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Mezze is widely served in the Greek and Middle eastern world. An assortment of little dishes and tasters which accompany a nice ouzo or a glass of wine. So when you read mezze moments you will have tasty snippets of life as I live it, India for four years and now Brisbane Australia, all served up with some Greek fervour and passion.

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Sunday, 22 January 2017

JLF 21st Jan 2017

The weekend has started at JLF and as always it takes a while for the city to wake up. So our first session is a breeze - we walk into our seats and listen to a very entertaining talk from a panel of renowned playwrights, authors and directors. The subject matter "The Page is mightier than the Screen" with Alan Hollinghurst, Neil Jordan, Richard Flanagan and the amazing David Hare in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury.

Some amusing stories from David Hare who apparently tried to write a screenplay for Jonathan Frantzen's "Corrections" - 23 drafts didn't do it and it is not looking hopeful. 
Richard Flanagan who won the Nobel for Literature for his book 'The long road to the Deep North" said that a novel needs nothing more than the courage of its author. Everything in film comes with a price and ends up often being mediocre. Neil Jordan added that while films decay over time, the power of the word in a novel survives. David Hare reminded us that there is always resistance to new art forms but that he enjoys working with talented people who could contribute to his own work but that undoubtedly there were different processes involved in writing a novel to writing a screenplay for a film. He pointed out that once he made Michael Cunningham's novel into the film "The Hours" for the first time ever "Mrs Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf (on which it was based) shot to the top of the US bestseller list. To be faithful to a novel you have to be promiscuous in your interpertation. Sometimes this works, other times it can be disastrous.Playwrights like him don't even want to contemplate others changing their work but often there is licence to enable directors and actors to give the novel on which the film is based a differing slant, ending or perspective.

The Magna Carta has been brought to Jaipur - or at least a facsimile of it. 
In a session called the Magna Carta the Spirit of Justice, Claire Breay who curated the 800 anniversary of the charter in 2015 and Helena Kennedy QC talked about the charter's significance with Patrick French, David Carpenter and Chintan Chandrachud. 
This 3500 word document written in Latin is probably one of the most famous documents in the UK, but also around the world and while not many people can read it, or know what it says, it is perceived as being a corner stone for the protection of fundamental rights - basically stating that no one is above the law. There are 4 remaining copies from the 13 originally produced. While it does not have the status in law that some people think it has, as Helena Kennedy said, she often quotes it in her legal cases against the government and other bodies because it is an enforceable document. David Carpenter hailed it as a fundamental protection against tyranny, explaining that part of the reason it came into existence is to give some protection to free men from the tyrannical rule of King John. The essence of the charter, rather than its detailed provisions has been taken by many as a flagship for the protection of such rights.

A discussion on Brexit drew unparalleled crowds- the panel was slightly skewed with Andrew Roberts being a Brexiter and the rest, A.N Wilson, Timothy Garston Ash, Surjit Balla and Linda Colley largely being in favour of Remain. There was general consensus that the Brexiters ran a shameful campaign but that Remain, with its scaremongering, was probably even worse. The result was very close and so it could have easily perhaps gone the other way. The reasons, as stated by Andrew was to take back control of the UK- not having someone unelected by the UK legislating for the UK - but of course the answer to that is that judges are appointed not elected so this is a spurious argument in my view. Economic factors were also raised and a very disingenuous argument again was put forward that the Uk could choose not to have the white immigrants from Europe in favour of highly skilled ones from say the Commonwealth - that appealed to the audience but as the moderator said it remains to be seen if the situation for Indian Visas to Britain will be better in the years post Brexit.  The economy is intact at the moment, due perhaps to the devaluation of the pound but we have no idea once Brexit kicks in whether it will continue to grow and how long it may take to get out of Europe and find alternative trading partners. The question of the four parts of UK falling apart was also raised.Timothy Garston Ash raised the important point that Europe has now enjoyed 70 years of prosperity and growth and no warfare. Brexit and the possible break up of the European Union might endanger that peace especially with Trump not supporting NATO. Finally the spectre of fascist movement rising in various parts of Europe was discussed with Andrew Roberts choosing to be away from them, almost as a form of protection, while the others plainly say that the UK had a role to play in ensuring movements like these did not come to power and the underlying causes of discontent and disenfranchisement  instead, were properly addressed.

