Saturday, December 30, 2006

10 Books in 2006

In Paris, I managed to spend a few hours at Shakespeare & Co. It was as higgedly piggedly and quirky as I imagined it would be, oozing with books on every crevice. You have to take a creaking, narrow wooden stairs to get upstairs for the library and where so many bibliophiles, homeless and waywards have sheltered over the years. The walls bear the signature and pictures of the many famous persons who have been there.

Now, for my annual book audit.

I didn't read many non-work related stuff this year but here are my best reads, more non-fiction though. None of these books are new 2006 editions by any chance but these are the ones that I picked up. Some really old books, some which was one last years hit list, some which I always wanted to read and finally managed to. Here are the memorable ones that I particularly enjoyed:


No Logo by Naomi Klein. I finally get hold of this and she doesn't disappoint. We are assaulted by logos- Nike, McDonalds, Tesco, Shell. The corporate hegemony sneaks into our lives and affects us in much more sinister ways than we think says Klein. Not without flaws but at many levels, compelling.

Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen. Poverty is not so much a matter of low income as deprivation of human capabilities says Sen. Deep exploration of liberal economics with real, stark examples. Although I don't always agree with him, it is a remarkable book because Sen takes developmental economics out of theoretical quagmire and places it within communities and asks searing questions.

The Silent Takeover by Noreena Hertz. If you want to read one book about how corporations are perversely changing the world, this is it. How many of us vote? Not many argues Hertz. But we are all consumers driven by multinationals that have taken over the world. Scary but true.

Capitalism and Slavery by Eric Williams was a former Prime Minister of Trinidad & Tobago and wrote this book depicting the profits made through the slave trade. What made slavery end in Britain was not so much awareness of human rights but a matter of cutting losses. You know the fancy Lloyds building in the City? That's built on slave sweat.

Bali, Jawa in my Dreams by Christine Jorges. A travel book with humour and pathos.

Toast by Nigel Slater. I remember buying this in Heathrow out of desperation as the book in hand (I can't remember what now) was driving me insane. Bittersweet memories of growing up angst and the food that accompanied over the years. Absolutely delish. I heart Nigel Slater.


Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. Weird, quirky philosophy spanning analysis of Adolf Eichmann, talking cats to raining mackerals. Vintage Murakami.

What the Body Remembers. I absolutely had to read it, after the glowing recommendation of Ms 30in2005. Partition seen from a woman's perspective, from a Sikh viewpoint and a human face. Shauna Singh is a delicate writer and I will look forward to her other books.

On Beauty by Zadie Smith. The best book I read this year. There are some comic loose ends that are a tad too perfect but overall, its such a nuanced book deserving many superlatives. With Gramscian undertones, philosophical tug-of-war and mostly, dysfunctional families.

The Sea by John Banville. Written in a languid, immaculate style. Heart rending.

Book related resolution: Read more fiction and make an attempt at reading more books from the banned books list.

Now, have to contemplate and do some emotional audit.
Happy New Year everybody. See you in 2007!!!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Joyeux Noel!

M and I decided on a whim to spend Christmas in Paris. It was a bit of mayhem the night before when our flight was cancelled due to the fog that was sweeping the South East the few days before. As soon as I find out at 7 pm on the 21st, I call British Airways (our original flight was on the 22nd morning from Heathrow) and after some deliberation, we re-book to fly from Bristol at 8:20 the next day, the only other flight available in the morning from Bristol.

This however meant that we had to leave the house latest 4:30am in order to make it. Driving in the intense fog was a bit of a nightmare on some parts but we arrive on time and after checking in, ITV Bristol interviews me.

I'm serious. I, who ranted away about our transportation woes to everyone in sight was delighted that I could now do it on regional TV. After hearing my spiel for a few minutes, the ITV guy asks me, 'so why are you going away for Christmas?'. Duh. I realise that I am on the wrong track-the focus of the program was on why people are changing the tradition of spending Christmas with family and friends and going away on holiday instead. I mumble something about the stress of entertaining and cooking and go catch my flight.

In Paris, we trawled a few Christmas markets while sipping hot chocolate, feasted on fine sculptures and paintings, joined the crowds admiring the delightful window decor at La Fayette and Printemps, salivated at the gourmet markets, ate at Montemarte. This apart, we spent a lot of time doing nothing at all, sipping coffee, nibbling on the most gorgeous pastries and reading our books while the world passed by.

It doesn't change the fact that we freezed our asses out walking around.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

10 Things I learnt in 2006

1. I underestimate myself, my powers, my capabilities, my intuition. I CAN'T is all I think sometimes. What if I make a fool of myself I ask? What if everyone laughs? So what, I now say. I owe it to myself to try, explore and simply, enjoy.

2. Letting Go. Letting go of dreams is not cowardly. It is important to realize that some dreams will be buried and I can't do anything about it. I can't be 24 again ever. But I am not going to waste the 30s wishing for the choices of 24.

3. Resilience is good but sometimes, calling for help is not a bad idea. I don't have to be strong or perfect all the time. It's okay to call a friend, it's okay that the house is a mess, it's okay that the attempt at fish curry didn't turn out that great. It's okay.

4. Breathing helps. Before taking stage, before losing temper, before saying words that can't be taken back.

5. I actually like football. Maybe just during World Cup. But there's so much drama and passion involved which I never knew. How else will a French Algerian kid who grew up in a council block (gorgeous one nevertheless) become a world recognized hero?

6. Time may not actually heal every wound. But I can lick them and snarl my way through when need be. That's the bitch in me.

7. I have fallen in love. With London. A surprise turn always makes me stumble into a new perspective, a half-smile, a charming little bookshop. We took sometime to warm to each other but this one's a keeper.

8. Sometimes it's a matter of KISS Keep it Simple Stupid. I've spent way too much of my life psycho analysing, reanalysing and then some more. But when I just stop and take one moment at a time, things often fall into place like a drawn curtain. Everything has a grand scheme to fulfil, only it's not my business to worry about that.

9. Compromise. I can live with a right wing Ayn Rand disciple and respect that (most of the time at least, hush my communitarian heart).

10. Amazon One Click is is going to leave me in financial ruin. It usually attacks me on late nights, when I am seized by a bout of self pity that I work so hard, etc, etc. I browse, pick and click. A few weeks later, a brown package appears and spreads a pang of guilt as it is shelved among all its other One-Click cousins. Increasing the pile of to-be-read-books.

What did you learn?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I'm Back

Been dipping in and out of projects, papers and coutries these past few weeks. I've just recovered from exhausting Geneva trip. Lausanne, 40 mins outside Geneva, where the conference was being held was a quaint little town with cobbled paths and winding alleys. With postcard picture perfect snow-capped mountains as well as a shimmering lake.

Only, I didn't get to see any of it, huddled as I was for two days in grey conference building and social events that followed.

European's don't believe in tea and for two days, they served strong espresso. This is catastrophe for a tea drinker like myself and I was nursing a bad headache at the end of the day, from all that coffee. Was I glad to be back in England, land of tea and soggy sarnies.

On the last day, we went to a traditional Swiss chalet and ate cheese fondue, downed with a fair amount of Schnapps. This was quite lovely as it warmed my heart on a freezing cold December evening. Some smart aleck decided we go bar hopping afterwards not realising how exhausted all of us were. By 1:30 am, Doro and I decided to walk back to the hotel as I had an early flight to catch.

(I'm not sure if this qualifies as a post-but it's an update, ensuring you guys that I haven't abandoned the blog. In fact, I am making a resolution to update more frequently in the new year).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Time of My Life

Watching Dirty Dancing at Aldwych theatre last Friday transported me back to 1988.

The days of shoulder padded dresses, bicycle shorts and McGyver. Thanks to a weekly dose of Kasey Casem on American Top 40, I wanted to style my hair ala Debbie Gibson. My fashion idol was my older cousin who wore blue eye shadow and runched up her jacket sleeves. I was a member of the David Copperfield and Rick Astley fan club.

I was an obstinate 12 year old, desperately wanting to go watch THE movie but my parents would not hear of it (in retrospect who would blame them? It's not a movie for a 12 year old). I remember moping around thinking how unfair life was.

