People, places and what triggers you to make faces

Friday, April 12, 2019

Dreaming about a Kiss

If there’s one thing I’ve always loathed, oh, ok, you got me, or anyone who knows me has got me, there are MANY things I loathe, but for our purposes here, it’s people who say, “Oh, you can get anything in India”. Uh, no. It wasn’t true 10 years ago when I first heard it, and it ain’t true now. Leastways, not down south of the Vindhyas.
Lancome’s Poeme? Urban Decay foundation 8.0? Tod’s D Bag? Every single one of the 250 books I’ve downloaded on Kindle because it’s not in the bookstore? Peace of mind? Pavements? I digress. But when it comes to the Beauty Biz, it’s a Hell to the No. What’s particularly galling is when you run to the nearest Nykaa (Sephora’s little sister, I presume?) looking for Marc Jacobs’s Daisy Dream Kiss and they say they don’t stock Marc Jacobs. Say what. Look it up on their online store, you say? When you manage to get the site to open, it will tell you they’re plum out of stock.
Speaking of Nykaa. They’ve opened
Paradise found & the price is just about right
in Bangalore’s Lavelle Road, and made the mistake so many companies make: Starting small, dipping their toe in the waters and seeing how warm it is. It’s Alaska warm, honey, because the people who walk into Nykaa know the exact shade, formula and background of the products they expect to see and are willing to buy big for pigments that go on their skin – only you don’t have what they want. Even the hugely popular Huda Beauty has just a handful of wares on display. So what happens? You don’t sell much and we all go back to duty free shopping at the nearest airport. Lose-lose.
Having said that, the Sabyasachi line of lipsticks for L’Oreal (who know a thing or two about marketing in India, I might add), is sublime. Also noteworthy in the lip line: Bobbi Brown, Crushed Liquid Lip Bitter Sweet and the always-trustworthy Stila, see Sheer Splendore, both available at the actual Sephora which, alas, also suffers from a lack of variety. No, I don't see why the Champs Elysees store should be different from the Lavelle Rd one, sorry.
Point to Note: Down South is admittedly very different from Up North; people here are price-conscious in a way no Delhi socialite would stoop to consider. But things are changing, a bit. Women are willing to pay at MAC but the large Bobbi Brown at Garuda mall stays largely empty. Why? Their products are great but their prices are sometimes just silly. Think about it this way: there's a reason why retailers say things like it's $9.99 rather than saying it's $10. It's psychology; they should be saying it's $9.99 Psychologically. While I might throw an internal tantrum but cough up Rs 2,500 for a Studio Fix powder at MAC, I will willingly lose the battle when faced with a Bobbi Brown concealer for Rs 3,650. Psychology. And that's just when seeing the 2 and the 3, not even the 1000 rupee difference. Once I see that, it's game over.
But I still believe in the adage which I will twist because I can: Build your stock, and the buyers will come. (Just don’t be silly about it.) 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Sujatha Gidla wins Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2018

Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India(Harper Collins) is the winner of the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2018. 
Sujatha Gidla was raised in the Dalit community of Kazipet, a small town in Telengana. After high school she enrolled in a Master’s program in physics. She worked as a researcher in the department of applied physics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, then moved to the United States at the age of 26. She is currently employed as a conductor on the New York City subway system.
This year’s panel of judges, Sampurna Chattarji, Raghu Karnad and Githa Hariharan chose Sujatha Gidla’s Ants Among Elephantsfrom a shortlist of six “because of its urgency, its revelations and its understated but seamless match of form with content.” 
The other books on the 2018 shortlist were: 
We That Are Young, Preti Taneja (Penguin/Hamish Hamilton)
Temporary People, Deepak Unnikrishnan (Penguin Books)
Remnants of a Separation, Aanchal Malhotra (Harper Collins)
The Sensational Life and Death of Qandeel Baloch, Sanam Maher (Aleph)
How to Travel Light, Shreevatsa Nevatia (Penguin Books)
The judges said: “It is a marvel how, with so little friction or strain, Ants absorbs readers into undramatized lives of poverty, patriarchy, and rebellion, and the encounter with subaltern Communism. But quite apart from the rarity and necessity of the subject—Dalit lives—the book is admirable for its clean skill and technical execution. With no authorial flourishes, it allows the story's innate passion and gravitas to display themselves. 
Ants is a book that teaches, reveals, reminds and remembers. It bears witness, it listens and asks to be listened to; with all these qualities in mind, we'd like to recommend it for this year's Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize.”
While announcing the shortlist in August, co-curator Arshia Sattar wrote: “Sujata Gidla’s searing memoir Ants Among Elephantsblows the lid off any illusions we might have had about the diminishing importance of caste in the 21st century, even in such aspirationally egalitarian spaces as the movements of the political and social Left. Gidla’s freedom lies in her escape from the existential destitution that such systemic discrimination can induce for Dalit castes in India.”

