Sunday, December 17, 2006

raise your glass to william boyd

Everybody has a pet writer or two. One of mine is William Boyd. I like to pretend I discovered him because I read one of his books without anyone having recommended him. Better still, I like to pretend I am him. Or at least that I could write like him, a little, if I really, really, really tried.

That's why I'm so pissed that he hasn't won the Booker.

OK, I know this is art, not athletics, and I shouldn't worry so much about prizes. But STILL... Is Boyd a stealth wanker, who's pissed off too many influential people to win? No, couldn't be. I mean, Salman Rushdie has pissed people off--and not just Muslim clerics, book people--and he won the Booker of Bookers for Allah's sake. Maybe he's really bad at meeting entry deadlines? He told people that he'd turn it down if they offered it? There's some form he doesn't know needs to be filled out? There's simply no other explanation. Here's proof.

2006 - clear from the first three chapters that Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss isn't a patch on Boyd's Restless (among many other books)
2002 - Boyd's Any Human Heart v. Life of Pi. Life of Pi! Life of Pi! Maybe if fellow shortlister Dirt Music had won it. But! Life! Of! Pie!
1991 - Boyd's Brazzaville Beach v. Ben Okri's The Famished Road. Haven't read Famished. Strong doubts, though. Amazon says its about a "spirit child" and that "at the heart of this hypnotic novel are the mysteries of love and human survival." Generally difficult to sound that bad and be good at the same time.
1988 - Boyd's The New Confessions v. Peter Carey's Oscar & Lucinda. Hmmmm.
1982 - Boyd's An Ice-cream War (at least it was nominated) v. Schindler's List. No comment.

Not convinced? What if I told you none of those books, apart from An Ice-Cream War, made the short list. Maybe a few were on the long list, I don't know. If they weren't, somebody needs to start kicking some Commonwealth ass. Or just give the guy the name National Book Award, the Pulitzer. Something.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

airdash to mumbai

Had to fly to Mumbai for a story this week and was stunned by the quality of hotels on offer. Everything was booked, and even two-stars were demanding $85 a night and up. What has the world come to? Thank God for the Bentley. Here's hoping that Homi and the gang don't decide that if everybody else can begin to claim amenities that don't exist to jack up rates, so can they.

And, incidentally, where are those "budget hotel chains" that were announced with such fanfare a few years back? So far, they've opened in backwaters like Bhubaneshwar, where, no doubt, a decent place to kip was lacking, but so was demand, Bangalore and Pune. OK, fine on the latter two. But guys, if nobody's pointed out a few 2-stars in Mumbai and Delhi that are ripe for takeover, you need to hire an outside consultant.

and the 'india's biggest idiot' award goes to....

Leander Paes. Yep. I know you thought I was going to say Navjot Singh Siddhu. Or Sanjay Dutt. Or Amisha Patel (the original Gold Medalist).

But the prize goes to Leander, who managed once again to take what should have been a bright moment for himself and the country and turn it into an embarrassing display (and turned on the waterworks to boot). For those of you who didn't follow the tamasha, Paes once more offended his tennis doubles partner Mahesh Bhupathi after they'd won the gold medal at the Asian Games by making remarks to the media. Once more, Paes claims he was misquoted--the press reported that he said, among other things, that he'd never play with Hesh again. His erstwhile partner didn't mince words, saying on camera--no misquoting there--that he wouldn't beg to play with anybody and he was damned tired of Paes's bullshit (OK, that's a paraphrase, but it captures the gist).

Mr. Paes, your misquoting claim doesn't have legs any more, not with us and certainly not with your former partner, who clearly knows all too well that you're a drama queen through and through. You may or may not be the better player, and the two of you might make a good team on the court. But off the court you're like the girlfriend everybody wishes the guy would dump. If the media keeps misquoting you--which I doubt--stop talking to them. Or, if you can't stand to be out of the limelight for a second, stop and think before you talk. Come up with a plan. Hire a press agent. Get a script. For decades, sports cliches like "I just want to do what I can to help the team" have served legions of athletes well. Clearly, you don't think well on your feet.

Not surprising, considering you're this year's India's Biggest Idiot.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

you can stop the madness

OK, I may not know much about cars, computers, politics, religion, caste, racism, boxing, weather, municipal planning, or anything else I tend to blather about here at But one thing I do know is beer. In all its varieties and forms. I even ate a frozen beer-sicle once.

As I’ve complained before, the beer situation in India is bad, folks. There’s only one variety (lager) excluding costly imports and most of the available locally made brands don’t taste very good. The reason is simple: Glycerine. A cheap preservative with a sweet flavor, this stuff makes beer taste like it’s laced with honey (not a good thing, despite the fact that lame-o “honey lagers” are marketed by some of the American giants). Glycerine is the reason that the big bottles of Kingfisher are so disappointing, while the small bottles (originally for export and in short supply locally) are so surprisingly good.

