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

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.

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

Thursday, January 12, 2017

MovieNotes: Dangal

Title: Dangal (IMDB)
*ing: Aamir Khan, Sakshi Tanwar, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Sanya Malhotra, Aparshakti Khurana, Zaira Wasim, Suhani Bhatnagar, Ritwik Sahore
Language: Hindi (with a Haryanvi flavour)
Director: Nitesh Tiwari
Genre: Sports, Biopic

The success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag introduced the rich genre of sports biopics to Bollywood. And now we have a lot of them coming one after the other. Just wondering why it took so long for our producers to tap in?

Basic Premise
Mahavir Singh Phogat, a former national level wrestler, decides to live his dream of winning medals for the country through his daughters in a region where girls wrestling is something unheard of. The movie follows the journey of the girls from a village to winning laurels for the country.

The Highs
The movie's high is the impressive all-round acting of the star-cast comprising of Aamir Khan and a bunch of newcomers. Special mention to be made of the tale's narrator, who provides comic relief as well.

The opening credits sets the tone for the film, featuring scenes of traditional wrestling training with Daler Mehndi's voice booming in the background. Overall loved the use of the songs which carried the story forward. Both "hannikarak" and "gileheriyan" are quite memorable.

The story builds up and is quite fast-paced although the makers did take a few creative liberties here and there.

The Not-So-Highs
The climax is bizarrely twisted and stretched out. Too many creative liberties taken. e.g.

  • the wrestling events take place in a single day and not multiple days as shown in the movie. 
  • Geeta Phogat had won medals before the CWG Games also. 
  • The final was actually a walk in the park for her. 
  • There are two bronze medallists in wrestling events
  • And the bizarre depiction of the national coach is jarring. 
The movie climax has been made over-melodramatic in my opinion.

The Others
Being released within a few months of each other, there will be obvious comparisons with Sultan, another movie with the same backdrop. While Sultan is fictional, Dangal is slightly more based in fact. But when have facts ever come in the way of a good story! Though we can safely say, if Dangal had released first, Sultan's collections would have taken a hit.

The movie culminates with the national anthem being played to mark India getting a Gold medal. And the audience in the theatre also stands up. Some genuinely, Others to fit in the crowd and a few probably just for safety.

The much maligned Delhi Commonwealth Games have actually left a sporting legacy for the country, specially in bringing the other sports to the mainstream. Wrestling as a sport has given India lots of international success in recent years (relatively speaking). Thus it is good to see mainstream cinema featuring some of our other sports (i.e. anything not cricket).

Fun fact: Sakshi Malik, our first female wrestling Olypmic medallist competes in the same weight category as Geeta. 

Rating - 9/10. For being one "dhobi-paat" of an entertainer!

Previously on MovieNotes - Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Goodbye Twenty16

The Year MMXVI A.D. draws to a close. There is something about this change of calendars which gives a reason to hope. However dark the days may be (or surreal as they are), there is always a sense of optimism for the coming year. But before we step into the new year, it is always worthwhile to step back and take a moment to reflect on the year gone by.

Twenty16, how would I look back at you? Certainly with a sense of achievement. Yes there were ups and downs but the ups were higher, and more fulfilling. It is always better to have goals to achieve and overcoming challenges step by step rather than aimlessly running along. Also why I like Candy Crush more than Temple Run :). 

