Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Writing Contests

Writing contests at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2007

Caferati is managing four contests for the Literature and Writing section of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2007.

Go straight through to the individual contest pages for details.

  • SMS Poetry — 160-character poetry — About Submit
  • Flash Fiction — very short stories — About Submit
  • Graphic Flash — very short stories, told with visuals — About Submit
  • Poetry Slam — performance poetry, live and head-to-head — About Submit

All these contests are open to anyone, anywhere. However, the Poetry Slam is a live event at the Festival, so it’s a bit pointless to submit if you live elsewhere, unless you are prepared to travel to Kala Ghoda for the event at your own expense, if you are selected.

The deadline for all of them is midnight, IST, February 4, 2007.

Monday, January 29, 2007


"I was a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum-security prison. When I escaped from that prison, over the front wall, between two gun-towers, I became my country’s most wanted man. Luck ran with me and flew with me across the world to India, where I set up and ran a free clinic in a crowded Bombay slum. I joined the Bombay mafia, and worked as a gunrunner, a smuggler, and a counterfeiter. I was chained on three continents, beaten, stabbed, and starved. I went to war. I ran into the enemy guns. And when those wilderness years of hunted exile came to an end, when I changed my life, when I stopped running onto the knives and started running into the light of love instead, I wrote the novel, Shantaram, that was based on my wild and wicked life.”
–Gregory David Roberts, author of Shantaram

I never believed in Forrest Gump’s line ‘Life is box of chocolates, you never know what you get’…until I read Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram. What I read, left me speechless. So when I heard that he is going to be talking to Dolly Thakore at Kalaghoda, I decided I’m not going to miss it.

When I entered, I found at least 150-250 people squeezed in that tiny David Sassoon garden. Whom did I first see? A tall, broad, gentle-looking man with long, straight blonde hair—Greg Roberts. I hopped to where he was and got my copy signed.


The discussion started…Dolly Thakore (Gudiya) introduced him impressively, but I wished she had kept it short. Then, she proceeded to ask him questions.When Greg was caught by the Interpol in Germany, he was kept in a maximum security prison along with the most famous criminals from all over the world. By now he had made a habit out of escaping from prisons…and this was no different. So in the midst of the most dangerous criminals and political prisoners from all over the world, Greg asked if they had seen any Steve McQueen movies about escaping from prisons. “We are not going to escape. We are political prisoners. We would take every bullet like a martyr,” one of them said. To which Greg said that he wanted to escape. “Oh! You want to escape. You should have told us. We’ll help you,” they said.

Greg continued, “Maximum security prison. Every conceivable barricade. No one could think of escaping from there. But here I was with 100 most wanted criminals from all over the world, who would probably give their lives to help me escape. I had planned everything out. I was taken every fortnight to the prosecutor’s office and he used to repeatedly ask me if I wanted to go to the Australian prison, and that I would be treated better there. I said I wasn’t interested…”He went on to talk about his possible escape strategy that he had devised and he abandoned it. He had this vision, where he saw the police officers going to see his mother to tell her that he had escaped again. “I saw my mother falling backwards and I suddenly felt I couldn’t do this to my her again. For the first time in my life, I decided to someone else’s interests before mine. I decided not to escape.”

Instead of escaping again from this prison, he decided to spend his time and walk a free man after his sentence. “From that day onwards, I gave up smoking, doing drugs, drinking, or crime…everything…”

And that’s where Gudiya interrupts…
Gudiya: Are you for real?
Audience reaction: a look of absolute disbelief one every one’s face except Greg…probably his politeness prevented him from giving her ‘the look’…

Gudiya: I mean you say you have done all these things, have you really done all these things…drugs, alcohol?
Greg: Everybody does drugs in prisons. Everybody smokes hashish in prisons…Audience reaction: more disbelief with a few mutterings at her inept questions. Greg continues with his narration of her experiences.

Gudiya: Did they torture you in some way in the German prison?
Greg: (very patiently) It was the torture of neglect…
Gudiya: Was the food good…?
Audience reaction: Before Greg could say anything, the mutterings grew louder and she stopped with her silly meanderings…and apologised and let Greg continue.

Some snatches of gems from his speech:

“One of the ways I survived in the prison was by imposing a greater discipline on my self than the discipline that the system imposed on me. If the system said, I had to be up and ready at 7am and stand next to my door, I used to be ready at 6am.”

“There are two key qualities you have to develop if you have to survive in prison: one, courage and second, integrity.”

“In prison, once with your courage and integrity, you earn you respect, you keep it. In the street, you have to earn your respect everyday.”

“Men get out of prison and they know that they aren’t forgiven. And when you are unforgiven, you become unforgiving. We need to have a mechanism in our political system that says, alright, you’ve messed up, we are going to treat you very roughly, and we are going to imprison you. But we give you this chance to earn our forgiveness. We’ll forgive you and take you back to the community. You mess up again; we are going to bring you down as hard. That is the key to getting back into the community and the key to not doing it again.”

“Solitary confinement is the worst thing anybody can do…it’s the worst torture. By nature, human beings need companionship. You keep them away from company, they will lose it. Statistics prove that 8 out of ten men, who were in solitary confinement, commit a murder after they come out. So these prison guys know what they are doing. They are not torturing unknowingly.”

