Saturday, June 20, 2015

A long and mostly pointless rant on food.

Some days back I saw a news report on a television channel that compared the vegetable prices in different parts of Kerala. The reporters purchased vegetables worth Rs.100 from a border village in Palakkad. They travelled with it to Thrissur and enquired in a wholesale shop about the cost of same amount of vegetables. It was around Rs.180. At Ernakulam, the price of Rs.100 worth of vegetables from Palakkad was Rs.280!

For some days I couldn’t help thinking about various aspects of this information. Most of the vegetables that are consumed in Kerala are cultivated in Tamil Nadu. That explains the cheap rate in border areas. The cost increases as the produce travel more distance. What may be the reason for this difference? Transport cost obviously. Just that, or is there more to it? What about the risk factor involved in transporting products of lower shelf life that may get spoiled by the time it reaches end seller? And what about the extra care to preserve them- an extra dose of pesticide or refrigeration? In that case, what about the additional risk on the health of consumers?  Is there any other social reason for the price in Ernakulam to be so high; may be the fact that it is a more developed city than others?

One solution that I could think of was reducing the time taken for transporting the produce, thereby reducing risk of spoilage. The obvious solution is to invest in infrastructure. Better road connectivity between towns can reduce shipment time. If good highways are made in which vehicles with heavy load can safely travel at high speeds, more goods can be transported in lesser time. Instead of transporting small quantity of goods in old worn out trucks, an efficient collection system can be put to place that aids in amassing huge quantity of produce and they can be shipped using improved fuel efficient carrier vehicles with refrigerated containers. Though the cost of investment in all these setup will be passed on to the end users, after a certain period of time this may prove beneficial.

On further thoughts, I felt that there can be another alternative, one which can totally eliminate or reduce considerably the need to transport vegetables. It is by local production and distribution, which was the way things were sometime back. At present, in between the farmer and buyer, there are at-least four agents. Firstly collection agents purchase goods from farmers and sell it to the distributor. The distributor dispatches it to wholesale merchants of different cities. The wholesale merchants receive them and divide it for distribution in different areas in their respective localities. Ultimately the retailers who get the load from wholesalers sell the vegetables to the consumers. This system adds on the overheads and risks of all the involved agents into the picture, thereby increasing the price of the goods substantially by the time it reaches end consumer. Inventory cost and transportation cost add on the final selling cost along with the expense of extra processing for preservation.

An alternative to the existing system is, as I mentioned before, to produce and distribute groceries locally. For that purpose primarily people has to be given motivation to cultivate products that are necessary for their consumption in their backyard or balconies or terrace. This is in-fact happening in many households already. I have seen people purchasing cauliflower and capsicum ignoring papaya and jackfruits growing abundant in their own backyard. The problem is we all need exotic food. In a recent past it was a luxury, but now it is the norm. If a mother makes papaya curry for two days, kids and husband start protesting the next day. They demand for something different and exciting daily. We eat Chinese, Italian and North Indian cuisines, but forget our healthy ancestral dishes that can be made with ingredients that grow or can be easily grown in our backyard. There are eateries that sell local dishes but they charge a premium. Locally cultivated, organic vegetables can be purchased from market but at a premium rate.

It is this situation that needs a change. Every household has to be trained to cultivate some part of their diet taking into account their space constraints. Also support has to be provided to market the excess crop left over after consumption at the local market in a cheap rate. This gives additional income to the growers. Indigenous food products and dishes have to be promoted and their health benefits explained. This motivates people to purchase them and support the local market. Processed food should be manufactured and marketed only locally so as to reduce the need of preservation. Elimination of preservatives reduces the use of chemicals and ultimately contributes to a healthy society. Cost of the produce reduces dramatically as the transporting overheads and risks are considerably reduced. As everyone is at the same time a producer and consumer, society becomes more interactive and closely knit.

But who will tie the bell on the cat?

Monday, June 1, 2015

Achcha Din Continued: Family Troubles

Read the beginning of Achcha Din with Railways.

Thus I boarded the train, pissed off after paying the exorbitant fare, into the stinking sleeper class coach. It was the end of the summer vacation and hordes of families had occupied many berths- most of them travelling till the final destination. It was evident that they had all reserved their tickets and were assigned with berth numbers. A few of us short distance travelers- if you can call 200 plus kilometers as short distance-, ones without any berth numbers but possessing perfectly valid albeit overpriced sleeper coach tickets, were looking to get ourselves accommodated in any vacant seats, leftover by the multitudes of ladies, kids and gentlemen.

It was strange. If anyone looks from outside, from the platform, they may feel that the train is almost empty. But I had a tough time finding a seat. One reason was the peculiar, unaccommodating behavior displayed by families. Once they occupy some space, they never allow an intruder. If you are familiar with sleeper coaches, you may know that six berths- two lower, two middle and two upper berths- forms kind of a territory, with two berths on the opposite acting like a door or a lid. The intended practice is that, in the day time all the six passengers are to use the lower berth for sitting. If anybody feels like having a nice siesta, they can use the upper berth. The middle berth, the hanging one that can be used as a cushion for the lower berth when it is used for sitting, is usually erected only at night, after all the passengers come to a silent mutual agreement to call it a day. 

But once a family finds its assigned berths, they put all their luggage- a tremendous load by default, on the upper berth. Then they take up the lower berth. Kids start playing their games taking up the most of the available space, periodically disturbing the elders only when any vendor passes by. At least one woman, in many cases all of them, stretches legs, and slowly assumes any of the postures of a deep slumber, occupying any left over space. Menfolk take off their shoes, unbutton partially or sometimes fully their shirts, lift their legs onto the seats and attain an impromptu yoga pose.  The middle berth in many cases is just left hanging, but sometimes it can be observed that even they are occupied, virtually negating any possibility for a passenger possessing day-time ticket to sit on a vacant spot. Ultimately, in seats that can accommodate 6 grown up passengers (8 if you consider the upper berths too), it happens that only three or four people take up the entire area.

Now if you want to get a place to sit down, you have to ask any of them to adjust. You ask them politely to move a bit and the family head jerks his head suddenly towards you, staring with disbelief. It seems as if you have asked for a plot on his family land for free. Women try slowly to move their legs, as if to make some space with much difficulty, but stops midway and continue their slumber. The kids don’t even acknowledge your presence as if you are the Hollow Man.  You are left standing there for some moments, stupidly looking at each of them and eventually making a slow retreat.

