Monday, March 31, 2008

There's something about Ginseng

As with most people who come here, my first two years in Dubai were spent in giddy and relentlessly sociable excesses. Of all the binge temples that we favoured with our dubious custom, the one I think of most warmly is Ginseng.

I’ve never had a bad time there – whether casual evenings with close friends, unwieldy nights with too many friends of friends, misguided bonding events with colleagues or my best friend’s hen night, with all its potential for emotional disasters. I should try a New Year’s Eve there to see if the magic is strong enough to neutralise that minefield. The Irish Village has not done too badly in that respect, unlike Jimmy Dix – to name but one – which always turns out to be not such a good idea, any night of the year.

So many places have come and gone, some have changed identities so fast, so many times, it makes my head spin. Remarkably, in a city that changes almost hourly, Ginseng is still the same.

I walked in there last weekend after nearly two years and instantly felt myself regress, in the nicest way. The dumplings are as I remember. Friday Fizz is still going strong, the Caipirinha, divinely unchanged. Being older, more decrepit and marginally wiser, I didn’t attempt to mix it with the Moon Goddess, but I’m sure that’s still on the menu, ready to beguile newcomers into making inadvisable phone calls.

Boudoir taught us why free champagne is free. Zinc taught us how not to dance. Le Plage gave us important life lessons about absinthe. El Malecon made us respect the insidious Marguerita. Serai introduced us to the weird world of Arabic clubbing. But Ginseng forged friendships. These are the relationships that not only survived but strengthened through the disruptions of age, shifting priorities and job crises. This is a rare and wonderful thing in this transient gold-mining town.

And though we now savour red wine at the right temperature and prefer to team it with paté rather than spring rolls, the Moon Goddess still glows within us, not very far beneath the surface.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Endangered circles

The shoddily written brochure burbles (after saying that Winston Churchill "stayed here" though he visited Waverley Inn on Outer Circle): "The Inner Circle comprises an 8 acres spread of lush green… fountains, well-equipped children park, leaving lavish space for a morning walk, Huge shady trees that flower in blue, violet, yellow and white. Here even today the morning mist hangs on trees. A sight that would take away anybody’s breath… bordered by amazingly out of this world cottages... The sheer fairy tale beauty of the sight would bring a lump to a visitor’s throat."

Yes, the copy requires editing with a machete, but my first thought actually was: Surely they can't be allowed to get their grubby hands on Inner Circle?

Well, into this "fairytale world" they're introducing the hideousness shown below. They could at least have nodded in the direction of colonial architecture, maybe made it not quite so high risen.

My new project is to find people who will buy the remaining cottages and preserve them in any form – hotel, shop, restaurant, theatre, home – just as long as they're not sold to developers. There are some that should be preserved as heritage sites.

Whitefield is being reduced to a silicon chip and some cement dust.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Land of the Kamasutra, home of the Taj Mahal

A certain time-honoured purveyor of sex and love is starting an Indian version soon. The only surprise is that it took this long to happen. With at least four wildly successful film industries that deal almost exclusively in romance, and a history that is concerned with very little else, India is the perfect market for Mills and Boon.

M&B readers in other parts of the world have indicated that they prefer exotic locales and "foreign" men, and Indian ones won't be exceptions – except that the description could well apply to the guy from the neighbouring state. A Bengali may be very exotic to a Haryanvi. A Punjabi secretary might find a Goan with a guitar dangerously seductive. A Malayali scientist could bring unfamiliar chemistry into the life of a computer programmer in Orissa, and so on.

Indianising M&B will increase its readership without in any way changing the fundamental nature of the books. Harlequin should fire its business development department for not having thought of this earlier.

M&Bs were my introduction to the romance genre at a very impressionable age because all the women in two generations of my family read them and left them lying around. (Well actually, Pride and Prejudice, Little Women and What Katy Did Next came first, but you can't speak of them in the same breath.)

I loved the old, gentle M&Bs – by certain authors – and have even started collecting them now as a sort of tribute to my grandmothers. But I stopped reading them entirely about 15 years ago. The forced steaminess got on my nerves, the macho men started to annoy as well, but mostly the writing became so very bad.

I’d rather read a finely spun Georgette Heyer, written like perfect soufflĂ© (great expertise, effort and knowledge harnessed to make it light and easy). Or "modern chick lit", which is a sort of unabashed written TV. Also, the pivotal factor of romance is the guy. I find an urbane hero with the wit for real banter a hell of a lot more attractive than the brooding desert prince who barks and flings people across his saddle bow on the slightest provocation.

Incidentally, a cousin who recently stopped over for a day wanted a book to read on the plane and I discovered there are definite sub-genres to this category. In all my large library of mush, there wasn't one book that she wanted to read. We read completely different types and each had decided views on "my type".

Anyway for all those who would like to write a bestselling M&B, I am offering a guaranteed formula absolutely free in the post below.

How to write a successful Mills and Boon

Just follow the EASY, four-part guide that has been PROVEN and provided RESULTS to HUNDREDS of authors worldwide and you can be a romance novelist too!