I went to a hilarious Hindglish session with Devdutt Pattanaik. This is a man who has devoted many years to Indian Mythology and he has just brought out a book called "Olympus" in which he draws parallels between the Greek Mythology and the Indian one and tries to see how Alexander's passing through the sub continent left his mark and the Indo-Greeks who followed him, drawing parallels between Hercules and Krishna and their mythical powers and achievements. Greek mythical figures are often seen to go on long journeys fraught with danger to achieve their goal or get the girl back ...Their purpose as far as Devdutt sees it is to be extraordinary. However he saw that in Indian mythology the god is not a judge as in the Greek one but an accountant and that the purpose of life was to be debt free. I thought that was an interesting take on the Indian psyche - he hoped that in fact both civilisations had reason to borrow from each others mythology. 

The Dishnourable East India Company was on in the afternoon with a distinguished panel - William Dalrymple moderating Giles Milton, John Keay, Jon Wilson, Linda Colley, and Shashi Tharoor.This was the strangest take over in history really. It starts out as a trading company of silks and spices and ends up taking over the entire sub continent of India. By the end of the 18th Century the 250 clerks of the East India company backed by Indian soldiers took over the running of Bengal and from that to the entire country...

At this point dear readers I am a small blip in a crowd 5 deep and I am being shoved and pushed in all sorts of directions. I find refuge on half a chair in a shop with a sweet shop assistant who kindly allows me to sit down. I feel the need to, as two things conspire to stop me being able to hear the panellists. The chatter of those shopping and the rumblings of my insides. Yes, I have been struck down and shortly after I fled in a tuk tuk to the safe haven of my lovely haveli for a sit down and a cup of tea. I wonder how many of you lovely readers will read this to very end ...

Saturday, 21 January 2017

JLF 20th Jan 2017

Listening to Roy Foster must be one of my highlights of the Festival and this is only on the second day. The talk was entitled WB Yeats - the Arch Poet. This is what I like best, listening to an authority talking eloquently and authoritatively on their subject matter. Roy Foster has spent some 18 years studying Yeats and listening to his poetry this morning was breathtakingly beautiful, the flawless language, the rhyme, the complex set of ideas and images.
National Poet and Nobel Prize laureate he is a identified with Ireland's history and cultural life. He was a politician, a revolutionary and a theatre director who quarrelled with, and comforted his country in equal measures. He made Ireland culturally fashionable. He wrote about her struggle comparing her to a woman who needs to be liberated. We listened to "The Second Coming" a poem which resonates with the events of the 20th of January 2017. "Ireland in the coming Times" about Ireland's revolution. "The Tower" where he lived and wrote some of his best political poetry and"The Spur" written late in life with some sexual undertones. He died in the south of France but was eventually moved back to Ireland. His poetry, like nations, can be great in their complexities and contradictions but he was undoubtedly the Arch Poet of Ireland whose work is as relevant today as the day he wrote it.

The Kohinoor Diamond is the subject of William Dalrymple and Anita Anand's new book. 
The Authors decided to trace the actual history of the Kohinoor, as while much is written about it, little has been proved.Theo Metcalfe's report on it is one of the only sources but little is substantiated. It has a fascinating course through history ending up in the Peacock Throne but finally being taken from there and worn on the arm by Shah Jahan and successive Maharajas ending on the arm of a sweet 10 year old boy Dilip Singh. He is eventually separated from his mother who is incarcerated and he ends up signing away the Punjab and the Kohinoor. He is raised by john Logan and becomes a Christian and visits Queen Victoria in London. The diamond which is in her hands is cut and re faceted for the Great exhibition, so much so that Dilip Singh doesnt really recognise it and hands it to Queen Victoria. But what of course is the most intriguing part of the story is the curse of the Kohinoor and how in its path it left many dead or dying...

Barry Cunliffe 's book "By Steppe Desert and Ocean" was a fascinating romp through 10,000 years of history showing us with maps and facts the birth of Eurasia and the start of our globalised world.
The start of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent to the production of market produce in the nearby areas. The Steppes, the open grasslands were where the horse was first domesticated and this allowed the movement of populations, with the development of paths and passages which we know as the Silk road linking East and West. In the deserts it was the commodities that were traded.The larger than life statue of Genghis Khan and the reach of his empire. Cunliffe has studied the movement of populations seemingly always East to West. One reason may be the wetter more lush weather which affects the grasslands, another might be a fascination for where the sun sets. I liked that idea. 

