Tuesday, May 31, 2011

To Sir With Love: Memoirs of a Teacher..

If you ask me which is tougher, public speaking or being a teacher, I would say the latter. Though public speaking can make you vulnerable and more dependent on the audience that you get, being a teacher has an additional responsibility. You have the responsibility to make an effect on the lives of kids you deal with. It is okay if you make an audience sleep. But it is a crime if you make your students do it. 

If you had learned in high school in Kerala during my time, you may remember this English chapter about a black teacher  getting an assignment to teach a class of undisciplined kids and how he makes them come his way. Well, it was a portion from this autobiographical novel named, To Sir With Love by E R Braithwaite and I happened to read it last weekend. I think that, if you are a teacher, or if you want to be one, this book can be a manual for you. No pedagogy or teaching techniques can help you make that positive change in kids, unless the basic, your principles, are right. 

Braithwaite comes to England after a stint in army, to find a job. His color makes him wait for 18 months without a job and then he lands up to teach in a notorious school. The novel deals with how he singlehandedly influences the life of kids assigned to him. At first he uses the standard approaches of psychology without success, and then he starts  treating them as how they are and slowly breaks the ice. 

The book deals with the subtle racism prevalent in every cultured society, where people behave as if they are Martin Luther King personified, but changes color when they have to accept an outsider among them. It seems that the book is made into a movie with Sidney Poitier in lead. Should be a must watch movie...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The interview: Dirty corporations.

Watched this play called The Interview, directed by Akash Khurana, and presented by Akvarious at Ranga Shankara last week. The play is an attempt to unveil the ugly face of hypocrisy in the corporate world.  As the name indicates, the play chronicles the challenges a person has to face to secure a job in a corporation. 

It starts with a nervous Karan waiting for the interview to start, like any other aspiring interviewee only to be bowled over totally once it starts. It starts well, with one peg of whiskey... but what do this crazy interviewer want from him... or is he ready to do what is expected of him? 

The intention is good, acting keeps you engaged, but was that much hoohaa required?... Too much of slapstick comedy dilutes the effect.. for me at least. And I hated Keith... He was getting on my nerves.. May be that was the whole intention. 

All in all it is watchable, but nothing special and a bit tiring... 

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marquez's Demon Love...

Of Love and Other Demons, another gem of a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez... This man is out of the world! He creates a world of his own that is so different, remote from reality, twisted, comic and funny, but so life like. That is what I like about his novels, right from One hundred years of solitude, which is the first of his that I read, to this one. The ability to make people and places and objects that are so different from those we see, and at the same time narrate the story in a way which makes us readers resonate with that.. Genius.

Of Love and Other Demons, which the author claims is a retelling of a legend heard from his grandmother, about a girl whose hair kept on growing after her death, is wrote after he witnessed the skeleton of a girl with very long hair attached to her skull in a grave yard. The story set in a Latin American port, chronicles the life and tragic death of Sierva Maria de Todos los Angeles, the daughter of a Marquis and a cocoa and sex  addicted withered woman, who gets bit by a rabies affected dog and is believed to have got supernatural powers afterwards. The girl never got any affection from her disturbed parents and grown up among African slaves of her father. She could speak their languages, perform their rituals, could dress and behave like them. 

After getting bitten by a dog that had rabies in her twelfth birth day, her father starts taking care of her, with the help of an impassioned doctor. But her father gets forced to leaving the girl in a convent, where the inmates hates her, for her supposedly super natural powers. Bishop decides to exorcise her and the duty falls on a scholarly priest, Cayetano Delaura. And they fall in love. 

The novel, while on one side explores the themes of religious hypocrisy, on the other side tells a passionate love story that ends tragically. Unrequited love, which is an often important plot in Marquez novels,  is portrayed here also. And there is a demonization of love here as the title "Love and OTHER demons" indicates. Love is a demon as the other (religious intolerance, superstitions) demons that destroys life... 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

GYM VILLE... Now in FaceBook

Always aspired for that six pack figure? Wanted to be a size zero model and sport a sexy bikini? Here is a chance to do that! Hit Gym Ville in Face book and earn the body figure that you always yearned for! Without sweating a drop or enduring muscle pain. 

