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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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Monday, 30 January 2012

India Art Fair 2012

The fourth India Art fair has just closed its doors and it is not too early to mark your diaries for a visit when it re-opens its gates next year at its purpose built area in Okhla. The facade which was done by Sumant Jayakrishnam was a lovely combination of cool metal with the warmth of coloured wool which gave a rainbow effect.
Walking around this venue I came across a work which just made me smile, Hangover Man III. I havent seen I and II so I dont know if this is an improvement on the others but it was fun. Siddhartha Karawal created it with the help of knotted white T shirts- he said it was a satirical account of time and space he lives in.
There were about 80 galleries exhibiting from all over the world, White Cube and Lisson Galleries in London. Vadehra and Grosvenor one of the foremost galleries in Delhi and London, Abadi Art very much on the experimental side and a host of others which were taking part for the first time. A sign of the times ? Undoubtedly though by a french curator's humble opinion Indian Art has just become too pricey too quickly. Still, it is there for all to see and admire or hate as the case may be and I have to confess to a moment of arted- out when I simply could not take in any more.
On my tour it was clear that Rashid Rana is one of the foremost artist being displayed by a number of galleries for his beautiful pixalated art work. I will never forget seeing one of his works at the KNMA which presented a whole different image up close (small pictures of slaughterhouses) to looking at it from a distance (a beautiful Persian carpet.) Pakistani in origin and talking a lot about the social inequalities and issues in his country. They are massive works and do not come across in a small picture but once you see his work you cannot miss it thereafter.

There was also work that was positively off the wall and perhaps not to my taste but I very much enjoyed seeing some of the younger artists and what they were doing. One such was Rathin Barman who was born in 1981 ( Yes, I know that young ! ) who is concerned with urbanism and materialism. I loved the way he took bricks from a wall and created little homes on individual pieces or used bricks to build a tree encased in a metal frame.

Shivani Aggarwal took the ring of embroidery and created a number of beautiful images connected to creation and perhaps womanhood. Finally there was even Damien Hirst with what must be his tamest works of art yet. No sheep in formaldehyde nor sharks just concentric rings of some beautifulof butterfly wings or pieces of them. Can't imagine they are real as there would have been an uproar but the effect was pleasing although a little kaleidoscopic.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012

The titles were captivating, the followings fantastic, the authors uncompromising and the sun all embracing. Thus began the 2012 Jaipur Literature Festival. After four days of non stop stimulation two results are likely. Total collapse or unprecedented literary verve. I am teetering close to the first and eager to convey some of the second to all of you with or without the verve.
Starting with Salman Rushdie as the "now you see him now you dont" scenario had a couple of bonuses. It galvanised the authors to react and it reinforced the importance of  freedom of speech. The result was that almost from the first session we attended to the last - from Hari Kunzru to Richard Dawkins authors came out with single line statements, wordy support, or extracts from Salman's works. The effect was actually electrifying as the participants could easily comprehend that many of them were putting their own safety at risk and were standing up to be counted in a sea of Salman supporters. It need not have been so and for whatever reasons were actually at the heart of him being kept away it was a sharp and necessary reminder that India was regressing in its approach to the freedom of speech. A petition is now out asking that the ban be lifted from his works in India and if any good comes of that it is at the JLT that it all began.
Hari Kunzru who wrote "The Impressionist" and now "Gods without Men"  spoke loudly to me about the responsible and required attitude to censorship and the written word. "It is after all just a book, Not a bomb, not a knife or a gun.Just a book". Jeet Thayil, the author of "Narcopolis" and Ruchir Joshi did something similar and by then the calls and recriminations were coming in thick and fast. I don't for a minute think that any of them regretted their actions and when the heavyweights like Dawkins and A.C Grayling added their voice to the debate there was no doubt that this was a message that had to be delivered despite the alleged threats.
Amitava Kumar and Hari Kunzru

Young authors also pledged their support and Taiye Selasi started her session with the opening sentence from "Midnight's Children". She then read from her story "The sex life of African girls" which shows great talent and literary craft. Her new book "Ghana must go" is out later this year. She is one of the truly exciting young authors coming out of West Africa, together with Teju Cole, author of "Open City", named one of the best books of 2011 and Ben Okri whose latest collection "A Time for new dreams" also came out in 2011.

