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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rendezvous With Rama - Arthur C.Clarke


Set in 2030, Arthur C. Clarke’s Hugo, Campbell and Nebula award winning book describes the first human encounter with an interstellar spacecraft.


Words-Wordy, Serious



Favorite Quote:



I am obsessed about reading a book without any prior research so that my expectations, positive or negative, are minimal. That, more than anything else, would explain why Rendezvous with Rama impressed me so much where A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy failed. Had I known that this book was written by the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, who had also co-broadcasted the Apollo 11,12,15 missions and conceived the idea of geostationary satellites long before they were implemented, my review would have been different.

Initially thought to be asteroid on a supposed elliptical orbit around the sun, Rama raised the curiosity of astronomers across earth and other planets. Further investigation showed anomalies ruling out the probability of it being an asteroid; the primary ones being its path (not elliptical), lack of a light curve (no varying brilliance due to spin or irregular shape) and speed (traveling at 100,000 kmph, it was faster than any asteroid). A space probe, christened Sita was then launched from moon, which was able to provide pictures that proved beyond doubt that it was an interstellar spacecraft, in the form of a smooth rotating cylinder with a weight of about ten trillion tons and dimensions of 50 X 16 km.
A Rama committee was formed with members of the United Planets body, namely Mercury, Earth, Moon, Mars, Ganymede (representing Jupiter), Titan (representing Saturn) and Triton (Neptune’s moon). The committee decided to deviate the path of a spaceship on a routine mission to intercept Rama for further exploration. Headed by Space Commander Norton, the team made an entry into the ship to discover a new world, literally.
The curved walls of the spaceship were covered with towns, cliffs, forests, a cylindrical ocean and an island. On reaching the bottom plain, they discover that the atmosphere had enough oxygen for breathing without support, and enough gravitational force due to centrifugation to be able to walk comfortably.
As Rama approached the sun, its temperature increased gradually resulting in many changes – the sea ice melted and forms an organic soup (similar to the one that existed on earth 375 million years ago) and was found to contain many single celled organisms. The interiors were also lighted up through the “sky” through an (supposed) electric arc giving the crew their first complete view of Rama.
The cities had windowless and door-less buildings making a seamless transition from the ground to the walls, resulting in the theory of their being supply depots instead of residential complexes. The cylindrical sea running vertically in the middle of the spaceship was flanked by cliff at both ends, which were about 50m high at the northern end, and 500m high on the other side. While initially baffled, the committee theorized that the difference in height would help in stopping the flooding of the southern end in case of any change in momentum or direction.
The story then proceeds to talk about further exploration of the spaceship, their first encounter with Ramans and their behavioral characteristics, potential external threats, and finally, the purpose of the Rama in the solar system.

Arthur C. Clarke had built a new system through this novel – not so much in cosmology but in terms of the structure of human inhabitation. To think of human colonies on various planets and satellites, with inter-planetary communications, dual citizenships, and changing behavioral patterns due to the nature of their surroundings (For example, the residents of Mercury are compared to Vikings due to their harsh environment), and not get carried away required an imaginative story-teller who had his feet firmly rooted to a factual background.
It can be argued that the book did not have enough material for adequate titillation that an average thriller novel has. The lack of living organisms in the spaceship in the first half, and their relative indifference in the second half did little to raise heartbeats. However, the book scores in terms of keeping the reader engaged with one new theory after another. The concept of a space drive (not working on rocket propulsion principle, i.e, Newton’s third law of motion) for an orbit change was novel to me. There are also various theories for the purpose of Rama itself. While the majority of the scientific community believes that it is a space ark for interstellar colonization, the theologists believe that it is an indication of the second coming or second judgment and will be saving those worthy of salvation.


The book is definitely not for those who want a fast 3-hour read with cheap thrills. While it does have its moments, the book is pre-dominated by a lot of factual and illusionary data, which can be inspiring, but not heart-racing!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Solo – Rana Dasgupta

A man’s half-lucid reminiscence on 100 years of his life in Bulgaria and of forgotten hopes, dreams and passions.

Words-Wordy, Serious


Favorite Quote:
There is no single quote which stands out in memory, but there are many that made the narrative itself memorable:

“A long time ago, Boris and I had a debate about chemistry. I said it was the science of life, and he said it brought only death. Now I see that our views were simply two halves of the same thing.”

“Ulrich has sometimes wandered is his life has been a failure. Once he would have looked at all this and said, Yes. But now, he does not know what it means for a life to succeed or fail. How can a dog fail its life or a tree? A life is just a quantity and he can no more see failure in it than he can see failure in a pile of earth, or a bucket of water. Failure and success are foreign terms to such blind matter.

“if I could make an Einstein with my failed science, think what will come of my music.”

“The blackness of his obliterated vision has made a fertile screen for his daydreams”

Let me start off by saying that the duration alone is not enough to compare this book with “One hundred years of solitude”. While they are definitely not on par, both of them did bring a welcome change in an era predominated by recycled content and little originality.
A great book can be written by a writer who believes that he is catering to a very intelligent reader, or one who believes in elucidating every point with factual data. British-Indian novelist, Rana Dasgupta belongs to the former category. His Commonwealth Writer’s Prize winning book Solo carries off a surreal story of a 100 year old Ulrich without stagnating on the details.