Until I open my brew pub, I suggest we write to Vijay Mallya and complain. No, no, no – complain ABOUT THE BEER. The rest of his faults can be ignored for the time. Write your own letter if you want, or cut and paste this one, snail mail or email, it’s up to you:

Vijay Mallya, c/o
P Subramani
Senior Vice President – Legal & Company Secretary
United Breweries (Holdings) Limited
‘UB Anchorage’ 5th Floor
Richmond Road

Dear Mr. Mallya:

The Kingfisher Beer you sell to people in India tastes terrible, yet you make perfectly good lager for the export market. Why? I personally account for at least one-third of the small Kingfisher Export bottles consumed in Delhi, but frequently I am forced to settle for Castle, Foster’s or Kaltenberg because all the shops run out of Kingfisher Export. I suspect my subsequent lack of consumption alone represents vast financial losses for your company, but these losses are multiplied in geometric proportions if you take into a count the beer that is not consumed by my friends due to the tyranny of Glycerine-laced lager!

Please, sir, as a gentleman, if not as an executive, you must recognize the gravity of this problem and make recompense. Otherwise, the people of India will be forced to revoke your title of “The King of Good Times” and rename you “The Man Who Only Sold Good Beer to Foreigners.”



plug in your house! attention, ratan tata

A pair of articles in the Economic Times this morning got me thinking. One discussed how carmakers will react to the launch of Ratan Tata's much-feted "one lakh car" in 2008 (i.e. a car that retails for one lakh, or 100,000 rupees--about $2500). Another was an incorrect blurb about hybrid cars. The mistake the writers made was in implying that hybrid cars must be plugged in to charge their batteries. The real genius of the hybrid car design is that engineers use the waste heat (which is energy) generated by the car's gasoline, or I suppose diesel, engine to charge the battery. See more about the design here. What it all means is that if you burn a biodiesel or ethanol mixture, you can reduce fossil fuel consumption to almost nothing and at the same time reduce harmful emissions by 80 to 90 percent. The reason ET's mistake made me think was that it's patently obvious that a car you'd have to plug in would be a nonstarter (in more ways than one) in India, where there is already a shortage of electric power.

But what if you did the opposite? What if you used the regenerative braking and other electricity-generating concepts of the hybrid car to charge batteries that you could then bring home and use to power your lights and household appliances? In other words, what if instead of plugging in your car, you could plug in your house?

This was an under-publicized potential benefit of inventor Dean Kamen's highly publicized Segway PT. If the same concept could be applied in a vehicle for the masses like Tata's one-lakh car, perhaps India's power woes could be over.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

song of the south

Shai and I are in Chennai, a trip that has become something of an annual year-end pilgrimage the past few years. It's a sleepy little hamlet, I know, but I have to say I love it here. The scent of jasmine on the air, the comical S. Indian accents (in a different way from N. Indian accents), the delicious food, and the general reluctance to get into shouting matches with nine out of ten souls who cross your path. Very unlike our place of residence, indeed.

As if that weren't enough to rekindle my faith in humanity, yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening meeting with guys from Novatium, one of the offshoots from IIT Madras professor Ashok Jhunjhunwala's TeNeT group, and they took me to some sites where they've implemented a pilot program that hooks lower middle class families up with a network-centric PC and web access for Rs.399 per month. I'm not a "web can save the world" guy, but without "going native on the story" I have to admit that I was pretty impressed with the product/application. The funniest part was watching these little girls in frocks and plaits go to Google to find fun things to do on the web. The ingenuity that they've developed in their search strings was amazing. For instance, the ten-year-old told me her favorite thing to do on the PC was to play a game she called "Mario" (an offshoot of Super Mario Bros, I assume), so I asked her how she found out about it. She told me that they'd heard about the game from friends, and in the meantime her 13-year-old sister had fired up Google and typed "to play the game of Mario" in the search window. Not just Mario, not the full name of the game, but the syntax of the sentence likely to appear on the site that lets you play the game online. Brilliant!

Of course, they also used the machine for school and stuff.

life for shibhu

Former Congress Minister Shibhu Soren was sentenced to life in prison for conspiring to murder a secretary who'd threatened to expose Shibhu in a money-for-political-horsetrading scam alluded to in my previous post.

Good news for India?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

sher-e-punjab: don't do the crime if you can't do the time

Navjot Singh Siddhu, he of the limitless bounty of folk wisdom, was finally convicted of culpable homicide in relation to the death of a chap he and some similarly wise characters beat to death over a parking dispute. It took 18 years, but the victim's family is (as always) happy to hear the verdict come through, say reports.

As for Siddhu himself, he resigned his BJP seat to draw attention to the Congress snafu over another convicted felon, Shibbhu Soren, a move that Siddhu's flunkies said demonstrated the manor of a lion. A house divided cannot stand, Siddhu is rumored to have told his seniors in the BJP.

What I can't wait to hear, though, are Siddhu's takes on Tihar.

But a more important question is whether the political parties will demonstrate their, er, convictions with a real drive to push the criminals out (whether they're petty thugs and idiots or hardened gangsters). Attn Judges: I think there's a few guys out there responsible for a riot or too.

Shibbhu, Siddhu... Let's call the whole thing off.