Thursday, September 21, 2006

T + L launches T + L South Asia

Travel + Leisure, one of my favorite magazines, launched its South Asia edition this month.

According to the Editor's Note, "Sophisticated and experienced travellers from Karachi to Kathmandu and Colombo to Chennai now have their very own edition to bring them the best new destinations, travel trends and up-to-date news.... You can look forward to seeing fresh and unexpected itineraries in the region and abroad, a selection of luxurious and unique travel experiences and the most user-friendly information to help you plan your adventures."

The glossy travel magazine filled with exquisite photographs is a sight for sore eyes, but I wonder, Why launch an issue with a South Asia focus? Is the focus on South Asian destinations or is the focus a South Asia clientele?

The first issue contains a cover story on Goa, "Exploring Goa, Its Heart, Soul and History", by blogger, novelist and journalist, Sonia Faleiro, a story on Kochi, "Jewel of India", by Tad Friend, a story on the latest "designer dens in Delhi", by Monalika Namchoom, a story on fashion accessories available in India, and Anindita Ghosh's piece on The Imperial in New Delhi. Other than these, small items in the Reports section on Paparazzi, a new restaurant in Bangalore, a Salvatore Ferragamo store in Mumbai, a heritage hotel in Kathmandu, a luxury yacht in Male and accessories from Mauritius, a roundup of four spas (in Uttaranchal, Chennai, Mumbai and Udaipur) round out the first issue's coverage of South Asia.

The rest of the magazine is given over to other international destinations such as Africa, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Armenia, Paris, London, Orlando, Rome, Middle East markets, etc. that you might find in a Travel + Leisure magazine if you picked one up in the US.

I'm sure the American or Australian readership of T+L magazine will be as or perhaps more interested in Faleiro's nicely done story on Goa accompanied by warm and loving photographs by Prabuddha Das Gupta and will equally enjoy Friend's wonderful commentary and Overgaard's scintillating photography (check out the one of coconuts laid out to dry to be crushed for coconut oil) in the Kochi article.

At Rs. 150 per copy, the South Asia version is as expensive as its American counterpart (in terms of exchange rates), but a tad more exclusive in that it is a tiny part of the vast and populous South Asian market that can afford the price. If there is even a little doubt as to the magazine's intended audience, it is banished the moment you turn to the page on the fashion accessories - there is a Louis Vuitton scarf for Rs. 12,500, Louis Vuitton sandals for Rs. 34,000, a straw hat for Rs. 1,790. You get my drift.

The magazine's initial print order is apparently 80,000 strong and judging by the ads in the magazine (around a quarter of the 160 page magazine is filled with ads for high end products, including quite a few pages advertising T+L magazine itself), many advertisers have reposed faith in the reach of the magazine.

As you make your way through the issue, you conclude that the intended reader is a South Asian resident, the one with a lot of disposable income and an appetite for high-end consumables. And such a reader will not rest satisfied with traipsing around his own backyard, now, will he? Hence the alluring descriptions of a Byron Bay in Australia and that tiny vineyard in Provence.

One hopes, however, that having the luxury of producing an entire magazine focused on South Asia will prompt the publishers to look beyond the clich├ęd South Asian destinations and overrun hotspots. It would be a great pleasure indeed to open the magazine, flip through the pages and never have to read about Bali.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

You Really Should Not Read Bill Bryson in Public Places

I had ignored the warning on the cover of Bill Bryson's Notes From a Small Island. "Not a book that should be read in public, for fear of emitting loud snorts", said a blurb from the The Times' review.

I was reading it not in any ol' public place, but in one of the very busy lounges at the Frankfurt international airport. There was not a chair to spare as far as the eye could see. Passengers were milling about, the chairs, stacked closed to each other, did not even lose their warmth as one passenger left and another took his place, there was a steady buzz in the area from many conversations - in short, it was as public as a public place could get.

I had started reading the book a couple of days earlier and was now almost at the end, trying desperately to subdue a snort that had started at the pit of my heaving stomach from exploding out of my nose.

I really should have heeded the warning because I am, very famously, given to snorting when laughing.

I had valiantly suppressed a rather long stretch of giggles until then, only the gentle shaking of my body, the swishing noises coming out of my mouth and tears running down my face betraying my helpless condition. In the end, it was no use. The snort exploded any way. Before I could recover from that one, another one followed and then another.

