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:  Kindle  (Link); 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

Saturday, February 18, 2017

LearnNBlog #11: 14th February & Bhagat Singh

One of the perils of social media is the speed at which misinformation spreads with Whatsapp and Facebook being the prime messengers. 

So its Valentine's Day with the usual lovey-dovey mesaages floating in the ether. However, this is also the time for "patriotic activists" to start taking potshots at the westernization and the degradation of the Indian morals. So they feel the need to counter it. Even these zealots are of different kinds.
  1. The conspiracy theorists - They blame the big western corporations who have invaded the Indian market and are making big profits of the gullible Indian masses. Also in the process causing the moral degradation of the Indians.
  2. The lunatics - Who resort to violence to stop the celebrations. 
  3. And then the worst lot. Who try to appeal to emotions with misinformation. The kind which circulates fake messages e.g. Bhagat Singh was martyred on 14th February for his country and today's generation celebrates the day as Valentine's Day!!! etc, etc.
Bhagat Singh was a young man who captivated an entire nation with his ideas and acts for liberating our nation. A man who sought freedom and equal rights for all. A man whose martyrdom is celebrated till date. And he was just 23 when he was hanged.  

Therefore it makes one filled with anger, when I see lunatics tarnish his martyrdom by spreading misinformation. And these lunatics keep evolving. Till last year they said that Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru were hanged on 14th February. When this was found out, a new message was being spread that they were sentenced on 14th February. And the gullible masses lap it up in a rush of patriotism and become the agreeable messengers of misinformation, without once bothering to do a fact check. And this when everyone has access to the internet.

So here is the timeline to Bhagat Singh's martyrdom (historically verified)
  • 30.10.1928 - Lala Lajpat Rai is injured in a lathi charge by the police, personally led by the police superintendent James Scott, during a protest march against the Simon Commission.
  • 17.11.1928 - Lala Lajpat Rai dies due to a heart attack aggravated by the injuries suffered in the lathi charge.
  • 17.12.1928 - Bhagat Singh and his associates kill the assistant superintendent of police John Saunders mistaking his for Scott. The act which made Bhagat Singh a popular figure.
  • 8.4.1929 - Bhagat Singh & Batukeshwar Dutt threw bombs in the Assembly chamber in Lahore. They were then arrested while spreading leaflets and chanting Inquilab zindabad.
  • 15.4.1929 - Lahore bomb factory discovered and the entire group charged with killing Saunders
  • 12.6.1929 -  Bhagat Singh & Batukeshwar Dutt are sentenced to life imprisonment for throing bombs in the Assembly.
  • 10.7.1929 - The Saunders murder trial begins.
  • 20.9.1930 - Trial ends
  • 7.10.1930 - Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru are sentenced to death.
  • 14.2.1931 - Madan Mohan Malviya files a mercy petition with the Viceroy. [The only 14th February connect]
  • 19.3.1931 - The mercy petition is rejected.
  • 23.3.1931 - Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru achieve martyrdom.
So these are the key dates, with only one reference to the 14th February date and that had nothing to with the trial or the actual execution. So that begs the questions. 
  1. Why spread falsehoods which can be found out with a simple internet search? 
  2. And why are people so gullible to believe everything that's posted on the interwebs?
  3. And why are people in such a hurry to spread interesting "alternative facts" without any verification?
I rest my case. 

P.S. Did learn some more things about this great person while doing my "research" for this post. Whether you agree to his methods, you have to admire the spirit of the young man.

Further Readings
  1. Bhagat Singh (Wikipedia)
  2. Bhagat Singh (Cultural India)
  3. Shaheed Bhagat Singh - Letters & Writings (Link)
  4. Brief Note on Simon Commission (Important India)
  5. Lala Lajpat Rai (Wikipedia)
  6. Alternative Facts (Wikipedia)
Previously on LearnNBlog: Ringa rings roses

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

MovieNotes: Schindler's List

Title: Schindler's List (1993) (IMDB)
*ing: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Language: English
Genre: History

Basic Premise
It is the story of a German industrialist during World War II, who employed thousands of Jews in his factories in Krakow, thus preventing their deportation to concentration camps and saving their lives.

MovieNotes
Schindler's List is one of those rare movies which can shake you up to the core. It is an intense tale of survival in some of the most harrowing circumstances in human history. A story of how one man tried to fight the system in order to save other human beings, whose only crime was being born a different religion. It is also a reminder of the atrocities inflicted on one community by another under the banner of some cause.

