Would you Write for a Good Cause?


Composers for Relief: Supporting the Philippines

Album:Composers for Relief: Supporting the Philippines

End of 2013 I wrote a piece of flash fiction based on  Hymn of Faith by Jochem Weierink  from the album  Composers for Relief: Supporting the Philippines, which was created on a theme of Hope.

Authors from all over the world wrote stories inspired by musical compositions from this album, now compiled into a companion e-book anthology “Beyond the Binding”. Today the cover is being revealed all over blogiverse, and Daily (w)rite is part of the Big Blog Reveal for this amazing book. Samantha Geary, a cool blog friend, and now part of team Damyanti for the A to Z Blogging Challenge has helped create this miracle of collaboration, and I thank her for including me in this wonderful project.

Here’s the Blub for “Beyond the Binding”:

Embark on an exciting journey “Beyond the Binding” of the imagination with 29 authors from across the globe, in a groundbreaking collaboration where music meets fiction. Surrender to soaring compositions as they surge through the veins of every story, capturing the triumphant pulse of the notes in heart pounding sci fi, enchanting fantasy and gripping slices of realism.  

All proceeds of the Composers for Relief  album and Companion Collection ebook will go to Gawad Kalinga (“give care”) and GVSP (Gualandi Volunteer Service Programme), to support the relief efforts for victims of the deadliest natural disaster in Philippines’ history, Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).

————————————————————————————

Here’s the gorgeous cover, flanked by my story of Hope based on Hymn of Faith - Jochem Weierink :

Beyond the Binding: Composers for Relief Companion Anthology

Beyond the Binding: Composers for Relief Companion Anthology

Darkness slow and deep, I lie quiet, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste, I remain floating, distant. It is too much, I shall not wake up, I shall stay in this cotton wool world, its soft-sleepy music lifting me up through the roof, through the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple, I shall keep rising like a frothy bit of cloud.

I shall not face it, hell, I have no face to face it with. Yesterday, they told me I have to be prepared, there is not much of a face left under the bandages. I was alive, that was the main thing. He’ll come and finish me, no use these tubes and covers and kindly voices, but I don’t tell them that.

I wanted to see my face, my not-face, my face he had snatched from me. I wanted to know how much damage a cup of liquid could cause, a Venti-sized, green-and-white plastic Starbucks cup of acid slung into me, all that burning afterwards, oh the burning, the hot needles of burning in each pore of my cheek, my forehead, my throat, my breasts, my stomach. I thrashed and snatched at the bandages, so they tied my hands, for my own good, they said, and put me upon this cloud. I will stay here in this cotton-wool cloud, see them when I can open my eyes better, when my left eyelid is unglued. The important thing is, they said, you still have eyes, we can save your eyes. Now, sleep.

Two months since I lost my face. It is doing well, they said, you’ll go home next week. And don’t worry about him, he’s in jail, and he’s not coming out any time soon.

I have seen it. I’ve seen the black mask. I’ve seen one eye glued shut, and the other, unblinking pupil. I have seen my teeth, no lips, two gaping holes instead of my nose. I have seen my head, peeling strips of skin. All my blonde hair, gone. Nothing a wig and some make-up can’t fix, they said, you’ll see. I threw things at them. I threw words. Bad words. I wanted to throw the bed at them, the room.

Shush my darling, they said, hush, we’ll bring you back your face. Promise. They patted my face with creams and oils, with words and smiles, with soft looks, with the love of my parents. They brought me my dog, who recognized me. Licked my face. Tickled me. Made me laugh. Laugh. Laughter.

Look! How beautiful you look, Frieda, darling, they say, holding a mirror. I look into it, and I see their hands on my face, their laughter, their love, their tears, their sleepless nights, their hands holding mine, their starched white uniforms, their lab coats, the stethoscopes, the bedpans, the tubes, the jars of ointment. Two years.

I look.

I have eyes, I have a nose, I have lips, I have cheek, chin, throat. I have hair. Not my hair, but still, hair. The main thing is, I have a face.

I will not hide. I will face the world. I have a face to face it with, after all.

I smile. And they smile with me.

I’m beautiful, and so are they.

