Sunday, December 21, 2014

Deaths in Yellow Lights

Aadujeevitham (Goat Days) by Benyamin was a sensational début. What I loved about it was the rather simple narration devoid of any gimmick. The plot had borderline elements of a fantasy, yet the narration was footed in reality. Manjaveyil maranangal (Deaths in Yellow Sunlight), his another bestseller that I just read, stands totally opposite. It follows a non-linear structure, is pretty fast paced and almost surreal in narration.

A man living in the distant island of Diego Garcia sends an email to Benyamin. Christy Anthrapper always wanted to write a novel in Malayalam. His ancestors used to be the rulers of the island. He happens to witness the murder of his old classmate Senthil in broad daylight and later finds that all evidences of the murder are removed from records. He sets on a journey to find the truth and lands in Kerala only to find out deeper secrets waiting him there. He has written his life story and each chapter is hidden with different major characters of the novel. To find out what happened to Christy Anthrapper, Benyamin has to get hold of each chapters from them and find the clues.

I loved the complexity of the story. Benyamin succeeded in writing a thriller of a plot with several characters who leaves an impression in reader's minds.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Kumarakam Clicks

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Day Lost in Train

After reviewing Railonama, the book about train journeys, I remembered a couple of experiences while journeying on train. I thought I would scribble one of them here.

This happened at the time when I had completed my education and was searching for a job. Through one of my friends I got an interview call from Pune. I went and booked the train ticket from Shornur Junction to Pune. Train was supposed to start the next day afternoon from Shornur. After booking a sleeper berth, I casually asked the booking officer about the arrival time of the train in Pune. He replied that the expected time is early morning 3 o'clock.

Then I called my contact in Pune and told him that I will be reaching the day after tomorrow early morning. I told him that I will somehow manage in railway station till daybreak and then I will call him. After reaching home, I informed my mother and other relatives that I will start the next day and by the day after I will be at Pune and will meet my friend.

The next day I boarded the train from Shornur. There was a boy of my age sitting across my seat. By the time train started, we were chatting. After an hour passed, he was telling about the long journey ahead of us and about passing a whole day in train. It took sometime for me to realize that the train won't reach Pune the next day morning. The scheduled time is at 3 O'clock the day after. I had a whole day to spend in train...!

Mobile phones were not so common those days and there was no way I could convey this new situation to my friend in Pune or to my family. I tried to find a phone booth at any passing station, but a few coin phones were only for local calls. I passed a day sitting on thorns.

When I reached Pune, I called my worried friend and he was relaxed after hearing me. Same with my family. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Book Review: Railonama, Unforgettable Train Stories

Railways are the lifeline of India. Millions of Indians depend on it for their transport requirements due to its access and cost effectiveness. For anybody to see India and experience its diversity, a long trip through rail is mandatory. Even the emergence of low cost aviation or of posh buses has not made a dent in the loyal costumer base of railways. Any movie or book by an outsider about India compulsorily includes the involvement of trains. Take Slumdog Millionaire or The Myth for example. Every journey through rail is a soulful experience. When I was given a chance to review this anthology of 'train stories' based in India- Railonama, the first thing that I did was recollecting all the good, bad and the ugly trips that I took in trains. So many experiences I had, so diverse people I met, so different places I saw, I felt I could fill a book with all that details. And I am pretty sure, so would be the case of many others. 

Railonama, as I told in the last paragraph, is a collection of Indian train stories contributed by people throughout the world. The person who created this book is Anupama Sharma, who has also contributed an inspiring story- A Slice of Apple, about the joy of sharing. The book contains forty five stories, (some among them are poems), contributed by writers from different strata and different generations, focusing on multiple aspects of railway travel in India. Though all the pieces are worthy of reading, I would just mention a few that were appealing to me. The book opens with the story Courage is Everything, in which Dr K C Jindal recounts how he treated an unconscious boy in train when he was a medical student- his first patient. Ken Haigh from Canada had to suffer an overbearing stranger on his journey from Bhutan to Kolkatta in the immensely funny account My Boon Companion. Dr Roshan, whose blog Goodyears I follow regularly has contributed a cute story about two kids who causes their families to acquaint with each other by bartering sweets in train. 

Kshitij Bisen encounters a life changing moment on his train journey when he discovers that being homosexual is a normal way of living. Esprit de Corps is the story by Ajay Mankotia in which he recounts his experience of his mother missing the train when she got down on platform to buy food. Life on the Edge by Ganesh is about the thrill that a train journey gives when travelling at the door of a speeding train. The Castaway by Vibha Batra is shocking and hard hitting on its last sentence. Elsewhere by Anindita Deo is about an intuitive person whom the writer meets on a journey. This story builds a great atmosphere by its narration. Sumedha Sengupta's story A Very Special Passanger happens in pre-independent  Indian when the author, then four, saw Mahatma Gandhi riding a train. Sheela Jaywant tries to make us wise about the perils of transporting canines in trains in a very entertaining way and succeeds. Travelling through Kerala is a wonderful poem by the German Frank Joussen in which he claims though Kerala's nature is beautiful, the true beauty manifests in its people. 

The range that these stories present is vast, and that I feel makes Railonama a must read. It covers the good, the bad and the ugly of Indian Railways making it a roller coaster ride of emotions. After reading Railonama, I am sure my journeys by train will never be the same again. 


This review is a part of the biggest http://blog.blogadda.com/2011/05/04/indian-bloggers-book-reviews" target="_blank"> Book Review Program for http://www.blogadda.com" target="_blank">Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Book Review: Lost in Pattaya by Kishore Modak

Lost in Pattaya is the second book by Kishore Modak, an author based in Singapore. It is published by Grapevine India. It is a short book with just 215 pages. I read it within two evenings after I received it for review. The book is set in Thailand and Singapore and deals mostly with the flesh trade that forms the economic backbone of Thailand. It also tries to sketch the abuse of alcohol and mind altering drugs, without being judgmental on the issue.

Palash Mitra is grief stricken after his daughter Li Ya gets kidnapped in Pattaya. He was there with his Chinese wife, Fang Wei and daughter on a vacation. What adds to his sorrow is that the girl was kidnapped due to him being distracted by his weakness for drugs. His marriage, which was still surviving only due to the kid, crumbled after his wife blamed him totally for their loss. His professional life as an auditor too started disintegrating after he decided to take a stand that could affect the business of his firm. Jobless and divorced, Palash soon gets engulfed in grief and turns to alcohol and drugs for survival. A meeting with a similar fated lady made jhim take a decision that altered his life- he decided to go and search for his daughter in Pattaya, where he believed she has fallen into the traps of child prostitution. His search in Pattaya lead him to Thuy Binh, the much revered and feared lady boss, who controlled the entire sex mafia in Pattaya and Miho her deadly companion. Will he be able to rescue his daughter? Will it be too late by then? 

Lost in Pattaya is narrated from the view point of Palash, as a flashback. Only in the end it is revealed his true situation. The narrative is a bit loose and staggered and gives a feeling that it is told by a man still in the depths of the effects of drugs- a very effective technique that enriches the reading experience. It helped me to relate to the lead character, someone who is very unlikable and even abhorring at times. The plot is disturbing and violent, but the writer manages to breeze the reader through the tough subject due to his gripping narration and pacing. The language of the book is very different from any of the recent Indian writing that I happened to read. It turns coarse sometimes, poetical at some point, emotional or matter-of -fact otherwise. 

I especially loved the fact that though the blurb in the back page seems to reveal almost the whole plot, the actual story turns out surprisingly different with its fresh approach. I hope to read more from Kishore Modak. 
    
The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on The Tales Pensieve.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Write Well, Live Well...

Friends,

How many of you write for your livelihood? Very few, I know. How many of you would like to write for your livelihood? At least quite a few, I know. But even if most of you doesn't earn by writing, I am sure you all might have felt the need to improve your skill to write without spelling or grammatical errors and with proper punctuation.