Ulrich is disconcerted to learn about the death of a community of parrots which spoke an extinct language thus taking the secrets of the language along with them, and decides to go through a virtual tour of his eventful life in Bulgaria through the years.
During the early rule of the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria prospered, providing a perfect platform for Ulrich’s father who was a railway engineer and his politically inclined eccentric mother Elizaveta. Ulrich on the other hand was fascinated by gypsy music and then chemistry and decides to pursue the latter in Berlin. He is in awe of the new world opened before him in Germany with legends like Einstein, Nernst and Haber, but is brought out of his reverie when he is called back home after 3 years due to lack of funds. Struggling amidst a mundane job as a book-keeper, political instabilities, personal losses and a failed marriage, Ulrich gets a job to revive an old chemical factory in the post-Second world war communistic era. He retires to a relatively calm life with occasional chemical experiments.
Bulgaria became a capitalistic nation in 1989/1990, by which Ulrich had dried up his pension money and had lost his eyesight in an unfortunate accident making him completely dependent on his neighbors . With the inability to see the outside world, Ulrich depended on himself to create a world of his own and resorted to day dreaming.

My initial reaction to the first section was mixed. Bulgaria is a lesser known country, and its history needed a lot of absorbing to be done. Setting up the story in one of the most turbulent political periods in Bulgaria and the most progressives times in Germany resulted in giving a very rich background to the story, but I felt it was not utilised as well as it could have been. There was no mention of the years for starters, making it difficult to understand which war or what upheaval was being discussed.
After reading it for the second time though (with enough data in hand), Dasgupta’s intentions became clearer. Solo is not meant to be about Bulgaria. It is about a common man’s extraordinary life in the 100 most eventful years in Bulgaria. It was meant to showcase how the ideals, passion, hopes and dreams of a man are affected by surrounding changes.

The second section is the story of three characters of Ulrich’s imagination– a musical prodigy called Boris, a mentally scarred wife of a tycoon, Khatuna and her poet brother Irakli. While the three stories initially seem disconnected from each other, and indeed from the first half of the book, the connections start coming across. There are many parallel references to Ulrich’s life in these day dreams. For example, Boris’ obsession with gypsy music, Boris’ grandmother writing obituaries and hanging it on trees, his practising music in a chemical factory, Khatuna’s mother selling off family heirlooms to sustain the family and so on.
A chance encounter brings the three together, and Boris and Irakli form an instant bonding. Khatuna’s possessiveness of Irakli, coupled with Boris’ ignoring her makes her hostile towards their budding friendship. However, Boris’ success makes Irakli feel inferior and depressed, and he finally commits suicide.
The cross linking between reality and dreaming happens when Ulrich visits Boris and advises him to take care of Irakli. On his loss, Ulrich ends the encounter with these words - I lost a friend once and I know how it goes. He’ll find his way inside you and you’ll carry him onward. Behind your heartbeat, you will hear another one, faint and out of step. People will say you are speaking his opinions or your hair has turned like his…. Gradually you’ll grow older than him and love him like your son.

The second section is more subtle and tastefully done. It is almost as if the first section provided a richly colorful palette for painting Ulrich’s imagination in later years. The stories of the individuals in itself were interesting, and any surreal coincidences could be attributed to them being day dreams. Of course, the justification of the characteristics of these individuals through his final talk with Boris was a final masterstroke.

Therefore, the verdict is difficult to give. The book is full of hidden meanings and undertones. The book is not recommended for a light-hearted summer-time read, even though the story is simple. The pieces don’t fall into place here. They have to be meticulously assembled by the readers themselves. The book expects an intelligent reader who can think along with the story and not just read the words.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The disappearing line between privacy and facebook

We are "all" narcissistic to a certain extent. Part of us wants to express how intelligent/socially conscious/good/pretty we are through blogs, facebook, twitter or google buzz. It can be in the form of write-ups, copied quotes, random song lyrics, uploading our best photos (or tweaking existing ones with photoshop), publicly displaying one's events calender, or sharing worldly issues. But I draw a line at facebook entering our personal lives. Consider the following examples:

1. The following conversation between a 30-something attractive couple with their son was overheard during a boat-ride for parasailing:
Dad: Mom is very angry with you.
Son: Why?
Dad: You forgot to bring the camera. Now how will we take photos?
Son: It was not my mistake!
Mom almost in tears: We will never have a photo with us doing it.
Finally they persuade another couple in the boat to take their pictures and mail it to them.
Mom : Please send it ok? Otherwise we would have missed something very important.
Dad (To the para sailing trainer): No, all of us would go individually. We want separate photos.
Boy: Now I can upload it in facebook!

2. Updated status messages via facebook mobile at:
06:15: En-route to goa for a fun-filled weekend.
09:15: Just landed! The weather is just perfect for some masti!
11.15: At baga beach - it is so wonderful!
12.30: Jet Skiing in Baga beach - awesome!
23.15: Getting ready for the night life, yipee!
00.00: Having so much fun in goa!

3. Stumbled upon the following exchange in FB:

Girl: Hey I am doing well. How is your wife? I haven't talked to her in ages.
Boy: Hi girl1, this is his wife. Will you be my farmville neighbor?
Boy: I also need --some random famville terminology which I don't remember--

Except for the second one (which is exaggerated to a certain extent), the rest two are real enough.
While I can attempt to understand the wifey preferring to have a random girl as a virtual neighbor than a real-life acquaintance, I cannot fathom the other two instances.
I am sure that an absence of an FB update or a photographic evidence does not make the memory itself null and void. The incessant need to let the world know about every activity, interesting or otherwise is, to a certain extent, worrying. I mean, I have seen examples of girls sitting with me typing furiously in their mobile, only to realise later that they were uploading, "with friends - having so much fun!!" in buzz and FB. Frankly, if you have time to update that, clearly, you are not having fun enough.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The common corporate parasite

Ethics in a company is like a parasite that passes on from one level to another. While it is true that being ethical is up to an individual, the implementation in professional life is strongly influenced by the characteristic of our immediate manager and not the company. Do you really believe that a company has a written rule saying: “lie to the customer” or “ Tamper your data as long as you get the money”?