Gym Ville is the latest social networking game that has hit the Face Book. You can develop your own virtual multi gym, with every kind of virtual accessories available in a regular, real world gym and more. You can choose your Avatar, make your own schedule with the help of a virtual trainer, work out and earn points for every pull up, push up and anything you choose to do! As you pile up the points, you can buy more equipments, decorate your gym or increase the size of your gym.

But the best part is that you can invite your friends to join you in work outs, hang around with them, visit their gym, help them in their work outs (extra points will be credited for this!), and even gift them a dumbbell or two!  

So what are your waiting for? Hit Gym Ville right now, and sport that six pack figure that you always wanted...!

Now to decorate your Gym walls, we have made available the wall posters of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Khali, Rajni Kanth (morphed), Mamtha Banarjee and the likes... A wall poster will cost you only 10 points. (This option is locked for beginners. It starts from 3 packs onwards only.)

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Working of Multi Level Marketing Business for Dummies

Last day one of my friend excitedly told me about a new scheme to make money. There is this company that sends us online surveys about various consumer products. You get Rs 500 per survey that you participates. You can earn up-to Rs 4000 a month. For starting you have to pay Rs 11000 and subscribe for their e magazine. So calculation is very simple, 4000 per month and from third month you are in profit. You can even have up to 7 IDs by paying 11000 each time you enroll again. That makes a cool 28000 per month. Also they have a referral scheme where you can refer friends as a chain below you and earn commission. Wow! I was bitten... There is at least one person I know who is really earning through it. Adverts are shown in news papers, on TV in between cricket matches. I am a fool if I let go this chance... After all, sitting idle and making dough is the best career option possible!

But after some moments of delusional thoughts of idle days, comfortable wears and sufficient funds to dine and lead a lavish retired life, my rational part of brain took control. Who will pay 500 rupees for a survey?.. I tried the maths once again. This time noted every thing down. And what I found was this:

Click to enlarge
What I did, was to assume a hypothetical situation where a company starts from scratch, with zero investors. On first month they make 100 members, who pays 11000 each, which makes a total of Rs 11 lakh. That month company need not pay anything. Surveys are distributed, and received back. Next month, the promised money is given to members. More people are referred by existing members. Considering each person makes two people to join the scheme, there are 200 more members in the end of second month. 

The company collects Rs 2,200,000 out of which, it paid back 400,000 to previous month's members for taking surveys. Also as referral remuneration  company pays some amount to those who referred new members. I am not very sure how much each person may get for this. But in this case, I take it 50% of the joining fee, which I feel is a huge return for the members. That makes it 5500 per new member. Total in second month 200 persons joined. A referral remuneration of Rs 1,100,000 is redistributed to 100 members. By second month company has earned for itself a total profit of Rs 12.5 lakh. 

By this time you may feel that we can believe them. Isn't it? Out of 33 lakh rupees they collected, they returned back 20.5 lakh to the members. 62%...! Okay, let us move on till ten months, every month assuming double the amount of new members join through referral, surveys are filled promptly by members, money for  surveys and referrals are distributed promptly by the company. By ninth month end, company made a profit of 8 crore change. But they have redistributed 48 crore change to its 51000 subscribers... 

How do you feel now? A completely believable revenue model? An honest company that promptly pays its dues and delivers on its promise? Quite good. But, assume in the end of tenth month, they chose to close the shop, without paying a single paisa for its subscribers, and abscond with all collection done on that month. That month alone company gets 56 crore as fees from new members.  With the 8 crore profit made in nine months, that is a whopping 64 crore rupees. 