Good writing skill can be a strong tool to take forward your career, education and even your social standing. Drafting a good letter or writing a proper report can make careers. Better performance in exams can be achieved by good written communication skills. Writing skills can earn you good contacts, improve your relations and can be your way to the top of the social ladder.

To clear any doubts on the assumption that the people who write better can earn better, Grammarly, a website that offer Grammar Checker solutions, has conducted a study and made their findings into this interesting infographic. They conducted the study by inspecting the writings of 448 freelance professionals- rated by their employers from 4 to 5 stars, in eight catagories on Elance, the online staffing platform.



If we check the results, it is evident that the writers who are better with thir grammer, spelling and punctuation are the ones at the top of the ladder. Huffington Post was quick to acknowledge their effort. I hope these findings will motivate you all to improve your writing skills. Better writing skills can be the ace up your sleeve.

Regards,
Harish


My thanks to Grammarly, for sharing this infographic with me and for their offer to donate $10 on my behalf to Reading is Fundamental, the charity that promotes literacy, for this blog post.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Eating Competition

I went with my giant friend to have tea. At the tea shop, he took one pazham pori and started eating. I too took one and ate.

He took one more and ate. I followed him and had one too.

Then he took a puffs and devoured it. I grabbed one for myself.

He claimed that the combination will be right with one more pazham pori and had one. I agreed and took one for myself.

He ordered a strong tea with more milk. I too ordered for same.

After both of us finished our tea, he slowly got up walked to the counter and declared all that he needed now was a sweet lemon soda. I surrendered.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Bring Back the Touch

Anand was feeling miserable. Every evening it was the same feeling from last many years. The same job, the same pressure of deadlines, the same terrorizing boss. Still, leaving the workplace after a long day's work made him miserable. It was the cold evening and the long night that was awaiting him at home.

Home.. A word that had all the affection and passion in the world associated with it. These were exactly the same things that were missing from his home. His home used to be beautiful, lovely and an oasis of his barren life. Those were times, times of pure love and romance, times of spurts of happiness and playfulness, times that were lost forever. Forever...? It was that word, the hopelessness of which that hurt him the most. Everybody who is anybody in their life had tried for a reconciliation. But nothing worked. Or, is it more correct to say that they never allowed these attempts to work?

Sthiti was once an epitome of everything that he revered. They were meant to be a couple from the first sight of each other during their college days. They were together during every day of their studies. In the evenings, they were always on a date- hanging around on beach, movies, cafes or theaters. On weekends they went for short trips on his old bike, returned back exhausted and crashed on his couch watching movies on TV. Then there was the wedding. A wedding that everyone of their friends and family could never forget. The color, the warmth, the enjoyment they radiated together, their parents feared of bad eyes. 

And bad eyes did cast their spell. Soon they were having issues within them. Every day, every night turned into a battle and their much envied home, into a battle field. Anand and Sthiti were on the verge of a divorce, a separation that only a miracle could prevent. But miracles do happen. Don't they?

So that day Anand reached home, carrying with him all the ills of a bored husband, ready for a fresh battle. He found the door not latched, as usual and strolled in. He threw his bag on the couch and walked towards kitchen for some cold water. He could sense an unusual brightness in kitchen. He sensed movement through the closed door. He quickly pushed it open. Flames were licking the switchboard above the refrigerator and were on the way towards gas stove. Sthiti was there armed with a blanket, trying to force down its path. Anand ran out towards main switch and threw it off. He ran into kitchen to find Sthiti beating the flames to a defeat. 

She was quivering and sweating profusely. He himself was terrified. She fell on him, tears gushing out of her eyes. Her touch made him forget the ordeal. He was remembering all that he was trying to suppress in his subconscious mind. He embraced her tight. "Damn faulty electricals", was all he could mutter, while he sensed a return of all the lost beautiful times. 

This post is made for the Happy Hour initiative of indiblogger.in in partnership with Parachute Advanced Body Lotion. Follow the hashtag #BringBackTheTouch. Check out the video were Nimrat and Parambrata #BringBackTheTouch

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Relighting the Home...

"She doesn't eat anything."

My sister complained on phone. She was telling about her daughter, my niece. For a five year old my niece is quite intelligent, active, very playful and very very naughty. I used to tell my sister that it was good for kids to be naughty. I hate it when people try to suppress kids. Its like you are switching off a bright light in a beautifully set room and plunging the room into darkness.

At the same time I realise how hard it is on my sister, to balance the kid and her full time job. When she called me, my niece was sick. With proper treatment her fever came down, but health did not show much improvement. Doctor had advised sister to try stuffing her up and increasing her weight by next few days. If there is no progress she has to be hospitalized.

"The only way left to try is using a funnel to force feed her." My sister continued. "When I call her to the table she never turn up. She run away when I approach her with food. I know she needs her nutrients, but she doesn't like any thing that I prepare for her."

"You try to find out what she like."

"I tried it. She doesn't like anything!"

Then I remembered my childhood. I never used to like food then. Milk, rise, iddli, dosa, sambar, chutney... my hate list used to be endless. I remembered one day when my father tried to feed me rice with some daal curry.

"I cannot eat daal. I don't like it." I declared.

"You love Dhara Singh, don't you?"

Dhara Singh used to play Hanuman in Ramanand Sagar's Ramayana, which was running in Doordarshan at that time. Father had told me before that Singh used to be a wrestler who has won many fights.

"Do you know how they get such power?" Father cooked up a story. "By eating daal. They eat lot of it."

I was hooked and daal became my favorite from then, with rice, chapatti, in sambar or rasam- for close to 15 years, everyday I demanded it in my diet.

Now the time has come for payback. I asked sister, "What do you have right now with you?"

"Pomegranates."

"Ok, give phone to her." She handed over the phone to my niece.

"What did Doctor uncle do today?"

"He gave me an injection." Obviously she was not pleased by it.

"You know, there is one thing which if you eat, the next time when he does it, his needle will break."

"What's that?"

"Pomegranate. If you drink its juice everyday with milk, he cannot take an injection next time."

I disconnected the call after I heard her shouting to her mother to make her pomegranate juice immediately.

Months later when I saw her, her mother was serving her pomegranate juice and she seriously informed me, "Did you know, pomegranate juice can make injection needle break...!!!"

This post is part of Happy hours by indiblogger.in sponsored by Dabur based on the theme A happy child make a happy home. Go here for more information.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Book Review: 7 Secrets Of Goddess by Devdutt Pattanaik

Some time back I had got a chance to review Business Sutra by mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik. It was about conducting business using ancient Indian principles of yagna. The book had a great concept and was mind blowing. So when Blogadda offered a chance to review his latest book, 7 Secrets of Goddesses, I was eager. This book is part of Pattanaik's 7 Secrets series and is the forth entry of it. The book tries to find out the gender definition in Indian mythology by analysing the important role that the Goddesses play in it. It deals with prominent goddesses recurring in mythology, what functions they perform in the bigger context and how history has constantly played a role in changing these aspects according to the social norms.

The book is divided into seven chapters, each one detailing the mythology of one Goddess. The first chapter Gaia's Secret, is about Greek earth mother who, though respected, slowly gets marginalized. This is explained by the lose of freedom that women experienced due to a shift to patriarchal system. Several other myths from other parts of the world tells a similar story. Also important to note is the decline in the sexual choice of women due to the concept of ownership of women by men. Kali's Secret portrays Kali as the raw nature that is indifferent to the man's attempt to conquer it. Third chapter Gauri's Secret is about culture that happen due to human interference in raw nature.