Woman and man meet in one or all of the following ways:
a) Dramatically. Eg: he runs her over/they get hijacked on the same plane/he saves her from a mugger/he mugs her/he shares an umbrella in the rain…
b) At a gathering. Eg: party of a friend and he's with another girl (preferably 10 feet tall, thin, blondish and very expensively dressed)/she invites his cousin on the night he's in town…
c) Over a misunderstanding. Eg: she goes to a wedding, thinks he's the bridegroom, but it turns out he's the best man…
d) Under a shadow from the past. Eg: they used to work together and one of them got the other fired/they used to be childhood sweethearts/she broke the aforementioned umbrella/ he actually was the bridegroom but pretended to be the best man…

Matters proceed in any manner of your choice, including an important plot point revolving around any or all of the Three Ps®:
a) Precipitation: Situation that provides lab conditions to speed up normal processes. Eg: Unavoidable road trip/holiday house party/combined babysitting of friends' dogs/kids
b) Proximity: Physical, of course. Eg: Enforced sharing of a room because of storm/riot/breakdown/dental conference in town
c) Peacocking: Dress-up occasion to provide silk, jewellery, glittering backdrop, alcohol, music, dancing. Eg: Black-tie gala/Christmas party/clients' annual party/theatre/wedding reception


There will be a complication…
a) Another woman
b) Another man
c) A revelation. Eg: He's actually the crown prince of some country/She's the daughter of the person who put his father out of business/Either of them have a disease, a prison term or children hidden away somewhere (the other man/woman could be this secret child)

Essentially: Explanation, declaration, kiss, curtain.
Methodically clear up each complication, shadow from past etc in the most dramatic way you can think of. Introduce as many new characters as you need to do so. (In fact, there can be a point where an audience will applaud in the "all the world loves a lover" tradition.) The denouement itself will occur in highly charged circumstances, such as:
a) An explosive fight across a public square
b) A final chase to catch the train/plane/bus/boat/bicycle on which he/she is leaving forever
c) A rescue from sinking boat/falling tree/jungle/mountain/desert/wild nightclub
d) An unexpected return
d) Tears and rain

Note: Throw in some species of steamy scene every 15 pages or so. It doesn't matter if they've been lost in the Sahara for a week and are nearly dead – celebrate life.

The girls are pretty, the guys are good-looking, the kids are cute, the friends are married. Landladies/lords are either parently and sympathetic to the cause or nasty and dragonlike to provide rescue opportunities. The same applies to bosses, relatives in authority, siblings, bankers, lawyers, waitresses and public transport officials. Nobody enters that world for any purpose other than to further or hinder the great love. The stunningly beautiful woman is the Other One. The handsome man is the gay friend.

SECRET TIP: Just translate every Hindi movie ever made, and you already have enough titles to keep you in luxury for the rest of your life.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

In the quiet morning

For every person who says "just think positive", there are several who are forced by that reaction to struggle alone with a debilitating illness. For each one who interrupts to tell a story that begins with "I know what you're going through", there are hundreds who actually are going through it, silently, in the isolated waste of wakeful nights.

Someone who's clinically depressed can no more "snap out of it" than a diabetic can snap out of an insulin imbalance. He or she needs treatment from a real doctor, with real medicines and real medical insurance to pay for it.

But the problem with this condition is that it has no special Latin names. The symptoms sound like something everyone has felt at some time. There are no degrees to distinguish sadness about broken crockery from the sadness that begins deep in the bones and inexorably overwhelms every faculty until it kills you, sometimes literally.

It is a terrible cancer of the mind, but when you talk about it, you just sound like you might be having a bad hair day.

To make things worse, it has become a sort of "disease du jour", being diagnosed with the trigger-happiness of an eight year old with a water pistol. It is entirely normal to be depressed at the loss of a person, a marriage or a job. Time will heal these. It is natural to be very stressed out if you've been working long hours to meet a deadline. A good night's sleep and a meal with friends will sort this out. Turning that sort of thing into a "mood disorder" is not helping the people who actual have one.

As usual I discovered another Internet underworld through an accident with a keyboard and a search engine. There are hundreds of blogs written by sufferers of clinical depression. But unlike other bloggers, they don't write to be read. Most of them have been too long in their darkness and they seem to be writing as a healthier option to talking aloud to themselves.

Occasionally, there's a terrifying one, the terminal disorientation of a wanderer who has been too long lost, desperately needing rescue but too far to reach: "…suicide is …kind of like a favorite song… constantly playing in the back of your mind.... I can walk around all day not really concentrating on it, but knowing that it is just below the surface."

Sometimes there's one that's fighting: "For now, tired, too anxious about… entire situation to write more. Tomorrow I plan to come home with my shield or on it…"

Many are gravely ill rather than desperately urgent, like this policeman: "…the secrets and the shame of falling short of duty and honor in your own eyes until your heart and soul have nothing left and nowhere to go.

And this person's acceptance: "I have a sense of being invisible to the fates, unmarked by fortune – ill or good. So I unravel by myself, wind it tight on my own and then wait for it to happen all over again."

But they all have one thing in common: they're alone in the knowledge that even the most sensitive friend or relative cannot really enter into their fears. And they understand it's hard to believe in a serious illness that doesn't show up on an MRI, EEG or X-ray.

Yes, there's no report with incomprehensible decimal places indicating deficiencies that could be corrected with a saline drip. The doctor doesn't wear a stethoscope. But I think it could be given an unpronounceable name. That would at least give the sufferers a weapon against the platitudinal and the me-too criminals.

In the Quiet Morning, Joan Baez, Album: Come From the Shadows, 1972

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