——–

Please support the cause by purchasing the beautiful album Composers for Relief: Supporting the Philippines available NOW on ITunes , Amazon CDBaby and Spotify and the companion anthology “Beyond the Binding” available soon on Amazon, Amazon UK, iTunes, B&N, Kobo, Sony, Diesel & Smashwords.

What do you think of the cover for Beyond the Binding? Would you buy the album and the anthology for a good cause? Would You Write for a Good Cause?

What Do Fish Think?


Fishy thoughts

Fish Thoughts

I love my aquariums, and they sometimes work into my fiction writing process.

I fixed new lights on one of my aquariums yesterday. Watching the fish glow under the LED, slow down and hover because this light makes shadows inside the aquarium, mimicking their natural environment, I began to wonder: what do fish think– what are the thoughts that blink up and light their tiny little minds? Do they think at all? What if we knew their thoughts?

And as any writer knows, ‘What if’s can sometimes lead to great stories.

I went back to look for instances of when my fish have inspired me, and found this old blog post– the writers amongst you might identify with it:

As some readers of this blog know, I have a pair of Black Angelfish.

Every two weeks or so, like clockwork, they lay about a 100 eggs, guard them till the babies hatch, hover around the hatchlings still attached to the leaves, try to carry them in their mouths and keep them safe once the babies are free-swimming. Only about 50 babies are left at this stage.

Then for the next three days, they do their best to sustain the babies, which dwindle from 50 to 25 to 10 to 5 to zero. This is because I don’t know what to feed the babies— am both scared of, and don’t know how to, breed mosquito larvae, which is their food.

A day after the last baby has disappeared, the angels are at each other, kissing, fluttering, chasing, back at the mating game. A day later there are eggs again.

I wonder if they remember their babies. I know they are capable of some kind of association/ memory,  because they know when I’m around and come begging for food, and dance around like mad puppies when I have the food box in my hand.

I no longer know how to feel about the regular births and deaths.

But I’ve learned the passion of creation by their example: write like mad, polish them like mad, submit like mad, and even if the babies come to nothing, set about making my writing babies again.

And just like with the angelfish babies, rejoice that they lived and swam free, at least for a while.

Who knows, maybe someday, one of the angelfish babies would survive. It would become more than a tiny tadpole, actually grow fins and swim at large.

In the meanwhile, what I and my angelfish can do is create, with passion and commitment. Results be damned.

———

What do Fish think? Have you ever wondered what your pets think about, the cat, your dog, that hamster? Has your pet ever inspired you to create art or stories?

Is There Hope in 2014?


Composers for Relief: Supporting the Philippines

Composers for Relief: Supporting the Philippines

The last hours of 2013, I’m writing a story for charity, based on the music: Hymn of Faith by Jochem Weierink  from the album  Composers for Relief: Supporting the Philippines, which has been created on a theme of Hope.

The stories will be compiled into a companion e-book anthology for the album, with all proceeds going to Gawad Kalinga.

Over 30 gifted composers hailing from 16 countries collaborated on an inspirational album, initiated by Peter Ebbinghaus to raise funds for the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda. All profits from the album, and companion ebook, will go to Gawad Kalinga (“give care”), supporting the efforts in distributing food and rebuilding the devastated lives and damaged cities across the Philippines. More information on the album can be found at the Soundtracks and Trailer Music site”

Here’s my story of Hope based on Hymn of Faith - Jochem Weierink :

Darkness slow and deep, I lie quiet, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste, I remain floating, distant. It is too much, I shall not wake up, I shall stay in this cotton wool world, its soft-sleepy music lifting me up through the roof, through the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple, I shall keep rising like a frothy bit of cloud.

I shall not face it, hell, I have no face to face it with. Yesterday, they told me I have to be prepared, there is not much of a face left under the bandages. I was alive, that was the main thing. He’ll come and finish me, no use these tubes and covers and kindly voices, but I don’t tell them that.

