Friday, August 26, 2016

BookMarks #16: A Game of Thrones

Title: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R R Martin
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Setting: Fictional continent of Westeros, in medieval times
Published: 1996

“In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die”

That’s the central theme of this epic plot set in the fictional continent of Westeros. It is a tale of seeking power, in the background of political intrigue and conspiracies, with alliances being forged and broken, sworn duty and deaths (lots of them). Multiple plots are in progress across the seven kingdoms of Westeros in a gigantic chess board where each player plays his/her own game. 

We follow the tale of Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark and his family as they are torn apart having been caught in the eye of a raging political storm. King Robert Baratheon and his family arrive in Winterfell to offer Ned the position of the Hand of the King thereby setting up a series of tragic events for the Stark family, which culminate in Ned getting beheaded for treason post King Robert’s death, his son Bran crippled, his daughter Sansa kept near-hostage as new King Joffery’s bethrothed, while younger daughter Arya goes missing. Meanwhile his wife Catleyn and eldest son Robb seek revenge. The book concludes with Robb being appointed as the new “King in the North” by his fellow northern Lords. 

Ned Stark discovers the incestuous relationship of Queen Cersei Lannister and her twin Jaime. He also learns that Robert had not fathered any of Cersei’s children, thus the rightful heir to Robert's throne would be his brother Stannis. But he is betrayed by Petyr Baelish leading to his arrest for treason and later beheading on the orders of new King Joffery, Cersei's son.

Meanwhile, Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow, becomes a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, at the Wall, which protects the realm from wildlings and mystical creatures. The Wall has its own troubles with frequent disappearances of their rangers, the appearances of undead creatures and the wildling army being raised by Mance Rayder, a former member of the Night’s Watch. Jon’s loyalty to his oath is tested when he hears of Ned’s beheading and Robb’s battles. Jon is also troubled by the disappearance of his uncle Benjen, who had gone beyond the Wall and not returned.

Catelyn captures Tyrion, the younger Lannister brother, the dwarf, accusing him of attacking Bran. This leads to Tywin Lannister unleashing his forces on Catelyn’s family. Tyrion is released with the aid of a sellsword Bronn and joins his father’s forces. During the battles, Jaime gets captured by Robb’s army. Robert Baratheon’s brothers Stannis and Renly also stake their own claim for the Iron throne.

There are multiple references to the events of fifteen years before which led to Robert Baratheon taking over the throne from the “mad” King Aerys Targaryen, with the aid of Ned Stark and Jon Arryn and other Lords. During the rebellion, Aerys Targaryen was killed by his own Kingsguard Jaime Lannister, thus earning him the derogatory title of kingslayer. 

Meanwhile Aerys’s son Viserys is plotting to take back his “rightful” throne. He marries off his sister Daenerys to a tribal warlord Khal Drogo in hopes of gaining control of the Dothraki warriors to mount a challenge for the throne. But his over-eagerness leads to his death at the hands of Drogo. Later when King Robert attempts to kill Daenerys, Drogo is ready to take on the Iron Throne for Daenerys and his unborn child. During a raid, Drogo gets wounded and is attended to by a healer who sacrifices his unborn child for Drogo’s life. But Drogo is left in a vegetative state which lead to Daenerys killing him out of mercy. Drogo’s funeral pyre is lit. Daenerys walks into it clutching the three dragon egg which were her wedding gift. When the pyre burns off, Daenerys is seen with three baby dragons while all remaining Dothraki and Ser Jorah Mormont swear allegiance to her.

This is the first book in the series “A Song of Fire And Ice” and also the basis for the megahit TV show – “Game of Thrones”.

The book is filled with a huge number of characters, too many to fit in such a short summary. Each chapter is told from a central character’s perspective (known as point of view character).

I started reading the books after having seen all the six seasons of the TV series. And also knowing about how the story unfolds makes the reading even more interesting. I could enjoy the details without losing grip of the tale. 

