Blog Posts by Sanjay Sipahimalani

  • The Decline And Fall Of Handwriting

    Languishing in remote corners of publishers' warehouses must be piles of mildewed books that claim to understand human beings through their handwriting. Yellowing pages devoted to the way you dot your 'i's and cross your 't's, with each characteristic loop, slant and curlicue identifying you as introverted, sociable, pathological or a unique combination of the three. ("Lines sloping downward? Looks you need some Prozac at once!") Graphology, it's called, from graphos, writing, and logos, word. If I'm not mistaken, there was even one such volume that claimed to make you change your life simply by changing your handwriting.

    Whether such analysis is science or mumbo-jumbo, handwriting itself is in irreversible decline. Most prefer nowadays to strike or touch keyboards, with the result that the knowledge of an art we spent years painstakingly perfecting now lies gathering dust in our synapses. Heidi Harralson, a Tucson graphologist, was recently quoted in the New York Times as saying, "I'm

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  • India’s Second Freedom Struggle

    It was both ironic and poignant when, a few days ago, Anna Hazare remarked that his crusade for the Lokpal Bill was akin to a second freedom struggle for India. Hazare is fighting against the right things in the wrong way: as I wrote a few weeks ago, corruption arises from an excess of government power; creating an alternate center of power, as the Lokpal Bill attempts to do, which is neither accountable nor democratically elected, solves nothing. That said, Hazare's rhetoric, borrowed from the likes of C Rajagopalachari from decades past, was correct: India does need a second freedom struggle.

    Every nation is a work in progress, but India is more so because our independence was a job half finished. In 1947, we gained freedom from the British -- but not from oppression. As the country heaved a long sigh of relief at gaining political independence, a new set of brown sahibs took over from the white ones. The great hope of this new democracy was that it would lead to a government that

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  • Reading Yoga

    Practitioners of yoga have been much in the news these days — sadly, not because of the practice of yoga. Such a practice, as we should all know by now, has been firmly established as a discipline that's Good For You.  Another such activity, clearly, is reading. (Remember reading? Making sense of a page filled with letters organized into words and sentences?)

    Given our frantic urban lifestyle — with little room for life, leave alone style — finding the time to pursue both disciplines for a sustained period has always been difficult.  No longer. It's time to take heart: in a dazzling breakthrough, this column presents a series of poses that combines yoga with reading.

    Each one has been tried and tested by your faithful, fatigued columnist. Fasting is optional, but make sure your tongue is firmly in cheek before commencing.

    The Upside-down Turtle: A good pose for the beginner. Lie on your back on any firm surface with your hands by your sides, palms facing upward.  Slide one of your

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  • Why India is a Democracy

    Let me begin with two questions: Who is Pakistan's current Chief of Army Staff? I suspect General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's name rings a bell even for those who did not answer correctly. Now, who is India's current Chief of Army Staff? It's General Vijay Kumar Singh, and chances are you know nothing about him. This isn't because he has a generic name, the sort Amitabh Bachchan might adopt to play COAS in a Bollywood thriller, but because, unlike his Pakistani counterpart, General Singh rarely figures in the news. Which is not a bad thing at all. The firewall between India's civilian administration and its military is the single most important factor ensuring we continue on a democratic path. Unfortunately, since it is defined in the negative, as an absence of military interference in everyday life, it is the least heralded of India's accomplishments in the journey to a truly representative political system.

    India's parliamentary apparatus, which has functioned for sixty-five years with

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  • Reader, Interrupted

    One of the aims of the novelist, writes John Gardner in his The Art of Fiction, is to create for the reader "a vivid and continuous dream". Well, these days, I find that dream to be full of interruptions.

    I'm not referring to doorbells, phone calls and mysterious thumps from next door. Rather, it's the distraction caused by having access to the Internet. The lurking sense that there are e-mails to be checked, tweets to be followed, status updates to be noted, headlines to be scanned or new videos of Rebecca Black to be made fun of.

    The ease with which all of this can be accomplished means that it's a temptation to be constantly wrestled with, and more often than not, I find myself pinned to the ground. And the more often one enters that kinetic, frenetic arena, the more difficult it is to settle down for a period of sustained, single-minded attention.

