What I Saw in Siem Reap

Daily (W)rite has been silent the past week. I’ve been in Siem Reap, Cambodia, mostly offline– climbing temple steps, tinkering with my camera, sampling local cuisine, listening to myths and legends, generally taking part in the tourism circus.

Back to regular programming in a while. In the meanwhile, here are some of the images from my camera:Siem Reap Snapshots

Siem Reap Snapshots


This is a powerful reminder, first thing in the morning. As a writer, I must not judge, must seek truth and knowledge, but remember that I can never pose to be their master.

On to the last few chapters of my book, and hopefully, both truth and knowledge would bless me.

Originally posted on Reason & Existenz:

 “Whoever undertakes to set himself up
as a judge of Truth and Knowledge
is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.”
-Albert Einstein

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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.

I’m In the Here and Now : 5th Blog Anniversary

I'm in the here and now: 5th Blogiversary

I’m in the here and now: 5th Blogiversary

All of the last four anniversaries, I’ve dwelled on the past, and wondered about the future.

This year, I’m in the here and now.



My mantra:

I have arrived, I am home

In the here, in the now.

I am solid, I am free.

In the ultimate I dwell.

This is my meditation since the last week, and it has brought me so much peace, I’ve decided to make it the mantra of my life.

The author of the book this is from, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk, says:

“Hold fast to these words, and you’ll be able to establish your presence solidly in the present, just as when you hold on to a railing while climbing stairs, you never fall.”

This is what I want for my life, and my blogging — to be home each moment, in the here and now. So Here I am, Now. And that is all.

In Which I Look Back in Anger #India

The following post is for the Insecure Writers Support Group hosted by Alex J. Cavanaugh.


I’ve spent most of the last month of 2012 being angry. It is the January of a new year and I’m angry still. It simmers right beneath the surface, ready to lash out at an unsuspecting victim. I keep it in check, but it seems like it’s waiting in ambush.

In case you’re wondering what this is all about, you might have heard of the gang rape in Delhi (yes, it unfortunately has its own wiki entry), where a woman was raped and sodomized using an iron rod in a moving bus by 6 men, so much so that her intestines fell out and she succumbed to her injuries after a battle lasting almost two weeks. Warning: I suggest you do not read the details if you intend to have a peaceful morning, afternoon, evening, depending on where in the world you are when you’re reading this.

Other people have written about it, some in moving words I myself would’ve chosen to express my very personal feelings on the subject, so I won’t go into the other ramifications here. Since this is an insecure writer’s group — I’ll march straight on, selfishly, myopically, towards my own individual anger.

(As I write this, India still protests against the crime that has left people grasping for words, and made the government and its police beat up its own people. People are angry with the establishment, some of which has been accused of crimes against women, others who advice women that it is their own fault they get molested or raped, and yet others whose commentary on the protesters will make the blood of any sane human being boil.)

Since the incident first came to light, I’ve been wanting to bash something, somebody, getting migraines — my peace of mind poisoned, like a scorpion stinging itself.

Everyday I see the girls and women (and some menfolk) protest in New Delhi’s freezing winters, (initially braving brutality from the very police that’s supposed to protect them), I remember the number of times men have tried to grope me or my friends in buses, passed humiliating remarks, hit me on the road, once causing me a sprain and at another time, a concussion.

I watch the protests become politicized, and I want to drink the blood of those who want to exploit the death of this girl. A girl whose name I do not know, who did not want to be a hero. She only wanted to watch a movie with her fiance’ and go home, and get married this February. That girl could be me, my friends, my sibling. (Yes, it is always the one that resonates with you that makes you angry — hundreds of women get raped in India on a daily basis, but the one I identify with most fuels my anger. I admit the hypocrisy — a writer has to be honest, or give up the pen.)

I want to fly out to New Delhi and get somebody, bash in a few heads. If this is hate speech, so be it.

Meanwhile, the rapes continue, even as we discuss them. Even in New Delhi, even as women protest on its streets. To 3-year olds, 16-year olds, 65-year olds. The protestors themselves are groped and molested.

I’m an angry writer, and after a few days of drought, I’m on a flood of fire. My dialogs spit venom, the guilty are tortured, not merely punished. I fight men on twitter (flouting my own vow of internet hiatus), who blame rape on women’s immorality. I chide friends who make sexist remarks. I debate with people who call it India’s “rape culture”. I even defend India’s men against a mass epithet of “rapists.”

I need to get a handle on this, calm down not only for my own sanity, or validity as a writer, but also because anger needs to be directed to be effective, or it is so much impotent rage. If I want to make a difference, boiling blood won’t help.

Or, perhaps, as an author I respect suggested to me on Facebook, perhaps it is the only thing that would. A writer needs to stay angry.


Have you ever been this angry about something that has happened outside your own personal acquaintance? Has it affected your writing? What have you done about it?