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Friday 29 May 2009

The enigmatic and alluring Farah Damji

by Suzan Abrams

This is an older blog. For a kinder arrangement of this interview, please go to my new Wordpress site.

An Interview with Farah Damji

The need for a fix of a sweeter kind; nothing more than the aromatic flavour of a good coffee roast is what spurs present-day writer, renowned socialite and *ethical fashion designer, Farah Damji, to wake up with a renewed zest at her Central London Westminster home every morning.

Of course, she could always settle for alternative sensual pleasures. The legendary Julie Andrews’ flamboyant rendition in My Favourite Things from the absolutely merry Sound of Music may have done well to have encountered some of Damji's own assortments comprising a swift Chanel No.5 whiff, her childrens’ laughter and the shy scent of her little daughter’s hair and the very idea too, mind you, of “drowning” as Damji succinctly puts it, in her “son’s eyes.”

Then there are the simpler women magazine choice favourites like a row of plants sprouting up out of their window boxes, the happy sight of fresh flowers on a table, the smell of baking cakes, the feel of silk and perhaps most relevant of all, the satisfaction of a finished book.

At the end of the day, Damji will look forward to being surrounded by her family, children, good friends and fresh flowers. Think parrot tulips for a moment. Damji adores their “weird organic shapes” and the strange way they completely “freak out” after a full bloom.

Damji also loves Nitin Sawhhney and is a faithful listener of Belle Humble, a North London-based singer whom she suspects may seriously give Lilly Allen a run for her money even if the former hasn’t yet achieved her breakthrough.

Naturally, Damji can afford to be contemplative and daring in her thoughts. These are after all, exciting times in the socialite's life pictured in an ironical upside-down fashion; very much if you like, the calm after the storm.

Damji has come through and survived unscathed a series of traumas, international scandals – some of them unjust - and accompanying crimes; not a pretty story but nevertheless, old demons must still be faced and conquered so there you go.

Now, the Uganda-born former editor and publisher of a once stylish magazine in London, is to reveal all, in her sizzling brave autobiography Try Me to be published by the Ark Press in early July. Fifteen percent of the author's royalties from the sale of each book will be religiously donated to Madonna's charity, in the Raising Malawi campaign which helps over 400 000 orphans annually.

"...I don't see myself as a catalyst for justice truth or ointments but simply as a woman who wanted to tell her uncut, uncensored story. Writing was the first most direct way to do that."

Hers is described as a revolutionary story and a study in paradox by the charismatic writer and columnist Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal. The plot stays devoid of the usual soppy melodramas that habitually tail the Indian immigrant nostalgia – a quality of formula writing that many South Asian writers may have happily settled into, like a pair of old bedroom slippers.

In this instance, Damji who uses her love for writing as a “passionate bug”, begs to differ.

“Writing is the most effective means to convey a message,” she explains. “It's longer lasting than TV, more efficient than radio, it's forever. I don't see myself as a catalyst for justice truth or ointments but simply as a woman who wanted to tell her uncut, uncensored story. Writing was the first most direct way to do that."

At the moment, a writing ritual is confined to the controversial Damji as to just where the mood “takes her.” She is re-reading Naipaul where she may convince herself yet again on the brilliance of the Nobel Laureate’s writings. Simply put, her logic is simple. “He captures the heart of the exiled and is not for the squeamish.” she enthuses.

Damji who holds VS Naipaul. JM Coetzee. Boudiccea. Lady Godiva and Modesty Blaise to great admiration, is also reading Rumi translations, another literary endeavour that resonates the senses, but not those by Coleman Barks.

To any reader, who opens up to the first page of Try Me, Damji would plead, “Keep an open mind and an open heart.” And please. There is good reason for this.

It didn’t help matters that both the Google search engine which may prove overly-efficient at the worst of times and Wikipedia who labelled the once convicted lady an “international fraudster” may have also offered no help at all in soaking up fabricated, deeply exaggerated and in many cases anonymous accounts of what really went on in Damji’s life some years ago.

Now, the fair-minded observer can expect more than just what promises to be a riveting read of homespun truths designed to knock the socks of many.

