Show cover of The Literary City

The Literary City

EXPLOCITY PODCASTS presents The Literary City With Ramjee Chandran. This podcast is devoted to words—written, spoken or signed. Words rule lyrics, a movie script, a play, prose, poetry or a podcast. We will feature readers and writers, publishers, people of prose and poetry and playwrights. The Literary City podcasts will feature English language teachers, grammar police, literary lounge lizards...and, oh yes, a cunning linguist or ten.


The Compelling Book Of Bihari Literature With A Poet-Diplomat Abhay K
The ability to write well used to be a necessary qualification for high office. Whether prose or poetry, literature was important as a tool of communication.It all makes sense. The more skilled you are in the medium of instruction, the better the instruction. The highest thinkers of the realms were always great writers. The founding fathers of the USA—such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams only to name two very good examples. They pursued letters and learning as a necessary part of their ability to create law and to govern effectively. Before them, we have learned of several of the ancient Greeks and Roman senators who were men of letters. And not to forget some famous Chinese emperors who wrote their edicts in verse.The mandarins and panjandrums of yore morphed into the present day bureaucrat. Of particular relevance to us today, the diplomat.My guest today is Abhay K. He is the Deputy Director General of the Indian Council For Cultural Relations. He was India’s Ambassador to Madagascar and is a career diplomat. He is what is called a poet-diplomat.Poet-diplomats are poets who have also served their countries as diplomats. The best known poet-diplomats are perhaps Geoffrey Chaucer and Thomas Wyatt; the category also includes recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature: Gabriela Mistral, Saint-John Perse, Miguel Asturias, Pablo Neruda, Czesław Miłosz  and Octavio Paz.Abhay K is one of a few contemporary poet-diplomats. In his words, “Diplomacy is generally conducted in short sentences which reveal as much as they hide. Poetry is no different".Abhay is the author of several tomes of poetry and through those has discovered so many cultures of the world through their poetry. His latest book is titled The Book Of Bihari Literature. This book opened up a world that I had only suspected existed. With every page.The biggest revelation I got from reading the book was how humane the text and adult the sentiment. It is the sort of maturity that does not characterise any but the best of Indian writing in English. And this book alone would stand testimony to the need for more translations of not only Indian literature but those of so many cultures.Abhay’s understanding of the space and his skill in translating verse and curating these anthologies came rushing out the pages of the book. It is an understanding that—not surprisingly—goes beyond literary constructs, abstractions and devices, straight into the heart of the culture whether it is Brazil or Bihar.And this whole definition of poet-diplomat started to make complete sense. I am eager to talk to him and so here he is, joining me from his hotel room in the Andamans, where he is currently on a work trip.ABOUT ABHAY KAbhay K. is a poet, diplomat, editor and translator. He is the author of a dozen poetry books including ‘Monsoon’ (Sahitya Akademi) and the editor The Book of Bihari Literature (HarperCollins India). He received the SAARC Literature Award 2013. His poem-song 'Earth Anthem' has been translated into over 150 languages. Buy The Book Of Bihari Literature:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the interesting word, "LIMERICK".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
38:12 11/29/2022
The Amazing Reign Of Raja Raja Chola With Kamini Dandapani
There’s much interest of late about the Chola empire.For many reasons. The reason that looms large is the recent blockbuster movie, Ponniyin Selvan, which, is all about the most famous of the Cholas, Raja Raja. The Cholas were one of the longest running empires in history. The earliest historic references to the Cholas dates back to 300 BC and the empire was disestablished in 1279 AD. That’s just shy of 1600 years. By comparison the Mughal empire ran from 1526 - 1857—that’s under 350 years.While the Indian region was invaded and occupied variously for thousands of years, the Cholas were significant in their thalassocratic—or maritime—escapades in South East Asia. Their trade routes extended to Guangzhou in China and the silk route on the other side. They ruled the Maldives and Sri Lanka and clearly they knew where to sail to and where to fight.And there was no greater time in all the Chola years than during the rule of Raja Raja Chozhan that ran from 985 to 1014, about three decades. If you made a list of all the stuff he achieved from infrastructure and construction to military campaigns across the south and overseas, you would find it hard to figure how someone could do so much today, leave alone over a thousand years ago.My guest today is Kamini Dandapani. She is a New York based corporate executive—Chase Manhattan Bank and McKinsey consulting. She does not call herself a historian. As a hobby she started a blog writing about historical places she visited in the south of India. There’s a link to her blog in her bio below. She says that Aleph, the reputable publishing house, called and asked to write a book.And she did. This book is titled Raja Raja Chola, King Of Kings. I chose this book to present on this podcast because it is a wonderfully structured book.The book is broken down into easily digestible chapters and Kamini strikes no elegant postures in her recounting the rule of one of the most respected kings of the world. In the parlance of the present, a man we might refer to as woke, efficient and progressive.Kamini’s biography brings us closer to the history of the south in a way that cannot be replaced by comic books and movies.She is a writer, a historian, a Carnatic singer, A Bharatanatyam dancer, a trained western classical pianist and she joins me now from her home in Manhattan.ABOUT KAMINI DANDAPANIKamini Dandapani lives New York. She has had training in Carnatic music, Bharatanatyam and Pianoforte, She moved to the US to study and work, Her blog, Tales of South India resulted in the writing of her book about Rajaraja Chola, published by Aleph. Buy Rajaraja Chola, King Of Kings:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the interesting phrase, "GIVING AN INDIAN ANSWER".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
39:35 11/22/2022
Huma Abedin The Indomitable Peace Within
There’s something about Huma. Something happens a few seconds after you meet her. You fall in love with her.Now, this immediate attraction is not for the typical reasons—of which admittedly there are many. And it has nothing to do with things like innate goodness, inner light and such other syrup. Well, I'm putting it down to some “cannot tell what it is x-factor” and I’m moving on.My guest today is Huma Abedin. She works with Secretary Hillary Clinton. Huma is former Deputy Chief Of Staff of Hillary Clinton and at present, something even more central, I’m assuming.Huma has worked with Hillary Clinton in this job for over 25 years. It isn't an easy job. I imagine that it would take not only a tough internal spirit, and a strong work ethic of course, but requires something more deeply intellectual to be able to comprehend the meaning of such a job and do it well.It was not the simplest thing for Huma Abedin to have lived in the Venn diagram overlap of being BOTH an American AND a Muslim whilst living in the penumbra of the Clintons and the White House.This, more than anything, summarises the ethic, the plurality, the dualism if you like, of her book Both/And, that I will discuss today with her.Both/And is a 500-page memoir of Huma’s life…till date. It has her life from childhood, her parents, her growing up years in Saudi Arabia and then in the United States of course, and all her years working for Hillary Clinton.Reading all the reviews of her book in the international press, I found the central theme that ran ran through much of the world's press—newspapers, TV—reviewing Both/And tending towards the trivial and reductive—rather than her as an author, a thinker, her faith and her pivotal role as an assistant to one of the most powerful women in the world. One who was this close to becoming the first woman president of the United States.But when I read Both/And, I discovered in it, a woman, a writer, a polyglot, a diplomat, and a sponge to knowledge and—I repeat—something more deeply intellectual that helps her comprehend the true meaning of her job.With Both/And Huma steps out from stage left, right into her own spotlight…and maybe a career in politics? I am privileged to be able to ask that and other questions of her today.ABOUT HUMA ABEDINHuma Abedin has spent her entire career in public service and national politics, beginning as an intern in First Lady Hillary Clinton’s office in 1996. After four years in the White House, she worked in the U.S. Senate as Senior Advisor to Senator Clinton and was Traveling Chief of Staff for Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. In 2009, she was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff at the U.S. Department of State. Huma served as Vice Chair of Hillary for America in 2016, resulting in the first woman elected nominee of a major political party. She currently serves as Hillary Clinton’s Chief of Staff. Born in the United States and raised in Saudi Arabia, Huma moved back to the U.S. in 1993. She lives in New York City with her son, Jordan.Buy Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the interesting origins of the word, "PABLUM" WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here: credits: Daddy_s_Music and ArtSlop_Flodur - Pixabay
44:36 11/15/2022
Jerry Pinto, His Muse And The Education Of Yuri
The way I read the book, the story is about the travails of a young Indian who must make the long and labyrinthine transition from boy to man.A difficult job when a large offset of one's opportunities in middle class India is being beholden to family, with conservative family elders and conversations in a minefield of verbal taboos.It is hard to hold down an adult conversation with elders—always an uncomfortable thing—and incurably hard to avoid. To wit, when you are spoken to as a perennial child right into your adulthood, there is little scope for quiet and confident assertiveness and individualism. Personas must change to suit whatever pleases the current conversation.And all this while there's the business of growing up to contend with. Sometimes so difficult a job that many don't ever fully make it to what might be considered manhood—at least by the the stereotypical norms of the rest of the world.An ethic that is skilfully captured by my guest today the author, Jerry Pinto. You might say that Jerry understands the Indian middle class. His book The Education of Yuri is what people in literature would call, a bildungsroman—which is a novel about the growing up years.It is a story of a feckless 15-year old middle class Indian teen who must make decisions about where his life is headed in the time of changing goalposts, moods and largely predictable hormones.Jerry Pinto’s narrative sucks you into the story. The Education Of Yuri captures the college ethic of the 70s and hits you with a litany of cultural references from the decades. Those who grew up around then would smile at references like…“Ground Control to Major Tom”James Hadley Chase's "No Orchids For Miss Blandish" Hotel California… "Bring your alibis"The 70s also were a time when the contrasting pressures of what someone wanted to do and what was good for them could be hard to handle.So Jerry places his protagonist in a situation where he is largely free of oppressive family pressures and through Yuri’s experiences, he allows the reader a view of how society was structured.Yuri’s decision to abandon his course in the sciences in favour of the liberal arts being an example. And then Jerry captures the disposition of the 70s English language major and empties out his literary arsenal in this book and uses these artfully in his descriptions of Yuri’s normal life of friendships, tawdry sexual escapades, romance and inevitably, poetry.I've been a fan of his writing—his columns and books—for many years. And it is therefore my pleasure to present him on my show. ABOUT JERRY PINTOJerry Pinto is a writer and poet based in Mumbai. His books include the novels Em and the Big Hoom (winner of the Hindu Prize and the Crossword Book Award) and Murder in Mahim (winner of the Valley of Words Award, and shortlisted for the Crossword Award); the non-fiction book Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb (winner of the National Award for the Best Book on Cinema); and two books of poetry, I Want a Poem and Other Poems and Asylum. Jerry Pinto received the Windham-Campbell Prize and the Sahitya Akademi Award.Buy The Education Of Yuri:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the interesting origins of the word, "FECKLESS" WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