So, the things which will stay in memory from 2016.
  • Twenty 16 had an extra day. Very important !!!
  • The Travel Map expanded with my first ever trip to the west of India, out of Asia, across the Atlantic and right into USA. Lets just say, the place is a bit different. It was my longest flight with lots of movies, random sleep and being awestruck with the desolate, white landscape of Greenland (but where is the green in Greenland). Other highlights being taking a train journey in a foreign land, a selfie with Van Gogh's selfie, multiple museums, getting a free cookie because the owner was also Indian and a birthday cake on the return flight. 
  • The touristy me also managed to add new travel locations within the country - Diu and Coorg, both off the beaten track, one a tiny speck surrounded by sea, other a hilly terrain occupying a vast green territory. And both having their own charms.
  • Professionally, a series of exams capping off a good year with collateral benefits. And Citius Altius Fortius can be a good motto for professional life as well.
  • Oddly, there was a drastic increase in number of celebrity sightings. Airports and malls which I had visited many times earlier were suddenly teeming with celebrities, big and small. 
  • I always thought the government was just a distant enabler. Until November 8, 2016 when a single announcement disrupted the entire country and sent every individual scampering for  usable cash. Also finding working ATMs became a new hobby.
  • The blog launched a new section LearnNBlog. Not sure how much learning will it dispense.
  • Instagramming became the new chief hobby. Only downside is now pictures are "also" taken from an "instagram perspective"
  • There was also a major spurt in the number of whatsapp groups, many of them getting muted instantly on joining. 
  • New Experiences - Zipline, Golf, Pottery, Online team gaming. 
  • And last but not the least - "Winter is here". Catching up with the happenings in Westeros is quite a learning experience.
So onwards to 2017. Looking forward to gaining new experiences, learning more, reading more and most importantly staying happy and healthy. 

Wishing all readers a happy and prosperous new year 2017!!!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Ten from 2016: the Surreal Year

Surreal – That’s the word of the year 2016 as per Merriam-Webster. And the year 2016 gone by was certainly a surreal experience. As the year draws to a close, here’s a short list of the surreal events which made the year memorable (or forgettable, depending on your point of view).

1. The Demonetization Exercise
On November 8th, the Prime Minister announced that 500 and 1000 rupees notes will cease to be legal tender. And as expected all hell broke loose. Suddenly people had money but were unable to use it. Withdrawing your own money became a big chore (with successful completion becoming a tremendous achievement). Depending on your political affiliations, the exercise was either just a minor inconvenience on the path to greater good or a monumental disaster taking the country on a path to hell. Only time will tell whether the objectives (whatever they may be, given the shifting goal-posts) are achieved. But it has had the unintended consequence of creating too many economists in the country, while queuing up in banks and ATMs became a national hobby.

2. Immunity to Terror Acts
The surreal nature of 2016 can be best explained by the way the world grew to terror attacks and wars all over the planet. Nice, Munich, Kabul, Baghdad, London, Paris, Florida, Aleppo, Brussels, Istanbul, Ankara, the list is endless. The network of terror spread its tentacles across the world with lone wolf attacks becoming a norm. Malls, Festivals, Public transport, Night clubs, airports, markets - every place is now a potential attack site. And instead of taking action, those in charge are milking every attack for their own political agenda. One can only either take action to destroy the terror machine or wait till one's luck runs out.

3. Donald Trump 
Donald Trump is going to be the next President of United States of America! Its been a couple of months since the election results and yet this one has still not sunk in. Wonder what would happen when this maverick force of nature actually assumes office. Probably just added to the overall surrealism.

4. Psephology – the flawed science
One profession which lost credibility the most during 2016. Brexit, Trump’s bandwagon, Colombia’s rejection of a peace deal – just proved that predicting the mood of the masses is a complex task. Beware the silent masses!

5. Sonam Gupta Bewafa Hai
Some are born famous, some achieve fame and some have fame thrust upon them. As the Sonam Guptas of this world learnt this year. 

Collateral damage from the notes ban. Social media picked up on a line written on notes (a habit which should be stopped), generating countless memes. 

6. A tale of two pictures 
Like every year, there would be many contenders but this time I will pick up one from the sporting arena. 
Pic 1: Australian Open 2016 Final Presentation Ceremony – just look at Murray’s expression after finishing second best to Djokovic once again. 

Pic 2: But a year is a long time and Murray picked up pace as Djokovic faltered at the end to become the world number one. Another presentation ceremony, but Murray is now the Champion as an appreciative Djokovic looks on. 

7. New exercise of the year
People moving around focused on their smartphones is now a common sight. But it was surreal (yes that word again) to see people staring at their phones in a desperate attempt to catch those pesky little pokemons which they could see only through their phone cameras. Adults falling into the trap of being guided by an app on their phone to capture virtual animals?

