Friday, 25 March 2011

Kate & Wills













Most magazines are obsessed with the forthcoming Royal Wedding/Weddings. My friend Ashanti Omkar, a London Correspondent of an Asian glossy magazine in North America has an impressive double-page spread in the current issue, with a few words from me. With her kind permission here's the full article:

Royal Fever With the royal wedding more than a month away, our London correspondent decided to hit the city streets and have UK’s movers and shakers divulge what it all means.

Street parties are being planned and people are being offered the chance to make walking trails tracing the steps of the much-talked-about royal relationship, which began at university in Scotland. With their nuptials taking place on April 29, 2011, they are indeed the toast of a hopeful UK. With TV viewership from around the world to exceed a record-breaking 3 million, half the world will watch His Royal Highness Prince William of Wales and his bride Catherine Elizabeth “Kate” Middleton tie the knot. The UK’s economy is set to be given a huge boost due to travel and souvenir sales, and their wedding marks a national holiday.

The venue is Westminster Abbey, a place that could have brought sad memories of his mother’s funeral cortege, back in 1997. But the young prince is moving forward, and has opted for a simpler wedding than that of Prince Charles to Lady Diana on July 29, 1981. Steeped in royal history, the Abbey has beheld coronations since 1066 and was the wedding venue for both the Queen and the Queen Mother. With the couple showing benevolence by reportedly asking for all wedding gifts to be donations to charity, they are the undisputed darlings of the royal family right now.

Asians the world over have a fondness for the royals, as they have been an intrinsic part of the heritage of their ancestors. This wedding, therefore, is something of a talking point within communities worldwide, and especially the UK. Some prominent Asians in the UK shared with ANOKHI their unique views about this wedding, which is giving the royals a more modern image and highlighting their relevance in the 21st century.

Saptarshi Ray, a journalist for UK’s top broadsheet, The Guardian, says: “The royal family has not had a good decade. I think most people are fed up of hearing about Charles and Camilla or Andrew or Prince Philip's latest xenophobic rant, so the younger generation of William, Harry and Zara Phillips has been embraced quite desperately. It will be a great party, and let's face it; British summers usually consist of rain and bad sporting performances. Britain wants another Diana to fawn over and fill magazines, but Kate Middleton seems refreshingly normal, and so does William. They're a bit old before their time, so they'll probably be dignified and dull. Harry's the real star; he seems to live how royals did in medieval times.”

Leela Soma, Scottish-Asian author of the novel Twice Born, shares the connection of these two royals with beautiful Scotland: “It was uplifting to hear the announcement of the royal wedding on a cold and icy winter’s evening in Scotland. This spring has not one, but two royal weddings to look forward to. Rumours are rife that Zara Phillips, Princess Anne’s daughter, may be getting married in Scotland.”

Staying strong to this other part of the UK, Soma adds: “Prince William is no stranger to Scotland. Balmoral in Royal Deeside is the summer residence of the royal family and he has spent many happy times there. We are proud in Scotland that his pursuit of a degree and wooing the young woman Kate was at the University of St. Andrews, the oldest university in Scotland, founded in 1413.

The privacy given to Prince William and Kate Middleton at St. Andrews could have been achieved only in Scotland.” About the wedding itself, Soma shares her views on the contrast with the last big royal wedding of Charles and Diana: “April 29, 2011, will be a date to remember. The wedding will be watched by millions, and I will be glued to the TV watching every moment of it, just as I did when his beautiful mother married Prince Charles. Kate Middleton is so much like Diana in many ways and labelled a fashion icon already by the media. But she is a mature 29-year-old woman who seems to know her mind. For the young prince who lost his mum when he was just 15, his wedding day will be both joyous and poignant. I hope their life together is treated with more respect, and the paparazzi both in Britain and abroad will be aware of their need for privacy. I wish the couple a very happy future. As a writer and a poet, I look forward to Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s wedding poem.”

Puja Vedi, the director of LiveStyle Media, is also a fashionista and she examines the attire of the day: “The royal wedding has obviously generated an incredible level of interest across the globe. With Diana being such a fashion icon, it’s to be expected that the world will turn to her son's fiancée, Kate Middleton, for similar inspiration. Luckily for us, Kate's effortless style is elegant and sophisticated. Her sapphire engagement ring is being copied around the world and women are even replicating her swept back sleek hairstyle! The blue Issa London dress she wore at the engagement announcement sold out within 24 hours!”