This time around, thank god shoulder pads have faded into a natural death (although this cyclical fashion thing creeps me out. Never know when some trash from the past is going to be recycled) and I could stay out as late as I wanted.

Dirty Dancing 2006 started on a rain soaked note. We girls were wet, cold and hungry as we battled the downpour and quickly grabbed a snack before hurrying to our seats. Suddenly, the lights dimmed and an anticipated hush enveloped. A flicker of colours and sounds jolted us into life and like a thunderbolt, Johnny Castle gyrated his way into our hearts. The 90% female crowd went wild. For 2 1/2 hours, we watched lurrvvve blooming at Kellerman's and waited for Baby and Johnny to dance. We hardly sat towards the end, joining in the songs and moving to the beat.

If you were in Holborn last Friday and wondered why on earth droves of girls were rowdily screaming at the top of their voices as they were walking to the tube, including my mad friend Ewok, you will know now. Amidst the pelting rain, we were missing Johnny and singing I've had the Time of Life....

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Business of Business

Farewell, Mr. Milton Freidman.

His passing made me lurch for awhile. I've spent so much time reading his work, if only to criticise it, that it feels like saying goodbye to a good friend. I have to admit admiration for his work although I am very much centre-leftist (there, I've said it).

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Chicken Curry for Two

It is a cold, listless autumn day and I am attempting to make a poor replica of my mother's chicken curry.

There is something so special about my mother's Sunday chicken currys that I just can't replicate. The pounding and grinding starts early in the morning. These days, even my mother uses Baba's curry powder but a long time ago, she would insist on making her masala from scratch. As the slow pounding of the cumin and coriander seeds gather momentum on the batu giling, a muffled, uniform sound reverberates in the kitchen. My weekly job is to slice the shallots (because nobody else will want to do it) and every week, my eyes will smart as I attack the sinister red bulbs. My baby sister BS pounds the ginger and garlic while middle sister MS will slice the vegetables. In the background, Radio 6, the local Tamil section, will blare Sunday morning fare and my dad, often caught unaware, will be humming along in a most inharmonious tone.

There is something very earthy and primal about feeling fresh ground spices with your fingers. It is as if the spices are whispering conspiratorially, telling you about their secrets and all the joys to be imbibed. As the cinnamon, cloves and cardamon splutter in the hot kuali, the piqued senses feel a rush. The infusion spontaneously feels reassuring, like a hug from a child. All the usual family rows and bickering of the week will evaporate by Sunday afternoon, after lunch. It must be the spices working their way into our spirits.

I've read a few books by that Chitra Divakaruni who writes about women and spices and how transformative the relationship can be. But I think that those books exoticise spices, make them sound sexy for the Mat Salleh. She ends up sounding phoney and hollow. Just like the one that was made into a really, really bad movie starring Aishwarya Rai, Mistress of Spice (or something like that).

For me, the spices are like happy family secrets. A joyous female secret. What my mother learnt from her own mother and her mother before her. Nobody really tells you the real quantity of the spices to be used. Just agak-agak. It is for you to know and feel. Instinct.

The spices will let you know.

Fragrant on their own but together, creating a generational mosaic. Spanning past memories and stretching to untold future possibilities. As I stir in my own spices in a foreign country, I remember the women in my family who braved seas and sickness to move to another country. Colonial Malaya.

My maternal great grandmother. A proud woman and pioneer land owner in a country ravaged by the Japanese Occupation. She wakes up one day to find her husband gone missing, only to be told that he has been taken away by the Japanese for interrogation, on trumped up charges of spying. He never comes back. A few weeks later, she sees his car, the only car in the village, being driven by a Japanese General. She knows then that her husband has been tortured to death. She is alone in a new country, illiterate and has three young children. She quickly learns a new language, Malay. Turns her agriculture and poultry into a profitable business and raises her three children the best she can. In her last days, her speech is reduced to gibberish and she often thinks that she is still in India. She dies senile but leaves gold bars under her bed for her grandchildren.

If you see a photograph of my paternal great grandmother, you will see a frail, docile woman with a big smile and twinkling eyes. She will tell many stories about her village in South India, at the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu border. In the early years, she received repeated abuse, physical and emotional from her husband. One day, she decides enough is enough and pushes the old geezer down a well. She makes it look like an accident and moves on with her life, raising her children in peace. She dies at the ripe age of 90, beady eyed and alert until the end (This is one of the first things I told M when we were going out. Don't mess around-women in my family bump their men off when they drive us up the wall).

Somehow, these spices link me with these women as much as blood ties. These spices have travelled along with them as they have with me. Salving the heart on cold days. Firing the spirit as we build our lives in strange lands. Supplying sustenance in the form of large doses of laughter.

I hold on to the family chicken curry recipe, knowing full well that it is layered by the spirit of a few generations of women. I let the pot simmer and immerse it with all the love I have.

And serve chicken curry for two.


Part of myMemory & Food series, others include:

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Swiss Miss

Recent work + fun trip to Zurich and Lucerne. Sat enjoying cool mountain air, meditating before a placid, blue lake and enveloped by a serene feeling of time stopping, if just for awhile.

Heidi-land was the perfect retreat.

Oh, and the cheese, the chocolates...

I really, really needed to go away somewhere and this trip came rolling by at the perfect time. Of course, afterwards, came back to mountains of work (pun intended).

God's in His Heaven
All's right with the world.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Hour is Now

Haven't updated forever. Doesn't mean that life hasn't been updating itself. Life is one of those strange things. I may sit and fret about my job (or lack of it), my body, my lifestyle, my hair. But time is indifferent to this. So life slowly trickles by, imperceptible but inevitable. That I will never ever get this day, hour, minute, second again sometimes fills me with a kind of hopeless trepidation.

The reality is life will pass by whether I am enjoying it, being depressed or plain miserable or otherwise. I have maintained a diary since I was 11 and today, if I were to flip through the all those years again, all that will surface will be how horribly angsty life was. But if I sit back and recall, some of my most wonderful times are also there, buried under the rubble.

This is starting to be one of those aimless rambling posts but indulge me will you?

Two important literary events have occurred in recent days and I feel compelled to record them. First, Kiran Desai's surprise Booker win. I haven't read the book and so must reserve judgement but I am glad that such a likeable person won. Would any other winner declare that 'the compromise' usually wins? Niceness hardly gets any points these days and Desai gets full points for that. Literary blogger cum diva, Jaiarjun has a good summary of taking these awards with buckets of salt. My only concern is that this annual Booker thing is tiring. I haven't even finished the books on last years list and now there's a whole load of new books to be read. Like Hisham Mater's much praised In the Country of Men. Groan.

I know it doesn't matter whether a book is on the list or not or whatever. One is to read whatever one fancies. But I hate to be unfashionable in the literary world. Isn't it enough that in the sartorial one, I am still in boot cut jeans because I can't wiggle into those skinny jeans?

And of course, Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel. My Turkish friend Maz will sneer. 'There are many other good writers, right here in Turkey. Orhan Pamuk rides on politics to make himself popular', he will say. While I am a Pamuk devotee, I do have to agree that the award is more for political reasons:

"The overriding question is how do the writer's politics factor into the
nomination and award? Is the prize for literature or for politics? More and
more, critics say, the prize "has gone to a person who has the correct sex,
geographical address, ethnic origin and political profile" - correct as
determined by the Swedish Academy. Swedish literary critic Mats Gellerfelt,
quoted in a New Yorker article in 1999, agreed: "The ideal candidate for the
Nobel Prize today," he said, "would be a lesbian from Asia"

I am of course delighted that the founder of the Grameen Bank won the prize for peace. That is a most deserving win. The lives that have been transformed through Grameen Bank initiatives has been nothing short of amazing.

That apart, on the personal front, work has been happening in crazy fashion (when does it not?). Its term time again and the department is swollen with undergrads. Every year, I plan (plan being the operative word) to burn all their essays, inevitably plagiarised from the standard text books. How stupid do these kids think I am?