39:08 11/08/2022
Winner of The Booker Prize 2022 Shehan Karunatilaka
There is an old saying, “Dead men tell no tales”.But how wonderful and useful it would be if we could follow a conversation into the afterlife? And what more wonderful than if you wrote about it and then won the Booker Prize for your efforts? Is this the stuff from which dreams are made?Clearly true if you consider my guest today, Shehan Karunatilaka, winner of the The Booker Prize 2022.In Shehan’s novel, The Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida, the main protagonist is dead but the character is alive. The novel—set in a terrible patch of Sri Lankan history between 1983 and 1990—is the story of a photojournalist who dies. In the afterlife, he finds himself in the "In-between"—a state between "Down There" which is life on earth and "The Light"—and where that is, is revealed at the end of the book.The protagonist is confronted by—of all things—a bureaucracy in the afterlife and he is told he has a week, or seven moons, to find out how he died if he wanted to make it to The Light.The novel touches the reader in many ways. Not the least to wonder what happens if we were indeed to find bureaucracy in the afterlife. Even the disappointment that visits us upon such a proposition is not rational. Yet…Shehan uses the second person as a literary device. Literary fiction written in the second-person is rare. This style is unusual because the narrator tells the story to the reader using the personal pronoun "you." The perspective suggests that the reader is the protagonist.Shehan Karunatilaka’s prose is compelling…gripping, even. The turns of phrase and word come together like play dough in what seems to be an absently crafted sculpture.Intelligent prose is never without its humour and Shehan’s prose has a river of funny as its undercurrent.He defines a queue in Sri Lanka as “…an amorphous curve with multiple entry points.” (Clearly, a south Asian malaise.)"The afterlife is a tax office and everyone wants a rebate.""You drift among the broken people with blood on their breath."All this and you are still on Page 10.But humour is peppered through the entire narrative and some of it is recognisable to typical snarky South Indian humour. This on page 135: ”...frilly shirt tailored by a blind man”.In the context though, the humour is a noir humour that characterises places in the world that are in strife—such as Ireland, parts of the Middle East and Shehan’s home country, Sri Lanka.I really cannot wait to ask him about all this.At the time of this recording, Shehan has just won the Booker Prize, a little over a week ago. I know that the entire world’s media waits to talk to him and so, I am particularly happy that he chose to spend this time with me.ABOUT SHEHAN KARUNATILAKAShehan Karunatilaka is a Sri Lankan writer whose first book, Chinaman, won the Commonwealth Book Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Gratiaen Prize, and was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize. Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is his second book, it won the Booker Prize 2022.Buy The Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the interesting origins of the phrase, "DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES" WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
47:35 11/01/2022
TJS George And The Inevitability Of The Absurd
There is a point late in the lives of the very accomplished, when they unscrew the caps of their pens and write a compelling memoir of their lives.But how does a self-effacing journalist write an autobiography? By not writing one. Not in the stock sense, anyway.My guest today is journalist TJS George. He is 94 years old. His life as a working journalist began when he was 19. That was in 1947—in the months following India’s Independence. And ever since, George has had a ringside seat to India—and to every twist in its tale.Journalists always have the best stories. After years of working their profession as a “little pitcher with big ears”—fly on the wall, if you prefer—they wait impatiently to fill the ears of the world with anecdotes.But instead of all that, George’s latest book, “The Dismantling Of India”, is the closest we have got to an autobiography—unless, of course, he decides to up and write a classic memoir.I read this book as a narrative history of India to be harvested from the biographical portraits of 35 Indians. They include people from art, entertainment, politics, science, business, crime and cause—profiles—at times in contrast; sometimes in concert.But the word “dismantling” in the title of the book amounts to disappointment, because from the day he joined as a rookie reporter, the newly-born India has been on a downward trajectory, aging poorly—day after year after decade.Biographies bring people to life, as a tapestry of the stories of their lives. An autobiography is supposed to do the same thing—a personal narrative gives an author licence—to a point of view, an explanation, or even an excuse. George has no use for excuses and his writing leaves no wiggle room for explanation.The reason I equate this book to an autobiography is because it seemed to me that he was expressing his own life story through the aggregate of the lives of those he has profiled.TJS George’s writing is not misplaced modesty. It seems to come from a conviction that he is—first and last—a journalist and thus, the story should come first, second and last. And any trace of the writer’s presence be excised—except by good example, to every journalist.ABOUT TJS GEORGEHe has worked as a journalist and editor across India and Southeast Asia. He is co-founder before of Asiaweek in Hong Kong. Returning to India, he has worked with the Indian Express as Editor and as a columnist. He has written 20 books, including biographies of Krishna Menon, Lee Kuan Yew, Nargis and MS Subbulakshmi. He is a recipient of the 2011 Padma Bhushan and numerous other awards. He lives in Bangalore.Buy The Dismantling Of India:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the interesting origins of the word, "SCOUNDREL." WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
35:29 10/25/2022
How To Find Draupadi With Koral Dasgupta
In the Indian epic, the Mahabharata, the central character, the fulcrum of the story is Draupadi…in my view. But epics in mythology, the Mahabharata included, are full of tales of male valour. Mythology instills in its male protagonists, high chivalry. Men are always saving women.But whenever women are warriors, they are usually fierce and angry, wreaking vengeful havoc everywhere. I haven’t read many historical or mythological stories of calm and collected women whose battle strategies were super-intelligent and saved a bunch of men.Men, valour. Women, wrath. But from where do these messy notions spring?From the stories we have been told. From subjective telling of history, the epics, folklore and mythology.In the Mahabharata, we learned the story of how Yudhishtra gambled away his wife in a game of dice with his cousins and then sat back helplessly and humiliated while she was manhandled in the court. And then of course he went to war and avenged…I am not sure what he was avenging when he was the one who went and gambled her away. And then how did the wife, Draupadi, feel about being used as a poker chip? No one asked her, clearly.Obviously, this narrative needs to change to include questions such as this. And the good thing is that it might just be happening, at an accelerated pace.My guest today, Koral Dasgupta—one among a tribe of writers who seek to re-tell stories from the epics, but from a woman’s perspective. Today we talk about her book Draupadi—third in a five-part series of women in mythology, called the Sati series.Most of us in India know Hindu philosophy only by what was repurposed for kids without nuance.  As adults—whether or not plumbing the depths of this philosophy is material to our daily mundane, transactions—we find it lends itself to endless interpretation and intellectual excursions.The blurbs on her book praising her, are from noted and respected authors, like Chitra Divakaruni, Saikat Majumdar and Pavan Varma—all of whom have been my guests on this podcast. And Namita Gokhale—whom I hope we will have the honour to feature before long.Koral is deeply philosophical as you will hear. So, let’s hear her then.ABOUT KORAL DASGUPTAKoral Dasgupta has published an eclectic range of books. Draupadi is her seventh. Besides India, Koral’s books are shelved in university libraries across the world, including Harvard, Columbia, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Wales, Duke, North Carolina and Texas. Her work is discussed in the context of gender studies, art, myth and ecocritical literature. Koral’s fourth book has been optioned for screen adaptation. Buy Draupadi:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the phrase "self-fulfilling prophesy." WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
34:23 10/18/2022
On The Journey To Ithaca With David Davidar