I wanted to see my face, my not-face, my face he had snatched from me. I wanted to know how much damage a cup of liquid could cause, a Venti-sized, green-and-white plastic Starbucks cup of acid slung into me, all that burning afterwards, oh the burning, the hot needles of burning in each pore of my cheek, my forehead, my throat, my breasts, my stomach. I thrashed and snatched at the bandages, so they tied my hands, for my own good, they said, and put me upon this cloud. I will stay here in this cotton-wool cloud, see them when I can open my eyes better, when my left eyelid is unglued. The important thing is, they said, you still have eyes, we can save your eyes. Now, sleep.

Two months since I lost my face. It is doing well, they said, you’ll go home next week. And don’t worry about him, he’s in jail, and he’s not coming out any time soon.

I have seen it. I’ve seen the black mask. I’ve seen one eye glued shut, and the other, unblinking pupil. I have seen my teeth, no lips, two gaping holes instead of my nose. I have seen my head, peeling strips of skin. All my blonde hair, gone. Nothing a wig and some make-up can’t fix, they said, you’ll see. I threw things at them. I threw words. Bad words. I wanted to throw the bed at them, the room.

Shush my darling, they said, hush, we’ll bring you back your face. Promise. They patted my face with creams and oils, with words and smiles, with soft looks, with the love of my parents. They brought me my dog, who recognized me. Licked my face. Tickled me. Made me laugh. Laugh. Laughter.

Look! How beautiful you look, Frieda, darling, they say, holding a mirror. I look into it, and I see their hands on my face, their laughter, their love, their tears, their sleepless nights, their hands holding mine, their starched white uniforms, their lab coats, the stethoscopes, the bedpans, the tubes, the jars of ointment. Two years.

I look.

I have eyes, I have a nose, I have lips, I have cheek, chin, throat. I have hair. Not my hair, but still, hair. The main thing is, I have a face.

I will not hide. I will face the world. I have a face to face it with, after all.

I smile. And they smile with me.

I’m beautiful, and so are they.

——–

Please support the cause by purchasing the beautiful album Composers for Relief: Supporting the Philippines available NOW on ITunes , Amazon CDBaby and Spotify.

Signing off 2013 on a note of Hope. Hope that 2014 would be a better year. That we will all find those who give us hope, and that we’ll bring hope into other lives.

Wishing you all a Joyous 2014, full of Peace, Happiness, and Hope. Do you see Hope in 2014?

Have you ever been dazzled by a #writer?


“The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.”

This is how Amy Hempel‘s short story “The Harvest” begins. I do recommend you go read the linked story if you have a minute. Or if you love to read. Definitely if you’re an aspiring writer.

Amy Hempel Collected works

Amy Hempel

The rest of the story is a dizzyingly beautiful exercise in unreliable narration, or perhaps of the journey we writers make when we go from real-life incident to fiction.

I now want to read everything she’s written by way of a short story, and turns out she’s written an amazing amount. Have gone and reserved her collected short stories at the Singapore National Library.

Have you ever been so dazzled by a sentence from an author that you wanted to read more of his or her work? If yes, leave me the author’s name/ work in  the comments. I shall be grateful.

Would You Live on Meal Replacements?


There are days the urge not to cook is so strong (I’d rather be reading or writing), I skip meals if I’m alone. At such times I wouldn’t mind this Soylent thingie. Here’s the article where I read about it:

” A few months ago we wrote about Soylent, an incredibly nutritious “food replacement” smoothie that Rob, a 24-year-old engineer, had been making and consuming as his only food source for almost five weeks. On one hand, it did look a bit like semen—but on the other, Rob claimed that by drinking it every day he’d never have to eat again. Given that starvation is a fairly major problem in the world at the moment and the planet’s population will likely surpass 9 billion by 2050, Rob’s invention seems like an important one.

Since we last talked to him, Rob and Soylent have become famous. His project has been derided as “dangerous,” “ludicrous,” and “a red flag for a potential eating disorder” by nutrition experts. Fortunately for Rob, the supporters of Soylent have been generous: a crowdfunding project for his fancy health goo raised almost $800,000 in under 30 days. Now Rob is the CEO of the Soylent Corporation; his hobby has officially turned into a career. His management team might look like the kind of technically minded nerds who’d want to consume most of their meals in the form of a beige, odorless powder mix, but they’re also the potential forefathers of a famine cure.

Will Soylent become a food replacement?

Replacing meals with Soylent

With over $1 million in preorders already received for Soylent worldwide, it seems like this stuff is going to stick around.”