Durga stand in between nature and culture, ensuring the balance. Durga's Secret is about this ferocious but kind Goddess who create fear  in man so as to prevent exploitation of nature and at the same time protect men from the punishment of nature. Lakshmi's Secret is about the Goddess of wealth who is essential to liberate men from perils of poverty. Saraswati's Secret is about the Goddess of knowledge and language. She is mostly shown aloof, calm and composed. She is responsible for the expansion of human imagination. The last chapter Vitthai's Secret is about a form of Krishna that is feminine. In this chapter author tries to analyse several instances in Indian mythology were the boundaries of gender is obliterated. It asserts that worship of God without Goddess is impossible, but Goddess can be worshipped alone.

7 Secrets of Goddess is an important book that brings to forefront the role of Goddess in otherwise male dominated mythology. The book grab eyeballs due to a wealth of picures- calendar arts, paintings, photographs of sculptures and idols, which help the reader to comprehend a explanation rich narrative. What is fantastic is that instead of literally or metaphorically assessing Indian mythology, like Islamic invaders or British colonists or several recent Indologists (who by the way cannot think an inch beyond sex when confronted with a phallus symbol or a naked goddess), Pattanaik goes for a deeper psychological approach. To his credit, he comes out with a convincing portrayal of a culture that had no inhibition in acknowledging the presence of suffering in the world, a culture that could accomodate light and darkness, pleasure and suffering, good and bad, equally.

This review is a part of the biggest <a href="http://blog.blogadda.com/2011/05/04/indian-bloggers-book-reviews" target="_blank"> Book Review Program </a> for <a href="http://www.blogadda.com" target="_blank">Indian Bloggers.</a> Participate now to get free books!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Review: God is a Gamer by Ravi Subramanian

While reviewing his novel The Bankster some time back, I had written that the distance between Indian and international thrillers is rapidly getting reduced and Ravi Subramanian has had an integral role in it. Even his next novel The Bankerupt (will post on it some other time) confirmed my belief. So when BlogAdda offered a chance to review his latest novel, God is a Gamer, I gladly jumped in. Another factor that piqued my interest about the book was the fact that it is the first thriller about bitcoins- an online form of money that is untraceable and so has a huge risk of getting misused.


The novel starts by giving us certain basic information on the rise of bitcoins when major services like MasterCard and Visa blocked payments to WikiLeaks. Within months bitcoins were accepted as a means to donate for the whistle blower site and attained immense popularity. Bitcoins, the value of which was determined totally by demand for it, can be transferred digitally between individuals without the need of any intervention of banks or governments. It gave the additional benefit that the users cannot be tracked in any way. This anonymity caused the usage of bitcoins in several shady deals including purchase of illegal substances and services.

An influential US senator, a close aid of President is killed in Washington DC. In Mumbai Aditya, founder of Indiscape Gaming Corporation, meet his estranged son Varun after decades and takes him in his folds. Aditya's financial firm eTIOS is facing a dire situation as it is facing security charges from its prime customer NYIB, a new generation bank based in US because millions were siphoned off from many ATMs using an ingenious fraud. Meanwhile Varun, with his gaming skills helps Indiscape scale new heights. He has an affair with Tanya, daughter of Malavika, Indian head of NYIB. When Malavika is mysteriously killed, implicating the hand of none other than the Finance Minister, all hell break loose. Two FBI agents investigating senator's murder find out about a new fraud involving bitcoins, gaming, bankers, politicians and terrorists. How the dots are connected forms the rest of the story...

First, let me thank Ravi Subramanian for sending the autographed copy. I have received signed copies before but along with the personal message, I loved what he did with the book title.

With God is a Gamer, the author has managed to cover the gap that I was mentioning in first para- the one
between Indian and international thrillers. Its the best thriller written by an Indian that I have read. The writing is faultless. The story is very elaborate and cover a lot of ground. The concept behind bitcoin is explained really well. Also how online gaming is packaged through social media to get maximum visibility is explained. Commendable research is evidently done on these. And I never felt bogged down by explanations because Ravi has embedded them with his main plot masterfully.

The narration happens in bits and pieces. Within first fifty pages the reader acquaints with many characters and several subplots that are seemingly unrelated. Yet by the end, like a complex jig saw puzzle, every bit is fitted in its place with a neat climatic twist to top it off. The pace of the narrative can be described in one word- frantic. I loved the fact that instead of wounding the story around a single heroic character, as is the norms, Ravi chose his book to be a plot driven one. We get lots of great characters in different shades, major or minor, each of them integral to the big picture. There are a couple of typos and minor grammatical errors, which I am mentioning because, with Penguin as publisher, even these are unacceptable.

This review is a part of the biggest http://blog.blogadda.com/2011/05/04/indian-bloggers-book-reviews" target="_blank"> Book Review Program
for http://www.blogadda.com" target="_blank">Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quikr Free Shopping Fiesta aka How I Bought My First Digital Camera

"I've reached here, in front of the shop that you told."

"Oh! You are early, we agreed for 4pm."

"Yeah, traffic was much less than what I expected."

"I'll be there right away."

Thus I waited there, on that hot Sunday afternoon, in front of a huge closed furniture shop after riding around 15km. And what I told about traffic was a lie, it was a horrible maze of assorted two- three- four and more wheelers that I had to dodge to reach there with heavily pot-holed road being little help.

When I was selected for Quikr Free Shopping Fiesta by BlogAdda.com, a few days back, I had my apprehensions. Unlike other shopping sites, Quikr is a site for classified ads. It means you have to search for the stuff you want, find the seller, contact him, actually meet him, inspect the item and pay if you really like it. That sounded hard work. In fact I took up the challenge after the insistence of the guys from BlogAdda.
I had discussions with my wife and we started searching the site for something to buy. We checked out many items that were catalogued under different categories and after several deliberations decided on a camera. Both of us have mobile phones with inbuilt camera and during our many trips and holidays we are used to taking photographs. But an idea to own a proper digital camera, though we used to toy with it briefly, never realized. I used to own a film roll camera, a gift from my father, long back when I was a kid. I had tried lot of things with it then. But on a class tour I wasted an entire roll of film clicking, which the studio people told me will make an extremely bad mark on the art called photography if developed. I was disheartened and may be that is why I never considered owning a camera till now.

Once I finalized the product, it was a cake walk. After logging in quikr.com, I searched for digital cameras for sale in my town. The options available were overwhelming. I got more than twenty listings that came within my price range that were posted in last one month which was way more than my expectations. I compared the specs, makes and age of the cameras and zeroed in on three. The contact numbers of sellers were available. I called them up and discussed about their offers. I enquired about the camera, the pricing, the location of the owners and if they used cameras commercially. I even asked them why really they are selling the cameras.

The first person I called had a model that was around 8 years old. The specs were nowhere near the other two. The pricing also I felt was on higher side. Then I called a guy who was residing very near to my home. He had a 14MP camera with 5x zoom. It was a Casio make bought from Middle East, which was just less than one year old. It felt like a bargain, but again I didn't wanted to go for a model just because of price. The model was not available in home market, so any service requirement was going to be a definite head ache. Another turn off for me was his claim that he seldom used it as he had a phone camera and that's the reason for him to sell it. I wanted something thats got to be better than phone camera which, by the way I have two, counting my wife's phone.

My final decision was to approach the guy selling his Nikon Coolpix L110. His listing was detailed, his response was genuine and his price looked just right- not too more or not less for the make of it. Just to be on safer side, I called up a trusted friend and forwarded the links of the listings. After his affirmation, I called up the seller and fixed an appointment to see the equipment.

And that was how I ended up waiting for Biju on that hot Sunday afternoon. A bike approached me soon and this gentleman waved his hand towards me. I reached for his extended hands and enjoyed a firm, but friendly hand shake. After the usual initial pleasantries, he opened his bag and took out this cool looking box from it. The care with which he presented the camera was enough for me to decide.