I put my head down, resting my forehead in my palms. That was no help at all. I stole a quick glance around my immediate vicinity. There was a Scottish woman talking in earnest to my husband about her trip, her lilting Scottish accent only slightly eroded by years of living in Canada. That was it. I couldn't take it any more. I slapped the book shut and rushed to the bathroom to compose myself. Five minutes and repeated washing of my face later, I made my way back to my seat and picked up the book. I wasn't done yet.

I picked up where I left off, with some trepidation, but I could not stop myself.

Bryson's trip around Britain is coming to a close in Glasgow, Scotland. As he is wont to do in all of his trips at the end of a long day traipsing around town and wandering in museums, Bryson fancies himself a drink and a sitdown at a pub. What follows is entirely to blame for the snort fest.

He enters the bar, which he describes as dark and battered and spies two "larcenous" looking men sitting together and drinking in silence. He waits at the other end of the bar to be served but no one comes out for a long time. He does all the things people do when they're trying to express impatience - he puffs his cheeks, drums his fingers on the bar, and "makes assorted puckery shapes" with his lips. Then follows some brilliant-as-usual introspection on why we do the things we do when we're waiting for someone. He adds cleaning-of-nails-with-thumb-nail to his routine, but still no one comes.
Eventually I noticed one of the men at the bar eyeing me.
"Hae ya nae hook ma dooky?" he said.
"I'm sorry?" I replied.
"He'll nay be doon a mooning." He hoiked his head in the direction of a back room.
"Oh, ah," I said and nodded sagely, as if that explained it.
I noticed that they were both still looking at me.
"D'ye hae a hoo and a poo?" said the first man to me.
"I'm sorry?" I said.
"D'ye hae a hoo and a poo?" he repeated. It appeared that he was a trifle intoxicated.
I gave a small apologetic smile and explained that I came from the English-speaking world.
"D'ye nae hae in May?" the man went on. "If ye dinna dock ma donny."
"Doon in Troon they croon in June," said his mate then added: "Wi' a spoon."
"Oh, ah." I nodded thoughtfully again, pushing my lower lip out slightly, was if it was all very nearly clear to me now.
Then the bar man comes out and he's in a foul mood.
"Fucking muckle fucket in the gucking muckle," he said to the two men, and then to me in a weary voice: "Ah hae the noo." I couldn't tell if it was a question or a statement.
"A pint of Tennent's please," I said hopefully.
He made an impatient noise, as if I were avoiding his question. "Hae ya nae hook ma dooky?"
"I'm sorry?"
"Ah hae the noo," said the first customer, who apparently saw himself as my interpreter.
"Interpreter" was where I had sunk my forehead into my palms.

You might say that this passage is the written version of slapstick, and I might agree, but it is also a sterling illustration of why Bryson's books exist in that rarefied atmosphere reserved for wildly successful and popular writers of travel memoirs. I am certain that this is not a faithful rendition of what transpired in that bar, but, as he says, his writings are faithful to his memory and perceptions of that day, and give the reader a wonderful sense of a place - which is what I'm looking for when I crack open a travel memoir. If I want straight facts and a report of what a city is all about, I'd reach for a travel guide.

Bryson's books are a heady combination of many factors, each one of which, on its own, is praise-worthy.

He conveys facts in terms that help you grasp them instantly (for example, in Down Under (also published as In a Sunburned Country), while rendering facts to illustrate how scantily populated Australia is with its population of 19 million, he compares it to the fact that China grows by more than that amount each year). He approaches all the things he sets out to see with an endearing sense of wonder - he might end up being disappointed in them, but he will hardly hesitate to tell you that.

He leaves himself wide open to all experiences, pleasant or unpleasant. His enthusiasm and appetite for travel - which after a while can approximate the daily grind - are nothing short of infectious. His books are filled with passages resulting from insight into and introspection about the human condition, a virtue we could all do with a little bit more of. To top it all, all this is conveyed with a remarkable sense of humor and comic timing.

I'll leave you with this passage from Down Under. Bryson is listening to cricket commentary on his car radio on a lonely drive from Canberra to Adelaide on Sturt Highway. Ironically, you will need to understand cricket to enjoy the point of view of a man who was born and grew up in a non-playing country.

After two whole pages of some rather insightful thoughts on cricket ("there's nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn't fix in a hurry", "I don't wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way", "It actually helps not to know quite what's going on. In such a rarefied world of contentment and inactivity, comprehension would become a distration" and many such gems), including a passage in which he compares cricket to baseball for all his American readers, he carries on.
Neasden, it appeared, was turning in a solid performance at square bowel, while Packet had been a stalwart in the dribbles, though even these exemplary performances paled when set beside the outstanding play of young Hugh Twain-Buttocks at middle nipple. The commentators were in calm agreement that they had not seen anyone caught behind with such panache since Tandoori took Rogan Josh for a stiffy at Vindaloo in '61. [A sentence which conveys Bryson's perception that the bowling run up is long.] This was repeated four times more over the next two hours and then one of the commentators pronounced: 'So as we break for second luncheon, and with 11,200 balls remaining, Australia are 962 for two not half and England are four for a duck and hoping for rain.'

