Saturday, March 31, 2007
All of this brings to mind my meeting with Kumble 16 years ago at his house for an interview for my college newspaper when he had just made it into the Indian team for the first time. It was early on a quiet Saturday morning. His mother opened the door, let me in, showed to a chair and asked me to wait for a few minutes. Kumble was not back yet from his training. As I waited she returned with a plate of dosas. I was touched. There was no need to do that at all. I was a complete stranger to her, but she went out of her way to make me feel welcome. It is not hard to see where Kumble gets his humility and gentlemanliness from.
I had my list of questions written out on a sheet of paper, a Sony dictaphone that my dad had bought for me on one of his trips to Madras, and a couple of spare cassettes. It was the first time I used that dictaphone. Needless to say, I felt very professional. Kumble, in his low voice, spoke very well and answered all my questions thoughtfully. He didn't at all seem frazzled for someone who was still a student and was off on his first tour representing India.
I finished the interview, went home and turned the tape on for everyone to listen and discovered that I said "ok, ok" or "hunh, hunh" too many times. While it was a pain to listen to, it was easy to type up because a quarter of the tape (ok, a slight exaggeration perhaps) was me with those expressions. Unfortunately, that habit has still not disappeared. My producer at the radio station for which I do interviews now says I must stop saying "ok, ok" every time the interviewee finishes a sentence. He was having a nightmare of a time editing out my "oks" and grunts from one of my recordings. To which, of course, I replied, "ok, ok."
Coming back to the Kumble interview, it was printed in the college newspaper with a vertical photograph of him in action, and my name at the end of the article. For a young student making a foray into journalism, it was a great feeling.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Here are some details:
Jagriti Kids (7 to 12 years)
Dates: 16 April to 01 May (excluding Sundays)
Fee: Rs. 1,200
Venue: Neev Playschool, Whitefield Main Road
Jagriti Youth (13 to 18 years)
Dates: 14 May to 29 May (excluding Sundays)
Fee: Rs. 1,500
Venue: Neev Playschool, Whitefield Main Road
E-mail email@example.com for a registration form.
For more information visit ART's blog.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
So I'm to list five more blogs that make me think. Here are my selections.
1. Balancing Life
2. El Oso, El Moreno y El Abogado
5. The Renegade of Junk
The reasons they are on this list will become obvious when you make your way to there (more than likely you already know about them). And there are a lot more than these five that are thoughtful and thought provoking blogs, many of them in my blogroll.
If you'd like to participate here's what you have to do:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to five blogs that make you think;
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme; and
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).
Thursday, March 22, 2007
The lights came on first in the distance over the city and then closer in the village and then long looping strings of multicolored bulbs flickered into life above the gates of the shrine and very soon it was almost dark and we walked away.For 281 pages, I had been spoiled by the breakneck pace and the thrill of the next adventure packaged in some great writing. After he walked away from the Bari Imam shrine on the outskirts of Islamabad with his friend and Paksitani journalist, Ershad Mahmud, I fully expected Burke to jump into yet another battered old car with yet another translator, drive once more over bumpy roads through inhospitable terrain to find yet another nook of the 'Islamic world' in which to meet many people - farmers, teachers, children, doctors, pharmacists, militants, freedom fighters, mullahs, writers and journalists, coalition soldiers, the Taliban - and then write all about it in great descriptive detail in his lucid, thoughtful, perceptive, honest style.
The book begins in Kurdistan around the time of the First Gulf War in the summer of 1991, with a 21-year old Burke crossing the border into northern Iraq from Turkey and ends, 15 years later in that tiny shrine outside Islamabad, in the immediate aftermath of the July 2005 London bombings. The journey that begins as a "post-adolescent adventure" with pre-conceived notions of Islam and of what Muslims look like, with religion as a hazy backdrop and not necessarily the focus, ends on the thought that there is "no general theory that could explain 'the Islamic world' and that to search for one was not only futile but in fact counter-productive."
