Thursday, December 14, 2017

BookMarks #29: Catch-22

Title: Catch-22
Author: Joseph Heller
Genre: Fiction, War, Satire
Setting: An American air force base in Italy, during the 2nd World War
Published: 1961

Short Summary
This is the story of Captain John Yossarian, a bombardier in the US Air Force based in Italy during the Second World War. The novel narrates the experiences of Yossarian and his fellow airmen, as they go about doing their “duties” while planning to return home.

BookMarks
Catch-22 – The title itself is the book's single biggest contribution to the English language. It describes an impossible situation, a set of paradoxical conditions from which there is no escape. The pilots in the novel need to plead insanity to escape flying any more missions. But their very act of making an insanity plea shows that they are sane and are thus fit to fly more missions. Thus showing that there is no escape.

The narration is pretty weird (probably the reason why it is in most “greatest novels” lists). The story moves in the form of a “jalebi”. One event doesn’t necessarily lead to another. But one incident refers to a previous narrative, sometimes taking it forward, sometimes filling up the backstory and sometimes hanging out as a loose thread to be tied up much later. Overall making it slightly difficult to keep track of the happenings in this non-chronological tale.

There are attempts at humour even in the light of tragedy, making the tragedy even starker. After all, it is a tale of war. There is blood and gore and black humour. As the novel proceeds, it grows grimmer, as we see our characters die one after the other, while also coming face to face with the horrors of war. There is an attempt of the airmen to retain their sanity in light of the goings-on. They question war itself, but carry on with their”duties” while also fighting their own bureaucracy, which at times is an even bigger enemy than the Germans (whom we never see). They are just a bunch of weary men eager to go back home. Nothing sums it up better than the contrast in attitude between Yossarian, a war “veteran” and his roommates who are fresh joinees. 

My favorite line from the book – “that men would die was a matter of necessity; which men would die, though, was a matter of circumstance”. A reminder to the warmongers the world over – that the soldiers dying in the war are also real people. Especially to those who think that bringing up soldiers dying at the borders is a good analogy for any cause.

One word about Milo Minderbinder and his M&M transportation using fleets of fighter aircraft from both sides. There is war and there is business. Sometimes they go hand in hand. And somebody can run a profitable business empire at the sidelines of a world war as well.

Previously on BookMarks: A Feast for Crows

Sunday, December 10, 2017

LearnNBlog #12: The Shortest Chess Game

I learnt the basics of chess at a relatively young age of 6 years. (I say relatively because there are kids who go on to become Grand Masters by the time they are 13!). Always found the 64 square board fascinating. Was quite a passionate follower of the game (Woke up in the middle of the night to watch live the Kasparaov-Anand World Championships Match in the 90s). Over time, chess took a backseat. However, recently, have rediscovered chess - thanks to a combination of chess.com, a longer commute and 4G data connection! And this has led to some interesting learning.

All this while, I thought it took a minimum of 4 moves to win a game of chess - the Scholar's Checkmate. Basically attack the king's bishop pawn through a combination of a bishop and queen to win via mate. So this used to be my standard opening attempt. Try to arrange my pieces to attack the king's bishop pawn (regardless of which colour I played), while also ensuring that I am not the victim of the same attempt. Sometimes would also need to throw in a knight which would delay the proceedings. However, four moves was the minimum requirement to win this. Also being a victim of this combination was one of the basic chess learnings!

Recently I learnt that there could be a complete game in just 2 moves (!) with Black emerging the victor. And there are a few options in this as well.
Move sequence
  1. g4 e5
  2. f3 Qh4+ Black wins by checkmate!
Alternately - White can move either g or f pawn in any sequence and the f pawn can be moved either to f3 or f4. Black can move the e pawn to e6 or e5. 


And just like that realized that there are so many things we can learn and keep learning.

Links & Other Readings
Previously on LearnNBlog: 14th February & Bhagat Singh

P.S. Also remembered that it has been months since I post a LearnNBlog! Need to show more sincerity here. After all it's not the "Learn" part which is an issue but the "Blog" part!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MovieNotes: Thor: Ragnarok

Title: Thor: Ragnarok (IMDB)
*ing: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Mark Ruffalo, Tessa Thompson et al
Director: Taika Watiti
Language: English
Genre: Comic Books, Fantasy

Basic Premise
Thor finds a new claimant for the Asgardian crown, his older sister Hela, whom he was not aware of.

MovieNotes
Just when the Marvel movies were getting a tad repetitive and boring, comes Thor: Ragnarok, a great mixture of action and humor.

Loki has moved over to the right side (he can switch back anytime, though). So the good folks at Marvel found a better villain in Hela. Biggest hamstring of Marvel movies has been weak villains, but this one certainly was not. Also, less screen time, limited dialogue and strong action for Hela helped in building up the right menace. Hela even threw in some management jargon for her "executioner" to be an executioner of her vision!

Special highlight was the background music while Thor, Valkyior and Hulk take up the fight. Fight sequences should be entertaining.  As should the one-line exchanges between the major characters. After all this is a comic book adaptation.

Enough material to build on the Universe. And lots of questions. Did Hela die? Why does the Grandmaster look uncannily like the Collector, although played by different actors? What about the Infinity Stones? Does Thor get a new Mjolnir? Will Hulk change back into Dr. Banner again? Did they land up in the "Guardians of the Galaxy" planet?

Many new questions. And they did not answer how Loki was still alive?

And finally, about the play within the film. A pretty strong starcast for such an insignificant scene! Was that an Easter Egg or do we just take it at face value of some big names having fun?

Rating - 8/10. A fun watch.

Previously on MovieNotes: Newton

Monday, October 23, 2017

The "Thumbs Up" Hill

You never know what wonders you can get to see during a train journey. e.g. during a recent train ride, got a glimpse of this structure. And on the return journey, made sure that I get a better view of the same.
Image Source: https://dreamzquizclubs.wordpress.com/2008/11/04/daily-question-32/
Post some research, found out that this is the famous "Thumbs Up" mountain near Manmad, in Nashik District, with the closest station being Ankai. The train was moving too fast to click a proper photo of the structure. But it did provide a stunning view. A hill with its top shaped like a thumb, making it to appear as the universal good luck symbol. The marvels of geology - wonder what all forces of nature must have been at play to form this shape!

On doing some additional research, found a blog claiming that this structure is also the inspiration behind the cold drink brand's logo! That would be an interesting take. However, it does seem a bit far-fetched. More likely, its the other way round. The place is now popularly known as "Thums Up Mountain" after the brand!