I took the camera and inspected it. It was a 12.1 Megapixels camera with 15X zoom. It can shoot HD movies. The box had manual, battery charger, installation CD and necessary data cables. I tried taking photographs. They came out pretty well, considering my inexperience in photographing with anything other than a basic point and shoot model. Zoom was also amazing. I conveyed to Biju my decision to buy it. I just  asked him once if there is any scope of bargain. He agreed to reduce the price by Rs 500. I admitted my weakness in bargaining and told him that we will close the deal. He was happy and conveyed his pleasure in meeting someone who actually wanted to buy instead of simply haggling. I handed over the money and the Nikon Coolpix L110 was all mine.

Guess who is happily shooting...!?
There are many reasons why I loved my shopping from Quikr. For a classified ad site, the choice that you get on Quikr is extraordinary. Compared to online shopping, Quikr gave me a wholesome experience. I did some research. I got up from my comfy chair and called up some real people, who were not just trained and polished selling machines. I managed to weigh in different factors and found out the perfect ch
oice. I met with a wonderful person. All in all I had a little adventure shopping with Quikr. Now I agree that there is a risk in buying a used good from a stranger, but with this purchase, I am really convinced its really possible to reduce that risk by doing a bit of research and some proactive care. And there is good saving too..!
Some pictures from Nikon L110


This post is written after being selected for Quikr Free Shopping Fiesta by BlogAdda. The above post is an honest recounting of the shopping that I did and my views are not in any way influenced by the promise of Rs 5000 refund by the organisers.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Private India: Collaboration of Patterson and Aswin Sanghi

James Peterson is a paperback mass production unit. I had read his first major novel Along Came a Spider, which was well written and reasonably good murder mystery featuring a troubled detective. These days he brings out variety of paperback bestsellers co-written with several other writers. Aswin Sanghi is an Indian writer specialized in writing mythological thrillers. Now they have collaborated to bring Private India, a murder mystery set in Mumbai. The expectations were very high when two men who know the trade join hands.

The novel starts with the murder of a Thai doctor in Mumbai. Very soon more bodies start piling up. After every murder the dead bodies were arranged in a peculiar manner. Santosh Wagh, Indian head of Private, an investigation agency headed by former CIA Jack Morgan, and his team starts investigation of seemingly unconnected murders. Soon all kind of trouble befell on investigators- corrupt cops, dangerous underworld dons, a Pakistani attempt to annihilate them and above all a smart serial killer who always seems one step ahead.

The winning point of Private India is its incredible pace. I finished the 400 plus paged book in just two sittings. Plot marches on very fast and while reading you tend to ignore most of the flaws. But once we are done with it, the euphoria subside and we look back to it, we realize that what we read was actually a checklist of serial killer clichés. The characters of antagonist and protagonist are done to death. Even the settings and thrills are nothing new. Mythological angle of the murders give some variety to the plot, but even then it is skin deep. Reader never gets a takeaway from it.

Private India is fine for a quick read on a lazy holiday. You will be lightly entertained if the expectations are kept rock bottom.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

That Evening When I Had The Scare of My Life...

I am a person who doesn't get scared much. I have no problem in staying alone in a building, or walking in a dark night. I can watch the most extreme horror movies and still get a good night's sleep. The ghost stories never bothered me in moments when I was alone, which used to be quite often before. But there was this one night, from long back, when I really got scared as never before. I literally shivered for some moments that night.

I was staying in Coimbatore then, in a rented room along with a good friend. In our floor, there were two other rooms. In the room adjacent to mine, a kid, probably a student, used to live. The third room used to be a mystery for us. Most of the times it used to be kept locked. On some occasions we had observed people there, but never the same ones. The mystery was cleared when the house owner told us that it belonged to a private firm and their executives who come on duty to Coimbatore stayed there.

That particular evening, my friend had went to his native. I had my dinner outside and was comfortably watching television. It was turning late and a horror movie was running in HBO. All of a sudden, there was a terrible scream. It was so unexpected and loud that I remained sat on my couch for a full minute. I could not determine from where the sound came. I could not conclude if it came from the throat of a man or a woman. Hell, I was not even sure if it was human.

I waited a while for a follow up. Nothing came. Suddenly I remembered our mystery room. That noon I had noticed someone entering it. It was a lady. Was she still inside the room? Was that her sound? May be something nasty is going on. May be someone is in need of help.
I slowly opened the door and looked out. No one there. I took one step outside. 
"Psst", the guy who lived upstairs.

"What was that?" He whispered. I shrugged. He went back. I waited for a minute and came back to the room. My sleep was dead and I had no desire left to watch the movie. I sat and thought for sometime about many possible situations. Every thought had a dirty, tragic end.

"Hell", I thought, again came outside and knocked the door of the kid. The guy took two whole minutes to open the door.

"Hey, didn't you hear that horrible scream sometime back?". I enquired in a hushed, urgent tone.

Came the tired reply "Yeah. I got an electric shock."

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith: Striking Again...

I had read the second novel in Cormoran Strike series by J K Rowling, written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, some months back, but only now came to write about it. A delay like this has an advantage, it filters out all the unimportant factors about the book out of the writing. The opinions tend to be more balanced and thought out. Now that everyone are aware who the author is, one novelty of the first novel is worn off. What I expected from The Silk Worm was two things. Some more elaboration of the major characters- Strike and Robin, like how they take their first success and how they grow as characters. Secondly a great story.

Following their success Strike and Robin are now more steadily employed, though most of the cases are quite unchallenging. One day a lady approach him asking to find her missing husband, who turns out to be Owen Quine, an out of luck novelist whose latest manuscript gets leaked. The novel Bombyx Mori, translated as Silk Worm is actually an abusive rant on several people with whom he collaborated in past. During investigation Strike find the dead body of Quine. It is evident that he was murdered in the same way the lead character of the manuscript, who was modelled on himself, is killed. Strike has to identify the killer from seven suspects whom Quine has parodied in the novel. Parallel to this story line, another story is told- Robin is varied of Strike's attempts to limit her to office jobs while she wants do investigation. Robin's suitor's dislike of Strike and her job is another barrier for both of them In functioning as a team.

The mystery is just great. Each and every twist was for me very much unpredictable and convincing. The writer is successful in showing that even literary world, that look quite placid from outside, is not free from petty envies and ego clashes. Colorful characters, all of them, add to the enjoyment of reading it. The manuscript of Quine, which essentially forms the skeleton of the mystery is embedded masterfully to the narrative. Slowly, when the crime unfolds, author changes the mood of the narrative darker.

One unpleasant aspect of The Cuckoo's Calling was the repetition of certain factors in its narrative. In The Silk Worm, the trend made me feel the length of the novel. For example the handicap of Strike was established in the first novel itself. In this novel, every instance he ventures out, a mention about this is made. If he is outside for investigation, he is made to suffer endlessly due to his cripple. Even the places were the tension between Robin and Strike is described, we find the same issue. If these issues weren't there reading this extra long book would've been a cakewalk for me.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Weekend On Boulders From Demons

We, husband and wife, made a trip last week, to a place just 50kms away from where we stay. It just took a few hours more than half a day. Yet it turned out to be a memorable one. Though both of us like travelling around, we went only to very few places as tourists. This one is worth mention as it was a spontaneous decision to go. We went to this dam called Bhoothathankettu, a location near to Kothamangalam, Idukki district, Kerala. When we reached there we found that Thattekkad bird sanctuary was nearby and had a short visit there too. 

When we started at 5.50 am, there was a slight chance of rain. It was the day Hudhud cyclone was supposed to enter Andhra, still we decided to take on the risk. (Risk edukkunnathu rusk thinnunnathu poleyaanallo). The roads were of excellent condition, contrary to our expectations. We took a detour into Kothamangalam town and had a sumptuous breakfast, though a bit more spicy for my pallette. One of our ideas for the trip was to tryout a local teashop, like the ones featured in Sathyan Anthikkad movies. But we never came across one on the way. 