8. The Zika Virus 
The Olympics were the biggest event of the year. The build-up to the Olympics was marked by the fears over the Zika virus. Many advisories were issued. Some star atheletes decided to withdraw as well. The Olympics still happened (as they should have). Surprisingly (or maybe not), there was no Zika epidemic during the Games and certainly none afterwards. Was it just a first world media conspiracy?

9. The Mannequin Challenge
Real people staying still and frozen in mid-action a la mannequins while a camera moved around them capturing the moment without movement. Even the White House was not spared. GOK what new challenge will come up next year.

10. And the viral video of the Year 

The Pen Pineapple Apple Pen Song. No Comments !!!

Certainly a surreal year in more ways than one. Lets see what 2017 has in store for us.

Wishing all readers a very Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Learn N Blog #10: Ringa Ringa Roses

Source: Wikimedia
Ring-a-round of rosies
Pocket full of posies
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down!

All of us have played that kindergarten game where the kids move around in circles joining hands, singing and falling down with the last line. [Video]

When I was young, and not sure about the exact words, would still sing along making up words. So ring-a-round became ringa ringa, rosies turned to roses, posies transformed to poses and as for the third line, it was just random mumbo-jumbo, which we could never figure out.

Now was reading Dan Brown’s Inferno, where the same song was referenced. One theory (which Dan Brown subscribes to) says that this song was about the Great Plague of 1665 in London. Apparently a "ring around the rosie" referred to the pustules which developed on the skin indicating a plague infection. Posies were flowers carried in the pockets to counter the stench of plague. Victims generally just fell down and died and finally were cremated in a bid to destroy the plague (turning into ashes).

While an interesting theory, it is subject to speculation of being just an urban legend. However, how such a lyric became a children’s play song is certainly beyond my comprehension. Children falling down to enact plague victims’ deaths is quite a dark representation! 

Further research on the subject led to They categorically say that this seems a revisionist version of history. There are many versions of the poem with different lines (also explains why I never got the exact words at the time). While the song has been around for centuries, documentary evidence linking it to plague starts appearing only in the middle of the twentieth century. Certainly seems more a case of a theory being fitted to a fact and then the believers taking it up. Dan Brown certainly is known for using lots of symbology in his works all of which are open to interpretation based on your willingness to believe in them.

Overall, the origins are unknown with speculations ranging from simple play-song to church banning dancing to plague. Take your pick.

More Readings
Not a pocket-full but a Bouquet of Posies
Previously on LearnNBlog: Repechage

Sunday, December 04, 2016

BookMarks #18: Wuthering Heights

Title: Wuthering Heights
Author: Emily Bronte
Genre: Fiction
Setting: 18th Century English countryside
Published: 1847

Young Mr. Lockwood rents a cottage in remote countryside where his nearest neighbour is his landlord Mr. Heathcliff who lives in Wuthering Heights. He in very intrigued by the occupants of Wuthering Heights. His housekeeper at Thrusscross Grange, Mrs Ellen Dean then narrates to him the history of the place. 

How Mr. Earnshaw brought in an orphan boy Heathcliff into his home and raises him with his children Hindley and Catherine. As they grow up Heathcliff falls in love with Catherine but is detested by Hindley. With time Heathcliff through his schemes and charms manages to take ownership of both Wuthering Heights and  Thrusscross Grange. In the meantime, all his peers die while all remain are the younger children who are all victims of Heathcliff's revenge.

The book ends with the death of Heathcliff and the later generation living happily.

In my opinion, it is quite a dark and depressing tale of unrequited love. The lead character is the key villain of the piece and how is revenge seeking wrecks havoc on all those around him, including the one he loves. 

But the one bright spot in this sad tale is in the end we have some signs of normalcy returning to the messed up lives of the survivors.

We have two narrators in the story - the main narrator Mr. Lockwood and the secondary narrator Mrs. Dean who. retells the story to Lockwood.