The storyline of the book and the first season are broadly matching. Although the books present a more vivid picture. The biggest difference is that the characters are much younger in the book than in the TV adaptation. Thankfully the TV Show-runners decided to age the characters, otherwise it would have been a show all about teenagers doing adult stuff (which would have been very weird to watch)

Although set as a fantasy in a fictional realm, the storyline has quite a few parallels to the history of Britain. 

Previously on BookMarks – Infinite Sacrifice

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BookMarks #15: Infinite Sacrifice

Title: Infinite Sacrifice
Author: L.E. Waters
Genre: Fiction, Spirituality, Religion
Setting: Across timelines
Published: 2011

The story begins with Maya having died, finds herself in a place which is different form her idea of heaven. She meets a spirit guide, Zachariah, who explains to her the rules of gaining salvation from the cycle of life and death. Maya has to review everyone of her re-births.

We see Maya in different forms in different births. First, as a priest in Egypt, who breaks the temple's rules but condemns another for his crimes and meets his end.Then as a lady in Sparta, who tries to protect her progeny from the strict Spartan traditions. In the third stage, Maya is an Irish boy who gets kidnapped by the Vikings and lives amongst them before returning to his own village. In the fourth part, she is an English woman living in the times of plague.

The book ends with Maya moving partially out of her confusion and gaining some insight to her lives. But there are still more re-births to go through.

1st book in "The Infinite" book series.

The story is based on the concept of karma and souls undertaking multiple births before getting salvation. We see the character of Maya empathizing more with her srroundings as we progress through here many births. Also there are certain physical characteristics which pass on in each life and act as a continuity for the soul.

And I wonder, why London is always depicted as filthy and dirty in almost every book that I have read set in the 19th century of before.

Previously on BookMarks: Harry Potter & the Cursed Child

Friday, August 19, 2016

LearnNBlog #9: Repechage

Sakshi Malik's Bronze winning effort at the Rio Games, makes it the 3rd successive Olympics in which India has got a Wrestling medal through the repechage, after Sushil Kumar in Beijing and Yogeshwar Dutt in London. In fact, repechage is fast becoming India's favorite sporting terminology.

What is Repechage?
Repechage is giving a second chance to those competitors who failed to make through the initial qualifying rounds. It is a French word meaning "rescuing" or "fishing out". 

In sporting competitions it is done to give a second chance to those strong competitors who might have been eliminated at an early stage because of the bad luck of draw. (a la Djokovic getting knocked out by del Potro in the first round of the Olympics Tennis tournament. Unfortunately there is no repechage rule in Tennis). 

There are multiple forms of repechage with different formats being used across sports.

In Olympics, it is used in the sports of Wrestling, Judo and Rowing.  Wrestling has a knock-out format with only one winner going through to the subsequent round. When the two finalists are identified, everyone who has lot to them enters the repechage rounds. The loser in the first round plays the loser in the second round. The winner of this bout takes on the losing particiapnt of the subsequent round and so on till the semi-finalist. The winner of the repechage is awarded the Bronze medals. Wrestling has two sets of repechages (one for each of the finalist).

With the repechage action, Wrestling embodies Olympic spirit. The moment you lose, you start hoping that your opponent goes on to win every successive bout and reaches the final, thus giving you a second chance.

Further Readings

Previously on LearnNBlog: Gerrymandering

Sunday, August 14, 2016

India @ 69

15th August, 2016 – Time for my 10th annual Independence Day blog post - a little round-up of all things India. (Here is the 2015 edition).

How is the nation doing as a whole? Current mood of the nation seems quite grim, especially if one is in the habit of watching TV news and following social media. Apparently, intolerance has been rising to new Himalayan levels while the nationalistic pitch is reaching the moon and hyperbole on every single topic has piggy-backed to Mars riding the Mars Rover. Meanwhile there are intense debates (mostly hot-air) on freedoms of expression, choice of food etc. And there are new folks demanding different forms of "Azaadi". Oh, and there are intellectuals who are disturbed enough by the goings-on to return their well-earned awards. Where we begin wondering how many awards are given.

The country seems to be in a perennial state of elections. And that means that our elected leaders are in a non-stop campaign mode rather than in actually running the country. Hunger for quick take-over of power has resulted in a couple of states having governments changed and then reinstated via court interventions. In fact, we are seeing too many court interventions, certainly not a healthy sign for any democracy.

