& occasionally about other things, too...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Indovation: The Best of India in Services

This week, I’m taking a break from the usual literary books; after all, the blog is “occasionally about other things, too.”

Although, let me hasten to add that it's still going to be about a book.
This week, India dominated the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS) in Toronto. Over 150 Indian engineering companies participated in the show – all of them from the small and medium enterprise sector. On display was Tata’s Nano, the world’s cheapest car and Mahindra Reva, an electric car.

The Best of India in Services is a coffee table book (why not tea table book? It’s India, after all) brought out by the India Brand Equity Foundation. Ernst & Young has prepared the compilation. 

It was released at a media conference earlier this week, following the inaugural of the India Show at the CMTS in Toronto. 

It gives a glimpse of the enormous changes that are taking place in India led by the exponential growth in the services sectors.

It updates the latest trends in sectors such as business and professional services, education, engineering, real estate and construction, financial services, healthcare, innovative concept services, media and entertainment, research & development, retail, technology, telecommunications, transportation and logistics, travel, tourism and hospitality.

Here’s a passage that best illustrates the deep roots of Indovation (Indian innovations in technology that lead to affordable apps).

It’s about Mumbai’s dabbawallas.

“A small but unique business idea that the traditional dabbawalas (lunchbox carriers) of Mumbai introduced way back in 1890 is a thriving industry today. Mumbai dabbawalas deliver customised, home-cooked meals to the clients for a monthly fee. The dabbawala in his Gandhi topi (cap) is a permanent feature of Mumbai cultural landscape. Popular among school children as well as as working people, these packages meals delivered in special boxes are carried in trains to an unloading station, where they are sorted by distinctive coloured destinations.

“In 1998, Forbes Global magazine conducted an analysis of the system’s efficiency and subsequently awarded it a Six Sigma rating. The concept has also been featured in the Guinness Book of World Records. Various media channels, such as BBC, Zee TV, CNBC TV 18, CNN and Sony have made documentaries on Mumbai dabbawalas.

"The world-renowned dabbawalas have lectured in management institutions and even charmed Prince Charles! Inspired by the dabbawalas of India, women in Canada have initiated the Tiffinday service.”

The book is full of many such factoids that underscore the depth of India’s determined march forward as an economic powerhouse.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

West of Wawa

A couple of weeks back I went to the launch party of West of Wawa published by Inanna Publication and Education Inc. It was a great event for a great book. The novel is written by Lisa De Nikolits.
She is the most ‘un-writerly’ writer I know. She is vivacious and friendly. That’s rare in a writer. She has an infectious smile. That’s rare, too.

And, of course, she is a brilliant storyteller.

Lisa is from South Africa and is a prolific writer. This is her third novel. The first – Single Girls Go Mad Sooner – was published in 1995. 

The second, The Hungry Mirror, published in 2010 by Innana, was awarded the IPPY Gold Medal for literature on women’s issues in 2011 and shortlisted for the 2011 ReLit Awards.

West of Wawa has been extremely well received and was chosen as one of the editor's pick in the September issue of Chatelaine. 
Lisa De Nikolits reading at the launch

The Chatelaine book club also interviewed Lisa, and many other book blogs also featuring her. 

The novel is about Benny, a young immigrant woman on the road across Canada, running away from herself and her past.

During her trip across the vastness of Canada spread over nearly three months and covering thousands of miles, Benny discovers herself. Despite everything that continue to go wrong – thanks to her guileless naivety – she eventually emerges a winner.

The launch event was a big draw, and Dawn Promislow and Danila Botha were among the many writers present. 

Here’s an extract from Lisa’s interview with Lori Ann Bloomfield, a novelist and blogger of First Line Fiction.  

FL: What is your favourite word?

LDN: An interesting question! If you were to look at West of Wawa prior to editing, you’d be inclined to say that my favourite words, (albeit unconsciously) were, ‘looked’, ‘little’, ‘happily’ and ‘cosy’. They’re actually not my favourite words at all and once I spotted this weak-word trend, I weeded them out vigorously!

My favourite word is ‘serene’. I have loved it ever since I first read it in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – I was so moved by this opening paragraph and I’ve always thought it’s one of the best openers:

“Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912. 

