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R.F. Kuang creates an ingenious fantasy set up for Babel – fiendishly appealing to writers and lovers of books: set in nineteenth century Oxford, the industrial revolution in Britain is powered by words. Specifically, words inscribed onto silver bars and translated into other languages, the subtle differences in meaning between which, create magical dissonance that can be highly useful.Professor Playfair picked up the bar on the far right.“We’ve sold quite a few copies of this bar to fishermen. The Greek ‘karabos’ has a number of different meanings including ‘boat’, ‘crab’, or ‘beetle’. Where do you think the associations come from?”“Function?” Ramy ventured. “Were the boats used for catching crabs?”“Good try, but no.”“The shape,” Robin guessed. As he spoke it made more sense. “Think of a galley with rows of oars. They’d look like scuttling legs, wouldn’t they? Wait – scuttle, sculler …”“You’re getting carried away, Mr Swift. But you’re on...

Netflix's Selling Sunset: no genre loves burning fossil fuel more than reality TV All art dates eventually. We know that - and then the stuff that’s any good does come back into fashion (eventually). Check out drama’s from the 1930’s, and notice your wince as the protagonists light up, delivering lines between flamboyant puffing and ashing - and yes, I know they still smoke occasionally in modern movies but isn’t that usually to make some kind of statement? Recently, with the Apple TV series coming out, I re-read Asimov’s classic Foundation trilogy and had a pious chuckle over the line … “all the scientists and their wives were relocated to Terminus …” And so on - you know what I mean. Until we get all the way down to blackface, surely the cringiest and stinkiest outdated movie phenom of them all. Of course, it’s not that Asimov meant to be misogynistic, or Al Jolson racist (in...

We are off to visit two temples just outside of Ganeshpuri, 60 kilometres north of Mumbai. Since there are more than 50 of us, a range of vehicles including a flotilla of tuk tuks, the small, three-wheeled auto rickshaws, are commandeered from the local taxi rank. Vani, our friend Paramananda and I are assigned to travel together in one. I take an immediate liking to our driver, a big guy with a deep, raspy voice and a confident swagger. He wears a 70s-style printed polyester shirt and seems to know everyone, singing out greetings and beeping his horn to whomever we pass on the road. He drives efficiently, you could even say gracefully, always taking the smartest route. His large body does not seem out of place in such a small vehicle. As we get out at our first stop, the Sai Baba temple, someone yells: “Stay in the same group that...