You may have noticed that I never mentioned in the table, the revenue generated to the company through the Online Surveys, which are filled by its members and which they are supposed to deliver to their clients. Well that is because there are no online surveys...! That was just a cover for the entire operation. All survey forms you filled out are resting in piece somewhere in the recycle Bin of the company server. Online surveys make the whole scam believable. We suppose that the company paid us for participating in surveys, but, actually they are returning just a portion of the money collected as the initial start up fee. With every new start up company gets a buffer time for 3 months. By the end of 3 months new members pump in more money. This will not go on for long. The bubble will burst some day. So before that happens, the company dissolves with all the funds...

Foot note: You might already have known the scheme about which I mentioned here. It is very popular these days. My intention here is not to tarnish the firm, as I have no personal enmity to any one involved in it. My intention is  just to prove to the public that, the cover of online surveys that this company takes the help of IS A LIE. It IS possible to return the money back to the members or panelists as they calls them, ( bakras as I decipher the word) without generating a single paisa from online surveys or any other source. And if they are prompt in paying your remuneration back now, it is because they are waiting. They already told you a lie, and they won't be reluctant to cheat you. If they don't abscond by the tenth month, they may do it at twelfth, or may be in the second year. Because that the later it goes, it may get riskier, but the wealthier they becomes (as is evident from the table). 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Guy Thing: Analysing Being a Man...

Being a man is one of the most stereotyped attributes around... A real man is believed to wear innerwear unwashed for a rather prolonged period of time, he leaves the toilet lid always up, watches foot ball or cricket or wrestling or any MANly sports event, has a stubble and may be a scar on his face that he claims to be the result of a fight with a foe whom he mercilessly vanquished, but which in reality is caused when his friend asked for a loan while he was shaving and he twisted his face to indicate a refusal. When someone behaves against the conventions, he is labelled as weak, infirm or in worst case queer. So many of us, acts according to the stereotype for pleasing others and ends up deep rooting the notions.

Last week this play called, A Guy Thing directed by Akash Khurana based on The Dirty Talk by Micheal Puzzo, presented by Akvarious was staged in Rangashankara. Basically this one explores the dilemma faced by the stronger sex, while they try to be the stronger.  Do you have to live according to the conventions of the society, or have a life according the choice of your inner being?

The story takes place in a stormy night inside a cabin, somewhere in a remote place. A very masculine, brutal, abusive guy, Mitch is stranded there with Lino, a nerdy, feminine guy. Mitch's wife has just left him and he meet Lino who claims to be a woman, in an internet chat room. They have some very intimate moments on chat. Mitch gives the directions to his house and finds Lino there, instead of the blonde, sexy girl whom he thought he was chatting to. Furious, he accuses Lino of lying and even orders him to hide behind a dresser. They shouts and screams at each other throughout, accusing each other for telling lies, but finally opens up. A totally confused Mitch, who wants accomodate his wife in his life and at same time want his father to approve of his manhood, confess about the situation in which he had to breakup with his wife. Lino, who lives in the garage of his sister's house, and stalks internet chat rooms disguising his gender, for partners in sex, seems content and happy with his petty life. The play ends when Mitch starts seeing Lino with tolerance and even shows a nod of friendship.

The dialogues are funny and acting by Ali fazal and Neil Bhoopalam is excellent.  Though initially, the characterisation seems much cliched, later on it is revealed to be intended. The play tries to make us look beyond stereotypes. The language is loaded with expletives, so a word of caution to those who are weak in that department... Watch at your own risk.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jeffrey Archer's Hanging Tales...

I had read in an interview with Jeffrey Archer that, every person in the world has a story to tell. And that is what he does with this delightful collection of short stories called And thereby hangs a tale. If you have been following my Blog for some time, you would have known by now that I am much fond of Archer. I feel he is a very good story teller. So this book has 15 tales happening around the world, some of them as I have told based on real stories that he heard from different people, some his own creation. 

