Prufrock's Page

Saturday, June 11, 2005

An Advertising History Of India

For the past several months, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd., one of the country's largest publishers of university textbooks, has been quietly trying to coax companies into buying advertising space in their texts.
- From an article in The Toronto Star

Shocking. If the trend catches on, this is the sort of thing that students here will soon be reading:

No-one is exactly sure why the once-great Indus Valley Civilisation declined. Was it waves of Aryan invasions, unexpected floods or simply economic hardship? [With ICICI Prudential, you're always covered!] In the fifth century, large parts of India were united under Ashoka The Great who is best known for converting to Buddhism and for his rock edicts propagating the teachings. [Watch Shah Rukh romance Kareena: Ashoka, on Star Plus this Sunday.] North Indian dynasties such as the Lodhis and the Tughlaqs were succeeded by the Mughals, under whose reign large parts of India were governed. [ITC's Mughal Feast: Kababs from the Kitchen of India range.] The British, who first set up a trading post in India in the 17th century, assumed control of the subcontinent by, among other things, signing a series of alliances with local rulers. [Make Sure It's A Parker!] After World War II, the realisation dawned that the hopes and aspirations of Indians could not be denied much longer, and Independence arrived in 1947. ["Yeh pyaas hai badi" - Pepsi!]

The Biter Bit

"The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts has filed a lawsuit against a company for selling unlicensed reproductions of Warhol's famed artworks."

Ironic, considering the pop artist made his name by ripping off artworks of Campbell's soup cans and photographs of Marilyn Monroe.

The wider context, however, is that the works come from Thailand: "The country has rampant piracy, mostly of books, video games, computer software, movies and TV shows, according to a special 2005 report from the International Intellectual Property Alliance."

Low Tide

One has just finished reading the masterful John Banville's The Sea, which is why one read with avidity this review of the book by Tibor Fischer in The Arts Telegraph. Tibor praises Banville's writing, then goes on to point out what he considers are faults in the book: gorgeous, descriptive prose, but too many allusions and too little plot:

"As the novel progressed I realised that it was more like sitting an exam than taking in a tale: Banville's text is one that constantly demands admiration and analysis. Bard of Hartford? Nom d'appareil? Cracaleured? If the preciosity was used solely for comic effect it would work better, but I suspect Banville is after some elegiac granite here."

Of course all reviews of Banville's work nowadays must touch upon the author's own review of McEwan's Saturday -- and Fischer's is no exception:

"In a lengthy, wave-making, almost brick-by-brick demolition of Ian McEwan's latest novel Saturday in the New York Review of Books, Banville wrote: 'human beings have an unflagging desire for stories, it is one of our more endearing traits'. Could this be the same Banville that penned The Sea?"

Friday, June 10, 2005

Bellow's Legacy

Today would have been Saul Bellow's 90th birthday. Here's Philip Roth, from an earlier issue of Time: "The backbone of 20th century American literature has been provided by two novelists: William Faulkner and Saul Bellow. Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne and Twain of the 20th century."

And though the author's portrayal of women made his work appear somewhat out-of-step with modern sensibilities in the US (and elsewhere), there's no denying his brilliance and influence, as this article in the Syracuse Post-Standard shows.

Updike Redux

So he didn't win the International Man Booker. But he got the Sandberg.

A "Good Bad Poet"

I think that I shall never see
A billboard as lovely as a tree.
Perhaps unless the billboards fall,
I'll never see a tree at all.

That, of course, is by Ogden Nash. There's a new biography of the man out, which The New Yorker loftily calls 'a sympathetic appraisal', adding: "A fixture of this magazine for many decades, Ogden Nash was a nimble master of light verse. He abandoned early dreams of literary greatness, and chose, he once said, to become 'a good bad poet, rather than a bad good poet.' Blessed with a gentle, deflationary wit, Nash took aim at what he called the 'minor idiocies of humanity,' skewering the affectations of middle-class American life."

