Friday, August 16, 2019

BookMarks #59: The Perfect Murder

Title: The Perfect Murder 
Author: Various, Compiled by Ruskin Bond 
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Compendium, Short Stories 
Published: 2017 

BookMarks 
This is a compilation of eight whodunits from various authors around the world. An intriguing collection of mysteries – some are good, some are disappointing. Some have the buildup but no real conclusion! 

#1 The Perfect Murder – by Stacy Aumonier 
Two brothers plan a murder to get an inheritance. One is the executor, the other is racked by guilt and then there is a surprising turn of events! 

#2 The Red headed League – by Arthur Conan Doyle 
Featuring Sherlock Holmes, as he attempts to resolve a mystery of a man who wants to understand why the job he had got for his red head has suddenly disappeared. In the process unveiling something far more sinister! 

#3: He Said It With Arsenic – by Ruskin Bond 
The author, after his first major success, gets a visit from his long-lost uncle who had spent time in jail for a double murder via arsenic poisoning. And then has a decision to make! 

#4: The Interruption – by W. W. Jacobs 
A man gets his inheritance through a well-disguised murder. Then becomes a target of blackmail, till he attempts to turn the tables on the blackmailer. 

#5 When Al Capone was Ambushed – Jack Bilbo 
Jack Bilbo is hired as a bodyguard by Al Capone. The story is an extract of his action-packed first day at the job. 

#6 The Lodger – Marie Belloc Lowndes 
An old couple get a mysterious lodger on rent at their place. Meanwhile there is a series of murders happening in the city. 

#7 The Duel – Wilkie Collins 
A trip across the channel to France brings with it, its own adventures including a duel with pistols! 

#8 The Cask of Amontillado – Edgar Allan Poe 
A wine tasting expedition leads to a chilling end. 

Previously on BookMarks – Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

India @ 72

Happy Birthday India!
It’s time for my annual round up of the things India (2018 edition is here

Between birthdays India celebrated its biggest festival – the General Elections. The BJP government returned to power with an increased majority, while all others were reduced to an also-ran status. It has been three months since the election rout, the Opposition is still looking for a leader while the government struts around with a smug look on its face. Never a good sign for a democracy.

The country’s political map is set for another change with Jammu & Kashmir being downgraded from a state to a Union Territory while Ladakh has been carved out as a separate Union Territory in its own right. The repercussions of the action are yet to be seen and hopefully the transition is a peaceful one for the local communities – the real stakeholders. We do not know whats happening on ground and sources give their own version of the story!

We came close to war with Pakistan. There were attacks, and counter-strikes and lots of hot air. As usual, lives needlessly lost while the economy took a bit of a hit but “patriotic fervor” ran high, lots of political posturing was done and soon all was back to normal. Except for the immediate families of the martyred.

Meanwhile the economy is heading to doldrums and there is no immediate solution in sight. The aviation and auto sectors have been taking one hit after another and soon could be joined by others especially the financial sectors. Economics is far more important than politics in running the world. Fingers crossed on this front.

Our infrastructure is crumbling. The cities are imploding under their own weight aided by the corrupt local regimes and a bit of nature’s fury. Wonder how long before total disaster is reached.

On the sporting front, India lost in the semi-finals of the Men’s ODI World Cup which they should have won. And this is not an Olympic year, so none of the other sports count! So we can conclude that it was a year of underachievement on the sporting front as well.

But we still have hope. After all if we can reach for the moon what are these little troubles on land!

Wishing all a very Happy Independence Day!

Monday, July 29, 2019

Road To Tokyo: Episode 6

he "Road To Tokyo" Series hits another speed bump and took a six-month hiatus! I really need to up my blogging game here! Hopefully the athletes are doing better! With just under a year to go, it’s a good time to get this series back on track!

In the past six months, India’s qualifying count has gone up into double digits from just two shooting quotas. And some progress has been made on other fronts as well.