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

MovieNotes: Newton

Title: Newton (IMDB
*ing: Rajkumar Rao, Pankaj Tripathi, Raghubir Yadav, Anjali Patil
Director: Amit Masurkar
Language: Hindi & Gond
Genre: Satire

Basic Premise
An idealistic young man is appointed as the presiding officer to conduct elections in a region disturbed by Naxalism.

MovieNotes
A great insight into what goes behind the massive exercise that is conducting elections in India. We hear tales from the political rallies, see the voters on TV, but rarely hear the story from the perspective of the men and women conducting the election.

Highlight - Brilliant acting by the “star” cast. Also, the fact that the story doesn’t go over the top in preaching mode.

Each character presents their side, sometimes seriously sometimes in jest. Seemingly there is no right or wrong side. Each have their own shades of grey. The story also doesn’t take anyone’s side openly. Empathy is shown for the ordinary local residents, who are caught in between the wars of the Naxals and the Armed forces and are then showcased to the foreign media as "champions of Indian democracy".

I don’t think, anyone has ever explained Newton’s law of gravity with so much eloquence and simplicity as Sanjay Mishra’s character does to Newton.

A misplaced sense of idealism leads nowhere. Probably that explains the feeling of happiness on seeing Newton getting thrashed by the Army team supposed to be protecting him.

The movie seemed a bit incomplete (just my opinion). Guess not closing things out helps in keeping it more real.

Random Thought – Nothing better than English movies to learn the English language.

Rating – 9/10. Fun to watch. A light-hearted satire on one of the key elements which make "Incredible India"

Previously on Movienotes: Spiderman Homecoming 

Friday, September 29, 2017

BookMarks #28: A feast For Crows

Title: A Feast For Crows
Author: George RR Martin
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Setting: Fictional Continents of Westeros & Essos, in medieval times
Published: 2005

Summary
At the Citadel in Oldtown, the maesters hear rumors of Denerys and her dragons. One of the apprentices is duped into giving off the archmaester’s key to a stranger.

At the Iron Islands, Balon Greyjoy dies and his throne is claimed by his brother Euron and daughter Asha. Euron takes over the throne ahead of his brothers and starts harassing the rest of Westeros. 

In Dorne, the Sand Snakes, daughters of Prince Oberyn seek vengeance for his death. Oberyn’s brother Duran thinking of their potential rebellion puts them in custody. Duran’s daughter Arianne wants Princess Myrcella to be crowned as the sovereign. However, her plans are thwarted by Duran and Arianne is imprisoned while Myrcella is injured.

Post the murder of Lord Tywin. Cersei and Jaime discover Tyrion and Varys have disappeared from the King’s Landing. Cersei tries to fill her loyalists in King Tommen’s council. Margery Tyrell and Prince Tommen are married. Cersei brokers peace with the sect of Sparrows and the High Septon by agreeing to let them raise an army of Faith Militant. Cersei tries to implicate Margery for adultery. However, her plan backfires and she is imprisoned. 

Jaime is despatched to take over the Riverlands from Brynden Tully, taking Ilyn Payne & Addam Marbrand as his companions. On the way, Jaime learns that Lancel has become a member of the Sparrows faith. Jaime reaches Riverrun and attempts to negotiate with the Brynden. He learns about Edmure Tully being kept hostage and having a child on the way. He releases Edmure and in persuades him to give up Riverrun in exchange. Meanwhile Brynden manages to escape during the handover. 

Sam is sent by Jon to the Citadel to become a Maester, alongwith Gilly, her son and maester Aemon and Dareon. On the journey, Sam learns that Jon had swapped Gilly’s son with Mance Rayder’s. Along the way, Aemon passes away. Sam reaches Oldtown and tells the stories of the Wall to the Maesters. 

Arya reaches Braavos and finds her way to the House of Black and White, a temple of the many-faced God. She serves in the temple and learns selling oysters in the city. All the while trying to become no one in the company of the waif and an old man. On her trips outside she runs into Sam and Dareon. On finding that Dareon has deserted the others, she kills him. Next day, she wakes up blind. 

Brienne continues on her quest for Sansa Stark. On the way she is joined by Podrick Payne, who was earlier Tyrion‘s squire. Brienne and Pod are captured by the Brotherhood Without Banners, where they are presented to Lady Stoneheart (Catelyn Stark brought back to life) for sentencing. 

At the Vale, investigations into the death of Lysa Arryn are carried out. Lord Baelish passes on the blame to Marilion, which is accepted by the Knights of the Vale. Baelish plans to marry off Sansa (known as Alayne) to gain control of the Vale. 

BookMarks 
4th Book in the series “A Song of Ice and Fire” following A Storm of Swords. Also provides the basis for 5th and 6th season of the shows. Although, now the stories seem to have almost nothing in common except the names of the characters.

Funnily it covers only half of the lead characters of the series. We don't see Jon or Daenerys or Tyrion. However we are introduced to Dorne and the Greyjoy wars. 

Onwards to A Dance of Dragons now 


Previously on BookMarks: Angels and Demons 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Road to Tokyo

A day after the National Sports Day. Couldn’t think of a more apt day to finally publish this post which has been in the works for quite some time now.
Just under three years to go before the next Olympics at Tokyo. It’s the Olympics. So it’s never too early to prepare for the big event, even if you are just a fan sitting at your home. 

Nearly a year has passed since the Rio Olympics. The Indian performance was a little underwhelming, especially coming after the relative high of the London Games. We had sent our biggest contingent ever, but the final result was a big letdown although there were quite a few last step heart-breaks as well.

Rio produced its own fair share of “stars” – PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik, Dipa Karmakar, Lalita Babar et al. But with the exception of Sindhu, the rest have seemingly disappeared from the sporting arena (if you go by the media following). There were mega felicitations for the big winners, but then what next? Most of the Olympic sports have been seemingly forgotten and disappeared from the public eye. Probably to re-appear just before the next Olympics. Badminton being the sole exception – thanks to sterling performances by the players.

Why this apathy for sports other than Cricket (and to a certain extent Badminton and Hockey). As Joy Bhattacharya writes in this article, we tend to follow the stars and not the sports. And that is precisely why our performances at the biggest stages seems so underwhelming. 

Meanwhile, me, the self-described sports tragic had decided to regularly update this blog with features on Olympic sports (from an Indian perspective). Had envisaged a monthly frequency for the updates, progressing to fortnightly and weekly in the run-up to the Games. However, it took one whole year, to bring the first post in this series! 

First a look back at the year gone by!

Post Rio, the Government announced the creation of a task force for the next three Olympics. Probably the first time ever, we seemed to be planning for the long term and not just the next event. However, the results will only show in due course. Yet, it did begin with the right intent. 