Taiye Selasi
Anuradha Roy, the Moderator, Geiling Yan and Taiye Selasi
To counter the dense and severly undiplomatic were sessions which shocked and stirred and entertained to the max. Shabhnam Virmani enthralled the massive crowd with readings and songs of Kabir and there was standing room only for Gulzar and Chetan Bhagat.I have blogged already about Oprah's appearance.
The stirrers were more Amy Chua who wrote "Tiger Mum" not ever expecting that it would receive an overwhelming and entirely mixed reception world-wide. This is one mum who was going to make sure her kids performed and at some considerable cost often to the kids to her and to their family life. She has been severly criticized for her parenting but also praised. She alleges this was written as a satirical account -Madhu Trehan, as the moderator was brilliant. "Did you or did you not say you would burn all your children's stuffed animals ? Did you or did you not leave Lulu out in the cold because she would not play the piano properly aged 3 ? She was big enough to say that she had learnt her lessons and finally allowed her daughter Lulu to give up the violin after she rebelled completely.Her daughter Sophia came on stage and supported her mum's parenting but Lulu was conspicuously absent.  Hmmm, I am not sure that this woman who perhaps is much admired around the world for being a "Chinese mother" has much idea how to live a happy life - even by her own admission.
Amy Chua with Madhu Trehan and Sophia
Whereas the exuberant Vinod Mehta had no such problems. He got a third at  university and actually considered himself quite dumb, almost despaired about being able to find a job, when he started working for the Indian equivalent of Playboy, called "Debonair" in Mumbai with several gay editors which clearly was not going to lead the magazine in the direction it needed to go. He thrilled his audience with stories of his early career, his restlessness over a decade before he finally settled in "Outlook" magazine, a very well respected journal here, for the past 15 years. Read his book "Lucknow boy" for all the inside stories.

Vinod Mehta
The chutneyfication of English was hotly debated by Gurcharan Das advocating that Indglish and not Hindglish is here to stay and is the unifying language of the future for India whereas Tarun Tejpal of Tehelka fame said it was a legacy of the Brits and was the cause of the loss of some of India's languages and of further social division. Shashi Tharoor told us how he used Twitter as a way to disseminate his political messages in a session on the uses of Twitter.
Gurcharan Das
A fascinating session for me was called "Reworking Voices" and on the podium were two American women who had lived in France for many year and had just completed a new translation of Simone de Beauvoir's "The Second Sex." They spoke about this as ground breaking and unabridged and how they had read countless sources and materials to ensure that they captured what she meant with her writing then and not according to today's interpretations.Traslating that first line "On n’est pas, on le deviant "– they said  had not been an easy task and one which did attract some controversy.
By contrast a Swiss writer, Urs Widers, who writes in German was sitting next to his translator Donald McClaughlin.With a lovely Swiss sense of humour he recounted how he had decided to write a book about his mother's lover and the first line of the book was "Yesterday my mother's lover died". Problem was said Urs he was not dead and he kept waiting and waiting for him to die until finally he decided to go ahead.
Donald read an extract from the English translation and Urs said he had liked it very much; it was almost like reading the work of another author. These are the dilemmas facing countless translators around the world of how they retain the author's voice and his culture in the translated text. Both author and translator said how refreshing it was that their Indian publisher was giving both of them recognition on the front cover of the book.
Biographers undertake a colossal act when they decide to write about someone’s life. Simon Sebag Montefiore said that ever since he was a child he wanted to write about Stalin. I was so intrigued by this statement and his spellbinding account of Stalin that I went to ask him what it was that got him interested. He said that he was a young boy of maybe 10 when he read an article about Stalin. Well that was his future mapped out. For 45 minutes he talked engrossingly about Stalin and his wife, their children, their differences and their problems. This was a man who signed not just the deaths of millions of peasants but his daughter's homework, who showed signs of being a caring father but was also a ruthless mass murderer.

William Dalrymple and Simon Sebag Montefiore
Listening to Peter Popham talking about Aung San Suu Kyi and her future was beautifully balanced by having Thant Myint- U there who is a well known author on Burma talk about his take on the unfolding political scene The discussion was ably moderated by David Malone a former Canadian HC to India.
My other favourite topic is of course those conversations that involve historical research and contemporary analysis and there was a plethora of that to choose from. From Kuldip Nayar's recollections of India during the Emergency to David Hare's theatrical work, "the Wall" in Palestine to William Darlymple's fascinating account of his new book on the first Afghan War. " If only Tony Blair and Bush had read the history books" must be the line of the day !
 John Keay with William Dalrymple
Lioner Shriver "We need to talk about Kevin" showed a grounded and very amusing woman who by her own account "is a wordy m.........r". She was amazed at seeing her book being turned into a succesful film with minimal dialogue. Jamaica Kincaid floored the audience with her wackiness - her works include "My Brother"and "A usual Place"
Tom Stoppard explained  how his works were sometimes hi jacked and abridged and how in order to write everything in his surroundings must be "just so". He stressed the importance of clear enunciation.
Perhaps for me though the most fascinating was listening to Professor Richard Dawkins. He is of course the writer of many books on Science and God with "The Selfish Gene" and "The God Delusion" being some of them. Here he quoted extensively from his more recent works which were "Unweaving the Rainbow" and "The Magic of Reality" a book that he wrote for young people. A must read for any young person these days. He summed it up by saying that science has its own magic and that magic is reality. He made a statement in support of Salman Rushdie and explained how we are too soft on religious faith. Faith, he said, is a dangerous weapon. He urged those who did not have answers to seek them even more instead of just settling for the assumption of the superior being. He uncompromisingly noted that he looked forward to the death of all religions. And he reminded us that Stephen Pinker who was also at the festival has spoken about how the world is getting to be a better place- that over the years society has evolved, so that slavery and racism are no longer acceptable and we can find our moral values through channels like responsible journalism and civil society. In a world which has seen centuries of crusades and fatwas and pillages in the name of religion this is a message that has its rightful place in the 21st Century and one which I was happy to take on board among the many treasures being offered up at this amazing venue.
Professor Richard Dawkins