What and when was the first English language novel?There are some contenders for this honour, but the most plausible for me would be Pamela by Samuel Richardson—first published in 1740 and several times since. Widely accepted as the first English novel, it is a racy, saucy, sexually-orientated story—and , of course, for that reason it was the world’s first bestseller.In 1832, the first book covers started to happen. In America and Britain, these books, with designed covers, sold for a penny. They were largely the retelling of gothic horror stories. For that reason these books came to called Penny Dreadful.A significant moment in the history of publishing was the advent of the American brothers Albert and Charles Boni, who started a mail-order publishing company. The pioneering efforts of Albert Boni resulted in the creation of the major publishing company , Random House—so called because they decided that their choice of published literature would be random by nature.Their success was followed in 1935 by Penguin—a hugely successful British publisher that printed clearly branded books that appealed to everyone. And mention of Penguin brings me to my guest today, David Davidar—the best known name in Indian publishingDavid was hired by Penguin in 1985. First as an editor and then very quickly as Publisher, David took Penguin places—from publishing six books in 1987 to 150 titles annually.By the time he moved to Penguin Canada in 2004, David had published a stable of thoroughbreds—here’s a sample—Shashi Tharoor, Vikram Seth, Ruskin Bond, Romila Thapar, Salman Rushdie and William Dalrymple.One of my earlier guests on this show, author Pavan Varma made singular mention of having been first published by David.David Davidar is, at once, a publisher, an editor, a novelist of three wonderful books. He runs Aleph Book Company—a top-shelf publishing house, in partnership with Rupa Publications, and continues to battle alongside the gods of academe with weapons of mass typography.Those in the business will not need me to say anything. For those who are readers of books, who might not be familiar with the publishing industry, you can easily attribute a large part of your proud book collection to one man. And I feel privileged to be able to introduce him to you today.ABOUT DAVID DAVIDARDavid Davidar is an Indian novelist and publisher. He is the author of three published novels, The House of Blue Mangoes, The Solitude of Emperors, and Ithaca. In parallel to his writing career, Davidar has been a publisher for over a quarter-century. David Davidar has been around books all his life.Buy A Case Of Indian Marvels: to Constantine Cavafy's poem, "ITHACA", the inspiration for David's book by the same name, recited by Sean Connery :'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss "#"—which is the "hash" or "pound" symbol.WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here: photo: Rachna Singh
39:48 10/11/2022
The Conspiracy To Love Cubbon Park Bangalore With Roopa Pai
Different cities have different things they buy into. In Paris there’s style—you never want to look sloppy in Paris. In New York it’s the energy of movement—try walking slowly on the sidewalk and you’ll have Fran Leibowitz come up and say "Hey! Pretend it’s a city."In Bangalore, there is a buy-in to preserve trees.You can ride a motorcycle on a crowded sidewalk, drive up the wrong way on a one-way street and only mildly annoy others. But try cutting a tree and the passing Bangalorean will give you a sharp look and probably make a quick call to the authorities. Indeed most homes have trees and apartment buildings are sometimes built around an existing tree. So Bangaloreans would not be surprised to see a new apartment building with a tree growing right through its floors.This isn’t new though. Something about trees has found its way into the DNA of the city and indeed in all of us—after all in our DNA, we are part human, part city.And the sense of greenery has expressed itself in the city having two major, botanically rich parks—Cubbon Park and Lal Bagh—each as large and as old as some of the greatest city parks in the world. Hyde Park in London, Gorky Park in Moscow, Central Park, New York, and there are others.My guest Roopa Pai is author of the book, Cubbon Park—The Green Heart Of Bangalore.When Roopa was researching she called and asked to interview me. I said yes of course, immediately. More than anything, this appealed to my sense of duty. Indeed, I was personally involved in an investigative story about Cubbon Park titled, The Conspiracy To Kill Cubbon Park. The story was based on some builders and politicians who were spoiling to parcel off this historic lung space to developers.I grew up in Bangalore. The Park has been a part of my life. Roopa made me realize that I share a connection with people I will probably never meet.Because each of us has been alone with our deepest introspection when we experience the solitude of Cubbon Park.  A bliss of birds and dogs—and oddly, the company of a hundred other humans who exist and at the same time, don’t.Roopa Pai is a widely published author having written several children’s book ranging from Indian mythology to Economics.She is an engineer—of computer science—a restaurant reviewer and a sometimes travel writer. Her ability to deal with such diverse subjects comes from Roopa being a fascinating subject for an urban petri dish. And beneath a charming and unassuming front, an incisive and perceptive mind.Let’s find out all about her and about Cubbon Park.ABOUT ROOPA PAIRoopa Pai is one of India’s best-known writers for children. She is Bangalore-based and has written over 25 books, ranging from picture books to chapter books and fiction to non-fiction, on themes as varied as sci-fi fantasy, popular science, math, history, economics, Indian philosophy, life skills, and medicine. When she is not writing, Roopa leads groups of children and young people on history and heritage walks across Bangalore and Karnataka, as part of her job as director of a company she co-founded, BangaloreWalks.Buy Cubbon Park: The Green Heart Of Bengaluru:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the phrase "UP STICKS (AND MOVE)".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
37:10 10/04/2022
In The Freedom Struggle On A Train To Tanjore With Devika Rangachari
The great author Gustav Flaubert once said, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe."I am not buying that entirely. I believe that the art of writing is to make others believe what you want them to believe.And by that, I don’t mean only story telling. I mean all writing. Direct and compelling prose can raise even the most academic and arcane subjects to literature.Sometimes academicians couch their findings in thick and opaque prose—sometimes because they don’t know how to express themselves in a more comprehensible manner. You know, in simple sentences without using jargon as crutches.Sometimes because they think they won’t be taken seriously if they expressed themselves in a less formal style.And some of them are great writers and storytellers. So they go looking for an outlet for their creativity and happily some find it.My guest today is author and historian, Devika Rangachari. Clearly, she found her muse. She is both versatile and prolific. Her writing has spanned everything from a post-doctoral thesis on 10th century women rulers of Orissa to children’s books.Reading her is a delight. Her latest book is titled Train To Tanjore and is the absorbing account of a young schoolboy who battles small town orthodoxy in the time of World War II.Devika captures the period and the honest sentiment that RK Narayan once did in Swami And Friends. She does this with her unique literary sparkle.As you can tell, I enjoyed reading this book. Equally I enjoyed reading some of her academic writing.  And today, I am delighted to be able to share her with you. So here she is joining me from her home in Doha, Qatar.ABOUT DEVIKA RANGACHARIDr. Devika Rangachari is an award-winning writer whose book, Queen of Ice was on the White Raven list, won the Neev Young Adult Book Award, was shortlisted for the Sahitya Akademi’s Bal Sahitya Puraskar. Her other books include The Train to Tanjore, Queen of Fire (Parag Honour List 2022), Queen of Earth (Parag Honour List 2021; shortlisted for the Neev YA and the JK Women AutHer awards), 10 Indian Monarchs Whose Amazing Stories You May Not Know, Tales of Love and Adventure, Swami Vivekananda—A Man with a Vision, Harsha Vardhana, The Merry Mischief of Gopal Bhand, The Wit of Tenali Raman and Growing Up (IBBY Honour List 2002). She also received a prestigious national fellowship of the ministry of culture in India to research aspects of gender and historical fiction in Indian children’s literature.Buy Train To Tanjore (Penguin Random House):'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the word "QUEEN".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
39:52 09/27/2022
John Zubrzycki And The Shortest History Of India
History was never considered to be a subject that would lead to gainful employment and I dare say, rewarding matrimony. Maybe that’s why we have paid little respect to it in India.  Maybe that’s why our records are shoddy. Most museums and public places of history are disrespectfully maintained—and shabby when compared to those in other countries.Through the ages, the lasting history of India has been principally discovered and recorded by travellers from overseas—from Megasthenes in 300BC to Al Masudi in 950 to Thomas Roe in 1615 and then so many other illustrious people during and since.And now, there is a sudden interest in Indian history.Of the number of books that publishers send me to consider for this podcast, a great many are about Indian history—in one form or another.This interest in Indian history I guess was kicked off by recent western historians—and the trend is carried forward by so many wonderful Indian historians and writers—each compelling, entertaining and insightful.Well, it’s all good. It’s a great time to be discovering ourselves—and maybe this will cause our public spaces to improve. And I pray, curated by historians and and other men and women of science and not politicians.My guest today, is John Zubrzycki. He is the author of several great books on Indian history. His most recent book is titled The Shortest History Of India. He artfully presents thousands of years of the history of India in a little over 250 pages.His earlier book, Jadoowallahs, Jugglers and Jinns is an amazing history of the little known but truly fantastic contribution of India to the world of magic, to such a degree that western magicians believed they needed to dress up as Indian mystics to be credible to western audiences.So much to ask him. So let’s get right  to it. Here he is joining me now from his home in Australia.ABOUT JOHN ZUBRZYCKIJohn Zubrzycki is an Australian author who has been studying Indian history for more than forty years. He has worked in India as a diplomat and foreign correspondent, taught Indian studies and written extensively on Indian society, culture and politics. He is the author of four books. He majored in South Asian history and Hindi at the Australian National University and has a PhD in Indian history from the University of New South Wales. John was the deputy foreign editor at The Australian before becoming a full-time writer.Buy The Shortest History Of India (Picador): Jadoowallahs, Jugglers And Jinns (Picador): to a reading of William Jones's poem, Caissa:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the words "magic" and "hocus-pocus".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here: music Uppbeat: License code: IGNVWYJMASEXOUZK
39:31 09/20/2022
The Art And The Realpolitik Of Mallika Sarabhai