With Damji’s devil-may-care attitude, the dangerous thrill of scintillating gossip in American and European high society and this promptly laid in contrast with the sharper somber aptitude of deep reflection that summed up daunting prison life first in New York and then England, awaits like a burning summer read.

Be warned that Try Me will be all about the book you can’t put down or won't want to.

Besides the autobiography, established filmmaker Farrukh Dhondy of Lucid Pictures will adapt Farah Damji’s book for the screen. The screenplay is currently a project in the making.

Here now are candid answers to a delicious interview on the necessary personal things the web forgot to record on the real Farah Damji as you may not know her. The simple, everyday things that beg to hold no judgement or puritanical hauteur

With her caustic well-humoured wit, the answers below reveal truth carefully wound into one individual’s resurgence of a new life in the making.

In my own erratic conversations with Farah Damji, let it be known that I have found the writer to be on occasion easily forgiving in that old-fashioned and warm-hearted, "never mind, don’t worry about it" way.


On Writing and Publishing

Explain your current working day.

“At the moment, I’m still focused on getting my life back on track. At this stage, I work a lot on my book and help formulate marketing ideas with my publisher who is also my public relations consultant. We do this quite a lot together.

“I’m also talking to bookshops with the possibility of doing book readings and author signings. I’m lucky that I do have a lot of autonomy with my publisher on subjects like paper quality for instance, which I may not have had anywhere else.” – FD

Who publishes Try Me?

"The Ark Press in July 2009."

How did you discover your publisher?

“I didn’t. They discovered me. And it was a perfect fit. I dumped a “big book deal” because I was put with an editor I couldn’t stand. A young British Asian girl was handed my manuscript to work on. She thought the contents too shocking and insisted I edit out huge chunks of my life. I refused to do this.

“This was after promises made that they loved the book, loved my writing, were fully behind it etc. What they really wanted was to package it and add it to the inane silly Indorbit chick-lit books out there that hold a limited audience and an even more limited world-view.

“Then came Mme. Amita Mukerjee of Revenge Ink who again loved it, wanted it etc etc but had her own agenda.

“Amita and I parted ways in March when it became clear to me that she wasn’t capable of publishing Try Me.

“So when The Ark Press got in touch to ask if I would like to be their first book, I jumped at the chance. Because they too are new, this stays an important title to both parties and I am getting all the attention I could only dream about.

“The Ark Press’s next title is to be Holy Bull; a work of non-fiction that discusses fraud in Indian history. It is written by the historian Roddy Matthews, who challenges the East India Company's version of history as perpetrated by the unfortunate bastard children of the Raj, Willie Dalrymple, Salman Rushdie etc.

“Apart from the general destruction of Dalrymple's perspective Matthews points out ludicrous errors. For example, he writes that William Fraser left Calcutta and sailed down the Ganges in a steamboat for Delhi in the reign of Shah Jehan in 1704. He might as well said he took EasyJet because there were no steamboats at the time. Their other books include an unpublished monograph by VS Naipaul and Farrukh Dhondy's brilliant book, The Bikini Murders, which he denies is based on the true story of Charles Sobraj. I’m in excellent company.”

I remember an anonymous page and one easily visible on the web where the contents stress that you had “dumped” Mme. Mukerjee as she turned out to be nothing more than a vanity publisher. At the same time too, RedHotCurry.com mentioned your supposed online war with a publisher.

“I have nothing to do with Amita Mukerjee anymore. I wish her luck in anything she attempts but I don’t wish to be involved with vanity publishing. RedHotCurry.com never spoke to me.”

How would you accord discipline with writing now that time and freedom are your own?

“I waste far too much time and then I kick myself for doing it. But people around always tell me they can't believe how much I get done. Little do they know...”

What do you expect the reaction to be towards Try Me? What do you stay prepared for?

“Incidentally, I didn’t write it for a reaction. The truth might be painful but can be instructive, cautionary and might assist people to assess others more accurately.”

What would you say to any stubborn observer still sceptical of all your experiences and brutal reflections?

“I don't care. Maybe I should but have never lived my life worried about what people think. .I am not the sum total of the opinions and reflections of me, I have, finally some sense of who I am, devoid of all the hype and hysteria and hate.”

