Archive for May, 2011

Hangzhou: West Lake

May 6, 2011 in Favourite Places | Comments (0)


Hangzhou, the capital of China’s Zhejiang Province, is a city of legendary beauty. In China it is often said: ‘In heaven there is Paradise; on Earth Suzhou and Hangzhou.’ It is with some trepidation that one visits such a place for the possibilities of disappointment are legion. But Hangzhou does not disappoint: its famous West Lake presents a spectacle of serene, haunting beauty.


Some of China’s greatest poets have frequented the lake’s islands, and their lines are inscribed upon some of the rocks.









Hangzhou is vast and much of it is featureless in the way of many modern cities. But the West Lake redeems everything else: the area around it must count as one of the most beautiful urban environments in the world.













A Dergah in Manhattan

May 5, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (2)


Yesterday I went to a Brazilian restaurant in lower Manhattan, to dine with a friend from Goa, Vivek Menezes. The restaurant was called ‘Churrascaria Tribeca’ and it was housed in a spectacular space, with high ceilings and panelled walls. It was an apt setting for the meal, which turned out to be a kind of performance. Every few minutes waiters would appear, brandishing enormous skewers of grilled meat. Using machetes, they would slice off paper thin cuts and drop them on our plates. Vivek, who had spent two months in Brazil during the Earth Summit, told me that this kind of meal is known as a ‘rodizio’. It was spectacular – both the food and the performance.

Afterwards as we were strolling down the street, it struck us that the site of the Twin Towers was only a few minutes walk away. The site has of course been a centre of renewed activity of late, because of the killing of Osama Bin Laden.

As we were walking down the street, an unexpected sound brought us to a halt. Could it be? Yes, it was – a qawwali! We looked around and found that the music was emanating from an ordinary looking town-house. The windows were shuttered, but peering through the cracks we saw that a group of Qawwals was performing inside.

We went to the door: written on it were the words ‘Dergah al-Farah’. Evidently the inconspicuous little house served as a mosque and a meeting place for Sufis. A poster was taped to the door. It said:


‘Wednesday May 4, 2011

The Shahi Qawwals from Ajmer Sharif (India)

Concert by the Chishty Sufi Sema Ensemble’


Scrawled across the poster were the words: ‘Sold Out’. Undeterred, we tried the knob and the door opened. A bearded young man said: ‘Do you have tickets?’

‘No. But we would love to stay.’

He smiled: ‘Okay, come on in.’

The room was not large, the usual parlour floor of the New York town-house, but with Koranic inscriptions on the white walls. The Qawwals were seated on the floor, in the middle. Listening raptly was a small but intent audience – New Yorkers of all sorts, white, black, and brown; young and old; women, men and children; dread-lock sporting Asians and trim young lawyers. Everyone was transported by the music.

The evening ended with a rousing invocation of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya: many a time have I heard the like at Khwaja Nizamuddin’s dargah in Delhi.

We learnt later that this particular Dergah had been founded by a Turkish order – the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Sufi Order – and that it is a community of dervishes from the Halveti-Jerrahi Tariqat (the dergah has an excellent website:

When we stepped outside again the headlines and the news seemed very far removed from where we were.

The real is sometimes the best kind of fantasy. The tragedy is that all too often people find ways of making their fantasies real.

from a reader

May 4, 2011 in Letters | Comments (1)

A reader sent this a few days ago:
Dear Amitav,
Hi! I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your book, The Hungry Tide. I LOVED it! Since I am an Indian-American woman I was really excited to read about an Indian-American woman scientist. I loved the unusual characters, and the story-within-a-story. I think Fokir is my favorite character, although it’s hard to choose. The Sundarbans seemed like a character too.
I’ve written a blog post about “women scientists in novels,” and your novel is one of four I’ve reviewed in this post. See my web site, Gender Equality Bookstore:
Thanks for writing such an unusual, powerful book. I’m looking forward to reading your other books.
Jyotsna Sreenivasan

The website is well worth a visit.

Sea of Poppies in Russian, trans. Alexander Safronov

May 3, 2011 in Uncategorized | Comments (4)


‘Sea of Poppies’ was published in Russian last year, in a translation by Alexander Safronov. I don’t read Russian of course, but Alexander’s queries were evidence both of his skill as a translator and his extraordinary diligence.


Here are some of the words he wanted explained:



He was also puzzled by this sentence:

‘Do you never think of nothin but knob-knockin and gamahoochie?’


I wonder how that came out in Russian…



Bomra’s Restaurant, Goa

May 2, 2011 in Favourite Places | Comments (5)


Bawmra Jap is, in my view, one of the finest and most inventive chefs in the world. He is ethnically a Kachin from northern Burma, but he left the country after his marriage to his British-Iranian wife, Mariam, and trained as a chef in London. His restaurant, Bomra’s,  in Candolim, Goa, is unpretentious and welcoming, but it consistently serves some of the best food anywhere. His style is unclassifiable: it is perhaps best described as South-East-Asian-inflected modern cuisine. Some of his great dishes are: pickled tea leaf salad, crisp-fried sardines, pomelo salad, pork belly and Kachin chicken. His warm chocolate cake is better than any I’ve had in New York, London, New Delhi – anywhere in fact.

I don’t know how he does it; I’m just glad he does.




Banteay Srei, Cambodia, 1993

May 1, 2011 in Favourite Places | Comments (0)

One of the most beatiful temples in the world. In those days, it was deep in the jungle, with the Khmer Rouge swarming about and mines scattered over the grounds.

ucuz ukash