In my case, I tried to get on an upper berth finally. When the family-head, who seemed to be in a Samadhi state, jumped up and yelled that the berth was theirs, I asked him to come and sit there if it was his. That settled the matter, somehow.

Friday, May 29, 2015

An Achcha Din With Indian Railway

A few months back I had commented to someone about a marked improvement that I observed with the railway infrastructure. Stations, coaches and even railway lines were kept cleaner, considerably improving the whole experience of travelling on rails. Even the affair of consuming rail food, the quality of which stayed in the same dismal state, was less unpleasant thanks to the absence of stink.

Today, when I ventured on the platform of Ernakulam Junction station, I was overcome by nostalgic feelings from a bygone era, when welcomed with the strong smell of garbage and piss. I was travelling to Thalassery, a tough journey when you consider the intense summer heat that is again doubled by the railway coaches that are ingeniously constructed using materials which are the highest conductors of heat making you remember the images etched into the minds of public by a certain Mr. Dante. Adding to the heat  is the perplexing railway schedule that somehow manages to consistently stop the exact train in which I get in to make way for every other trains that cross us, making the actual journey time taking double than the announced.

But today when I got into the train I had a bigger reason to be pissed off. It seems the rate of sleeper coach tickets when purchased on the spot for day time journeys has been insanely increased. That means a Rs 110 sleeper coach ticket will cost me Rs 195 now! This, for a service that no one uses, because nobody in their right mind will sleep in a daytime journey for reasons that I already detailed. Its a perfect recipe for certain harakiri. Buying general class tickets is out of question as most express trains have just two general coaches- three if we consider ladies' coach, but that one is out of bounds- in both extreme ends and they are filled in light speeds. There are atleast 12 sleeper coaches, most of which are either empty on day time or filled with passengers with general tickets.

Now if I am doing an advance reservation for sleeper tickets it will be costing me much lesser even with the reservation charge added in. But this is not possible when an unplanned journey has to be made in an emergency situation. So what railway essentially want is to squeeze passengers who are out of possibilities to make them part with as much money as possible. And the services are back to the terrible and despairing state it was in before.

A more ethical way to fill raiway coffers would be to make the employees stand on the exits with daggers and guns and extort money from exiting passengers threatening them of dire consequences...

... My Achcha Din has just begun. Will continue once I get chance to recharge the cell batteries. I found a plug point on train but as expected it doesn't work.

Its here..

In A Cat's Eye by Kevin Bergeron

Willy finds Nancy, the girl he fancies, dead in her room in Hotel Morpheum one day. He too stays in the same hotel. Willy is a misfit- jobless, an ex-convict, totally lacking in social skills, living in his own world and highly volatile. He never pays his rent, but the landlady keeps him there as he is good with tools and comes handy. Police and other lodgers believe Nancy had overdosed on cocaine, but Willy is dead sure she was murdered. He knows that because her favorite statue is missing from her room. 

Willy also knows that Mr. Winkley- her one-eyed cat is the sole witness of the crime. He takes in the cat and embarks on a journey to find the killer; knowing that finding the missing statue is the key to it. The line of suspects is long and in the end of it stands Willy himself- he has the tendency to forget things that he did. He has a vision of the killer in the cat’s eye, but how will he reach to that person? And who is going to believe him?

In a Cat’s Eye is the debut novel of Kevin Bergeron, published by Authonomy, an online community for budding writers, developed by HarperCollins. It is a short novel, slightly longer than a novella. The story is narrated in first person, through the eyes of Willy. It is essentially a detective novel, though the detective in this story lacks most of the basic qualities assigned to one conventionally in the genre. 

Willy is an unreliable narrator and it is this quality that makes the novel distinguished. There is an ambiguity that surrounds his rants, which should alienate the reader after a point of time. But here it doesn’t happen. I was drawn into the story and started rooting for him in a very subtle way as it progressed.  All the other characters in the hotel are nutcases and equally unsociable. All of them seem possible murderers. This motley crew of suspects adds uncertainty and vibrancy to the plot. Only the all-knowing one-eyed cat is the sane being.  

One more aspect that I liked about the plot is the kind of unveiling effect that it has on the reader. The background of the story is provided in bits and pieces and as the narration progresses, the picture becomes clearer and clearer. It adds to the suspense.  The weak point of the novel, for me, was the lack of flesh in it- non-existence of detailing. I love descriptive novels. But considering the protagonist’s condition, it has to be excused.  To sum it up, In a Cat’s Eye is an engaging novel, that never overstay its welcome.

Buy the book :

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The Baklava Club by Jason Goodwin

These days it seems I am reading only detective stories! Even the novel by Mario Vargas Llosa (about which I may blog soon) that I read recently was sort of a mystery. But I absolutely love the variety in geography, history, plots and structure that these novels displayed. The latest one that I received as an eBook from netgalley.com, on which this post is about, is no different. The Baklava Club is a novel set in 1840’s Istanbul under Ottoman rule and has its protagonist an influent eunuch named Yashim, who is quiet fluent in the intricacies of both Turk and Western culture. It is the latest in a series of historical mystery novels penned by Jason Goodwin featuring Yashim.

The Baklava Club is the name given to four Italian rebels in exile by the good natured Polish Ambassador of Turkey, Palewski. Palewski, a good friend of Yashim, is planning a meeting between a secret person and the Sultan, which he believes has the potential to regain the lost glory of Poland and change the political landscape of Europe. Along with the Italians and Polish, Istanbul sees an influx of several Europeans, at least some of them with dubious intentions. When the Ambassador is shot and his secret man is kidnapped, Yashim has to step into the quagmire. The brutal murder of a beautiful European girl complicates the matters. 

The Baklava Club is a short book and a fast read. I finished it in a single sitting. The novel moves slowly initially, very cleverly setting the scene for the central crime and once it happens, abruptly changes gears. Though each of the characters, including Yashim, seems petty, clichéd and shallow when introduced, by the end of the book surprisingly each of them makes an impression in the reader’s mind. Particularly noteworthy is the depiction of the moment describing Yashim’s personal involvement in the affair. Inclusion of it comes as a shock and is a brave decision from the author’s side. Along with providing the thrills, the novel discusses, very lightly though, the theme of being away from one’s home- the many kinds of exiles that is imposed on one, by oneself or by society. It ascertains that one can be in exile even while living in one’s own country and that kind is the most painful.            