How would you view diaspora Indian writers in Britain or worldwide? Think Jhumpa Lahiri in her new contemporary literature as opposed to the views you held in 2004?

“People like Jumpa Lahiri write Green card misery memoirs. If they hate it so much why don't they go "home?" I think Indian diaspora writers are expected to write a certain way, the men will always be compared to Salman Rushdie, the women to Arundhati Roy although in reality both were one-hit wonders. What people like Rushdie do is make a joke out of degraded civilisations. I don't think that it is funny, I think it is sick.

"Why should we be dictated to about what we can write? Why should we produce simply formulaic books? But there are women breaking out of the mould.

“I admire Naseem Rekha's style and I like what I have read so far from her book, The Crying Tree. She sketches this from a global perspective especially about "dark" issues such as murder. But then I am not up to date anymore with what these "DIASPORA" people are writing.

“I tend to read what I know I am going to love and that tends to come from recommendations. Life is too short to read a book I am going to think later "God, what a waste of time." I want to read books about people whose vision I want to peek into, a bit like a peeping-Tom, so there has to be something there in the first place to attract me to them or their writing.

On Damji’s Autobiography Being Turned into a Film

You said earlier on the web that you were working on a film proposal. Can you tell us more?

“It's being packaged by Lucid Pictures in the UK who are also doing Naipaul's Bend in the River and Howard Jacobson's Kaluki Nights. There are producers attached, Farrukh Dhondy is the Executive Producer (his credits being Bandit Queen, The Rising & Red Mercury)”

How do you reflect on the very idea of your controversial story being turned into a film?

“I love it. Who wouldn’t?”

How do you expect the film on the story of your life to define truth in a way that would be obviously different to the writing craft?

“I think films based on biographies are just a facet of the truth, in the way books are another facet of the same truth.

“I see the book as a launching pad for the film and not a line-by-line interpretation of what happened. All the book does is offer themes but a good writer and director will work to make these interesting to a viewing audience and to keep their attention for two hours at a stretch.

“A book is a different engagement, it's a longer commitment of time and energy in a way. You expend more of yourself by reading a book than by watching a film so it takes a different set of skills to be able to make a great film than to write a good film.”

Who would you in a surreal dream have liked to have directed a film based on your autobiography?

"There are too many great directors out there but two favourites are Guy Ritchie and Stephen Frears.”

Who would you like to play you in a cinematic version of your life so far?

“Angelina Jolie.”

How great a participation would you expect to hold in a film made from Try Me?

“If Farrukh is packaging it, then none. He is a control freak but also my best friend and the most ruthless writer and honest critic I know. I trust him, which is why the film went to Lucid Pictures.”

Are there particular films you enjoy for their execution?

“Dangerous Liaisons, Doubt, Rocknrolla, and Damaged. All cleverly written and directed to leave a gap for the viewer to come to their own conclusions about morality, betrayal, family, society. "

On Signing Off

With adventure, drama and experience in your hand, what do you consider to be the most over-rated virtue and why.

“Discretion: which I see as a coward’s way out.”

How do you view yourself as an individual today?

“A work in progress.”

Besides the film proposal, what stays your next writing project or have you already started work on another book?

“Just thinking right now about a second book, which would be a novel. Mine is a two-book deal so I have to come up with something pretty fast!”

Have you thought about returning to edit a magazine? Especially that once before you were recognized for this.

“Been asked but not interested. Dead Wood Media is approaching extinction. With print-on-demand and news websites giving us the information we want at our fingertips, who needs them anymore?

“Of course there a few magazines left worth keeping around. Vanity fair, Harpers Bazaar, The New Yorker but they exist to continue their own legacy and are supported by those who live / subscribe to the dream. It's a very different world.


*Farah Damji is the owner of Moksasurya.com. Please click on link to be impressed by what is said to be the world's first luxury eco-brand in fashion.

An Interview with Leela Soma, author of Twice Born

By Suzan Abrams

This is an older blog. For a kinder arrangement of this interview, please go to my new Wordpress site.

Captions include Leela Soma and scenes from the window in her writing-room.


Last year, Indo-Scot Glasgow academic turned writer, poet and performer, Leela Soma, published Twice Born with independent press, YouWriteOn.com in London. The title is said to be Glasgow’s first literary work of fiction spelling out a South Indian emigrant’s journey to Scotland.