Vedi continues on the fashion front, as this is something discussed in the UK’s media almost daily: “The burning question now is who will design her wedding dress. With Kate's chic sense of style, we're bound to be in for a fashion treat, which is great. The dress itself will be heavily replicated across the world, setting important trends and cementing the designer's place on the fashion map. It is undoubtedly one of the most important tasks in fashion history.”

Anjna Raheja, founder and managing director of UK’s biggest ethnic PR company Media Moguls, and one of Britain’s most successful Asian women, shares her view: “The royal wedding is going to be the focal point for so many people between now and April 29. I think pretty much everyone in the UK, royalist or not, is looking forward to a bit of happiness, which although it may not affect them directly, has a real halo effect. Prince William has a soft spot in the public’s heart and I think everyone is seeing this as “Diana & Charles: the Happy Version.” From a business perspective, it will be great for China, who are busy producing souvenirs, and of course for tourism — a trial for the Olympics in Britain in 2012.”

Raj Baddhan, the owner and founder of media website BizAsia.co.uk (in Birmingham, in the north of England), has a lighter and cheekier view of the wedding: “It’s great to see the amount of media coverage surrounding our future king and queen. As much as I love the British monarchy, I’ll probably be out of the country enjoying the extra holiday we’ve been given.”

In general, Asians in the UK are enthusiastic about this wedding and what it stands for. Paul Sagoo, CEO of investment company Lemon Group, makes an apt observation: “There is nothing better than a royal wedding to lift the spirits of this country, and the couple in question represents everything that’s great about the new generation.”

The date is looming and the excitement is building up. From people taking breaks during the wedding to planning pub trips to capitalizing on the business side of things, there is no doubt about it: the royals will always draw fascination from the world, especially Prince William, the throne-bound son of the much-loved Lady Diana. Buckingham Palace is always a landmark worth a glimpse — whether you watch the changing of the guard or admire the palace for historical reasons, it adds a sparkle to London and makes it a special city for many.

BY: ASHANTI OMKAR / PUBLISHED: THE LIVE BEAUTIFUL ISSUE, MARCH 2011

Thursday, 17 March 2011













A slim 135 pages'Monsieur Pain' was my first dip into Bolano. My daughter's copy of his '2666' remains untouched by me as its very size is challenging. In this book, a supposedly mystery novel,the protagonist,Mon. Pain is an ageing veteran of the First World War who has a reputation as a hypnotist. He also practices mesmerism and acupuncture. Mme Reynaud, a young widow, who he secretly loves asks him to help a Peruvian poet who is hiccupping himself to death from a strange illness.Mon Pain arrives at his bedside to mesmerize him and the story takes on a really surrealistic turn.Various other dream sequences happen, two enigmatic Spaniards offer him money which he accepts promising not treat the poet. Monsieur Pain has reason to suspect that agents loyal to Franco in the Spanish Civil War are trying to assassinate Vallejo,the poet, a supporter of the Republican cause. The story keeps taking weird turns and the worst part was that the ending did not offer any resolution at all. When he gets back to the hospital the poet had vanished!According to one review 'The novel melds existential anxiety to political terror in a measure peculiar to Bolaño.' Well,I concede he is good writer(or I wouldn't have finished the book) but his style of writing does not appeal to me at all. I'll leave him to others who enjoy such work.

Manju Kapur's 'Custody' all 455 pages of it began well as the opening sentence promised. She is a master craftsman at delivering the nuances of failing relationships and adding the strands of the extended family and pressures from the society at large with great dexterity. Unfortunatley this novel in my opinion was overlong and could have been sharper with a good edit. As always her characteristaion was exceptionally good, the children being used as pawns in the custody issue between the parents was protrayed very well. A bit disappointed that a good story was spoilt by becoming tedious in the end.

A friend of mine told me about the 'Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks'by Rebecca Skloot and I also happened to see the TV Book Club reviewing and discussing this fascinating book. I am still to read it but the subject matter is one that really interests me. This is a true story of a black woman who died in John Hopkins hospital in 1951 of cervical cancer and her cells were taken without the family's knowledge and used extensively. Trillions of her cells are still alive.They have been employed in research into the polio vaccine, and into the effects of atomic warfare; they were shot into space, used in AIDS research.It is a harrowing and amazing subject and I've requested my library for a copy.