In the intervening period, Burke's travels take him to Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria, Britain, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Uzbekistan and back to Kurdistan and Pakistan. They take him to tired old villages bombed out of existence in the wars of the past decade and a half, their people, homes and lives spilling out on to the streets and fields along with the rubble; to the funeral of a 13 year old Palestinian child, a casualty of the Israeli response to the intifada; into the toilets of the Bagram airbase north of Kabul on whose walls are scrawled words of fear and wisdom of American soldiers; into the front lines of the second Iraq War, at the wrong end of shells bombarding a convoy of vehicles; into prisons housing ex-torturers under the Saddam Hussein regime and failed suicide bombers; into many hotels, mosques, schools and homes to meet members of the various groups fighting and killing for their various ideologies.
This travel memoir is a thinking man's account of his journeys. There is one particular passage in the book about the ubiquitousness of Saddam Hussein's portraits in Iraq which goes on to analyze the pictures in their various forms (at one point, Burke even attends an "exhibition of 'work by new young artists' in which every single painting was a portrait of the leader").
The account of the interplay of religion and political ideology as reflected in these portraits through nearly three decades of Saddam's rule is fascinating and is illustrative of the thoughtful treatment various ideas and themes receive at the hands of Burke in the rest of the book.
... soon themes began to emerge and I realized that you could chart the whole of the recent history of Iraq, and the recent political history of the Middle East, through the daubs that defaced half the country's walls.
The pictures could be split into six main categories, each of which had been most favoured at a different period and each of which represented a key constituency in Iraq for Saddam. Thus they revealed both the image the dictator was promoting at the time they were made and the ideology that was then more broadly dominant in the region.
Equally fascinating and uplifting, and for me the most attractive part of the book, are Burke's accounts of his meeting with many people over the years and the detailed observations of their lives and their condition. When you have peeled off all the layers - the conflicts, the ideologies, the war and its justifications, the terror, the insurgency - what you are left with are people. People who just want to "get on with their lives." Burke describes the condition of the Iraqis on his return to the country in 2003 and says simply, "They were just trying to get by, to put dinner on the table ... or simply gather the confidence to walk the streets without fear."
Particularly memorable are his portraits of a group of refugee families in a ruined school sixty miles outside of Kabul, of Zara and her mother who he meets in Qala Diza in Kurdistan, first in 1991 and then again in 2003, and that of Omran, who had been a soldier in the Iraqi army in 1991, his body ravaged by a cancer he developed five years later. Nothing we know of any about these places and their citizens, or the terrorism and insurgency that seem to pervade mainstream media coverage of these places, none of these matter when you read about these people and their need for the most basic of human necessities - food, a home, medicines, their families, the well-being of their children - and their yearning for peace.
Given this elemental level at which he connects with the people in the countries in which he travels, Burke is, by turns, frustrated, angry and disillusioned with the war on terror and the intelligence gathering and policy making that provided the momentum for launching that war. While Burke welcomes the attempts to free the Iraqis from dictatorship, he is quite categorical in his indictment of British and American policy making (he calls the efforts of the British and American governments to rally support for the second Iraq War "one of the biggest ever deceptions of democratic populations in recent history") and faults the governments' "failure to comprehend the true nature of the threat" of modern Islamic militancy.
At the end of the day, Islamic militancy, according to Burke, had not won over "the ordinary people of the Islamic world" and Osama Bin Laden had been wrong when he believed he had their support in the wake of the 2001 attacks. It's hard not to get carried away by Burke's faith in the fundamental goodness of human nature and equally hard not to be rattled when that faith is shaken and there is confusion in the face of the attacks in London in July 2005. Burke is quick to acknowledge, honestly, that the views of people he had met with in the years earlier "had been repellent but had not seemed a personal threat" to him, but that his reactions to those very same people had changed when the terror attacks hit too close to home.