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: Clandestine by J Robert Janes

When I received an invitation to read and comment on the historical mystery novel Clandestine, to be released on 21st July 2015, written by J. Robert Janes, I was not expecting anything special. But this one, a story set in German occupied France during Second World War, turned out to be a surprise package. You believe that you have read every variety of detective stories possible and then something like Clandestine comes along! It is the sixteenth book in the St-Cyr and Kohler series and I am now very eager to catch up on all that I have missed.

The premise of the book is what bowled me over. Louis St-Cyr, a French Inspector and Herman Kohler of Gestapo pairs up to solve ordinary murders happening in France, a country occupied by Germany during Second World War. In Clandestine, their mission is to investigate the killing of two bank employees, who travelled in a bank van near a ruined monastery. They find huge stock of black market goods in the van along with stacks of cash, of which only a small amount is missing. Finding of a pair of expensive high-heels in the van changes the course of investigation into something far more lethal and complicated. With their own and their loved ones’ lives threatened and their own side turning against them, the detectives has to face the biggest dilemma of their lives.

Clandestine made me experience the degeneration of humanity infested by war- its fight for survival, for resources, for existence when faced with unlimited violence, greed and immorality. The two detectives have everything to lose, but they decide to do their job according to what their conscience tells them and not confirming or compromising to the obscene wishes of those who are more powerful. They fight every possible temptation on their way of solving the case and that factor elevates this novel to an altogether different level from other stories of detection that I have read.

Reading Clandestine has made me research a bit on the historical and geographical aspects of the story. It was not just plain curiosity that made me do it, but a desire to appreciate the novel fully. The book is a slow read. There are many sentences and passages written entirely in German and French without any translation. Remembering the names of characters and places was a task for me. The narration is not very descriptive, which made me read many chapters repeatedly. The language of the book is more like a translation, that too a not very good one, from some foreign language. It put me off a bit, but helped tremendously in building the atmosphere once I got accustomed to it. In short, I took my time in reading Clandestine, but by the end every second was worth the effort.    

 Buy the book:

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Perfect Book for a Literature Lover

Long time back I had read a Malayalam book by Guru Nithyachaitanya Yathi titled Soundaryam, Anubhavam, Anubhoothi which was a collection of his essays on literature and arts. I was astounded by the way he takes apart the text, connects it with history, his own experiences, and other classics of past and comes up with fantastic insights about it. It changed my perceptions about reading and appreciating books. I used to be a voracious reader, with sole aim of finishing the book in hand as fast as possible and starting the next one. I used to skim a lot of sentences and paragraphs and properly read only that portions which dealt with the story. But Yathi’s book taught me how to really read a book. I won’t claim I am wiser now, or that I can decipher cryptal messages from the books that I read or that I am even trying to. But I hope this book that I read recently may take me onwards.

How to Read Literature Like a Professor, written by Thomas C Foster, an American professor of English, has an interesting tagline- A lively and entertaining guide to reading between the lines. He starts the book with an incident that happened when he was discussing Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun in his class. He points out that Mr. Lindner in the play is actually the Devil himself, his students never believe him.  Even after he explains his reasons, his class thinks he is making it up. The Professor explains that there is a ‘language of reading’ which is a skill that comes with a bit of practice and experience. In the preceding chapters, the trick of reading books with a Professor’s eye is revealed. 

The aim of the book is to help the reader understand the technique of reading in between lines- to find the patterns in a text, to read the hidden meanings behind the images in it or to find out connections it has with other previously written works. All these immensely help in appreciating the depth of literature and add to the pleasure of enjoying it. Author, with the help of many examples demonstrate different connections, patterns or images that repeat many times in different contexts. In the first chapter he demonstrates how a quest story is formed, when a knight follows a dangerous road in search of a Holy Grail. The contexts may differ, but the essence remains same. He goes on demonstrating how scenes of communion, vampirism, seasons, climate, geography, violence, disease, deformities or sex can be interpreted to find meanings of deeper social, political or psychological value. He also points out the most popular connections with previous works- Shakespeare, Bible, Greek epics and even fairy tales.

The witty and easily understandable language of the Professor makes the journey easy for us. But if we are to truly benefit from the book, it is not enough to just read it. Lot of practice is required, as well as good background knowledge, a step to which the author himself provides. A beautiful story by Katherine Mansfield is given in the last of the book for the reader to put use of his knowledge gained form the book. Analysis by some of the author’s students is also provided.

A word of caution for non- English readers- as the author is an English Professor; he deals mostly with English and to some extent European literature, where the aesthetics and values are derived from a Jewish/Christian background. For reading books from other cultures, say Chinese or Indian books, the pointers in this book may not be sufficient. Still this book can help to point out places to look in order to find the connections. All in all this is the perfect book for a literature lover, and added bonus is the great bibliography at the end of the book.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

One Straw Revolution: Zen & the Art of Organic Farming

In recent times there is a surge in the number of middle class people cultivating vegetables in Kerala. The reason- reports of widespread use of harmful fertilizers and pesticides in vegetables available in market.  If recent reports are to be believed, everything- food grains, pulses, vegetables, milk, poultry, fish and meat- comes to us adulterated. The frightening result is that people from Kerala are increasingly prone to severe lifestyle diseases. All the while, government has no efficient system to identify this malpractice and curb it. Organic vegetables are suddenly becoming a rage in the market, but the sellers are charging premium rates for the products. One visible improvement is that people are slowly getting warmed up to the idea of cultivating at-least some of the essential food products in whatever space available with them.

Now, in our industries we have this fetish for trying out Japanese innovations- Poke-yoke, Kaizen, Kanban, 5S and a lot many systems that are the pillars of Japanese efficiency. We use them injudiciously with varying success results.  It was with this background that I read this little book titled One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka, a Japanese farmer who invented the clever philosophy of Do-Nothing farming. This is a book that I feel each one of us should definitely give a try. Don’t panic by seeing its title. The book is not a text book on organic farming. It is one part autobiography and one part vision statement or I would prefer to say philosophy of Fukuoka. It is a rather simple and straight forward account.

