Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Goodbye 2015

The year MMXV A.D. approaches its end. It’s time to reflect on the year gone by and decide the course for the year to come. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Yet, every passing year leaves behind its own share of memories. Overall it wasn’t a very likeable kind of year with issues snooping around at the back of the mind. 
  • Major change: Shifting to another place and hunting for a new one, a major exercise in itself.
  • Memorable Experience – River rafting in the Ganges and having to hang on to dear life in the rapids as the raft overturned and people getting swept away to the next raft. More adventure than we had bargained for. But memorable all the same. Then there was the musical concert, the play seen on a screen and finally being part of mega service launch. And securing a phone invite via social media. And some more dentist trips.
  • Achievement of the Year – Completing a month long fitness challenge. And feeling quite good about it. Although other attempts did end midway.
  • BookMarks - Started a new section on the blog, dedicated to the books I complete reading. 9 entries made this year.
Now for the resolutions for the next year: Be Healthy & Happy and keep everyone around happy. And I am certainly looking forward to 2016. After all it has that one extra-special day. 

Wishing all readers a very Happy and prosperous 2016.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ten From Twenty15

As we approach the end of the year 2015 A.D., it is time to look back at some of the news/gossip/events and non-events to remember the year gone by.

1. The Question of the Year
There were other critical questions: Who was driving the car? Where was Rahul Gandhi? 
But the biggest question was: Why did Katappa kill Bahubali? It might only have been a movie, but its cliff-hanger ending raised this pertinent question. There are many theories abounding on this (Quora). To find out, we will have to wait for the sequel to come out next year. (MovieNotes)

2. Picture of the Year - Two Contenders 
The Shocking One: Little Aylan Kurdi’s body lying on the Syrian shore which finally shook up the world to the growing immigrant crisis.
And the Happy One – An old lady watching the red carpet procession of the Boston premiere of "Black Mass" while all around  her are busy taking pictures.
With apologies to Kipling: "If you can enjoy the moment, while people all around are taking selfies… you are a human”

3. Multi-lateral Contest of the Year
There is civil unrest in Syria against the current ruler Assad. But rebels have formed two groups, one of which is the Islamic State or Daesh. US supports the rebels fighting Assad, but not IS. Russia enters the arena to fight IS but supports Assad. Turkey while fighting IS ends up shooting down a Russian fighter plane. Newly rehabilitated Iran joins the fight against IS but does not like the Saudis. While we figure out who is fighting whom and what stake they have, it’s the Syrian populace which is bearing the brunt of this war.

4. Attire of the Year 
Beating down heavy competition from a monogrammed pin-striped suit was a wedding dress. Only thing no one was quite sure what its colour was? Was it Black and Blue, or Was it White and Gold? Opinions were divided, battle-lines were drawn (Yours truly was in the White & Gold camp). Till finally it was declared that like beauty, even colour lies in the eyes of the beholder, with the rods and cones of the eyes creating all the difference in what we think we are seeing.

5. The Family Tree Conundrum – Indrani Mukherjea
One fine day, media wakes up to the news that one of their own is involved in murdering her sister. Only the victim wasn’t her sister but her daughter. And with every passing day came in new information concerning previous husbands and children. It was one entangled family tree with new branches sprouting every day. That a murder had been committed was almost fogged up by this obsessive media coverage is another matter.

6. Device of the Year – Ahmed’s Clock
While Apple and Samsung came up with their own watches, it was a simple home-made alarm clock which landed a teenager in big trouble. 14 year old Ahmed Mohammed was arrested for bringing his self-made alarm clock to school because his teachers thought it was a bomb. 

7. India – the nation of bans & controversies
The year started with a ban on the AIB Roast. Then the ban on MSG – Messenger of God. After the Censor Board, joining the banning act were the various departments of the Central & State Governments – they banned beef, non-vegetarian food (except fish), porn (later unbanned), alcohol. Some termed it as rising intolerance, a curb on freedom of expression, some returned awards. Some of the bans were found to be rumors, others had apparently been in place for years. But most of the controversies were just political stunts aimed at polarizing vote banks in the light of the assembly elections. 

8. Twitter - The Universal Complaint Channel 
If you have a grouse and want to raise a complaint, just put it on Twitter (with proper hashtags and marked to the right handles). Whether it was people needing help from government agencies (foreign ministry and railways were quite efficient in this regard) or Sachin Tendulkar getting his baggage misplaced by British Airways or yours truly unable to get a mobile signal, Twitter was the channel to air the complaint. Your complaint will get an immediate response, sometimes to hilarious consequences. 

9. Dialogue of the Year
Prime Minister David Cameron bellowing – “Acche din aayenge, zaroor aayenge”

10. Meme of the Year
It was a battle between Sasha Chhetri (a.k.a. the Airtel 4G girl) and the mischievous tiny yellow pill shaped creatures. The competition was intense but the minions have managed to have the last laugh.

