information and resources flow intangibly in all directions and in all ways while it just sits there, a white elephant, yet one whose picture is snapped thousands of times a day by people of various nationalities.

After that I followed the coast around, passing through a kind of fishing village cum clothes washing village, and onto the long promenade leading towards the place that was named for me by a flower-seller as ‘Chapatti Beach”.  It was three by that time, and, unwilling to stop walking, I had taken too much sun and not enough water, so I cut things short by crossing the freeway next to Marine Lines station, which is close to my hotel, but more importantly close to an excellent little pure veg eaterie I randomly entered on my first night called Geeta Bhavan.  I have a weird habit of always wanting to return to the same restaurant if I am walking a city alone (have done it in many places in the world.  I had dinner there last night, and breakfast this morning, and I had a feeling that I would be ‘homing’ back to it again for a late lunch.  I wonder if this is something instinctive, Paleolithic man finding a reliable watering hole.

I am attaching a detail image from da Fonseca’s ‘Apocalypse’.  As far as I can make out, it was his last painting, done not long before he died, a victim of the plague of Cerebral Meningitis that swept through Pune in the early 70’s.


I will probably stay in Bombay until Wednesday, when I am hoping to extricate myself back to Panjim via night bus and stay for a few days before I have to fly back to London.  What started as a conference visit has turned into a hell of a ride.









My very best wishes,






Oct 6


Dear Rupert

Sorry I’ve been slow to get back to you. Have been rather unwell these last few days.

What an interesting letter! I half thought of asking if I could post it on my blog, but I hate to be a nuisance and it would be terrible if people stopped writing to me for fear of being asked …

You are right about Zoroastrianism – it gave the Abrahamic religions many concepts and ideas. But the really amazing thing about it is that it also has much in common with the Dharma religions – especially Vedic Hinduism. It is hard to imagine that there might be a bridge between these very different traditions, but I think Zorastrianism is exactly that.

Hope you are back in Goa now, being looked after. More later when I am better.

all best





Dear Amitav,

I’m sorry to hear that; it must be the flu season now in New York.  I have people there, and they tell me that October and November are always the worst.  I hope it blows over soon.  I always find that drinking very large amounts of green tea helps a lot.

I would be extremely pleased and honoured if you reproduced my letter on your blog.  The idea that you value my observations is a colossal encouragement to me as a writer, and being able to read my own words on your web pages would really mean a very great deal.

I have always wanted to go into a Zoroastrian fire temple, and almost got the opportunity this time in Pune.  One of Ivy da Fonseca’s friends is a Zoroastrian, and Ivy thought she might be inclined to show me around.  Unfortunately she was out of town for the week, otherwise that would have been another new experience for me on this trip.

I am interested in the idea of it as a linker between Vedic Hinduism and the monotheisms of Western Asia.  One of the things I find attractive about Hinduism is that its conception of the relationship between life and death is so immensely complicated, which I believe actually to be the case.

When I was a monk in Burma, I had a peculiarly concrete experience that confirmed it, at least for me.  I had been in the forest at Hmawbi for almost three months, rising at three in the morning to meditate, eating some rice and dhal at ten thirty, then meditating through until about seven with a pause for a coke or a seven-up at three (always raised my spirits to see these international brands on the monastery, and to imagine the juggernaut of time plunging onwards outside the walls without me).

Of course we weren’t allowed to speak, and after a while it became difficult to anyway; it’s not only that the vocal cords lose their strength, but that the mind also seems to lose the skill of stringing words together and adjusting the grammar automatically as it goes – I suppose speaking is like walking; one doesn’t realise how difficult it is until one has to learn to do it all over again.

In any case, the experience I had was very fleeting indeed; it lasted an eighth of a second at most.  This will sound rather prosaic, but what I saw was something resembling a gigantic and inconceivably complex plumbing system – there really isn’t any other visual equivalent that I can think of – with pipes twisting around one another, going up, down, sideways.  In some places there were reservoirs; in others, what seemed to be perpetual loops.