The movie brings out the darkest horrors of holocaust. There is a sense of constant fear throughout this film. One can feel the fear of being caught, deported and even killed for just being of a different community. One scene depicts a whole group of women being put together inside a room. One can feel their fear as they look at the showers with  rising apprehension. Their sense of relief when water comes out of the showers and not gas is quite disturbing. And yet, you keep watching.

The horrors of war bring out varied reactions in different men. Some become beasts enjoying the unlimited power they have, some are plain greedy, making a profit out of war, some are just trying to survive, and then there were men like Oskar Schindler who saved others fully aware of the dangers they were putting themselves in.

The movie is almost entirely in black and white. A little girl's red coat is the only bit of colour which stands out as she makes an unsuccessful attempt to survive the massacre. The black and white frames add to the grim picture making one focus on the story with no distractions.

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who remain neutral during the times of moral crisis". Dante in the Divine Comedy.
The movie hits hard. Released over 20 years ago, its message is even more relevant in today's times. There are quite a few signs that the modern world could be heading towards a similar catastrophe again. Xenophobia and the rise of extremists across the world is happening again. And if we (yes all of us) do not act and resist, we could be soon heading for another round of mass atrocities across the world. And then the only ones to be blamed would be us the people who chose not to take a stand!

Schindler's List was released over twenty years ago. And it is only now that I finally to watch it. It was a grim and depressing watch. And I had quite a disturbed sleep after watching the movie.

Rating - 10/10. A movie whose message is loud and clear.

Previously on MovieNotes - Jolly LLB 2

Sunday, February 12, 2017

MovieNotes: Jolly LLB 2

Title: The State vs Jolly LLB 2 (IMDB)
*ing: Akshay Kumar, Annu Kapoor, Huma Qureishi, Saurabh Shukla
Language: Hindi
Director: Subhash Kapoor
Genre: Satire

Preamble
Over the past few years, Bollywood has begun producing sequels which have nothing to do with the original except for the name. So is the case with Jolly LLB 2, except for one scene which references the lawyer Jolly from the original and a couple of characters which continue.

Basic Premise
A good-for-nothing lawyer takes on a big case after being tormented by the death of a person he had duped. And in the process encounters the quirks of the judicial system and police, while also referencing terrorism and fake encounters.

MovieNotes
The Highs
Like the original Jolly LLB, this one works because of its collection of memorable characters who gel well together. Stand-out being the Judge (once again portrayed brilliantly by Saurabh Shukla), one of the two characters who continues from the first movie. The other being Sanjay Mishra's havaldar who has now retired but still very much in the know of things. 

Like Jolly LLB, this one portrays the harsher realities of the legal system than the usual courtroom drama that had become the norm. Nothing is more meta-humour than a movie about lawyers talking about how lawyers are portrayed in movies (Reference Sunny Deol and his tareekh pe tareek portrayal).

The subtle humor e.g. the judge speaking on the mobile right in front of a a sign saying no mobiles phones allowed in his court.

The Not-Highs
There is one song in the movie and that too should have been dropped. Its time to move out of the song-and-dance routine fast.

The story is unconvincing in the second half. That's what happens when you replace Arshad Warsi with Akshay Kumar as the lead lawyer. Have to throw in a few action scenes.

Rating - 8/10. Overall a fun watch.

Previously on MovieNotes - Raees

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Return of the Kings

The Date - 29th January, 2017
The Venue - Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
The Occasion - The 2017 Australian Open Men's Singles Final
The Protagonists - Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal


To quote Rocky Balboa, "every great fighter has one last great fight left in him". 

It was the finale no one had anticipated, a fortnight ago. But it was a scenario which every tennis fan had dreamed about. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal battling it out in a Grand Slam final, one more time. Both men returning from extended injury lay-offs, both past their prime and yet both hanging in there though their glory days are behind them. 

Two weeks back, neither was anywhere close to being the title favorite. Realistically anything beyond quarter-finals would have been considered a tremendous achievement. Yet, as the draw unfolded, the dream scenario began to become clearer and clearer. First went out the champions Djokovic and Murray, soon followed by the old guard Tsonga, Ferrer, Berdych, Cilic, and then it was the turn of the upstarts Raonic, Nishikori, Thiem. Until all that remained in the way of the dream final were Wawrinka (a man with a habit of sneaking in Grand Slam titles) and Dmitrov (finally living upto his early potential). Both fought hard, but the old warriors survived 5-set battles to set-up the ultimate finale.