Now I will not say that all stories are really great, some are predictable, some are not so eventful to the casual reader's taste (like the Indian love story). But all the stories have a peculiar readability factor which keeps them on. My personal favorite among the lot is Stuck on you, where a couple, rich girl and poor boy, trying to steal an expensive piece of jewelery, a plot twist that was detectable miles before,  but a climax that takes the breath out of you, where you think why did not I think of that one... 

Another good one is that story of wannabe golf pro who settles in an island, leaving behind his family business,   on the hope that one day greatness will dawn upon him. The drama, emotions, are just too good. I will recommend this one for a casual read.. Highly readable...

Monday, May 16, 2011

Three Diaries of Che Guevara.

No introduction is needed for the Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara. Generations of youth worldwide, has always found his life an inspiration to rebel against countless social injustices and dictatorial administrations. Over last few months I happened to read three of Che's reputed diaries written at various periods of his life, that helps us to understands the kind of person he is, the circumstances that led him to take the step towards rebellion and the historic background of the struggles that he has undertaken. 

The Motorcycle Diaries is the most popular of his diaries, and is also made into a critically acclaimed movie. This book is an account of the journey by Che and his friend Alberto Granado made while he was a medical student, on a weathered motorcycle named la Poderosa. The intention was to explore South America and by the end of  nine month and 8000 kilometer long travel, Che had seen enough poverty and social injustice that he was willing to fight for poor. At the initial stages we can see that Che and his companion are in a youthful, reckless and carefree mood. But as the journey progress, they become more sombre. After seeing and experiencing the exploitation, poverty and related difficulties faced by mine workers, communists, lepers and common people, the writing style becomes more reflective. As the diaries are edited before publication, The motorcycle diaries is the most readable of the three. 

Back on the road, or Otra Vez as it is popularly known, is the chronicle of another journey made by Che after he became a doctor. It covers most of South America. It is after this journey that he experiences poverty and oppression first hand and it is the end of this journey that he meet Fidel Castro, which is a major turning point in the history of South America. The journal entries are not edited and this makes the reading a bit boring, as there are pages and pages of diary entries where the descriptions of endless waits for visas and permission to enter neighboring nations makes the reading tedious. The journey exposes Che to the finding that South America is actually not a group of small nations, but a big country that is divided by several colonial powers. The union of all South American nations into a powerful country was his ultimate aim. By the end of the Journal, Che has turned to a full fledged revolutionary, as is evidenced by several unnamed letters to his mother. 

The third diary, The African Dream, is a description of the failed revolutionary war in Congo, in which Che had participated with the help of Cuba, to overpower the US backed government. One peculiarity that has to be noted here, is that Che never tries to downplay the defeat he had to undergo, nor does he try to justify the wrong tactics he and his Cuban comrades used in the guerrilla war. As a true hero, he accepts his tactical and managerial failures. At the same time he clearly mentions the major reasons it. The attitude of Congolese revolutionaries, underlying corruption among their leaders and non- rebellious attitude of  general population comes under severe criticism. Even though he dislikes Kabila, the main rebel leader of Congo, he knew Kabila was the only man who has the potential to rise as a leader. This prediction came true when Kabila became a ruler of Congo after decades. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The snack for nights...!

Unagi Pie... A snack for nights!

That was written on the dark red box kept on the top of the cupboard. Unagi...? It is not the first time that I am hearing the word. In that ancient episode of Friends, Ross tries to impress the girls demonstrating a Japanese martial art technique called Unagi. Later they find out he is bluffing and actually Unagi is a Japanese delicacy made of fish, much like Sushi.

Last week, we had a group of Japanese delegates visiting our firm, who had gifted some cookies that we all shared among ourselves. I googled and found Unagi is a fresh water eel found in Japan, which they use in  cooking a wide variety of  delicacies, from Pizza to pie... We have some pure vegetarians in our place, and if they knew that they have eaten fish, even unknowingly, it may prove a bit embarrassing for them. If they have seen the pics of live Unagi that I have googled, even non vegetarians will have a bit discomfort.