Another 10kms from there took us to the dam. Instead of stopping there, we decided to drive towards Edamalayar through reserved forest. We returned after a couple of kms and got off near the dam for a detailed inspection. Bhoothankettu was a natural dam, made by huge stones which fell down from mountains during floods centuries before. Local belief was that demons were responsible for boulders that obstruct the flow of river Periyar. Hence the name Bhoothathankettu. A man made structure was constructed later. On one side of the structure is the placid reservoir and on other bottle necked water gushes out of three opened shutters towards the valley creating much noise and mayhem. The contrast was amazing. There was supposed to be a walkway parallel to the river that goes through the woods. We desisted the temptation to explore the path after finding out it was muddy. The sky was also getting darker due to clouds. We stayed on the dam for some more time looking at the scenery. By 9.30 we started from there. 

Our next destination was Thattekkad bird sanctuary. It is another 8km from the dam. Thattekkad is a place famous for the variety of avian life that it contains- perhaps biggest in India. Famous ornithologist Salim Ali had stayed there and catalogued many species of native and migrating birds. Public can go inside the forest and observe bird life after obtaining a pass. We took the pass and before entering forest the officials advised us to explore a few other sites worthy of a look- there was a mini zoo, an interpretation center and a water body housing aquatic birds. Mini zoo was a pathetic sight. I loved the interpretation center that had valuable information on the sanctuary, ornithology and birds of Kerala. Several pictures, photographs, models and specimens makes the exploration worthwhile. I took an immediate liking to the stuffed anteater. Establishing similar centers in schools and public places will be, in my opinion useful to cultivate  interest among public. The water body is perfect for observing several birds like ducks, kingfishers and keels.

Next we entered the forest after showing our pass in the check post near the entrance. The walkway inside the forest is named Salim Ali Bird Trail as a memorial to the famous ornithologist (the spelling mistake on the board- Trial instead of Trail, was a light turn off though). The walk inside was a magical experience. Let me clarify this- don't venture inside thinking that birds will come in line and pose for photographs. Observation of birds need lot of patience, some basic knowledge on birds and a binocular. When we entered we could hear different variety of sounds made by birds- some strange and some familiar. We had a tough time spotting any of them, let alone photographing. But after a few meters we started concentrating more on the scenery. Narrow walkway lined on both sides by tall and strange looking trees, deep forest and small water bodies beyond them and river Periyar flowing on one side. On the background was a natural symphony provided by birds, beetles and crickets, a distant thunder adding beats to the score. Authorities had helpfully made several way pointers, but they soon lost any relevance. We walked a long way, were tired, but knew that we have not covered enough. The darkening of the sky and incessant thunder made us retract. We found time to check the view tower in between, but it was not worth the time. By the time we came out it started pouring.

We did not explore both the sites fully. But knowing that the journey is incomplete, realizing that another day we can embark on it and be amazed and surprised all over again is also a worthy feeling.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Time When Scandal Drove and Science Took Backseat...

Saw an interview of Nambi Narayanan on TV yesterday. One of the most talented scientists ever born in our country. And also one who was the most vilified wrongly for political gains. With decades of experience behind him, he was heading a prestigious project of ISRO when he and some others were arrested in 1994 for suspected espionage charges. Even before the court took up the case, media pounced on it and pronounced the accused as wrong doers. Espionage case or chaarakkesu as Malayalam media termed it, was celebrated by all when the involvement of two ladies from Maldives gave it a sexual angle.

The presence of a top cop who was close to then Chief Minister was used by opposition and factions within the ruling party to revolt against him. CM had to resign following allegations that he was aiding the accused. Case was transferred from local police to CBI. They found out that the case was false. Media, public and politicians were dissatisfied and wanted a reprobe. When State Government ordered local police to take up the case again, all accused approached Supreme Court. In 1998 SC cancelled the probe and directed the government to compensate the accused for their physical and mental sufferings -which was never done. Another direction from SC was to probe and bring the culprits who were responsible for fabrication of the case, which also is not done yet.

If we go in depth, we can find many behind the screen maneuvers that made the case sensational in public eyes and pronounced Nambi Narayanan and co-accused as monsters who betrayed the nation. Media gave enough publicity by peddling half truths and outright,  made up lies just to increase their circulation. Rivals of CM- in his own party and opposition used the oppertunity to evict him out of power. And we the public, ever hungry for scandals, fell for the propaganda.

But why this false accusation was made first of all? The Wikipedia page of Nambi Narayanan give the crucial clues. I will reproduce the excerpt below:

"In 1992, India had signed an agreement with Russia for transfer of technology to develop cryogenic-based fuels.The agreement was signed for Rs 235 crore,when the US and France were offering the same technology for Rs 950 crore and Rs 650 crore respectively.Documents show that US president George H. W. Bush wrote to Russia, raising objections against this agreement and even threatening to blacklist the country from the select-five club. Russia, under Boris Yeltsin, succumbed to the pressure and denied cryogenic technology to India.To bypass this monopoly,India signed a new agreement with Russia to fabricate four cryogenic engines after floating a global tender without a formal transfer of technology.Isro had already reached a consensus with Kerala Hitech Industries Limited (Keltch) which would have provided the cheapest tender for fabricating engines.But this did not happen as the spy scandal surfaced in late 1994."

When we take into consideration the fact that Nambi Narayanan was the head of cryogenic in ISRO, dynamics become clear.

What were the ramifications of the scandal? ISRO, a premiere research organization lost its credibility within and outside India. Several breakthrough technological projects were delayed or stalled pulling Indian space research back, severely hampering national development. Scientists were generally considered unreliable by public. Science as a discipline, lost its sheen. Youngsters found a profession in research in India unsafe, giving one more excuse for brain drain. Ultimately we, Indians lost.

It took huge hard work of decades and today ISRO is back in limelight with the phenomenal success of Mangalyaan. You may think on this great occasion why I am retelling this sad tale. Its not for taking the gleam out of victory celebration. This story should be engraved on all of our minds, so that we as a nation, irrespective of our ethnic, cultural and ideological differences, stand behind the people who are striving to make a positive difference in our lives.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Njaan: A Relevant Movie by Ranjith

Njaan is a period movie directed by Ranjith based on the novel 'KTN Kottur: Ezhuthum Jeevithavum' (KTN Kottur: Writings and Life) by T P Rajeevan. Previously, Ranjith had directed Paleri Manikyam, based on a novel by the same writer. I am yet to read the novel, so whatever I write here is based on the experience of movie alone. Njaan is the story about a person who lived in pre-independant India with several talents, but was unable to achieve the greatness he was supposed to.

Movie has a very loose, nonlinear narrational structure. It starts when Ravi, a young professional and a blogger who writes with the pen name Kottur, decides to write a play based on the life of KTN Kottur, his inspiration. He is backed by a theatre group headed by actor Joy Mathew. The life of Kottur is slowly uncovered to the viewers.

The movie deals with many themes. I felt it predominantly dealt with the role of individualism in a social setup. Kottur is portrayed as a visionary. But he fails when his compatriots try to bracket him as per their needs. They fail to see that he is not an idealist. He himself claims to be a humanist. His works are mostly romantic in nature. His descent to an alcoholic, an introvert and finally a fatalist has to be viewed in this angle.

One negative point of the movie, I feel is the endorsement of this fatalism. Instead of portraying fatalism with contempt, as a logical conclusion of the descent, the movie tries to romanticize it. That bogs down the narrative towards the end of the movie and makes a mess. Another negative point is that the movie never tries to uncover the writer in Kottur. It undermine the characterization significantly.