Soma whose stories and poetry appear to have taken off like the wind, described her earlier academic life as a wonderful career, one that was sometimes “deeply rewarding and at others, difficult and strenuous.” In contrast writing has proved luxurious and fantastic, she says. In Soma’s own words, “...the passion for getting a sentence right is deeply satisfying just as meeting up with an old student.”

Twice Born took at at least 2 1/2 years to complete. More details of Leela Soma’s accomplishments may be found on her website and her blog.
On June 4th the novelist launches Twice Born at Borders, Glasgow.
More details of the event may be found over here.
Do click here to read my review of Twice Born.

Here are some personal insights on Madras-born Soma’s everyday writing life.


A Day In The Life

Leela Soma’s favourite colour may be blue and memorable scenes will stay of a moonlit night on Madras beach or of holding her infant daughter for the first time. Nothing beats the latter, she insists.

But in everyday life, Soma prefers an early rise and it is the sunshine she considers her best spiritual uplift. In her own words, she loves getting up to a “bright day” as it “fills her soul with joy”.

Leela Soma describes herself as a friendly and chatty person, intent on social activities. “I need people,” she enthuses. “I hate being on my own except when I need space to think or write. Ocassionally I get moody and annoying but snap out of it soon enough. I love chocolate and snacking on them ruins any work out at the gym.”

In retrospect, her dawn energy stays motivated by a quiet reflection. Often, she steadies her glance at a remembered sister’s present: a photograph of her parents which she considers beautiful. Each morning, Soma wills their love and dedication to set her up for the day.

This to be soon followed by a “good cup of tea”, tuning into Radio 4 and checking her emails.

Mid-morning will find her at the local gym – the first class starts at 9.30am – for a series of low-impact exercises or a swim. Then in her own words, “a lovely coffee with really good friends at the gym at least four times a week.”

The afternoon will see her with the Times crossword and this followed by two to four hours of writing or reviewing her stories.

Soma may write up to four hours each weekday but none at all on the weekends; which she marks as a sacred interlude. She confesses to a room with a view. A window overlooks a woodland scene. The room is quiet, and made up of her computer, accompanying paraphernalia, a library and a puja - hindu prayer table - at one end. Her ritual would be to sketch ideas on paper first as “small notes to herself”. This to be followed by writing straight onto the computer.

There’s no denying that after cooking the evening meal, Soma would like to put her feet up with the “good odd, tv programme” or otherwise Coronation Street but as she views the full literary scene in Glasgow with excitement; is often off to “various book/creative writing events.” She also wishes the theatre was more affordable.

Later, she will wind down with a pile of books at her bedside table including some old favourites. At the moment the writer is bent on reading David Eggers. 'What is the What' -in USA revolves around a story of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

“I can read it in small doses as the scenes depicted of Southern Sudan, the suffering of the young children and the ongoing Darfur catastrophe is relentlessly heart wrenching. Unless we read it we can never understand and have empathy for such dreadful wars in the world,” she observes thoughtfully.

Alexander McCall Smith stays a favourite author and Soma consider’s , Barrack Obama's ' Dreams from My Father to be a "superb read”. *More details of her favourite book collection may be found in the questions and answers session below.

"In the UK apart from the literary giants like Rushdie, and Booker prize winners like Arundathi Roy, Hanif Kureshi and Adiga there are few that reflect the life of an ordinary English or Scottish immigrant."

Today, May 29th has to be a near perfect day for Leela Soma. As she answers these questions in her study, the sun is shining and Glasgow seems at its best.

She soaks in the long summer day as “golden, glowing” and with an atmosphere that makes one “feel blessed to be alive.” She would already have had a wonderful lunch with friends, her daughter would have just returned home from America and her husband has finished cutting the grass. The lovely turned-out garden will command Soma to feel at peace with all the world.

On Writing.

How do you consider living the writer’s life in Glasgow?

“I do have a very good novel buddies group and a writing partner and I value both their input. We try to meet up regularly and offer a comprehensive critique of each other's work. I also belong to a Writers' Group who have wonderful speakers from the writing world. I don’t have a favourite café as such but meet with fellow writers at various cafes in Glasgow.” - LS

Are you still writing your second novel?