Governance of the country is being done through Twitter. While it feels good to see ministers addressing individual grievances, it also shows a lack of proper complaint redressal mechanism in our massive bureaucratic set-up. From missing passports to trains running late, if every complaint requires ministerial intervention, there is something terribly wrong in the system.

Its becoming increasingly difficult to separate the real from the presented news. There is a media version and there are multiple social media versions (depending on the ideology). Not sure which is more dangerous, the message shaped by conventional media (whatever their agenda) or the more extreme one shaped by social media based on one's belief. Add a multitude of whatsapp forwards which are mostly in the nature of garbled version of truth. Why people join online (and in some cases real) lynch mobs  and outrage without doing any basic fact-check is something beyond me. And there seems to be a constant need to fix the narrative has led to history books being re-written.

Meanwhile nature has started fighting back. We have had played enough with nature. It was a year of drought in many parts of the country. And followed by floods all over. Floods in multiple cities (Chennai, Bangalore, Assam, Gurgaon) have shown up the reality of our mismanaged development. World class IT parks surrounded by medieval drainage system, certainly a recipe for disaster. That the monsoon is still the single largest factor in the economic indices in a telling comment on the state of infrastructure development of the country. The sensex maybe growing at a steady rate but it hasn't been able to keep up with the food prices.

Start-ups are the new cool thing in the business domain. Everyone seems to be starting up something or working in a start-up. And there is a whole industry of start-ups. Start-ups seem to mushroom out of nowhwere and many either get absorbed into another company or simply disappear. Anything and everything is coming under the aegis of start-ups. A fellow running multiple blogs is now termed a "serial entrepreneur". Lets see how much longer this cash-burn continues.

On the sporting front, we have sent our biggest contingent to the Olympics, which is a tremendous achievement. But mid-way through the Rio Games, things haven't exactly panned out in our favour. Michael Phelps has now moved ahead of India in the Olympic medal tally. Well, there is always cricket to fall back onto for the Indian fan.

The most tragi-comic news of the year -  ISIS considers its Indian recruits inferior to those form other countries. (Indian Express). Hmmm!

All said and done. things not looking so good. But we are relatively better off given the goings-on in other parts of the world. And one always carries a sense of hope. After all, tomorrow is another day!

Happy Birthday India

Monday, August 08, 2016

BookMarks #14: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: JK Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne 
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Play
Setting: The Parallel world of Witches & Wizards
Published: 2016

Official Synopsis
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

All of us thought that the journey of Harry Potter and his fight with Voldemort was over. And they all lived happily ever after, but as in real life, that is not the case. 

The story continues from the epilogue of the concluding book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We follow the paths of Albus Severus, Harry’s son and his new-found friend, Scorpius, the son of Harry’s old school nemesis Draco Malfoy. Both of whom are seeking to survive in the wizarding world, burdened by the names of their fathers’ reputations. Meanwhile, efforts are on to revive Voldemort once again but this time the Dark Lord has a different ally.

We live in the times of cinematic universes with stories spawning from one central theme and going on and on. Seems the Harry Potter universe is also expanding along similar lines with spin-offs and sequels adding to the original tale. And in multiple media - books, movies and now a play [As a fan of the series, I am not complaining].

Lots of references to the previous stories, as would be expected in any fictional universe. Always brought a smile while reading, whenever anyone of the old characters makes a cameo appearance in the tale.

This story is different from the others. After all it is a play and not a novel. Thus we find more dialogues and less action. And that changes quite a bit of the reading of the story. Also necessitating jumps in the storyline. [Reminded me of reading Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice & Hamlet – compulsory part of our English Literature exams]

I do not like this business of time-travel as a plot device. It is too convenient, creating alternate realities. Although in this case somehow we are spared changes in the main timelines. Add the “Interstellar” inspired source of sending a message through time. Playing with time adds its own share of plot-holes.

