The literary dynamo

Updated: 2008-03-07 15:11

Tina Kanagaratnam juggles clients, two kids, a husband, yoga, tofu and, oh yeah, is one of the driving forces behind the Shanghai International Literary Festival.

Home — Gao'an Lu

6:45am Wake up, five minutes of luxuriating in bed, then get the kids up—Tram (13) first, because he needs longer to tame his hair and Amandari (14) just isn't a morning person. Change into running clothes while simultaneously fielding questions about whereabouts of rugby cleats and after school dance logistics.

7:03 Email check: 37 overnight. Respond quickly.

7:12 Walk kids to the school bus with Patrick (husband and business partner), then we go for a run through the Former French Concession, passing the old men practicing their calligraphy with water in Xujiahui Park, and ending up at the Taiping Road wet market.

Taiping Road wet market

7:45 Shop for dinner. Today's haul: strawberries, oranges, bananas, snap peas, carrots and three kinds of tofu.


8:02 Breakfast a deux with Patrick. Coffee (finally), bebemamie yogurt, honey and berries. Soak xiang cai for the ayi to cook; talk about what we’ve got planned for the day. He's got meetings, I have meetings, but not a lot of overlap. So much for "working together."

8:15 Read the Washington Post online, see what's new in the primaries, answer emails and make the to-do list.

PAUL Bakery

8:45 Take the subway to PAUL Bakery at Thumb Plaza, where I'm meeting a journalist to show him that they really do bake fresh every day. Both PAUL owners are there, as is the baker. I think the journalist is convinced.

Office in Xujiahui

10:21 Taxi back to the office. Edit galleys of a client’s book on the way; respond to texts from a client looking for a cool venue.

10:53 Check email, to-do list grows. Have account manager make an appointment at 1933 for the client. Check on RSVP list for the afternoon press event; make sure press materials are together at client site.

11:00 Staff meeting—update on client accounts, strategic direction and new prospects. Spend some time brainstorming "out of the box" strategies for a new client—fun!

Yoga studio

12:00pm An hour of sweaty contorting and peace. Ommm.

Erh Dongqiang's Taikang Road studio

1:30 Photo shoot with Tess Johnston and Patrick (who has kindly brought me a sandwich) to illustrate an article about Historic Shanghai, the organization that we founded 10 years ago to raise awareness about Shanghai’s unique history.

M on the Bund

3:00 Shanghai Literary Festival press launch. Good turnout, good interest. Interview requests begin coming in.

Dulwich College

4:30 Production meeting on Dulwich’s in-house magazine, The College, which we produce. Diana Smith, the marketing manager, is a joy to work with, and we have the plan hammered out in under an hour.

5:30 Pick up kids from rugby and hip-hop. Lively conversation on the way home about school, friends, teachers, politics. Text Patrick to see if he'll be home in time to cook the vegetables. He does a much better job than I do.


7:00 Patrick is in the midst of dinner prep as I swan in and make Malay tofu with peanut sauce. Patrick does a picture-perfect snap peas and carrot dish, and the ayi has made her yummy tofu gan dish. Kids have to select a famous person for a school debate, so dinner discussion is on the merits of Malcolm X, Lenin, Gandhi and Al Gore.

8:12 Mix up a batch of chocolate chip cookies (which always brings them back to the kitchen).

8:20 Warm cookies, milk, homework (for the kids); quality time with computers (for adults). Check email and respond, try to whittle away at the to-do list. Distracted by Patrick and Tram's discussion on ears getting ripped off during rugby—do I really want my son playing this sport?

9:10 Tram decides he's still hungry. Back into the kitchen for a peanut butter sandwich and a banana smoothie.

9:40 Tram heads up to bed, I go up to say goodnight and deliver a glass of water.

9:45 Interrupt reading The New York Times online to watch an episode of West Wing with Patrick and Amandari.

10:10 Say goodnight to Amandari. Settle in for the first chunk of writing time all day. Write a press release, draft a proposal and respond to emails. Make another to-do list.

11:45 Head up to bed, notice a new issue of The New Yorker on the way upstairs. Good intentions to go to bed before midnight evaporate.

12:15am Patrick gets miffed that all the lights are still on. Turn off lights and fall asleep immediately.

The Verdict

Tina plots the course of a day with the help of an ever-changing to-do list, which includes everything from sending off photos of SILF authors to printing out the instrument tuition form for bass guitar class for her son. What would happen if she were deprived of her to-do list? "I'd be fine, but nothing would get done, at least not the right things would get done."


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