Some notable omissions from the list

  • The Serial Killer of the Year: Vyapam Scam
  • Around the World in 80 Days contest - Modi vs Kenyatta, its a close contest
  • Farewell Tribute: Paul Walker in Furious 7 & Tribute to Jonah Lomu by his teammates.

That was 2015, amidst all the doom and gloom filled with its own little happy moments. We head into 2016 where amongst other things, we will get to learn why Katappa killed Bahubali and praying that the acche din come fast. 

Wishing all readers a very Happy 2016.

Monday, December 28, 2015

MovieNotes: 12 Years A Slave

Title: 12 Years A Slave (imdb)
*ing: Chiewetel Ejiofor, Lupita Nyongo, Michael Fassbender, Bendict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt
Language: English 
Director: Steve McQueen
Genre: Historical, Biography, Civil Rights

Basic Premise
Solomon Northup, a free black man, living in New York is kidnapped and sold as a slave to work in plantations. The movie follows his hardships till he is finally able to secure his release from slavery.

What Works 
  • Brilliant acting by the lead cast and a tight storyline, which focusses only on Solomon’s journey. 
  • The depiction of slavery and the horrible treatment meted out to the slaves is disturbing while making for a fascinating watch at the same time. 
  • The violence is depicted in a hard-hitting but understated way. You are repulsed by the events on screen while not making it unwatchable.
  • Its a tale of hope and undying spirit. Solomon doesn't give up his chance of securing his freedom even after encountering many a failure in his way.
What Doesn’t 
We don’t get to see what Solomon’s family went through in the years he was missing. It seems as if his family and friends had forgotten him totally.

It is a hard-hitting movie about slavery and almost in-line with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book I read recently. Slavery was wrong and nothing can justify what atrocities men put on others all for the sake of profit, while invoking God to justify their brutality. It is a most disturbing part of our collective human history. 

Rating – 9/10. For bringing out some of the harsh realities of our “human” history.

Previously on MovieNotes – Spectre

Thursday, December 24, 2015

BookMarks #9: Uncle Tom's Cabin

Title: Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Life Among the Lowly) 
Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe 
Genre: Fiction, Slavery, Civil Rights 
Setting: USA 
Published: 1852 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin is set in mid-nineteenth century America, where slavery and slave trade are rampant. It depicts the life of the slaves and their owners. In the book we come across all kinds of slaves and masters. 
Tom is a genial, negro slave working in one of the plantations in Kentucky. Faced with financial difficulties, his master Arthur Shelby, agrees to reluctantly sell him to a slave trader along with a negro child, Harry. Harry’s mother, Eliza overhears the plans and runs away with her child. To ensure his master doesn’t get into any more trouble, Tom chooses to stay and agrees to be sold off, leaving behind his wife and children at the plantation, . 
Eliza manages to unite with her husband, George, who has also made his escape from a cruel master. They successfully manage to escape to Canada with help from many different folks, black and white, along the way. 
Tom, is bought by a plantation owner, Augustine St. Clare. St. Clare is an easy-going man who is not comfortable with the idea of slavery but doesn’t do much to negate it. He often gets in an argument with his cousin, Ophelia about the slave trade. Coming from the North, Ophelia, abhors slavery but the negro slaves seem to offend her more. St. Clare has a daughter Evangeline, or Eva, on who everyone dotes on. She reads the Bible to Tom, who seems to believe that she is an angel. Eva dies at an early age leaving everyone affected deeply. St. Clare agrees to make Tom a free man, but before he could get the papers in order, he is killed in a brawl. St. Clare’s wife reneges on his word and instead of granting freedom, she sells Tom off alongwith the other slaves. 
Tom is now bought by Simon Legree, who is depicted as a harsh owner, concerned only with his profits. He plans to make Tom his supervisor. When Tom refuses to use the whip against a fellow slave, he is enraged and whips Tom. Although his body takes a lot of punishment, Tom’s spirit is not broken. Tom’s refusal to divulge the details of the slave women who fled the plantation enrage Legree to such an extent that he gets his supervisors to beat him up till his death. Tom dies from the injuries sustained in the beating but his spirit changes the other slaves who seek forgiveness from him. His erstwhile Master George Shelby from Kentucky arrives just in time for a final word before Tom’s death. Moved by his beloved Uncle Tom’s death, George goes back and releases all his slaves. 

The book depicts the terrible conditions of slavery in America. As you read the story, you are filled with disgust at the treatment meted out to the slaves. They are treated more as a commodity than as humans. Often they are also referred to as just creatures, not worthy of being called human beings. 
Reading the book now just 150 years later, one wonders how such a system could even exist and why the slaves never revolt. One gets the feelings that there were more white people who found the system abominable than the slaves themselves. Also the slaves who have a rebellion streak all are shown as mixed blood. 
The story is quite evangelistic in nature with the author constantly reaffirming the power of the Bible and stressing the importance of being a devout Christian for both white and blacks.