So, how does the worm of unethical operations spread from a single person? What if a strongly righteous person is caught in the middle of it? I believe it can all be explained with a simple flow-chart:

Depending on how ethical a manager is, the thought processes of his sub-ordinates and future leaders spawned are determined (unless they leave the company). Either they successfully convert an analyst, or force them to leave the company.

This is precisely the reason why any consulting firm cannot be called unethical or bogus. Every company has hard-working analysts who struggle to provide more than the expectations of their customer. They are unfortunately overshadowed by the majority of consultants sweet-talking the clients into buying a summary of google findings.

I have had the fortune of working with people belonging in the former category, and hence have a very high opinion of consulting and market research.Generalising a consultant’s Modus Operandi based on a few disillusioned forced-to-be-unethical analysts seems very illogical to me. But I am curious to know if you have a different point of view on this!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Yadav ji

With my odd timings in office, I had come to know the night guard, Yadavji, pretty well. With an ever-smiling face, he never went beyond a "good night madam", and few general pleasantries (except once, when he gave me advice on leaving early and how unsafe the city is).
After his 2-month vacation to his village, it was nice seeing him back at his desk yesterday. Our conversation though, longer than usual, was far from what I expected.

"Chutti kaisi thi Yadavji?"
"Acchi thi madam. Par Jaldi aana pada. Teen maheene ki lee thi, do mahene me hi waapas aa gaya."
"Fir phi, do maheene! Mazaa aaya hoga."
"Haan wo to hai. Puri family gaaon mei hi to hain. Mata, Pita, Biwi, Bache.."
"Biwi bhi? Saal mei ek hi baar milte ho unse?"
"Haan, to aur koi chaara bhi to nahi hai. Saal mei chutti ek hi baar milti hai."
"Arre, to unhe Mumbai leke aao na?!"
"Kharcha bahut ho jaayega, aur rent bhi to kam nahi hai. Yahaan ki night duty or subah ki housing complex ki duty ke beech usse time kahaan de paaonga?"
"Aap abhi kahaan rehte ho?"
"Kaheen nahi. Raat yahaan pe gujaar leta hun, phir subah housing complex duty karne chala jaata hun."
By now, I was gaping with my mouth open.
"Aapko ajeeb lag raha hai naa? Ab to aadat pad chuki hai. Dus saal se yahi kar raha hun."
"Par aap sote kahaan ho?"
"jab time milta hai, do-teen jhapki maar leta haun."

(Translated version)
"How was your holiday Yadavji?"
"It was good Madam. But I had to come back early, and shorten it by a month."
"Two months though, must have been fun!"
"Haan, it was. My whole family is there - Parents, Wife, Kids..."
"Wife too?? You meet her only once a year?"
"What else can I do? I don't get leave."
"Arre, bring her to Mumbai then."
"It will be too much of an expenditure. And between my night duties in this office, and morning duties at a housing complex, I won't be able to devote time to her."
"Where do you stay?"
"I don't have a house here. Nights here, and mornings at the complex."
By now, I was gaping with my mouth open
"It must be shocking to you. But now, I am used to it. I have lived like this for 10 years."
"But don't you need sleep?"
"I catch a few wink here and there."

I cannot imagine a life without a home to go to. Its not about the physical house with all the comfort and the cooked food. Home is what anchors us at the end of the day right? This guy doesn't have an anchor for 10 months in a year, and tries to make it up in 2 months.
I wonder what he looks forward to at the end of the day. Some time alone in an office full of tables to catch a wink?
More than that, I wonder how he can still keep an ever-smiling face?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Bane

Of all the banes in the world,
the writer's block is the worst,
for, how can a writer survive,
if he can't feed his creative thirst?

A near-physical steel door
blocks any views, good or bad.
all attempts end in torn pages,
and it makes one so mad!

the writer finally becomes desperate,
and sews words with a forced feeling,
Thus, such poems are formed,
with neither rhyme nor meaning.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The biggest driver for women wanting to marry

India will have women marrying at a younger age, and hopefully will agree to an arranged one too, much to the relief of parents.
Why you ask? Because of Tanishq of course. They have embarked on a beautiful and well-thought of campaign:
A highly ambitious and successful girl is adamant on not marrying, despite her dad's pleadings to at least consider the case of this really nice guy he has chosen for her. The mother, looks on scornfully, until she asks her daughter to stop the car and enters Tanishq, the jewellery shop. She makes her daughter try on all the jewellery making her look, well, bride-like. When the mother realises that it was wedding jewellery, she asks her daughter to take them off, making the girl very sad and almost on the verge of tears. She decides immediately what needs to be done. Hestitantly and shy-like, she asks her father, "What is the boy's name?"
The mother sends a smug sms to the father - After 25 years of marriage, yous till don't know what a woman wants.