Qualifiers
Shooting (7)
Shooters as expected have got a rich haul of Quotas. The total Quota count has risen to 7 (from 2 in January). Saurabh Chaudhary & Abhishek Verma in Men’s 10m Air Pistol, Divyansh Parmar in Men’s 10m Air Rifle, Rahi Sarnobat in Women’s 25m Air Pistol and Manu Bhaker in Women’s 10m Air Pistol have earned Quotas. Depending on final allocation, India might be eligible for participation in Mixed events as well as multiple entries for the Quota Holders as well.

Athletics (1)
KT Irfan becomes the first Indian to meet the Athletics Qualification criterion in the Men’s 20 KM Race Walk event. He had a top 10 finish in the London Games.

Archery (Team +3)
Indian Men’s Recurve team earned its quota in the Archery World Cup. Thus qualifying all 3 members to the Individual events also. 

It is still early days but the Quotas have started trickling in. The events become more hectic with more qualifiers scheduled in the coming days.

Meanwhile, both the Hockey Teams have qualified for the last stage of the Qualifiers. And Dutee Chand has won India its first ever track Gold at the Universiade. On the other hand, our Football teams are out of running.

Total: Sports - 3, Events – 8, Entries - 12, Participants – 11.

Hopefully Episode 7 will be there in a month’s time with the count increased further!

Links: Road To Tokyo: Episode 5 

Friday, June 28, 2019

BookMarks #58: Rich Dad Poor Dad

Title: Rich Dad Poor Dad 
Author: Robert Kiyosaki 
Genre: Non-Fiction, Self-help, Finance 
Published: 1997 

BookMarks 
Robert Kiyoaski's “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” is a book about getting wealthy! The author contrasts his father (the poor dad) and his friend’s father (the rich dad) to explain how they came to have disparity in wealth in their lifetime. As per the author, to become rich, one must be
  1. Financially literate. Understanding cashflows and taxes play a major role. 
  2. Invest in assets and not liabilities. As per the author rich people acquire assets while the poor and middle class acquire liabilities, but they think are assets. The rich buy assets. The poor only have expenses. An asset is defined as something that brings money. 
  3. Keep expenses low, reduce liabilities while diligently building a base of solid assets. 
  4. Rich people buy luxuries last, while the poor and middle class tend to buy luxuries first. 
  5. Employees earn and get taxed and they try to live on what is left. A corporation earns, spends everything it can, and is taxed on anything that is left. It's one of the biggest legal tax loopholes that the rich use. [The author himself is a good example here. While he is multi-millionaire, many of his companies have gone bankrupt!]
Major lacuna in this book – While pretending to be an autobiographical account, we never learn what the author did to earn his millions! There are hints of companies started and real estate investments made but no account of how the first investment was made, how things actually panned out or the time taken for the "asset" to mature. To me, that would have added actual value to the book, rather than statements which are of more global nature. 

Although there are no real get-rich-quick tips in the book, the overall takeaway from the book is to “keep learning” and “act” on them!

Previously on BookMarks: India in the Age of Ideas

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

BookMarks #57: India in the Age of Ideas

Title: India in the Age of Ideas
Author: Sanjeev Sanyal
Genre: Non-Fiction, Economics, Compendium
Published: 2018

BookMarks
"India in the Age of Ideas" is a collection of essays, written over a decade on subjects of economics, urban infrastructure and history. The author Mr. Sanjeev Sanyal is currently the Principal Economic Adviser to the Government of India.

The writings offer a fresh perspective to the three subjects, especially in the field of urban planning. Some of the ideas are radically different from the conventional point of view. The author presents a contrarian approach to the philosophy of rigid five-year plans. The author doesn’t believe in meticulous planning but rather being agile and having a quick response to ever-changing dynamics - a case of Complex Adaptive Systems.

New urban developments should be integrated with existing infrastructure. There is no point in fresh buildings far off from the cities. He contrasts the F1 tracks in Singapore against Noida, the university towns in US & UK versus our universities which are inside walled campuses usually far away from urban centers. 