"Yes, definitely. It has been on hold for the vacation but will get back to it in earnest after the launch." (Soma recently traveled to Canada and the United States of America.)

How do you presently work at your second novel?

"It has an outline and I work away at it, but sometimes the characters take it to a different path or a twist that makes it more interesting."

Where do you derive your ideas for plots from?

"I have a list of a few ideas that I feel strongly I must write about, as a short story or a novel depending on how it pans out. The second book is a strong reaction to a photograph in a newspaper.You'll understand once the book is completed."

Having presented Scotland's first Indian emigrant story in print, what does that say for you personally?

"For years while I worked fulltime I always felt that there was nothing in mainstream literature in Scotland about an Indian immigrant experience. There is an enormous literary output in USA and Canada with authors like Jhumpa Lahiri whose work I admire.

"In the UK apart from the literary giants like Rushdie, and Booker prize winners like Arundathi Roy, Hanif Kureshi and Adiga there are few that reflect the life of an ordinary English or Scottish immigrant. I also want the next generation to be enthused and get into the mainstream and make our stories as valid as James Kelman in Glasgow or Alan Bennett in England. It is definitely an exciting time and hope many more writers contribute to the Scottish literary scene."

How do you view the worldwide web in general in its place to help the new author progress in today's fast-paced competitive world?

"I wish I was internet savy. I consider myself still a technophobe. I am still learning. The world wide web is a superb opportunity and it must be used by emerging authors for learning about new writing, for research and of course for marketing."

On introspection, how would you sum up an industrious but independent publicity for your book and stories?

"Unless you have been fortunate enough to get a big two-book deal from a big publisher, who provide all the publicity, all others have to be involved in their own marketing. There is so much to learn too about the book trade.I have friends who have been published by small presses and all of them have said that the only way to promote your work is to showcase the work as much as possible."

Do you have any author you'd like to aspire to?

"I have no great illusions that I would be good enough to reach such heights but Arundathi Roy's prose in the 'God of Small Things' rose out of the page and assaulted all one's senses and Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight Children' when you could almost smell the pickle factory.I would love to be able to reach that standard."

What were a few things that gave you a real buzz at the London Book Fair recently besides which you've already mentioned on your blog?

"Market focus India was wonderful at the LBF. The fact that in such times of a crisis with the credit crunch plus with all the visual media alluring the young involving elelctronic games and dvd's for example, the fact that books are still so important to the reading public is encouraging.

"The espresso machine printing books and the ebooks are the future even though I am sure that they will never replace books as we know them. I still remember fondly the book lined study of my dad and grandfather and the smell of old and new books and the joy of holding them, reading them and being transported to another world. That still holds true and LBF was a testimony to that."

*Like the fictitious character Sita in Twice Born, do you own a collection of well-thumbed and sentimental classics in your home?"

"I have an eclectic collection and also read voraciously from my local library.There are some classics like Shakespeare, all of Anita Desai's R.K. Narayan, some Rushdie and Scottish authors from Burns to Alaistair Gray and a lot of new writers from all over the world.

"I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's novels that were called Half of the Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus. But the book I treasure most is the Bhagavad Gita, my dad 's copy and I read it a lot, dip into it very often. I am also reading Thirukurral again as I am doing a review for Penguin India Classics."

What happens with your short stories that you plan to turn into a collection?

"I do have eight short stories, ready and waiting to be published. The stories deal with life in Glasgow. Any publisher interested should call me now!"

Where do you see yourself heading as a writer in the near future?

"I hope to get my short stories published. Then complete my first draft of the second novel. I also write poetry for pleasure and if it is enjoyed by others, would like to raise money for charity from my poems as I did with my first collection From Madras to Milngavie. I write because I want to and enjoy the process of getting my thoughts on paper that is an accomplishment enough for me."

Do you have a tip for aspiring authors?

"Read, read , write ,write as Natalie Goldberg and others say. Write every day even for ten minutes, even if your words are never going to be used. Enjoy what you are doing. Write with passion.Network and have a writing partner or group who can help evaluate your work. Do other things that you enjoy too.

How do you feel about your upcoming Borders launch?