But the one point that really spoiled the movie for me was the lead actor. Dulqar Salman, though the guy has evidently tried very hard, is unable to do justice to the role of Kottur that require a certain depth, a capability to make the viewer aware of the impending doom. That's a pity, because all the supporting cast were too good.

Kottur is actually a place in Calicut district. Names of several neighboring places- Neduvannur, Koottalida, Perambra etc., that keep on appearing in the narrative confirms that. Then how come the slang that people speak is that of furthur north, mostly that of Payyannur? Also geography of the location and the presence of theyyam performance is curiously indicating a place near Payyannur.

Njaan is definitely a brave attempt by Ranjith and an important one too as the questions raised by the life of Kottur has contemporary relevance. The movie scores on several other elements like great camera work and a narrative that is multilayered. It is a must watch for people loving serious cinema.

Indian Takeaway- In Search of an Identity...

Last year I happened to read an incredible book by Monisha Rajesh in which the British Indian journalist goes on a journey through the length and breadth of India in trains. It turns out to be a self revelatory experience. Now this 2008 book, Indian Takeaway is much similar. Here, a Scottish journalist of Indian origin, an amateur cook, travel across India cooking British food for locals. He does it in the belief that this exercise can reveal his true identity.

Hardeep Singh Kohli is a journalist and TV personality. He is also an amateur cook. He was brought up in Glasgow by his immigrant parents. In his childhood, to his surprise, he was treated as an outsider due to his Indian ancestry. But his views, interests and allegiance were very British. This duality made him undertake a journey through different cities of India, and cook a British dish at each city. Read the book to find out if anything comes oyt of this exercise.

First thing that strikes the reader about this book is the honesty that the writer brings on the table. About his feelings, cooking, family, culture, things he sees and has to undergo on course, Kohli writes openly. There is an incident in the book where he is not sure about his train reservation and worries about journeying in third class. Any other person would have sugar coated the whole thing, but Kohli doesn't. He openly declare his fear of 'the girl who is eating mango and the old woman who sleeps on floor'. At first I felt it insensitive, but who am I to judge!

Second best are his descriptions- about journey, places, people and more importantly about food and cooking. He masterfully builts up the atmosphere, so that the reader finds it easy to understand his thinking. There is a liberal dose of humor sprinkled in the narrative. Some of it works, but some falls flat. Certain anecdotes and attempts on word play, doesn't gel with the content of the book. Another major issue for me was 'the Kohli Family Trivia' which severly hampers the flow of the book in many places.

Overall I felt it to be an interesting read and may be of interest to foodies and travel enthusiasts, though the final outcome, whether Kohli was able to find out who he really is, turned out to ambiguous.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Chewing Gum of a Movie...

"Why is this movie called Chewing Gum?"

We were on the middle of watching the dvd of a recent Malayalam movie taken on rent when my wife asked me.

She continued. "There seems to be no connection between this title and movie."

I tried to stiffle a yawn and replied.

"After the first few minutes the whole flavor is lost and it becomes a tasteless, sticky mass of infinitely stretchable matter. We have spent some money on it, however unsubstantial it may be, and are reluctant to spit it out. But we don't want to eat it as it is indigestible. Finally we chew it on for some more time hoping may be a surprise flavor is released, though its dead sure that won't happen. Chewing Gum is the most apt title for this movie."

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sapthama Sree Thaskaraha: Ocean's Seven in Thrissur

My title doesn't imply that this curiously titled Malayalam movie is copied from any foreign flock. As Mohanlal tells in an old movie, all thieves in the world has similar face and it is horrible (bheekar hai), all heist movies tend to have similar elements. To make it entertaining every part of the heist has to be made convincing- motive, planning, execution and improvisation. Another uphill task is to make audience root for criminals.

Director Anil Menon, whose début, critically acclaimed and commercially successful North 24 Kaatham, was a fine specimen of road movie. This added my expectations when I entered the hall to watch Sapthama Sree Thaskaraha. The movie is a riot. Each scene, even the ones with serious tones, ends in situational humor. The characterisation is top notch. Actors have done a wonderful work, though I feel Venu's role was a bit underwritten. Another noteworthy aspect is the location. Cultural capital of Kerala and the the unique slang of the place is put to good use.

One minor issue that I felt was in the improvisation part of the heist. In every good heist movie there is a point were an unexpected hitch stall the robbery. Thieves either makes a change of plan then and there or sometimes they might have considered this issue already and smartly execute the plan B, involving the audience only at the end as part of a big revelation. This is supposed to be the twist that significantly contribute to the drama and thrill. This movie doesn't employ it and tries to introduce a twist after the robbery happen. This move in my opinion slightly hamper the effect.

Storm Front by John Sandford: A Disappointment

The reason why I picked a novel by John Sandford to read was certain online reviews by readers who held generally favorable opinion regarding him. Storm Front is a 2013 mystery novel of a series featuring Virgil Flowers, a Minnesota cop. Storm Front is about Flowers' attempts to get back a relic that was stolen by a priest from an archeological site in Israel, who is in quest of a prospective buyer. Creating head ache for Flowers are some conflicting factions who want to buy the relic and put it to use for propaganda.

My first issue with the novel is the leading man himself. Virgil Flowers doesn't sound like a great name for a crime fighter. Neither are his investigating skills impressive. He seems uninterested most of the times. Certain ethical quirks and a goofy humor sense are his only saving graces. Even other characters are more caricatures and does not evoke any emotion- not even hatred, in the reader.

The plot is much convoluted. There is lot of action around, but barely anything happens other than the introduction of another new character every 50 pages. Everyone chases around the whole time, but none seem to convey any urgency. The book was probably intended as a satire, but the blend of humor and mystery was bland. The only reason why I finished reading this one is on and off streaks of humor in the narrative. Its a day since I have read this book and to remember what finally happened to the stone I have to exercise my neurons. So much for the recall value of it.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Idea Ulloo Banaoing Their Customer

On 8th of September I recharged my Idea account with a 3G unlimited recharge of Rs 949 valid for 30 days. The offer was 6GB 3G usage and after that 80kbps connection till validity ends.

On 15th September I used up 6GB (yes, I did it). That day I received an SMS from Idea saying that as my quota is over, my speed is reduced to 40kbps.

I tried browsing and found that the browsing speed is infact less. I called the customer care, but they were not ready to accept that such a thing can happen. I tried every trick they told- switched off the phone and switched it on again, deleted browser cookies, tried putting sim on another phone... But nothing seemed to work. When I contacted customer care again, they agreed to register a complaint which will take 38 hours to resolve.

Browsing with 40kbps was frustrating, but I decided to wait. The next day I received another SMS from Idea that informed me that my speed is again reduced to 20kbps and to their credit, that was exactly what happened.

When I called customer care, their advice was to wait till the complaint is resolved. Next day I got a call from Idea claiming that the complaint is resolved. But when I tried browsing there was no improvement. In my next call to care, they offered to reopen the complaint and wait for another 38 hours.

That time was over today evening, but I could not find any improvement. When I called again they put me on hold for 10 minutes, then returned to tell me they tried everything from their end but nothing could be done. The guy gave me an email id and told me to send the details to it, if I want to pursue furthur.

I gave him a piece of my mind in my most possible civilized manner, disconnected the call, drafted an email and send it to that id. The mail bounced...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Book Review: Catching the Departed

Writing of generic fiction is attaining new heights in Indian publishing industry. Many new authors are entering the field and it is sure that at least some of them are going to give their western counterparts a tough competition in near future. I am happy to claim that the author of the book I am reviewing here has a good chance of being one among them. Catching the Departed is the first novel by Kulpreet Yadav, founder-editor of a global literary journal. The novel was short listed for Hachette- DNA 'Hunt for the next bestseller'. Published by Tara, this is the first book of a series that features ex-army man and journalist Andy Karan.