Being raised by very famous parents has its benefits. But equally, it is difficult to emerge from their shadows in which one must twist, and then find a spot upstage—for one’s creativity.Growing up in India in the 70s was materially different from what it seems to be today. Materially being the operative expression, because there was not much money to go around.For example, it did not really matter what car you drove…because there wasn’t much choice of automobiles. I’ll spare you the litany of examples of what else you could not do. But the good thing was that there were other ways by which you gained respect in society. Being well educated well informed and well-spoken—this is the domain of the nerds.In America nerds are objects of derision. In India, they favoured candidates for matrimony. We marry them on priority.And in the time when regular middle income folks had no choice but to study hard and get a good job, being liberal towards one’s children was something that was highly risky—like sending your kids to a Montessori school. Potentially denying them the feral ability to claw and elbow their way into a packed city bus.My guest today is Mallika Sarabhai. She sums up all of the above.She had famous parents—Mrinalini and Vikram Sarabhai. She went to a Montessori school. And then she graduated from the Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad and then got a PhD in management by the time she was 22. And then she devoted her life to the Arts. Details of her career and her successes and awards are in the public record. And until her friends made her change it, she drove an old Indian SUV so her many dogs could fit comfortably.Her recent book titled—In Free Fall, My Experiments With Living (Speaking Tiger)—is not as much an autobiography as a memoir of specific events in her life and a self realisation through curing her illnesses through alternate medicine.Reading her book is to connect those dots to see a picture of her that is candid and funny—and, for all the descriptions of her troubles—is never tragic.In a minute you’ll understand why. Let’s meet her. ABOUT MALLIKA SARABHAIMallika Sarabhai is a dancer, actor and activist. As one of India’s leading choreographers and dancers, she has been co-director of the Darpana Academy for Performing Arts for nearly forty years. She played the role of Draupadi in Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata, first in French and then English, performing in France, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, the United States, Australia, Japan and Scotland. An activist for education, human rights and women’s empowerment, her numerous stage productions have raised awareness, highlighted crucial issues and advocated change, developing her own contemporary dance vocabulary to create short and full-length works that have been presented throughout India and in over fifty countries of the world.Buy In Free Fall: My Experiments With Living (Speaking Tiger): WHAT'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the words "MAMA AND PAPA".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here: credits: Jayanti SagraIntro Uppbeat music: License code: X1OORXRUZ2ZM46IB
43:02 09/13/2022
Wadiyar Of Mysore The Maverick Maharaja With Deepti Navaratna
Historically and traditionally, the arts have enjoyed the patronage of kings.We all know that culture broadens minds. It’s an important basis by which society finds expression and happiness. So it is in the larger common good that culture has been encouraged. It binds a society and gives it an identity. And a personality. And sets up the basis for cultural interaction with other societies.People like kings patronise the arts to allow its exponents the freedom to live in their minds and pursue their muse. Musicians, dancers, artists, dramatists and storytellers have enjoyed the patronage of the palace.The Maharajas of Mysore—many of them—have pursued the arts themselves. The most notable among them being Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar—the last Maharaja of Mysore before his kingdom acceded to the Union of Indian states in 1947. He was a thinker, a published philosopher, a patron of the arts—but importantly, he, a patron without bias. While there is a rich legacy of Carnatic music patronised by him, Wadiyar fulfilled the last wish of legendary composer Richard Strauss. This is a little known fact.In 1950, he sponsored a performance at the Royal Albert Hall, by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra led by German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler and with soprano Kirsten Flagstad singing Strauss's final composition, Four Last Songs.The Maharaja was an accomplished musician too. Schooled in Carnatic and Western classical music, he tried to make meaning of the two forms and worked tirelessly to find a blend—later admitting that is was difficult. (As a musician, I want to say that unfortunately too many musicians have been pitiless in this pursuit.)Chronicling this unusual Maharaja is my guest today, Deepti Navaratna, author of an unconventionally structured biography of Wadiyar, titled The Maverick Maharaja.But as I researched her, I realised that she is unusual. By my reckoning, she is a wonderful Carnatic singer. And she is a neuroscientist, which means she is licensed to dissect brains in a laboratory.Scientific research is a linear and process driven discipline and conclusions are reached by goals and planned milestones. Surprises are often not welcome. The other side of her, is music. And the point of musical composition is to defy linearity while sticking to a framework of rules and conventions. The point of music is surprise.Maybe the two are connected. And maybe it takes a maverick to make the connection. Let’s find out.ABOUT DEEPTI NAVARATNAA musician and neuroscientist, she served as the Regional Director, Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. She directed the centre’s research, academic and outreach activities at the intersection of arts and sciences. She is currently the TV Raman Pai Chair of Excellence and Professor of Humanities at the National Institute Of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.Buy The Maverick Maharaja: Mysore Anthem composed by the Maharaja of Mysore, JC Wadiyar and imagined by Dr Deepti Navaratna:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the word "MAVERICK".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
36:55 09/06/2022
Aasma-i-Noor The Cursed Jewel Of Indian History With Sudipta Sen Gupta
Every once in a while, you read a book, watch a gripping movie or a TV show; and you ask yourself the question, “Was that a true story?”And then you spend hours googling the hell out of it. How great would it be if you could not find the answer and not be able to reach a conclusion!As every great storyteller knows, the better you tell a story the more you make it come to life. Conversely, even if you tell a real story poorly, it will not ring true.Let’s meet a great storyteller now.My guest is author Sudipta Sen Gupta. She used to be a top level marketing executive turned academic, historian and author. Her debut novel is titled, Aasma-i-Noor. In Persian it loosely means A Sky of Light or even, a Universe of Light...depending on how expansive you’re feeling today.Aasma-i-Noor is a diamond. It is a rare, red diamond that came from the Kollur mine in Golconda, the same mine that gave us the Koh-i-Noor (means Mountain Of Light) and Darya-i-Noor (meaning Sea Of Light). All great names…clearly all tributes to Total Internal Refraction.In Sudipta’s novel, the history of this diamond is linked to the heart of the events surrounding the rise and fall of Siraj-ud-Daulah and his chief nemesis Robert Clive.And around this time is the last anyone heard of the Aasma-i-Noor, leaving the question: was this whole bloody pivotal point in the history of India caused by the fascination of a few men for a gemstone?Artfully, the story spills into the present day with a couple of treasure hunters in Kolkata finding clues from history to be able to locate this diamond. At this point the novel suddenly takes on the rush of a Dan Brown thriller and I will leave the rest for you to read.As for separating history from historical fiction, I have rarely read this done in so deft a manner. It is every debut novelist’s aspiration that their debut novel must set the world on fire. If Aasma-i-Noor doesn’t do that, it is the fault of the world.That said, I am privileged to have Sudipta here as my guest today.ABOUT SUDIPTA SEN GUPTASudipta Sen Gupta is an associate professor in the School of Management at GD Goenka University. After completing her graduation in physics from Presidency College, Kolkata, and MBA from Faculty of Management Studies (FMS), Delhi University, she worked in senior corporate management roles for over 20 years. She helped build multiple well-known brands and powered multinational organizations to success, winning several national and global awards and recognitions along the way. In 2017, she decided to leave the corporate world and join academics, allowing her time to complete her PhD and return to her first love—Indian history. Aasma-i-Noor: The Cursed Jewel is the result of that love.Buy Aasma-i-Noor:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the word "WIT: and joining them is a guest from the United States.WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
42:17 08/30/2022
The Literature Of The Middle Finger With Saikat Majumdar
Indians live in many skins.We deal with an extraordinarily diverse and multi-layered thing that we call “Indian culture”.There have been various attempts to reduce its complexities to something simple that represents the sum of its parts. Often, a fool’s errand, not easily expressed by say, a fondness for Bollywood and spicy food.Such cultural differences are stark when we travel; not the differences with other cultures of the world—we always knew that—but but the cultural differences between Indians that we don’t notice so much at home.Finding out that you have more in common with a western colleague than from an Indian from a different part of India with a different language, a different religion and different tastes in pop culture can be hard to articulate.My guest today is Saikat Majumdar. His novel, The Middle Finger explores this dynamic with the insight and sensitivity of a perpetual student of the world.At the story telling level, the novel is entertaining. But like any competent literary work, the storytelling plays second violin to the complexity of the composition.I had heard of Saikat Majumdar in stray reviews but I first encountered Saikat’s writing in a review of a novel he had written in a newspaper.There’s always something about class and competence that jumps out at you. When I googled him I was delighted to find he was a much published author and and an English language academician. And today I am delighted to invite Saikat Majumdar as my guest onThe Literary City. ABOUT SAIKAT MAJUMDARSaikat Majumdar has taught at Stanford University, was a Fellow at Wellesley College, and is currently Professor of English & Creative Writing at Ashoka University. He writes regularly on higher education and literature in different venues, including the Hindu, Hindustan Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Times Higher Education. His other novels include The Scent of God and The Firebird/Play House, which narrates a young boy’s destructive obsession with his mother’s life as a theatre actress. His works of nonfiction and criticism include Prose of the World, The Critic as Amateur, and College: Pathways of Possibility. Buy The Middle Finger:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss the phrases "flipping the bird" and "having a jones".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here: music from Uppbeat  License code: KODPRRUVGWXXYGWS
39:48 08/23/2022
A Journey To The Top Of The World With Chess Legend Viswanathan Anand