Githa Hariharan has written novels, short fiction and essays over the last three decades. Her work includes The Thousand Faces of Nightwhich won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in 1993, the short story collection The Art of Dying, the novels The Ghosts of Vasu MasterWhen Dreams TravelIn Times of Siegeand Fugitive Histories, and a collection of essays entitled Almost Home: Cities and Other Places. She is one of the founders of the Indian Writers Forum. For more on this Delhi-based author and her work, visit
Raghu Karnad is a writer and journalist, and co-founder of His book Farthest Field: An Indian Story of the Second World War(2015) was awarded the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar and shortlisted for the UK PEN Hessell-Tiltman Prize for historical non-fiction in 2016. He has been editor of Time Out Delhiand written for Granta,TheNew York TimesTheFinancial Timesn+1, and Caravanmagazine.
Sampurna Chattarji is a poet, fiction writer and translator. Her fifteen books include her poetry titles Absent MusesThe Scorpionand Space Gulliver: Chronicles of an Alien; the novels Ruptureand Land of the Well; a short-story collection about Bombay/Mumbai, Dirty Love, and a translation of Joy Goswami’s Selected Poems. She has co-authored Elsewhere Where Else/ Lle Arall Ble Arallwith the Welsh poet Eurig Salisbury and is currently Poetry Editor of The Indian Quarterly. You can find her online at and on Twitter @ShampooChats

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Star is Reborn

Lady Gaga a possible Oscar winner? Who woulda thunk. But if you have seen A Star is Born, it will be apparent 20 minutes in that there could be no other road for her to take. It is, as she has said ad nauseam in interviews, (almost like she doesn't realise that in a digital age, she has to update every day), Bradley Cooper's genius at work that allows her own genius to come out and play. In the role he plays, his drawl, his sweetness, his world weariness, his pain, is so immediate on screen that when he leaves it, all you feel is his absence. And his direction allows Lady G to show a vulnerability and innocence that makes her character accessible.
The music is astonishing; the last song and the breaths through which it is sung is the reason why Lady G should be nominated. But is it really fair that just when you thought Cooper speaking French in real life was enough to bring you to your knees, he lets you in on the little secret that he can sing like a faraway dream?
Great movie also because it teaches you a horrible lesson about life: When you get your heart's desire, you realise that odd taste in your mouth is not drinking from the cup that has run over, but tasting the dregs. It's not enough to have ambition, you must know that every day with its tender mercies (now where have i heard that before) is a pure, never-to-be-repeated and therefore priceless gift. You'll never become jaded when you simply have to remember that it all ends. No need to rush the ending either, it comes for us all.
I'm off now to try on that gorgeous indigo nail-polish I just got from OPI. Toodles. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Cut above, cut below