Meanwhile, NRAI, one of the better managed national bodies, immediately set up an independent inquiry to assess the Rio performance. And came out with a recommendations too, and all this in an open manner. Something which the other sporting bodies should also have done. [At least, I haven’t heard of any such enquires by any of the other federations]. (NRAI Introspection Report)

Rio presented its share of controversies. Most notably the Narsingh Yadav doping scandal, OP Jaisha’s racing controversy, Anirban Lahiri’s accusations of official apathy. All that’s water under the bridge, but hopefully the task force has taken note. Doping headlines become a national embarrassment and make the low medal count appear even more shameful. 

But what next? The medals cost money. Just look at how much Great Britain spends invests on the Olympic sports - by some estimates nearly ~5.5 Mn Pounds per medal. That is a huge amount. And the money has yielded results. From 1 Gold in 1996 to 27 in 2016. 

Well, India might not be able to fund this much (from its current sports budget anyway). But we can open up alternate revenue options. Why not legalise sports betting? And put all the revenues earned into development of sports at grassroots and dedicated training for the top performers. A side-advantage is betting agencies are also becoming good at detecting match-fixing. (e.g. Tennis). But given the “ethical” issues involved, it may not be the most palatable solution. Guess we have to stick with corporate sponsorships for now.

At the Olympics, the margin between fame and anonymity is very fine. Every little thing matters. Hopefully, actions taken from the task force recommendations might be good enough to bridge that gap.

The multiple World Championships held during the last year have brought mixed results. Badminton is good, Shooting is dicey (as always), Athletics failed to live upto the usual hype in the run-up, Wrestling drew a blank slate (the biggest disappointment), while Boxing is looking better again. Hopefully these are looked at more as preparations for the big event coming in 3 years time.

So to the question of What Can I (an average fan) Do? 

Well, as a starter follow more sports. 
  • Want to know where Indian sportspersons are participating - follow this guy on Twitter. There's no one better!
  • Build your own sports calendar for upcoming events. Wikipedia helps here as well with a couple of dedicated pages for current and upcoming events 
  • Watch more games in the stadium. And not just the big ones
  • If you can, make a monetary contribution to causes like Olympic Gold Quest.
  • Cheer for our performers on social media. (It raises the profile of the game e.g. Our women’s cricket team) 
Just a starter. Next episode (hopefully soon) will cover the event changes changes from Rio to Tokyo

Monday, August 14, 2017

India @ 70

Happy Birthday, India! And it's time for my annual round-up of many things that is India.

Usually, the perennial optimist in me would always find the silver lining in the clouds hovering all around. But, with every passing year, it is getting a tad harder to do so. Maybe the times are troubled or simply because I am growing more and more cynic.

There is a sub-clause, in the Constitution, under the section of Fundamental Duties: "To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform”. But that was before the era of Whatsapp and Facebook. Judging by the amount of blind faith in Whatsapp forwards, there is a large deficiency of "scientific temper" and the "spirit of inquiry" in us Indians. Why do people have a tendency to share and be willing bearers of sensationalism without a basic fact check? Something which has now been exploited to the hilt by the creators of "manufactured" news and and those rewriting history to propagate their own devious agenda. Even more worrying is the speed at which the "anti-national" tag is being thrown at people who do not conform with the "official thinking".

Coming to the most recent and shocking "news" - over 70 children die in a hospital in Gorakhpur because the oxygen supply was shut-off. A simple mechanical act leading to a tragedy. Somebody did not ensure payments even after multiple reminders leading to a "massacre". As if the tragedy wasn't bad enough, we now have to witness the vultures (politicians and media) swooping in to feed on the frenzy. Some downplaying, some outraging, some just intent on blaming others and finding a convenient scapegoat. The entire system needs a brutal shake-up.

The current state of India is such that there are more people ready to take cudgels on behalf of the members of "Bos taurus" species than for fellow Homo Sapiens. Somehow the bigger crime is "consuming and transporting beef" than the public lynching of the alleged "criminal".

Last year, we witnessed the grand exercise of "Demonetization". Almost one year down the line, we have still no clue why it was carried out (there are theories) and whether any of the promised "benefits" (and there were lots of them) actually were brought forth. And there were poeple who believed about the tracking chip in the currency notes!

Every few months, we hear of Chinese sneaking into Indian territory. A clarion call to boycott Chinese made goods is raised, ironically often via phones made in China. And then it dies down, to be raised again following the next Chinese "incursion".

The Indian soldier was also in the news throughout the year. Sometimes for dealing with skirmishes at the border, sometimes for having stones pelted at them at home, sometimes for raising the occasional complaint about their conditions. But they were kept in the news mostly by the jingoistic jokers who would bring about images of soldiers at the border even for mundane day to day activities like withdrawing money from a bank account.

A cartoon to sum it all up
Enough ranting for now. We are still better off than many parts of the world, but much worse than others. After all, I still have the freedom to post this.

भारत माता की जय !

P.S. 2016 Edition

Monday, July 17, 2017

BookMarks #27: Angels & Demons

Title: Angels & Demons
Author: Dan Brown
Genre: Fiction
Setting: Modern Day Rome & Vatican
Published: 2000

Summary
Robert Langdon, a symbology professor is called in at CERN to help in investigating a death in the campus. Certain marks from a mysterious organization the Illuminati make an appearance at the crime scene. Also missing is a mass of anti-matter created at CERN which can annihilate an entire area. The anti-matter canister is reported to be in Vatican where a conclave to select the next Pope is being held. 

Langdon, accompanied by Vittoria Vetra, the daughter of the deceased CERN scientist arrives in Vatican. There they receive the news that the four leading Cardinals are missing and a Hassassin informs them of the imminent murders of the Cardinals at the designated time and place. Langdon undertakes a chase across Rome following the clues regarding the mythical Path of Illumination, but is unable to save any of the Cardinals.

In a dramatic scene, broadcast to the whole world, the deceased Pope’s Camerlegno manages to find the anti-matter canister and save the city from destruction. 

However, it is revealed to Langdon, Vittoria and the remaining Cardinals that the Camerlegno himself had plotted the entire chain of events starting from the previous Pope’s murder due to a misunderstanding. On finding the truth, the Camerlegno commits suicide while the newly elected Pope keeps this information away from public knowledge.

BookMarks
Re-reading the book, after a trip to Italy. It was fun to read about places and artefacts mentioned in the book after having seen them in real life. 

The book marked the first arrival of Robert Langdon on the literary scene. A successful arrival which has seen the launch of more such adventures, combining art interpretation with crime fighting.

Moral of the tale – Take in all facts before setting on a course of destruction. And the most hard-core believers are the ones who can shake up the foundations of the very faith they believe in.

Also, while the author begins with “References to all works of art, tombs, tunnels, and architecture in Rome are entirely factual (as are their exact locations). They can still be seen today”, there are some discrepancies. e.g. the uniform of the Papal guards were not designed by Michelangelo, but by Jules Repond. Better to do your own research as well!