Chess is a finite game with finite variables. Yet, phrases like “infinite possibilities” and “unpredictable outcome” seem completely appropriate when discussing it.It begs the question, how finite is finite? Finite can be a large number. So large that it may as well be infinite. For example, they have calculated that the number of possibilities in moves and resulting positions in the first 10 moves is a 14-digit number- 69,352,859,712,417. It's called the Shannon number. Yes, that’s finite. But not for some. I can’t count that high myself.And then they say chess is the only game in the world without an element of chance. There’s no wind factor, no pitch whose inconsistencies make a ball wobble, no noisy and chanting spectators, no rain or being dealt a poor hand—there are two players and only they are responsible for the outcome.But far from chess being robotic, the most important variable in chess is the human variable. But with humans all variables don’t have to be outside variables. And when outside variables don’t count, we turn inwards. And thus chess becomes a game where strategies go beyond the books.My guest today is Viswanathan Anand, Grandmaster, World Champion title holder several times over. He is the author of Mind Master, Winning Lessons From A Champion’s Life. He’s a super grandmaster of the game and was reigning world champion for years, until he recently handed the crown to Magnus Carlsen.At that level of the game, when you have, as opponents, equally matched grandmasters, who have narrowed it down predictable lines of play, all sorts of other factors come into it.In his book, Anand said that in cases he looks for little tells, like poker players do. The difference in the way an opponent breathes in places, a tightening of the shoulder muscles, a change in demeanour.Articulate and well spoken and possessed of a great, and often wacky, sense of humour—how bad a can a guy be when his inspiration is Monty Python—Anand’s book is a delight to read.At so many levels. As motivational lessons for winning. For chess buffs like me who worship the game. Or as the autobiography of a world champion who has the gift of humility on his side. You don’t need to know a whit about chess for this book to make sense.I spend the last couple of days reading his book and it is my privilege to be able to invite him as a guest today.ABOUT VISWANATHAN ANANDVishy Anand is a five-time world chess champion. India's first grandmaster (1988), he is one of the few to have surpassed an Elo rating of 2800. He is deputy president of FIDE. He inspired a generation of chess players in India. Vishy is an astronomy buff and an avid reader on math, economics and current affairs. He supports many charitable causes, chief among them being that of children with neurological disabilities.Buy Mind Master: Winning Lessons from a Champion’s Life: Buy Vishy Anand: My Best Games of Chess:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!", where they discuss the phrase "tilting at windmills".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
40:29 08/16/2022
One Crimson Spring Changed History. At Jallianwala Bagh With Navtej Sarna
No matter how many times you have heard it, the story of Jallianwala Bagh is terrifying. But when most of us first heard the story of the massacre, we weren’t mature enough to absorb the significance of what we were reading.As schoolboys we were only allowed a casual and dinky relationship with our history text books. Jallianwala Bagh could pass as another tale of woe in chapter after chapter of bloody wars.And it wasn’t until we were older and for many—let’s tell the truth here—watching the movie Gandhi—did the horror of it all come home.My guest today is Navtej Sarna, author of Crimson Spring—in essence a book about the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, but one that is more history than novel. It is a literary work that describes a historical tragedy through the emotions of its protagonists.  While reading his book, it struck me that we don’t preserve and portray the horrors of history in any tangible form, say, like the holocaust museums; Auschwitz and other locations. And then it occurred to me that the broad dissemination of Indian history is principally among school children. And that includes mythology. Even ones that include mature themes, such as the Mahabharata.No wonder then that the authors who have given us history—whether as history or as novels of historical fiction—have become bestsellers. Think William Dalrymple with over a million Twitter followers, Ram Guha, Chitra Divakaruni, Navtej Sarna, and so many others.There is a hunger for history. And no better time than the 75th year of Indian independence to tell these tales.Crimson Spring is but another in an impressive list of books authored by Sarna. And among them the most compelling for me is his book on his literary travels: Second Thoughts subtitled, On Books, Authors and The Writerly Life.Through trying to find the origins and the final resting places of the great writers, Sarna introduces us to that wonderful world. And packages the most important works of literature in an easily digestible form.He is a diplomat—former Ambassador to the United States, Israel and former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. And he joins us today from his home in New Delhi.I am privileged to welcome Navtej Sarna to The Literary City.ABOUT NAVTEJ SARNANavtej Sarna was India’s Ambassador to the United States, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and Ambassador to Israel. He has also served as Secretary to the Government of India and as the Foreign Office Spokesperson. His earlier diplomatic assignments were in Moscow, Warsaw, Thimphu, Tehran, Geneva, and Washington DC. His literary work includes the novels The Exile and We Weren’t Lovers Like That, the short story collection Winter Evenings, non-fiction works The Book of Nanak, Second Thoughts, and Indians at Herod’s Gate, as well as two translations, Zafarnama and Savage Harvest. He is a prolific columnist and commentator on foreign policy and literary matters, contributing regularly to media platforms in India and abroad. His latest book is Crimson Spring, on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.Buy Crimson Spring: Second Thoughts: On Books, Authors and the Writerly Life:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the phrase "Out damn spot!"WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
38:19 08/09/2022
The Voices Of Trauma. Reliving The Partition With Kavita Puri
For those who might not know, when Pakistan was carved out of India to serve as a separate country for Muslims in the sub-continent, people on both sides—of a hasty defined border—found their lives uprooted.The tales from the Partition are many and horrific. The stories expose the raw side of a humanity filled with hatred, with mobs red in tooth and claw setting upon each other. The announcement of Partition caused Hindu-Muslim violence to break out—some say unexpectedly.Millions fled their homes in fear to cross the border to safety. Most of them had to leave their lives and all their possessions behind. Some of them found a new home in England. They dug their heels in and got their lives back.My guest today, Kavita Puri is a British journalist and a radio broadcaster. She is also the daughter of one of those who fled their homes. For many years now, Kavita has documented the oral histories of the immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, to a postwar Britain. Her series called Three Pounds In My Pocket told the stories of these pioneer immigrants. Her show—Partition Voices—record the first person accounts of people directly impacted by Partition.What are oral histories?Academics will tell you that oral history focuses on recording and interpreting the voices of individuals who might have been left out of history. It's all about preserving an alternative form of public history. But that’s the boring version.Any writer or journalist will tell you that stories are about people. And their lives. Their thoughts, fears and their dreams. Recording their history requires a good measure of sensitivity. The more you feel a connection to their story, the better you can retell it.Kavita Puri has lived inside the story of the people who were victims of the Partition and she is deeply attached to the stories she retells in Partition Voices.Kavita was reading from the final chapter of the latest release of Partition Voices, at one point she was overcome with emotion and we had to stop recording. For this reason maybe, her book is compelling. I understand now why the book spoke to me.And it is my privilege to be able to introduce her to speak to us all.So here’s Kavita Puri joining me from what I suspect is a hotel room in Spain.Kavita, welcome to The Literary City.ABOUT KAVITA PURIKavita Puri is a British journalist, radio broadcaster, and author. Her 2019 book, Partition Voices: Untold British Stories, is based on her award-winning BBC Radio 4 documentary series of the same name. Puri has worked on BBC Newsnight as a political producer, film producer and assistant editor, and as the editor of Our World, a foreign affairs documentary programme. Her 2014 BBC Radio 4 series, Three Pounds in My Pocket, told the stories of South Asians who migrated to post-war Britain. In 2015, Puri was named Journalist of the Year by the Asian Media Awards. In 2018, then-Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Puri as a trustee of the Victoria and Albert Museum for a period of four years.Buy Partition Voices here:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the phrase "Red in tooth and claw".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
37:07 08/02/2022
"Guest In Another's Land." The Remarkable Literature Of Omar El Akkad
What’s literary fiction?It’s not easily defined. Maybe because literary fiction is not what it is but it isn’t. Essentially, it is fiction writing that does not fit into any genre. Like crime, romance, horror, science-fiction, and other what have you genres.Another characteristic of literary fiction is that the story is driven by its protagonists or characters and not by a plot. It can speak of humanity, embrace a philosophy, dwell for pages on describing something that may well be inconsequential to the subject and indeed, stray very far from whatever plot or path it may have chartered for itself.You read literary fiction for the journey you make from cover to cover. It’s not necessarily a whodunit, such that you get to the end only to find out that the butler didn’t.For dint of its lack of conformity to genre, I reckon, literary writing is considered an art form and therefore an idealistic higher form. So does it follow that genre based literature is somehow mass media?And despite loud protestations to the contrary, the Nobel Prize for Literature has frequently gone mostly to writers of literary fiction. Also the Booker. To wit, literary fiction is not written with the objective of entertaining and amusing the reader. It calls for the reader to appreciate its prose.My guest today is Omar El Akkad, a craftsman if I ever read one. A few writers—very few—begin their careers by making a mark. He’s one.Omar’s first book, American War—a dystopian novel set in the future—received deservedly great accolade. Omar’s latest work is a novel called What Strange Paradise. It is the story of a young Syrian refugee. The narrative alternates between his journey on a refugee boat and what ostensibly happens after it washes up broken, on a shore in Greece.Whatever it is that pundits accept as literary fiction, you might say Omar’s prose rises to it.My introduction to him was his essay in the literary magazine, The Paris Review. I found the story—titled “Flight Paths”—so compelling that I asked my team to invite him to be my guest today on this podcast. And I was delighted he was available.So here he is. Joining us from his home in Portland, Oregon, is award winning literary novelist Omar El Akkad.ABOUT OMAR EL AKKADAuthor and journalist, he was born in Egypt, grew up in Qatar, moved to Canada as a teenager and now lives in the United States. He won a National Newspaper Award for Investigative Journalism and the Goff Penny Award for young journalists. His fiction and non-fiction writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Guernica, GQ and others. His debut novel, American War, is an international bestseller, winning several awards. It was listed as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times and others. His new novel, What Strange Paradise, was released in July, 2021 and won the Giller Prize, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers’ Award, the Oregon Book Award for fiction, and was shortlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize. It was also named a best book of the year by the New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR and several other publications.Buy What Strange Paradise here:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the phrase "toe the line".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
41:55 07/26/2022
Are Translations The Next Big Thing? Inside The Craft Of Kalyan Raman