The thing about Soylent is that its inventor is calling it not just a meal replacement, but also food replace

ment. He is apparently consuming only this milky liquid, to the exception of everything else, for the past few months. Ugh.

I love good food, and the idea of surviving only on Soylent is daunting. Especially when the guy goes pretty scifi and says:

Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s safe or healthy, and just because something is artificial doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy or dangerous. Look around you. Nothing we buy is natural. Everything useful is designed and manufactured, and food should be no different. People are afraid of sweeteners when it’s real sugar that’s killing us. They’re afraid of preservatives when food waste is rampant. McDonald’s is trying to engineer lower-calorie food that is more filling to fight obesity, but people are demanding natural-sounding ingredients. It’s frustrating to watch. The idea of “real food” is just snobbery. Everyone has the right to be healthy, even people who don’t like vegetables.

If I were a scifi writer, I would cough up a novel about this. Or at the very least, a short story. What about you? Would you eat simply to live, or would you like to live to eat as well?

Vikas Swarup’s Six Suspects


Random House India sent me a bunch of books quite some time ago, but what with my novel, the A to Z Challenge  and deaths in the family, I haven’t posted many reviews. I read Six Suspects a few months ago, so my memory is a little hazy. I stuck in post-it notes though, which are now helping me remember details as I browse through the book again.

My Declared Bias: I read and write Literary stories and novels — so mysteries are not my favorite genre.

——

 Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup Random House India

Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup

The blurb will tell you what the book is about: Seven years ago, Vivek ‘Vicky’ Rai, the playboy son of the Home Minister of Uttar Pradesh, murdered Ruby Gill at a trendy restaurant in New Delhi simply because she refused to serve him a drink. Now Vicky Rai is dead, killed at his farmhouse at a party he had thrown to celebrate his acquittal. The police search each and every guest. Six of them are discovered with guns in their possession, each of them steaming with a secret motive.

The novel looks at these suspects in flashback, elaborating these very motives. The resulting chapters make for easy reading, though the writing is somewhat stilted.

This is from one of the suspects, a mobile thief, who has taken a job as a servant:

I too, have taken my revenge on the Bhusiyas. Mr. S. P. Bhusiya, the adulterator, for instance, has no clue that the chicken curry he has been eating at dinner time is also adulterated. I spit in it liberally before laying it on the table.”

The plot held my interest at the beginning because Swarup tells us how each of the suspects is related to the other through strange and (increasingly) implausible circumstances. He also uses the backdrop of real events that made headlines in India. But the sub-plots soon entangle themselves into a tropical jungle thick with liana, and the only way to make sense of things in the end is to hack through it, which Swarup does, without much subtlety. I had the feeling this book could lose a few plotlines, and make better sense as a story.

The characters are told, not shown, and they’re not only cardboard, but also melodramatic. Couldn’t bring myself to care for them, one way or the other.

But Six Suspects does a good job of exposing the corruption which India continues to suffer from at all levels of bureaucracy, politics, media and business. Swarup does boil a vile cauldron of these, which stinks as much and as ‘authentically’ as India’s pandemic of corruption does in reality.

The book would have done better with a good editor, who could have balanced story and plot– as it is, Swarup fails in the project he seems to have taken up: write a mystery while highlighting the problems facing Indian society.

Why you could read it: It is an ‘easy’ read once you make your peace with the quality of the prose, and if you are interested in the new, ‘shining’ India, you could do worse than read this book. Some of the voices are interesting, and a few facets of this country, especially the difference between the appearance and reality of its ‘progress,’ have emerged rather well.

Why you could give it a miss: If you like your mysteries to be plausible in their telling, this book is not for you. The plot is riddled with twists and turns, but some of the coincidences are too convenient, and they happen to stock characters with no layers or complexity.

My crib: The editing. Not only do the book’s plotlines need better handling, but also the voices. The most inauthentic, (unsurprisingly, coming from an Indian author), is the Texan forklift operator who speaks British English instead of American– using words like air hostess instead of flight attendant, and pavement instead of sidewalk.

Bottomline, I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you snag it for free someplace and are interested enough in India to want to trawl through it.