Instead of using chemicals and large scale machinery equipment, Fukuoka claims that working in tandem with nature can achieve better results and keep the land perennially fertile. He stresses the importance of using common sense, studying the way things grow in nature and copying it to achieve results. Also Fukuoka places great importance in ethics of agriculture- food production should never be a business. The primary reason for cultivation should be self- consumption and then surplus can be sold outside.  The philosophy of Fukuoka is to make things simple by avoiding any unnecessary complications. He ridicules the agricultural scientists and engineers who visit his farm, which gives same level of production as that of neighboring farms which make use of machinery and complicated procedures.

In Fukuoka’s vision, a farmer should be a philosopher, a monk and a poet. I loved his argument that organic food should cost way less than regular products because the manufacturing cost is considerably low. He details his methodology in this book, but cautions that the reader should not just copy his method, but should adopt and fine tune it according to the geography and the crop. For this deep observation of nature and several trials may be necessary. He warns the reader not to be fooled by the wording Do-Nothing farming. It takes some time for the soil, inflicted by the chemical abuse to regain its fertility.  He says that we are unnecessarily straining ourselves by taking up the work that nature can do much more efficiently than us. Finding out such wastages can really help overworked farmer to spare some valuable time to sit back and relax, enjoy life’s little pleasures and even be a bit lazy!

Friday, April 24, 2015

God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

English biologist Richard Dawkins wrote his best-seller God Delusion in 2006. It is, as its title suggests, a book that criticizes the concept of God that is propagated by religion and that tries to put science in that mantle. It also exposes the troubles of being an atheist in Christian society and the common prejudices faced by atheists. Dawkins uses Darwin’s evolution theory and natural selection to prove that the probability of the existence of God as described in Abrahamic religions is almost nil. As expected, the book turned out to be very controversial with many theologians criticizing it bitterly in diverse forums.

The book has ten chapters, each one building on the previous in systematically proving the improbability of God and that religion is not basically responsible for virtues in humans. In the first chapter he quickly points out that, by God he doesn’t mean the Einsteinian God, but the interventionist God, that creates life, judges and metes out punishments.  Next he takes up different arguments for God, especially the one that states that the perfect designing of universe requires a master creator and one by one puts forth his rebuttals for each of them.

Dawkins is aware of the argument that even if there is no entity called God, religion is still essential for common people in-order to maintain its morals in society. In the remaining chapters he tries to reveal the fallacy of this argument by proving that morality and good virtues that we display are not due to the presence of religions among us. As per him religion occurred as a byproduct of an acquired human skill to transfer knowledge by believing one’s elders and following them. He is critical of Christianity’s stand with abortion. Dawkins also deals with several social issues created by religious faith- psychologically damaging and corrupting the minds of kids, leading them discard reason to become blind followers, commodification of women and forcing them out of the mainstream of society and creation of unnecessary divisiveness and friction in society.

In God Delusion, Dawkins put forward compelling arguments against a God figure that designed the universe, judge the inhabitants and punishes them. Majority of his arguments are built around Christian and Jewish faiths and predictably they end up his punching bags. He touches upon Islam. I agree with the logic of several of his arguments. Evolution indeed can solve many a puzzles in human history. I am also wary of the tendency of religions to fill in the gaps left by science. Dawkins’ language is witty and that makes the book an easy read though a bit toning down on the scorn that he exhibits towards religions could have made it more palatable. God Delusion helped me in appreciating the theory of evolution much more.  Fortunately, in this part of the world we don’t have the big fight in education system between Evolution and Creation.

One difference of opinion that I have with Dawkins concerns with the bifurcation of religion and spirituality. I believe that spirituality is something personal that exists beyond the realms of organized religion. It basically deals with introspection- something that is lacking in Abrahamic religions and is the core of Sanatani faiths- Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. Though these religions have, to some extent degenerated in their later periods, loosely imitating Abrahamic faiths and displaying sectorial tendencies, I feel the individual nature of faith and the inquisitiveness inbuilt in them still stand tall. This introspection is basically for knowing and realizing the full potential of self- of body and mind in tandem with nature, and subsequently for attaining the ultimate knowledge that My self and this Universe are in essence the same.    

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Book Review: Autobiography of a Mad Nation by Sreeram Karri

I was born in a mentally retarded country.

Sreeram Karri's explosive novel, Autobiography of a Mad Nation starts with this sentence. It gives the feel that this is going to be another long rant about all that is wrong with contemporary India. And it is, in a way. But on careful reading of the book we find that, what shines beneath is pure love for the nation. The novel, published by Fingerprint is longlisted for MAN Asian Literary Prize.

The novel starts with a rant by a young aspiring writer, Vikrant in death gallows awaiting President's mercy. Retired CBI chief Vidyasagar sets forth to find the truth by doing an unofficial investigation after a request from the President. He discovers that it is not a one off incident and there is more than what meets the eye to be discovered. A group of influential men are running manipulations behind the screens an trying to alter the course of Indian history. Is it for good or for bad?

Autobiography of a mad nation is a murder mystery in the outset. At the same time it serves as a look back into the bizarre and insane past of our nation. On one side a fast paced story unfolds parallel to the important historical incidents fom Indira Gandhi's emergency to Gujarat riots, while on the other we are served with some honest social an political observations that need not be on the politically correct realm.

The novel has a nonlinear narrative structure which unfolds in two paths- one is a first person narration of the fictional novel written by Vikrant and second is the actual story of the murders, coverup and investigation told mostly in flashbacks. The narration is stylish and intense. There is no doubt that Sriram Karri is a gifted storyteller wih enough honest passion to make the reader careful for his story and even gives it a serious thought while enjoying it.

The author should be appreciated for his guts to criticise the harmful elements of society without any political or religious bias. Many of the readers will surely be offended by the courage of Karri to call a spade, a spade. One complaint that I have to make is about the solution that the novel hints. I feel it may be ineffective, even extremely dangerous in long run. Yet I enjoyed reading this well crafted, powerful novel about contemporary India and would recommend it to anyone who feels at any point o time that they're living in an insane nation.

Book source: Publisher

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Staying One Step Ahead.