There was no gallery card or ‘frame story’ attached to what I saw, but what I took away from it was the idea that when it comes to an individual’s ‘soul’ or ‘monad’ (or what have you), entire basis of its situation after death is very different in each case.  This shocked me rather, as most religions – particularly monotheistic ones – are rigidly egalitarian as in ‘if you do that, this happens; if you do this, something else happens’.  Equality of beggars and kings; death as a great leveller – something that can be understood by anyone.

But the plumbing system seemed to suggest that in fact different ‘souls’ move in their own, perhaps predetermined patterns after death, that these patterns are not necessarily compatible with, or even compatible with one another in any way at all; and that the ‘system’ (almost certainly the wrong word) cannot possibly be grasped in any satisfactory way by the rational mind.  I think that both Hinduism and (esoteric) Buddhism, with their staggering ontological complexities, are the only religions that have really accepted such a view of things and have attempted to express it.

I am back now in Goa.  I was a bit bruised after the 14 hour bus ride (optimistically named a ‘sleeper’) from Bombay, and so it was excellent to be able to lie down properly.  Those bunks on the sleeper buses give you an idea of what it might be like to be in a coffin, and made me think that cremation is definitely the way to go.  I didn’t have to take the bus, but I thought I would learn more if I did, and it was very interesting to look undetected at the life in the streets from my elevated little window as the vehicle juddered through the sprawling outer parts of Bombay.

Very best,



Wendell Rodricks: A Free Spirit

October 8, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (0)


Among India’s most celebrated designers, Wendell Rodricks is unique  in his almost austere avoidance of ornamentation and his emphasis on clean lines, simplicity and durability. He is also remarkable for being perhaps the only person in the fashion world who freely and regularly speaks his mind on matters ranging from gay rights to  the protection of the environment, especially in his beloved Goa, where he does not hesitate to hurl defiance even at the highest in land  (more prosaically be also offers a special line of clothing made with natural dyes and handwoven textiles).



Wendell is, in addition, an excellent singer, a superb cook and a fine writer, with a very distinctive, natural voice of his own.  I’ve seen a large chunk of his forthcoming memoir, The Green Room, and can attest it to be a riveting read. Much of it is about the Mumbai chawls of Wendell’s childhood and many of the scenes are still vivid in my memory. The Green Room has recently been acquired by Ravi Singh, who was with Penguin India for many years and has now joined Aleph Books, the new publishing house set up by David Davidar in collaboration with Rupa. Ravi is an outstanding editor (he published both Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke) and I am sure The Green Room will make a big stir when it is released (it is certainly spiced with some very garam masala).



But Wendell has yet another talent. He regularly sends his friends funny stuff from the Net. Here are some examples.






Letter from a scientist

October 7, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (1)

Subject: The Hungry tide (hope u read the mail)

Dear Sir, 

Its a pleasure reading your book. Have read two books of yours, “Sea of Poppies” and “The Hungry Tide”. I am a Bengali and the first thing I do after finishing the book is to gift that book to my Dad. He loves his town, Dhanbad, but misses it as he lives in Rajasthan. Your book lets him relive his days in Dhanbad.

Today early morning 4 ‘o clock, I finished reading Hungry tide and cried for Fokir. Why did u kill him?  He was the only pure soul in the book.

The one sentence that I will always remember from this book is when Kanai tells Piya that protecting tiger is important for rich people and no one cares about the poor people being killed by these tigers. A poor man’s life is not important. This is a fantastic argument. (Sorry, I could not rephrase the lines exactly as i don’t have th book with me at the moment). I am a PhD student in India and relate very well to Piya and her distress due to her work. However, its nothing compared to that faced by the people of Tide country.

Visiting Sundarbans was always in my “To-do list”. However, I now want to visit the Tide country not for the tigers or the wildlife or the mysterious forests, but for the people living there. It would be my way (however small it might be) to acknowledge the efforts of these people for a mere survival.

Thank you for writing such wonderful books.


Soma Ghosh
Indian Institute of Science

ucuz ukash