Tuesday Teaser from Desperate in Dubai

As I said in my recent posts here and here, Random House India has shipped me a few books that I’m going to talk about on Daily (w)rite, mouthing off my straight-up and very subjective opinions as a reader.

Part of that reading journey has led me to today’s Tuesday Teaser. (The review would be up once I finish the once-banned book, a sort of chick-lit cum contemporary women’s fiction in an Arabic setting full of hoor-paris with hourglass figures.)

Desperate in Dubai

Desperate in Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawati

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

• Grab your current read

• Open to a random page

• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page

• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teasers:

Sorry Humaid, but I’ve never given my number to a guy before.” You already have it, you nerd.

~ p.270, Desperate in Dubai” by Ameera Al Hakawati

Please leave a comment with either the link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your ‘teasers’ in the comment itself.


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.


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.

Would You write outside your comfort zone?

Would you write outside your comfort zone? This is one of my curiosities with all fiction writers I meet. I ask that and other questions to Sucharita Dutta-Asane, one of my co-writers on the African-Asian short story anthology Behind The Shadows, and now a blog-and-writer-buddy.

Behind the Shadows

Behind the Shadows

1.     What has your writing journey been like?

It’s too early to speak of this, but yes, it has been a meandering road. With all the ups and downs involved in a between-two-pressure-cooker-whistles kind of writing. It has also been a journey that has brought me my greatest wealth—two fantastic mentor-writers and a strong support group of writers who’ve believed in me.

2.     Tell us about the genre you write in, and what inspired you to choose it. What is a genre that you find intriguing enough to try which is currently outside your comfort zone?

I have been writing short stories for a long time and am currently working on a novel and a short story collection. So the short story is a comfort zone. I like the brevity and terseness this genre necessitates. In a lighter vein, it is also the genre that is possible in the kind of time crunch one deals with around two young kids.

Drama is completely outside of my comfort zone right now but a genre I look forward to in the future, what I long to do.

3.     How important has your online presence been in the publication and sales of your work?

I used to write for online magazines—short stories, articles, book reviews—and the readership these brought me proved to be fulfilling and fruitful in the long run. They gave me a reader base I could always go to without having to prove myself over and over again.

4.     What are your views on self-publishing vs traditional publishing?

That’s a conundrum for our times. While self publishing has its merits in terms of time taken and control over the finished manuscript, I still root for traditional publishing. As a writer, I’d rather concentrate on writing than on the kind of energy required for self publishing. There’s also some satisfaction in knowing that a respected publishing house has liked and accepted my effort and finds it publishing-worthy. At this point of time, in traditional reading societies like ours, books seem to acquire much more credibility and respect when published this way. Of course, that says nothing about future possibilities.

5.     What is the last book you loved reading? Why?

It’s difficult to pinpoint any one book, but yes, I loved Jerry Pinto’s ‘Em and the Big Hoom’ and Musharraf Ali Farooqi’s wonderfully restrained novel ‘Between Clay and Dust,’** Ambai’s ‘Fish in a Dwindling Lake,’ Julian Barnes’ ‘The Sense of an Ending,’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ‘The Thing around my Neck,’ and many more.

Pinto and Barnes’ books deal with memory in different ways, and this is a recurrent theme for me too, something of an obsession that I frequently explore.

6.     If you had the chance to speak directly to your ideal reader, what would you say to them?

Read me. What else would a writer want?

7.     Tell us about the books you have published, and anything you have forthcoming.

For a long time I published my short stories and a novella on a now defunct site called http://www.4indianwomen.com. I also write book reviews for various sites including Open Space and Asian Cha. My print publications include:

  • Deliverance’ in Vanilla Desires, from Unisun Publications, Bangalore (2012).
  • Sine Die’ and ‘Balance of Love’ in Ripples: An Anthology of Short Stories by Indian Women Writers, APK Publishers, Pune (2010).
  • From Sita to Vaidehi—Another Journey,’ a magic realist story in ‘Breaking the Bow,’ an anthology of speculative fiction based on the Ramayana, Zubaan, New Delhi. Editors: Anil Menon and Vandana Singh (2012).
  • Cast Out’ in ‘Behind the Shadows,’ an anthology of short stories from Asia and Africa. Editors: Rohini Chowdhury and Zukiswa Wanner (2012).
Sucharita Dutta-Asane for Daily write

Sucharita Dutta-Asane for Daily write

Sucharita Dutta-Asane juggles writing and editing with motherhood, 24 hour profiles that interrupt, facilitate, and balance one another in ways she had never imagined. With online and print publications to her credit, she is forever excited about writing and getting published, but burning the midnight oil is never enough; in between changing diapers, feeding, and managing homework and house help, writing often takes the backseat. When writing seeps through the cracks and dreams to predominate, the supportive family is kept at bay while she pounds the keyboard and lets imagination and language take care of the rest.