"If you had asked me a year ago if this was possible I would have have been surprised. I am looking forward to the launch, both with excitement and a bit of trepidation as any new writer would be."

What was your most remarkable moment while writing Twice Born?

"Perhaps when Aunty BB, the novel's notorious gossip and a total figment of my imagination, started taking over the plot line. I realised I could invent a whole new series around her. Maybe I should; recalling the horrors that she inflicted on the community in her inimitable way."

Did you expect the positive reactions so far garnered from Twice Born?

"I am thrilled with the wonderful feedback from all who have read the book. Many have asked if I am doing a sequel. It has really made me want to do better with my next book.

Twice Born by Leela Soma

by Suzan Abrams

This is an older blog. For a kinder arrangement of this interview, please go to my new Wordpress site.

*Twice Born a debut novel by Leela Soma and the first work of fiction to highlight a story on Indian emigration to Scotland, will be officially launched at Borders, Glasgow on Thursday, 4th June 2009 from 6.30pm.

Twice Born, a broad and glossy 3-layered colour plus 240-page paperback, by Glasgow academic turned high-spirited writer, Leela Soma - photograph provided in link - and beautifully produced by YouWriteOn.com in London; may tickle your senses to the alluring idea of an etheral beauty lived and not imagined.
And why not when this reader on long closing the last page to the unexpected novel, would wistfully be reminded of shiny brassware and gold earrings, the close rustling of silks and lingering scents or otherwise too, of a frangipani whiff, exotic Indian sweetmeats and long graceful sarees enough to rainbow up a musty wardrobe somewhere in the middle of a cold, grey and rainy Scotland.

It is after all fitting that Soma herself a stalwart emigrant to Glasgow while still in her exuberant twenties in the Seventies; and now recent winner of the Scottish Margaret Thompson Davis prize for the submission of the first 10,000 words of a novel, continues to weave with deft clarity, a simmering plot; in her gentle cordial style, as one would subject a vintage handloom to the creation of a painstaking garment.

The riveting story of medical student, Sita who arrives in 70's Glasgow, with her new husband, Ram a medical practitioner, tempts the reader on a challenging head-to-head emigrant journey featuring rows of slightly ramshackle old housing estates in Glasgow, before the city's eventual and fashionable facelift would beckon the tourist.

Throughout the whimsical tale that traces Sita's birth in a respectable Brahmin household in hot dusty Madras (now Chennai) to her happy if not questioning childhood and later, an arranged marriage, the determined voluble Sita will pursue the risky vulnerabilities of a rightful romantic endeavour that appears sadly elusive even if she is determined that it must stay liberal, when measured against the dour silence of her politically motivated husband, whom Soma moulds as a distinctly likeable character.

For this supplementary plot alone, the reader is encouraged to soldier on an emigrant's emotional and sometimes painful if not vibrant journey seen for the first time through Soma's own eyes of Glasgow's sadder face, apparent three decades ago.

Here is a story written by no fledgling who rolls up her sleeves for armfuls of research to an imagined past but rather the voracious gathering of a life lived, learnt and considered priceless by Soma herself.

In a web interview, she will talk for instance, of her shock at seeing clumps of butter being rolled up in sheets of paper at the grocery store when first moving to the Glasgow suburbs and this in alignment with a fictitious episode in the book.

However, even a romantic affair and the security of a stable Indian marriage carefully arranged by the respective families back in India and accompanied by the usual colourful protocol that decorates tradition; must now take second place to, the picture of the ambitious professional couple in Scotland whose every cantankerous personality trait and domestic upheaval are traced like the imminent lines to a watchful painting, pressing humorous and adaptation skills in a foreign setting. And then that too, that must play second fiddle to Soma's more important message which is that of Scotland's unsettling emigrant history and tradition.

How cleverly as only an experienced veteran is capable of rightful observation, are the temperance of social cultural and interactions skills delicately balanced into a superb waltz and this too, while the tune is conjured up by Soma's capable hands, how gracefully indeed do each of her characters tiptoe the risky tightrope all the way to the end of the plot without crashing on the trampoline or losing focus of their rightful roles while dipping into social interaction formalities that may bear happiness or contentment.