Having been a reader all my life, I like to think I get why JK Rowling is a cut above. It took me some time to appreciate Harry Potter before I too became a fan like everyone else on the planet, but then she went and did The Casual Vacancy and then the Cormoran Strike series and it is now clearer than ever that she is in a class we have had to invent. She isn't a descriptive genius, or the wit at the party but if she is in a room with you, beware, because this woman understands people. Good and evil, betrayal and pettiness, the limits of love, it comes together best in CB Strike, the name for the TV series based on the books. Alas, while the books are pretty near perfect, the TV adaptation, clever, subtle and often brilliantly directed as it may be, lacks a certain something.
Tom Burke is excellent as Cormoran, shaggy, weirdly handsome, paradoxical, as nuanced as Holliday Grainger who plays sidekick and braveheart Robin Ellacott. Their chemistry translates well on screen etc etc but.
If Burke is in a scene with Killian Scott as DI Wardle, it's Scott who has your attention (woefully miscast as he is, Killian should have been the killer). This is the kiss of death for an actor, when your X Factor only hits W.
Let me put it this way, if you watched Ghost in the Shell there is only one actor you notice immediately, waiting for him to return, and that's Pilou Asbaek (you will remember him in Game of Thrones as the extremely untrustworthy (but then who isn't in GoT) Euron Greyjoy). Asbaek has charisma up the wazoo, especially when set against Scarlett Johansson whose bewildering Hunchback of Notre Dame shuffle is only offset by her unfortunate footwear (oh, Rupert Sanders, you lost more than your moral compass in recent years, didn't you?) in failing to hold the viewer's interest. Charlize Theron in Aeon Flux already had the character and look nailed for this role.
But I digress.
I wait with bated breath to watch all episodes of CB Strike, yet since I missed my calling as casting director,
I wait without fully committing. Story of my life, come to think of it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Royal fiasco

I’m used to life’s disappointments but this was a bit more than I could take. Is it too much to ask for that the royal wedding be, well, royal? Instead of a solemn, beautiful ceremony where the bride and groom conducted themselves with style and grace, we were treated to a reality show, Yankee-style. A quite mad minister went old-school Revival in his sermon, an all-black choir attempted to make an inclusive statement, and Harry talked, made faces and giggled. Ms Markel, meanwhile, looked like she had gotten the role of a lifetime, which she, of course, has.
But the wedding dress. Here is where the battle lines were drawn. MM on one side trying to show the world what a simple soul she really is, and the fashion-savvy staring goggle-eyed at what can only be described as a travesty. There is plain and then there is plain. This gown from Givenchy was plain dull. It had no embellishments, no style, no creative touches and was, quel horreur, ill-fitting. Was the wedding a surprise? Did the House have no time to get it right so that the bodice was made to fit the bride, like Kate Middleton’s was? There we were waiting to see the entire point of the show and what a damp squib it turned out to be. I kept staring thinking, surely she’ll turn around at some point and we will see the most stunning detail which would make up for this cinched curtain drape but alas. I’ve seen runway show finales with more stunning wedding dresses, but then what could you have expected when they get political instead of personal? At a royal wedding. Is nothing sacred?
The only thing that saved the entire fiasco was Zara Phillips’ stunned face, mirroring our own, albeit less publicly.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

I sang a new tune...

I don't drink. Imagine my amazement, slight horror and hidden glee when I discovered Sangria in Barcelona. Wherever you go, that's what you get a jug of, and before you know it you're thinking, Oooo, that satisfies my sweet tooth to Oooo, I'm kinda stoned. It's mandatory to then feel relaxed, cool and understand why the siesta was invented. It would be insulting the drink to feel any other way.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

A taste of Lisbon

Lisbon, March 2018. LeConsulat bar where I discovered a drink that I could claim as my own, finally, after years of not getting into any type of alcohol. It's almond liqueur served with a twist of lime and ice and tasted, frankly, like redemption.

Typical Portuguese square where the tile is king.

Just a street, you say?

Kind of time-tested but so beautiful.

Le Consulat hotel, locally-sourced art, and light fixtures that you wish you could tuck away in your suitcase
but your parents brought you up to know better. Damn it.

It came with the room.

Tai & Tinkerbell

Big Reveal: I've been watching Tai Beauchamp switch up women's personal style, or lack thereof, on her TV show Dare to Wear on TLC. The shock and awe she inspires in the viewer has nothing to do with the often hideous makeovers the women on the show undergo, but in the way their whole personalities light up, almost literally, when they see what they can be and not what they have neglected for too many years because somewhere along the way, they lost a belief in themselves.
One woman, with gorgeous thick red hair and a fabulous figure, said she didn't want to wear outfits that showed her legs because they were "too pale". When she finally wore a tight, pencil skirt and stripper heels (tut tut Tai), we saw that what she actually possessed were perfect legs, in shape, in tone, in colour.
She finally got it. Her face at the end of the show was that of an entirely different person from the one who wore nothing but tracksuits as a school coach. She glowed, and it had nothing to do with her make-up. She even gave a shimmy while throwing that glorious mane over her shoulder.
Imagine living your entire life in the shadows as some kind of Frankenstein's monster when you're really Tinkerbell, but busy throwing magic around so carefully that none clings to you.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Pretty Boy, Baybay

