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Archive for January, 2009

Yesterday I had an interview with the BBC for their India Business Report programme. They are doing a snippet on the English publishing industry in India. The reporter asked me the usual questions like what prompted me to give up a cushy job and take up writing? And did I find it difficult to get published? What did I attribute the success of chicklit/dudelit/contemporary fiction to?

Now, I’ve covered most of these in my earlier posts – the writing market and chicklit is hot and also in several press interviews which have been put up on the Kkrishnaa’s Konfessions site. But he also asked me some questions which I haven’t covered. For instance, he asked me whether it is the right time to be an author in India and for how long did I think the opportunity was going to last.

In my opinion, it was the right time for people trying to make it as authors in the English language because publishers were on the lookout for interesting stories about intriguing characters set in heretofore, unexplored fields. And they’re not too picky about the language. As long as you can string together words into a grammatically correct sentence, it’s fine. They’re not looking to get floored by your imaginative use of the language and visual imagery. It’s fine if you can’t come up with a Ratatouille of a metaphor which conjures up the reader’s childhood. All they’re looking for is a good story.

However, it’s equally true that since more and more people are trying their hands at writing, the slush piles at the publishers’ are getting taller and the reverts from them are longer in coming. But, the good news is that most publishers are still growing their catalogues and so, are still on the lookout for fresh talent. Very soon, their catalogues will fill up. It may take five years, or, the way the industry is exploding, as soon as two to three years.

Then, the way it happens in the west and other developed markets, the publishers will have their hands full dealing with their existing repertoire of authors and will simply have no time to go through unsolicited works by new authors. The spotting and nurturing of new talent will be left to literary agents. Hopefully, by then, readership will also have widened and the authors who are already published will enjoy greater commercial success.

So, friends, if you want to write, the time is NOW. The window of opportunity is still open. Barely.

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I haven’t been blogging much. The reason is that I’m the middle of rewriting my second novel. And the Australian Open, of course. Actually I haven’t been on the Internet much. Well, hardly much. Only to the Australian Open site, to check scores and schedules.

 

You see, I had written my novel but I was a little iffy about my lead character. I have a pretty keen ear for dialogue (yes, even the one I write) and she felt…stilted. I kept going over the MS again and again to figure out where and why and try and fix that. And I realised the problem was everywhere. And it was because I hadn’t succeeded in being her. I was trying too hard to be a character I don’t identify with. Or perhaps, not trying hard enough.

 

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I decided to change the lead character. Her attributes anyway. Now that changes the slant of the story and all interactions she has with other characters. Guys, this is a major rewrite, ‘cos, you see, based upon the new qualities, the characters she didn’t like earlier suddenly become her friends and friends become foes. As for lovers, let’s not even go there.

 

So that started another search for a character. And then for two weeks I drove myself and everyone around me crazy, trying to come up with a character that’s quirky and funny and also goes with the flow of the story. I’ve been told I started to mutter to myself and randomly grab pieces of paper and scribble on them maniacally and generally behaving madly. I believe the topic of having me committed was a seriously debated one at home.

 

And then I had a breakthrough. And the Australian Open started. As far as I’m concerned it couldn’t have come at a worse time.

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Udaipur is a city of lakes. There are at least three major lakes – Pichhola, Fateh Sagar, Swaroop Sagar, and a minor one, Dudh Talai. Then there are others like Udai Sagar and Jasamand which are outside the city.

Of these, the main lake is Pichhola, around which the old city is built. Try and stay around this area as this is the happening area and has all major tourist attractions including the City Palace, Baghore-ki-Haveli, Ganghaur Ghat, Jag Niwas Palace (Under Taj Hotels’ management, run as the Lake Palace) and Oberoi’s Udai Vilas.

But don’t jump into a lake if you don’t find accommodation here. Udaipur is small city and you can get anywhere from anywhere within fifteen minutes.

From what I could gather, the best hotels here are around Lake Pichhola including the Lake Palace and Udai Vilas, if you’re in the mood to spend 30,000 a night. Otherwise too, there are good options (in order of preference and tariffs) including– Shiv Niwas Palace and Fateh Prakash (run by the HRH group of hotels which belong to the erstwhile Maharaja of Udaipur, Arvind Singh) Hotel Lake Pichhola, Haveli on the Lake, Mewar Haveli and Jaiwana Haveli.