We've got an explosion of postgrads this year for some strange reason. Fresh faced fools (FFFs), all charmed with the academia, thinking that their research is going to change the world and everyone will die to give them a job. Hah. Wait till I see them next year, when I would have submitted and they would still be stuck in their second year, all fat and pimply from the stress. I'm sorry but this maelstrom means that my Chapter is not working. It is stuck at page 5. How crap, crap, crap is that. It's been giving me migraine and gastritis. And goddamit, this bloody thesis has made FAT. What's with fat? It happens suddenly and dawns with a thud on your thighs and ass. Inside, I still feel thin and if I don't look at full length mirrors, I am still alright as I waddle along.

Ira, my Italian friend, has been so worked up with her chapters that she has been having heart palpitations. And Mari just stops shaving and takes on a cave-man style for months on end. I know other people get stressed. My investment banker friends have very stressed lives. But at least they get paid to be stressed. FFFs will take time to realise all this. The academic backbiting, publishing whores, the now-you-see-him-now-you-don't supervisor. And they are at the bottom of the food chain for god's sake.

The truth is I am bored. Bored. Bored. Bored. I have become a boorish bore (alliteration!) Excuse me for now. Even I can't stand my own company.

Friday, September 22, 2006

I went to LFW

Mundane life has just been work, work erhm work. So managed to wrangle an invite to Singaporean Ashley Isham's show at the London Fashion Week. It helps to tag along friends who are well-connected cause one gets to sit on the second row (with a real cool journalist pass)and pretend that it was all so, duh, normal. I loved the collection, very wearable and moved from hot sophisticated to high drama. Celeb sightings were low though as everyone apparently was hung over from the Vogue party the day before -I only saw James Martin, the TV chef, Tamara Beckwith and Stuart Rose of M&S. There were some other C-listers as well.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Strange Funk

In a strange funk with multiple datelines and PMS.

A few week ago, Kiran Desai was reading The Inheritance of Loss. There was a fair bit of brouhaha as it's now in the Booker longlist and a few other literary types were there as well. Like the poet Benjamin Zephaniah (whom my young cousin describes as weird-cool). I love the title. The Inheritance of Loss. It has such an evocative, almost sensuous rhythm to it. This is the first time I've ever been to a reading with dinner thrown in. Very charming, over samosas and masala thosa!

I got this from my PhD support network and it cracked me up:
Top 10 Reasons to do a PhD

1. Thought Dr. would look good on a credit card

2. Wanted to add nothing whatsoever to the sum knowledge of humankind

3. Saw the character Ross Geller from Friends as role model

4. Quench thirst to explore ethnobiosocioanthropsycholinguistics of sudoku

5. Get to wear jeans to work

6. Believed urban legend that doctors get free upgrade from airplanes

7. Delusional belief about curing AIDS/Cancer/stupidity

8. Peer pressure from nerds

9. Disdain for humdrum things like salary, career prospects, employee benefits

10. Too clever for law school too nice for politics

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006


Selamat Hari Merdeka to Malaysians everywhere.

God. I miss home (and nasi lemak, char kueh teow, biryani at Insaf, nasi kandar penang, lobak, mee goreng mamak, wan tan mee, nasi paprik.....).


Friday, August 25, 2006

Manglish Speaklah

My parents flew back to KL a few days ago. There's a sudden hush around the house. I call my mother. 'The house is really quiet', I mumble. There's a pause. And then she says, 'now you know how I feel when all of you leave'.


I had fun playing tourist guide, this being their first trip here. I had warned them about a few things. Girls will sunbathe in bikinis in the park. They sell condoms in public toilets. Do not accidentally enter sex shops, you may be traumatised for life. Better still, just don't go to Soho. I managed to shield them from a few things: Big Brother, the Sun Page 3, haggis, the thick haze of hash in Camden market.

Their favourite grocery outlet was Hoo Hing for all things Malaysian. Got taugeh and kaya summore okay. Everything Malaysian was of course superior.
Why the tube clanging all the time? Not at all smooth like the LRT.
You travel on this all the time?
If you stay in KL you can drive around, you know? Germs I tell you, all this public transport.

Again, everything in Malaysia feels, looks and tastes better too: the chicken, the prawn, the fish, the okra, the long beans. Exception made for tomatoes, cauliflower, mushrooms. Sandwich for lunch? You mean you eat bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Never heard of such a thing.

Wales, ah? A bit like Cameron Highlands, what? The country idyll merely reminded my dad of Kuala Kubu Baru (can you imagine?). Plus, fed on years of finest East Coast white sand washed beaches, they turned their noses when assaulted by the pebble beaches.

Canary Wharf like KL city centre only. East Ham, a bit like Brickfields but Brickfields better. Cleaner summore. Greenwich market? Like Bangsar pasar malamlah.

Okay. I get it. Next time, UK pergi Ulu Klang saja.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Cardigan Bay

'Now, I am quite prepared to believe that other countries can offer more obviously spectacular scenery. Indeed, I have seen in encyclopaedias and the National Geographic Magazine breath-taking photographs of sights from various corners of the globe; magnificent canyons and waterfalls, raggedly beautiful mountains. It has never, of course, been my privilege to have seen such things at first hand, but I will nevertheless hazard this with some confidence: the English landscape at its finest- such as I saw this morning- possess a quality that the landscapes of other nations, however more superficially dramatic, inevitably fail to possess...What is pertinent is the calmness of that beauty, its sense of restraint. It is as though the land knows of its own beauty, of its own greatness, and feels no need to shout it. In comparison, the sorts of sights offered in such places as Africa and America, though undoubtedly very exciting, would, I am sure, strike the objective viewer as inferior on account of their unseemly demonstrativeness'.

Kazuo Ishiguro, The Remains of the Day at 28-29.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

7 Bloggers Tag

I was tagged by 30in2005 to 'list seven bloggers that I do not know in real life but who I would like to meet and a hypothetical setting that would be ideal to meet them in'.

So, I am listing here bloggers I know only virtually unlike those people whom I've met online and have now become good real-life friends.

1. 30in2005 : Similar wavelength, similar age, similar new house moving madness. Oh, the stories to be exchanged about estate agents, being stuck on a property chain, etc. Regent's park would be a great meeting place.

2. Mint Chutney: She gives me hope that its possible to have it all-marriage, kids and career with a twinkle in the eye, homour in the heart and sarcasm for the soul. The ideal setting would be each others homes.

3. Masalachaii: She's so full of joie de vivre. Plus, there's the connection with academia. We could meet perhaps for chai at current favourite eatery, Saravan Bhavan. With some thosa as well.

4. May: May is just so sweet and funny. We've been planning to meet like forever and she's tops on my list next time I head KL. Of course with a foodie like her, its got to be over food. Maybe char keuh teow but I'll let her choose-this girl knows her food.

5. Starlight : The book connection. Some nice cafe, maybe in Bangsar Village. We could drag Sharon along as well.

6. Lydia Teh: Like, hello-she's a real life celebrity writer and everything. Again, we missed each other the last time. Next time, we must meet. Coffee at Kino will be quite nice.

7. Atenah: She has such a sense of humour about academia and the accompanying stress. Anywhere in Bloomsbury so I can take her around my hang-out place. An little Italian cafe in Russell Square.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

That timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town

I am off for the weekend, deep in Carmarthenshire, Wales to soak in the sights and sounds of the rural idyll. This is Dylan Thomas land and I am going to tremble and and recite 'do not go gentle into that good night'.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Flash Fiction

My friend Starlight sent a challenge via O magazine to : "to tell a story in less than 300 words or less. Something like, as O put it, a novel crossed with a haiku. The result was eight stunning pieces. Like exquisite hor'dourves".

After procratinating for ever so long, here's mine:

By evening, she was in love again. Not quite but mostly yes. Let us meet all over again, she must tell him. The planets would have moved to new astrological signs and may bode better things for their destinies. Surely time will pocket the aching residue of all the bruises? She sat waiting.

He was tired. Striding up her limbs, he groped with clumsy familiarity. The cold beer and tobacco slithered down her spine as the lazy sensitivities of her skin stirred.