Plot-holes (or maybe not)
  • Whose wand is Albus using in the climatic duel?
  • In one of the alternate timelines, how are they taking Voldemort’s name?
  • And with so many illegal time-turners floating around (and in the hand of death-eaters), why wasn't any similar attempt made in the "past"?
Aside - I like the word discombobulated.

After many years, actually managed to read a whole book in a day. In all a fun read.

Previously on BookMarks: The Privateersman

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

LearnNBlog #8: Gerrymandering

Following the seemingly never-ending American Presidential elections provides a fascinating learning experience, even for a citizen of the world’s largest democracy (India, just in case you are wondering). This long-drawn process of selecting the person for the most powerful post in the world keeps throwing out interesting terms – electoral colleges, primaries, delegates et al. Seemingly a fair and transparent process but open to manipulations through procedures like “gerrymandering”.

What is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries during the process of defining electoral districts (constituencies).

The term was first used by the Boston Gazette on 26 March 1812. Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts passed a bill to redraw the senate election district boundaries to benefit his party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander. 
The Original Gerry-mander (Source Wikipedia)
Gerrymandering has been used (rather, heavily used) by incumbent officials (in US) to ensure their re-election. The incumbent official would re-adjust the district boundaries to ensure that his voters have a larger share in higher number of districts. 

Gerrymandering has been a fairly common practice conducted by both the major parties at times in collusion. And its not just at the ground level. North and South Dakota were created along this line instead of a single Dakota state. It has ensured that the likelihood of change in guard at the Congress is quite low. 

This could be done by ensuring their voters are spread in more areas, or that all the opposing camp voters are packed up in a single area. “Cracking”, “Packing”, “Hijacking” & “Kidnapping” are some of the different methodologies of gerrymandering. 

This has resulted in creation of very odd-shaped electoral districts. 
Stealing an election via gerrymandering (Image Source - Wikipedia)
US townships have historically been divided along racial and ethnic lines with different areas belonging to different communities, which generally tend to vote as a block. Thus easing the work for the incumbent officials who also have the power to re-draw the boundaries. (Unlike say in India, where all election activities are conducted by a fairly independent and neutral election commission).

Manipulation is the name of the Political Game everywhere in the world.

Other Readings
  • Gerrymandering (Wikipedia)
  • Electoral District (Wikipedia)
  • What America would look like without Gerrymandering (Washington Post)
  • Understanding Congressional Gerrymandering (NPR)
  • Why are there two Carolinas and two Dakota (MentalFloss)
Previously on LearnNBlog – Tax & Cess

Friday, July 29, 2016

BookMarks #13: The Privateersman

Title: The Privateersman (Google Play Books)
Author: Andrew Wareham
Genre: Fiction, History, Business
Setting: Late 18th Century 
Published: 2013

The book narrates the story of Tom Andrews. When we first meet Tom, he is running away from the authorities. His father and associates have been killed for piracy. Tom manages to escape with his life but finds himself onboard a privateering ship. With time we watch him grow from a crew member to a leader of the ship to businessman in New York. He moves back to England with his riches acquired in the West alongwith his free slave friend Joseph. They set up their businesses of ironworks and cotton in England. With the help of his sharp business acumen, Tom becomes richer and richer, expands his business interests and acquires a big estate to become a gentleman. The book ends with Tom attempting to fit into the higher society.

Throughout the book, there is an underlying suspense of whether Tom Andrews’ past will catch up to him?

This is the first book of the series A Poor Man at the Gate.

The book provides an insight into the late 18th century business. It shows how the business grew and who profited from them. It acts as a basic guide on how to make more money out of your money. We also learn a few things about economic bubbles and how they are brought up. And who can make profit from bubbles as well. (Something which is true in today’s markets as well).

The book also gives glimpses of the sea-faring life, the business of piracy on the sea, slavery, the culture of high society, the interactions between different cultures and working classes and most importantly the need to fit in. 

Previously on BookMarks: Great Expectations

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Who is in the Cage?

A typical July Sunday morning in Mumbai. Its raining on and off. Bright and sunny one moment and raining heavily the very next, as if a shower tap has been turned on. 