What would you like to see any  changes in the  review format? Was this review helpful? Would you read this book?

 

Manto, and Why Indians and Pakistanis need to read him


I’ve been reading the books sent to me by Random House India, but what with life, and my novel and the A to Z Challenge preparations, I haven’t posted reviews. I read Manto about four months ago, so my memory is a little hazy. I stuck in post-it notes though, which are now helping me remember details as I read some of the stories again.

My Declared Bias: I read and write Literary, and love short stories.

——

It is possible to review some books without a mention of the context in which they were written, but it is impossible to do so with the works of Saadat Hasan Manto, a writer born in undivided India, who died in Pakistan.

Had he lived, he would have turned 100 last year, but he drank himself to death at the age of 43, eight years after the Partition that created India and Pakistan, after a series of trials where his writing was charged with obscenity. This was  one of the best periods of his work, but one of the worst in personal and financial terms.

Manto: Selected Short Stories

Manto: Selected Short Stories

As such, a lot of history and context is  (rightly, or wrongly) read into his work, and one of the simplest ways to understand this in a short span of time would be to read the introduction by Aatish Taseer, Manto’s grandson, who has translated the stories curated into this book.

Taseer has taken great care to retain the rhythm of the original Urdu in his translation, and no reader can deny the resonance of Manto’s voice that comes through. The originals might, I imagine, have a certain colloquial touch to them, like this example from the story, “My Name is Radha“, one of my favorites from this book:

The studio owner Harmzji Framji, a fat, red-cheeked bon vivant of sorts, was madly in love with a middle-aged actress who looked like a transvestite. His favourite pastime was sizing up the breasts of every newly-arrived actress. Another Muslim hooker from Calcutta’s Bow Bazaar carried on affairs simultaneously with her director, sound recordist, and scriptwriter. The point of these affairs, of course, was to ensure that all three remained in love with her.”

While this reads clunky in English, I can hear it spoken in Urdu (a language I don’t speak, and understand very little of,  but admire nevertheless) with a sort of cheekiness and a common touch, which is, imho, fairly impossible to translate.

Manto was writing at a time when a preachy morality was important in the entire sub-continent, and frank sexuality was frowned upon. So it is quite obvious why the author’s matter-of-fact emphasis on the body was interpreted by his contemporary society as lewdness.

Of course a few of his stories can strike us as sentimental, especially those playing heavily on the drama of the Partition of India (and Pakistan), because our sensibilities are used to the spareness of modern fiction.

But the irony of a stray dog in “The Dog of Tithwal” that befriends both enemy camps (Indian and Pakistani) at a border post and is subsequently shot, is not lost on the reader, nor is the pathos of a madman’s refusal (and subsequent death) in “Toba Tek Singh” when an attempt is made to ‘return’ him to his native town, which, after the Partition, no longer lay in Pakistan, but instead in India. In stories like these, Manto questions the very definitions of ‘country’, ‘borders’ and ‘sanity.’

Why you could read it: It is an easy read, and if you are interested in the Indian sub-continent and its history, you could do worse than read this book.

Why you could give it a miss: If you like your fiction to be spare and unsentimental, this book is not for you. As with most translated fiction, the beauty of the original does not fully translate into English, despite the sincerity of the translator.

My crib:

The typos strewn through the book bothered me (e.g. Pg 28- ‘smoth’  instead of ‘smooth’). The book has some instances of repeated words ( e.g. Pg. 20 “fed fed up”) and other proofreading howlers. If they come up with another edition, they need a better proofreader who would do justice to such an important writer of the Indian sub-continent.

—–

Saadat Hasan Manto

Saadat Hasan Manto

I enjoyed this book, and if you happen to pick it up, the least you should do is read the introduction, which is a modern piece of extremely educational writing, and no less poignant for it. You would not be disappointed, I promise you that.

After I read up on Manto, I realized that he has been marginalized in India, to the extent that I had never heard of him growing up, or even as an adult, and had not read him before this book.

All Indian and Pakistani readers deserve to read more of this writer, because the issues that informed Manto’s work continue to be relevant in the society and politics of both these countries.

It is a shame that this author is not better known in India, and kudos to Random House in attempting to change that.