Then there are other properties belonging to the Leela Group, the Oberois (Trident) and the Radisson Group. I don’t know where they are situated but the Bharat Hotels’ Laxmi Niwas Palace is on Fateh Sagar Lake, directly below the State Government’s Anand Bhawan. There is another good hotel Ram Pratap Vilas on Fateh Sagar Lake with an outstanding view from the restaurant, but they don’t have an alcohol license. Swaroop Vilas is another good option on Fateh Sagar Lake, but they, too, don’t have an alcohol license (they do serve beer, though).

Attractions – all the major attractions can be reached within 5-10 minutes, on foot, from jagdish Chowk.

The City Palace, though, from what I’ve heard, it is overrated. Not to mention expensive (Rs 50 for entry and 200 for camera). It is much better to visit Baghore ki Havel. Not only is BkH well preserved, it costs a fraction of what it costs to visit the City Palace. Plus you can always enter the City Palace compound by telling them you are going to visit the Government Museum. The government museum is located in one corner of the City Palace compound and they have to let you in without a ticket. So you can at least see the facade of the City Palace.

Other attractions include the Jagdish Mandir, Sheetalnath Jain Temple, Saheliyon ki Bari, Sukhadia Circle, Sajjan Niwas Gardens. For the goras, there are many exotic, spice and textiles markets around Hatipol going up to Delhi Gate and around the Bapu market area. I bought some really good, Sanghaneri print Jaipuri quilts from the Hatipol area for a very reasonable price.

Day excursions – Kumbhalgarh Fort, Ranakpur Jain Temples, Nathdwara for pilgrimage.

Two and a half days are enough for Udaipur. One for the attractions within the city, one for day excursions to Kumbhalgarh and Ranakpur and one half day for Nathdwara for devout Hindus.

 

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The next day, we left for Kumbhalgarh Fort and Ranakpur, both places worth seeing. We were late in leaving Mountainridge, disinclined as were to first, get up early and then hurry up a leisurely breakfast. I was enjoying my umpteenth cup of excellent coffee, outside in the crisp morning air and the gentle morning sun when with a start I realized it was 10.30!

So we hurriedly left for Kumbhalgarh. Apart from the obvious historical value, Kumbhalgarh enjoys architectural fame as well. We were told that the wall around the Fort marking the city’s perimeter, at over 36 kms long, is second only to the great wall of China. Considering that the great wall of China is several thousand kms long, we figured that something was off somewhere. Nevertheless, there it is.

It is a hilly road to Kumbhalgarh and we reached at 1 pm. Kumbhalgarh is over 600 years old and is the birthplace of Maharana Pratap. It is a reasonably well preserved fort. We did a relaxed tour of the place and also took some excellent pictures. By then, it was already 2 p.m. and kinda late of we wanted to go to Ranakpur as well. So we left from there and decided to forgo lunch.

On the way to Ranakpur, we stopped at a tea stall in Saira village to grab some samosas on the go. But the chai walla ruefully told us that the samosas weren’t hot but there was a daal baati wala nearby if we were interested. We beat such a hasty retreat to the daal baati wala we left dust in our wake. The baatis were hot and fresh, the daal steaming, and in spite of our protests, the owner thoughtfully emptied a whole cup full of ghee in our plates. After partaking of this quick and yummy lunch (two plates for Rs. 30) we were once more en route to Ranakpur and reached at 3.30.

And the Ranakpur Jain temples (actually temple. There is only one ancient temple. The rest our later additions) are white marble with intricate carvings, especially on the ceiling, like the Dilwara temples in Mount Abu. Actually if you’re going onto, or have been to, Mount Abu you can give this one a miss.

The claim to fame of the Ranakpur temple is that it houses some 1400 plus intricately carved pillars and that no one has been able to accurately count the number subsequently. Apparently various methods have been employed, but no go. Each census has thrown up a mistake.

We probably faced maximum frisking here. I was impressed, till someone told me it’s only to see if you’re smuggling a camera you haven’t paid for inside. Trust the Jains to have their fundas right.

On the way back, we stopped at Swaroop Vilas on Fateh Sagar Lake to enquire about accommodation. We were booked into Moutainridge only up to the 2nd.  At the reception, we were told that the tariff was Rs. 3500 a night. I tried to bargain figuring that all tourist destinations in India must be facing a slack after the Mumbai attacks. Not so. Swaroop Vilas had only a couple of rooms empty and were in no mood to reduce their rates. So we said no thank you to the room. But we did say yes to some yummy Lal Maans and Gatte in their restaurant. All for the princely sum of Rs. 200. Then it was back to Mountainridge, a warm fire, alcoholic drinks and bed.

Kumbhalgarh Fort

Kumbhalgarh Fort

 

 

Pillars inside Ranakpur Temple

Pillars inside Ranakpur Temple

 

Ceiling - Ranakpur Temple

Ceiling - Ranakpur Temple

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State – Rajasthan, region Mewar.