It was enlightening to say the least. 20-something old girls need nothing more than gold, silver and diamond jewellery to be happy. For a vulnerable, malleable and underdeveloped mind like ours, jewellery is the key (and perhaps the only) criteria for getting married.
I hope its a series. The next best thing would be an ad on how women are ready to have children, considering the amount of jewellery they will get to wear on the child's first birthday.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Olfactory Senselessness

It was a surreal experience standing in front of the pearly gates, but I was looking forward to confronting The Highest Authority and asking him few naaku-pudongara (painful) questions. Lord, as is deducible, knew my motives and sent his scribe to meet me. A flustered old man, he reminded me of the rabbit in Alice In Wonderland. I wondered how he could help me.

Scribe: Yes yes, I can.
Me: I want to know why I was treated unfairly by him.
Scribe: But thats blasphemous (covers his mouth)... impossible i mean.
Me: Well he was. I haven't had any olfactory senses since I was 25.
Scribe (with what looks like a suspiciously evil smile): Oh yes, I remember that particular punishment. Oh yes, I do(rubbing his hands now, to my greatest discomfort). Wait, I have your book here with me. Let me think.. It was the day Indra was very angry with you.
Me (shocked): What?! What did I ever do to him?
Scribe: You wouldn't remember would you now?! Ah here we are.. it was decided in court on December 3rd 2009.

I take the millions of pages thick book, and start reading.

Indra walks in. He looks characteristically impatient and angry.
Indra: I have had it with her!
Lord: Who?
Indra: Batch no 16098987867676766, girl no: 122989
Lord (with a sigh): What has she done now?
Indra: She complains! (as if that would explain it all to the almighty all-seeing lord)
The Lord remains quiet

Indra: I haven't seen anything like it. She likes public transport, and is adament on taking trains and buses. She in fact scoffs at people who don't. Then she complains about sticky bodies pressing against her, and about the sweaty smells she has to bear. She actually crinkles her nose in public!
Lord: Hmm.
Indra: She can't stand cigarrette smell either. She forcefully makes her friends have a chewing gum as soon as they are done smoking, but never considers leaving them alone to enjoy it!
Lord: Oh good good.
Indra: She wears nail polish and takes it off immediately, all the while commenting about the smell of the remover.
Lord (almost sleepy by now): oh hmm?
Indra: She is allergic to the smell of malli-poo*.
That got Lord's attention. No one, I mean no one was allergic to malli poos. Clouds gathered overhead as he deliberated. Finally, the Lord stood up.

Lord: It is indeed shocking and your anxiety is well founded. The girl needs her due punishment. I think I have the perfect solution. Starting today, the girl will have a cold that will last all seasons and all places. No medicine can cure her, and no man can give her respite from that. She will, henceforth, be unable to smell anything good or bad, and will remain in an odourless world.
Indra, satisfied, took a deep bow and exited.

I had tears in my eyes, my respect for the Lord's justice and sound mind renewed manifold.
I closed the book with a heavy sigh, and started exploring my new heavenly abode, all the while hoping for a hankerchief to magically appear.

This, for all I know, may be the holy truth. I hadn't heard of an "all season cold" until I had it. I hadn't heard of a senseless nose until I got it.

Maybe in the theory of evolution, I was born off soorpanaka**. Maybe all her descendants have ill-formed noses.
Or maybe, I just made Indra mad.

*malli-poo - A kind of a white flower, which most of ladies keep on their hair for adornment, or offer it to Lord.
** Soorpanaka** - Ravan's sister in the epic story of Ramayan, whose nose was cut off by Lakshman.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Lost World - Michael Crichton

Crichton’s views on evolution and extinction masquerading as a Dinosaur-scary novel.

Simple-wordy, Nail-Biting,

Sci-Fi, Thriller

No bad words.

Favorite Quote:
…It’s just theories. Human beings can’t help making them and the fact is, that theories are just fantasies. And they change.

There may be very few people left in this world who haven’t seen the classic nail-biters “Jurrasic park” and its sequel “The Lost world”. After more than ten years, I can easily bring up the picture of a T-Rex (tyrannosaurs) from memory. The vibrating ground, the puddle of water etc had resulted in many a sleepless nights in my childhood, and still gives me occasional shivers.
The book was recommended to be “scarier than the movie”. So, after a day of non-stop reading, I feel sad that I cannot assent to that. There were some nail biting moments in this for sure, but they didn’t match up to the movie, not by a long mile. Of course, the fact that the book story is drastically different than the movie didn’t help much.

That said, it richly deserves the title of one of Crichton’s finest books. While the movie was meant to be spooky, giving an image to our wildest of imaginations, the book is much more than that. In fact, it is safe to say that the dinosaurs are a backdrop to a very enlightening take on the theory of evolution and extinction of species.

The story is about a very rich, stubborn and focused scientist, Richard Leving, who, on learning that there have been some sightings in an island near Costa Rica, Isla Sorna, goes there for further investigation. On landing there, he views different herds of dinosaurs and sensing an opportunity, starts studying them.
Meanwhile his colleague, Ian Malcolm, his equipment developer, Thorn and Eddie, and his students Kelly and Arby, concerned about Leving, come over to the island. While the majority of the book is about Malcolm and Leving’s contradictory observations on dinosaur behaviour, the book picks up pace in the end when some researchers from a bigger biotechnological corporation try to steal some eggs and use the dinosaurs for drug testing.

There are some flaws in the story-line of course. The easy availability of confidential computers and the ridiculously simple hacking job by Arby were laughable. The narrow escapes and the obvious clues (The only piece of skin Leving sends to Malcolm actually has a tag of ‘site B’ attached to it!) made it sound more like a Dan Brown novel than a Crichton. But I think its all forgivable considering the amount of messages he wanted to impart through this book.