Only, the next time, I wish they would hire a proofreader worth their time.

What would you like to see any  changes in the  review format? Was this review helpful? Would you read this book?

 

Desperate in Dubai


Desperate in Dubai

Desperate in Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawati

I’ve been reading the books sent to me by Random House India (Desperate in Dubai being one of them), but what with the December hiatus and things that kept me worked up and worked out in January, I haven’t posted reviews.

I read Desperate in Dubai about two months ago, so my memory is a little hazy. I stuck in post-it notes though, which are now helping me remember details. You can read an excerpt here.

My Declared Bias: I read and write Literary, and only occasionally read Chick Lit. Since Desperate in Dubai is a sort of cross between chick lit and women’s contemporary writing, that might influence my view of it a little.

——

This is the story of four women and their somewhat interconnected lives. Lady Luxe, a Dubai heiress; Leila, an opportunistic social climber; Nadia, a betrayed wife, and Sugar, a victim of tragic circumstances.

Of these, the most interesting is definitely Lady Luxe, who leads a double life, one as burkha-clad traditional daughter of the family; and the other as a hedonist, no stranger to alcohol, men, and high jinks. Her voice is also the most powerful.

The slightly grey character of Leila is also well-sketched with the right amount of details:

Fully aware that a designer ensemble compared to an ordinary outfit is like the difference between Nobu and a filet-o-fish burger at McDonald’s, she unconsciously tugs at her Top-Shop leopard print boob tube dress and runs her fingers through her big blonde hair.

Though, imho, the writing could be better. Does the author mean ‘self-consciously’? Do we need that adverb at all? The author is already showing Leila’s state of mind through the action: ‘tugs at her Top-Shop leopard print boob tube dress and runs her fingers through her big blonde hair.’

In the very next para the author moves into Lady Luxe’s head, which leads to a series of head-hopping passages that could be avoided. Either stick to 3rd person, or omniscient point-of-view, can’t have both. It confuses readers and make them dizzy. (Hope it wasn’t just me.)

Sugar and Nadia, despite their tragic situations, failed to elicit any empathy,  perhaps because of their tired story-lines (which the author has tried to enliven through interconnection). It could also be because I’m a major fan of ‘voice’ and both of these ladies lacked luster.

Why you could read it: It is an easy read, and if you’re fascinated by the Middle East and its culture, the nuances of contemporary life, and the status of women, this might be a fascinating read. This may not be representative of the entire Arab world, but it is a good glimpse.

Why you could give it a miss: I imagine women finding this book interesting, but most men I know steer clear of contemporary women’s writing. And Chick lit. Just saying.

My cribs:

1. The head-hopping annoyed me. The whole book could easily have been edited to avoid this.

2. I didn’t like the use of pseudonyms for Lady Luxe and Sugar, seemed like a deliberate ploy to maintain surprises/ twists. Unnecessary.

3. For a book with feminist undertones/ overtones — the ending disappointed me. Without giving any spoilers, all I can say is that the ending for each character’s story is where I found a conflict between a chick-lit and women’s contemporary writing. The genre-blending did not work at this point.

To sum it up, this book is good as an in-flight read, or if you’re in the mood for light reading. I enjoyed the glimpses into Dubai society, and duly hated all the men as I was meant to — excellent portrait of a patriarchal setup. The only truly sympathetic man in the whole book is Lady Luxe’s step-brother.

Overall, this is an auspicious debut, with excellent premise. I only hope the author finds herself a better editor for her next book.

———-

My second review here is just as unvarnished as the first, but I realized I was also reading like a writer, and not merely a reader.  As a result, I’m not sure the review format worked.

What would you like to see changed in the format? Was this review helpful?

  Inspired by the fascinating lives of the women who dominated the glamorous city, Ameera Al Hakawati put pen to paper and created Desperate in Dubai, a blog that soon became an internet sensation among the expatriate community in Dubai. Desperate in Dubai is Ameera’s first novel published by Random House India. You can buy the book here.

Can You Invent a City?


The Urban Utopia of Time in Honduras

The Urban Utopia in Honduras

I’m not talking about Monopoly here , or any other board game. This is a real-time experiment Honduras is planning to undertake for the sake of economic development. Sounds like a fiction scenario, but it isn’t.