Previously on BookMarks: Treasure Island

Sunday, November 20, 2016

MovieNotes: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (IMDB)
*ing: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Dan Fogler, Colin Farrell
Language: English
Director: David Yates
Genre: Fantasy

For a Harry Potter fan, any new material is always welcome. Even if it is a movie which is named after one of Harry's textbooks.

Basic Premise
A wizard lands in New York with a bag full of strange creatures who are accidentally set loose. He has to recapture them while at the same time try to maintain the fragile peace between the magical and non-magical communities and saving New York from complete annihilation.

The Highs
  • The Fantastic Beasts were a visual and cinematic delight especially the niffler. Only wish they had more airtime.
  • Overall visual effects in creating the magical world. However, they overdid the 3D stuff by continuously throwing stuff at the audience.
  • It is part of the Harry Potter world but yet a distinct spin-off, given that it is set much before Harry's time. Although the movie does reference a few characters and incidents from the main storyline. And yes it is all setting up for the major war referenced in the Potter series.
  • The surprise cameo at the end [Not revealing who]
The Not-so-Highs
  • There were too many things going on in the story at the same time. In fact, one could completely cut out the "fantastic beasts" and still get the same storyline. 
  • Unlike the Harry Potter series, the characters are not so memorable.
  • The wizarding world at confrontation with the no-majs (as muggles are referred in USA). This is more out of the X-men franchise rather than Rowling's world. [Aside - Why do Americans do everything so differently]
And the Others
Now that they have announced four more movies in this series, waiting to see how the story unfolds and the familiar characters come into play.

Rating - 7/10. Good visual effects combined with a confounding storyline. In all a spin-off which gives the feel of being just a cash-grab.

Previously on MovieNotes - Doctor Strange

Saturday, November 05, 2016

MovieNotes: Doctor Strange

Title: Doctor Strange (IMDB)
*ing: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams
Language: English
Director: Scott Derrickson
Genre: Comicbook Superhero

And the Marvel Cinematic Universe rolls on introducing a new lead character, adding new inter-connections in their increasingly complex world(s).

Basic Premise
Dr. Stephen Strange is a genius neuro-surgeon who suffers damages to his hands in a car accident. His search for a cure leads him to the Ancient One and discovers new powers in himself. But on this path of self-discovery needs to put in his powers to saving the world.

The Highs
  • Benedict Cumberbatch, playing Dr. Strange. There is no other actor who can play quirky geniuses like he does. 
  • The movie's focus on the fun element specially in its interactions between the major characters. Which is how a movie based on comics should be. After all, the real world is dark enough, we don't need our superheroes to be brooding all the time.
  • The special effects (needs to be seen in 3D), which reminded of Inception with scenes showing folding streets and buildings and entire city.
The Not-so-highs
  • A superhero movie needs a strong villain, which does not seem to be the case here. More than the viallin, it was the support cast who were the main antagonising forces amongst themselves. In fact, its a recurring issue acorss the Marvel films with only Loki being the one memorable antagonist.
  • The story could have been a bit more fleshed out and the run-time extended.
  • For a movie with a great part set in Kathmandu, there were no Nepali characters
And the Others
  • Time travel, space, universes, dimensions, space-time continuum, tapping your inner powers - thats too many heavy-duty concepts being touched upon in a single comicbook film.
  • When going for a Marvel movie, always wait till the end of credits. You get a teaser of the things to come. Also be alert for lots of Easter eggs and cross-references to past and upcoming movies.
  • Doctor Strange will return, so said the end-credits. (Eagerly waiting)
Rating - 8/10. Overall a fun watch.

Previously on MovieNotes - Sultan

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Hindi Diwas

१४ सितंबर - हर साल हम इस दिन को हिंदी दिवस  के रूप में मनाते  हैं. और आज हिंदी दिवस के अवसर पर मन में आया की क्यों न हिंदी में एक ब्लॉग लिखा जाए?

हिंदी दिवस का इतिहास  -  १४ सितंबर, १९४९ को भारत के संविधान सभा में ये निर्णय लिया गया था की हिंदी ही भारत की राजभाषा होगी.  और राजकीय कार्यों  के लिए हिंदी का प्रयोग देवनागरी लिपि में होगा और सारे अंक अरबि लिपि के होंगे.  १९५३ में राष्ट्र भाषा प्रचार समिति ने ये तय किया की पुरे देश में १४ सितंबर को हिंदी दिवस मनाया जाएगा.  