The book started like a zoology text-book – interesting and slightly preachy. I was so engrossed in absorbing the details that I didn’t realise that the non-fiction part of it had ended, and the fictional story had begun. There was, for example, the initial hypothesis for extinction – the edge of chaos, where there is enough innovation to keep a living system vibrant and enough stability to keep it from collapsing into anarchy. So, in effect extinction can be caused by too much of change or too little. There are of course the numbers, which being an analyst, are of particular interest to me. Our diverse planet has a current count of fifteen million species of plants and animals (phew!), which is nothing compared to the species found when life began – fifty billion. To put it in perspective, of every thousand species that existed, only one remains today. Thus, 99.9% of all species are extinct – a humbling realisation.

Later on in the book, Crichton admits that he believes that cyberspace could lead to our extinction. He theorizes that since in humans, evolution occurs mainly through our behaviour, mass media hinders innovation and thus, intellectual diversity. “It makes every place the same. Bangkok or Tokyo or London. There’s a McDonald’s on one corner, a Benetton on another and a Gap across the street. Regional differences vanish. All differences vanish… it’ll freeze the entire species. Everything will stop dead in its tracks.”
That’s a point of view an average human wouldn’t have thought of. It’s a common observation that the new generation is a step above the current or previous one. But are we becoming stagnant because of all the sharing and communicating? Is that why inventions and discoveries are harder to come by now (and not because everything significant has already been invented or discovered.)?

We’ve been taught that extinction is a direct result of evolution and survival of the fittest. Crichton doesn’t use the typical example of the oppositional thumb for explaining evolution. He mentions how, due to the inability of the human brain to pass through the birth canal, humans are born pre-mature, compared to other animals’ infants, who are fully formed. That also explains why humans are unable to walk for a year, as compared to other animals, which start walking or flying within a couple of days.

In the end, Crichton plays it safe and notes that are just theories which are nothing more than human fantasies. This is as well, since, with more of a scientific ( or theoretical scientific) content, some of them are sure to raise even more questions – behavioural reasons for extinction can be only conceptual and there is no factual way of proving it. Even the theory of evolution is derivative, without any factual way of backing it.

The book does not live up to the expectations of being a scary book. There are very few cheap thrills and none creates an everlasting impression. But it ought to be read by any one who has been intrigued by Darwin’s theories. Though it does not provide any clarifications in our understanding of the world, it raises a lot of very important questions.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

News flash

India has developed many special weapons over the past 4 years. It has recently picked up pace due to the high-scale terrorist attacks.

One of these weapons in advanced stages of research is the sleeping gas. The Non-violence activists hail this discovery specifically due to minimal bloodshed involved in capturing criminals.

Developed in large scale due to the low cost of production, it induces a temporary sleepiness in the affected person, lasting for about 11.5 hours. Due to its high volatility, the gas is stored in an invisible cyclinder maintained at 15 degrees Celsius, usually a few feet above the ground, held by invisible 3-5mm threads.

Despite the precautionary measures, there have been several unreported cases of falling or bursting cylinders causing extensive damage. The most recent incident occured today morning at 1000 hrs at Andheri, Mumbai. All the office-goers were affected. The officials are still looking into the cause of the issue, while people working in Andheri are gearing up for a sleep-filled day today.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Definers-III mission

20 hours after Definers-III landed at the pacific, the passengers decided to approach homo sapiens. The aim of the mission was very clear - Clarity-RX (CRX) had to get in touch with at least one homo Sapien and learn their language.
17 days later, CRX touched base with the mother ship, and reported his findings to Clarity-ID (CID) . Part of the translated excerpt is provided here:

CRX: The paradoxical behavior of the hosts are outlandish.

CID (making a note): Elucidate.

CRX: There are many sir.
- Despite being vocal about their anti-pollution and pro=green beliefs, they use gas guzzling two-,three-, four- wheel vehicles and helicopters.
- They chronically complain about corruption, but don't stop taking or giving bribes
- People who dont follow the traffic rules discuss at length about the lawlessness on the roads
- Self proclaimed high morale people watching and sharing pirated movies and software.
- Human rights activists kicking their dog

CID: It doesn't make sense. What do the hosts say?

CRX: Hosts saY Portions Of Comments aRe Invisible To thEm

After 3.21 minutes of static

CID: I got it as H Y P O C R I T E. What does it mean?

CRX: No I said, Hosts saY Portions Of Comments aRe Invisible To thEm

CID: Oh ok. Lets call them as hypocrite from now on. What else?


Clarity, thus helped us in giving a word for one of the our most inherent characteristics.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Wikipedia defines phobia as:
an intense and persistent fear of certain situations, activities, things, animals, or people. The main symptom of this disorder is the excessive and unreasonable desire to avoid the feared stimulus.

The list of phobias is daunting, but for sure, incomplete. I mean, listing an obscure phobia of bathing and not listing some of the more common ones? Surprising. For example, where is:

of being stared at by all men within 500 metres of vicinity? 99.2% of the females suffer with this phobia making them believe that they are either very attractive or have something stuck in their teeth, resulting in their doing nervously foolish activities.

A phobia of smiling or grinning? This typically results in a permanent bull-doggish appearance in the said person.

A phobia of maintaining any secret? (more popularly known as otta-vaazhi in tamil, pet mein na pachna in hindi or tattle-tale in english)

A phobia of looking or acting natural? The phobic usually hides the natural color of his/her face, nails & lips, the shape of their eyes & cheeks, or use fake accents.