And did the match live up to the hype and anticipation. It wasn't tennis at its most sublime, the old warhorses had seen better days. At times, the bodies weren't willing, but their spirits certainly were. Federer took the opening set. Nadal hit back immediately in the second. Federer hit back harder in the third. In a see-saw battle, Nadal took the fourth. Punches and counter-punches were exchanged. Unforced errors were followed by some magical winners. In the fifth set Nadal raced ahead, Federer caught up with him and then found an extra gear right at the very end to win the match and the championship. Together these two gladiators had won the hearts of all those watching.

These weren't just two tennis players facing off for one of the prestigious titles. These are men who transcend sports. For those four magical hours everything else was forgotten, Trump and his ban on immigrants, upcoming assembly elections in India or the latest acts of "intolerance", or political scandal. Because the world was watching two men rolling back the clock to produce one hell of a fight.  After all the Kings had returned!!!

Personally, have been a Federer fan more than a Nadal fan. But during this match, there was no favorite. I wanted both to win (like this fan in the picture). And Federer summed up the general mood during the presentation "There are no draws in tennis, but tonight, I would have been happy to share this trophy with Rafa". 

As Mr. Cho summed it up, "Congratulations for such a great display of tennis tonight .... Unfortunately, only one winner can be crowned tonight. But I believe both of you should be proud of the sportsmanship and passion you have shown throughout this year's tournament."

Agree with Mr. Cho. This match was a treat for every sports fan in the world. Thank You Roger! Thank You Rafa!

"Every great fighter has one last great fight left in him". I hope this wasn't the last one for them.

P.S. I took a nap after the opening break in the 2nd set with the confidence that this was going to 5 sets. And thankfully they did not disappoint!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

BookMarks #20: Predictions 2017

Title: Predictions 2017 Seismic Shifts
Published By: Thomson Reuters
Genre: Current Affairs
Published: 2017

BookMarks
After the surreal year that 2016 was, we enter 2017 a little apprehensive of what the future has in store for us. "Predictions 2017" is a compilation of some of the predictions made by the Thomosn Reuters for the coming 12 months.

The predictions are catehorised under three major heads -  geopolitics, economics and technology. And over all of these looms the shadow of one major unknown - Donald Trump. We do not know what Trump has in store for us. Yes, he has proved to be a maverick, he says things which are not politically correct and his actions defy conventional political wisdom and yet he won the elction. Many of predictions hinge on what this maverick force of nature will do and how much of his campaign "promises" he acts upon.  And more importantly how the rest of the world - Putin, May, Merkel, Abe et al react to him.

The prevailing geopolitical uncertainties add to the risks in economics. Declining crude prices have already shaken up the oil-dependent economies. This could lead to consolidations and alliances of a different kind. Advances in technology may also act as major disruptor. Trump's climate change denials might come to nought for the auto-makers, if Tesla's electric cars come up with a viable recharging infrastructure. The self-driven cars might have a role in changing the insurance industry as well. 

So what will 2017 hold for us. Trump, Putin, Syria, Self-driven cars, Climate change, improvements in gene therapy, consolidation in banking industry, major M&A activity? It covers a wide gamut of subjects. Yet the article which I liked best is the very last one. Every model needs imaginations, a la Harry Potter. Remember the dozen publishers who thought "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" was not publishing!  Well every one needs a little bit of magic.

Previously on BookMarks - Inferno

Thursday, January 26, 2017

MovieNotes: Raees

Title: Raees (IMDB)
*ing: Shahrukh Khan, Nawazuddin Siddique, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, Mahira Khan
Language: Hindi (with a sprinkling of Gujarati)
Director: Rahul Dholakia
Genre: Crime, Action, Thriller

Preamble
After many days came a trailer, which actually generated enough interest to go to the cinemas without waiting for any reviews. So there I was on the occasion of Republic Day watching a movie which would make lets say not make our Constitution's founding fathers very happy.

Basic Premise
Movie traces the life of Raees, a young boy who rises from the ranks of a foot-soldier in the bootleggging "industry" to a leader of setup. Meanwhile a police officer is hell-bent on plotting his downfall. 

MovieNotes
What works
The movie's setting of 1980s. All loud and macho with just the right amount of over-the-top action sequences with a healthy dose of one-liners thrown in to good effect. They had stopped making movies like this for quite some time.

The overall acting led by Shahrukh Khan and Nawazuddin and complemented by the support cast. The make-up artistes have also done a good job in ageing the characters as the movie progresses.