Indian Bloggers Report On The Moon Landing

Caveat: parody ahead

So there I was at TC again, gazing moodily into my mojito and checking out my ex flirting shamelessly with my best friend when this hunk walked in and tried to speed-date me (Why do people always try to hit on me? Does blogging make me sexy?) Suddenly, the cute waiter pointed at the TV set, and right in the middle of my favourite Alanis Morrissette song, I had to turn to look at some guy walking on the moon. I knew what that Armstrong (Armstrong – giggle) must be feeling, because I felt exactly like that when I was with New Boy – like I was over the moon, I mean.
- The Compulsive Transgressor

The organisation for which I work (which shall Not Be Named) has a strictly No-TV policy during so-called working hours. So, like Al Pacino in Serpico, I went forth into the byways of Bengal, wondering whether I was going to experience Kafka Moment # 432 when I heard a large cheer and turned to see a man in a cumbersome spacesuit in the middle of a 29” TV set bestriding the lunar orb. The Punjabi gentleman next to me put his arm familiarly around my shoulders and suggested we celebrate with a plate of tunn-doori chick-khen. A giant leap for mankind, indeed.
- A Simple Desultory Toothpick

We're kinda inclined to forgive the uproar that’s going to greet Neil’s stepping on the moon. It’s not every day that we see people doing stuff like that. He’s going to be faymbus. And also because we're now leaving to go stay with the Babu and DD for a few weeks, so we have no more time to post.
- Eggzackly

Putu wants to know whether it is true that the moon is made of cheese. Putu likes cheese.
- Putu The Tabby

And finally:

One would like to venture the assertion that one’s life shall remain unchanged by the spectacle of one man landing on one’s moon.
- Twofrock

Thursday, June 09, 2005

You Know You're Becoming A Blog Addict When...

...You're blogging in your head before you fall asleep.

...You blog in your head an event that's happening that very moment.

...You actually take the time to figure out how to set up Active Desktop in Windows just so that you can make your Bloglines MyBlogs page your Windows background.

- From

To which one might add:

...You can’t go through a book, magazine, newspaper or website without wondering whether you’ll find something to post.

...You check your blog e-mail more frequently than your personal one.

...You visit five minutes after a new post to check if anyone's been reading.

...You think posting any old worthless scrap of information is better than not posting anything at all.

Adjectives, Plugs and Forthcoming Titles

The editors of Kirkus Review, the pre-publication book review journal and blurb-writer's best friend, distributed a 24-page booklet to all invitees at the BookExpo in New York entitled: The 2005 Big Book Preview. With 20 Blockbuster-bound, Eagerly Awaited, Must-see Titles.

This is from the fascinating nudge-nudge, wink-wink opening paragraph:

"Which publisher is spending half a million dollars to make sure that readers pick up a novel about a Civil War eccentric who exhumed the bodies of more than a thousand soldiers? Which superstar memoirist is writing again after six years? (Hint: his mother’s name is Angela.) You’re about to find out....Among this year’s big books is the first “happy novel” from a smart guy who’s stopped trying to prove that he’s smart; a novella from a literary giant whose book may make the faint-hearted blush; and a controversial biography of a certain former president’s, wife in which she’s accused of being a liar. Noteworthy debuts include a memoir from a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, paying tribute to the bar he started frequenting at age seven; a reading-group–ready novel about a male brothel that is making women smile; and a chronicle by an intrepid cook who, over the course of 365 days, tested every recipe in a Julia Child cookbook. There are also children’s books, including one that could spell the end of a much-beloved 50-year-old series. We include exposé of white collar unemployment, from Nickel and Dimed author Barbara Ehrenreich, and the first adult novel in a decade from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial author William Kotzwinkle."

Hmm...that's probably the first time one has heard 'Barbara Ehrenreich' and 'E.T.' mentioned in one sentence. Take a look: adjectives, advertisements and all.

Advance Booking

Mary Ann Gwinn of The Seattle Times was in New York to cover Book Expo America, the US publishing industry's annual get-together. After conversing with publishers and other denizens of the book business, she mentions a short list of the books likely to create the most buzz in the next few months:

- J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince (but of course)

- Bob Woodward's book on his relationship with former deputy FBI director Mark Felt, who recently owned up to being Deep Throat.