Unagi: Live and uncut!
When I confronted the person who distributed the 'cookies' and explained him of my discovery, he replied with a mischievous smile that he had felt something fishy while eating it. I left the matter there. My sincere condolences to all those unsuspecting vegans in my work place who had a taste of this wonderful cookie. (BTW I was not able to find out why did they advertise it as a snack for nights...)

Monday, May 9, 2011

Source Code: Cerebral Entertainment

After the success of Inception, I think many aspiring movies in a similar line has started appearing. Source Code, directed by Duncan Jones is such a wannabe. Source code is a sci fi movie about a pilot going back into 8 minutes of past again and again to solve a crime, each time getting a missing piece of the jigsaw. 
The movie starts with a man waking up inside a moving train, unable to remember how he got there, in a stranger's body. There is a friendly lady beside him and a group of commuters around. After 8 minutes, the train explodes. He awakes in a capsule. Then he realizes he is working for a program called Source Code where he has to locate the bomb and the bomber by living again the same situation, for exactly eight minutes, till he completes his mission. Each time he goes back, he finds a bit more about bomb, bomber, his own past and Source Code.
 It is a well made movie, with enough plot twists to make you glued till the end. It makes you remember the German movie Run Lola Run, in which Lola lives 20 minutes of her life 3 times when she tries to save her boyfriend with different outcomes each time. Jake Gyllenhaal does a fabulous act as the confused army pilot who has to go through a tragedy many times a day. His acting has a boyish charm that really gives the otherwise serious movie a tone of normalcy. Vera Fermiga, as the lady who supervises and guides Jake, also gives a commendable performance. I did not like the acting of the scientist who invented Source Code. He hams pathetically.
If you like to exercise your brain a bit along with getting entertained, jump into Source Code and have fun...

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fast Five: In the City of God...

Pic courtesy: okmagazine.com
Watching Fast Five, the latest installment of The Fast and The Furious franchise is pure fun. The movie is total adrenalin rush, chases, superb locale, well choreographed action sequences.. a viewer's pleasure. Some may complain of wooden acting of the cast, but that was expected. Even, in this movie, there is no great scope of exhibiting any great skills other than some very emotions like rage, angst, sorrow, which all the concerned actors does somewhat convincingly.

This time Vin Diesel and party have absconded to Rio, capital of Brazil. They take up a job of  stealing cars from a moving train. They screws up badly causing the death of some American DEA agents. Now Brazilian police and a gang lord of Rio (Joaquim de Almeida) are behind them . To add masala to the proceedings, a tough American DSS special agent (played by Dwayne Rock Johnson) arrives to apprehend Diesel and Paul Walker. They decides to take up one last job, robbing Almeida of all the cash he earned illegally and recruits a team, consisting of guys from the previous installments of the movie (Remember Tyrese Gibson from the second part, 2 Fast 2 Furious?). Rest of the movie is a superb cat and mouse game involving all these players. 

The best thing about the movie is that it never strays from its basic premise, providing some raw action viewing pleasure. The refrain from depending totally on car chases is notable, may be due to the introduction of Rock's character. And that has to be accepted as a masterstroke. Rock totally dominates the scene whenever present. The confrontation scenes with him and Diesel are electric. Another strong point is visuals. Rio is vibrating, beautiful and threatening at the same time. One cannot, but remember that masterpiece City of God, though there is no comparison between both. One weak point I feel is the anti hero, who is never threatening nor convincing. And also the similarity it shares with similar movies like Italian Job and Ocean's series. 