Previously on BookMarks: A Storm of Swords

Monday, July 10, 2017

MovieNotes: Spider-man: Homecoming

Title: Spider-Man: Homecoming (IMDB)
*ing: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr.
Director: Jon Watts
Language: English
Genre: Superhero, Comics

Preamble
And here comes one more superhero movie. And this one is about the rebooting the Superhero which launched the superhero craze of the last 15 years. 

Basic Premise
Peter Parker, fresh from his adventures with the Avengers is back at school. Trying to save the world while also attempting to survive growing up in the real world.

MovieNotes
  • Given Spider-man’s age (he is 15), the movie seems a cross of superhero and teen movie genres. And providing the best of both worlds at the same time. 
  • Spiderman: Homecoming is set well within the Marvel Cinematic Universe with multiple references to the previous ones, while setting a platform for the future ones as well.
  • The Acting – Tom Holland is superb as the boy who would be Spider-man. Reducing the protagonist's age was the best thing done by the makers. (Apart from not killing Uncle Ben again in the reboot).
  • Finally we get to see a decent villain in the Marvel Universe with Michael Keaton putting in a good turn as the Vulture [Aside – from Batman to Birdman to Vulture, interesting turn of roles]
  • Plot Hole Alert – How does Spider-man survive the flight and its landing?
  • 15 year old Spider-man tries to tell the world about the evil forces, yet nobody seemingly takes him seriously. Reminds one of Harry Potter in the Half-Blood Prince.
  • The use of Captain America to provide Public Service Announcements is hilarious to say the least. Especially the post-credits one, which does test your “patience”.
  • Pepper Potts appears for a few seconds and yet Gwyneth Paltrow makes it fourth on the Credits List!
  • Random India Connect – Tony Stark attends a wedding in India while at the same time “remotely” rescuing his mentee from the evil forces.
Rating – 8/10. Fun to watch. A light-hearted affair instead of the brooding superheroes that we are getting increasingly accustomed to.

Previously on Movienotes: Bahubali 2 

Thursday, July 06, 2017

BookMarks #26: A Storm of Swords

BookMarks: A Storm of Swords
Title: A Storm of Swords
Author: Geroge RR Martin
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Setting: Fictional Continents of Westeros & Essos, in medieval times
Published: 2000

Summary
“You know nothing Jon Snow”

After the Battle of Blackwater, Ser Davos is appointed by Stannis as his Hand. Melisandre convinces Stannis to sacrifice Edric Storm, one of Robert’s bastards, but Davos smuggles him out and also manages to convince Stannis to head to the Wall to defend it from the Wildings.

Beyond the Wall, the White Walkers attack the Night’s Watch. The survivors flee with Sam managing to kill a White Walker with dragonglass. They arrive at Craster’s place where a mutiny breaks out in which Lord Commander Mormont & Craster are killed. Sam escapes with Gilly and her newborn son and heads back to Castle Black.

Jon meets Mance Rayder, the King-beyond-the-wall, who questions him about his breaking the vow. There he meets Tormund, Ygritte alongwith giants and mammoths. Jon falls in love with Ygritte. Mance decides to attack the Wall. Jon and Ygritte along with other wildlings climb over the Wall. Across the Wall, they catch an old man and ask Jon to kill him. Jon refuses and breaks away from the Wildlings to head to Castle Black and warns them about the impeding attack. The Wildings attack the Castle, which the pre-warned Brothers successfully defend against. Ygritte is killed during the attack. Mance attacks the Wall from the North, while Jon and others defend it. Just in time, Stannis arrives to destroy the wildling army. Jon is elected as the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.

Jaime Lannister is freed by Catelyn Stark and sent along with Brienne with a promise to return the Stark girls, Sansa and Arya. Her son, Robb, returns with his new wife Jeyne Westerling, breaking the promise made to Walder Frey. After Lord Hoster Tully’s death, Edmure takes over as Lord of Riverrun. The Freys agree to accept Robb’s apology on condition of Edmure marrying Walder Frey’s daughter Roslin. At the wedding, Walder Frey and Roose Bolton betray them and kill Robb, Catelyn, Robb’s direwolf and most of the Northern Army.

Jaime and Brienne are taken captive by Roose Bolton’s men. Jaime’s right hand is cut off. His captors take him to Harrenhal. Roose Bolton releases Jaime and heads for the Twins. Jaime returns to take Brienne along with him. 

Arya escapes from Harrenhal, alongwith Gendry and Hot Pie, and attempts to reach Riverrun. On the way, they run into soldiers of the Brotherhood without Banners, one of whom recognizes her as Arya Stark of Winterfell. Bedric Dondarrion, the Leader of the Brotherhood, plans to ransom her to Robb. The Brotherhood captures the Hound and condemns him to trial by combat. The Hound kills Bedric who is brought back to life and the Hound is pardoned. Arya is kidnapped by the Hound, who wants to ransom her himself. But just as they reach the Twins, they witness the murders of Robb and Catelyn. Later they run into other Lannister soliders, whom they kill but the Hound is badly wounded. Arya gets back Needle, her sword. Arya leaves the Hound and finds a ship to Bravos with the help of the coin given to her by Jaqen H’gar.

At King’s Landing, Lord Tywin takes over as the King’s Hand. Sansa Stark is questioned about Joffery's nature by Margery and her grandmother Olenna Sansa hesitatingly tells them the truth Olenna offers Sansa to be married to her grandson Willas. Hearing of this, Tywin marries off Tyrion to Sansa and proposes Cersei to be married to Willas leaving both the siblings quite unhappy.

At the wedding, Joffery is killed after drinking poisoned wine. Tyrion is accused by Cersei of murdering Joffery. In the confusion, Sansa makes her escape from King’s Landing aided by Lord Petyr Baelish. Baelish informs Sansa that Joffery was poisoned by Olenna.

Tyrion demands a trial by combat with Prince Oberyn of Dorne offering to be his champion. Oberyn gets killed by the Mountain, although the Mountain is also seriously injured. Tyrion is sentenced to death. However, Jaime and Varys rescue him. Before leaving, Tyrion kills his father, Tywin.

Baelish marries Lysa Arryn, Sansa’s aunt. Sansa is introduced as his daughter Alayne. At the Eyrie, Lysa is killed by Baelish, but the blame is passed onto the singer. Lysa had earlier poisoned her husband, Jon Arryn at Petyr’s behest, thus setting in motion the entire story.

Jaime returns to Winterfell to resume a Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. He releases Brienne and tells her to find and protect Sansa Stark. The Lannisters send a Northern girl pretending to be Arya Stark to be wed to Roose Bolton's son Ramsay.