The author presents his ideas about making cities more livable by improving connectivity through walkability and integrating public transport with last mile connectivity. 

There is an interesting contrast of Chandigarh with Gurgaon. One a modern planned city which has become a center for retired bureaucrats. And the other which has grown in a haphazard manner but providing a major boost to the economy. And thus, comes the question, do we build to a meticulous plan or manage a random growth better? The author certainly believes the second is a better option!

The post-independence policies of socialism and centralized five-year plans of Mahalanobis model come in for heavy criticism. Rightly so, if the results are compared to the potential. But never given the perspective of the world just after independence. The balance is not there in the criticism.

History is another interesting subject which is touched upon. Was Ashoka really great? Why are our history books only Delhi focused? Why are many of the major empires of North-east & South India barely mentioned in our text-books? Why do we not talk about our naval successes in South-East Asia? Interesting questions all. Certainly, we need a more representative history rather than rewriting it completely.

A radical suggestion (and an easily implementable one) is having the Independence Day speech from different locations of historic importance every year! But doesn’t every politician aim for giving a speech from the Red Fort?

Because it is a collection of articles, there are passages which are repetitive across the book. Also, the original date of publication of the article should have come at the beginning to give a perspective of the time-frame. This is especially true in our ever-evolving VUCA world, where the past decade has led to huge technological evolution.

While reading the articles, remembered a chart which showed the most populous cities of the world and different times. India had three entries- Pataliputra, Agra, Delhi. Interestingly, none of them are even the largest Indian city now. Cities are living entities. How they are managed will lead to how long they stay as a center of economic & social importance!

Previously on BookMarks: Stories from Tagore

Monday, June 03, 2019

LearnNBlog #16: A Lesson from Sir Edmund Hillary

29th May 2019 marked 66 years since the first successful summit of Mt. Everest. Sir Edmund Hillary & Tenzing Norgay's successful ascent (and return) was a trimuph of human spirit and collaboration. A Kiwi and an Indian of Nepalese origin had climbed the world's highest peak as part of a British expedition - making it a truly global venture. 

Mt. Everest has had a special fascination for me. This could be attributed to having read and re-read the autobiographies of Tenzing and Bachendri Pal multiple times. Tenzing's autobiography throws a fascinating insight in Hillary's character. When asked which of them reached the summit first, tenzing clearly says it was Hillary. Meanwhile Hillary always maintained that both of them climbed it together and there was no first. [Aside - In mountaineering, if you are tied to the same rope, you are together, neither is ahead or behind, so technically Hillary was correct]. 

Also, Hillary had brought a camera with him to record the summit. At the top, he took pictures of the world below and Tenzing's pictures but refused Tenzing's offer to have his own taken. Tenzing's pictures made it to the world press celebrating the first human ascent to Everest. There were other pictures taken on their return to base camp.
Tenzing on the summit of Mt. Everest
What a contrast to the modern selfie-addicted us (yous truly is also guilty of the same), for whom taking candid selfie at a location to be shared on social media is more important than taking in the actual sight of the location itself. Definitely, a lesson for the tourist us!


Also, there was a recent news item about deaths on Everest due to excessive climbers going at the same time. There was also a picture of the traffic jam on (ironically) Hillary's Step! We certainly need to take a step back and think if our insatiable appetite for adventure and thrill-seeking is taking a toll on this planet! Can we not destroy the Earth?

Previously on LearnNBlog: Perfect Numbers

Also about Everest, in this blog- Because It's There

Saturday, May 18, 2019

MovieNotes: Gully Boy

Title: Gully Boy (IMDB)
*ing: Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Sidhhant Chaturvedi, Kalki Koechlin
Directed By: Zoya Akhtar
Language: Bambaiya Hindi
Genre: Rap Music, Coming-of-age tale

Preamble
First Indian movie focusing on the rap music genre.

Basic Premise
A college student, growing up in slums, trying to make a way into the street rapping community, while fighting his family expectations and social barriers.