A. N. Wilson and Shrabani Basu had the best conversation about Queen Victoria - her real character and not the stern public figure that her children painted of her. She was remarkably liberal, non racist, empathic person of high intelligence who loved to laugh and explore the exotic. Instead the image most of us have is of a woman in black with an unattractive bonnet and the saying she is probably most famous for "We are not amused." Shrabani has written a book well worth reading about Victoria and her Indian Servant Abdul Karim. A.N Wilson is an authority on the Victorians. The amount of interesting information  that the speakers imparted on the Queen's relationship with the handsome and tall Abdul was captivating. He  travelled everywhere with her and taught her Urdu. There is evidence of her learning Urdu in her notebooks over 13 years, the most endearing of phrases found there was "hold me tight". Victoria loved India, though never visited. The politicians were concerned she might say things which were politically incorrect, showing huge sympathy for the de- franchised Indian princes and royal families. The book will be made into a film to come out in September of 2017 - part of it will be the corridor in Osborne house where Victoria lived with all the portraits she commissioned - Abdul Karim is there in his handsome splendour. She was very close to him and often travelled with him to the south of France and insisted that they newspapers acknowledged his presence. He came into her life quite late and he relieved the loneliness she felt after losing Albert so young. Her family however were very dismissive of this relationship and the day after she was buried Abdul Karim was asked to hand over the copious letter she had written to him and they were all burnt. He was eventually deported. 

The day ended with an incredible panel discussion called "The Unravelling" High hopes and missed opportunities in Iraq.The almost unbelievable account of Emma Sky - a British Council official who decided to apply as a volunteer to help Iraqis gain back control of their country after the invasion. Her extraordinary journey on a mere phone call to the war torn area where with minimal briefing and training she was put in charge of the the whole of Kirkuk. How she eventually travelled to Baghdad and became a political adviser to the American General of the occupying army. Her story read like a script but it was chillingly true and revealed the huge deceptions and misleading information which led to the war and its aftermath and of course, as recounted by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri who wrote a book called "Perilous Interventions", to the damage the invasion did to the region as well as it being the cause for the creation of ISIS and its aftermath. All the panelists spoke to the massive failures of this exercise and how even today we might say that Trump is not an unconnected consequence of these errors in the Bush, Blair eras.Western Intervention which was unplanned, based on erroneous facts and so damaging to populations, trust and alliances. 

Friday, 20 January 2017

JLF 19th January 2017

As mythical and magical as a preacher in full force Anne Waldman started off the JLF with words of caution in this troubled world where chaos and darkness looms but for the salving power of the creative poetic word. She took to the stage like a shaman and the words of her poem "Anthropocene Blues" spoken with fervour and passion captured the thousands who were listening, caused goosebumps on our bodies, with collective approval of the importantance of creative arts to deal with this world of post truths and populism.She is no fan of Donald Trump.
Gulzar, renowned poet, paid tribute to the massive effect the Festival had on the young and urged them to stay connected with their roots and literature. The place was packed, the sun shone and once more after much fanfare at the entrance JLF was off to a massively good start. 

David Hare is probably one of the best known Britsh Playwrights and he answered the many questions of his interviewer with wit and humour. He wrote his memoir "Blue Touch Paper" almost from a sense of bewilderment of what brought him to playwriting. There is no formula, he doesnt really know how plays will be perceived, by audiences when he writes them which is of course the litmus test of success. He likes to be ahead of his time and never shies away from the controversial so he has dealt with 9/11, the Invasion of Iraq and the GFC of 2008. He loves the challenge of writing scenes, particularly where they are to support streams of consciousness as he has done with a number of his plays.He is particularly fond of putting women centre stage. The problem, he notes, is finding male actors who can play the subservient role. 

Sadhguru has a massive following. The naughty and dreamy child of a physician from Mysore he was always getting into trouble at school for not " being there" and just taking himself off physically and mentally to places he would rather be. There were some fascinating insights into this yogi's young life as a motorcycle afectionado and a construction entrepreneur. Finally somewhere on Chamudi Hill of Mysore he had a transformation and felt he had hit a gold mine - he didnt want to miss the opportunity of making it better for the world. He talked engagingly about how most suffering comes from within and therefore it is imperative for the short time we are on this planet to find ways to make our mind work for us. Touching our own inner intelligence will help us find our place in the cosmos. 