- Gabriel García Márquez's Memories of My Melancholy Whores

- Ordinary Heroes, a new mystery by Scott Turow

- And finally (yes!) Salman Rushdie's Shalimar The Clown

Meanwhile, "Michael. Cunningham was photographed dancing with Jonathan Franzen to the thumping D.J. Johnnie Darnell (Mr. Cunningham’s selection), as women in paisley sarongs circulated the room with trays of chicken skewers" That's from Sheelah Kolhatkar's fascinatingly gossipy piece in the New York Observer on the same event.

She sums up:
"The consensus on the annual three-day publishing and booksellers’ convention, which alternates cities like a traveling circus, was that there was no consensus—no standout theme, Bill Clinton memoir or looming election. The whole affair was a blur of cheap wine, mini empanadas and free books, punctuated by the odd wannabe author cruising the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center with a toilet seat around his neck. The fact that the expo took place in New York, as opposed to Chicago or Los Angeles, only lent a certain world-weariness to the proceedings."

Causing Offense

The International Herald Tribune has its heart in the right place -- except for one little slip -- as this editorial reveals:

"These are dangerous times for writers or artists who tread into the always sensitive territory of religion, as incidents ranging from the fatwa against Salman Rushdie to the destruction of an art exhibition in Moscow have shown. But it is disheartening to see representatives of democratic government take the side of those who believe respect for religion justifies censorship. That's what happened when an Italian judge, citing a law forbidding 'outrages against religion,' ordered the journalist and writer Oriana Fallaci to stand trial over a book that includes provocative assertions about Islam....Far from everyone will agree with Fallaci or with the way she expresses her opinions. But the right to make unpopular or intemperate statements is a hallmark of a free society....the issue goes beyond the fate of one writer. Even in these volatile times, Western judges and politicians must do all they can to make it clear that freedom of expression is nonnegotiable."

Er...only Western judges and politicians?

Of Books And Bombs

The Times (UK) reports on the discovery of a shrine in Teheran's Behesht Zahra cemetery with the inscription: “Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh, born Conakry, Guinea. Martyred in London, August 3, 1989. The first martyr to die on a mission to kill Salman Rushdie.”

The report continues: "...
all that is known about Mazeh is that he met his death priming a book bomb in a Paddington hotel room...On the afternoon of August 3, a large explosion killed him in his room, destroying two floors of the building. Anti-terrorist squad detectives later said that he had died while trying to prime a bomb hidden in a book with RDX explosives. A previously unknown Lebanese group, the Organisation of the Mujahidin of Islam, claimed in a letter to a Beirut newspaper that Mazeh, whom they referred to as Gharib, died preparing an attack 'on the apostate Rushdie'.

"Few mourners in Behesht Zahra pay his tomb any attention, and most express a desire to forget Salman Rushdie and rebuild relations with Britain and America."

Thank goodness.

Remarkable, Wonderful, Notable

A thought that crossed one's mind during a dreary lunch hour was: so who was the Mr Roget of Roget's Thesaurus anyway?

A brief online search revealed a rather impressive list of achievements.

Peter Mark Roget was born in 1779, and brought up in London's French Protestant community. He studied medicine at Edinburgh and later invented what's now known as the slide rule. He was also among the first to explain the illusion of "persistence of vision" -- which is, of course, the principle behind modern-day cinema and television.

By now, one would think the words "rest" and "laurels" would occur to the man. But no. As an article in The Independent says: "Roget was not just a doctor. He was also a polymath whose work influenced the discovery of laughing gas as an anaesthetic, the creation of the London sewage system, the invention of the slide rule and the development of the cinema industry – as well as being a chess master and an expert on bees, Dante and the kaleidoscope."

In 1848, after retiring as secretary of the Royal Society of Physicians, Roget made the cataloguing of words his full-time occupation. A first edition was published in 1852: A Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, classified and arranged so as to facilitate the expression of ideas and to assist in literary compilation. Successive editions were supervised by him, his son, his grandson, and others, and it has never since been out of print.

(The word "thesaurus", by the way, was coined by the man -- it doesn't refer to a word-obsessed dinosaur, but is from the Greek for "treasure house".)