Heard the sounds of the rain drops and looked out of the kitchen window. And spotted an unusual sight. A squirrel moving around the kitchen grill, probably in search for food or shelter from this sudden rain or maybe both. Up and down the grill it went for a while. Long enough for me to run off, and get my phone for a picture. After a couple of clicks, it probably realized that the infiltration attempt had been noticed. And it disappears from sight.

Such a wonderful shot has to be shared immediately. And so the squirrel gets it moment of fame as its mugshot gets posted across social media. 

The picture got a couple of interesting responses
  • "Hard to say who is caged"
  • "They will be happy if we don't infiltrate their world"
And as is wont with the human mind, such philosophical thoughts lead to more philosophical thoughts. Yes, it is members belonging to the homo sapiens who have created cages for themselves with their endless needs and wants. As well as the tendency to accumulate for the future. Very few other species think beyond the present moment. Certainly no other thinks beyond the current season. All other species are capable of roaming around as is their wont, but homo sapiens have modified their existence to come back to the cages that they have built for themselves.

And as for the second comment. We have already infiltrated their world and the world of every lving creature on the planet. No other species has caused so much damage to the rest of the eco-system as us. Human activity has changed the very face of the earth, building artificial environments like cities and farms, depleted natural resources and in the process wiped out many plant and animal species. And in spite of having done irreparable damage to the eco-system, there are many amongst us who live in complete denial

Had read somewhere that Homo Sapiens are 99% animal and 1% human. And it is the 1% human which is the cause of nearly all the troubles in the world.

Friday, July 22, 2016

India @Rio - The Hopes

The Olympics are coming!!! It will be fortnight of cheers and thrills, jubilation and heart-break... and anecdotes. Everyone will have their own memory to associate the Games with.

After a high of London, India is going to Rio with their biggest contingent ever. 121 athletes will be competing with the very best of the world in 70 events across 15 sports. And with a big contingent comes hopes for a big medal haul. After all, post Beijing & London, winning has become more important than participation.

Having followed the qualifications very closely this time around, I can safely say, no one can predict an Olympic medal. Forget a medal, qualifying for the Games is a tremendous achievement. But how can one be a sports fan without awakening their inner Octopus. So here are my predictions for the Indian contingent at Rio. (Found a website which predicts Olympic medals table).

Hockey: 2 events
Men: After years of living in the glorious past, Indian Hockey had scraped the very bottom with non-qualification for Beijing followed by wooden spoon at London. But things are looking up now - Asian Games Gold (2014), World Hockey League Bronze (2015) and Champions Trophy Silver (2016). Add a new format with an extra knock-out round added, it becomes more of a lottery. All in all, raising Indian hockey fans’ hopes once again.
Women: It was a tremendous improvement for the team to qualify itself, after a gap of 36 years. A quarter-final finish would be a good result.
Expectations: Very High; Chances: Medium (Men); Unlikely (Women)

Archery: 3 events
Since the days of Limba Ram, Archery has promised much and delivered nothing. This time, the men’s team hasn’t qualified with Atanu Das being the sole representative in the individual category. Like last time, the women’s team and Dipika Kumari are all in good form. If (a big IF), they maintain the current form, a couple of medals can be added to India’s kitty.
Expectations: Low (after the London disappointment); Chances: Medium (in all 3 events)

Badminton: 4 events
Indian players have been consistently winning at the World Stage with Saina, Sindhu & Srikanth being ranked in top 10 for a long time also securing world championship medals.
Expectations: High; Chances: High (Singles), Low (Doubles)

Shooting: 11 events
One sport where multiple medals are expected (lots of them). Jitu Rai, Heena Sidhu, Bindra, Narang are amongst the favorites in their categories, but can’t count out the likes of Mairaj Khan, Apurvi Chandela, Chain Singh, Gurpreet Singh et al. But this is one sport with no room for error. Multiple world cups have thrown up different winners. Lets see who wins on the day.
Expectations: Very High; Chances: High (Count can be anywhere between 1 & 5)