A phobia or intense dislike of arriving on time?

of driving on roads, a phobia more common in India?

Are there any more phobias that have been missed out?

PS: In case you are wondering, I suffer from driverophobia and secretophobia all the time, and the rest occassionally.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Running With The Demon - Terry Brooks

A regular good versus evil story with a little bit of magic thrown in.

Simple-wordy, Serious


No bad words - isn't scary enough for children above ten.

Favorite Quote:

The book opens up with a bleak picture – a small and almost abandoned town called Hopewell in Illinois, which is burnt down and in ruins. There is no semblance of life anywhere and the people still in town are a dejected lot. We then realise that we were inside John Ross’s nightmare while he was travelling in bus. He had been sitting alone, perhaps because of “the mantle of weariness he wore like the ghost of Marley did his chains” or perhaps “it was the eyes, the way they seemed to look beyond what everyone else could see, at once cool and discerning, yet distant and lost, an unsettling contradiction.” The author ends the prologue with: “You leave as many empty seats as possible between yourself and death”.
Oh boy. At this point, I wonder at the advisability of reading this book through. But it came with a high recommendation and promised to be a fast read. So, I decided to go ahead. I suffice to say it was a bad decision.

The book is divided into sections, each corresponding to one day, which in turn is divided into chapters. The first section starts with July 1, which is enough for us to surmise that something big can be expected on the fourth of July. (The story is, after all, set in America).

John Ross follows his dreams and lands up in Hopewell. He is the knight of the word, servicing the Voice of the Word (don’t even ask ”what” – Lets assume Word is God and voice is a very beautiful woman).
Nest Freemark is a 14 year old girl staying with her grandparents. Her closest friend, (apart from her group of human friends) is a Sylvan called Pick. He was a six inch tall wood with vaguely human features stamped above a mossy beard, with leaves instead of hair and twigs instead of hands; a smaller version of Ent of Lord of the rings. He was the caretaker of Sinnissippi Park and kept the balance of magic in check. That doesn’t make his saying “Criminy!!” at the start of every sentence any less annoying.
Nest along with Pick and a mysterious wolf-dog named Wraith, fought the feeders that lived in the park. In Pick’s words, “Feeders devour people”. To put it in perspective, feeders are similar to Rowling’s dementors, who fuel the depression of a person and then, when they are at their weakest, devour them. Nest could destroy them with a single glance – “Nest hissed at it furiously, caught its eye, and stripped it of its life with a single, chilling glance”.

Her grandmother Evelyn is cynical and unhappy with her life and had taken to drinking and smoking. She is, however, very fond and protective of Nest. She is incidentally the only human who knows (or believes) that Nest has magical powers. Her grandfather, Robert Freemark, is, needless to say depressed with his wife’s drinking, her constant retorts and the loss of his daughter (Nest’s mother) Caitlin. “He felt emasculated by Evelyn, helpless in the face of her fortress mentality, adrift in his life, unable to change things in any way that mattered”. Retired after 30 years in Midwestern Continental Steel (MidCon), he takes particular interest in the 107-day long ongoing company strike . The present workers of MidCon are tired of waiting with no jobs and are planning on going back, to fellow employee Derry Howe’s disgust.
The demon had come to Hopewell with a purpose which will be made clearer in the end. Meanwhile, since he is supposed to cause death and destruction wherever he goes, he influences Howe to sabotage MidCon’s reputation by an “accident” that would result on the loss of many lives.

John Ross purposefully runs into Robert and saying he is Caitlin’s friend, invites himself over for dinner. Over dinner, while conversation revolves mainly around Caitlin, Nest asks him about her father, much to her grandparents’ distress. By this time, we have enough clues to know that Nest’s father is a source of mystery for her and a bone of contention for her grandparents. Ross also knows who the father is. A normal 6th grader would have figured out who the father was by now.
John Ross is then taken to see an old oak tree, which was the prison of Maentwrog. A Maentwrog was a soul-eater, consequently leaving any living being hollow and consumed with madness. It had been imprisoned inside the oak tree for many years, but now the magic was weakening. It was attempting to break free, despite Nest and Pick covering up the splits in the tree with tree-seals. Ross is helpless in the face of this new development.

Meanwhile, Nest had also had a run-in with a native American called Two Bears or O’olish Amaneh. He is mysterious, as Indians usually are, and invites Nest to watch the summoning of the spirits of his ancestors in Sinnissippi Park. Through the spirits, she finds that her grandmother was once very wild and used to run with the feeders and play with them. On confronting Evelyn about it, she admits that it had made her feel good, before realising what they were. She had also fallen in love with the demon without knowing, and when she did, put an end to it.

Exactly at about this time, the grandparents suddenly seem closer – Evelyn starts bushing; Robert realises he loved her and thinks he was losing her; Robert calls her dark eyes, and consequently “all the hardness went out of Evelyn Freemark’s face, all the lines and age spots vanished and she was young again”.
We can safely assume that one of them is going to die. I mean, the only saving grace of the book, if overdone, was the squabble between these two. Since even that is taken away; there has to be a purpose.

To continue, by influencing one of her school enemies, Nest is kidnapped and dumped in a cave. The demon comes and taunts her that no one would come to help her. Contrary to his belief, Robert rescues her. Evelyn realises that this was a ruse to get her alone by the demon. She prepares herself for the confrontation and in the event, the expected happens.

