What is it?
The Overseas Women’s Club (‘ OWC’) of Bangalore organises regular events for expat ladies living in Bangalore. This month was a “speaker meeting” with Achala Moulik, the author of Dangerous Dispatches. It’s a very long time since I’ve been to a book launch or review so I decided to go along, after all it was something different to do in Bangalore. I had no idea what to expect. The meeting was scheduled to start at 10am. This is very early for Bangalore as commuter traffic is a nightmare. (Needless to say the meeting didn’t start on time!) I left at 7am to get there – missing the traffic and arriving early at 8:30am. My friend left at 8am and arrived at 9:45am. It’s a 10km journey.
I met my friend in the reception of one of the large hotels in Bangalore called the Shangri-La. It’s beautiful and the reception area always has a magnificent and huge flower display. This week it is star gazer lilies and the fragrance wafted through the air delighting the senses. We meandered up to the restaurant on the 18th floor where the meeting was to be held. We were immediately arrested by the magnificent view across Bangalore. The Palace grounds could clearly be seen in full as was the palace itself. We could see for miles. The eclectic mix of houses juxtaposed with the trees and the birds (kites) soaring through the warm therms really encapsulated Bangalore.
Archaea Moulik is a lady with a story to tell. She has lived through exciting times in the U.K.,USA and Italy. She has visited many countries (as we discovered during our talk) and has been a tough negotiator to get what she wants; a characteristic you would not anticipate from the slight framed physical appearance.
After graduating her career has been varied being the Education secretary to the Government of India, the Director General of the Archeological Survey of India, published 20 books on cultural history and archaeology, written a play called “Pushkin’s Last Poem” and written about Russian history and literature, as well as 3 novels. She has received the Pushkin medal and the Sergei Yesenia prize from Russia. (I was left thinking about my own career and achievements and wondering whether I’ve been slacking for some of my time on this planet!)
A small group of ladies gathered around a table to meet Achala. The meeting organiser from the OWC introduced the author who then introduced herself, telling us all about where she had lived and what she had witnessed (e.g. being in America when JFK was demanding Cuba remove atomic bombs – also known as the Cuban Missile Crisis). Prompted by questions about her life and the book, ‘Dangerous Dispatches’, we discovered stories about crossing borders and exploring dangerous territories all in the aim of investigating the unknown which may be of some interest. “Just a little further” was a phrased Achala used when crossing the border into Afghanistan to explore some architectural wonder, pushing the boundaries of her ‘guards’ and permissions! It was fascinating. The people she has met and the adventures she has experienced all helped to shape this book. I could have sat and chatted with her for hours.
The book is a story about a ‘frontline’ journalist (I think now we call them foreign correspondents) and his wife who is an archaeologist; their Russian friends (also a journalist and his wife), an Afghan prince and his wife and an English writer and his wife. It is set amongst some of the 20th century conflicts in Afghanistan, Iran, Bosnia and the Middle East and is about how their lives cross and how it shaped their destinies. It is clear that the characters and stories have formed from the authors own experiences and people she has met over the generations.
It sounds like a fascinating book (just like the author) and I can’t wait to get started on it. (It is available for a very cheap price of INR410.)
Altogether a very different and enjoyable morning in Bangalore. Sometimes life provides inspiration and fascination in the most unexpected places – today was one of those days.