In a few hours, she will open the front door for the morning newspaper and start breakfast.
(word count:99)


Kak Teh suggested that the Flash Fiction would make a good meme and I think that its a great idea. You can get a better sample of Flash Fiction at Starlight's blog but remember- no more than 300 words. So all of YOU are tagged.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Weekend Again

Where does the week dissipate away? I only seem to recollect the weekend these days. I pretend to be doing work Mon-Fri but have so little to show for it at the end. Is tomorrow really Monday?

This is seriously starting to sound like a rant and I don't want it to because I had a really nice, lazy weekend. Sans work. Its been so long since I had one of those late lie-in, encased in sunlight mornings, sauntering at a market, stretching all the way to glorious afternoon in the park ending with white wine and strawberries kind of weekend.

There was another bonus-Zadie Smith. I went to watch her read an excerpt from On Beauty on Saturday. I was there on time but it was already packed. Two middle-aged women sitting at the back exchanged: 'She is so gorgeous'. I think most of them there were mesmerized by the lissom vision. And she read like a dream. To pin-drop silence in the hall. And took all those standard, mundane questions of 'what is your inspiration?', 'who are your influences?' etc which must have been brandished to her thousands of times. With utmost patience. No tantrums, no standoffish shrugs as slagged by the press. There was even a kind of shy bewilderment with all the attention.

Isn't it lovely that a writer you adore doesn't disppoint in person? Of course a cynic may say that its all a show-she needs to be nice now that she's had so much bad press about her atrocious behaviour. I can't be bothered about all that fine print really. She's great (except for brown shoes with black dress fashion faux pas ).


On the Rushdie v Greer sequel, two literary giants battle out about whether the filming of Monica Ali's Brick Lane should continue in the area. There's been a big hue and cry by the Bengali community. I come from a country where censorship is a way of life (if you disagree with me, go to this blog). I don't think the protestors even appreciate all that is to be lost by if the filming is to be halted ( I think it already has).

I didn't think that Brick Lane was a particularly good book. I agree with some of the allegations made by the Brick Lane-ites. That the book projected some very stereotypical views about their lives. I don't know whether it is going to make a good movie. But like the book, we can all sit and criticize the film once it's made. Wouldn't that be better?

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Weekend (in parenthesis)

I seem to be unable to talk without parenthesis (theses?) these days. Maybe it is a subconscious reflection of how life itself meanders, stop- gap like between this interminable PhD. Everything else is a peripheral add-on (why do I keep plodding then? I don't know-I am a self-flagellating freak I suppose).

M and I threw the house open last Saturday for a summer party cum very belated house warming (9 months since we moved in. We are slow like that-we needed to sort the house first. Work and stuff like that caught up and after that, decided that we will wait for better weather. Which seemed worth the wait later because Saturday dawned with a light, refreshing shower. Such a welcome after the oppressive heat these past few days. It got fairly hot and sunny mid-morning but we managed with a few fans and air coolers). From late afternoon onwards, the air was cooler and everyone started streaming into the garden. There was BBQ and all manners of food, thanks mostly to my mom (my parents are on holiday here currently which has generally been lovely. On the days that I am working from home, I have company for breakfast and lunch. And the gastronomic delights that keep emerging from the kitchen. Wowzers).

Some of my favourite people turned up (even though they were choc-a- ful with work-so many thanks for the company). Unfortunately, I don't have any blog friendly photos. The last guests left around half 11 and goodness, were we exhausted. All the peeling, cutting, chopping and stirring the day before and the cleaning earlier suddenly seeped to our limbs (next time we are having a party, I am catering).

The next day, we woke up late, ate left overs and watched a really bad Hindi movie on TV.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hello, Hello, Hello

I recently attended a conference in the heart of Whitehall. For a brief period, I felt that I had stepped back into a place frozen in time (I am into cheesy phrases currently) with large pictures of William Gladstone and Thomas Babington MacCaulay staring down at me (I know that blogtiquette necessitates a link here but they are old fogeys. And I am being lazy). The place even had a proper powder room (such a pity that I didn't have my camera with me). I could just picture the flawed high society women from Oscar Wilde going upstairs to powder their noses. And all the proper balls at the function room which was draped in regal, damask curtains and an ornate chandelier.

The conference however was very much about the present: development and poverty and all those things we think can be solved by discussing (maybe not?). It was all about talking, sharing, disagreeing and networking like crazy. The thing that struck me later after the whole conference was the hellos that were exchanged.

Hello. A word that punctures your life with a new person.

Hellos that make you laugh. An esteemed legal theorist who thinks Superman is better than Spiderman as a cultural concept. A whole new juxtaposition opens.

Hellos that introduce you to new thought streams. A centre-left wing, European hello gelled with a loud American right-wing hello over lunch. As the neo-liberal hellos fill me with a genial disbelief (can there be such a thing? Its all in the nice hello that started the conversation I say). Strange insights ensue. Hellos that agree to disagree.

Some hellos mean nothing. You know after leaving the room, you will never meet the person again. But there are nicer hellos that will seek you at the end of the conference, group a few others and go for a drink afterwards. Hellos that get slightly tipsy together and promise to meet up again.

The best hellos are the ones remembered later. When we become really good friends and recollect how we had first met.


Last weekend, we were joined by friends of friends for lunch. It was later, when they stopped by at our place, that M and I knew this would be a hello that would blossom into a long, proper friendship.


With regards to the all out war in Beirut, this diary-note by a Lebanese artist particularly struck me:
"I would have to leave behind all my artwork in my studio.
What about all my brushes and paints and glitter and books? (All my books!) What
about our photo albums? Our family pictures? What about the doodles I drew on my
balcony a few summers ago when I was suffering from a bad break-up? What about
all the love letters I have saved? Letters that document my youth that I wanted
to someday give to my daughter."
The destruction of ordinary lives as political chess games are waged.
The most sensible piece I've read about the problems in the middle-east has been by Ahdaf Soeif. Although I never liked her fiction, her non-fiction work is scintillating.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

For Mumbai

From Salman Rushdie's "The Moor's Last Sigh":

Bombay was central, had been so from the moment of its creation: the bastard child of a Portuguese-English wedding, and yet the most Indian of Indian cities. In Bombay all Indias met and merged. In Bombay, too, all-India met what-was-not-India, what came across the black water to flow into our veins...Bombay was central; all rivers flowed into its human sea. It was an ocean of stories; we were all its narrators, and everybody talked at once.

Uma reminded me all over again about the city's spirit as it crawls under the debris of a meaningless, hateful attack.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

On Turning One

Amidst the flurry of life passing by, in muted tones, this blog turned 1. I almost let it slip by but today, as any day is, an apt day to remember all that it means to me, especially the warm friendships and girl camaraderie that have bloomed as a result in this past year. I feel that we're old friends already.

To each one of you, the ones I know and don't, the commenting ones and silent ones. You've made all the difference to this blog in this past year. Thank you.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The pain in my heart

festers as tumescent old wounds are pried open and scratched. I am the sum of choices made, options discarded, chances blown away. Today, my cloistered world is blue, black and green.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference


Bawl. Repeat above. Internalize. Move on.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Crossed: One of the things to do before you die.

The list I have of those things to do before I die is long and myriad. But I can cross one out now: going on a desert safari.

We stopped over in Dubai for two nights en route to KL. This is my second time in Dubai. The first time was just a day trip so everything was a big haze of ultra modern skyscrapers and Arabic mysticism. I remember dying for almost half the day for want of coffee. It was Ramadhan and hence, no eating in public places.

This time, it was a better planned trip. SJ, our old uni friend, now based in Dubai, was waiting for us at the airport (what do we do without old friends? All I can do is hug them for being part of our lives). The roads have exotic, raspy names which I can't pronounce and almost immediately the gleaming glass towers spiral into view.SJ had some work at the Emirates Mall so we spent some time in what is the biggest mall in UAE, stacked with British high street labels. Yawn. It even strangely had a very popular ski complex: offering some skiing in the desert. How bizarre.