Recently Indian author, Geetanjali Shree's book Tomb Of Sand, won the Rest Of The World version of the Booker Prize.In literary circles—as indeed with other circles—awards and prizes always set off ripples of envy and carping. The cynical argument is that prizes are geared to triggering interest in markets—in this case, I presume, to sell more books. I haven’t done a deep dive into this but it makes for great coffee shop mulch.So, whether by honest practice or by greasy marketing, a Booker win means much to the industry and in the case of Tomb Of Sand I dare say, it will trigger the gold rush of translations.So are translations the next big thing?My guest today, Kalyan Raman is no translation newbie. He has translated the works of some of the best known writers from Tamil into English. I have known him for many years. He is a scientist with a literary side. He worked in the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) as a satellite communications engineer.His first substantive published translation of a book was one of short stories by the famous late Tamil modernist author, Ashokamitran.I remember meeting Kalyan in Koshy’s Cafe in Bangalore the day that book was released. I walked over to a bookstore nearby and bought it. And I was introduced to the wonderful world of translated texts.Translations are not something to be discussed blithely. There is so much that translators must know before they can translate. They must know the language, the history of the author, indeed the mind of the author, the subject. And then the translation itself must stay faithful to the rhythm, cadence and comportment of the text.And importantly, stay faithful to the author. The translator must not conclude that the author’s prose could use a little improvement.I’ve held Kalyan in very high estimation all these years and I am fortunate to have him here as my guest today. Today we ask him all about translations.ABOUT KALYAN RAMANA graduate of IIT Madras  and IIM Kolkata, N Kalyan Raman worked in telecommunications for over three decades. His career as a translator of contemporary Tamil fiction and poetry began in the early 90s. He has published fifteen works of Tamil fiction in translation, including those by major authors like Ashokamitran, Poomani, Perumal Murugan, Devibharathi, Salma and Vaasanthi. His translation of Tamil poetry has been published widely in important journals and anthologies in India and abroad. Breaking Free, his translation of a Tamil novel by Vaasanthi, was published in June this year by HarperCollins India. His translation of Perumal Murugan's Poonachi: The Story of a Black Goat was shortlisted for the inaugural JCB Prize in 2018. Its US edition, The Story of a Goat was nominated for the National Book Foundation Award 2020 for Translated Literature. In 2018, he was given the prestigious Pudumaipithan Memorial Award for his contribution to the cause of Tamil literature through his translations. He lives and works in Chennai.Buy Breaking Free here:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the business of translations and the phrase "champing at the bit".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
36:23 07/19/2022
The Joy Of Breaking Free With Vaasanthi. Her Life, Her Writing. And Her Muse
In one of his dispatches from the front lines, in North Africa during WW2, Ernest Hemingway wrote this about Italian soldiers. When these soldiers were slightly injured, they would proclaim loudly, swearing undying loyalty to Il Duce—Mussolini. But when they were mortally wounded and lay dying on the battlefield, they would forget all about Mussolini. Instead, they would invoke their mothers. “Mamma mia,” they said softly, of their fate.In one of many vivid descriptions in Vaasanthi’s book, Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars—a book about a recent period in Tamil Nadu politics—she describes a parade that honored the chief minister and matinee idol, MG Ramachandran. One float in particular, was pulled by an MGR fan, with ropes attached by hooks to the man’s bare and bleeding back.But that was an exception, Vaasanthi said. She wrote, and I quote, "But on the whole MGR fans prefer to flatter than to suffer."Vaasanthi’s prose is replete with such observations.Vaasanthi found her muse of creative expression principally through the voices of women. Not all of them are sad tales of woe. One of her subjects is the fascinating actor and bad ass politician Jayalalithaa, who overcame the worst odds as a woman in the face of extreme and often physical misogyny of TN politics, to become something of the queen of Tamil Nadu, from the very political platform that rejected such notions of hierarchal superiority, leave alone royalty.Vaasanthi’s prose is the happy result of creative writing meeting disciplined journalism.She is bilingual in a real sense. Her English language prose by which she has authored several books is as real as her deep literary skills in Tamil. Her translators and journalist friends have told me as much.In my list, Vaasanthi ranks among the best writers there are. Naturally, I am honored to invite her to The Literary City.ABOUT VAASANTHIShe is a renowned author and journalist who writes in English and Tamil. Over forty years she published thirty novels, six short-story collections and four travelogues. Her books in English include Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars: The World of Tamil Politics, Amma: Jayalalithaa's Journey from Movie Star to Political Queen, The Lone Empress: A Portrait of Jayalalithaa, Karunanidhi: A Definitive Biography, and Rajinikanth: A Life. Her works in Tamil have been translated into Malayalam, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, English, Norwegian, Czech and Dutch. Awards include Best Short Story Writer, Best Novel award for Ammani, Gyana Bharathi award, the UP Sahitya Sansthan award and the Punjab Sahitya Akademi. She was Editor, India Today (Tamil edition) for nearly ten years in Chennai. Now a freelance writer and journalist, she lives in Delhi.Buy Breaking Free here:'S THAT WORD?!Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the origins of the letter P and the word "coterie".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
34:18 07/12/2022
Untold Intrigues Of Charles Sobhraj And Fragments Of Farrukh Dhondy
Most know who Charles Sobhraj is. But even if he has become something of a legend, Sobhraj was—by many accounts—a thief and murderer after petty gains. And not an international crook engaged in high profile art and diamond heists. Nor an international arms dealer whose shenanigans get the collective underwear of nations in a twist.Or was he?My guest today—the renowned writer, Farrukh Dhondy—spent considerable time with Charles Sobhraj. Farrukh’s descriptions of those  meetings resulted in his latest book, Hawk and Hyena. The book reveals aspects of Sobhraj’s life— that of an opportunist...a wannabe businessman. One of those guys we have all met—a person of indeterminate skill and dodgy provenance, never peddling the same thing twice.Importantly, the book raises a startling and surprising question—did Charles Sobhraj hold the key to a potentially unpalatable truth—that maybe Sadaam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction after all?In a similar question, did the Government of India seek the assistance of Charles Sobhraj in getting the release of the hostages from the hijacked Air India plane in Kandahar in 1999?Was Charles Sobhraj more than a small-time crook who seduced hippies and liberated them from life and lustrous diamond?Hawk and Hyena by Farrukh Dhondy raises those questions and answers many.This book is his latest offering in a fascinating life of journalism, TV shows, films, plays and books and political activism—he was a marxist member of the British Black Panthers. There’s a link to his Wikipedia page below.Here’s another book I recommend, Fragments Against My Ruin: A Life—Farrukh Dhondy’s memoirs, or autobiography.This book is a riot. From a humility that can only come from someone inherently funny, Farrukh Dhondy turns important incidents into escapades and wit into wackiness.My own introduction to his writing was from columns he wrote—and writes—in various papers. He frequently opened with the line, “As an elder of the community I am often asked..." For many reasons, I found that line delightful. Some years ago, a friend brought Farrukh to my office in an unplanned visit and neither of us can remember why. We had coffee. I was happy for this social surprise. But I had no idea what to say to him if only because I had too much to say to him and I had been blindsided.Happily, that’s not the case today.It is both honour and privilege to have Farrukh Dhondy join me from his home in London as my guest.Buy Hawk & Hyena: Fragments Against My Ruin: A Life: FARRUKH DHONDYFarrukh Dhondy is a British-Indian writer. Born in 1944 in Pune, he studied in Pune, Cambridge and Leicester Universities. He writes fiction, non-fiction, journalism, stage drama, TV and films.'S THAT WORD?! - UNDIES IN A TWISTCo-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the origins of the phrase "Undies in a twist".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply, here: here:
40:23 07/05/2022
The Romance Of Rani Jindan —The Last Queen By Chitra Divakaruni
The more experienced writers are aware that the hardest thing to do is to write without trying to be clever. Some writers are born to coruscating prose. And then there are those who can entertain readers without having to use words like...coruscating.My guest today—Chitra Divakaruni— is such a writer.Reading Chitra is like traveling in a car with an excellent suspension—you don’t feel the potholes. Or maybe that’s because there are no potholes in her prose.Her writing is not only honest, sincere and without artifice, but also vivid. So vivid that film makers seem to be falling about making movies out of everything she writes. The Mistress Of Spices—starring Dylan McDermott and Aishwarya Rai—is one famous example. Sister Of My Heart was turned into a TV show in Tamil called Anbulla Snegitheiye (Beloved Friend).Her stories have been turned into movies, plays, even opera.To say that Chitra Divakaruni’s prose is romantic or evocative is to fall to spewing platitudes. What any writer, critic or serious reader of books needs to understand is that Chitra's consistently good writing comes from craft not from a random muse.For that qualification, she is a professor at Houston University teaching creative writing.Her most recent book The Last Queen is a historical account of Rani Jindan, wife of then Maharaja of Punjab, Ranjit Singh and mother of the next Maharaja, Dalip Singh. The book may be categorized as historical fiction but the fiction is in the gaps of the story. The historical account is rich and—I’ll say it—evocative.And now it is my pleasure to present one of the best known Indian writers Chitra Divakaruni.ABOUT CHITRA BANERJEE DIVAKARUNIChitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning author, poet, activist and teacher. She is the author of 20 books including Mistress of Spices, Sister of My Heart, Oleander Girl, Before We Visit the Goddess and Palace of Illusions. Her latest novels are The Forest of Enchantments, a feminist retelling of the epic The Ramayana in the voice of Sita, and The Last Queen, the story of Maharani Jindan, the indomitable queen regent of Punjab who fought the British in many ingenious ways. Divakaruni often writes about contemporary life in America and India, women’s experiences, immigration, history, magical realism and mythology.Buy The Last Queen here:'S THAT WORD?! - CATCH-22Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the origins of the phrase "catch-22".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply,, you can visit: you can go to our Instagram page our Facebook group, Bangalore Literary Society. It does not matter if you are not in Bangalore. This group is for anyone interested in language and words.