The story is fast paced (except a few songs here and there) which provide enough cover for all plot-holes. It might be an action thriller, but the movie is full of lighter moments. A young Raees stealing Gandhiji's glass-less-spectacles being the highlight.

What doesn't
The music. Says a lot that the most memorable song is the one borrowed from 1980 movie. In fact,, they could have easily cut down the a couple of songs as well.

The Others
Released in the current "intolerant" times, a movie based on a criminal's life tries to give out a message of communal harmony and national integration!!!

The makers could have dropped Mahira Khan completely. Her role seemed to have been heavily chopped out and what remained was to just smile when on-screen.

Always remember what you are taught in school. You never know which subject might come handy at what time.

At times the story seemed an analogue of Narcos (TV series based on Pable Escobar's life). Don't know whether it was deliberate ploy from the makers or just a coincidence. But there were obvious similarities in the depiction of the Colombian druglord in Narcos and a Gujarati boot-legger in Raees.

We can find honest policemen on screen but yet to find one decent politician. Wonder why?

Rating - 8/10. Points lost on music.

Previously on MovieNotes: Dangal

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Mission & Vision

There was a time not too long ago, when people went to work did what they were asked/ordered and came back home with the fruits of their labor. There would be overall targets and you fulfilled them as best as you could. 

But no longer. In the modern workplace you do not just have team goals. Every individual has to have one of their own (Written down and signed off). The process may be at times bureaucratic, mostly irritating but can occasionally lead to interesting results (if the creative juices kick in at the right moment)

So there was me, building up an Individual Development Plan for work. Instead managed to come up with a personal mission and vision (not just for work). 


A small Misssion backed with a 7-point agenda. Now lets see how long this will sustain. After all the beauty of any such development plan is to keep revisiting and tinkering it as we go along.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

BookMarks #19: Inferno

Title: Inferno
Author: Dan Brown
Genre: Fiction
Setting: Modern day Italy & Turkey
Published: 2013

Summary
Robert Langdon, a renowned professor of Symbology, finds himself in a hospital in Florence with no memory of the past few days. With the help of his doctor, Sienna Brooks, he tries to piece together the goings on. As he picks up one clue after another, he finds himself hunting for a virus which threatens to destroy humankind, while being simultaneously being chased around Florence by agents of the mysterious organization, "The Consortium" and its enigmatic head, the Provost. 

The virus had been created by a scientist, Bertrand Zobirist, who has extreme views on ways to contain the human population explosion. His extreme views had led him to be put on a bio-terrorist list by the World Health Organization's Director, Dr. Sinesky. 

The clues for the chase are mixed up in Botticelli's depiction of Dante's Inferno. Langdon uses his extensive knowledge of symbology to gather the clues, while simultaneously being troubled by his temporary amnesia. The hunt for the virus takes Langdon from Florence to Venice and then onwards to Istanbul. During the journey, he learns the mystery of his memory loss, all of which has been staged. Each character is playing out their  own game. But in the end, they are working towards to stop Zobirist's "plague". 

The exercise turns futile as the virus is released and spread throughout the world. However, the virus is different from their initial understanding and it is not a plague which the late Zobirist had released. The book ends with World Health Organization trying to figure out the path forward in this changed world.

BookMarks
And thus we meet Robert Langdon once again. The symobology professor seems to be in more trouble than usual, but that doesn't seem to affect his knowledge of symbols in any way. The book follows Dan Brown's, now patented formula of Langdon, accompanied by a female, being tracked by a mysterious organization while trying to save the world through his knowledge of symbology. All events happening within a 24-hour time frame. Always been a mystery to me how Langdon manages to see different arts and recall their history even with bullets flying all around him.

While the story is gripping, my main issue is with the "staged" plots outlining the main narrative. The revelations in the middle of the tale outlining the staged initiatives are a bit too much to digest. The overhanging tension is pricked like a balloon by these "revelations".


Botticelli's painting depicting Dante's descent into hell, around which the entire plot-line revolves. The book does serve as a good introduction to Dante's classic "The Divine Comedy". However, the interpretations should be backed by the reader's own research rather than sticking to just Mr. Brown's version. (e.g. the ringa-ringa-roses backstory)

Overall, it is an intriguing tale combining interpretations of art with human population explosion under a threat of plague as many a charade play out.

My favorite line - the  quote from Divine Comedy - "the darkest place in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in time of moral crisis". With all the goings on in today's world, taking the right stand is the only way to counter the forces of evil which are innumerable!

Previously on BookMarks - Wuthering Heights