    Nicholas Carr, in his much-discussed The Shallows, maintains that the Web destroys focus, quoting neurological studies to prove that it

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  • When Authors Borrow Characters

    Daniel Defoe died three centuries ago. Yet, in December 2003, at a Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, the world listened to him musing on Robinson Crusoe's later career. The voice and imagination were those of J.M. Coetzee, who co-opted the earlier author and his creation for his enigmatic acceptance speech. Those familiar with Coetzee's oeuvre realised that this allegory of language and representation harked back to his fourth novel, Foe.

    That may be the most unusual case of an author borrowing another author's character, but it's by no means the only one. The best-known examples are those of Conan Doyle's Holmes and Watson, with everyone from Michael Dibdin to Michael Chabon having a go. British novelist Jasper Fforde has even made something of a career by populating his novels with characters from Conan Doyle, Dickens and Bronte — to name a few — in his series featuring the "literary detective", Thursday Next.

    That this is something that can be taken too far is evident from the many

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  • Unfinished, Not Unpublished

    Decades ago, while browsing at a bookstore on Park Street in Kolkata, I came across a novel by P.G. Wodehouse with the most un-Wodehousian title of Sunset at Blandings. Upon examination, it turned out to be the novel he was working on when he died. The unfinished manuscript was subsequently published, padded out with the addition of Wodehouse's notes on the plot and an introduction by Richard Usborne.

    I put the book back on the shelf. It remains one of the few by the novelist that I haven't read, simply because I'm sure I'd be stricken by an awful sense of melancholy on every page, however sprightly Wodehouse's sentences.

    Clearly, not everyone would be as melancholy when it comes to a favourite author's last words, as exemplified by the continual publication of unfinished manuscripts. The latest case in point is David Foster Wallace's The Pale King, which he was working on at the time of his suicide. It was published last month to — so far — glowing and respectful reviews.


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  • Window pane versus stained glass

    From the time of Cicero to Messrs Strunk and White and beyond, we've been told that effective communication eschews the ornate. In other words, write simply and plainly. The writer and critic William Zinssner made students at a Columbia University seminar recite the following, which just about sums it up:

    Short is better than long.

    Simple is good. (Louder!)

    Long Latin nouns are the enemy.

    Anglo-Saxon active verbs are your best friend.

    One thought per sentence.

    Certainly, one is all for clarity of expression, especially when it comes to insurance policies or home loan documents. With fiction, anyone trying to plough through the late novels of Henry James would wish that the Master had adhered to the piece of doggerel above.

    George Orwell famously asserted that "good prose is like a windowpane", and there are many such as V.S. Naipaul who have taken this dictum to heart, producing passages of stunning clarity. In the hands of some, a paring down of the unnecessary makes for limpid grace:

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  • Books on Holiday

    Before departing for a brief trip out of the city last week, I faced the usual, last-minute dilemma. What books should I choose to accompany me?

    The award-winning, comic exploration of Jewishness? (What if I don't make it past page 42?) The new Madame Bovary translation? (Would I start looking for another translation?) The wise essays of the British therapist on excess and balance? (Do I need reminders of moderation while on holiday?) Decisions, decisions.

    As a child, such choices were simpler. I recall taking with me, during summer holidays to Bombay, one of those stiff cardboard briefcases filled to the brim with unread comic books, Enid Blytons and Hardy Boys, enough to see me through the vacation. Nowadays, one can't stuff too many volumes into the bag; on the other hand, one doesn't want to be left staring at the wallpaper.

    There are people keen to provide solutions. Every May, British and American papers carry at least on article on "summer reading", with picks on what to take

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  • Confessions of a Book Pirate

    Psst. Sar! You are wanting book to read? A fine selection here, Sar. Look! And for you, all at great discounts. Very cheap. Forget about going to bookshop and getting these books at cheaper rate, why, you will not be finding any of these books on those shelves. You may be trying and trying, but you will not be finding, I can tell you. All scaredy-cats.

    See, here I have the book by that Parsi chap, Such a Long Journey. Very thick book, many many pages. But these days, very much in demand. It is my bestseller for the month. See, we got special paper for it and everything, and every page is there just like the original. Whyfor you want to be going anywhere else? I do not know why it is being called Such a Long Journey, but I am thinking maybe it is about a chap who is travelling from Andheri to Nariman Point by car.

    No? OK, then how about this one - it is being called The Red Sari by some Spanish fellow. See, he has written about women and sarees so well. They are saying it is about

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