37:34 06/21/2022
Born A Muslim By Ghazala Wahab Introspective Quest And Questions
A very interesting study at Hebrew University found that the brain inflates numbers under some circumstances. University psychologists called this a “diversity illusion”.Israelis and American students were asked to assess the size of minorities—Arabs and African Americans—among them. In both cases, people believed there were far more people from the minority than there actually were.Researchers concluded that this is due to the mind’s tendency to focus on and amplify that which is out of the ordinary.In one experiment Jewish students estimated the percentage of Arabs in the student body at 31% and Arab students said, 35%. Only 12% of students were Arab.A similar experiment with American participants about the number of African American faces in a grid of 100 photographs yielded similar results—40% against 25%.To be sure they ran the tests again and again, same results. I ran this test at home with a European house guest—exactly the same result.Psychologists concluded that such overestimation of minority numbers, results from innate intolerance.Most reasonable people want to live in an equitable society. By and large most of them find themselves in the centre of a larger political equation. And that political equation includes  the participation of those who are not a  part of the majority of voters.While people in the minority generally get a pretty good understanding of the majority, it is good civics, that the majority should get a better understanding of the people among us who are of a different persuasion.The active verb in persuasion is to persuade. There are many forms of persuasion—from coaxing to coercion. And when gentle persuasion turns into  political propaganda and jingoist rhetoric, the thinking of a good section of the polity is influenced enough to swing from the middle towards any one extreme. And soon people arrive at all manners of ugly consensus and  illogical conclusions.My guest today is Ghazala Wahab the author of a news-making book, Born A Muslim.Reading some of the reviews of her book, I got the impression that many reviewers fell to assuming that Ghazala wrote her book to protest the growing sentiment being manufactured against the muslim minority. The interviews that I read or heard, seem to approach their subject with a premeditated woke-ness. To be candid, I first approached the book the same way. I thought it would seek to educate non-muslims about the religion and practices of Islam with the underlying appeal for a more compassionate appreciation of an increasingly marginalized people. But reading the book set me straight. Ghazala’s book takes the argument inwards…a muslim speaking to fellow muslims introspectively. It is written without any of the sentimental—and at times, even plaintive—hooks that so easily and so often define the texts of marginalized or dispossessed people.And to add to that Ghazala is Editor of Force India, a magazine about national security, principally defence matters. And she co-authored the book, Dragon On Our Doorstep: Managing China Through Military Power.After I read Born A Muslim, I couldn’t wait to speak to the author. So here she is.ABOUT GHAZALA WAHABA journalist since 1994, Ghazala has authored Born a Muslim: Some Truths About Islam in India and co-authored Dragon on our Doorstep: Managing China Through Military Power with Pravin Sawhney, with whom she founded FORCE magazine.Buy Born A Muslim here:'S THAT WORD?! - COAXINGCo-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the medieval origins of the word.WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: .
39:22 06/14/2022
Laura Murphy On Violence, A Murder And How The Slaves Of Azad Nagar Won Their Freedom
Forty years ago, in 1982, two young men broke into the New Delhi home of an Indian Member of Parliament—and they held him and four others — hostage for several hours. The pistol packing hostage taker, Ram Narayan wanted to bring attention to the misfortunes of exploited coal miners in a nearby state.Ram Narayan carried pamphlets of a manifesto he titled “Violence Is A Historical Necessity” and in it he underlined the Marxist-Leninist opinion that "No serious student of history will deny that certain historical situations render violence ineluctable."It is commonly known that the poorest labourers in rural India are exploited. So exploited that in many cases they are, quite practically, slaves.Sometimes a more sanitized expression is used for slavery—indentured labour. But that only suggests that the labourers work all their lives for free, usually for someone to whom they are indebted, typically because they have taken a loan that can never be reasonably repaid.So, they end up working for subsistence. They cannot leave their work; any attempt to break free, leaving them and their families in mortal danger. Being so low down the social pecking order, and often without education, they are without recourse to justice—whether social or legal.Modern slavery is abhorrent and alien, for many of us. For some, it is an everyday reality. A story about some enslaved quarry workers—in the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in India—came to light. By all reports, it was a heartwarming story of how these slaves won their freedom following a peaceful rebellion and set themselves up in their own town and named it Azad Nagar, or Freedom Ville.But while researching this story for herself, my guest, Laura Murphy—a professor of human rights and contemporary slavery—uncovered a secret. The revolution was not as peaceful as various reports, books and documentaries had described, in rather romantic narratives.It appeared that the slaves of Azad Nagar had won freedom through violence and murder.The reason this book is important to read is because it confronts us with the proposition that Ram Narayan made several years before—in the matter of revolution, is violence a historical necessity?Joining us from her home in New Orleans in the United States is Dr Laura Murphy, the author of Azad Nagar-The Story of a 21st-Century Slave Revolt.About Laura MurphyLaura T. Murphy is Professor of Human Rights and Contemporary Slavery at the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK. She is the author of The New Slave Narrative: The Battle Over Representations of Contemporary Slavery, Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives, and Metaphor and the Slave Trade in Western African Literature. Her work has been funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the British Academy, and the National Humanities Center.Buy Azad Nagar-The Story of a 21st-Century Slave Revolt:'S THAT WORD?! - SCAPEGOATCo-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the the origins of this biblical word.WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply,, you can visit: you can go to our Instagram page our Facebook group, Bangalore Literary Society. It does not matter if you are not in Bangalore. This group is for anyone interested in language and words.
32:05 06/07/2022
Finding The Bebop With Jazz Writer Scott Yanow
My guest today is Scott Yanow—one of the best known and most prolific jazz reviewers.Writing about jazz is special, because of the dynamic and fluid nature of the music. There is a basic melody in jazz…but only to begin with. The musicians, in their solos, interpret that melody and its underlying harmonic structure.And always, and without exception, that interpretation is different every time a jazz soloist plays.Here’s an analogy for jazz beginners.Classical music, for instance, is like a play. The lines are written for the actors, who must use their skill to bring out the drama in the lines. But it’s always the same lines, the same words.Jazz is like scintillating conversation. You don’t say the same thing twice—for the sake of your friends I hope you don’t. And how interesting you are depends on how much you know, and how well you say it.So, you see what I mean when I say that writing jazz reviews merits its own skill.Speaking of skill, Scott Yanow has authored 12 books, written over 20,000 recording reviews and over 900 liner notes. (Liner notes are those descriptive passages that accompany an album.)He has also written artist biographies and press releases for record labels, public relations firms and individual artists. And most easily accessible, he has written hundreds of summaries for doesn’t tire easily. And simply listening to him describe a typical day is enough to make most of us pine for a vacation.As I said earlier, it’s all about how much you know and how well you say it. Scott Yanow knows a lot and says it in an unpretentious, direct and honest writing style.And now he joins us from his home near Los Angeles.ABOUT SCOTT YANOWScott Yanow was born in New York and grew up near Los Angeles. He became the jazz editor for Record Review, a now-legendary music magazine. Yanow has written for Jazz Times, Cadence, Coda, The Mississippi Rag, Jazz Forum, Jazz News, The Jazz Report, Planet Jazz, Jazz Now, Jazz Improv and other significant jazz magazines. He contributors to seven magazines: Downbeat, Jazziz, the NYC Jazz Record, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, Jazz Artistry Now, the Jazz Rag and Syncopated Times. Yanow has written 12 books on jazz: The Jazz Singers, The Great Jazz Guitarists, Jazz On Film  Duke Ellington, Swing, Bebop, Afro-Cuban Jazz, Classic Jazz, Trumpet Kings, Jazz: A Regional Exploration,  the massive Jazz On Record 1917-76 and most recently Jazz Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist (My Jazz Memoirs).Jazz Through The Eyes Of A Jazz Journalist:'S THAT WORD?! - JAZZCo-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the the origins of "jazz" and tell jazz jokes.WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?Reach us by mail: or simply,
31:03 05/31/2022
Shrabani Basu On Why Queen Victoria Loved Abdul Karim And How Conan Doyle Saved A Parsee Lawyer
A few years ago, I went to a movie theatre in New York City’s Chelsea, a theatre that screens indie films, to watch this new movie, Victoria & Abdul. It is a story of how Abdul Karim, a servant to Victoria, who was then Queen of England, came to be her closest confidant. A touching tale.After the movie, in the foyer, I overheard one woman asking her friend in a most puzzled tone, “Is that what the museum in London is called? Victoria and...Abdul?!”  “No dear,” her friend replied and set her straight on the correct name, "it’s Victoria and Albert Museum, dear."The title of the movie is based on the book of the same name by my guest today, author, journalist and most definitely, historian, Shrabani Basu.Shrabani has the almost uncanny ability to find a story where others did not and spend years researching it. Such as the story about a Parsee lawyer in pre-WW1 England, George Edalji, who was accused of murdering horses.Now, who among us has not lived in 221B Baker Street—the residence of Sherlock Holmes? In our hearts and minds. We know that Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes  and wrote those magnificent mysteries. But there were two occasions when Conan Doyle could actually play Sherlock Holmes; that of Oscar Slater who was convicted of bludgeoning an 82-year-old woman. Doyle saw inconsistencies in the case and paid for most of the costs for Slater's successful appeal, 20 years later.The other famous case was that of George Edalji. Conan Doyle got involved and despite the efforts of the local constabulary, had him exonerated…importantly, in public and historical opinion.Shrabani Basu’s book, The Mystery Of The Parsee Lawyer, is a cannot-put-down thriller more so because it is a real life Sherlock Holmes thriller.Back to the lovebirds, Victoria and Abdul and putting aside my pretenses of not being interested in muck rake and scuttlebutt, I want to know how close Victoria was to Abdul. How close really? To that end, let’s ask the author, Shrabani Basu.ABOUT SHRABANI BASUShrabani Basu is an author and a journalist. She was born in Kolkata and grew up in Dhaka, Kathmandu and Delhi. Her books include Victoria & Abdul: The Extraordinary True Story of the Queen's Closest Confidant, now a major motion picture, Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan and For King and Another Country: Indian Soldiers on the Western Front, 1914-18. In 2010, she set up the Noor Inayat Khan Memorial Trust and campaigned for a memorial for the Second World War heroine, which was unveiled by Princess Anne in London in November 2012.The Mystery Of The Parsee Lawyer: And Abdul:'S THAT WORD?! - PANJANDRUMCo-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the the word "Panjandrum".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?If you have a word, expression or phrase you would like to know more about, we would love to have you join us live on the show. You can reach out to us by mail: or simply,, you can visit: you can go to our Instagram page your word or phrase is selected, we will call you.Join our Facebook group, Bangalore Literary Society. It does not matter if you are not in Bangalore. This group is for anyone interested in language and words.