There is Sita's daughter, a diaspora Indian of the UK, her dutiful parents, relatives and servants back home and shaded by a life of heavy rituals and easy living. Plus, there is the vital expatriate Indian community which consist of her best friends and also the disruptive gossips, tragic skeletons in the closet and rivalries which ardently match tooth for a tooth and eye for an eye. There's no denying that Soma asks all the sharp pertaining questions that lends itself to the curious idea of an arranged marriage and comes up with intriguing viewpoints.

Soma masterminds every adventurous chapter with a honeyed smoothness for swift detail and explanation.

She is expert at shifting a reader's mind between two continents at the blink of an eye and then with equal devotion, blending history with the present or commanding one character's life to be intricately webbed with the other. Soma holds a clear talent for turning Twice Born into a kaleidescope series of film reels that may akin the entire book to an enthralling screenplay bearing exoticism or one that may heighten the reader's imagination to the the surreal from what may have otherwise been nothing more than ordinary detail.

Throughout, Soma stays adept at a case of show-and-not-tell that depicts the struggle of many authors. Her easy manouvering of a character's vivid personality traits may later be recounted as memorable. For instance, Sita's husband, Ram who is an excellent cook and possesses eccentric habits with the preparation of his mealtimes, allows Soma to turn the tables onto Indian cuisine with appearing patronizing to the reader.

She is also brilliant at using present-day images like the sound of a crashing plate or a nostalgic turn of a photo album page to shift the reader's mind into an exposition scene featuring an earlier time and a different place. Lest this appears predictable, she then reveals her competence at drumming up minor dramas that may surround the crashed plate or photos like Ram's sulkiness in not wanting to share his memories as he hurriedly returns the photo albums to their rightful corners.

This reader, particular enjoyed another execution aspect of show-and-not-tell where on first arriving in Glasgow Sita turns on her radio channel to Radio 4 and is straightaway amused at the prospect of a talk show on ferrets which recounts how British a programme it is. She immediately compares this to a scene in India which clearly marks cultural differences and labels her foreign territory with ease.

Like an accomplished travelogue, rich and rustic pictures are painted of tradition and ritual, of customs and celebrations of lands, town, cities and villages in India. And then too with the same slick acumen, the kind and darker sides of Glasgow are captured with no less a celebration.

The only weaknesses were minor and could be easily adjusted, in case a reprint is ever called for. Where characterization is concerned, perhaps if Sita's husband Ram had demonstrated in the early chapters an intense emotional relationship with his aunt who would later die, the reader might have been allowed to mourn with the character...instead of having to recount scenes as sterile.

Another older Pakistani character, Dr. Faraz who abandons his young cousin whom he was forced to marry in Scotland for another young Scots nurse reflects a clear stereotype or rather facade of a predictable and by now after so much media entertainment in the UK, slightly stale portrayal of a muslim story, when thousands of modern muslims are easily far more liberal than Dr. Faraz. In the end, the reader felt the gossip's lesbian daughter to be another thorn in the flesh as this character too, easily appeared as an additional separate stereotype.

In this way, the ambitious Soma appeared overly-eager in tackling one too many controversial issues at the same time.

Also, a final proof-read and edit check would have been apt as there were several conjunctions and prepositions missing and these topped with words often written in the colloqial rather than with the spit'n polish attributed to a professional slant that makes for any sophisticated prose.

Of course, these prove minor in comparison to the real knowledge that Soma had attempted a major feat with her storytelling and passed with flying colours. She is a delightful promising raconteur, a considerate entertainer and has with keen industrious fortitude shaped Twice Born to be a valuable contribution to Scotland's immigration history and too, a slice of its recorded memory.

Twice Born if pursued with the right awareness and publicity, will most likely be hallmarked someday as an elegant symbol of Scotland's immigration story with a view to history, heritage and a diverse cultural belonging important and necessary to all the new generations that follow. Here then by Leela Soma and served so deliciously for you in the warm evening glow of a room, as a nightcap or an ornament for the bedside table is Twice Born, the real thing.

Be warned that you may just as well catch the sudden smell of camphor at the turn of a page or hear the lashing rain and long low whistle of a mischevious Glasgow gale while caught up in a flamboyant dance outside the window pane.