A drunkard is murdered in a remote village and Andy Karan is send there to investigate it. He finds that the episode is not a stand alone one and that he has kicked the hornet's nest when he is attacked. Andy uncovers a lethal plan by foreign terrorists targeting Indian cities. He also finds someone from inside, someone real powerful is behind all these and that his life and the life of someone he really cares about is in danger. Will Andy be able to protect them as the bodycount around him multiplies? Read the book to find out.

The intention of this book is to tell a thrilling story that keeps the interest of the reader throughout its length. It does not boast any great literary ambitions. In that regards the book is a success. The book starts with a twin murder and the pace that is set explosively never slacks for the entire length of the book. Each page throws more and action on the face of the reader. The climax does justice to the plot. The book is immensely readable- I finished it in the course of a day, in two sittings. This is an ideal book to carry for that day time train journey or for a lazy holiday afternoon.

But one suggestion I have to make is about the lead character. Andy Karan comes across as a nice guy, infact very likeable and resourceful at times. He is brave, loyal and patriotic even vulnerable at times. He is fine to be the hero of a novel. But to take a whole series forward, I seriously doubt he has enough in him. The lead of a series has to have a charisma, a dynamic quality or a peculiar quirk that Andy lacks. And eating banana for lunch is not a good enough quirk in my view.

I recommend Catching the Departed for those who like a well paced thriller, which is an easy read. A good début.

Book Source: Author

Friday, August 15, 2014

Robin Williams and Popeye, the Underrated Début.

We like certain people for the positivity that they radiate. Robin Williams was one such guy. Many of his movies, even the lesser ones, make the viewer feel happy and content, just by his magnificent presence. So, it was with shock that I woke up to the news of his demise. My despair knew no bounds when I found out it may be a suicide. This guy, who, as per me was the most cheerful guy on reels, was apparently depressed and sad in his real life. This fact took some time to sink in. Guys, if any one of you feel discontent or sad or depressed; feel free to get help immediately. That's all I have to say on this topic.

The first movie of Robin Williams that I watched was Mrs. Doubtfire, the one that inspired Avvai Shanmughi (Chachi 420 in Hindi). It was a riot. After that I happened to see Jumanji, Flubber, Patch Adams and much later Good Will Hunting. I have not seen many of his films that are the favorites of critics except the last one that I mentioned. But even these movies were sufficient to make me realize the talent of Robin Williams. Most of his roles had a sweet, sugary and a little bit loony undertone and mostly he played the pretty ordinary guy who do extraordinary deeds compelled by circumstances very convincingly. It was only recently that I watched one of his negative roles, in the movie Insomnia by director Christopher Nolan. Even in that movie the subtlety that Robin Williams displays in portraying a psychopath is commendable.

Some years back I was browsing Wikipedia about the cartoon character Popeye, one of my childhood favorites, when I first came to know about a live action Popeye movie released in 1980. It was the first leading role of Robin Williams. It was registered in my mind as an awesome trivia. Yesterday in an article about his movie career, I came across Popeye movie again. So out of respect to this wonderful man, I decided to watch Popeye and blog about it.  The movie, directed by Robert Altman was in its time panned by critics and was just a moderate success. May be these factors stopped them from producing a sequel, but the movie had every potential for the start of a series.

First thing that makes this one special is the presence of Robin Williams, who plays Popeye just like in the cartoon but simultaneously renders him that extra depth which only a genius could do. The movie itself is very close to the cartoon. It has high energy, craziness and a bizarre sense of humor. The set of the village of Sweethaven makes a perfect background. There is very little plot or characterization. The movie unfolds in a totally haphazard manner. Lot of characters just come and go on screen with no more purpose than a background prop. Some of them make a lasting impression- like that guy who tries to pick his fallen hat but fails as his feet strikes it away from him every time he tries! But for me, surprisingly all these work brilliantly.

The humor is mostly verbal and a very little slapstick. I was expecting more of slapstick as it was about Popeye and due to the presence of Robin Williams. The way Popeye speaks to himself, just like the cartoon is brilliant. Robin Williams convincingly portrays him as an awkward and at the same time tender guy. There is a scene were Wimpy takes Seetpea for betting in horse race. All the horses are small plastic toys operated by wheels, and the place is inside a brothel! Did I forget to tell the movie is actually a musical? The songs are very funny and not just inserted to please the ears of viewers. The one inside the saloon is hilarious.

It is a very crazy movie, the cacophony of which may not be liked by many disciplined viewers. But I would recommend it to the adventurous ones and for the fans of Robin Williams.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Sunday Tweet War

Normally I never go for an argument with strangers, not in real life, never in cyberspace, especially about politics. Because it never changes a thing, other than generate lot of negativity. Today was an exception. I was doing my regular twitter rounds when I reached the timeline of Indian National Congress. For one of their tweets, I replied.

INC tweet:
#TheIndiaTheyInherited - Due to pro-poor UPA policies
More homes turn to PDS; wheat off-take triples since 2005 http://t.co/vvioayfqzg

My reply:
@INCIndia real progress is when common man has disposable income not depending sudsidized food supply

After minutes of posting that I got this reply from Mr Nikhil which started this conversation:

Nikhil: till then? Should we leave poor dieing without food n shelter? We must appreciate good work done by UPA in last 25 yrs

Me: We are a free nation from 65 years. Why still there are poor dying? Till when this will continue? The only way out is to give poor a fishing rod once and for all, instead of a daily supply of fish.

Nikhil: yes, agreed with this too. For the same reason Rojgaar yojna n mnrega by UPA. We must appreciate Manmohan and his team

Me: Any yearly  study done how this scheme has benefitted economy? Or was that another handout? Is there an upgradation in skills of the people in this yojana?

Nikhil: People got jobs, spending power increased, so increased demands, to fulfill demands, more supply, thus more jobs.

Me: a link pls.

Nikhil: UPAs reforms n policies are always inclusive and conducive to kickstart the sluggish economy. Hats off to Manmohan.

Me: Why economy is still sluggish and not kick started yet?

Nikhil: Good schemes take time to flourish n reach the people. Many people opposed the computers and IT initially.

Me: How many years? 10 not enough? Then y INC criticising the new govt which is month old?

Nikhil: Instead of bluntly blaming, we should analyze the challenges n conditions before 65 years to realize INCs contribution

Me: I am not blaming. Look the election results.

Nikhil: agreed with this too. Thanks to Nehru for making India truly democratic. So we should respect the mandate.
We must respect mandates in 65y, MMS got 2nd term. IG was PM for 15y, JLN was PM for 17y. Why? They performed well.

Me: So we can conclude that UPA II was a failure as the result was disastrous. PM who performed well got repeat mandate. (Ur words). UPA2 did not get another term. Bcos of non performance.

Nikhil: Good to see that you come down from 65y to UPA2. Not at all disastrous, but few things mishandled. Corruption n Anna.

Me: was using ur logic n assuming the govts that got repeated mandates did well. few mishandling cost you an election?

Nikhil: UPA1,2 performed tremendously well but failed to project their achievements. They should learn Modi style of marketing

Me: So now u r not respecting mandate. U accuse people where manipulated?

Nikhil: Lets give some time n wish bestluck to Modiji. Lets hope he continue on the path defined by Manmohan Singh.

Me: Let's do it. I hope he doesn't repeat the grave mistakes of previous govts.

Nikhil: Not manipulated but Modiji succeeded in projecting that last 65yrs were disastrous due to Congress. Which is not true.

Me: So who were responsible?

Nikhil: Obviously UPA, but not everything was as disastrous like Modiji projected during his campaign. UPA should introspect.

Me: Supposing Modi has projected a 100% disaster rule by UPA, how much of a disaster it actually was?