On the Fourth of July, all these incidents show their respective colors. The “fireworks” by Howe happens, though the sabotage itself is a failure. There is a confrontation between Ross, Nest, the demon and Maentwrog. Thankfully, as an afterthought, there is a surprise in the ending.

What made me want to throw the book away was not the fact that the book was unbelievably boring (Unbelievable because it is fantasy fiction – seldom are fantasies boring). The fact that this was one of the least imaginative books I have ever read in terms of content, characters and write-up played a major part. The total lack of suspense was what got to me. Brooks made sure that he didn’t leave anything to be guessed. For instance, When Robert confronts Howe on what he is planning to do on July fourth; Howe talks about the unpredictability of fireworks and asks him to keep away from them. So when the big plan of destroying MidCon is brought to fort, there really isn’t any iota of surprise left.
There was probably one mystery left which we wouldn’t have guessed in the end. But at the end of the day, it failed to make its impact since it lay invisible in a very dull and lifeless book. The book of course ends with Cross walking towards the horizon for his next quest. But there are no questions left unanswered here (no obvious ones, and I don’t want to find answers for less obvious ones); so there really is no motivation for reading the next one.

Spare yourself. This book is definitely not worth it. It will not entertain surprise or amuse you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The world according to Garp - John Irving

A take on the fictional character T.S.Garp's personal life, and its influence on his professional one.

Simple-wordy, Witty/Serious


Has adult content in all sections.

Favorite Quote:
In this dirty minded world, you are either some body's wife or somebody's whore - or fast on your way to becoming one or the other

There are few complaints this book can create (and rest assured, there.will.be.complaints) - changing tones, vulgarity, surreal, dramatic. For me all these worked in favour of the book. The cover and the title of the book were so uninteresting that I had almost given it a miss. When I did pick it up, I couldn't stop reading or thinking about it. When I completed it, I still kept going back to it to read "that one line" or "that incident."

"Garp's mother, Jenny Fields was arrested in Boston in 1942 for wounding a man in a movie theatre." - The book begins simply enough, coaxing us to assume that Jenny would be a typical upright and maybe slightly eccentric mother. Irving slowly unravels the different layers of her character. Through Garp's running autobiography ("my mom", Garp wrote, "was not romantically inclined) and Jenny's autobiography ("I wanted a job and I wanted to live alone. That made me a sexual suspect. Then I wanted a baby, but didn't want to share my body. That made me a sexual suspect too."), we are surprised and amused at each new hitch in her character.
Working as a nurse, Jenny Fields was, as Garp put it, a "lone wolf". While she did want to have a baby, she did not want to get married for that. After many equally interesting and surreal anecdotes (the glass full of cloudy liquid gave me many a shivers), she finally finds the perfect candidate - Technical sergeant Garp, who after a brain injury, is admitted as a terminal case. Shortly after Jenny gets pregnant, she is fired from her job. In a semi conscious state, she names her new born son T.S.Garp.

Jenny then moves on to becoming a school nurse in steering school, an all boys' school. As is expected at this stage, Jenny and Garp are a part of many . A noteworthy character at this stage is Stewart Percy, the school secretary, who took a pleasure in wondering who Garp's father was. Stewart and his wife, Midge, with their constantly expanding white-haired family inspired Jenny to come up with a nasty rhyme:
What lies in Midge Percy's belly,
so round and exceedingly fair?
In fact, its really nothing,
but a ball of distinguished silver hair"

Jenny took up almost all the courses at the steering to make sure that Garp, when he grew up, could make an informative decision. Garp becomes dependant on Jenny for making as small a decision as which sport to choose. After meeting the wresting coach Ernie Holm, Jenny advises Garp to take up wrestling. That is when he develops a crush for Holm's geeky daughter, Helen. When he learns that Helen would only marry a writer, he decides to become one. His initial attempts are severely criticised by Helen, who later advises him to move to Europe. To his consternation, Jenny decides to join him and start writing too.

They move on to Vienna, where they stay in more than a dozen pensions before settling into an apartment. It was probably this very experience, that prompted Garp to come up with his first story, "The pension grillparzer". Again, like Atonement, we get a glimpse of what goes on in a writer's mind. The pension Grillparzer was "inspired" mainly a seeing a four-member circus troup and his time at the different pensions.
Jenny on the other hand, despite initial hiccups finally gets the mood right for her autobiography Sexual suspect. The book is brought out by John Wolf, and is an instant success. She becomes a household name associated with feminism, and she develops a steady stream of admirers and companions following her around.

One of them is an Ellen Jamesian. Like a online networking social “Ellen Jamesians” was a cult society of sorts, whose members cut off their tongues to support eleven year old Ellen James, who was raped and then had her tongue cut off. The mildly sarcastic approach Garp (and Irving) takes to these needless display of histrionics is applicable to what happens in the real world - though admittedly, at a lower level. The "join a cause" groups in facebook and orkut are the perfect examples for that.

His mother's life keeps Garp amused and at times, frustrated, while he struggles with his first novel, procrastination. He gets it published through Wolf, but is not very satisfied with the reviews, as they had focussed more on his connection with Jenny rather than his story itself. After that, he tries unsuccessfully to find his old rhythm back. With his family of two boys, and his extra-marital affairs, Garp reaches a writer's block, and mimicking his current lisping mistress, “thtops”. Glimpses of his creativity keeps us riveted to the book though. For instance, the dog and the chain story, and the unravelling of its creation makes us wonder on what inspires any good writer.