वैसे हिंदी तो मेरी मातृभाषा है, परंतु हिंदी का प्रयोग अब धीरे धीरे कम होता जा रहा है. कंप्यूटर के आने के कारण हिंदी में लिखना तो बिलकुल ही नाम मात्र का रह गया है. शायद आखिरी बार दसवीं की परीक्षा थी तभी लिखा था. उसके बाद से तो देवनागरी लिपि में लिखना लगभग छूट सा ही गया है. शायद कुछ फॉर्म में बस हस्ताक्षर करने के लिए देवनागरी लिपि का प्रयोग किया हो. पर transliteration सॉफ्टवेयर्स आ जाने से काफी मदद मिली है. इस कारण कभी-कभार देवनागरी में एक-आध सन्देश डाल देता हूँ. 

हालांकि बोल-चाल के लिए अभी भी हिंदी का ही प्रयोग काफी करता हूँ, पर उसमे भी अंग्रेजी के शब्द बढ़ते ही जा रहे हैं. सिनेमा और टीवी धारावाहिक अब ज्यादातर अंग्रेजी वाले ही देखे जाते हैं. हिंदी का उपयोग कम ही होता जा रहा है. 

वैसे हिंदी भाषा में पिछले कई वर्षों से कोई  नया लोकप्रिय लेखक भी नहीं आया है. आज भी जो हिंदी साहित्य हम पढ़ते हैं, ज्यादातर पुराने हो चले है. प्रेमचंद, जयशंकर प्रसाद, देवकीनंदन खत्री, महादेवी वर्मा, सुभद्रा कुमारी चौहान, रामधारी सिंह दिनकर जैसे लेखकों को आज भी पढ़ा जाता है. पर नए युग के लेखक नहीं मिलते. हिंदी साहित्य में को चेतन भगत या अमिश जैसी लोकप्रियता वाला कोई नया लेखक भी नहीं है. ज्यादातर युवा लेखक अंग्रेजी में ही लिखते है. हालांकि उनकी रचनाओं पे आधारित फ़िल्में हिंदी में ही बनती है और उनके हिंदी अनुवाद काफी बिकते है. तो हिंदी के उपभोक्ताओं की कमी तो है नहीं पर उसके मूल रचियेताओं की कमी तो ज़रूर है.

हिंदी सिनेमा में पहले सारे कलाकारों के नाम तीन भाषाओँ  में आते थे - हिंदी, उर्दू एवं अंग्रेजी, अब सिर्फ रोमन लिपि वाली अंग्रेजी का ही प्रयोग होता है. 

पता नहीं हिन्दी भाषा और देवनागरी लिपि के लिए ये उदासीनता क्यों बढ़ती जा रही है? शायद हमारे पाठ्यक्रम में  दोष रहा है. हिंदी जो हमारी बोलचाल की भाषा है उसे तो हम ठीक से बढ़ावा नहीं दे पा रहे हैं. और हम संस्कृत जो की लगभग लुप्त सी हो गयी है, उसे प्रचलित करने की बात करते हैं. 

एक सुझाव है. जिस तरह ज्यादातर अंग्रेजी साहित्य अब kindle और google play  पर निशुल्क उपलब्ध है, वैसे ही क्यों न हिंदी के भी लोकप्रिय साहित्य (जिनके कॉपीराइट समाप्त हो गए हो) को भी निशुल्क उपलभ्द करा दिए जाए. 

बस आज हिंदी दिवस के अवसर ऐसे ही मन में विचार आया तो बस लिख डाला. सोचता हूँ बीच-बीच में हिंदी में कुछ लिखता रहूँ. 

सारे पाठकों को हिंदी दिवस की ढेरों सुभकामनायें. 

P.S. Transliteration Software की जय. आखिर पूरा ब्लॉग रोमन लिपि वाले keyboard से जो लिखा है.