November 23, 2006

'Buying second hand false teeth in India'

I read a children’s book on India recently. It is titled, ‘Travelling solo to India’ and has been written and illustrated by Bettina Guthridge. It was first published in Australia by Omnibus Books in 2000, and re-published in 2001 by Southwood Books Limited, London. This book is very attractive-LOOKING; the illustrations are colourful and alive.

But, start READING the book, and problems begin. First of all, it takes a very superficial and partial look at a diverse country. And then, on almost every page there are bloomers—mostly factual—and hilarious ones at that! Here are some of Ms Guthridge’s observations of India.

Page 1: The main languages (in India) are Hindi and English.
Page 12: There is not much work in the country, and so many Indians go and live in the cities. Just two pages later, on page 14, the author contradicts herself saying: In the small villages in the country people live close together and help each other. There is always work to do.
Page 13: Millions of children live on the street (see illustration).
Page 18: Because cities are so crowded many Indians work on the street. Here you can have your ears cleaned or buy some second hand false teeth. (please, someone tell me where you get them...and I desperately want to meet someone who buys second hand false teeth)
Page 20: Rich children go to school by taxi. Poor children walk to school.
Page 24: There are not many cars in India. Most people are too poor to own a car.
Page 26: Trains are very crowded and never run on time. Some people travel on the roof. This costs nothing. (see illustration)

Page 30: Hindus believe that after you die your soul is reborn in another form, as an insect, an animal or a person.
Page 34: Many Hindu gods take the form of animals. Because of this, Hindus do not eat meat. Page 35: The white cow is special to Hindus. Cows wander the streets eating from fruit and vegetable stalls. Even poor shop keepers do not mind.
Page 48: The Moguls loved to hunt. They killed many wild animals. Today there are reserves to protect the animals that are left.
Page 56: Indians love singing and dancing. The sitar, the tamboura and the tabla are heard at every festival and wedding, or in the market place.
Page 59: It is thought that one tiger is killed every day in India. Parts of the body are used to make medicine.

I have returned this book to the library, with post-it stickers marking every other page, with a request that this book be taken off the shelves. I would have emailed a complaint to the author / publishers online, but could not find their email id on the net. I also tried writing a review on Amazon, but unless I buy from them (which, unfortunately I can't, from India) I cannot write a review. So I record this in my blog...and will follow this up with a snail mail complaint. Publishing, especially for children, should certainly be more responsible than this.

However, in all fairness, I would like to say that if this book had only drawings and no words, it would have been fantastic. Something like our own Mario Miranda’s book on Paris. Ms Guthridge is, without doubt, a highly talented illustrator.

There are five other books in this series, all by the same author: Travelling Solo to Vietnam, France, Morocco, Japan, Italy. I wonder how they READ.

November 17, 2006


Winter is here. One feels a nip in the air, the need for a blanket, and that lazy feeling in the mornings. Early morning sunlight suddenly streams through my kitchen doesn’t happen during other seasons. Fruit vendors sell seetaphal; the elegant tree jasmines are in full bloom, perfuming whole stretches of roads on which they stand. The Nepali sweater sellers are back, with their colourful woollens. And mirchi bajji smells at twilight seem more tempting than ever...I have been trying to get my children to take a day off from school so we could all laze and do nothing, but the idea has immediately been vetoed! Why don’t schools encourage such enterprise?!

The Indian name for this season is Hemanta-ritu—the time when it just begins to get cold and the sun begins to set earlier than before; suddenly 5.30 pm looks like 6.30 pm, and you want to go to bed early.

Here are the other Indian seasons...their names make the seasons sound so romantic; names we should have all been familiar with, but unfortunately are not.

1. Hemanta-ritu: mid-October to mid-December: Season /of deepening shadows.../slash /of/ wind/in frost-light/ a song/remembered/a scene/replayed/ it is getting cold now.

2. Shishira-ritu: mid-December to mid-February: Season/of ice and song.../snow sets on /ice /through /fog and rain/ the sometimes sun/sometimes /shines /flowers /sit pretty/it is shivering cold.

3. Vasanta-ritu: mid-February to mid-April: Season/of softening snows.../rivers rush/cold/swift/to touch the earth/warmth evaporates/and the sun/climbs/the /sky/it is the end of biting cold.

4. Greeshma-ritu: mid-April to mid-June: Season/of raging fire.../white/hot/blazing/only/sea breeze/and spectacular skies/permit relief/it is hot and hotter.

5. Varsha-ritu: mid-June to mid-August: Season/of pouring sky.../storm clouds/gather/sweep/across the land/conquest/follows/conquest/it is the monsoon.

6. Sharata-ritu: mid-August to mid-October: Season/of heavy stillness.../like a fruit plucked/too soon/like the air/charged/and/changing/it is cold and not cold/it is wet and not wet. (from the Tulika Diary of Seasons 2001)

Every one of these seasons brings with it, its own ambience, its own festivals, different in different states of India. Somehow, when the season changes, something new and different seems to happen...however subtle. There is change in the air, a new day seems to dawn bringing with it, new hope...

And let us remember that this happens in India, SIX times a year!

November 10, 2006


Apart from continued pressure at work and home, two things have been bothering me: one is disgust with the subtle but persistent discrimination one faces in everyday life, and the other is about coming face-to-face with GenerationNext, and not being able to recognize them. Both depressing sociological issues which I think I will leave for the more intellectual human beings around me to talk about and publish on.

Since I am King, Queen and Jester of my blog, I will leave this here without saying anything more, and escape to my World of Happier Things.

Like colour. I love colour. I revel in it. Here’s a quote by Oscar Wilde that reflects what I feel about colour: Mere color, unspoiled by meaning and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.

I have uploaded some colour from my Kodak—the first photo (above) shows wish coconuts in a temple, and the second (below) is .....any guesses (if anyone is reading this!)?

November 03, 2006

Meet two friends

A publication editor's life is governed by deadlines. I am stuck in one such phase right now. No time to play around with words. But here are two friends I'd like you to meet. I took these pictures in Rishi Valley last year.

Enjoy them...after all, a picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words!