Paul Beatty is a big bloke with a booming voice - and he has written this crazy, irreverent and humorous book about a hood somewhere in America where the chief character carries on a strange existence including trying to reintroduce slavery. He is the first American to win the Booker Prize, no small honour and he was unprepared but happy to have done so, as the book is unconventional. Call it satire, call it hypocritical and humorous, he was clearly not going to go along with labels as they mean different things to different people and asked the audience how they perceived his book.

There was a session called the Legacy of the Left - we are all wondering what has happened, is it still alive, will it have to reinvent itself, how can it now sell itself to the people in the rise of populism from Trump to Marin le Pen and other movements world wide. There was consensus it was still alive but needed much resuscitation and then there was a Power Cut ! Ah welcome to India - I thought - I could not have visited without experiencing at least one.

The day ended with the beautiful and diverse poetry of among others Anne Waldman, Ruth Padel,Vladimir from St Lucia, Toshani Ghosh and her infatuation with Patrick Swayze, and the truly impressive Kate Tempest from the UK who is a master of the spoken word, spoken without hesitation, recited with passion and purpose, and from one so very young. 

Thursday, 19 January 2017

How does it feel ...

To be back in India

Back to Hindglish - the gist is key.
Saw my first stray at the airport and my heart missed a beat.
White small cars abound and scurry like ants across the lanes.
Most straddle two, others squeeze into one.
"Rush hour"is a euphemism and a Porsche I saw is destined never to thrive.
Throat clearing and spitting, mouth curved down.
Pedlars songs early morn, brought a smile.

Hazy smog fog
Dust dust dust
Brahmini kites soar
Minah birds scavenging on tarmac
Rape seed fields in yellow bloom,
Slowly edged out by a frenetic building boom.

Trust transferred to Balwant Singh.
To negotiate motorway madness
Headlights deemed permit to travel
Wrong way to traffic flow.
Saw my first camel cart
And a new Japanese Zone.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Changi's best kept secret

Forget the Louis Vuitton and the Prada. I have discovered a whole new angle to Changi Airport in Singapore which is so much more preferable then window shopping for items on display I would not be caught dead with.I am all for diversity in this world, and there is still a market for them, but they are not my cup of tea. I did find another and the cup was full and overflowing.

Did you know the airport has a Butterfly Garden in Terminal 3?  I pushed the heavy door open and was momentarily thinking this was Kew in the Hot House or Brisbane last week. The air was heavy and the moisture palpable but the plants love it and it shows. The pitcher plants were full, the leaves glossy and the flowers bursting with colour. The blossoms were just the kind of triggers that the butterflies are looking for, inviting and sweet with nectar, and ready for indulging in a good feed or some old fashioned hanky panky.

I wandered round taking in the information and the beauty of the butterflies around me – what a perfect way to while away the time a flight is delayed, open to all, but you have to look for the sign and be curious enough to follow it.
Now you know, it’s a perfect little Singaporean secret.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Cold and hot snap

Happy New Year Everyone - we left the Uk which despite its state of limbo - ness was remarkably welcoming and peculiarly unseasonal. There were however what I would call some cold snaps, when the frost lies on the ground, the ice forms on the ponds and the grass is spiky and crackly. There is a beauty in this cloak of cold talcum powder and we were able to enjoy a few walks in the early morning, before the sun had a chance to work its magic forming strange tree like structures on the sea  front wall as the frost turned to water.

And then SNAP back in the heat of the sub tropics where the trees are exploding with colourful  energy and the rain has washed the garden fresh and pushed the weeds up in numbers which will have the head gardener aka C tossing and turning in his sleep. And here the warmth of colour signals invitation to others to come and join the fun with wheelbarrows painted by Papua New Guineans and now in the Gallery of Modern Art. 

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Paulson Square

I was walking around London today and I came across a square I did not know. It was called Paulson Square and I walked around it attracted by the beautiful Xmas wreaths on the doors. I dont know if there is an annual competition in the Square for best wreath, but I found myself stopping outside the doors admiring them. They were carefully chosen to match the door, very individual and showed a great sense of pride of place and these were only a few of the ones I chose to photograph. 
Xmas right at your door.