I received this email a few days back and thought it worthy of sharing with my readers. Enjoy:
 
The Taj hotel group had invited Mr. Masai Imai from Japan to hold a workshop for its staff.
 
The staff were very skeptical - the hotel is doing excellent business, this person from Japan has no exposure to hotel industry - what exactly is he going to teach?
 
But everybody gathered as planned for the workshop in the conference hall sharp at 9 am.
 
Mr. Masai was introduced to them - a not so impressive personality, nor the English all that good; spoke as if he was first formulating each sentence in Japanese and then translating it into rather clumsy English.
 
"Good morning! Let's start work. I am told this is a workshop; but I see neither work nor shop. So let's proceed where work is happening. Let's start with the first room on the first floor."
 
Mr. Masai, followed by the senior management, the participants, the video camera crew trouped out of the conference room and proceeded to the destination.
 
That happened to be the laundry room of the hotel.
 
Mr. Masai entered the room and stood at the window, "beautiful view!" he said.
 
The staff knew it; they need not invite a Japanese consultant to tell them this!
 
"A room with such a beautiful view is being wasted as a laundry room. Shift the laundry to the basement and convert this into a guest room."
 
Aa Haa! Now nobody had ever thought about that!
 
The manager said, "Yes, it can be done."
 
"Then let's do it," Mr. Masai said.
 
"Yes sir, I will make a note of this and we will include it in the report on the workshop that will be prepared." Manager
 
"Excuse me, but there is nothing to note down in this. Let's just do it, just now." Mr. Masai.
 
"Just now?" Manager
 
"Yes, decide on a room on the ground floor/basement and shift the stuff out of this room right away. It should take a couple of hours, right?" asked Mr. Masai.
 
"Yes." Manager.
 
"Let's come back here just before lunch. By then all this stuff will have got shifted out and the room must be ready with the carpets, furniture etc. and from today you can start earning the few thousand that you charge your customers for a night."
 
"Ok, Sir." The manager had no option.
 
The next destination was the pantry. The group entered. At the entrance were two huge sinks full of plates to be washed.
 
Mr. Masai removed his jacket and started washing the plates.
 
"Sir, Please, what are you doing?" the manager didn't know what to say and what to do.
 
"Why, I am washing the plates", Mr. Masai.
 
"But sir, there is staff here to do that." Manager Mr. Masai continued washing, "I think sink is for washing plates, there are stands here to keep the plates and the plates should go into the stands."
 
All the officials wondered - did they require a consultant to tell them this?
 
After finishing the job, Mr. Masai asked, "How many plates do you have?'
 
"Plenty, so that there should never be any shortage." answered the Manager.
 
Mr. Masai said, "We have a word in Japanese -'Muda'. Muda means delay, Muda means unnecessary spending. One lesson to be learned in this workshop is to avoid both. If you have plenty of plates, there will be delay in cleaning them up. The first step to correct this situation is to remove all the excess plates."
 
"Yes, we will say this in the report." Manager.
 
"No, wasting our time in writing the report is again an instance of 'Muda'. We must pack the extra plates in a box right away and send these to whichever other section of Taj requires these. Throughout the workshop now we will find out where all we find this 'Muda' hidden."
 
And then at every spot and session, the staff eagerly awaited to find out Muda and learn how to avoid it.
 
On the last day, Mr. Masai told a story.
 
"A Japanese and an American, both fond of hunting, met in a jungle. They entered deep jungle and suddenly realized that they had run out of bullets. Just then they heard a lion roaring. Both started running. But the Japanese took a short break to put on his sports shoes.
 
The American said, "What are you doing? We must first get to the car."
 
The Japanese responded, "No. I only have to ensure that I remain ahead of you."
 
All the participants engrossed in listening to the story, realized suddenly that the lion would stop after getting his victim!
 
"The lesson is: competition in today's world is so fierce, that it is important to stay ahead of other, even by just a couple of steps. And you have such a huge and naturally well endowed country. If you remember to curtail your production expenditure and give the best quality always, you will be miles ahead as compared to so many other countries in the world.", concluded Mr. Masai.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Book Review: Warrior by Olivier Lafont

Books based on Indian mythology is a rage these days. One recent entry into that long line is the mythological fantasy novel Warrior written by Olivier Lafont and published by Penguin Books. Olivier Lafont is a French actor and writer residing in Mumbai. He has acted in many movies and ads. If you want me to pinpoint, he's Kareena's fiancée in 3 Idiots. To be sincere, that was one of the reasons why I agreed to review Warrior, another reason was Penguin being the publisher of it. Some of the best books that I read from my childhood were Penguin paperbacks. Let's see how Warrior stood up to my expectations.

Saam is the son of Destroyer, God Shiva. He is an immortal demigod, living in disguise as a watchmender on Marine Drive, with his mortal mate Maya. One fine day Apocalypse strikes when a faceless enemy triggers a chain of events. Probably Saam is the only one who can avert the end of the world, but for that he has to race against time and find the clues from the long lost Kaal Veda. Joining him are six other companions, some of whom he can barely trust, like his half brother Ara, the spider.

Lafont's hero Saam is the typical brooding, soul-searching, wounded-by-the-past kind of super hero of our time. The other motley characters of the novel also follows existing super-hero/fantasy protocols to the book. But the author succeeds in making them endearing to us by painting them in every extreme shades possible. The varying kind of insanity prevailing in each one of them makes us overlook the familiarity. I especially loved the reckless Ara, with his sarcastic comments and Fazal, the only somber entity in the lot, who strangely become pivotal to the plot many a time.

The plot is epic in scale and covers a lot of geography and history. From Mumbai China to a parallel universe with perpetual fighting machines as inhabitants, from present day to British Raj to the rule of Ming dynasty, the scope of the novel is vast. Writer also touches various subjects on his way- mythology, ethics, time travel, science, romance and politics being only some of them. He succeeds in skillfully interweaving all these into his plot without making the reader feeling bogged down.

I also loved the author putting a sudden break to the relentless initial pace by making all characters assemble in a timeless world. It dragged the narrative a bit, but the insights gathered there helps the reader to appreciate the later developments fully. It also adds a certain depth to the plot. Warrior can be a delight for fantasy-science fiction lovers thanks to the thick, satisfying plotting.