Extraordinary. Simon Winchester, the subject for your next book is right here.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Low Cost = High Sales? Not Quite

Publisher Ravi Vyas has an interesting article in The Telegraph in which he draws the conclusion that a book's low price is no guarantee of sales. He offers as an example two editions of Pankaj Mishra's recent anthology, India In Mind: the first, by Random House, India, priced at Rs 275; the second by Vintage International at $ 6.75 with an Indian price of Rs 311. He goes on to speak of how American publishers "muscle" into the Indian market and concludes:

"The retailer isn’t interested in handling low-priced books because at the end of the day, he has very little left. So,what he does is prominently display the higher-priced edition and keep the lower-priced one in the bookshelves. Given the time the buyer spends in the shop, the higher-priced edition takes off, the lower-priced one remaining in the shelves.

"Hence the conclusion which has been reached in market research studies: price matters but not to the extent that is often imagined. What matters is information for a specific purpose or simply entertainment of any kind."

By the way, one chose the Vintage International edition. One liked the cover better.

Faulkner And Iraq

"Faulkner's work is full of torture and violence and abuse, sanctioned and sanctified by the collective fear and bloodlust and wounded self-righteousness of the crowd. In 2005, when record numbers of soldiers return home without limbs, cable news television replays images of extra-judicial torture carried out in the name of civil society, and the nation finds itself engaged in a conflict mired in bad faith, Faulkner is every bit as relevant as he was in 1932."

That's Robert Wheaton of PopMatters, on how extraordinary it is that William Faulkner has a place in understanding American culture today.

Of "Mixed Parentage"

There are times when one despairs of the standards of Indian journalism. Case in point: a column by Ms Nandita Puri in today's Mid-day.

With utter unselfconsciousness, she writes: "As teenagers we used to refer to Engelbert Humperdinck as an eight anna (50 paise) coin and Cliff Richard as a four anna (25 paise) coin. This was because of their mixed parentage. Engelbert was half Anglo-Indian and half British....Richard on the other hand had more gora blood in him and hence was a four anna coin."

Lest you pass this off as no more than refreshing candour, Ms Puri then goes on to write: "Their mixed parentage notwithstanding, both have been my favourite singers."

Notwithstanding? Exactly what is being implied here? Purity of blood is necessary for artistic achievement?


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Grand Canyon Cleavages? Really, Mr Nagarkar

"It would take Tejas a long time to admit that sex may be about looks, intelligence, the body beautiful, Grand Canyon cleavages or voluptuous behinds or being great in bed, but none of them made you utterly and unfailingly desirable. What made you irresistible was power, wealth and fame."

Sonia Faliero points us to the first of a three-part extract in the Mumbai Mirror from Kiran Nagarkar's new novel, God's Little Soldier.

"Knock, Knock!" "Who's There?" "Shakespeare."

While going through a Douglas Adams appreciation in The Weekend Australian, one came across this fascinating nugget: the first recorded "knock, knock" joke is to be found in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

It's in Act II, Scene iii. Look it up. A tad more intelligent than those anti-dandruff radio spots populating the airwaves these days.

The Teachings Of Don B.

Donald Barthelme, in a letter to his yet-to-be-born daughter: "When you leap from the womb, we'll teach you how to play croquet, and how to clean bookcases, and how to write your name, and how to make mudcakes and who Bix Beiderbecke was and all about whiskey and wine and all about Eve and Adam and where to mail your letters."

The letter's part of an ongoing exhibit at the University of Houston, reports The Houston Chronicle. Titled The Teachings of Don B: Selections From The Donald Barthelme Papers, it marks the public unveiling of the author's papers, acquired by them in 2002.

The report continues, "Barthelme is often described as a postmodernist, a category that includes Thomas Pynchon, John Barth, Robert Coover and Don DeLillo. Barthelme himself preferred the term 'alleged postmodernist.' His stories generally eschewed traditional plot and character in favor of parody, lists and witty riffs on everything from rock music to Tolstoy."

Here's Dave Eggers on first reading Barthelme: "I was astounded. And I felt like a thief. Or rather, that I was trodding on territory already better explored by D.B. ... Either he is my spiritual father or I am a crook."