Daenerys and her followers head towards Westeros in a ship. Ser Jorah convinces her to change course to Slaver’s Bay to buy out an Army. With the help of her dragons, she defeats the Slavers of Astapor, and takes over the army of the Unsullied alongwith the translator, Missandei. Grey Worm is selected as Commander of the Unsullied Army. After Astapor, they take over Yunkai, where more freed slaves, and others led by Daario Nahaaris join them. At Mereen, Danerys learns off the true identity of Arstan Whitebeard as Ser Barristan Selmy. She also learns that Jorah Mormont had been an informer for Late King Robert. She banishes Jorah, while appointing Ser Barristan as her Queensguard.

After escaping from Winterfell, Bran alongwith the Reed Siblings heads Beyond-the-Wall to meet the three-eyed-raven. 

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood Without Banners finds the body of Catelyn Stark and brings it back to life, although she is mute now. 

BookMarks 
Sequel to A Clash of Kings

3rd book in the Series “A Song of Ice and Fire” and provides the basis for the 3rd and 4th seasons of the TV Series “A Game of Thrones”. Looking more divergent from the TV Show now, where it seems many characters have been merged into single entity. E.g. Edric Storm and Gendry; the Tyrell Brothers etc. 

There is the “Red Wedding”. Having watched the series, knew it was coming and yet it was still numbing to read. The many treacherous plots and sub-plots going on in Westeros are mind-numbing to say the least. 

Onwards to A Feast of Crows now.

Previously on BookMarks: Sapiens

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Italian Sojourn

Bon Giorno

After a few days in Italy, these words automatically get added into the daily dictionary.

Italy - how do I describe it? The entire country seems to be a live history lesson - there are churches, museums, fountains, canals, archaeological sites – all linked with the land's glorious past. The saying "All those who wander are not lost" fits well with the place. You take a wrong turn and you end up discovering something unexpected. All of them quite fascinating, but none so much as the experiences.

Italians love football. After all they are four-time World Champions of the planet's most popular sport. UEFA Champions League Final happened to coincide with our stay. Watching the Final alongside a bunch of what I thought Juventus supporters at a restaurant was quite an experience. They cheered for everything - a goal scored, a goal conceded, a foul, a good save and sang throughout, while pizza and beer flowed freely. Juventus lost that day and chants of “Juve, Juve, Merda” still resonate. Turns out it was an anti-Juventus chant after all!

Just how big a phenomenon was Roman Holiday! Some sixty odd years after it's release, it is a cultural landmark (in a nation full of landmarks)! Audrey Hepburn, Gregory Peck and their Vespa are still visible all around. Also, found a little shop which called itself Audrey's Shop.

A lone cellist playing in the basilica square. The music, hauntingly beautiful and soothing. Just sit on the steps, close your eyes and be mesmerized. And you are recharged for the walk to the next spot in the itinerary. Only, you don’t feel like leaving the place at all.

The Roman Empire may have disappeared, but here and there were some “gladiators” challenging you for a duel. Rather asking you to get a photograph taken in exchange of money. But, still it was funny to see a man all dressed in gladiatorial costume taking a sip of water from a plastic bottle during a break.

Beware of sea-gulls. They may seem gentle but if you have food in hand they can be quite deadly. Some launch direct attacks. Others can do stealth attack as well. Witnessed one such sneaky attack where the bird was once thwarted off but it circled and sneaked up from behind to snatch a pizza slice right out of the hands of its hapless victim.

Which brings me to the food. After all, Italy is the home of pizza and gelato. Hours of walking, trying to soak up all the history around can leave you very hungry. So, you enter a pizzeria, ask for a margherita (pizza) and the shop-owner says – “But I am Alessandro”. Italians do have a charming sense of humour!

But one can’t have pizza for all meals. So imagine the happiness which the sight of a “genuine” Indian restaurant brings. (And not a Bangladeshi one masquerading as an Indian). The owner greets you warmly with “और कैसे हो ” while Humma Humma (the new one) plays in the background. Apart from the great food, they also had an updated Bollywood playlist.

We did stand out as Indians in a foreign country. Even the border police at airports greeted us with a Namaste! And that’s what made an elderly couple strike a conversation with us while taking a breather from the sightseeing. They were from Sweden, spoke English and had adopted a child from India. Over the next few minutes, apart from other things, learnt about their little town in Sweden whose entire population could easily fit into one of the average size building complexes in Mumbai! The conversation may have been initially hesitant (from our end) but certainly was an enriching one. 

Back to the churches and the music now. After a long day of sightseeing, sitting in a piazza listening to some live music and I see a colleague from work. The world certainly is a small place.

And I found a church with a personal connect. In Rome, near to the Pantheon was the Chiesa San Ignacia de Loyola. A church dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesuits, which runs my alma mater.

And many more such memories to be cherished forever.

Grazie & Ciao

P.S. Time to re-read Dan Brown!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

BookMarks #25 - Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Title: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
Author: Yuval Noah Harari
Genre: Non-Fiction, History
Published: 2011 (in Hebrew), 2014 (in English)

Summary
As the title suggests, the book is a tale of the history of humankind from the time when there were multiple homo species existing simultaneously on the planet, to the modern times when a single Homo Sapiens species rules above all. The book looks at the key events which have shaped the evolution of the Sapiens to its current state. Harari identifies evolving imagination, the agriculture revolution, rise of empires and scientific revolution as the key events which molded history into its current shape. The book ends with an imaginary glimpse into what the future could hold.

BookMarks
As you read, the book makes you feel guilty for being a member of the homo sapiens species. In the initial chapters, Harari lists out (in a very dramatic way), how the homo sapiens conquered the other homo species and also dramatically impacted the life of all other species on this planet (mostly for bad). How the basic balance of a world changed once the sapiens entered that realm. Also, bringing us to Darwin’s Theory of the survival of the fittest. Thus most large animals have become extinct and only the smaller members of each species survives.

Another key message which comes out, is the collective imagination of the human kind. The world runs on the figment of our collective imagination. All the religious beliefs, the big (and small) companies, the governance setup, they all exist only in our collective imagination and are not some act of nature. A concept which is a bit difficult to digest, but once you mull over it, easy to get around to. 

Also, some of our revolutions may have actually had an adverse impact on the future. Harari cites the case of agricultural revolution, which he says actually created more trouble in the long run, by tying up people to a single place. And making them do more work for securing a food supply.

Another theory which Harari presents is that while the current humankind has more collective knowledge than their predecessors, the common sapiens member of the earlier time had probably more knowledge with them than the current sapiens member. They certainly had less needs and had all the basic knowledge for survival.