The director Justin Lin should be given credit for making this one with enough explosions and breakneck speed so as the audience never tries to think what is wrong with all these men committing such absurd things. 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fight Club

After a night in fight club, everything in the real world gets the volume turned down.  Nothing can piss you off.  Your word is law, and if other people break that law or question you, even that doesn't piss you off. 
The unnamed narrator, a product recall officer in a car company, goes to cancer patient meets to get a cure for insomnia that is tormenting him. He meets Marla Singer there. Another day he meets Tyler Durden. When his apartment is blown in an explosion, he moves with Tyler's home, in return of which all Tyler asks is a fight. Thus begins fight club. White collared executives arrives there after work, fights each other and goes back with bruises and wounds. Then Tyler rescues Marla from death, much to the irritation of the narrator. Slowly fight club develops. Different chapters open in many cities and Tyler starts something sinister. He wants to spread anarchy. 
I wanted to burn the Louvre.  I'd do the Elgin Marbles with a sledgehammer and wipe my ass with the Mona Lisa.  This is my world, now.  This is my world, my world, and those ancient people are dead.
 Thus forms Project Mayhem, a group of fight club members under Tyler, who want to destroy the modern civilization. Narrator starts to get uncomfortable with the ever increasing anarchy belted out by Project Mayhem. And then dawns the realization that changes every thing... 

Chuck Palahniuk's modern classic Fight club, is difficult to read for faint hearted. It is violent, graphic and disturbing. It is a war cry against a world that is gripped by corporations, spreading consumerism amongst common people for their profit. Fight club itself is an idea against the formal style of white collared executives. Imagine a well dressed, well mannered  executives arriving for work with a nasty gash on face, puffed lips and a hole on his cheek!

Read this novel at your own risk. One this is for sure, if you can get the plot, it may grip your throat...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Necessary Targets

If you are keen on watching plays, you would have surely heard about, Vagina Monologues, an award winning, smash hit play written by Eve Ensler, a monologue on stage, endorsed by many celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg, Glenn Glose and Mallika Sherawat in India. Last week in Ranga Shankara, Bangalore, they organised a screening of Necessary Targets, another play written by same author.

Basically, Necessary targets follows the same often repeated theme of difficulties facd by civilians, especially women, during war. What makes it different is the presence of stark realism and the absence of any dogma that may cloud the minds of viewer. Directed by Prakash Balwadi, the play boasts of some exceptionally talented array of actors. 

It is the story of two women, J S, a middle aged, matured, psychiatrist and Mellissa, a hyper active, ambitious, experianced (though young) journalist who goes to a refugee camp for providing counselling to the trauma affected women there. The refugees never bothers to pour their mind to them as the experts thought they would do. But as time passes, J S builts a relationship with the women and starts finding the answers of trouble she has in her life. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Perils of Participatory Journalism

Some years back, I was having a discussion about self- help books with one of my close friends. (AK, your moment of glory..:-) ) Both of us used to read self- help books a lot and the discussion was about the effect that they had on us. Finally we came to a conclusion that although we read and forget them, or unsuccessfully try to copy the ideas given in them in life, after some time, some of these principles, stays with us. We uses them in life, without recognizing where we learned them, and that ultimately is the use of self help books.

I could not forget this conclusion that we came to, while reading A J Jacob's book "My Experimental Life". A J Jacob calls himself a participatory journalist. The kind that participates or takes the lead role in the stories done by them. A J does experiments with his life, subjecting himself to a different way of living, or an amusing experience, to write about it later. For his first book, he read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica from A to Z and for his second one he lived exactly as per Bible for a year. And this one, is a collection of nine weird things that he did with his life.

The experiments are taken up for various causes, some came as a challenge, like pausing nude like a porn star, while some came as suggestions form readers, like a month of total obedience to his wife. Some of them like living according to the philosophy of Washington, deciding to take rational decisions (he checked about 30 tooth pastes to find out the one that is really good, because he felt that the choice he took was not due to a rational decision), or being radically honest were taken up when he read about them and wanted to absorb these principles in life. Some were spontaneous decisions, like duping a popular star in the Academy awards venue, to know the life of a celebrity and outsourcing his life, private and professional, to a firm in India (even arguing with wife and worrying about deadlines). Living the double life of a beautiful lady was started to get a good match for his nanny. 

What is interesting is the lessons learnt from all these being a human Guinea pig experiments, taking what is useful and ignoring others.. a very interesting, humorous and comic read... Check out for the video interview with the author here.