The highlight of the day was taking a traditional Arab dhow (barge) cruise around the Dubai creek for authentic Arab food. A meat eaters heaven because there's every type of imaginable kebab apart from salted vegetables and the best hummus I've ever had. M had some local tea called Ismaili tea and I tried some very potent Arabic coffee. All this with sultry Arabic music straining in the background. After that, we sat around the Dubai marina area for hookah/sheesha. I got a real thrill that I was smoking sheesha in the Middle East. (I am quite sore that the photo M took of my apple flavoured sheesha was not clear. Sob).

The next day, we sauntered around the markets in the older part of Dubai called Karama. I wanted to bargain at local prices for bric-a-brac, not in the posh area of Souk Madinat Jumeirah (where Jumeriah Beach and the world famous Burj Al Arab is). After a light lunch, we were prepared for the biggest reason for our stopover. Oh, be still my beating heart.

The desert safari, a truly fabulous experience. Our hired four wheel drive whizzed and whoozed around the desert. I held on tight and clenched my fingers as we went on some serious dune bashing-rollercoaster on the desert. Yee haa (though for a brief few moments I suddenly had damning visions of what if a desert storm happened. The driver later told me that desert storms only unfolded in much bigger deserts so all's safe here. Phew). We stopped around for photos and watched camels being fed at a camel farm. By a real-life Beduoin. How cool is that?

Then, we were serenaded by the most beautiful sunset we had seen in all our lives (my camera doesn't do it justice). A fierce, red glowing ball suspended on an orange sky with golden sand dunes stretching endlessly. A truly spiritual moment. It felt like a gift from the desert.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Hello From Changi

Hello from Changi International, land of Singlish, clean toilets and kiasu-ism.

I am travel weary but what a blast Dubai was. More later.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


I'm off on a little trip involving a desert, a safari, food under starlight and lots of late night teh tarik. Be good till I'm back y'all.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Let there be Spaces in Your Togetherness

says Khalil Gibran.

M and I celebrate our 3rd Anniversary today. I can't believe its 3 years already and that we stayed afloat at all. Do I have answers now on surviving a relationship? Hell, no. More questions maybe. Or is it just that we have morphed into couplehood with a strange comfortableness. When M's not around/travelling, I do miss the M shaped hole next to me.

And yes, we have confirmed to the married couple (subtext: boring) stereotype. We sometimes finish each others sentences and find that cloyingly touching. We go home early from dinner parties not because we are going to try position no.32 from kama sutra but because we want to wake up early the next day to buy new tiles for our kitchen/look for a new shoe rack.

We have moved to a 3 bed in a borough with good schools (for the kiddies we don't have yet). Most of our friends are couples and all of us get excited to find that there's a new Marks & Spencer Food in the neighbourhood. I cannot remember the last time we went dancing and drinking and stayed out too late or became too drunk. That to me is kind of sad.

Still, three years is cause for celebration I think. It's not the seven year (itch) yet.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

10 Simple Pleasures

The lovely May tagged me on this. And here it is finally: 10 little things that make Jane Sunshine happy:

1.Morning breakfast sitting in my garden and chatting with my roses (the reds, the pinks and the blossoming orange ones).

2. A long soak in the bath after a hard day.

3. Rambling evening walks.

4. Sovereignty of my kitchen. I never had my own proper kitchen ever. The one at home was always mom's and I never ventured there much the culinary way. The ones subsequent were rented and I always felt alien in them. Now, finally, I have my own with chrome spot lights and a breakfast bar. Yippeyay.

5. All the Neal's Yards product range : makes a girl feel so pampered and organic

6. Mindless TV: latest addiction is my Thursday night staple of House and Grey's Anatomy (have I mentioned my crush on Dr. Gregory House? There's something about arrogant, difficult men. On another note: it does seem a bit sad to list TV programs as things that make me happy-but they do. After a long day, nothing like bumming in front of the telly, I tell you. If it makes me shallow and stale, so be it).

7. Saturday Guardian and Sunday Times.

8. Fruit cake especially those laced with inordinate amounts of brandy (hic) and ice cream (if my friend ewok is reading this, I hope she knows how I adore the Losely honey and ginger tub).

9. Bargain hunting in markets, last done here.

10. Picnics (much to be had this coming summer, to show off especially new picnic basket. Pix when this happens, promise).

Friday, May 19, 2006

Meme Me

I got this from May who didn't tag me. So I guess I'm kind of tagging myself because I enjoyed the whole thing:

I AM so tired.

I JUST NOW filled a bureaucratic form.

I SAID good morning to my dotty old neighbour.

I WANT to go on a six month sabbatical but I just can't afford it.

I WISH life was simpler.

I HATE being so far away from my family

I MISS holding my mom.

I FEAR that my brain will evaporate (I am serious) and I'll forget everything before I write this goddamn thesis.

I HEAR the leaves rustling on a windy spring day.

I WONDER how life would have been if I had chosen a different career path.

I REGRET all the times I've lost my temper with my parents.

I AM NOT going to St. Petersburg now because there's just too much work- Ironically, I was supposed to go there for work.

I SING out of tune old Tamil songs in the bathroom.

I CRY because I need to. It helps. Sometimes.

I AM NOT ALWAYS this fat, I used to be thinner pre-Thesis.

I MADE two friends eat sambal ikan bilis last week-and they loved it.

I WRITE with no sense of structure. Bad. Bad. Bad.

I CONFUSE my priorities so often. Sigh.

I NEED to go shopping- summer beckons. I'm so in love with all the Cath Kidston vintage inspired stuff.

I SHOULD get back to work as I am going to watch Da Vinci Code tonight.

I START at a new place after summer, fingers crossed.

I FINISH the thesis and LIFE, which is now on hold, can begin again.


Oh, you can do this if you wish. No tags.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

"I hate writing. I love having written"

Says the straight-talking Dorothy Parker. Which sort of sums up how things are now. And going to be for a while now. Sigh. It almost feels like sacrilege to be working when the weather is getting so gorgeous. Warm, honeyed sunshined is streaming in, bathing everything in a golden glow. And the bluebells are rustling.

Now, I know why all those poetry got written in spring.

But I leave you with a lame joke.

Q: How many Chicago school economists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None, if it needs changing the market will take care of it.

Ha ha ha. But I sort of dig taking a shot at these nutters, ya know?


Tuesday, May 09, 2006


I can eat roti canai everyday for breakfast. There is something immensely satisfying about a crisp roti canai dunked into piping hot dhall curry. It sits with a flamboyant sheen as it's dished out, almost too grand for the regular blue plastic plate. A golden, velvety square-round roti. Whip bite pieces quickly into the thick dhall curry, enjoy the feel of the roti soaked in generous curry with your fingers and let it slide into the mouth. I seriously think that everything is down to the fact that the fluffy margarine smeared roti is flicked around with such dextrous fun. That's why it cant help but traipse around in flavourful bites when it finally sinks into the mouth.

In the evenings when the weight of the day hangs heavy, I tend to try fancier versions, roti telur, roti bom, roti sardin. They last longer for those after office conversations. There are so many new versions that I often am lost for choice. I don't think I can ever eat all the varieties though. Roti strawberi for example. Fruity jam with my roti seems such an anomaly.

But in the mornings, its canai and nothing else. Canai is never too much or too little. Always just nice. To pep the senses and start the day ahead.

Chanai also features regularly on lazy mid-mornings, when it's a holiday and no-plans-ahead-kind-of-day. It imbues a languid morning with a lovely, indulgent feeling. Perfect for a morning read. Maybe Murakami. Definitely a writer who goes with roti canai. Light and spurious to pique those lazy senses. Or nice, clean writers like Ishiguro or Julian Barnes. Those are my morning books that have the odd canai stain in their midst. Sometimes, with dhall as well.

Last of my memory and food posts for now, inspired by my recent trip to KL.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mr.Ho's Char Kueh Teow

Char kueh teow (ckt) over lunch at a nondescript stall holed in a corner of PJ. I have been eating in this place, Mr. Ho's, for over 10 years. It certainly is not the best ckt in town.