Having heard Sucharita and learned about her writing, would you like to talk about yours? What is your comfort zone? Would you write outside of it?

What if Twitter Were ‘Real’ Life?

Twitter. I love Twitter but it’s only as good as the people frequenting it. After an automated DM tonight from a person I followed, who hasn’t yet followed me, I decided to vent (although I’m giggling too). Some of the scenarios on Twitter are annoying but would be even worse if it were equated to something that could happen in our physical ‘real’ lives.

The automatic DM came through straight after I followed this person (as they do) and it politely said “nice to meet you, blah, blah, blah” I responded with “Nice to meet you too” but my message was blocked because, of course, they weren’t following me so I couldn’t respond. How stupid. It made me feel like someone ‘special’, maybe a famous actor or singer, had yelled hello at me from across the street and when I went to answer, the minders surrounded me, their beefcake, black-clad arms pushing me away, shutting me down, “No talking to the celebrity. They can talk to you but you can’t talk to them. You’re not special enough. You’re a ‘follower’ they’re the ‘followee’. I would of course say “But, what…?” They would put their hand over my mouth and threaten to take me to the Justin Bieber concert that’s playing down the street, all while the celebrity in question walks away and says hello to the next unsuspecting follower.

The person who follows you. You follow back. They unfollow. This happens because people want to appear to be one of ‘the special ones’ heretofore knows as TSOs. They end up with a ridiculous follower/followee ratio. I weed these people out with justunfollow.com. Yes, I’m petty and I’m watching you; all of you. So don’t act like you’re better than me cause that just gives me the shits. The scenario, if played out in real life, would go something like this: there’s a large group of friends, they all take turns hosting a dinner. TSO turns up to all the dinners and drinks the most, vomits on your carpet, pisses on your toilet seat and goes home. When it’s their turn to host the dinner, a postcard turns up in your letterbox. It’s a photo of TSO, who’s waving from a camel while riding past some pyramid or other. Bastard.

People who aren’t even following you tweet you a “Hello, nice to meet you” with a link to their book attached. WTF? I don’t know you, I don’t give a shit about your book. I want to write this, and I also want to say piss off, but I don’t because I’m too polite. This is like being accosted in the street by someone asking for a donation or wanting to tell me about the end of the world while shoving some colourful brochure up my nose. While the paper is attacking my face like a swarm of moths looking for the nearest light bulb, I’m politely backing away while holding my hand up in a gesture of defeat. I smile and run. That’s what I’m doing to you on Twitter, I’m running away and you know how I said I’ll check out your book? I won’t.

Hmm, the alcohol’s wearing off now so I’d best go. Hmm, justunfollow.com here I come.


Post syndicated with permission from Dionne Lister.

(Amberr Meadows just told me I could syndicate posts, so here’s a high-five for her — go read her fab blog!)

Since I agree with each syllable of Dionne’s post and have had exactly the same things happen to me on Twitter, I asked her, and she was fine with the re-post.

Are you on Twitter? Do you have peeves about followers? Unfollowers? Auto- DMers?

What sort of book reviews do You like?

Which book of the 14 is missing in the picture?

Which book of the 14 is missing in the picture?

Over the next few months, I’m going to talk about a few books on this blog, sent to me by Random House, India. I guess I’ll call them book reviews, for want of a better term, but I’m not totally convinced I would be ‘reviewing’ them, just giving out my very honest, and very subjective, opinion.

I’m two things, a reader and a writer. More and more, I find myself being kinder to writers because I know the back-breaking work involved in writing a book. That sometimes affects my judgment as a reader, because if I find a book insufferable, I still plod on for a few pages before dumping it — poor author has worked so hard, let me give the book a few more pages to prove itself.