Book Source: Author

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Biography of Goebbels: Propaganda for Dummies

Every institution- be it a political party, a religious outfit, a charity organization or even a democratically elected government, for its ultimate survival, has to ensure that it promotes itself and its messages reaches the mass, and the mass in-turn behaves in a way suitable for them. For these ends they resort hugely to propaganda- a word that has become much hated for the implication of its manipulative intentions. I have in the last few months developed an interest in observing the modus-operandi of propaganda generation. That was one reason when I got a chance to read the book Goebbels: A Biography, I grabbed it eagerly. 

The rise and fall of Germany during the Second World War is one instant in history were the worrisome effect of propaganda in swaying public opinion is demonstrated. The whole nation stood behind its Fuhrer and his atrocities, due to the massive propaganda propagated by a separate ministry and its chief Joseph Goebbels. The historical influence of Goebbels is so deep that even an adjective, Goebbelsian is coined to denote any mass manipulation propaganda aimed to deceive people. 

Goebbels was born in a normal German family, with a club foot and associated psychological complexes. He had intense literary ambitions. From an insecure young man, Goebbels grew into a self-congratulating narcissist, who was clamoring for approval from others. His defining moment came with his meeting with Adolf Hitler. For him Hitler became the ultimate authority to be loyal to, like a messiah. (The height of this loyalty can be seen when after Hitler’s suicide, Goebbels kill his children and along with his wife, commit suicide.) Due to his extraordinary oratory skills, Goebbels raises through the ranks to become the propaganda minister of Third Reich, enduring severe infighting with his colleagues. His manipulation of the herd mentality of ordinary people is one reason why the German public failed to condemn the atrocities against Jews and other human right violations that were rampant under Hitler’s rule.

Peter Longerich, the author of this biography has taken the diaries of Goebbels as his source material. He has succeeded in making several profound insights into the psyche of Goebbels. The book is very detailed, spanning just short of thousand pages and needs a patient reading. It is a tough nut for a casual reader to crack. For me, several parts were tiresome to read by, especially those about his romantic relationships. But the details on his efforts in spreading the Nazi propaganda were worth the effort. It uses a multitude of techniques like selective disbursement, toning down, falsifying, intensifying, and skillful skewing of information and is done through every possible medium available then- newspapers, cinema and radio. It is an immensely helpful tool for public to understand the workings of propaganda machines, the process behind which, I feel has not changed much from that time.       

Book Source: Netgalley
  

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

മാണിസൂത്രം

സീന്‍ ഒന്ന്
രംഗം- മാണിഭവനം

മാണി- മോനേ ജോസേ, അപ്പന്‍ നിനക്ക് കെട്ടാന്‍ ഒരു പെണ്‍കൊച്ചിനേ കണ്ടു വച്ചിട്ടുണ്ട്.

ജോസ്- ദേ അപ്പച്ചാ, ഒരു മാതിരി...

മാണി- ടാ മോനേ, ഇത് അംബാനീടെ മോളാടാ...

ജോസ്- എന്നാ എനിക്ക് ഓക്കെയാ അപ്പച്ചാ..

സീന്‍ രണ്ട്
രംഗം- പ്രധാനമന്ത്രിയുടെ ആപ്പീസ്

മാണി- പി എമ്മേ, എന്‍റെ മോന്‍ ജോസിനെ റിസര്‍വ് ബാങ്ക് ഗവര്‍ണറാക്കണം.

പി എം- ഒന്ന് പോടേ, ഇവിടെ പണി പഠിച്ചവന്മാര് ക്യൂ നില്‍ക്കുമ്പോഴാ...

മാണി- സാറേ, അവന്‍ അംബാനീടെ മരുമോനാ...

പി എം- ഓ.. താനൊരു കാര്യം ചെയ്യ്. കാലത്ത് അവനെ ഇങ്ങ് വിട്. ഓഡര്‍ കൈപ്പറ്റി ഉച്ചക്ക് മുന്നേ ജോലിക്ക് കയറട്ടെ. പിന്നെ രാഹു തുടങ്ങും.

സീന്‍ മൂന്ന്
രംഗം- അംബാനിമന്ദിരം

മാണി- ചേട്ടായീടെ മോളെ എന്‍റെ കൊച്ചന്‍ ജോസിന് ആലോചിച്ചാലോ?

അംബാനി- അറിയാന്‍ മേലാഞ്ഞിട്ട് ചോദിക്കുവാ... താനാരുവാ?

മാണി- ഞാനാരെന്നത് നിക്കട്ടെ, ചെക്കന്‍ റിസര്‍വ് ബാങ്ക് ഗവര്‍ണറാ...

അംബാനി- കല്യാണം രണ്ട് മാസത്തില്‍ നടക്കണം, ശേഷം ഒരു വിദേശകമ്പനി ഏറ്റെടുക്കുന്നതുമായി ഞാന്‍ തിരക്കിലാകും. പിന്നെ അറിഞ്ഞില്ലാ പറഞ്ഞില്ലാന്ന് കുറ്റം പറയരുത്.

സ്റ്റേജില്‍ വെളിച്ചം മങ്ങി വരുന്നു. എല്ലാ കഥാപാത്രങ്ങളും കയറിവന്ന് അരണ്ട വെട്ടത്തില്‍ ആനന്ദനടനം ചെയ്യുന്നു. താളം മുറുകിവരുമ്പോള്‍ കര്‍ട്ടന്‍ വീഴുന്നു. ആ കര്‍ട്ടന്‍ തലയില്‍ വീണ് പൊതുജനം എന്ന കാണിയുടെ ബോധം മറയുമ്പോള്‍ നാടകം സമാപിക്കുന്നു.

കടപ്പാട്- Readers digest മാസികയില്‍ പണ്ട് വായിച്ച ഫലിതം.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Comment by Giriraj Singh and The Fair Game

“Agar Rajiv Gandhi koi Nigerian ladies se byaah kiye hote, gori chamra na hota, toh kya Congress party uska netritwa sweekarti kya?"

Union minister Giriraj Singh uttered these lines last day and following his universal condemnation, even from his own party, has expressed regrets. As a responsible leader, he should never have said something like this. Anyone can see through the racist tone of his remarks.

First thing, it is wrong to generalise a women of one nationality and secondly he spoke of them in degrading tone. Third issue is that as Sonia is holding a responsible position from several years now and has proven her mettle, it is ridiculous to opine that her merit is her skin color. So it is indeed a shameful, politically motivated, sexist and racist remark that the minister made.