As Harari says - imagination and story-telling, concept of money, the written script, a uniform concept of time, an increased belief in science – all these are the key factors which have shaped the world as we know today. The book presents history of humankind in a way different than the political one which we generally read. There are many conjectures based around Harari’s own theories. But he does present them in an engaging manner.

Previously on BookMarks – Life After War

Monday, May 15, 2017

MovieNotes: Bahubali 2 The Conclusion

Title: Bahubali 2: The Conclusion (IMDB)
*ing: Prabhas, Rana Dagubatti, Ramya Krishnan, Anushka Shetty, Sathyaraj
Director: SS Rajamouli
Language: Telugu (seen in Hindi)
Genre: Epic Fantasy

Preamble
Why did Katappa kill Bahubali? A question which has vexed everyone since the release of the first movie. And after a wait of nearly two years, we get the answer.

Basic Premise
Katappa continues his tale of Amarendra Bahubali’s life and ultimate demise and Devasena’s imprisonment. Mahendra Bahubali decides to take his revenge for his father’s killing and take back his rightful kingdom.

MovieNotes
The movie continues the grand scale and opulence of its predecessor. The VFX quality has also improved. However, the grandness doesn’t stand out as much second time around, probably because we have seen it all before.

If it is a battle for the crown (or a game of thrones, as is now said), there has to be plots and sub-plots mixed with kitchen politics, loyalties won and lost, and all this accompanied by bloated sense of ego – all of which make the movie a perfect pot-boiler. However, there are too many sudden appearances of characters from nowhere, which is a bit difficult to absorb at times.

Last time it was a rampaging bull, this time it is a rampaging elephant which has to be taken care off. Also we see newer innovations in the battle-field – multiple arrows fired at once, bulls with flaming horns, soldiers being catapulted into a fortress.

While Mahismati maybe fictional, there is a reference to Pataliputra. (me liked that)

Harry Potter has owls, Westeros has ravens, and Mahismati uses kites (cheel). Whatever happened to the good, old pigeon message delivery system?

Is Bahubali 3 on cards? The voice-over in the end-credits does keep the possibility open.

And finally to answer the question, which the nation wanted to know – “Katappa was following orders”. In the end a very anti-climatic and simple solution to the question which had vexed the nation and had generated thousands of memes over the last two years.

Rating: 9/10. An entertaining watch.

Previously on MovieNotes: The Fate of the Furious

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Parrot's Breakfast

It was a regular weekday morning. The getting-to-office rush mode was on. Which usually means a hurried breakfast. Suddenly a movement outside the open window caught the eye. A yellow flower was falling down gently. First thought was it must have dropped off by itself. And then another yellow flower floated down. And then another, and another. So me got up to the window to investigate. The flowers still kept falling at regular intervals. Looking up at the tree managed to find to locate our mysterious flower-picker.

The parrot picking the flowers
There it was a small parrot, hopping from branch to branch, nipping out one flower after another, taking a bite at its base before moving on to the next one. It was a thoroughly mesmerizing scene as all the office rush was forgotten (albeit momentarily!) while watching the parrot move from one flower to the next. And the ground below was soon littered with discarded flower petals.

The wonders of nature! In all our rushed existence, very seldom do we get a chance to sit back and admire Nature's handiwork. This was one of those moments!

P.S. Managed to get a couple of clicks of this parrot (not too great though).

The yellow flower lined ground
P.P.S. Second flower related post in quick succession now after पुष्प की अभिलाषा 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

MovieNotes: The Fate of the Furious

Title: The Fate of the Furious (a.k.a. Fast & Furious 8) (2017) (IMDB)
*ing: Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Kurt Russel, Nathalie Emmanuel, Scott Eastwood
Director: F. Gary Gray
Language: English
Genre: Action

Preamble
Another Movie from the Fast & Furious stable vrooms in. Even though the makers keep saying, they have had their "one last ride".

Basic Premise
Dominic Toretto is blackmailed into turning his back onto his "family" by a cyber-terrorist Cipher. His team tries to figure out a way to get Toretto back as well spoil Cipher's plans. To their aid, comes a former adversary, who has his own axe to grind with Cipher.

MovieNotes
16 years ago, there came a movie about a cop investigating a bunch of drag racers who were involved in stealing electronic items from truckers. And now over eight movies, they are stealing nuclear codes and EMPs and chasing down submarines and fighting cyber-terrorism. Now thats, what you call growth.

Living true to its name, the movie has a lot of furious characters, moving up across continents at a frenetic pace. Action keeps shifting from one location to another. Add a plane which never seems to land anywhere! The fast paced action also ensures that plot-holes are just jumped across. And too many characters from the previous films just manage to conveniently appear at just the right time.

A sequel certainly seems to be in the offing, with the way the lead villain conveniently disappears. Wonder what they will chase next. Maybe a satellite?

With Paul Walker gone, all the talk of family, seems quite forced now. The crew cracking jokes just after close shaves with death just doesn't gel.

Best Performer - Baby Toretto! It takes in a lot of guts to do such intense scenes while ever smiling. And easily outshining the co-stars sharing screen space with them.

Most Outrageous Scene - The Rock pushing away a torpedo with his bare hands while sliding along a car!!!

Best Scene - The Haka performed by the "Red Dragons"

The Quote - "It doesn't matter what is under the hood. It matters who is behind the wheel" - says Dominic Toretto. I guess the likes of Fernando Alonso will certainly disagree !!!

Rating: 7/10. Paisa vasool. But a a bit of a letdown after the emotional ending of Fast & Furious 7. Where the series should have ended. But guess we will go back for Fast & Furious 9!

Previously on MovieNotes - The Boss Baby

Monday, April 10, 2017

MovieNotes: The Boss Baby

Title: The Boss Baby (2017) (IMDB)
*ing: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi
Director: Tom McGrath
Language: English
Genre: Animation, Comedy

Basic Premise
Tim finds out that his younger brother is much more than just an infant. But is actually an undercover agent from BabyCorp who has come to find out the latest product from PuppyCorp, so that they ensure that puppies do not take up all the love from babies.

MovieNotes
The animated movie is based on a weird premise of an ongoing battle between puppies and babies who are tussling it out for their share of human love. And babies are manufactured in a factory with some of them assigned "management" roles. 

The highlight of the movie is Alec Baldwin's corporate speak (pie charts, promotions. memos) while having the physical appearance of a baby. Add Tim's imagination which sets up the brotherly ride. 

We have lots of adult references for a cartoon movie. Elvis, Gandalf et al - aren't they too far remove from the target audience. Tim's room has a Gandalf alarm clock. Isn't seven too young for Lord of the Rings?

Finally, the most important question. Tim is shown to have a hyper-active imagination. So, did the entire story play out in his head? A point which could have been elaborated further.

