Software billionaires like 19th century tycoons…

Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, Steven Jobs and Sun Microsystems co-founder Bill Joy are all about the same age, says Malcolm Gladwell. So were John Rockefeller,  Andrew Carnegie,  Jay Gould and JP Morgan, the biggest 19th century tycoons, he adds. Some generations are luckier than others and benefit from extraordinary opportunities, Gladwell writes in his new book, Outliers: The Story Of Success. Here’s an except published in the Guardian:

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Ian Buruma, Naipaul, and old letter on Singapore

The writer Ian Buruma says he was approached to write Naipaul's biography a long time ago. He says this in his review of Patrick French's biography, The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul. Buruma writes in his article in the New York Review of Books:

I was approached in the early 1990s by Gillon Aitken, Naipaul's literary agent, with the idea of writing an authorized biography, I was intrigued, flattered, and deeply apprehensive. The idea of writing the life of a man who was still alive was daunting enough. Such projects typically result in acrimony. The idea of writing the life of a man as fastidious and difficult as V.S. Naipaul was particularly daunting. And I was not at all sure that delving into the nooks and crannies of his private life would be a pleasure for me, or enlightening for the readers. I can still remember my sense of embarrassment when Naipaul, looking intently at his shiny brown shoes, began to tell me about his sexual frustrations, as we sat opposite one another in his oddly impersonal London flat. I knew then that this project was not for me. I doubted whether an honest book could be written by anyone while Naipaul was still alive.

I was wrong. The truth is not skimped in Patrick French's excellent book.

Buruma, who is now Henry R. Luce Professor of Democracy, Human Rights, and Journalism at Bard College, has written considerably on Asia — and faced some criticism.

Here is an old letter written by Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and formerly Singapore's ambassador to the United Nations, in response to one of Buruma's articles in the New York Review of Books.

Second Indian Booker winner in three years

Aravind _adiga_190
The award for the best English novel by a writer from any country except America goes to… an Indian for the second time in three years!

Aravind Adiga has won the 2008 Man Booker Prize worth 50,000 pounds ($87,000) for Commonwealth writers for his novel, The White Tiger, set in India. Indian Kiran Desai won the award for The Inheritance of Loss, spanning India and America, in 2006. Irish Anne Enright was the winner last year for The Gathering.

Adiga, 33, who read English literature at Columbia and Oxford and writes for Time magazine, lives in Mumbai.The White Tiger, about corruption, poverty and exploitation in India, is his first novel. Links to his Time articles appear at the end of this post.

"Adiga is the fifth Indian author to win the prize, joining VS Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy and Kiran Desai, who won the prize in 1971, 1981, 1997 and 2006 respectively," notes the Man Booker website. Roy also won with her first novel, The God of Small Things.

The only other debut novelist to win the prize was the Australian DBC Pierre in 2003 for Vernon God Little. 

Adiga is the second-youngest novelist to win the award and cites the black American writers Ralph Ellison and James Baldwin as influences, says The Times.

About The White Tiger

Adiga also admires the Indian writer RK Narayan, he said in a Rediff interview, where he said he started writing the book based on his experiences as a Time magazine correspondent in India. He was struck by the vast gulf between the rich and the poor — and the fact that, despite the huge poverty, there was "so little crime in India compared to that in New York, South Africa and Latin America".

 The White Tiger is a clever, dark, unusual novel where:

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Bengalis in 1920s Singapore

I am glad that Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke at the Global Indian Diaspora Conference this morning. His presence there while Singapore officially went into recession underlines the deepening ties between the two countries.

India too is caught in the economic turmoil.  Indian banks from tomorrow will be allowed to keep just 7.5 percent cash in hand, down from 9 percent. It’s the steepest cut in the cash reserve ratio in India since 2001, reports Bloomberg, releasing 600 billion rupees ($12.2 billion) into the financial system.

But this post is about what the Prime Minister said at the conference. The full speech can be read here. I only wish to draw attention to this remark he made:

Many early Indians started out here as humble labourers and plantation workers, but succeeding generations have made their mark in government, business and the professions.

That is only part of the story, passing over details like this: Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore with soldiers from India. But anyone can learn that from a history book.

What’s more interesting to me is this Singapore scene painted by Somerset Maugham in his short story, P & O. It appeared in his collection of short stories, The Casuarina Tree, published in 1926. He mentions “sleek and prosperous” Bengalis. Where did they go? Maugham captures the buzz, but it’s a totally different Singapore:

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The anti-American on the Nobel Lit com

I would be surprised if this year's Nobel Prize for Literature goes to any English language writer, for Doris Lessing won the award last year and English language writers have been getting the award every alternate year since 2001 when Naipaul was the winner.