Boxing: 3 events
The mess in the Boxing federation has ensured that Indian Boxing has regressed, with entries declining from 8 in London to 3 in Rio. Indian boxers have had to fight under the AIBA flag for the last couple of years because their own federation kept getting suspended. Even for Rio, there was a fear that they may not get to represent India. Shiva Thapa (current world bronze medalist) is amongst the favorites while Vikas Krishan & Manoj Kumar would certainly want redemption for their controversial exits at London. 
Expectations: Low; Chances: Medium (for Thapa)

Tennis: 3 events
Tennis broke India’s 16 year medal drought at Atlanta through Leander Paes. 20 years down the line, Paes is still going strong albeit in doubles. Speaks volumes of Paes’s longevity and India’s inability to produce another top notch player. Tennis should have brought in more medals, but players’ incompatibility/ego issues /bad luck have combined to ensure that it remains one of India’s biggest Olympics disappointment. The run-up to London was marked with bad blood, some of which has been spilled over this time also. Do not see any of the 3 doubles combinations going much farther in the draw. Interestingly, one of the medal predictor sites gave India a Gold in Mixed Doubles!!! (with the wrong pairing).
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low (Mixed Doubles is best hope)

Wrestling: 8 events
Post London, the expectations are high with India sending its biggest ever wrestling contingent. Run-up to the Olympics was marred by the Sushil Kumar-Narsingh Yadav battle. That High Court had to intervene in the selections left a bad taste but finally the Wrestling Federation stuck by its decision of picking the current world championship medalist Narsingh over two time Olympic medallist Sushil. (Quite a bold move).
Expectations: High (Yogeshwar Dutt, Narsingh, Vinesh); Chances: Medium (1-2)

Weightlifting: 2 events
Bucking the trend of every sport post an Olympics medal, Indian weightlifting has been in a free-fall since Karnam Malleswari’s bronze lift at Sydney. A succession of doping controversies even led to the country getting banned for some time. For Rio, India earned a quota each for men’s & women’s division. There is a good chance of a top 5 finish for Mirabai Chanu, but a medal will be an exceptional achievement.
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low (Chanu may lift a surprise though)

Athletics: 21 events
If we discount Norman Pritchard’s two medals at the 1900 Games, Indian athletics at Olympics has been mainly a case of participation being more important than winning. Our most celebrated moments are Milkha Singh & PT Usha missing podium finishes by a whisker. This time we have our biggest ever athletics contingent going to Rio. To give an idea of how far behind Indian athletics is to the rest of the world, many of the qualifiers had to break existing national marks to just meet the qualifying standards!!! Special mention must be made of Dutee Chand who had to fight to just be deemed eligible to participate as a woman.
Expectations: Low (Likes of Vikas Gowda (Discus), Lalita Babar (Steeplechase) should make it through to their respective finals); Chances: Nil (New national marks will be highs)
Following the recent crackdown on the doping front (ban on Russians & close watch on Kenyans), Athletics events might just throw interesting results.

Golf: 2 events
Golf returns to Olympics after 112 years. Given the spate of withdrawal by its biggest stars, there is a good chance it might not appear again in future. The sport will be missing many of the biggest stars following withdrawals and nationality restrictions. This opens up a slim chance for Anirban Lahiri & Shiv Chowrasia. Chances for Aditi Ashok are not that great in the Ladies side.
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low 

Gymnastics: 5 events
An Indian girl qualified for Gymnastics!!! And if Dipa Karmakar executes her Produnova Vault perfectly, India might be getting their hands on their most unexpected medal ever. 
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low

Table Tennis: 2 events
In Table Tennis, unlike Badminton, Indians haven’t been able to break the East Asian hegemony. All the 4 paddlers might win couple of rounds but don’t see them progressing much further.
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Nil

Judo: 1 event
Avtar Singh will be sole Judoka representing India at Rio. How much progress he makes will depend a lot on the luck of the draw.
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Nil

Rowing: 1 event
Dattu Bhokanal will India’s sole rowing representative. Has an interesting back-story of coming up from a drought-prone region to representing the country in a water sport!!!
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Low

Swimming: 2 events
2 swimmers have been allocated wild cards for Rio. Don’t see them progressing beyond the Heats.
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Nil

Olympic Medal Predictor Site says India gets a silver & a bronze. My prediction would be a tally of 5-8 medals. Will it be the known names? or will there be new ones raising the flag? The draws will also play a crucial role. A better measure of progress would be the number of athletes making different finals. After the sweat and toil, which they went through to just qualify (all unseen), now we add the weight of expectations of a nation of a billion plus watching.