And why does the villain have Trump like hair?

Rating: 7/10. Jokes are funny. Only if they could have fleshed out Tim's imagination a bit more.

Previously on MovieNotes: Logan

Thursday, April 06, 2017

BookMarks #24: Life After War

Title: Life After War
Author: Angela White
Genre: Fiction, Apocalyse, Dystopia
Setting: Modern USA
Published: 2010

BookMarks
This was a box set of the first 3 books of the "Life After War" series, namely

  1. The Survivors
  2. On the Road
  3. Safe Haven
The book begins with America being subject to retaliatory nuclear weapons attack from across the world owing to the actions of a past President. Most of the cities are destroyed and the few left are fighting for their survival. Another cause for fear is the presence of slaver gangs from across the borders. Meanwhile the survivors bundle together under a single leader, who is constantly on the move looking for more survivors to gather in order to rebuild the country.

The story has too many elements mixed up - nuclear attacks and witchcraft both make their presence felt in equal measure. Its an end of world tale with survivors trying their best to live, but it has its plot-lines all mixed up. The picture painted of the post-apocalyptic world is quite grim but let down terribly by the story development. And its easy to mix up many characters who just keep on jumping from nowhere. 

Kept reading the e-book just to get through the story, without developing any real interest in its characters! Certainly not looking forward to reading any of the remaining parts.


Previously on BookMarks: A Clash of Kings

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

BookMarks #23: A Clash of Kings

Title: A Clash of Kings
Author: George RR Martin
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Setting: Fictional Continent of Westeros, in medieval times
Published: 1998

Summary

Post the events in "A Game of Thrones", the Stark family has been scattered far and wide. Meanwhile King Robert Baratheon's death has given rise to multiple claimants for the crown. Alliances are being forged and re-forged as the games continue. Treachery and dark magic are as fair in this game as bravery on the battle-field. All this while mysterious forces are awakening beyond the Wall.

Joffery Baratheon is the king in King's Landing. However, his brutality makes him unpopular with the populace. His rule is supported by his mother, Cersei, the Queen Regent,and his uncle Tyrion, the King's Hand, both of whom are frequently at odds with each other, carrying out their own plots.

The late king Robert's brothers Stannis and Renly have both staked their claims for King's Landing due to Joffery being Cersei's son from her relations with her brother Jaime Lannister, who is being held captive by Robb Stark's forces. Robb has been declared the King in the North. While we hardly see him in action, throughout the book comes stories of his victories against the Lannister forces. Renly is killed by a mysterious shadow, the product of the red woman Melisandre's dark magic for Stannis. Stannis proceeds to attack Winterfell. However his plans are thwarted by the use of wildfire by Tyrion and the timely arrival of Lord Tywin Lannister along with the forces of Lords Tyrell. Lord Tyrell's daughter Margery, who was previously married to Renly is offered as bride to Joffery. Joffery accepts the offer, ending his betrothal with Sansa Stark who is kept as hostage in King's Landing. Meanwhile, Tyrion is badly injured in the battle at the hands of his own forces.

Arya Stark continues her journey with towards Winterfell, in the company of Yoren, Gendry, Hot Pie and others headed towards the Wall. However their party is attacked by Lannister forces who are out in hunt for Gendry. Yoren is killed and Arya is taken captive to Harrenhal. However, she manages to free the mysterious Jaqen H'gar and his two companions. In return, Jaqen gives her three lifes. However Arya manages to convince Jaqen to help free Harrenhal. Before leaving Jaqen gives her a small iron coin. Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie plan to escape from their new ruler, Roose Bolton.

Balon Greyjoy declares himself the King of Iron Islands. His son, Theon, in an effort to prove his worth in his father's esteem captures Winterfell with a small force, where he had lived most of his life as Ned Stark's ward. He pretends to kill off the remaining Stark boys Bran and Rickon. His reign is short-lived as Roose Bolton's bastard son Ramsay brutally takes over Winterfell, killing Theon's forces.

Bran Stark alongwith his companions the Reed siblings Jojen and Meera leave Winterfell in search for answers to his mysterious dreams. While sending his younger brother Rickon off with Osha to the a safe location.

Across the Wall, the Night's Watch is hunting for Mance Rayder, a former member of the Watch and now the self-styled King-Beyond-the-Wall who has been gathering wildlings under his command. While they are captured, Jon Snow kills Qhorin Halfhand (at Qhorin's instructions) in a bid to join up with the Wildling forces and find out more about Mance's plans.

Catelyn Stark seeks out Renly for an alliance with Robb. But is witness to Renly's murder alongwith Brienne. Brienne swears herself to Catelyn's command as they both reach Riverrun. There they get the news of the fall of Winterfell and the false news of the deaths of her sons Bran and Rickon. Adding to her grief is her father Hoster Tully being on death-bed. Catelyn sets up a meeting with the captive Jaime.

Meanwhile across the seas, Daenerys and her group reaches the city of Qarth, where her dragons are a major source of attention. Daenerys keeps up her efforts to build an army to take on her rightful Iron Throne aided by Ser Jorah Mormont and her Dothraki followers.

BookMarks
The second book in the series " A Song of Ice and Fire". It carries forward the events of "A Game of Thrones". While it forms the basis for the second season of the TV series, many events have started showing divergence from the show.

The plots and sub-plots of treachery continue unabated as the battles for the Iron Throne hots up. Its a no-holds barred approach from all parties. Saner counsel is shrugged off and hotter heads prevails. Each player plays their own games carefully building alliances, buying loyalties but never sure when someone would turn their back onto them. It is an intriguing tale.

Previously on BookMarks - My Brewing Romance with Cricket

Monday, March 27, 2017

पुष्प की अभिलाषा

आज सुबह की बात है। घर से निकले ऑफिस की तरफ। और जैसा की अक्सर होता है हमारी महानगरी मुम्बई में , आधे रास्ते में फँस गए ट्रैफिक में। वैसे तो यहां की बड़ी और  चौड़ी सडकों को एक्सप्रेस-वे और फ्री-वे बोला जाता है, पर ऑफिस के समय ज्यादातर गाड़ियां रेंगती हुयी ही नज़र आती हैं।  गाड़ी से बाहर झाँका तो नज़र पड़ी डिवाइडर पर। छोटे-छोटे पौधे लगे हुए थे। और फिर ध्यान गया उन पर खिले हुए फूलों पर। बस फिर कहीं दिमाग के कोने से निकल आयी वो कविता जो बचपन में पढ़ी थी - श्री माखनलाल चतुर्वेदी की रचना "पुष्प की अभिलाषा"