Conversation continues.... Will update later.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Killing Jesus by Bill O' Reilly and Martin Dugard

Bill O’ Reilly and Martin Dugard had written two other books- Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln, both best sellers, before writing Killing Jesus. I wanted to read them, as the concept sounded good. But now, after reading Killing Jesus, I don’t want to waste time on them. No, it’s not that Killing Jesus is a bad book. I will come to that later, anyhow. Killing Jesus is a book that tries to unveil the mysteries behind the crucification of Jesus. It is supposed to be a historical recounting of the events that culminated in the crucification and eventual death (as per authors) of the Son of God (as per Bible).

The book starts with giving the readers an account of Rome and their times. It discusses the last days of Julius Ceaser and the ascend of Augustus Ceaser eventually. Then the narrative move to Jerusalem and describes the political and religious climate there and how the local rulers and priests have masterminded strategies to align themselves in favor of ruling Rome. John, the Baptizer arrives next and after that only the story of Jesus Christ starts. The book then follows Jesus preaching, gathering followers one by one, challenging religious authorities and cleansing the temple. When his activities start disturbing them, priests conspire and execute him with the help of Roman authorities.

I had told in first para that this book is not bad. Killing Jesus is written fabulously. It has every requirement of a page turner- intrigue, great plot, and superb descriptions of the times, a multi-dimensional tormented hero and lot of things happening every moment. I could not put this one down.  My issue is the authors’ claim that this is a historical account of the life of Jesus, while actually the book is more of a historical drama. A historical book and a historical novel are poles apart. In a book of history there will be account of events, details of the times and analysis of happenings.

Killing Jesus seriously misses out on the third thing. The writers just present the data available to them chronologically and try to milk the dramatic turn of events. Their claim that this book has revelations on the tale of Jesus is totally wrong. It was the same story that I knew from the time I read the New Testament for first time. It does not deviate much from Gospels, only some chronological rearrangement is done. Also all the supernatural occurrences are removed and the eventual resurrection is mentioned in a passing, to align with the concept of a historical version of events. Therefore here Jesus does not perform any miracles.

So finally what we have here is a version of New Testament, a well written one that mix and match the happenings in different Gospels and devoid of any supernatural occurrences. Also with an overlong prelude that involves Roman history which is included especially to sow the seeds of hate in reader’s mind.  And I don’t want to mention factual errors and Biblical inaccuracies, the details of which can be obtained from the experts’ mouth directly if you do a google search.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Non-Stop Thrills from Liam Neeson

Before watching Non-Stop, the latest of the action flicks starring aged Liam Neeson that Hollywood is regularly churning out recently, I had seen enough bad reviews for it. One reason why critics panned the movie was due to its similarities with previous Liam Neeson movies- Taken and others. Other than that, it is the usual issues with action movies, not having enough logic binding the plot, silly characterization and such.  As I don’t have any issues with generic movies and I don’t expect any Oscar worthy qualities from action movies, I jumped in to watch it.

Non-Stop has Liam Neeson as an alcoholic, but good-intentioned Air Marshal, who gets a message in his phone, which has a secured network, during his flight that if an obscene amount is not transferred to a bank account, every 20 minutes one person will die. Soon he realizes that the threat is real when people start dying around him in that interval. His fellow passengers infer that he himself is the culprit as circumstantial evidences point towards him. Even on ground he is implicated as the bank account to which money has to be transferred is in his name. Neeson has to find out the actual culprit, diffuse a ticking time bomb, save the plane and prevent any more killings and all these confronting a horde of irate passengers.  

I loved the movie. It starts with a good concept and builds on it. Thrills are pretty good. After a long time I am watching an action movie that does not entirely depend on elaborate set pieces made by computer generated effects. The biggest draw is Liam Neeson, who looks his part and executes it brilliantly. His acting was integral in making me forget or overlook the inconsistencies spread throughout the entire film. Julianne Moore as a fellow suspect and potential romantic interest ably supports him. Other characters do not rise above B movie level as they are not given any scope for that. The climax was a bit of a letdown for me. It was satisfying while watching, but later when I thought about it, it felt lousy. I would say it was somewhere in between Con Air and Speed2: Cruise Control.

Watch Non-Stop for an earnest and very talented Liam Neeson and also for good thrills.  It is good entertainment.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: Why Do Buses Come in Threes?

What is the best way to divide a cake equally between two kids, without any disputes?

Make one kid to divide the cake into two and other one to choose the piece that he wants. That way the first kid knows the cakes are cut equally and second kid is sure he has the biggest piece.

Simple, isn’t it? What if the cake has to be divided between more than two kids? What if the cake is of a complex shape? What if instead of cakes, resources has to be divided, between corporations or nations? “Why Do Buses Come in Threes? “is a book by Rob Eastaway and Jeremy Wyndham that assures us there are ways to do it. This book tries to find mathematics in our everyday life. Math is one of the least favorite subjects of most of the students and many feel a study of math does not affect their life in any way. But the writers assert that math is in fact the building block of our lives, influencing our every movement and every action.

The title of each chapter is a question like the title of the book. Like, “Why are showers always too hot or cold?” The writers then go on to explain fundamental principles based on mathematics to solve them. Almost all the branches of maths- algebra, trigonometry, geometry, logic, probability- you name it appears in it in ways that we never thought possible. By the end of this book we get a good perspective about Fibonacci numbers, problem solving, scheduling projects, betting, surveys, superstitions and much more.

Credit has to go to the writers for detailing complex math fundamentals in a way that can be understood by even high school students. The light humorous way of explaining makes it all the more enjoyable. The book compels the reader to think and find patterns and make connections of events that puzzle us in our daily lives using mathematics. The last chapter contains certain tricks using maths that can make kids more interested in numbers. I would recommend this book as a must read for students of maths and adults alike. It is a must read.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Review: Holy War by Mike Bond

War is a human situation that started with the beginning of our race. At any point of time there is a war waging on one or the other part of our planet, bringing destruction and endless sufferings to millions of people- soldiers and civilians alike. If it causes such irreversible damages, why not stop engaging in it? Why not give peace a chance?  There are many antiwar thoughts going on in the world, coming out as literature, movements, as artwork and in many other forms. But war continues, unstopping, as a reality. In his brilliant novel Holy War, Mike Bond tries to answer these questions and more.

Neill is an American journalist, staying in London, with a family life on the verge of collapse. Need for money makes him to take up an assignment for MI6, getting Lebanese Hezbollah leader Mohammad interviewed in war torn Beirut city. The catch is that in order to get the money, Neill has to wear a GPS chip in his body revealing Mohammad’s position to Neill’s employers. Mohammad is the charismatic Hezbollah leader who is slowly warming up to the idea of everlasting peace between warring factions in the city. Rosa is a Palestinian woman who can go to any length for exacting revenge on Israel. Andre is the brother of a French Para soldier who dies in a suicide attack. He wants Mohammad, who he feels is responsible, to die and with the intention of killing Mohammad enters Beirut defying his seniors. The novel deals with their intermingling paths and the quest for an elusive peace.

Holy War is a stunning book. Mike Bond succeeds in taking the reader to the places were real war happens through the strength of his writing. The violence and underlying tension that builds up throughout this novel is enough to knock the sense out of the reader. On the top of that, it involves some intriguing characters, three dimensional and real. All the characters are written in such a way that, reader always feels there is much more to them than what meet the eyes. Through them the writer makes a statement of strong impact that condemns mutual destruction for the purpose of ego-boosting. Also commendable is the fact that, he never takes sides and maintains a balance between characters that make them more believable and the writing more authentic. It succeeds in making the reader think deep into themselves and come to a conclusion about the folly of war without doing any preaching.

Holy War is a must read book, that can stimulate our mind and soul. Don’t hop in for any cheap thrills, try it for the introspection mode that this book can put your mind into. Expect lot of explicit violence and sex.