Distance from Bombay – 770 km.

Road  – NH 8 from Bombay-Vapi-Valsad-Surat-Bharuch-Baroda-Ahmedabad-Udaipur

Time Taken – 12 Hours with a one hour stopover. We started at four in the morning to beat the Bombay traffic and reached Sisarma (country roads, kuchcha dirt track for the last ten kms) at 4 p.m.

Place stayed – Mountain Ridge, Sisarma, 10 kms short of Udaipur and Anand Bhawan, Fateh Sagar Lake, Udaipur

Camera taken Nikon D60 and Apple iPhone (to sneak in where not allowed or to avoid paying camera fee J).

We left Bombay at 4 in the morning and within one hour were beyond Virar, somewhere between Vapi and Virar. Bad roads, notwithstanding. Don’t get me wrong. Compared to the roads within the city they were a dream, but wait till you sample the real NH8 from Baroda all the way to Udaipur. The roads are world class (so are the tolls) and you can easily average 140. More if your car doesn’t start shaking and generally displaying signs of impending death.

We made good time till Valsad and were congratulating ourselves, dreaming lofty dreams of creating a record of sorts by doing Udaipur in less than 10 when we had a setback. A four inch, blunt edged bolt mysteriously penetrated the rear left tyre and ripped it to shreds. This was at around 6 in the morning and hardly any tyre repair shops were open so we wasted about an hour and a half trying to locate a shop and getting our tyre repaired.

Our dream was dented but by no means shattered. We reassessed our situation and estimated that we could still achieve our objective if we didn’t stop for lunch (we were carrying paranthas and sandwiches). So, with our recalibrated target we were once more underway.

And then we hit Surat. The NH8 stretch from Surat to Baroda is under construction and the highway is single lane on either side. Therefore, it takes about 3-1/2 hours of navigating through some pretty bad, dusty, polluted traffic to get through this painful stretch. That is, if you’re lucky and don’t get into a traffic jam. We were. But then after our early morning setback, we were due for a break, don’t you think?

From Baroda, the journey was uneventful. We just kept our foot on the pedal and didn’t take it off till we reached our turnoff for Sisarma. And at toll booths, of course. We spent about 500 bucks on tolls.

Piers Helsen, the Englishman who runs the picturesque Mountainridge property on the outskirts of Udaipur, had given us very clear directions and we found the said property without one single wrong turn. By the way, Piers is also easily the best Udaipur guide around and you would do well to talk to him before undertaking any sightseeing.

Anyway, we reached Mountainridge at 4 p.m. whence we dumped our stuff and took a quick shower. Then it was time for a beer enjoyed over a rapidly cooling air and an unobstructed view of the Aravalis. That done, we decided to take a quick reconnoitering trip into town.

You can imagine that after the long trip we were in no mood to drive. So Piers kindly arranged for a car to drop us to Rampura Chowk nearby from where we got a tuk-tuk (Vikram) to Delhi Gate. We looked around but didn’t see much as everything as shut by then. Plus I was clad only in a denim jacket and rapidly becoming hypothermic. So we cut the trip short and legged it back, not so much for the exercise but for the fact that we couldn’t find transport back. We finally convinced one old autowalla to take us back. He agreed, but for a sum of Rs 100 for a distance of less than 5 kms.

It was after 9 p.m. when we got back on the evening of December 31 and the New Year party that Piers had arranged was well underway. So it was back to warmth by a cheerful fire, some more drinks, conversations with interesting people from all over the world and bloody good food.

If there is one USP of Mountainridge, apart from the fantastic construction, the view and the unfussy service it is that you get to meet all kinds of interesting people there. Goras have their own way of networking and Piers gets a lot of guests from all over the world. We met Americans, Germans, French, Dutch and Danish people during our two day there. We all drunkenly took the Americans’ trip for creating a mess of the world. The Americans, I have to say, took it sportingly, if a bit defensively.

 

The party, I’m told went on till the wee hours of the morning, although I wouldn’t know. We were tired after our long drive and crashed soon after midnight.

The Lake Palace

The Lake Palace

 

 

sunset-over-the-aravali-range

 

night-lights-on-nehru-garden-on-fateh-sagar-lake1

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New Year in Udaipur

Happy New Year, everyone. I’m back after a holiday in Udaipur. And what glorious four days they were! Will write about it soon.

Meanwhile, here are some pix.

me-posing-outside-kumbhalgarh-fort-main-entrance

Lake Pichhola

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