“Anger comes from the inability to forgive.”

“I’ve seen that art survives torture. In Afghanistan, musicians went in and came out with their humanity intact. These guys sang and played music every night. I’ve been in prisons in three continents, and it’s the musicians, the writers, the painters who survive the prisons with their humanity intact. If you can find a way to transform what’s happening to you into something else, that is the key. Second, love. If you have someone you love, it will see you through. I have seen that most of the men ,who were brutalized in there didn’t have someone to love in their lives. For me, my mother’s loved saved me. Third is self discipline. You impose a regime on yourself and say, that’s me. I’m controlling my life, not they.”

“In Australia, I was in solitary confinement for two whole years. Meditation helped me survive. I even taught mediation techniques to other men, whom I could not see, but we used to talk through the walls.”

Here Gudiya interrupts again…

Gudiya: You’ve been talking to us about forgiveness etc…Was this path learnt in India?


In Bombay…
“I get many people coming to India, who want to meet me because they have read the book. I’m hanging out at Leo’s, so they come to Leo’s to meet me. So I meet them and ask them where they are going. They are here to go to ashrams all around the country. I think that’s a wonderful thing. I never went to the ashrams through their front doors. I used to go through the back door, where the monks are sitting and smoking, playing cards and doing black market deals for the gold people give them. The goras who were coming from the front door were overwhelmed with spiritual love, and were giving them their money and gold rings, bracelets, necklaces. And at the back door, the monks are selling it to us weighing it by the gram. They are very good at judging weather its 14 carats, 18 carats or 22 carats gold. And they drive a hard bargain…I dunno, these folks have, probably heaven on their sides.”

“When I was in Arthur Road Jail, I got one of the key insights into life. I was face up the first time I was being tortured and beaten by people. I was looking up the men who were beating me and I was defying them and staring up at them and thinking, ‘I’ll get back at you. I’ll get you.’ The second time I was being tortured, I was much weaker; I weighed only 50 kilos. I was face down and I couldn’t see them. There was this moment when I felt that I was actually out of my body. Now I don’t mean this to be an out of body experience. I think it was more like a writer’s artistic vision of what was going on. But I felt that I was outside and I could see what was happening and the men who were hitting me. It happened then. They took a break from the beating, I mean they too get tired, you know. So they took a break to have some chai and beedis. They were away and there was this guy who was one of the men beating me, came over, pulled my head around and put the beedi between my lips and held it there for me to take a couple of drags. And I really needed that cigarette. Afterwards, when the other guys came and saw him doing this, they teased him. After they resumed their beating, this guy beat me harder than the other guys did. That’s what hit me…this guy showed me the fracture in the otherwise monolithic, unbreakable edifice of their torture. They allowed me to see the humanity around it. He showed me that, even this guy who was torturing and beating me, he really didn’t wanna do this. He was caught up in what was going on it like the rest of them. And I knew that none of them were free to not do it…to stop torturing me…to put the lathi down and say, I’m not going to do this. They were trapped in the walls of their brains, all of them were. But I was free. I was free to hate them…or to forgive them. I realised that I was the only man in the room who was free. To me the key link was…understanding what they were doing, understanding that they had no choice and seeing it. Understanding this was the key to forgiving.”

“I’ve started a ‘Shantaram’ charitable trust here. And we are doing a number of things at the village where I got my name—Shantaram. We have already built the first house there. Next project is to build a school and then a clinic. That’s one arm of what we are doing. The second is…”

Gudiya cries again…
Gudiya: You know the location of this place? This village? The one where you built the school?

Greg’s mask of politeness is replaced by disbelief like the rest of the audience (What the crap are you talking about, lady? Grrrr)
Greg: I’ve lived there for six months
Gudiya: But is there a name to this place? Can we have the name?
Greg: There is; but I preserve the name. I gave a fictional name in the book. Even the film contract states that the original name will not be disclosed. I think it would be inappropriate. Already, there are hundreds of people coming for Shantaram book tours to Bombay. When the movie releases, there will be thousands. If I gave the name of this place away, people from all over the world will start visiting it. It might do the village good…this tourism. But the possible harm that it might do is greater. If anything happens to any child or woman in this village, I don’t want to take any responsibility for it. If they invite people themselves, I’m ok with it. But I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be responsible for any possible damage to them.

To all writers…
“In a better world, we hope to be characterised by among many other things, meritocracy. Unfortunately, that not the kind of world we live in. In this world, it’s not what you know. It’s who you know. No matter how good a book or a screenplay you write, if you don’t have a good agent, you can just walk around in circles. And if you do sell it, you’ll sell it for far less than it is worth; because you don’t have an agent there to fight for you.”

Shataram the movie…
“There is this pitching process that actors and producers do. I met the four actors who wanted to play this part: Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Edward Norton and Russell Crowe. I spoke to them on the telephone; I spoke to their producers on the telephone. They pitch to you on the phone. Then you hold the auction. They are hoping that they have persuaded you before the auction, to accept your bids even if it’s a lower bid. I came down for the auction. The morning the auction was going to be held, I came to the office and said I’ve already picked Johnny Depp. They asked why. I said, ‘Because he’s the only one who has been talking to me about India. The others think that India and its people are not even a part of this project. So Depp, I think, will be able to bring the right heart into this project.' As it turned out, his was the highest bid.”