MovieNotes
Highlight of the movie - the freshness of the concept. Yes, rap and hip-hop based movies are common in Hollywood. But Gully Boy introduces the idea into Bollywood. We can expect a spate of movies exploring this genre now. Lets see what the copy-cats bring on board!

Ranveer Singh is simply a brilliant actor. He is so far removed from his super-charged & pumped up image that at times you feel that its a totally different actor onscreen. The supporting cast does a great job as well. 

There is a nod towards "Poverty tourism" as well. Westerners getting a guided tour inside the Dharavi slums and also into homes, which charge a certain fees to showcase their poverty. Just another example of people putting their entrepreneurial skills to use! Also showcased is "Jugaad" - the tourists are simply fascinated by our optimum utilization of space! 

The most poignant scene of the movie - where the lead sees his master's daughter upset, is ferrying her to the house, wants to console her, but doesn't say a word as the class barriers are just too high between them, even though the physical proximity is there for a considerable amount of time! And that triggers his poetry!

We often talk about changing times. For people of certain age upwards might remember an old Pepsi commercial. The kid would ask" Mera Number Kab Aaayega" and patiently waits. And now the slogan is a more brash and confident "Apna Time Aayega". As a Nobel Laureate once said, "the times, they are a changin",

Rating - 8/10. Fresh concept, brilliant acting!

Previously on MovieNotes: Avengers: Endgame

Friday, May 17, 2019

BookMarks #56: Stories From Tagore

Title: Stories From Tagore 
Author: Rabindranath Tagore 
Genre: Fiction 
Setting: Late 19th Century / early 20th Century Bengal 

BookMarks 
The book is a collection of Short stories by Tagore. As per the introduction, it is intended to be used as an English Literature text book for young students. I particularly liked the point about learning language with a context. While the language maybe foreign, the stories are set in the local context, thus making them easier to comprehend. A simple basis for making learning easy and fun! 

Many of the short stories are old favorites (e.g. the Kabuliwalah), while others I made an acquaintance for the first time. The stories are simple, with not too many characters but they can be emotionally draining as well. There is a tinge of grief in nearly all of them. There are not many happy endings in them but almost all stories had a sense of loss! 

While the setting is in British Raj, nearly all characters are Indian. The reader rarely encounters a Britisher! 

Overall, a beautiful piece of work, and certainly a must-read for all Indian literature readers! 

Previously on BookMarks: Krishna’s Secret

Thursday, May 09, 2019

BookMarks #55: Krishna's Secret

Title: Krishna's Secret
Author: Devdutt Patnaik
Genre: Mythology
Published: 2017

Bookmarks
Krishna's Secret is short text on the life and deeds and interpretation of Lord Krishna. More interesting than the text, however, it is the interpretation of depictions of Krishna over the centuries either in paintings or sculptures.

The text serves more as an appetizer than the main course. It is informative but more information is available about the events of the Mahabharat. 

Overall, a succinct read!

Previously on BookMarks: Mandate

Monday, May 06, 2019

BookMarks #54: Mandate

Title: Mandate: Will of the People
Author: Vir Sanghvi
Genre: Non-Fiction, History, Politics
Setting: Modern India from 1960s to 2015
Published: 2015

BookMarks
Its general elections time, so picked up this volume describing elections from 1971 till 2014. The book provides a short summary of each Lok Sabha tenure from the time Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister to Narendra Modi taking over. Each chapter covering one tenure. However, given the nature of Indian politics, it seems too small a volume. It presents many facts, and probably omits many more. 

Vir Sanghvi is an established journalist. So, would like to accept his version at its face value. The book makes clear his opinion of the people who have been at the helm of the affairs of this country. Certainly, facts are presented in a way the author thinks of the person. Sometimes the book seems rushed. After all, how do you fill in almost 5 decades in 100 odd pages. It is a difficult task.

Overall, an interesting read showing a glimpse of our modern political history. Biggest learning from the book, the Indian electorate always has a surprise in store for you! Let's see what the current elections hold for us!

Previously on BookMarks: A Gathering of Friends