32:13 05/24/2022
Advaitha, Social Politics And A Romance With Pavan Varma
My guest today is Pavan Varma. He is Vice President of the All India Trinamool Congress, a former member of Parliament, former Press Secretary to the President of India, and as a career diplomat, former Ambassador to Bhutan and Indian High Commissioner, Cyprus.But above all, in my book, he is an author of substance. A historian, he has authored over a dozen books that are treatises in literature, philosophy, socio-political thought and commentary.An early book of his was The Great Indian Middle Class, a book that influenced my thinking substantially.Two of his recent books are candidates for any thinking person’s bookshelf—one about the great Indian sage, Adi Shankaracharya and the other, The Great Hindu Civilisation: Achievement, Neglect, Bias and the Way Forward. I say thinking person’s bookshelf because the books enable anyone interested in exploring the Hindu philosophical premise or their Hindu identity and do it without submitting to gonzo politics and mindless jingoism.His novel—When Loss is Gain—is a deeply introspective tale of a man coming to grips with a surprising turn in his life.Writing fiction liberates the writer and it provides a window to the writer’s soul. The prose of fiction tends to yank off any protective veil and lets you look at a writer’s more romantic comportment.So I was very happy to be told that he was going to be my next guest on my podcast. With that it is both my privilege and a pleasure to welcome Pavan K Varma to The Literary City.ABOUT PAVAN VARMAPavan K. Varma was conferred Bhutan’s highest civilian award, the Druk Thuksey, by the King of Bhutan. He also received a honorary doctoral degree for his contribution to the fields of diplomacy, literature, culture and aesthetics by the University of Indianapolis in 2005 and an Honorary Doctorate by Sri Sharada Institute of Indian Management for his book "Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker".This book has also won the Atta Galatta-Bengaluru Literature Festival prize for the Best Book of Non-Fiction in 2018. And he won the Kalinga International Literary Award 2019. He is a popular columnist and a well known TV commentator.Buy Yudhishtar & Draupadi: The Great Indian Middle Class:'S THAT WORD?! - NEW WINE IN AN OLD BOTTLECo-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the the words "New wine in an old bottle".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?If you have a word, expression or phrase you would like to know more about, we would love to have you join us live on the show. You can reach out to us by mail: or simply,, you can visit: you can go to our Instagram page your word or phrase is selected, we will call you.Join our Facebook group, Bangalore Literary Society. It does not matter if you are not in Bangalore. This group is for anyone interested in language and words.
33:50 05/17/2022
Finding The Indian Voice In English Literature With Poile Sengupta
In the late 80s, the Indian voice in English literature started to be heard in a meaningful way. But in the early days, the writing was criticized as being imitative of colonial English, swollen and bloated, and not keeping up with contemporary usage.Either that, or it swung the other way to bring a self-referential rebellion against colonialism with cringe-worthy caricatures of Indian English. While this Quixotic legacy—of grammar, structure and the idiom being the casualty of a war without an enemy—hasn’t entirely left us. But as a wise man never ever said, through this fustian thicket Indian voices peeped. New authors threw away the sola topee, and started to write in English, the narrative being Indian; with neither apology nor explanation for parlance.My guest today, Poile Sengupta is one of the first such writers. From her debut in the mid-80s, she has widely and well…written prose, poetry and plays.While Poile is both respected and reputable, I believe she has not received all the accolade she deserves…for her prose, poetry, being a playwright and above all, for being a pathfinder…kicking the doors open…for younger Indian writers to walk into a better future.Let’s talk to Poile now and deep dive into her relationship with the English language.ABOUT POILE SENGUPTAPoile Sengupta is a playwright, poet, novelist and writer for children and adults. Her full length plays include Mangalam (1993), Inner Laws (1994), A Pretty Business (1995), Keats was a Tuber (1996), Collages (1998), Alipha and Thus Spake Shoorpanakha, So Said Shakuni (2001) and Samara’s Song (2007).  Her plays have been performed and read across India and also abroad.Her earlier books include The Exquisite Balance, The Way to My Friend’s House, Story of the Road, How the Path Grew - all from CBT, and Waterflowers by Scholastic. Her later work includes Role Call and Role Call Again, 2003, by Rupa and Co., Vikram and Vetal, 2005, Good Heavens!, 2006 and Vikramaditya’s Throne, 2007, from Puffin. Role Call has been translated and published in Bhasa Indonesia, while Vikram and Vetal has been translated and published in French. A picture book Four by Tulika, came out in 2018, and a chapter book A Time for Ebby, was published in September 2021, by Minmini Reads, an imprint of Karadi Tales, Chennai. Poile Sengupta’s first novel for grown-ups, Inga was published in 2014 by Westland.Link to buy A Time For Ebby:'S THAT WORD?! - HUSBANDCo-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the the words "husband and husbandry".WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?If you have a word, expression or phrase you would like to know more about, we would love to have you join us live on the show. You can reach out to us by mail: or simply,, you can visit: you can go to our Instagram page your word or phrase is selected, we will call you.Join our Facebook group, Bangalore Literary Society. It does not matter if you are not in Bangalore. This group is for anyone interested in language and words.
30:00 05/10/2022
Bringing Grammar To Spirituality With Poet Arundhathi Subramaniam
There is no easy definition of spirituality.There certainly is no dictionary definition of it.So I decided to make sport of finding how different people defined spirituality. But  every explanation I found was merely another shade of grey. No one really could honestly define it.I suspect that spirituality should be seen, not as a word but rather, as something that ranges from the metaphysical to the paranormal.But my guest today, Arundhathi Subramaniam, has embarked on a more difficult mission—writing about it.As a poet and a writer of succinct prose, she offers us a window into her lasting—and perhaps growing—sense of spirituality.Her ability to write on this undefinable subject is an impressive skill. A skill that enables her to corral the many wayward strands of spirituality into something we can all understand—introspection.In this episode I also dive into something else that defies me. What’s poetry?Arundhathi Subramaniam recites three of her poems in this episode.ABOUT ARUNDHATHI SUBRAMANIAMDescribed as "one of the finest poets writing in India today" (The Hindu, 2010) Arundhathi Subramaniam is the award-winning author of thirteen books of poetry and prose. Her most recent volume of poems, Love Without a Story was described as "a breathtaking and heartwarming book" (Poetry Book Society Bulletin), "a unique poet of our a league all by herself" (Indian Literature).Widely translated and anthologised, her book, When God is a Traveller, was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and won the Sahitya Akademi Award 2020.She is the recipient of various awards and fellowships, including the inaugural Khushwant Singh Prize, the Raza Award for Poetry, the Zee Women’s Award for Literature, the International Piero Bigongiari Prize in Italy, the Zee Indian Women Award for Literature, the Mystic Kalinga award, among others. She has written extensively on culture and spirituality, and has worked over the years as poetry editor, cultural curator and critic. As prose writer, her books include the book of essays, Women Who Wear Only Themselves, the bestselling biography of a contemporary mystic.Link to Arundhathi Subramaniam on Amazon:'S THAT WORD?! - PORTMANTEAUCo-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the the word "portmanteau" and its Humpty Dumpty origins.WANT TO BE ON THE SHOW?If you have a word, expression or phrase you would like to know more about, we would love to have you join us live on the show. You can reach out to us by mail: or simply,, you can visit: you can go to our Instagram page your word or phrase is selected, we will call you.Join our Facebook group, Bangalore Literary Society. It does not matter if you are not in Bangalore. This group is for anyone interested in language and words.Cover pic of Arundhati Subramaniam: Meetesh Taneja
31:41 05/03/2022