There are much more eulogized ones. When I do have a craving for a good plate, where the fluffy noodle, slathered in oil, soya sauce and eggs glides gently to tickle the taste buds and explode in a joyous symphony, accompanied by a heady note of cockles and prawns, I take a two hour drive up north to Ipoh. There, a bright coffee shop in the Old Town sells the best char keuh teow in Malaysia (subjective of course). Go there slightly after 1 in the afternoon and return empty stomached for the stall owners would be clearing out already.

Coming back to Mr. Ho's ckt. I really don't know what his name is but mentally called the thin, moustachioed noodle seller Mr. Ho years ago. Because he looked like a Mr. Ho type. You know the ones who are brisk and no-nonsense, always gruff, unsmiling and cursing under their breath. But with really nice hearts. That Mr. Ho type. Over the past decade, Mr.Ho has consistently served me with ckt that is too oily, with too much soy sauce, little or no prawns, and always slightly burnt.

In the early days, I attempted to explore a few other places during the PJ lunch hour but realized that I was wasting my time. Something to do with the water, another connoisseur quietly told me. Water makes a difference in the rice noodles and that's why the thick, flat noodles from up north, shaped with rice flour and clear water from the hills, taste so divine. The years when I worked in another part of town, I tried various other ckt stalls. Still, something felt not right. I've come to realize that it may not be the noodle as much as Mr. Ho.

The gruff Mr. Ho smiles some days when he recognizes me. Or gives me that glint of familiarity. And I tell you, for some strange reason, it makes such a difference. He has seen me with ex-friends, ex-boyfriends, current friends, my sisters, my parents and the one husband I now have. In a funny way, Mr. Ho's ckt has been the one constant in my life. And it always smells of how work day lunches should be.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Talking about Tea

My mother is making tea. I inch closer to the pot and let the steam waft into my face. It is the most comforting smell in the world for me. It reminds me always of quiet evenings after school when dad came home after work and I finished my homework on the dining table. I wasn't allowed to drink tea till I was much older but on some days, mom would let me have a sip. Those sips were like a peek into all things grown up, a glimpse to all the freedom that will come soon.

I am 13 when I am finally allowed to drink tea properly, still not too much, just a small cup in the evening. I dunk the sweet raisin bun bought for a few sen from the roti man and watch the tea rivulets trickle down the side of my hands as I gobble the bun.

I remember the pots and pots of tea brewed on Divali day for the streaming guests. And the tea shared after a favourite uncle's wedding, amidst the teary spectacle of goodbyes, noisy children, wilting flowers and messy decorations still strewn along the aisle.

Teh tarik, those floating creamy concoctions, a glistening yellow-brown in the air. Often overly sweet, the frothy air bubbles brim from the cheap plastic glass. Cooling parched throats on swelteringly hot days.

Tea my mother wakes up to make on nights that I stay up to study for an exam. The tea of elation when we gathered to celebrate exam results. The tea of relief we all drank the morning the much delayed letter saying that I was accepted at university arrived.

Jasmine, oolong, assamese, darjeeling, earl gray and green tea. Tea infused with ginger, raspberry, lemon, almonds, peppermint, camomile. Friendships built over tea and curry puff. Late night tea at the Bangsar mamak where I smoke my first cigarette and decide that I don't like it after all. But smoke anyway because it is cool to do so.

It is my first winter in England and I am trying to make my own masala tea. I pound the ginger and boil it with cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. I add more sugar but it just doesn't taste right. It imbues my heart with the gnawing loneliness of harsh and cold days.

Tea that was all wrong. The brackish tea that was handed over the day my grandma died and strange women stood making the brew in the kitchen. A watery tea, a sloshing brown mud coloured tea. All wrong, wrong. Like the tea left undrunk, when hot tears streamed furiously after the exchange of the most hurtful words. And the tea that I never made the day you left in a huff and we had our first major row.

Milky tea at a road side hillstation tucked at the Himalayan foothills which I hold with hands still adorned with bridal mehendi. Realizing that I didn't want to keep my mind shut from you anymore. Posh afternoon tea to be had while nibbling dainty sandwiches, scones and clotted cream. Chai Tea Latte to unburden the mind and feel light again.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Down the murukku trail

Caution: Rant and parenthesis galore

Gallivanting around KL down the murukku trail is a long story.

See, before I left, there were earnest requests for murukku/mixture whatchamacalit. A particular real life Celebrity Blogger (CB) told me about the best place in KL to get this stuff and deciding to be very smart about time management (considering that I had so little of it left), we agreed to meet at the location for lunch. So, we can buy the murukku as well-lah. The problem with going out with a CB is that they get accosted by people of all walks of life even at lunch. The biggest shock was when the restaurant manager came up to welcome CB and informed CB that a particular big honcho was to lunch there soon, pointing furtively at a table marked as 'reserved'. CB gave me and restaurant manager equal measures of alarmed looks. 'If we stay here Jane, we will end up eating with big honcho', she said, becoming increasingly agitated. I began envisioning all the tears of boredom that would be shed over such an encounter. How to have a proper chitter chatter like that?

RUNNNNNNNNNNNN...we grabbed our bags and literally ran, the staccato bursts of our shoes leaving a hurried trail down the muted ambience. We moved on to a quieter place for plenty of natter and what we both realized was a meeting of true kindred spirits (awww...). It was only about half an hour later, when we had well and truly left the place that I realised that I had entirely forgotten all about the murukku. Duh.

So, the next day, I get my sister to take a day off from work (it's not everyday that I, big sis, am in town, okay). I needed to buy a few things in Mid Valley after all. I ended up with 5 pairs of shoes, one plate of char kweh teow at Little Penang Cafe (RM10 or so a plate, shocking, shocking. How come everything in KL is so expensive these days? I just can't believe that I paid so much for a plate of noodles. And worst, roti canai is more expensive now because of petrol prices? What next? ooo I digress), a few books from MPH, new charger for camera and a hair wash (How I miss having my wash&blow at the salon. The one that comes with those divine head/shoulder massages as well. Hmmmmm. Once upon a time when I lived in KL, I never washed my hair myself. I just washed it at the salon near the office during lunch time. Seems like another life away : oh KL, land of great hair washes and domestic help).

Only to realize after coming home that I had completely forgotten the murukku again!

So, the day before I was flying, amidst all the flurry of last minute buying (including the ikan bilis to be stashed in between my books. I swear its only because the ikan bilis here is such an assault to the Malaysian version, limp, flaky and tasteless, that I am resorting to smuggling guises.) I managed to grab some of those murukkus at Lotus Jln Gasing. Finally. Harumppph.

That apart, KL this time was really about work which went rather well (including a job offer from across the causeway...what is that saying about how things always happen when you are not looking? But still, feels good to be wanted by somebody. And that the work that I have been obsessing about does have some kind of worth. And immersed in lovely camaraderie with the others who are obsessing about it as well).

Its not been all hahahehe. Practically dragged a someone else in desperate need to offload the weighted worries that were constricting my mind. One of those now very dear friends who makes me feel light again. Always. No questions, no judgements, just support and warmth. Sweetheart, you deserve only the good things in life for your beautiful heart.

Now though, back to crazy number of deadlines. All together now. Aaaaargghhhhhhhhh.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

No Hellos and Goodbyes for You Kuala Lumpur

She returns now a woman with new cities in her spirit.

Hello again, she had wanted to say to this old-new city. Yet, somehow her hello tipped at the corner of her mouth. A stilted, unsaid word. Flailing amidst the soursweet throaty feeling that wrapped her.

She couldn't remember saying goodbye that time when she packed her bags and books to leave. Not for a short holiday. But for a proper, grown-up move. To battle another life. 'I'll be back in no time' was all she remembered saying amidst the hazy blur of hugs and I'll miss yous at the airport.

So how does she say hello again to this city that coursed in her veins? It was a vain and vexing city. Her well-travelled eye is now critical of this facade. Draped around a muddied confluence, the towering new buildings spiral with a nouveau rich kind-of-city smell. The streets are strewn with apathy, while a sense of hurriedness permeates, following the sweat and dust.