Being settled on all that, let us just go a bit more deep into his statement. If hypothetically we imagine that Rajeev Gandhi had indeed married an African and if she is as qualified and skilled as Mrs Gandhi is now, would we as a nation had given her the same level of acceptance? Just give it a thought with all your heart, with all your sincerity.

It is a known fact that Indians have an obsession with fair skin. A fair skin is our first identity of beauty, of innocence, of charm. We need our female actors and cultural icons to be fair skinned. In our market are numerous products that promise fairer skin to its customers. On our TV and other media we encounter ridiculous advertisements that praise the benefits of fair skin. And many of us shamelessly buy and use them, fully aware their promises are empty. Engaan biriyani koduthaalo?

After condemning the minister for his irresponsible remarks, it will also be worthwhile to just look into the Pandora's box that he has opened. In it we may find a face mirror and on that mirror we may see a hideous face staring back at us.

The Veteran by Forsyth: Quick Shorts

I have found Frederick Forsyth novels consistently enjoyable. The deep research that evidently went behind each of his books gives the stories much credibility. Also the way he mixes facts and fiction is commendable. The background information-trivia- that he provide for the readers in many novels are fascinating. That was the reason when I saw that The Veteran was a collection of five novellas, I was a bit turned off. I was worried that the short story/novella format may not suit Forsyth's elaborate style of narrating stories.

The Veteran, the opening story is a police procedural. It starts with the mugging and killing of an unidentified man and the police arresting two criminals, thanks to a sound witness and solid proofs. But a very successful attorney appears for the convicts and causes their acquittal, only to ensure that natural justice prevail. Breakneck speed is the only thing that keeps our interest in the story. The twist ending was predictable, but satisfying.

Art of The Matter is a heist story set in an auction house that deals with paintings. When he loses his job due to a fraud committed by his superior, an ex-employee decides to take revenge by teaming up with an out of work actor, another victim of fraud. This one is my favorite due to the elaborate setting of the plot and detailing. Suspense element does not play much of a role.

In the third story, titled The Miracle, an American tourist couple in Sienna meet a stranger who tell them a mesmerizing story of a miracle that happened right there during the Second World War. Though in the end the story turns out much simple than anticipated, that makes the twist more enjoyable. Point to note is the mastery displayed in narrating the story. I could visualize the entire happening.

In the fourth story, titled The Citizen, the author really falters. It is about international drug trafficking through commercial airlines. The plot tries to be too clever and the climax tries to be manipulative. This resulted in an unsatisfactory ending.

The fifth novella, Whispering Wind is the longest of all. Here an American scout in Montana loves a Cheyenne girl in 1850s, but she gets married to someone in her community. The man wakes up in the next century and after facing much hardships, gets successful in getting back the love of his life. The narration of this story is top notch and that helped me to adjust with the sudden shift to fantasy.

Forsyth is successful in assembling a bunch of stories displaying an astonishing range. Plotting is great. Pacing is frantic to say the least. Narration is fantastic. The forced twist endings doesn't work in some stories. Characterization is totally lacking. Overall, keep the expectations a bit low and here is your perfect holiday read.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Review: Basic Law by J Sydney Jones

Cold war is just over. Expat American journalist Sam Kramer, stationed in Vienna arrives for his ex-girlfriend Reneta Muller's funeral. Police is certain Reni's death is a suicide. Sam is named in her will as her literary executer. He suspects foul play when the manuscript of her memoir, which the publisher claims is a political time bomb is nowhere to be found.

His investigation to find out the memoir and eventually unveil the mystery of the death takes him to the center of a whirlpool of conspiracies involving politicians, Neo-Nazis, business men and corrupt policemen. The only key to get himself out is in their shared past.

Basic Law written by J Sydney Jones is a decent historical mystery set in post-cold war Vienna. It is an engrossing read with lots of twists and turns in its plot. The suspence is well guarded. Sam Kramer, the protagonist is a well sketched character. The writer does a commendable job in building up the atmosphere. It contributed a lot to the reading experience.

I felt at some point towards the end, that the narrative was meandering a bit. It seems the author got carried away while writing about a journey that the protagonist undertakes in the novel. Though well written, I feel it failed to do justice to the otherwise fast pace. But otherwise Basic Law is a good thriller, well worthy of the time spent reading it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

100 Days of Love...

100 never-ending, over long, tiring, immensely boring, overstretched days of unimpressive, cliche ridden, overtly melodramatic, nausea inducing, terribly artless, uninspiringly acted, unimaginatively scripted, cluelessly directed, horribly messy, totally creepy, repetitive, inconsistent, snail-paced, sloppy, mushy, cheesy, cringe worthy, love.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

HiFi in Bollywood: On Realizing Dreams

I had loved Rishi Vohra's previous book, Once Upon The Tracks of Mumbai, which was an easy read, with its story set on the railway tracks of suburban Mumbai. Naturally I was delighted when he was good enough to send me a review copy of his next one, titled HiFi in Bollywood. As the name indicates, the plot of this novel is set in the big, bad world of Hindi movies- Bollywood, or as the author prefers, HiFi, short for Hindi Film Industry. That I believe explains the title.

Hindi Film Industry based in Mumbai is the stuff dreams are made of, good dreams and nightmares alike. From decades, several aspirants have appeared in Mumbai, seeking the glitz and glamour of HiFi, from around the world. A few went on to become legends, some settled for less glamorous careers within the industry, many found alternative livelihoods in the city and lot of persons were lost in the torrent of life without realizing their dreams. HiFi has told many stories through the dazzling movies that it churned out, but the untold human interest stories that it contains within itself is numerous. Rishi Vohra tries to tell one such story, one that is partly based on his life within HiFi, with much passion and enthusiasm. 

HiFi in Bollywood is the tale of Rayhan Arora, whose dominant father pressures him to pursue a financial career in USA and to marry Vanitha, a medical student there. Rayhan, who is brought up on a diet of Hindi masala movies has a dream of becoming a director. Skipping the meeting arranged by his father with his prospective bride, he return to India and becomes an Assistant Director in Bollywood. He does this secretly without informing his strict father. HiFi in Bollywood follows Rayhan through his life in Mumbai, trying to realize his dream of becoming a Director of movies. On the way, we are acquainted with a bunch of colorful characters, who plays their role in Rayhan's path to self-discovery. 