चाह नहीं मैं सुरबाला के गहनों में गुंथा जाऊं,
चाह नहीं प्रेमी-माला में बिंध प्यारी को ललचाऊँ।
चाह नहीं सम्राटों के शव पर, हे हरी ,डाला जाऊं,
चाह नहीं देवों  के शीष चढूं, भाग्य पर इठलाऊँ। 
मुझे तोड़ लेना वनमाली , उस पथ  पर देना तुम फ़ेंक,
मातृभूमि पर शीष चढ़ाने, जिस पथ जाएँ वीर अनेक। 

कई साल हो गए, इस कविता को पढ़े हुए। स्कूल के पाठ्यक्रम का हिस्सा था। मुझे याद है टीवी पर भी अक्सर आया करता था। और शायद इसी कारण दिमाग में अच्छे से बस गयी थी ये कविता।  और आज सुबह जैसे ही सड़क के डिवाइडर पर खिले हुए फूलों पर नज़र गयी, सारे शब्द खुद-ब-खुद याद आ गए। 

मनुष्य का जटिल दिमाग - कभी तो अभी पढ़ी हुयी चीज़ याद नहीं आती और कभी अकस्मात् सालों पुरानी भूली हुयी यादें प्रकट हो जाती हैं। 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

MovieNotes: Logan

Title: Logan (2017) (IMDB)
*ing: Hgh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen
Director: James Mangold
Language: English
Genre: Superhero, ComicBooks

Basic Premise
In the year 2029, the mutants are on verge of extinction with only an ageing Wolverine (Logan) taking care of Professor X, whose powers are no longer under his control. Meanwhile, a new set of mutant children have been created to be taken for military operations. However, as they are difficult to control, they are being exterminated. Logan is assigned the task of taking a young mutant kid, Laura, to safety.

MovieNotes
The first X-Men movie is generally credited for being the pioneer for the current superhero universes. Logan seems to be the culmination of that journey. Yes, there will be spin-offs and other superheroes in the different cinematic universes, but Logan completes the journey of the very first ones, Professor Charles Xavier's X-Men and Wolverine. It is poignant that the one mutant who stays with Professor X till the very end is Wolverine, the one who refused to be recruited by him.

The X-Men may have created the superhero genre but Logan does not feel like it belongs. Although Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart reprise their roles, Logan is quite different. We do not see them as invincible superheroes but as two world-weary men who have weathered many storms and are now coming to the end of their journeys. Even superheroes need to hang up their boots.

There is no big saving-the-world theme. The opponents are just ordinary men. All they seek is to protect the child who has been unwillingly placed in their custody and take her to safety. Although Logan has his own doubts.

Meta-theme: The mutant kids reading X-Men comics! Comic-books shown in the movie showing the path ahead for a story which is based out of comic-book characters!

The all-round acting provides the real high of the movie. Add the poignant ending, and it seems like a perfect culmination to a 17-year journey.

Not to be missed - The Deadpool trailer at the beginning. That's another superhero movie trying to redefine the genre.

Rating - 9/10. The Superb acting and for being a different superhero film!

Previously on MovieNotes - Schindler's List

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

BookMarks #22: My Brewing Romance With Cricket

Title: My Brewing Romance with Cricket - Better Than Any Love Story
Author: Shashank Kumar
Genre: Non-Fiction, Sports, Cricket
Published: 2017

BookMarks

"My Brewing Romance with Cricket - Better Than Any Love Story" is a young writer's narration of the goings-on in his favorite sport as he grows up. In his own words "For some cricket is just an ordinary sport. For me, it has been one of those factors which has provided me outright energy to tackle the world head on. The love I have nurtured over the years has been described aptly in an unstructured and a raw manner. My only intention is to make people feel the aura of this game."

The book narrates how he fell in love with the game (with the Hrishikesh Kanitkar match), his heroes (especially the one from his home state) and his favorite memories of the game. Reading through, brings back memories of the last 20 years of Indian cricket. Many happy ones and a few not so happy ones.

It has been oft said that in India, cricket is not just a sport, its a religion. And this book is an offering from one of its more passionate devotees.

Available on Amazon:  Paperback (Link)

Previously on BookMarks - One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, February 26, 2017

BookMarks #21: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Title: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Genre: Fiction, Novel
Setting: A fictional town of Macondo in 19th century Colombia
Published: 1967 
Language: Originally in Spanish 

Plot Outline
The novel tells the story of Jose Arcadio Buendia and multiple generations of his descendants and the town of Macondo. We learn the history of Macondo, from being initially settled by Jose Arcadio Buendia and how its rise and eventual fall matches that of the Buendia family. 

BookMarks
The novel belongs to the genre of "magic realism". A phrase which I first encountered in the TV series Narcos. Not surprising given that Narcos is based in Colombia and Macondo has been interpreted as a metaphor for Colombia. So we see sudden unexplained actions during everyday activities which can only be interpreted as divine or magical. So sudden appearances which defy logic are interspersed in the tale of a normal (or rather not so normal) everyday life.

Hundred years is a long time. And as the narrative unfolds, newer and newer elements get added into the scenery. Where we began with only transport means as walking and horses, we end up with stories about aeroplanes and big ships. All the new elements add to the mysticism of the story as it is quite difficult to keep pace with the changes happening at times.

The number of Aurelianos and Jose Arcadios across the family tree cutting across the generations of the Beundia family , and almost all of them growing up under the watchful eyes of the matriarch Ursula, makes it even more difficult to keep track of the events at different times. Their shared characteristics and at times similar actions add to the confusion of the reader, while at times giving an illusion of the circular nature of existence. 

Overall, the book is not an easy read, with characters with similar names and incidents popping across generations making it difficult to keep track. And the story moves in jumps, sometimes covering years in the space of pages. There is hardly any conversation. There is a lot of action happening but the reader does not see it unfold directly. All the action is told through second hand information. The city lives through multiple civil wars and political changes, attacks of plagues and diseases, founding of a new train route, arrival of gringos who setup banana business, all the action happens offline. We hardly witness these upfront. 

An overarching theme is that of circle of life. Macondo rises from the dust and that is where it vanishes with a duststorm. At the very beginning we have the story of a child with a tail and that is where the story ends with another child born with a tail. 

Melquiades is another intriguing character who appears from the beginning of the story. He is shown as a wandering gypsy, who has a heavy influence on Jose Arcadio Buendia. He leaves behind his workshop and a series of parchments in a mysterious script. After over a hundred years, the last of the Buendias  is able to decipher the script. And comes to the realization that the parchments have the story of the entire Buendia family and Macondo. And the story ends as he reaches the end, with Macondo vanishing again. Interestingly the parchments are written in Sanskrit!

Overall, a difficult read but an intriguing work of literature. One can do best not to be sucked into this magic realism!

Previously on BookMarks: Predictions 2017