She had seen many grander ones, full of pageantry and oozing with old world charm. Always, she felt quickly at home in most cities. It was just a matter of time before she would embrace its particular rhythms. She would always be on the go, seeing a magnificent icon emerge from the travel brochures, unearthing a new treasure, sauntering down unknown alleys, chatting with a fellow traveller in a noisy cafe, watching the sun rise in new lands and crumble into strange seas. Doing something, going somewhere. Time always ticked furiously in such cities.

But in the old-new city? Time stood still here. Encasing the years. No other city had bottled her 18 year old bright eyed self. The happy glint amidst a shared laugh. A gentler time. Of naivety and kindness. And tears, of anguish and heartbreak. Everywhere she went, she saw pieces of her former self.

It is here, in the old-new city that she could let go. She could just be. She remembers the piquant dreams that they nurtured together. The cackling and fizzling many layered dreams. That her mature eyes now notice have burnt into sombre grey ashes. And rise again in many new forms. The wind has strewn them in various nooks and crannies. In the city with no hellos and goodbyes.

She will return soon. With promises and kisses true.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Too Tired for a Title

I've always maintained this blog as non-political, non-affiliated, non anything basically. You and me, we share some happy, nice times about love and life. Sure, there's pain and hurt which sometimes I talk about, sometimes I don't. Then, there are fat days, blonde days, mad days.

But when I read imbecile statements like this, I feel downright insulted. SUHAKAM is Suruhanjaya Hak Asasi Malaysia (the Malaysian Human Rights Commission). I was so hopeful when the Commission was set up. I was looking forward to an impartial, honest and INDEPENDENT commission championing human rights. Over the years, we all realized that this was just not going to happen but the latest statement by a government minister takes the cake

Here's an excerpt (datedTuesday, 28 March 2006, 10:12)

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz said Suhakam's responsibility will be as that contained in the Suhakam Act, which states that it is involved in the promotion of human rights.
Replying to a suplementary question from Teresa Kok (DAP-Seputeh), Nazri said there were sufficient enforcement bodies to conduct prosecutions.
Complaints made against bodies and agencies or malpractice would be forwarded to the authorities which have the power to prosecute in courts and other avenues.
"I think Seputeh (Kok) is dreaming. We had no intention of giving Suhakam any fangs. It was not our intention," he said.

April Showers, May Flowers

April, pregnant with hope. Flower buds burst forth, green leaves uncurl with vigour and squirrels are scampering about. The sun is indulgent and casts a warm eye. Then, the sudden showers slant down. Light spurts of rain refresh the reclusive senses, tickling away all winter-induced doldrums. April showers promising the joys of May flowers

Friday, March 31, 2006

Spring, Sprang, Sprung

Nothing like the smell of freshly cut grass and blooming flowers. It's flip flop weather soon. Please, please god of new seasons, put some spring on my weary step.

I can't wait to shed the jackets and cardis for flimsier clothing. But my biggest horror *gasp* *gasp* is that skinny jeans are back in fashion this season. Why can't anybody see that no one looks good in this except for Kate Moss? This is worst than the hideous carrot-cuts of yore. I will be sticking to my boot cuts, thank you very much.

Signed, Jane aka thunder thighs and fat-ass.

Monday, March 27, 2006

A Fiction Journey

"when you're in a bookshop with shelves and shelves of books, how do you know which one to pick up and start reading?"

In reply to Ekerhart's question which I have not forgotten; just taken forever to answer considering current travails, my answer is this.

For me, reading is a spiritual experience. This is because when I read, I am invited to another person's mindspace. I walk into a variety of lives and times, discover, learn and enjoy. Different books appealed to me at different ages. My earliest reading memories were those little fables (aesops I think?) that mom and I read together. And Dickens because my father loved him. I also remember spending my afternoons at the local library after school (on those days when there was no homework. Ah yes, gentler times then). I started with Enid Blyton, especially Five Find-outers, Secret Seven, The Faraway Tree (or something like that where pixies and gnomes sat down for scones and English tea. I used to wonder about all that while munching my karipap. I know Enid Blyton is not popular these days but she so-coloured my childhood). Then I moved on to more grown up ones like Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys. Every year, I used to write 'detective' in the career ambition slot that was required for the annual school record.

There were also the special books like Heidi, Black Beauty, Charlotte's Web, Chronicles of Narnia and always, always Anne of Green Gables who companied me through many years in true kindred-spirit fashion. I honestly think that it should be made compulsory for every little girl to read Anne. One day, I will go to Prince of Wales Island in Nova Scotia to pay homage to the red haired Anne Shirley.

When puberty hit, my shelves were filled with Sue Townsend's Adrian Mole, Judy Blume, Paul Zindel(I so looooveee the whole Pigman series). I also enjoyed adventure stuff as well like Count of Monte Cristo, Prisoner of Zenda and everything by Alexandre Dumas, translated ones nevertheless (all these swashbuckling adventures were my fathers influence).

At times books were my saviours. Between ages 15-18, I must admit with great embarrassment to have read at least 100 Mills and Boons. I remember M&B's being passed around and the giggly instructions to focus particularly on pages x and y which were the steamiest. This was such a highlight for us girls in our small town. I was the geek kid, too tall, too quiet and too studious. All the uber cool girls in school hung out at KFC (MacDonalds, the next-big-thing in teenage hangout places would only open its first outlet in my town when I was 18 or so). I, being a nerd, would look from afar at all this. I was never part of the 'cool gang' that enjoyed coke (drink not drug) at KFC. What more, I walked around in clothes my mom made for me. Can you imagine how utterly un-cool that was? M&B's came to the rescue during those years. All the brooding, muscular and good looking men always fell passionately in love with the mousy, plain jane (me! me!). I was a loner; pimply, frumpy and swishing in strange dreams. God knows those M&Bs saved my teenage years.

Later, I progressed to more mature romances: everything by Jane Austen, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Rebecca and Thornbirds. I have to also admit about the Danielle Steele (shudder) and Sydney Sheldon that happened around this time.

Some books choose you. I really believe that. This is because some books fall on my lap at the most appropriate times. Like Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. I read D.H.Lawrence's Sons and Lovers when I was 21. Just the right age when I was looking to be consumed by blinding, writhing passion. I wanted to be like Miriam. I wanted to have fallen in love madly and perseversly enjoy a broken heart. If I were to read it now, I would still enjoy Lawrence's prose but would never relate to Miriam the way I did then.

Along the years, I there have been so many intimate encounters.
Books that have made me cry: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (of hopelessness and hope), The Glass Menagerie by Tenessee Williams (of manufacturing illusions) and the ultimate cry-fest, Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (the latter two being plays).

Books that made me depressed: A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. Why did Latha marry the shoemaker of all people? The God of Small Things. I know its fashionable to pan this book but I don't think anybody has ever explored children's voices the way Arundhati Roy did. Everything by Virginia Woolf (ha, ha....if you are feeling happy, just read To the will start making you wallow in sadness). Everything by K.S.Maniam who explores hypenated Malaysian identities with such pain.

Books that made me gape in awe: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe for its grand simplicity. Anna Karenina by Tolstoy for its sweeping majesty. The Potrait of the Artist as Young Man by James Joyce. I still feel that I know too much about Stephan Dedalus and his bed wetting habit. And Lolita for being the work of a master wordsmith.

The rainy day books. On particularly cold miserable days, I want to snuggle up with some flighty varieties, ones who never take life seriously like Jeeves the butler and those crazy people in Malgudi. Or macabre according to mood which P.D.James satiates.

Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed about all the books that I have to read. New titles keep popping by the second. The Guardian Book Review, the Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books tend to highlight latest must-haves.

Thank you Ekerhart. For asking. I wouldn't have recounted the books that were weaved along my growing up years otherwise. The other books that made a rend in my mind were listed here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Of Birthdays and Virtual Realities

Finally. I feel that I can breathe again. Kinda nice to be missed. I am so touched.