I should really appreciate the cover design that gives the reader a clear picture of what to expect inside it. The pastel colors and the illustration of busy Mumbai street is apt for the novel. I am happy that Vohra has improved tremendously from his debut novel. The prose is much more polished, the narrative is crispier and characterization is believable and natural. It is evident that the novelist knows the inside of the world of HiFi and that comfort level shows in the result. The reader gets a peek into the psychs of stars, directors, producers and aspirants of HiFi. Author touches so many aspects of life in Mumbai, but like a master juggler manages to assemble them seamlessly into the main plot. I also loved that the writer withholds himself from being judgmental about the whole thing and abstain himself from over-sentimentality that usually plagues such plots. 

HiFi in Bollywood is an interesting, feel good novel. It succeeds in telling a simple story about realizing one's dreams against odds. 

...And as a bonus, it has a cameo by Salman Khan, if that interests you!

Book Source: Author

Friday, March 13, 2015

If Intentions Could Make Classics...

This review of three books are pending from some time. I received them at least a month back, after replying to the mail from Mr Santosh Avvannavar, requesting an objective review. All three are very short reads, the longest one falling short of 130 pages. My first impulse was to go for three consecutive review posts, one for each book. But after reading all three, I felt it would be well to make a single post. All three books has many similar characteristics, that even if one combine the three into one book, the effect will be much the same.

I would begin with the best of the three. Black, Grey and White has an intriguing title and a pretty great cover. The book, co-written by Santosh Avvannavar and Santosh I Biradar, claims to be written for the purpose of spreading awareness on AIDS, thereby creating an opportunity for public to unite in fighting against it. The title alludes to three ages of human life- young, middle and old, and that nobody is spared by this menace. The book contains five fictional stories, the base of which are obviously true accounts. The first story Shahid- The Martyr, is about the spread of myths and superstitions in society related to curing of AIDS and how innocents fall prey for it. The second story Chintu; The Earth Is Round is about the plight of innocent orphan kids affected by AIDS, due to their parents and the outlook of society towards them. A Game of Life, Lust and Death is about a model who uses her disease to exact revenge on the sex racket who spoiled her sister. Highway Sex a story about rampant spread of AIDS through highway drivers and the effect on their families. Last story Abram & His Prodigal Son is a take on the biblical story into modern times.

The second book Title is Untitled, co-authored by Santosh Avvannavar, Kundan Srivastava and Raghunath Babu Are, takes on some important social issues plaguing our society- rape, trafficking, child marriage and such. The unusual title of the book has a reason- it points out how the victims always lose their titles and eventually becomes untitled entities. Compared to the first book, the premise of the stories and their tone has good variation in this volume. It has eleven stories, each one pinpointing one social evil. Each of the stories work as case studies and provides some insight for the reader.

Third book Surrogate Author, co-authored by Santosh Avvannavar and Shilpa Patil, is intended as a satire. It is a parody of the classic romance Devdas. It is the story of Authdas, an aspiring writer struggling to complete his first book Paru. His failure, caused due to the pressure for pursuing a career in Engineering, exerted by his parents,
results in heartbreak and his meeting with poet- prostitute Chandramukhi. Surrogate Author is thankfully a very short book, just 30 pages, though even in its shortness it is drag. It terribly fails to convey anything worthy to the readers who invests their time on it and in turn adds to their confusion.

I liked the first two books for their intention- a very noble one indeed, of making readers aware of several evils in society. But in general, I feel they deserved much better writing. I am afraid to say that I did not like the playbook like conversational structure in them that fails totally in building premise and character to the stories. A regular story structure could be much more effective, as is seen in the story about Chintu. Severe grammatical and spelling errors hampers the reading pleasure. Also playing spoilsport is several repetitions- of words, phrases, total sentences and even situations in the narratives. These books are to be edited seriously..!

I appreciate the intention behind the books- it is a commendable effort. But for it to be effective and worthwhile, I feel some serious correction work is due. Because only good intentions never make classics.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Book Review: Ramayana- Shattered Dreams

Some time back I had reviewed the first installment of Ramayana retold by Shubha Vilas, Rise of the Sun Prince, which ended in the royal wedding of Sri Rama. The author had send me a review copy of book 2, Shattered Dreams. The book continue the story of Rama from where the author left us in book one. Now, this was one part of Ramayana that I never felt inclined to read due to the family story and  heavy dose of emotions and sentimentality between characters. I am never a Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham person being more a fan of the Gadar thing that follows it. May be that was why I delayed reading the book for some time.

Dasaratha had a terrible dream one night. He infers that his past is catching up and it is time to retire. Logically, Rama, the elder prince is announced as successor. The whole kingdom rejoices in King's decision because everyone loves Rama due to his virtues and are sure he will excel in his role as emperor. But Manthara, the maid of second and the King's most beloved queen Kaikeyi, successfully manipulate the queen to force Dasaratha to change the decision. Kaikeyi, siting an old promise by the King makes him to send Rama to exile for fourteen years and give the throne to Bharatha, her son who is currently staying with her father.

Chaos follows in the kingdom, but Rama, being a noble son, gets ready to obey his father and move to the forest. What follows is his interactions with his dear ones, his mother, wife and brother, where he convince them about the correctness of his decision. His brother Lakshmana and wife Sita accompany him to jungle. Dasaratha, overcome with grief dies a sad death. When Bharatha hear the news he is immensely sad. He follow Rama and request him to return back. Unable to do that, he returns with the sandals of Rama inorder to throne them and rule the kingdom as a mere representative of them. Parallel to this story, the ascent of Ravana is also told.

As I told in the review of the last book, it is written with the intention of being a guide to the reader, for using the principles of Sri Rama in their lives to tackle situations that present unique dilemmas, to inspire readers to follow the right path and not depending on the convenient one. The bonus is that the story is narrated beautifully. Shubh Vilas manages to convey the emotional gravity of the story to the readers effectively. The characterisation adds to the narrative and we are able to feel in sync with even the minor characters.

To summarize, Shattered Dreams is in every way a superior follow up, and a useful one too, to the first part of the book.