But no American writer has won the Nobel since Toni Morrison in 1993. Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth and Don De Lillo are tipped among the contenders by bookmakers Ladbrokes but the favourite is the Italian Claudio Magris followed by the Syrian Adonis.

Now it turns out there's an anti-American bias in the jury.

Horace Engdahl, permanent secretary of the jury that awards the Nobel Prize for literature, said in an interview with the Associated Press:

"There is powerful literature in all big cultures, but you can't get away from the fact that Europe still is the centre of the literary world … not the United States… The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature …That ignorance is restraining."

Lord, love a duck, this man is living in a time warp! No offence to the Europeans but they are at a disadvantage because English is the global language. How many European writers are internationally known since Camus, Sartre, Kafka and Gunter Grass?

I half suspect the guy was pulling a publicity stunt. Let's face it, the Nobel Prize doesn't sell books like the Booker Prize for the simple reason it's sometimes awarded to authors rarely translated into English. Look at the list of winners for the last 10 years and you will see not every one of them is widely known:

2007 – Doris Lessing
2006 – Orhan Pamuk
2005 – Harold Pinter
2004 – Elfriede Jelinek
2003 – J. M. Coetzee
2002 – Imre Kertész
2001 – V. S. Naipaul
2000 – Gao Xingjian
1999 – Günter Grass
1998 – Jose Saramago

So what better way to get attention than making anti-American sounds that are bound to be picked up by the English language press and reported from Canada to New Zealand. I still recall the buzz when the hugely talented Pinter won the Nobel and sounded off against the Iraq war.

Interestingly, three of the four English language authors honoured in the last 10 years have an African connection — Coetzee is a South African, Lessing Rhodesian-born, and Naipaul has visited and written about Africa — and three are British nationals: Pinter, Lessing and Naipaul.

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Death of a Writer: A mystery deep with poetry

I was floored by this Michael Collins mystery, captivated by its lyricism and intrigued by its plot. A novel nominated for the National Book Award turns out to be eerily similar to the real-life murder of a teenager. But it was written before her death.

Suspicion naturally falls on the writer. But he is  lying in a coma after trying to kill himself in his despair as a burnt-out writer and English teacher at an American liberal arts college.

The detective in charge of the case questions:

  • the beautiful graduate student who found the manuscript hidden in the writer’s home after he tried to commit suicide;
  • a bestselling author and friend of the writer who helped to get the book published;
  • the victim’s elder sister and her former boyfriend;
  • the college photographer who had been with the writer on the day he tried to kill himself; and 
  • a local policeman.

Each seems to have something to hide.

The writer bequeathed all his possessions to the graduate student, who is writing a thesis on him. The writer’s friend is in love with the student. They both gain if the book wins the award. The murdered girl was jealous of her elder sister and had sexual relations with her former boyfriend. The local policeman was in love with the sister and jealous of her former boyfriend. The college photographer held a grudge against the writer.

But this is not just a murder mystery. Michael Collins also explores the frustrations of writers, academics and small-town Americans.

The detective, Jon Ryder, thinking about his marital and financial problems, is filled with a deep sadness. He was, he realises, “born in the dying breath of American blue-collar life”.

The writing often rises to poetry.

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Gandhi in his own words

Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s 139th birthday. He was shot dead by a Hindu nationalist at a prayer meeting in New Delhi on January 30, 1948, at the age of 78, only five months after India’s independence — for trying to protect the Muslims during the communal riots that followed the partition of India and Pakistan.

India is marking his birth anniversary with a public smoking ban, of all things, across the country, reports The Times. Gandhi would have approved, it adds. But smokers are bound to defy the ban. That’s the usual lot of a mahatma or a saint – to be revered and ignored. And do we really want to follow Gandhi’s example in everything? It leads to all kinds of quirks — from marital celibacy to enemas!  Still, with love and admiration for one of the greatest men who ever lived, here are some excerpts from An Autobiography Or My Experiments With Truth by Mohandas K Gandhi, published in two volumes in 1927 and 1929. (Read the book online, courtesy of Wikisource).

On his school days:

I passed my childhood in Porbandar. I recollect having been put to school. It was with some difficulty that I got through the multiplication tables. The fact that I recollect nothing more of those days than having learnt, in company with other boys, to call our teacher all kinds of names, would strongly suggest that my intellect must have been sluggish, and my memory raw.

On his wife:

I must say I was passionately fond of her. Even at school I used to think of her, and the thought of nightfall and our subsequent meeting was ever haunting me. Separation was unbearable. I used to keep her awake till late in the night with my idle talk…

I have already said that Kasturbai was illiterate. I was very anxious to teach her, but lustful love left me no time.

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