I recently came across this article, and it made me wonder about the possibilities of such an ambitious, unapologetic social experiment in creating an urban utopia:

The Honduran initiative was inspired by Paul Romer, a New York University economist who promoted what he calls “charter cities” at a TED talk in 2011. Rather than experimenting on existing cities, which could provoke resistance, Romer proposed building new urban areas on vacant land with room for several million residents who choose to live there.

The cities would remain Honduran but would enjoy a high degree of autonomy. They would be governed through charters made up of tried-and-tested political, economic and social regulations gleaned from around the world. Partner nations would provide guidance and oversight on troublesome issues like law enforcement and the courts.

For example, the Honduran judicial system is widely viewed as slow and corrupt, a factor that concerns foreign investors. To provide legal stability, the island nation of Mauritius has agreed to allow its Supreme Court to serve as the court of appeals for a future Honduran charter city.

Another proposal is to ban physical currency in the new cities and rely on debit cards and electronic payments to reduce crime and corruption. It sounds radical, but Nigeria has already placed limits on bank withdrawals and deposits to discourage cash transactions in Lagos, Abuja and other cities….

…The plan’s many skeptics warn that Honduras could become a laboratory animal for foreign social scientists. Angel Orellana, a former lawmaker and attorney general, calls the plan 21st-century colonialism. Hondurans, he said, would be giving up a piece of national territory that would become a virtual foreign protectorate.

I can see a novel set in this city. A thriller, or a period piece, or even science fiction. As writers, we sometimes create cities from our imagination. In this case, people with the right amount of money would be building a city from scratch, and decide the political, economical, social and perhaps even cultural rules by which it would run.

Is it possible to create an ideal urban utopia? Do you think this city would become a shining example of a technologically advanced metropolis or get mired in drugs, gambling, and prostitution? Can you really invent an actual city?

Have You Heard of the Economy of Trash?


Goonj Recycling urban waste

Anshu Gupta: The voice of Goonj

If you haven’t, you should.

I met Anshu Gupta last week, the face behind GOONJ, whose organization has won many awards for his social entrepreneurship: the Economy of Trash — where one man’s waste is recycled into another man’s object of need, even desire. I realized how one man, with good entrepreneurial skills, an insatiable curiosity for inconvenient problems and the ability to innovate in order to solve them, can create a revolution.

The New Yorker says it better than I’ll ever say it , but what you essentially need to know is this:

1. Goonj takes urban waste in India (clothes, blankets etc ), and recycles it into commodities (schoolbags, sanitary napkins) for the rural poor. If you want to see what real, intensive recycling looks like, take a few minutes to watch this video.

2. The Goonj drive to create affordable sanitary protection for Indian rural women addresses a big gap in demand and supply, and starts off a dialogue on a topic that is taboo in most Indian living rooms. “Many Indians possess only one or two items of clothing….a woman with one sari must conceal herself while it dries after washing. And many women stay hidden indoors during their menstrual cycles because of orthodox religious beliefs and because they have no proper undergarments and only a piece of cloth to serve as a sanitary napkin.” (Here’s how you can help these women through Goonj)

3. The clothes are given in exchange for development work in the village, which gives the receivers the feeling that they earned it. This might seem strange, but we’re talking about a scenario in some parts of rural India where people become indentured labor just in order to buy new clothes.

4. Most of Goonj’s operating costs come from individual contributions, because the urban dwellers are made aware of the dismal state of their rural counterparts, and contribute their unwanted, but still usable items in order to help out. What lies unused in the wardrobes of the urban middle-class and the rich, is turned into pure gold for the rural poor via Goonj’s process of value addition.

What I loved about the Goonj approach is the open-ness towards innovation, the dignity afforded to those who receive donations, and  the readiness to let others replicate the organizational model.

With an annual budget of $550,000, 150 employees, and hundreds of volunteers, Goonj is growing apace. What it needs are folks who see the beauty of its concept, nurture it, and contribute towards its upkeep, because it is a win-win, no matter how you look at it.

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Would you like to be part of this economy of trash? Check the IndiChange site and ISB iDiya contest page for more details on this post.