Oh, and in a move likely to bring about a major reassessment of Barthelme's work, the exhibit also includes an old grocery list.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Indian writing in the States

NDTV's Maya Mirchandani has a report on whether Indian writers have been able to break into the commercial mainstream in the United States.

She quotes Amitav Ghosh, whose The Hungry Tide is winning a small but respectful audience there: "I am by nature drawn to out-of-the-way stories. The market by definition is not interested in what I am. But at the same time, my work finds its readers, finds people who are interested."

Eric Simonoff, literary agent for, among others, Jhumpa Lahiri and Vikram Chandra, has this to add: "I think the market is now familiar with South Asian writers and Indian writers. There isn't a barrier if there ever was one to a new writer. The American market is extremely xenophobic, so you will see very few books in translation, very few books from France, really very few books from other non-English territories. So to have authors coming from English speaking cultures to a certain extent and writing in English makes it much easier to be embraced by North American readers anyway."

He goes on to make a final, depressing point: "The terrible secret of publishing is that most books fail and most literary fiction fails. It's very hard to get attention for fiction, review attention, radio attention and TV attention."

But there are glimmers of hope, as yesterday's New York Times editorial points out: "Remarkably, Americans still spend more on books than they do on moviegoing, recorded music, video games or DVDs. Despite all the advances in technology, books still have no equal when it comes to telling complicated, nuanced an age when air travelers can watch a Hollywood movie on their laptops, and video game players can live in a virtual city in their computers, a gratifyingly large number of Americans still want to curl up with a good book."

Specimen Hunting

One has been sent an advance e-book version of Michael Cunningham's forthcoming Specimen Days. Under normal circumstances, one would have pounced gleefully upon this work, refusing to emerge until one had finished it. But one can't get the pesky thing to download: apparently, it's attuned to a more recent version of Windows than one has installed. One is working on it: with some luck and tinkering, one's entreaties will be successful.

From whatever information one has of the book so far, it appears that Cunningham has simply reworked the formula he employed so winningly in his earlier The Hours: take real-life episodes from the life of an writer, mingle this with fictional narratives involving characters from the present, and link them thematically. (In The Hours, it was Virginia Woolf; now, it's Walt Whitman.)

However, Cunningham is a gifted and serious author -- so one is going to stop pre-judging him and get back to the task of saying "open Sesame" to the e-book in question.

Sunday, June 05, 2005


"If a novelist is smart, he or she will realise the novel is not an ivory tower form. It's a form which requires what people are getting up to, what's really going on in their heads - how they think and feel - if you don't know that you can't write about it. The bolder you make your range of experience, the richer your work will be..."

"One of the things that happened in the wake of modernism is that you wound up with popular fiction which told great page-turning stories, but had no other qualities. And you had the so-called literary novel, which had all those other virtues, but didn't tell a story."

On celebrity: "The only thing it's good for now is getting tables in restaurants."

And on his proposed next novel after Shalimar The Clown: "I am trying to develop an idea...which I've had for quite some time. It would be a historical novel in which I imagine a connection between the millennial empire of India and Rome. I'd be creating an imaginary ambassador who would bring India and Machiavellian Florence into collision with each other."

- From a recent profile/interview in today's online edition of The Scotsman, which can be read here.

New, Improved

"How is newness to come into the world?" asks Amitava (Husband of a Fanatic) Kumar in connection with Indian writing in English. He goes back to the fount -- Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan -- and concludes, somewhat hastily and unsatisfyingly: "Newness at this stage will come not only from an irreverent tongue, which is now a cliché, but a more accurate engagement with our complex realities, many of which have global dimensions."

But -- and it's a large "but" -- as Kumar himself touches upon but doesn't explore, the moment any writer consciously aims for 'newness', it becomes merely a contrivance, a stylistic gimmick, if you will. Originality in expression arises from a unique way of seeing the world, a way that's wholly specific and instrinic to the individual writer. And Pound's diktat -- "Make it new!" -- was perhaps one of the things responsible for the dead-end that Modernism faced after its exhilarating first wave.

Ironically, one of the 'new' voices that one has come across recently has been that of Hungarian author Sandor Marai, with the English translations of his
Embers and Casanova In Bolzano. When were both of them first published? In the 1940s.