So Maluma wakes up in the morning and looks at himself in the mirror and sees that face every single day, 365 days of the year? How is that even possible? In fact, how is that fair? We look at him in his iconic music video Felices los 4 and think "Wait a minute, is this dude photoshopped? That cannot be real." Then we listen to his interview with Ryan Seacrest and he is charming, genuine, bubbly and, what the hell. Then he damn well takes his shirt off with Shakira and goddammit, it's game over. Oh, and that's a nice voice, too, all smokey and beckoning and naked and hot and sweaty and sorry, what was I saying?

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Asians v Asians

Growing up an expat in Hong Kong, I learned about racism first-hand. Over the years, I had forgotten how Asians treat Asians. This Christmas I went to Bangkok and rediscovered it from the minute I stepped off the flight. There was this guy with Immigration Help emblazoned on his shirt so I approached him for some. He dismissed me with a wave of the hand, grunting Go, Go. I got the pen I needed from an Indian woman wearing a churidar amidst a sea of other Indians off the Bangalore flight. In the days that followed, I was stared at (no churidar?), talked to rudely by cabbies (although to be fair they're rude to everyone), and noticed that stony looks sometimes slowly gave way to a surprised friendliness. I was wondering what the hell was happening until I had my epiphany at a shoe store. There I was, in my zone, having left the mothership, aka Victoria's Secret, and now browsing for sandals when I heard this woman talking like she was on a loudspeaker, to her mother. "Is this the one you like? What colour do you want? This will not go with what you want to wear in the evening. Wait. Let me find out." And then she goes to the Thai shop assistant and roars: "Do you have Size 7? Size 7!" Before turning to her mother and yelling, "You have to ask them for everything, everything! They're just dumb! Really, really dumb!"
She was Indian.
Who can blame the Thais for hating us if this is what they meet? I was to hear more horror stories later. Is this what Americans feel like these days, tarred with the same Nutjob brush their President represents? Time to buy that travel Tee: Don't Shoot, Just Quietly Visiting. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Anuk Arudpragasam wins

Anuk Arudpragasam’s novel The Story of a Brief Marriage has won the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2017.

A native of Colombo, his work, according to shortlist judge Arshia Sattar, “presents the civil war in Sri Lanka like never before. Writing from within the debris of Tamil lives in prose that can pierce your heart, Arudpragasam’s protagonists find dignity as they piece together strategies of survival. The story is about the human spirit in the most desperate of times. It sings not as testament of glory but as a dirge of despair.

Judges Kamila Shamsie, Rohini Mohan and Margaret Mascarenhas were unanimous in their decision.

“Anuk Arudpragasam has written an extraordinary novel that is timely, timeless and universal in its depiction of the possibility of tenderness and love blossoming in the midst of the mind-numbing carnage, suffering and horror that is war. The Story of a Brief Marriage is mesmerizing from the first paragraph, and remains delicately poised between life and death from beginning to end,” said Mascarenhas.

Shamsie added, ‘It’s an exceptional accomplishment for any writer - for a debut writer it’s near miraculous.”

Mohan, winner of the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2015, for her own Sri Lanka-based novel The Seasons of Trouble said, “Anuk has taken what is actually a sliver of a story, the briefest of moments, and suffused it with meaning. His spare, meditative writing lets the pain and delirium of conflict unfold, sometimes just through an injured bird.”   

Author and translator Sattar and poet and novelist Jeet Thayil chose this year's Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize shortlist from forty-seven titles submitted for consideration.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2017 Shortlist

Prayaag Akbar, Leila (Simon & Schuster)
Hirsh Sawhney, South Haven (HarperCollins)
Anuk Arudpragasam, The Story of a Brief Marriage
Sumana Roy, How I Became a Tree (Aleph Book Company)
Tripti Lahiri, Maid In India (Aleph Book Company)
Tejaswini Apte-Rahm, These Circuses that Sweep Through the Landscape (Aleph Book Company)

Author and translator Arshia Sattar and poet and novelist Jeet Thayil chose this year's Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2017 shortlist from forty-seven titles submitted for consideration.