It's my best friend's birthday today. Happy birthday V darling. I remember the first time we met. She was sitting in front of me, dozing off at the introductory lecture on our first day in law school. She's a hotshot lawyer now while I spend my working hours walking around in my socks and jammies. Still, she is the one person (apart from my sisters) who will genuinely tell me that my ass looked big in a particular dress, listen to my tirades and will tag along for my teh tarik highs, no questions asked.

She doesn't really know about this blog so won't get this greeting. I have so far tried to keep my virtual life distinct from the real one. But sometimes I wonder which is which. My so-called 'real' life is mired in so much angst. Jane Sunshine keeps my sanity intact in such instances. Last night for example, Jane Sunshine emerged and insisted that I skive. You see, three lovelies had called with an impromptu invitation that she join them for Malaysian food at Mawar, fabulous company included of course. The sambal and laughters galore made her feel all warm and fuzzy to be sure.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Work (Again)

V.Stressed. Jane Sunshine all grouchy and monosyllabic. Why do 25 million things happen at the same time? In view of this, I am going AWOL for a bit.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Another List

Thanks to Atenah's meme, there's been a bit of a buzz about the books we love. The variety of views generated has been so diverse and interesting. Just goes to show how different books have touched us in so many ways. Or the same book in different ways.

Talking about favourite books got me thinking about those books that have disappointed me: I am not talking about sappy chic flick, especially the ones featuring Indian weddings ala Life Isn't all Ha Ha He He (Meera Syal) or Greek weddings or groom hunting culminating in wedding sort of book or Hollywood-script-disguised-as-book of fiction ie Da Vinci Code :you get the drift. (Aside. My social life has dwindled since I refused to proceed beyond chapter 1 of Dan Brown's bestseller. There are some people who will never admit me to their dinner parties anymore as a result. Even when I promise to bring along some lovingly made mushroom risotto. Such is life).

Coming back to the point. I am referring to those books that leave me wanting. The ones I could not wait to acquire, looked lovingly at its cover and gingerly traversed. The ones that all of a sudden, throw an about-turn. The ones that cause all aforesaid expectations to crash into smithereens. Failing in such an inexplicable way. At such a moment, the disappointment leaves a deep rend. No worst, it feels like walking in shoes without soles. You find yourself dragging along all the pebbles and sand that you don't want to.To give Dan Brown some credit, at least he doesn't have pretensions- he is just telling a story to be sold to Hollywood. Just like those chick flicks which sometimes, can be bearable at airport lounges/rail terminals.

But the books that I am referring to come under another guise.

I had expected so much more from them and in the wake of the disappointment, leave me with one of those 'what the hell' feelings. If I had an analogy, it would be all the men one considers 'partner' material but after a few dates, discard upon discovery that they are two dimensional cut-outs. Here's my lot.

1. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. The problem with this book is that it seduces the book lover with such an enchanting premise. A cemetery of forgotten books. Dark mystery. But the tackiest twist and turns ever. I was looking for Delia Smith Tiramisu. I get Tesco sponge cake.

2. Brick Lane by Monica Ali. I think that this is one of the most overrated books. So, woman marries boring man. She has affair with young insurgent in crotch hugging jeans. Who cares? For this, she gets to be on the Granta list?

3. The House of Blue Mangoes by David Davidar I expected so much more before reading. It turned out to be exotica served on a platter of limp storyline. Don't bother.

4. Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence. Just a disguise for crude sex. Eukh.

5. In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdaf Soueif. I just don't get this book. Its supposed to be all about sexual liberation of middle eastern women and what not but the protagonist keeps on pining for a man who will emotionally and physically abuse her. Sprinkling a book with phrases like 'sexual imperialist' does not make it groundbreaking. Or maybe that’s the whole point? I'll be glad if someone can change my mind on this one.

Have I offended anybody with this list, particularly the legion of Da Vinci Code fans ? Let me know. I am always open to opinions/criticism/insights. But gently now. *hides face in self protection* Or does anybody want to share their 'books that disappoint' list? Maybe it includes Franny and Zooey. All's fair in bookish love and war.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

These are Some of My Favourite Books

I was tagged by the vivacious Atenah.

1) What is the total number of books you've owned?
I cannot remember. But one day, I am going to bring together all my books which are scattered in various houses and merge them in one large library. Nestled among all this is my crown jewel, the kohinoor in my book collection: a cloth bound, first edition of my most favourite book in the world which cost me an arm and a leg. I caress it on quiet evenings and look in wonder that this book belongs to me. One day, my favourite child will inherit it. It may not have the monetary value of other possessions but it is so rich in emotional value.

2) What is the last book you bought?
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka which I bought in Cardiff.

3) What is the last book you've read?
Alias Chin Peng: My Side of History. I have an obsession about this part of Malaysian history because it was just one crazy, mad time. I am curious about what people do when things get crazy and mad. But the book itself was disappointing though. I never got to know the real Chin Peng.

4) What are you currently reading?
World Poverty and Human Rights by Thomas Pogge. Riveting.

5) What are the 5 books that have meant a lot to you or that you particularly enjoyed?
(Why just 5 , why. That makes it all the more difficult. Some of these books may not be very high on literary merit but I am dwelling on the books that have a particular emotional appeal to me.)

Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger. Rhapsody here.

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. The narrative complexity, the magic realism and most of all, the dextrous language which seeps into your pore and possess you. Brilliantly imagined and executed in such chaotic cacophony that it leaves me breathless and levitating at the same time. Yes, literary orgasm entirely possible here. If I had to be moored on an island and take just one book, this would be it. I will never feel alone with Saleem Sinai and Parvati the Witch snickering at the background

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy. I first read this book as an abridged version on a long school holiday spent at my grandma's. One of the older cousins must have left it there and I remember being gripped by the story of Michael Henchard so much. Some years later, I picked up the original and cried my heart out with the forlornness of it all, learning that destiny is irrevocably weaved by character. I know if I read it today, I will still brood for a few days. Maybe not the best Hardy but it's another one of those books that grew with me.

The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. This is one of those epic folk-tale like stories that transports me into a realm of surreal magic. It beguiles you in a feminine way, spreds softly into your heart and never quite lets go.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith. For its fresh brazenness. A book with attitude, chronicling the displaced British Asian with such verve. I remember this book so intimately, I am overwhelmed sometimes. It's here that I learn the word raggastani (say it out loud, its got such a funky feel to it). For a first novel, it is phenomenal. That she wrote this at 21 is even more amazing. And like I mentioned before, when I went to Kilburn, I looked hard for dear old Samad Miah.

Possession by A.S.Byatt. I am cheating by adding a No.6 but this book means so much to me with its romance of the obsessive, bitchy world of academia. When I am down in library basements, I remember Roland Mitchell trawling dusty tomes at the British Library. I descend into this cloistered esoteric madness as I follow the adventure every time.

6) What book(s) would you wish to buy next?
Way too many (My 'to read' list keeps growing all the time) but this is a selection.
Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk and Maximum City by Suketu Mehta: I love books that romance and demonize cities.

The Delia Collection, Italian by Delia Smith. This is a great 5 minute stress buster. Short read with gorgeous pix which leave me happily salivating. Food porn.

7) What book(s) that caught your attention but never had a chance to read?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (yea, I am that outdated) cause it's supposed to be a sublime achievement or so I hear.

Two from last years Booker list: The Accidental by Ali Smith and The Sea by John Banville.

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

Salina by A.Samad Said (thanks to this person)

Some very esoteric ones which nobody cares about.

8) What book(s) that you've owned for so long but never read?
The Jungle is Neutral by F. Spencer Chapman. Story of a British spy who fought in the Malayan jungles during the Japanese invasion. I keep stopping at the part where he gets sloshed by the tropical rain for some strange reason.

Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy. Drives me to zzzz land. I carry it along when I walk around the department though so that everybody thinks that I am all clever and everything. Heh.

9) Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why?
I am not going to pass it to anybody in particular lest they feel obligated to do it but I would love to know what these 3 make out of it:

30in2005 who has such a voracious reading list .

Evening Star who reads with so much passion.

Mint Chutney because I just know that she will come up with a list that will be well thought out but dotty.

(I thought of Kak Teh but I can ask her that myself. She is but a tube line away)