It is the time when Garp is at his most devoted to Helen, that Helen inadvertently, ends up having an affair with one of her students, Michael Milton. Sensing he had competition (though he believes it is literary rather than physical), Garp starts working on his next story in frenzy. As is expected from a story with a dubious motive, it is poorly written, and is not liked by Helen, who is blunt to the point of being cruel in telling him so.
When Garp does find out about the affair, he is uncharacteristically angry about it. As one of the other readers noted, Garp up till then could be characterised as creative, carefree, broad-minded and even anti-social. The typical possessiveness of a man for his wife is just not expected out of Garp, who had, at one point, swapped partners with Helen's colleague. His sudden outburst at Helen to break it off could only be attributed to his love towards her, although that makes a very unconvincing reason(!).

It is fair to say that the tone of the book changes significantly at this point of time. Helen's break-up with Milton and its resulting events are, I believe one of the most beautifully narrated parts of the book.

The post-Milton-serious-Garp comes up with his next novel, “The world according to Bensenhaver”. Though Garp later admits that it was “his worst work”, he forces Wolf to publish the story.
John Wolf is believed to have a sixth sense about the success or failure of any book – partly because he was good at his job, but mainly because of his cleaning leady, Jillsy Sloper. Jillsy hated most of the books, and the ones she liked were instantly successful. She read mainly to find out what happens next. In her own words, “There surely ain’t no other reason to read a book is there?”.

There surely ain’t. In fact, I will sheepishly admit here that of all the stories Garp wrote (except the dog and the chain story), this was my favourite. Like Jillsy, I kept flipping the pages to find out what happened next, which was more than I can say about garp’s story, which had suddenly shifted to a slow-and-dull lane.
The book, as is expected, was a runaway success. Whether it can be attributed to a good story, Jillsy Sloper, Wolf’s intuition or his cheap marketing techniques – we can’t say.

Meanwhile, Jenny gets involved in new Hampshire politics, backing the candidate standing against the current governor. Her controversial support ultimately leads to her being shot to death by a man, while the candidate she supported loses the elections.
Garp hears the news through Jenny’s companion, and despite many objections, attends his mother’s “feministic funeral”. During the journey back, he meets the real Ellen James, who vehemently denies being an “Ellen Jamesian” and admits her admiration for his work. Garp decided to do what Jenny would have done and adopted her.
The extended family finally comes a full circle, and moves back to the steering, where Garp takes up the position of the wrestling coach. As he got more involved in his wrestling team, he also stopped writing, again. One of Garp’s critics puts it in perspective - “As he became more autobiographical, his writing grew narrower; also he became less comfortable about doing it. It was as if he knew that not only was the work more personally painful to him – this memory dredging- but the work was slimmer and less imaginative in every way.”

We can hand Irving one thing at least – he finished what he started. It was a neatly “completed” book, where no character was left hanging in the end. All the characters that were mentioned in the book at one point or the other were seen through till their demise.

At hindsight, maybe that’s not really the best of things. As T.S.Garp wrote, after a key turning point in his life, his “life has felt like an epilogue”. The second part of the book was just that – an epilogue of Garp’s life. From hilarious anecdotes, the second part of the book became a documentary of Garp’s life. From interesting and fun, it became a story on “the last few days of Garp’s life”.
Iforces us to wonder if the change in writing style was intentional. Was it meant to make us believe that till Jenny’s death, the story was actually, through Jenny’s eyes, and after her death, the missing details were filled in Garp’s biographer?

the first 300-odd pages steal the show; should be a definite read to appreciate the art of simple and witty writing.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Dilemma of an ee

Once upon a time, there was an ee (for all the tamil uninitiated: ee means fly in tamil) called Onaest. He worked as a police officer in his lane, monitoring all ee-activities and ensuring the right codeof conduct.

Onaest had one weakness - he liked to read. In fact, whenever he took a break from work, he would go to a corner, take out his book and read. His friends, seeing this as the one opportunity to talk to him, would hover around him and start chatting.

That made Oneast very angry. Any normal-ee worth his strawberry should,according to him, know how important reading was. Rejuvenating. Peaceful. Calm before a storm. Quiet before ee-patrolling. But how could he tell everyone to buzz off without hurting them?

Now the writer herself is in a dilemma, is Onaest-ee the best police-ee?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


We always meet people we can't stand; and at times, we enjoy hating them so much that we keep hating them even if they are actually very nice.

Then there are people we like a lot. We like them so much that when they utter someting downright despicable, all we can do is gape.
I have had 3 back-to-back episodes with such much-liked people:

In the fast lane:

Ex-colleague: " I have lost count of how many dogs I have killed while driving"
Me: "What?"
Ex-Colleague: "There is no other option. At that speed, you can't really stop!"


Girl 1: " I can't stand dogs."
Girl 2:"I can't believe you don't like them. They are so sweet and loyal."
Girl 1: "I can buy loyalty. But I really can't stand dogs"
She said that while kicking at a dog who came sniffing at her.


Me:"Working late nights must be irritating right?"
Boy:" Yes it is, especially since, while going back, dogs start chasing. Thats why I have stones in my pocket. I chase each one of them and throw at them."
Me (laughing): "You're joking right?"
Boy: "Arre no, they are a menace. In fact this one time, I asked the auto guy to stop and hit every one of them. Now they will not follow me."

The second one especially was a particularly eye-popping and open-gaping episode. I mean, you hear such things in movies right? Who in the right mind says something like that?!