Judges Kamila Shamsie, Rohini Mohan and Margaret Mascarenhas will announce the winner in November.

Arshia Sattar writes: "The Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize is ten years old this year and even a quick glance at previous winners will show that the Prize has celebrated writing across genre, gender, age and nation. Our oldest winner so far was in his 70s, and the Prize has been awarded to Pakistanis, to writers of both fiction and non-fiction, to men and to women. It has been a pleasure to acknowledge the wealth and diversity of South Asian writing in this last decade and a privilege to spotlight new writing.

"This year’s shortlist of books and writers continues our commitment to finely-crafted writing and sophisticated thinking.

“Prayaag Akbar’s Leila is the heart-breaking story of a lost child and a shattered society. Entirely dystopic, it haunts not simply because it presents us with a terrifying future but because that portrait of unfreedom, inequality and brutality seems to already be part of our lived reality.

"Sumana Roy’s How I Became a Tree is an exquisite meditation on a personal decision to step away from a life that seemed to have everything but time. Roy shares what she has learned about and from trees through gentle essays that explore the natural world and reflect upon the human condition in the Anthropocene Age.

"Writing from the point of view of a young boy whose voice has not broken but whose heart has, Hirsh Sawhney’s South Haven tells the poignant story of an immigrant family, its men unable to cope with the death of their mother and wife. Father and sons drift away from each other as they seek solace in new people, new ideas and new activities. But things fall apart and the centre cannot hold. Sawhney relies on the pathos of his characters to reach the persistent melancholia that so often succeeds the sharp grief of bereavement.

"Maid in India by Tripti Lahiri eerily echoes Prayaag Akbar’s fictional dystopia as she goes deep into the multiple worlds that domestic workers inhabit. Lahiri also examines the employment and training agencies that keep the systems that supply and demand human beings well-oiled, and provides, in lucid prose devoid of emotional rhetoric, a picture of a society that thrives on entrenched structures of inequality.

"Anuk Arudpragasam’s novel A Brief History of a Marriage presents the civil war in Sri Lanka like never before. Writing from within the debris of Tamil lives in prose that can pierce your heart, Arudpragasam’s protagonists find dignity as they piece together strategies of survival. The story is about the human spirit in the most desperate of times. It sings not as testament of glory but as a dirge of despair.

"Tejaswini Apte-Rahm’s collection of short stories, These Circuses that Sweep Through the Landscape, is deceptively quiet in a literary world of noisy entries and exits. Alternately hyper and surreal, Apte-Rahm’s canvases are small. On them, her people and events are like ikons–they gleam with gilded details even as they occupy the darker recesses of contemporary life.

"Together, this year’s books remind us that in an increasingly brutal and fragmented world, families, communities and societies no longer provide safety nets, that individuals often feel stranded on the brink of an abyss. And yet, it is through literature that we can search for each other, it is in writing that we can create meaning as a bulwark against the tides of untruth that thunder on our shores."

Friday, June 30, 2017

Drinking deep

When you're young, you're so eager to inhale the intellectuals like Dostoyevsky and Sartre and de Beauvoir and then Donleavy and John Irving and even, godhelpus, Ayn Rand, but as life grips you by the balls, so to speak, you gotta get some release. Which is why my books are for my emotional pleasure only these days and my movies are of the John Wick variety.
Isn't Keanu great? Personal suffering seems to have taught him to be a nice guy and one of the things about nice guys is that they don't take themselves too seriously. Perfect casting for Wick, then. In the sequel (we wait with bated breath for the third instalment), there are 2 bits I particularly liked. The one with his new dog, where the dog and the concierge stare at each other ruminatively in the hotel lobby, and then where Claudia Gerini plays out a near-Lady Macbeth death scene that was gorgeous, rich in tone, rich in setting, rich in life lessons.
How Gerini combined dignity, grace, guts and a middle finger raised for all us chumps out there made for some perfect cinema.
Rapper Common added something to the mix as well with that hard, dangerous edge we love in both our heroes and our villains, and I was just happy-happy to drink deep for a little more than 2 hours.