“Involvement in the film? Less than they had offered. I am on board as a consultant. I wrote the first draft: 900 pages in 90 mins.”

“I took the writers and director around Bombay, when they came down. But I don’t think writers should be looking over the shoulders of the directors and producers in the making of the film. I love films and I respect and admire the art. And I think they shouldn’t regard the book as sacred and too reverent. If it is, then I think it has failed. The director has to be free to do his own interpretation. I won’t be there second guessing and looking over their shoulder.”

“I’m dying to get Johnny Depp to this place…to Bombay.”

Forthcoming projects…
I’m working with a local film company. We are committed to making three films in two years. I’m writing the screenplay for the first of those films at the moment. I just completed a book of romantic poetry which is due for release at end of year, 2005. I’m also writing a sequel to Shantaram. I’m halfway through that novel and I intend to finish it this year. I’m also working on another novel…a romantic novel set in thirteenth century in Arabia.”

“He’s just going on and on…Is he going to leave anything for us to read at all?”

CINEMA FINALE–Feb 12, 2006 (You missed it???)

Cinema Finale.

I promised myself that I wouldn’t miss it for anything in the world. It was Cinema Finale with four previously unscreened documentaries being screened by four women directors. But I did miss it (@#%&*)…well, at least the first film.
The four films screened were...
Blank Verse by Indrayani Mukherjee
Rose Mahal by Jenny Pinto
Call It Slut by Nishtha Jain
Naamkaran by Konkana Sensharma

I missed Blank Verse (grumble mumble crumble).

I walked into Horniman Circle Garden just as Rose Mahal and the director were being introduced. Rose Mahal is the story of an old house called…well, Rose Mahal, construced in 1933 by the Pinto family in Bangalore. The house is to be pulled down and the author is re-living the last of its memories by holding a huge feast for all her relatives. In the process, she tells Rose Mahal’s story interspersed with her own…and the lessons she learnt in the process. A personal tribute to a home which gave her childhood the spark that would last for a lifetime, Jenny Pinto takes us through past and present as she infuses her current celebration with those of her own celebrated memories. The documentary was at the best, decent. The characters gyrated on your nerves and the dialogues were stilted. A few shots were admirable…like those of Grandma Rose licking away the last of the leftovers with her fingers and the quaint little house dwarfed by monolithic cement brick buildings in the background. In the end, it left the taste of peach iced tea-hot water combination that they were selling at David Sassoon library…you like peach, but you don’t want to have another sip of that delightful flavour with erghhh…hot water!

Call It Slut was the next film. Ah! What can I say? Gorgeous. Nishtha made a film on Lakshmi Tripathi, a hijra. Before you make comic innuendos and turn you noses away, just read this quote by Lakshmi. “The joy of being a woman is that you can wrap yourself in six metres of cloth and still appear naked,” says Lakshmi. Confident, beautiful, graceful, magical, bold, wicked, shocking…that’s Lakshmi for you. “I can’t stand hypocrites,” she says in another scene. “When I met her, I just knew I had to make a film on her,” said Nishtha. I often wondered…how can one make a biographical film on someone who is still alive without offending him/ her or making his/her existence less-celebrated? Nishtha provided the answer—just be honest. The film intersperses Lakshmi’s likes, dislikes, beliefs, ideologies with some lessons in womanhood to Nishtha—a tribute to the beauty of honesty and confession. Lakshmi gives us her opinion on exploitation, the Kamasutra and the government ban on bar girls. “Government did a wonderful thing by banning the dance bars. First, there was one hurdle for the customers wanting to take bar girls to bed…and that was the stage. The government removed this hurdle. Ab yeh stage ko hatake ladki ko sidha bistar pe daal diya,” she critiques. A must watch!

Lastly, Konkana Senharma’s debut feature short film, Naamkaran was a big hit. My Bengali friend had threatened to kill me if he missed this film because of mon late arrival. But Naamkaran was the last to be screened. So all’s well that end’s well. Naamkaran is a film about sibling rivalry in a family of three (two sisters and the handicapped father). They are pick-pocketers by profession. The protagonist is a mother of a toddler and dislikes the ways of her family. Her sister buys gifts for her son with stolen money. The film initially explores the relationship between the two sisters. The elder one wants her younger sister to get a job and work honestly; while the younger want wants her elder sister to start pick-pocketing again. She also wants her sister to name her baby after their father…or at least give him a name that rhymes with their father’s name. Abhijit, Surojit etc. The film takes us though their lives as we discover nuances of the family’s strained relationships, which give a well-rounded logic to the protagonist’s last act of pick-pocketing a man’s wallet on the tram…and eventually naming her baby after him…Abhrojit…a final act which bonds her back to her family.

Ah! If you weren’t there…you missed some beautiful cinema honey…

Now go…run…go take a retail therapy or dessert dive-ins.

I had mine last night…(halo reappears).