So, I’ll be a one hell of a conflicted  ‘reviewer’. These are the books I’m currently reading for review:

  1. –          Aerogrammes by Tania James
  2. –          Selected Stories by Saadat Hasan Manto 
  3. –          Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  4. –          Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  5. –          Quarantine by Rahul Mehta
  6. –          Wanted by Lee Child
  7. –          Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
  8. –          Desperate in Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawati
  9. –          Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
  10. –          Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  11. –          Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam
  12. –          Cutting for Stone by Abraham Varghese
  13. –          Tell All by Chuck Palahniuk
  14. –          The Sirens of Baghdad by Yasmina Khadra

As usual, I’m reading 4 books at the same time, which means I’ll possibly come up with reviews randomly as I finish the books and the mood takes me. I haven’t decided on a schedule yet (I hate schedules) but I aim to read a book a week on average, and then post a review.

The 14 books are a mixed bag, from a Pakistani writer who wrote in undivided India and got tried several times for obscenity, to a writer of transgressive fiction, more than one Booker prize winner and shortlister,  a Dubai-based blogger whose book was banned for a while this year, a Pulitzer and Frank O’Connor prize winner, an Indian American novelist who has won some acclaim, as well as several New York Times bestsellers.

With the current controversy on book bloggers which I highlighted in one of my recent posts, I ought to be a little wary, but I think I’ve blogged long enough not to care. I may have damaged the reading world beyond repair already so no point in acting shy now.

I know I’m going to be honest, and pretty much personal in my opinions. And if I can’t finish a book despite trying, I’m going to say it. For me, I read reviews, but seldom base my book purchases on them — so I don’t expect anyone to be influenced by my opinions either.

But before I begin on my review series, I’m curious: what sort of book reviews do You like?


Any Words of Advice for a Scrivener Noob? #IWSG

Insecure Writer's Support Group

Insecure Writers!

It is Insecure Writer’s Support Group time, and I’m at a loss about what insecurity to post about. Which, I suppose, is a good thing.

I’m in this calm place where I can write without hope and without despair (The phrase is borrowed from writer friend Zafar Anjum, my sentiments echo his). I’m okay to just write and become better, let consequences take care of themselves. No expectations, no shortcuts, no anguish.

What I’m struggling with instead is Scrivener. Blog friend Corinne Flynn was one of the first people to recommend it, and I’ve got myself a trial version. But I haven’t taken her advice, which was to patiently sit through the tutorial — so I’m struggling with the simplest of tasks, like compiling documents. About ready to give up.

Anyone else have a (good or bad) Scrivener story to share? Words of advice for a Scrivener noob?

Conventional Critics vs Book Bloggers: Whose Side Are YOU on?

Books by book bloggers

Peter Stothard

Here’s an article I read on one of the conventional critics’ opinions on book bloggers:

“Sir Peter Stothard has edited the Times Literary Supplement (TLS) for almost a decade and spent the past seven months reading an “unnatural” 145 books on the search for this year’s Man Booker Prize. He has been left hugely critical over the decline in current standards of literary criticism, and says the rise of bloggers will leave the industry “worse off”.”Criticism needs confidence in the face of extraordinary external competition,” the former editor of The Times says. “It is wonderful that there are so many blogs and websites devoted to books, but to be a critic is to be importantly different than those sharing their own taste… Not everyone’s opinion is worth the same. Eventually that will be to the detriment of literature. It will be bad for readers; as much as one would like to think that many bloggers opinions are as good as others. It just ain’t so. People will be encouraged to buy and read books that are no good, the good will be overwhelmed, and we’ll be worse off. There are some important issues here.”

I totally disagree, and was happy to read Why book bloggers are critical to literary criticism.

What blogs can give readers is a sense of trust that, in professional circles, only the biggest lit-crit names – such as James Wood or Michiko Kakutani – can attain: a “criticism with personality”. They are expressing opinions about books in particular, and literature in general, based on a particular life of reading, written in a critical but non-technical language.

Do you think book bloggers help or harm?


As an aside, I’d request you to go check out the chat I had with Zukiswa Wanner (Commonwealth Prize shortlister) and Rohini Chowdhury (multi-published, acclaimed author) on the A to Z Blog.