Pack of Lies


Friday, October 30th, 2009

Life is different back home – no elephants in the streets, nor even any dogs, with or without testicles. But, there was a fox limping down the driveway late last night. After all the chaos and events and activity, it is odd to be in such silence. There is, thankfully, a paucity of smells here. Bombay is particularly virulent in that area. That part of it we can all do without.

Started on what might become a book of short stories. 9 erratic stories. I think my dear editor may have meant, and may have preferred 9 erotic stories. Oh well.

And, a few photos of the event in Bombay – yes, it’s the same shirt, and yes, I am aware it is a fashion faux-pas. It’s a good color, however, and it is my friend Sheila’s shirt. So there.

With Prahlad

With Prahlad

Prahlad with guests

Prahlad with guests

Imam Siddique

Imam Siddique

Group photo after event

Group photo after event


Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

What a short, strange trip it’s been. Strange to go back to a place so completely familiar after so long. I grew up in this great city. I have traveled most of it by foot – in school shoes and flip flops, in autorikshaws – dirty torn ones and pimped out ones with high treble music systems, in cars, in taxis, and in big red BEST buses.

The hugs of friends is always a beautiful thing, but after a decade indescribable. I saw the changes in them all – new lines on familiar faces, some gray in hair, and some hair gone altogether, some no wiser, some larger, some just as loud but not so sure, all as beautiful, and all changed in some way, like the city, with the city.

I don’t know who said “you can never go home again” – but I did, and am glad for it. Though everything is different, it is still the same. Most of all, I found, it is I who have changed, and reflected in the city that was once my home, and the people who were and still are my friends, I like those changes.

Bombay Launch

Saturday, October 17th, 2009

In spite of my sisters’ objections, I wore the same shirt. Horrors. But I reminded them that I was a writer, not a model. Farrokh suggested all three of us sisters get bouffants but it was not doable at such short notice. Too bad.

Coming back to Bombay was like coming home but not recognizing it. Some things have changed: there is more traffic – much more because there are more people. There are more dogs, more dirt, more buildings, more shops, more money, more shit in the air, more noise, more smells, mostly unpleasant, and a lot less energy. It is more frantic and frenetic, but seemingly without purpose. I was warned but am still saddened by the decline of this once lovely city. Or maybe, as all memories, mine was flawed, or maybe I romanticized it over the last decade.

Farrokh was at the airport. This was in spite of our flight being very late. We had sat a long time on the tarmac in Delhi and then drove (?) for so long to get to the runway we thought maybe the pilot had decided to drive all the way to Bombay.

After delightful reunions and introductions with Farrokh we settled into life as his harem of three, and followed him about at a respectful distance, much to his alarm, and eventually amusement.

The launch event started with Prahlad’s speech about me at seventeen. I reminded him at some point that he would have to start talking about my book and not my breasts. He acquiesced somewhat reluctantly to my request, and talked a little about the book. Imam was there again, and wonderful again, and fielded questions from the large group of guests. It seemed large to me anyway. When it came to people asking about world peace we decided that the evening was over.

I signed a lot of copies. A person came up to me and asked me to sign his copy and I had the urge to snatch it away from him and say, “It’s not for you, you can’t have it” – and then realized, too late, that it wasn’t my book anymore – it was his, and anyone else’s who chose to read it. And that’s that and that’s all with A Pack of Lies.

Moment of Silence

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

Imam is not a long lost friend, because he was never lost. But to find him in Delhi at the very moment I needed exactly and precisely him was – yes I’m saying it – serendipity. He came, he took everything in hand, he made the launch a smooth, happy, easy experience for us all.

The evening was made full by the presence of friends and family – friends new and old, family full of delight and support. My mother-in-law surprised me to delight and nearly tears by reading passages from the book, ones that I would never have expected her to read. In her quiet, dignified way, she silenced the small crowd and moved some of them to tears. My sisters, Meithili and Aarti, read too. They were each very different and each infused my words with their own intensity. Imam read a particularly indiscreet passage, and the audience (maybe I imagined this) held its collective breath a little, but he stopped before it went too far into impropriety.

My own reading was short and not so sweet, and the questions Imam practically forced out of the audience wielding the mike like a light saber were probing and sometimes difficult to answer.

There was food and drink and a good time was had.

At the beginning of the evening before the guests arrived, Imam made us stand in a circle and hold hands. He asked us to close our eyes and be silent for a moment. Not my thing, this sort of thing – but I had trusted him with everything, so I indulged him. Or so I thought. I closed my eyes, and in the silence of the circle, went through the list of people who were not there this night. And suddenly, powerfully, as if she were holding my hand, my mother was there at the bottom of that list. She was there for a moment.


signing the first copy of A Pack of Lies!


saheli, imam, and me.


the readers


the dudes with unsold books


Monday, October 12th, 2009

The Westland office is above Evergreen Sweet Shop and Madonna Beauty Parlor. Diwali orders, presumably, had the sweet shop in a frenzy of cellophane and sugar that spilled out onto the street. The doorman of the beauty parlor opened the door as soon as the three of us approached, sending my self-esteem to a new low, but we all did laugh at that moment. It was a moment of triumph too, that it was the office of my publisher I was going to and not the beauty parlor.

Meeting Prita, my editor, was not like a first meeting at all. It seemed as if we had met before during the writing and finishing of POL. But I did get my promised hug in person which is not possible in email.

Our driver’s cell phone does not work, but he says “Radio, bluetooth, hookup, receive”, words that make me look at him in awe and delight and tell him that we are not so hi-tech in America.

I tell him we didn’t see any elephants that day, and he says “Maybe you will see a camel tomorrow.”

Prita and Me

New Delhi

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

An elephant with a painted head walked slowly along the road out of the airport. The next morning another elephant walked by us at a traffic light along with bicycles and assorted vehicles.

It is odd to connect the writing of this book to where I am now – with my sisters, about to meet all the people who brought this book from a Word document on my hard drive to a real book I can hold in my hand with pages that smell slightly of ink. The smell brings back the days when I was seven or eight, and I would go to work with my mother at the Times of India building, imposing enough to a child, but when a peon took me to the press floor, the smell of newsprint and the sounds of the machines were thrilling to me.

It is strange and wonderful that other people will read my words, however they react, and, however nervous and anxious and unprepared I am to do those other things that come with being a writer. I calm my nerves by listening to the fragile sound of peacocks meowing in the night and remembering elephants walking, unperturbed in the disastrous traffic of the capital city.




Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

A Pack of Lies will be launched on October 14th.

My mother will not be there at the launch, nor will she ever read the book. She died on March 1st, 2003. I read all her books, or, to be perfectly honest, I had most of them read to me, by the author herself. My mother didn’t think much of my writing, she read my school essays, shook her head, did not deign to read any more. The one book I started as a computer programmer’s wife with no work permit in California she said needed so much work that I gave up. I didn’t write any more till she was gone.

I quote Leoben here, though I am sure this has been said more eloquently by others who carry more weight than he does, but none more pretty than him: Children are born to replace their parents. For children to reach their full potential, their parents have to die.

Though I miss my mother, and never wished her dead (I don’t count the time the congealing egg in my plate made me wish the repressive monster before me would drop down dead, or the time I was forced to return a Superman comic I stole and apologize to the owner of the store and I wished the moral policewoman would be run over by a bus on the way there). But, if she had been alive, would I have written the way I have now, would I have written a whole book, would I have written a whole book and dared to send it to a publisher, would I have written A Pack of Lies, had it published, and be packing to go to India for the launch?

I wish my mother was here to read my book. But, I do know, there would be no book had she been here to read it.