The book does not, in the end, tie up all loose ends neatly or provide categorical solutions to the problems of terrorism. What it does do is to take that giant important first step toward understanding the people, the issues and the ideas at play. If you've ever wondered about all these countries of the "Islamic world" you read about everyday in the newspapers and watch images of on television; if you've ever wondered about the lives of ordinary people in these countries; if you've ever wanted to know about the inner workings of a suicide-bomber or a terrorist; if you've ever wanted to know what it is like to be a journalist on the road in some of the most beautiful and brutal parts of the world; then On the Road to Kandahar is a must-read.
Monday, March 19, 2007
Update (March 29, 2007):
Annulla, here's a pic of a banana tree, complete with some bananas!
I took this photo on the road in Wyanad, Kerala in December 2004. The leaves are somewhat dry on these trees. When the plants are younger, they are a lovely shade of bright green. Banana leaves are traditonally used to serve food (instead of plates) at weddings and other funtions. They are also used to pack take out food in some restaurants, although, sadly, more and more restaurants are moving to syrofoam and plastic containers for packing food.
Monday, March 12, 2007
You think you'll get pregnant, you'll have the baby, you plan your doctor's visits, you schedule childbirth classes, you pick a hospital and eventually you pick names. When you do get pregnant, and you see the first ultrasound, the fact that there is a new person in your lives slowly starts sinking in and you dream about family pictures with three people instead of two.
You approach each doctor's visit with anticipation. You read up on what to expect each day of your pregnancy, eagerly flipping through the pages, skipping ahead to see how the baby will look when he or she is born. You go through one test after another - the HIV test, the chromosomal abnormality test, the sugar levels test. You wait for the all-important twentieth-week ultrasound. You count ten perfect toes and ten perfect fingers and see the rise of that tiny nose and the curve of the lip, the beating heart, the bulging stomach, the bent knee, the beautiful spine, the rounded head.
Having gone this far twice and having experienced some of the catastrophic events that can visit pregnancies two other times, I count myself incredibly lucky for the countless small miracles that have come my way. But for many people, these miracles are still the stuff of dreams whereas the catastrophes are all too real.
This story in today's New York Times about perinatal hospices is a heart-rending tale of young parents facing the death of their newborn babies.
Perinatal hospices guide parents through how to deal with a pregnancy once the parents find out that it will end with a stillborn child or a newborn that may survive only a few hours or days, but decide to continue the pregnancy. The hospices also help the parents deal with family and friends who may not know how to react to the news.
During the pregnancy, doctors had told James and Jill Kilibarda that their baby ... would probably end her life within hours of birth.
Hospice workers encouraged the Kilibardas to make memories with Alaina. So while parents of healthy newborns might avoid crowds or other situations where their children might get sick, the Kilibardas have taken their daughter to their favorite coffee shop, the houses of friends and big family get-togethers. They want to know, they said, that she was once in places that mean something to them, like the cold forests of northern Minnesota where Mr. Kilibarda grew up and where they recently took her.
Sunday, March 04, 2007
When I began to get more time to write maybe an hour or two each day, I'd start by reading a few pages of A House for Mr. Biswas. I wanted to be reminded again and again of the comedy that informs V.S. Naipaul's writing about failure. And every time I finished work, I'd be conscious only of the ways in which I had failed. There is very little doubt in my mind that one of the hardest things a serious writer must do is write with humour. It was easy to forget this demand because I was anxious to get the words on the page. I was always afraid that the book would run aground. I'd be stranded in the sand. The journal's pages are full of notes recording scenes and snatches of imagined dialogue. Much of it was never used. But reading those pages now, I can very easily recall the panic and dread that dogged me during that time.Amitava Kumar on how to write a novel, today in The Hindu.
P.S. I was looking for his new novel, Home Products, on Amazon so I could link to it, but it doesn't seem to be available there (yet?). But I did find this.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
This morning I found the white envelope with this written on it in Big N's handwriting:
Pasta - 100 Rs
He loves pasta, dal, roti, juice, and Sprite and "Limica," of course. Rice, which he tolerates - if he has to - at best, has been priced right out of reach.