Monday, 23 January 2012

Oprah in Jaipur

The anticipation was palpable and people started arriving early to catch a seat for the "O" moment. We sneaked around to where the press was at the front and a lovely AP man gave us his seat. We were less than five metres away from the front stage by this time absolutely packed with cameramen and crews.
There may have been some 17000 there and the housekeeping announcements came in thick and fast all building up to when she would be arriving. At one point the big doors at the entrance of the Front Lawns where she was going to be, were pushed open and there was a real scrum from disappointed fans who wanted entry but were finally denied it. It is moments like these that I take off my hat to the organizers like Sanjoy Roy and William Dalrymple because controlling the expectation and the crowd is no mean feat. Twice I have had friends coming to visit me in India and twice I can truthfully say we were only minutes away from a stampede. There are, as Oprah said, a lot of Indians and whereas one million here would be "a full restaurant" in the States she acknowledged that would be a lot of people.

She arrived to cheers and whoops and the press had their moment. She was tastefully dressed in sandy trousers and a shalwar kamize with a pink scarf and flat sandals. On her hand some large gold bangles. Her face radiating joy at being there – perhaps some surprise – what is it with red lights she asks ?

“Do they mean stop or are they for entertainment value only ?”

She gave out some advice – don’t text while you are driving, that is insane on these roads – the key to everything is education – people notice excellence so work at what you are good at and give to others – a piece of cake tastes better if you can share it and that tweeting was really a waste of time, well her time anyway because she could be spending the time reading a book.

Her love for books was always there but it was almost accidental that they gave books a 5 minute slot on her show – perhaps the thought was that you can’t do books on TV. Then from there and word of mouth she read more and more and started inviting the authors on to the show. She is happy to have been influential in this way  as well as reviving the classics which she said she was always a little wary of reading so getting a couple of millions to read with her helped.

Oprah characterized herself as a connector, as a person who wants to give and who wants to make life better for girls and women. She spoke warmly of her Leadership Academy in South Africa and her meeting with widows here who are marginalized in society for the sole reason that their husbands have died. She talked about how she decided to share her experience of her sexual abuse to comfort a woman who was describing her own experience. How she had grown up poor, dirt poor and that she always turned her work in early, especially her book reports!

She was full of praise for Barack Obama while acknowledging that he is a man, not God and "we all make mistakes" but that she was endorsing him for another four years in the White House confident that he could do great things.

This was her first visit to India and her first reaction was that everything was pretty chaotic but behind the chaos there was a calm. She laughingly noted her surprise at Indians living with their families while an Indian asked her what is it with you westerners not wanting to live with their families ?

She said an arranged marriage was not her kind of thing. She felt that she was not a marrying kind ending with
 "I am my own kind of woman." to the delight of all the audience.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Surrepticiously Salman

Salman Rushdie has been kept away from the Literature Festival in Jaipur. The rumours that were flying around mentioned fanatics still determined to do him harm, a government wanting to keep its Muslim voters and organisers who, though daring, had their wings clipped.
Sitting in a packed tent of eager participants, we waited to hear the authors. One by one, session after session they publicly declared that freedom of speech and expression was something that should not be taken for granted. Statements were pronounced and read in his support, the programme organisers were jittery and issued a statement to distance themselves from what was going on, but the authors seemed to be determined to make their point. Freedom of expression had been denied and this was not right. Salman had been kept away but as author after author read out parts of "Midnights Children" and the "Satanic Verses" it was clear that Salman was surreptitiously all around and twitters were flying out of the Literature Festival unstoppable and uncompromising with  Salman replying to one
"Thank you for what you just did.Say hi to the audience"

