Monthly Archives: August 2010

Book Review: A Fine Balance

A Fine Balance

by Rohinton Mistry

If you can only read one book for the rest of your life, it should be this one. Seriously. A Fine Balance is enthralling, spectacular and one of the most well-written, finely crafted books I’ve ever read. Set in India (mostly in Mumbai), the story encompasses multiple characters and story lines that intertwine in unlikely and surprising ways. Dina Dalal is a widowed tailor who is struggling to keep her head above water with a tailoring business; Omprakash and Ishvar Darji are untouchables from a small village, working in the big city; and Manesh is a college student who misses his home in Northern India.

Mistry’s writing is vivid and ethereal: when he describes the slums, you can almost feel the muggy heat bearing down. When he writes of untouchable tanners, you can feel the cow hide on your fingers. The books deals with extreme poverty in India, caste and class, love, hate and politics. A Fine Balance, shortlisted three times for the Booker Prize, is a spectacular read and story that will be branded in your mind forever. This should be required reading for all and is especially great preparation for a trip to India.

Read before a trip to: India, South Asia

In Kathmandu… Anything Can Happen

Kathmandu Street Scene

I wake up on my first full day back in Kathmandu. The familiar sounds of the city waft through my third floor window at Hotel Florid Nepal in the heart of the tourist district, Thamel. I look at my watch and realize it is still early: 6 a.m.

I pull on some clothes, pack up my Canon DSLR and its lens and hit the streets. I figure that I might as well take this opportunity to take some photographs of the city waking up from its slumber. The winding alleys and streets, which used to be emblazened in the back of my mind, are quickly coming back.

A sharp turn here, a soft left there and I find myself at Asan Bazar. The bazar, also known as the market, is buzzing with vegetable peddlers and various hawkers. Hindu women, marked by a red tikka on their forehead, buy marigold garlands and other offerings to leave one of the many local Hindu temples.

As usual, it seems that there is some sort of festival, which means the streets are especially clogged with devotees, many dressed in orange and shoeless. Remembering why I love Kathmandu so much is easy, but hard to explain when people ask. This city has a unique charm that most likely doesn’t affect everyone, but it washes over me in tidal waves, even on my first day back.

I’m attracted to how completely different Kathmandu is from anything I know. Absolutely everything and everyone is interesting and colorful. There are problems in Nepal that at times are beyond discouraging, but the beauty of the place is fantastic.

After I’ve returned from my photography mission with somewhere near 300 new photos, I meet my friend and we head to the News 24 Nepal office. The next thing I know, I find myself sitting across from the managing editor of the television station. She is shuffling through my 4-page curriculum vitae, asking me about my experience with electronic media.

“Is this really happening?” I wonder to myself.

The next thing I know, I’m meeting with the CEO of News24Nepal in his plush, top-floor office. He’s asking me for concepts for a new show which he’d like my help producing. It will be called ‘Discover Nepal’ and it will be aimed at tourists interested in learning about the city and surrounding areas. Of course, I came here to work at a magazine, but I tell them that I can help on the show on my free time.

The CEO and manager of the station welcome me to their crew and swiftly issue me a ‘Press’ card which names me as ‘TV Journalist: Producer.’

News 24: My new employer? Can it be?

My head is spinning as I leave the office.

I look at my card wondering how in the world I got to this point.

Since then, the planning and scripting stages of Discover Nepal have begun.

My suspicions are correct: anything really can happen in Kathmandu.