Predictions done. Now to enjoy the grandest sporting spectacle as it unfolds at Rio. The run-up to the Games have been marked with controversies galore (reminding one of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games). Hopefully it will be incident-free and bring positive news amidst all the gloom and doom unfolding in the world.

With best wishes to all the members of the Indian contingent.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

BookMarks #12: Great Expectations

Cover page of 1st Edition, 1861
Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Fiction, Social Life, First Person
Setting: Early 19th Century England
Published: 1861

Great Expectations tells the story of Phillip Pirrip or in short “Pip”. The story is a first person account from Pip. Pip narrates the critical events of his life as he grows up. And how the past events shape his life.

Pip is an eight-year old orphan, living with his cruel sister and her kindly husband, Joe, the blacksmith. One day he encounters an escaped convict, who forces him to get food and a file for him, which Pip does. Next day the convict is again caught by the police, but does not reveal Pip’s secret.

Sometime later Pip is selected for “playing” in a big house owned by an eccentric old woman, Miss Havisham. Here, Pip meets her adopted daughter, Estella, who makes life miserable for Pip. But Pip falls in love with her. After a few years pass in this routine, Pip is assigned as an apprentice to Joe in the forge. 

Mr. Jaggers, a lawyer from London, comes over to the village and informs Pip that he has come up with “expectations” from a secret benefactor, whose condition is that Pip goes to London and become a gentleman. Pip assumes this secret benefactor to be Miss Havisham. Pip moves to London for getting an education. There he stays with Herbert Pocket, a boy his own age and a distant relative of Miss Havisham’s. 

With his “expectations” on the way, we see a transformation in Pip’s character and his attitude towards Joe. He deems that Joe is an unworthy fellow and not a gentleman. Pip begins living a life of extravagance and is in debt. All this with the aim of getting Estella to marry him, something which he feels was also Miss Havisham’s wish. However Estella doesn’t reciprocate his feelings and gets married to another. 

Meanwhile Pip learns that his secret benefactor was none other than the escaped convict, Magwitch. He is initially repulsed by the revelation. Meantime he also learns that Miss Havisham, having been jilted in her younger days, was just toying with him with Estella. Slowly Pip’s attitude towards Magwitch also changes as he learns more about his life. Pip with the help of Herbert tries to take Magwitch along with him abroad, as Magwitch is still wanted for his crimes in England. However, they are caught and Magwitch is sentenced but is very ill. Pip also learns that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Pip tells Magwitch this secret before he dies. With Magwitch’s arrest, all his possessions are seized and Pip’s expectations are gone. Miss Havisham also passes away but acknowledges that she has done wrong with Pip. At Pip’s request she provides a regular sum for Herbert (who is unaware of this) to start his business. 

The ordeal takes a toil on Pip and he falls ill. He is taken care of by Joe, who also pays off all his debts. Pip feels guilty about his treatment of Joe. Finally, he starts leading an honest life working as a clerk with his friend Herbert. 

The book ends with Pip meeting a widowed Estella again at the Miss Havisham’s house. Estella asks for his forgiveness for the wrongs she had done. They walk out together, with Pip seeing “no shadow of another parting with her”.

Great Expectations is a story about characters and their response to sudden change in fortunes (theirs and others). It also tells the story of different social classes and how they look on each other. 

It is also a coming of age tale. The reader grows up with the central character as he matures from a scared young man to an extravagant adolescent to a wiser man. He sees wealth come to him and then go away but he does become a better person in the end. 

Society was quiet different then. A young boy being selected for "playing" at a spinster's home would certainly be seen with raised eyebrows now. Also many of the terms and phrases have gone onto acquire different meanings with the passage of time.

Previously on BookMarks: The Very Best of Common Man