Books are a powerful mode of revealing lives that are more fantastic than fiction sometimes.

Thursday, 10 March 2011





The poet Benjamin Zephaniah was on Radio 4 Bookclub today. I've read his book the Refugee Boy that was featured on the show. 'A story that springs out of war,broken families, refugees, racial rivalries and hatreds, children who become victims almost before they’re old enough to know why.' Wars and its effect on children is told in this book through the story of Alem, a young boy who has one Ethiopian parent and another who is Eritrean. This short book I think, is a must-read.

Benjamin Zephaniah, I was surprised to learn is dyslexic, and I quote from James Naughtie's newsletter - 'to such a degree that he finds it difficult to do such readings – even of his own work – without a great deal of preparation. I suppose, I said to him, that poetry helps: it can be memorised for permanence, after all. Benjamin has spoken a good deal about his condition, and it must be a comfort to many children who find that somewhere along the wide dyslexic spectrum they’ve come across a difficulty, one that for generations in the past would have meant being consigned to the back of the classroom and being labelled "slow" or even stupid. No more.'
Gifted people overcome difficuties and present us with beautiful pieces of literature. Zephaniah is a real role model.

Books, Books and more books







Its been a busy few days. World Book Night and giving away 'Half of a Yellow Sun' was such fun.Over 35 people turned up on a Saturday afternoon to take part in the event. Milngavie Library made a great effort and the music of Tawona Sithole and his poems were well received. The big smiles from the people as they got their books made it all worthwhile.

The Aye Write Festival is in full swing. I attended some of the events. The stunningly good one was Clarence B Jones, a 80 year old still teaching at Stanford who co-wrote the 'Dream' speech of Martin Luther King Jnr. It was a real honour and privilege to hear this icon of the sixties explaining the magic of that day in March 1963 when 'that' speech evoked such a response from all of America and the world. We re-lived that day with him as he spoke with such passion. He has offered to come and teach a 10 week course at Glasgow University entitled 'From slavery to Obama.' Wow! that would be some course!The main theatre was jam packed and the audience was happy to stay well after the scheduled time to hear him talk.

Levy and Kay were superb. Levy's articulate and intelligent answers and her wonderful reading of 'July's words'(the protagonist in the Long Song) are still ringing in my ears. Kay's book was deeply moving,an adopted child seeking her biological parents only to find that she was not accepted by either of them. Her preacher-man father in Nigeria and her nurse mother in Aberdeen both had kept her birth a secret from their new families and had no wish to reveal her existence at all. Yet Kay was able to rise above such awful rejections, second time around, and her book is sprinkled with humour. She also read couple of poems. 'Ma Broon's has a Colonic Irrigation' made us roar with laughter. Don't you love the cover picture of her?

The cancellation of Manju Kapur's event is frustrating for me. The comments on FB showed how some people felt that the Aye Write's organisation has been poor.Not enough advertising said some. I think it is more to do with very few people being aware of asian writers apart from the Booker, Orange winners. I am also ashamed to note that at any book related events I rarely see any asian people. When I arrived here in 1969 and noted the same at Citizens Theatre, museums, even films(no book fests in Glasgow then) there were hardly any asians in the crowd. I assumed it was perhaps the language barrier that prevented people enjoying the arts. But the next generation are also shying away from such events. Where are the young asian writers, poets, film makers artists? I leave you to ponder over this.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Mini book blog




Nikesh Shukla's 'Coconut Unlimited' was shortlisted for the Costa debut Novel Prize. An easy read, it is a bittersweet 'coming of age' book about three Asian boys, in a posh public school and their gauche attempts to form a hip-hop band. I know nothing about hip-hop. My music kind of came to a stop when 50 cents, Eminem etc started the 'mantra' like noises. I preferred the old music where you could understand the lyrics. Yet this book had me giggling and reading on. Sad on one level that even in the 90's the racism was rife from pupils and teachers alike at his school and on both sides of the racial divide.His parents working hard and constantly reminding him of their sacrifices for his education was the theme throughout the book. The scene with his mum choosing a pair of jeans from C&A instead of a 'cool' shop was hilarious. So if you have a few hours spare and want to indulge in Amit, Nishant and Anand's struggle through their teen years pick this book up.

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