I may not have all the terminology exactly right, but I believe I have caught the flavor of it.
Indeed.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Call for Papers: Book Titled "Women: Balancing Home and Profession"

If you are interested in writing an article for a book titled "Women: Balancing Home and Profession" to be published by ICFAI University Press, please contact Sukhvinder at the following address at the earliest for details:

sukhvinderUNDERSCOREmATyahooDOTcom

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Some Memories Haunt You

Growing up, our radio occupied the pride of place in the family rooms of the various houses in which we lived. The radio was a wide, rectangular, wood-paneled Phillips model with gray serrated knobs for dials and square, off-white, push down buttons for the different wavelengths. Ameen Sayani's voice filled our home with his dulcet tones and simple commentary introducing beloved songs from Hindi cinema.

My aunt (my paternal uncle's wife) was a gold medalist at the state level in Carnatic music. My maternal grandmother played and taught the veena and the harmonium. My father and another of my paternal uncles broke into "Lambodara, Lakumikara" at the drop of a hat.

So there was no way I was going to escape from having to take music lessons.

Being the first grandchild on my mother's side, everyone was in awe (rarely justified, I will confess) of my supposed abilities at numerous activities. Singing was one of them.

My mother found a Carnatic music teacher for me when I was in fourth grade. We lived in Tumkur then (we moved every two years to a different town going wherever my father's work with a bank took us). My classes were in the evening, after school.

The teacher's house was about ten minutes away from our house by walk. His house itself was very modest. My teacher's family owned two cows and they supplemented their family income by selling the milk. The cows were tethered to the right side of the front door.

Inside, in the main room of the house (the "hall"), they had a large wooden vessel sitting on the redoxide floor and a long wooden stick resting in the vessel for churning butter out of buttermilk. The wooden stick was tethered to a pole loosely near the top and about three quarters of the way down, and in the center, it had a rope that had two large knots on either end.

The process of churning the buttermilk with this contraption is really simple and if you did not have to do it every single day, even fun.

You stand with your feet planted firmly against the vessel and hold on to the rope with both hands with the knots serving to hold your grip. Then you pull on each end of the rope alternatively. The wooden pole spins clockwise and anti-clockwise repeatedly and churns the buttermilk. After a while, you see chunks of butter floating to the top.

If I went in early and if my teacher was not ready to take my class yet, I churned butter while waiting. Dipping your fingers in and popping a fingerful of freshly churned butter into your mouth is everything it's chalked up to be, I assure you.

The room in which my teacher taught me singing was on the first floor, up a very narrow and steep flight of stairs at the back of the house.

One day, as my teacher and I were climbing up the stairs, I spied the moon between the trees. It was a spectacular full moon, creamy against the starless, velvety sky.

"The moon is so beautiful! You've got to see it!" I burst out.

A nanosecond later, my heart dropped. I wished the stairs would just fall away and take me with them. I was so ashamed, horrified, aghast at my own colossal stupidity. It is one of those things whose memory makes you cringe even years later.

A long, awkward silence followed at the end of which my teacher just cleared his throat. As he reached the top of the stairs, he ran his left hand along the wall, reached the door to the room on the left and slowly ran his hand along the door till he found the light switch.

He turned on the light. It was for my benefit alone because it was of no use to him. He knelt down and felt around the floor under the switch for the mats. He handed me one, spread one out for himself, sat down with his back against the wall and asked me where we had stopped last.

The class began. But it was a life lesson I learned that day.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Romanies: The Forgotten Victims of the Holocaust

Hegel once said: "what history teaches us is that men have never learned anything from it". One lesson we must learn from the Porrajmos (the devouring), as the Romanies described their fate at the hands of the Nazis, is that there is one holocaust as the ashes of the Romanies mingled with the others in the ovens of the death camps. We lose our humanity when we arrogate to ourselves the exclusivity of suffering while diminishing the suffering of others.

[...]

By the act of denying or ignoring other holocausts, we rob history of its meaning and commit the folly of not learning from it.
C.R. Sridhar's very interesting and informative post on the Romanies killed in equal proportions to the Jews by the Nazis.

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