Everyone was talking about
Lisa's book and her shoes
Somber, as a word, was better. But it did not apply to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Prairie was lovely and Shenandoah had a beautiful sound, but you couldn’t fit those words into Brookly. Serene was the only word for it; especially on a Saturday afternoon in summer.”

After reading that, how could serene be anything but one’s favourite word? There isn’t too much call for the word these days but I found the perfect place for it in West of Wawa:

The ruined and the destroyed had always held a fascination for her, even before the devastation of her own world. She liked to stand among the decay and pick through the aftermath of vanished lives, searching for clues to uncover what had made it all go wrong. And finding the perfect images to capture her imaginings, well, those were moments when she felt close to serene.”

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Amazing Absorbing Boy

Rabindranath Maharaj
I met Rabindranath (Robin) Maharaj at The Word on the Street last month for the first time. 

We had been exchanging emails over the last few months about his participation in the recently-concluded Festival of South Asian Literature and the Arts (FSALA-11). 

Joyce Wayne, friend and novelist, had introduced me to Robin.

Robin’s The Amazing Absorbing Boy is an absolute marvel. 

I’ll be seriously disappointed if it doesn’t win the City of Toronto Book Award. It’s already won the Ontario Trillium Award, and gathered a bouquet of fabulous reviews, with Philip Marchand claiming, that “For the record, (Maharaj) is a more accomplished writer than Vassanji and a livelier novelist than Mistry.” Now, that is serious praise.

Moreover, Robin has an engaging style of reading his work. At the TWOTS reading, Robin read a part of the following extract from chapter seven of the book. The chapter is titled Auntie Umbrella.

“It was Auntie Umbrella who appeared like a puff of sulphurous smoke. I was making my way to our apartment after work and when I spotted her outside the door I thought at first it was my imagination because I had been thinking so much of Mayaro but there was no mistaking Auntie Umbrella. Although she was my father’s sister she was the total opposite of him in looks. She was black like tar and had stumpy bandy legs that made her resemble one of these evil Dalek robots from Doctor Who. When I noticed an umbrella reinforced with bicycle spokes parked right next to a scrape-up brown suitcase, I knew for sure it was my auntie. She was trembling like mad either from vexation or the nightcoldness and when she spotted me instead of giving a hug she said, “Open the door fast, buy. This is not weather for man nor beast.” Then she pushed me aside, dragged her suitcase inside, took a long look at the apartment, and headed for my father’s bedroom.

       “What you doing here, auntie?” I asked when she came out.

       “What?” She had a habit of closing one eye whenever she was about to quote some criticizing verse from her Bible. Instead she launched into a long speech about my father; it seemed he was supposed to meet her at the airport.

       “So he knew you was coming?”

       “You hard of hearing, boy?” She glared at me with one eye.

       “So how you find this place?”

       “The Lord always protects his shepherd.”

He read another piece from the same book at the inaugural session of FSALA-11. 

His reading style adds to the humour inherent in the novel.

Quite simply, amazing!

Just Matata

Just Matata
Matata means trouble in Swahili. Just Matata Sins, Saints and Settlers is a novel about growing up in Kenya and Goa in the 1940s.
Braz Menezes is the author of this breezy novel that narrates the life and times of colonial Kenya where the hero of the novel Chico lands in the early 20th century.
Chico’s son Lando is the narrator of the story of the family’s lives in colonial Kenya under the British and in colonial Goa under the Portuguese.

Just Matata is the first part of a trilogy. If the first novel is any indication, the other two that will follow will be as good.
Braz Menezes
I’m reading the book right now and find it at once evocative and hilarious; it’s a delight although I have no connection to either Goa or East Africa.
(But my friend Jasmine will argue that I like the book because I have connections to Bombay's Dhobi Talao)

For those with connections or nostalgia about either of the places, the book will be an absolute delight to read.

Braz is an emerging writer in Toronto and his work has been published in Canadian Voices Volume 1 & 2, Goa Masala, Indian Voices and the forthcoming Canadian Imprints.

The novel was released last month and I bought it at The Word on the Street, where Braz was enthusiastically selling it.
For more information about the book and how to order your copy, click here: Just Matata