Prufrock's Page

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Lotus Notes

It's been there for more than ten years. Nothing can happen to it. It's...established. So many people go there; so many sing its praises. Lotus House Books will always thrive in that little corner of Bandra, and all my fears are unfounded. It's just a phase they're going through.

It's quite ridiculous, the way they've let things slide. Why don't they do something? Shelves are getting emptier and emptier, and that new location is above a petrol pump, for heaven's sake. Why did they have to open in the first place if they're going to behave like this?

If I can just go there more often, buy books from them more often, and persuade others to do the same, they'll be OK. They say they're going to move back to their old location, they say they're going to get new stock. Yes, I'll just start some sort of campaign that's going to make them hale and hearty again.

It's over. They're over. They're just going to clear all their stock through this sale that's now on, and then they're going to shut down. Nothing I can do. Nothing anyone can do.

Perhaps they'll move back to their old location; perhaps they won't. It was a part of my life for years, and that's something I ought to be grateful for, after all. There are other bookshops in Mumbai: I will learn to like them. I can order books online. I can visit Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, and scour the shops there. I can't go on, I'll go on.

The Power of the PEN

Rushdie again. He's the moving force behind 'PEN World Voices: The New York Festival of International Literature'. Last week, 125 writers from 45 countries converged on New York City for a series of series of readings and discussions showcasing literature and ideas from around the globe.

An extract from an interview with the man, featured in the PEN American Centre website:

"The real world is no longer describable inside terms of naturalistic fiction. It’s become too big, ugly, strange, distorted, weird. Every age in literary history needs to forge the tools with which to describe the reality outside the window. Right now, that reality is so bizarre that it’s not surprising writers have used bizzare means."

Ah, that explains The Last Song of Dusk.

Prufrock Defrocked

After starting this blog, it was brought to my attention that there's another Prufrock from India, who blogs here. And I thought I was the only one who wore the bottoms of his trousers rolled.

Mea culpa
: it shall now be my earnest endeavour to write in a style so distinctive that even the most grammatically-challenged will be able to tell us apart.

Friday, April 29, 2005

The Cat's Pyjamas

The New York Times quotes Salman Rushdie at the PEN gala on his writing habits:

"Quite often I will just be in my, you know, dressing gown or bathrobe or whatever and I will just go straight there and sit at the desk for several hours. I think it's important, pajamas. I think you should do a little survey of how many writers write in their pajamas."

Click here to discover the contents of Mrs Rushdie's dress during the same event. (Link courtesy the marvellous Ms Maud Newton.).

Er, What Was Your Order Again, Sir?

Item: Visited the refurbished Pot Pourri on Turner Road in Bandra and asked for a lemon-apple crumble, gooey chocolate brownie and loaf of bran bread. Returned home to find only the bread in the package.

Item: Visited Moshe's at Crossword in Kemp's Corner, and ordered a bagel with cream cheese and a lemon iced tea. Only the bagel arrived. Since one was in a hurry, one ignored the missing beverage -- only to find it charged on the bill. Pointed out oversight to waiter, who vanished for the next 15 minutes.

Item: Called China Gate off Waterfield Road in Bandra from home, to order chicken in garlic sauce, steamed chicken dumplings and assorted noodles and rice. One hungry hour later, their deliveryman arrived, bearing aloft two helpings of rice, two helpings of noodles and dumplings stuffed with vegetables.

Perhaps one is surrounded by a cloud of static electricity. Perhaps Mercury is retrograde. Perhaps one doesn't look at people firmly enough in the eye.

One would like to ask the establishments in question to pull up their socks, but they don't seem to be wearing any.

Judging A Book By Its Coverage

Pranay Gupte writes in the New York Sun about 17-year-old Kaavya Vishwanathan's two-book deal with Little Brown & Co, for a sum that "approached $50,000". The first book, tentatively titled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got In, is expected next spring.

What's significant about the report is how the deal was struck. Ms Vishwanathan of Hackensack, who's on her way to Harvard University, was enrolled in Dr Katherine Cohen's IvyWise, a service that prepares students for college admissions. Upon hearing of her novel-in-progress, the good doctor Cohen asked to see a sample.

The article continues: " 'I was so charmed by what I read,' Ms. Cohen said. 'I immediately sensed that here was a star in the making. So I called my own agent at William Morris, Suzanne Gluck, and told her about Kaavya.'
Ms. Gluck showed the manuscript to Ms. Walsh, who handles fiction at the agency. She was impressed and shopped it around, and Little, Brown offered the highest advance. Ms. Viswanathan was the youngest writer the agency had taken on in its 109-year history."

Now, this is almost certainly the green-eyed monster on one's shoulder talking, but one can't help thinking that it's the network of contacts, backed by the name of Harvard, that's swung things. What if the putative author had sent the unfinished manuscript directly to an agent? "Dear Ms Vishwa-whatever, we regret to inform you that your manuscript doesn't meet with our requirements at present, but we wish you all the best in your writing career."

C'est la vie. Let's hope the final book proves me wrong with its staggering insights into second-generation immigrants and their attempts to fit in.

(Plagiarism update here.)

Thursday, April 28, 2005


Have been dipping into First Proof: The Penguin Book of New Writing from India. So far, from the fiction section, Indrajit Hazra's Post-mortem and Mitali Saran's Afterlife are unusual, readable and quirky -- with the character from Afterlife reminding one of Ignatius from John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces.

From the non-fiction section, Jerry Pinto's The Woman Who Could Not Care is wonderful -- a pop cultural reading of Bollywood's Helen, queen of the nautch girls. It's an extract from his forthcoming book on the subject, which one now can't wait to get one's hands on.

Pinto is, of course, also executive editor of Man's World, the current issue of which is a fiction special. You can check it out here, though registration is required. You'll find the fiction sandwiched between aesthetic layouts of scantily-clad women.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Ashes of the Phoenix

The restaurants at Phoenix Mills reveal what's wrong with Mumbai restaurants as a whole.

Take Spaghetti Kitchen. Pleasing at first glance: spacious, high-ceilinged, double-leveled, white. But. Endure the wait for a table, and you find waiters rushing by, too busy to offer a menu or even make eye contact. After a good 15 minutes of this, you manage to place your order. Half an hour then passes, while you toy with the cutlery. Finally, your companion's meal arrives, while you wait on, urging her to eat. Your meal then arrives, long minutes after your companion has finished hers. The food itself is passable, not really the sort of fare you remember or want to endorse. Of course, the bill takes its own treacly time to get to your table.

Or take the new Kobe. Or rather, don't. Friendly and effiicient service, but my goodness, the food! It looked and tasted like sizzling industrial sludge.

One hears that the Phoenix outlet of Gajalee is worth going to. Frankly, one isn't holding one's breath.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Next Naipaul?

The Village Voice reviews Siddhartha Deb's Surface:

"Deb is a fluid, thoughtful novelist intent on retracing his steps around the periphery of his country—around the very idea of the nation itself. With his intimate portrait of a shattered, neglected landscape, Deb revitalizes a very Naipaulian obsession."

I think that's exactly right. You can also read the author's Columbia Journalism Review article on the Indian media here.

How To Lose Friends And Alienate People

Toby Young's book about his stint at Vanity Fair may seem like an odd -- and even frivolous -- way to begin. But having immersed myself in Siddhartha Deb's Surface, and having waded through Gregory Roberts' Shantaram, I thought it was time for something...lighter. So far, it's lived up to expectations: it's engaging, amusing and very Englishman-in-New-York. This, despite Young's obvious attempts to create a I'm-so-scheming-I'm-charming persona for himself. I think this book can safely be shelved under Guilty Pleasures.