Friday, 20 January 2012

Camels on the highway

I went to a session about positive thinking yesterday in Delhi and this morning I was up at 5 am to get on the train to go to Jaipur. The road was dense with fog  and we travelled at a snail's pace through it. The cold was penetrating and the roads were empty.Suddenly we came across a herd, if that is the collective term, of 100 or so camels with their riders on the highway.
Well camels on the highway are not the most common sight at 5 am but it signalled that this is India and that the day would get warmer and that positive thoughts were what we wanted to carry us through the cold and into warmer camel-like environments. We start the weekend with warm pictures of sandy beaches and lovely moments.The camels said it all and this is for Gab for whom positive thinking turned so much about her life the right way round.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Twitters,scents and swimmers

The sea life, the bird life but also the flora in this little coastal strip of India is quite remarkable and I only saw a little bit of it which I am sharing with you. On our way to Tiracol Fort the air was heavily perfumed with the scent of cashew flowers and buds. When we were sitting at the Fort having a drink overhanging our table was a cashew nut tree. I have blogged about cashews before because I had the opportunity to see how they were extracted from the fruit or kernel and it is a delicate operation as the substance in which they are found is quite toxic to the skin. This time though I was able to see them growing on the trees and they are wonderfully fecund.  
The delicate and highly scented flowers
 The cashew nuts beginning to form on the base of the cashew apple. 

We travelled around the coast which is dotted with estuaries and mangrove swamps  and enjoyed seeing the immense number of black shouldered and brahmini kites swooping in the air.The fish eagle surveying the beach and keeping a watchful eye on the nest where two chicks were poking out. The dark cormorants contrasting with the snowy egrets on bare branches.
We swam in the sea and walked along beaches and my son picked up this strange looking fish which was just extraordinary. It was as if it was balancing on a tripod the two sharp fins being its two front legs and then the one sticking up on its back ready to pierce you. I have tried to identify it but have not succeeded. Would love to hear from any of you if you know what this is. The crabs abounded but these shells I only found on one beach. Admire the bright pink in them. Just beautiful.
You would not want to step on this one.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Goa poles

Starting off the new year on a beach is probably one of the nicest ways to set off on a new voyage of discovery, experience some financial waves, curious predictions and swelling hopes. So we said goodbye to 2011 and welcomed in the new year with fireworks falling into the sea and sand under our feet.
Goa continues to attract us at this time of year and we spent some fabulous days on the beach and exploring the coast line - this time from the very north to the very south - polar ends but lacking the ice caps. Instead a beautiful portuguese fort perched on a hillside on the northern most tip with majestic views of the bay and a palm fringed beach on the southernmost tip which has the reputation of being one of the best beaches in Goa.

Tiracol Fort was built by Marathas on the tip of a small island that is only reachable by ferry, to command the area and when you visit you will see just how succesful a location this was for them. It was captured by the Portuguese in 1776. The fort houses St Anthony's chapel in the central courtyard which is a functioning church. It is now a heritage hotel.
The southern most tip is the beach of Palolem and it is a protected cove surrounded by leaning graceful coconut palms, white sands and some lovely rock formations and the most beautiful pink shells I have ever seen. It is quite a drive but well worth it for its natural beauty and calm seas.
I will blog about the wildlife and sealife in Goa in my next blog.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

2012 What kind of a year ?

Will it be the end of the world as some calenders like to forecast, the end of the eurozone area as a fiscal unit, the end of the euro as we have known it, the end of Britain in Europe, the end of unleashed spending, the end of Obama, the end of dictators and autocrats the world over, the end of the boom of the Indian economy, the end of Congress's rule in India,  the end of protests?
Or the beginning of something even more exciting, the imposition of some checks and balances, the establishment of a united states of Europe and fledgling democracies spreading their wings.The re-election of an American president who can speak eloquently and effortlessly on the work that needs to be done even if the doing is limited by the obstacles he finds along his path, the growth of markets in ways which allows commerce and industry and new jobs to be created for the sake of all our children and the re-establishment in all our hearts and minds that less is more, that the basics are enough, that the limitless and often thoughtless spending of previous years is simply not where we should be heading.
A chance to pick up the history books and literature and loose ourselves in them, a chance to explore a little corner of our existing world before it changes beyond recognition, a moment when we can gather our families closer, in as much for economies of scale as from our want to be with them and share more with them. 
I am quietly but positively optimistic that the unpredictability of 2011 will inform and be a platform from which good can grow and stability and growth can take hold. That is my wish for 2012.
 To all of you Happy New Year and health and happiness worldwide.