Trivia: Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th Century and the second highest selling book after the Bible. And it is also credited with helping the cause of the Slavery Abolitionists thus acting as a trigger for the US Civil War. 

Previously on BookMarks – World War II in Photographs 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

COP21 - The Global Climate Deal

Everyone agrees the world is on the brink of a climate disaster. Everyone also agrees that something needs to be done to avoid it. Unfortunately, everyone wants everyone else to take this initiative.

At the COP 21 conference in Paris, leaders from across the world got together and decided to do something about it. After lots of discussions and deliberations, they finally came up with a single agreement on tackling climate change (Proposal). The key areas identified are as follows
  • To keep global temperature rise "well below" 2.0C (3.6F) and "endeavour to limit" them even more, to 1.5C.
  • To limit the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning at some point between 2050 and 2100.
  • To review each country's contribution to cutting emissions every five years so they scale up to the challenge.
  • For rich countries to help poorer nations by providing "climate finance" to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.
This is major first step but given that we are already losing the climate battle, more needs to be done. It is widely believed that 2C is the maximum global temperature rise beyond which the damage to the environment would be irreversible. Weather patterns are becoming increasingly erratic, floods and droughts are becoming common place and if this pattern continues, some of the small, low lying nations might completely disappear off the face of the Earth, and quite a few animal and plant species will become extinct. Given that the temperatures have already risen by nearly 1C, we are getting closer and closer to the environmental apocalypse. It is certainly a grim picture.

Although an agreement is in place, the action plans and targets set for controlling emissions for each country are voluntary. And this is where complications arise. The developed countries who have already contributed to temperature rise are now keen to ensure that no further rise takes place. The developing nations also aspire a developed status but that would mean an increase in energy consumption which would contribute to the temperature rise. But why would the likes of China and India wish to remain under-developed? They want the developed countries to take a larger burden while ensuring their development continues with the cheaper sources of available energy. 

Then comes the problem of funding. Who will bear the cost of developing more efficient energy sources when fossil fuels are still available cheaply. The world is not going to run out of coal and oil anytime soon. Only drastic climate constraints might lead to the closure of these industries. We certainly need cleaner energy, but it has to be low cost and efficient and easy to use. Till the renewables are able to fulfill these criterion, the hegemony of oil and coal as energy sources will continue.

While the bigger debates go on, as to who does what, there are ways in which individuals can reduce their own carbon footprints and do their tiny bit to save the environment. After all every drop counts. The most obvious way is to consume less, but that's detrimental to the growth of the economy. And if the economy doesn't grow, then investments into better energy resources can't be made, leaving us to consume more hydrocarbons. A vicious cycle. 

But we can as individuals certainly contribute to lower our wastage. And it doesn't even have to be at a very large scale. And these are already known to us - Minimize use of electrical appliances; Don't waste water; Carry a shopping bag to the market; instead of taking plastic bags; Plant trees; Walk instead of driving; Use public transport; Use paper instead of plastic; Do not take prints of every document in office. The printer certainly is the most environmentally-unfriendly item. We print reams and reams of paper, most of which is just thrashed. And there are many more ways we can all do our little bit. Reduce, Reuse & Recycle has to be the mantra.

The success of COP21 can only be measured in the years to come. It certainly is a major step, but we as citizens of the world can certainly do our bit to help the cause. Otherwise...

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

MovieNotes: Spectre

Title: Spectre (IMDB)
*ing: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes
Language: English 
Director: Sam Mendes
Genre: Action, Spy, Thriller

Basic Premise

James Bond is on an independent mission assigned to him by the deceased M. He discovers that all his past enemies had a common connection which links back to his own past as well. Spectre. Meanwhile Spectre is also trying to pull the rug Bond’s own organization and take over the entire world’s surveillance. Bond survives Spectre’s evil designs and once again saves the world.

What Works
  • The movie sticks to the standard Bond formula, which has been perfected over the past fifty years.
  • The action scenes are good as is the acting, though being a typical Bond movie doesn’t give too much leeway for the actors’ histrionic abilities. And the brief witty repartees help cope up with the storyline.
  • Daniel Craig plays a more conventional James Bond this time around unlike his previous three appearances.
What Doesn’t
  • The preceding movie was Skyfall, and Spectre pales in its comparison.
  • The makers are trying to tie up too many loosed ends, so the story keeps jumping around, hoping that the action distracts from the gaps.
  • Sam Smith’s rendition of “The Writing’s On the Wall” falls flat, and it sounds worse when compared to Adele’s Skyfall
  • The roles seriously limit the actors. Would have certainly liked to see more of Christoph Waltz.
  • Continuity goof-ups like the train-fight in which all the fellow passengers just disappear.
  • Can also be named as the ghosts of villains past.
  • We come to the very basic question – What is the relevance of James Bond in today’s digitized world? And the answer is still open to debate.
  • This is the era of cinematic universes. And even the Makers of Bond movies are falling into that trap. Earlier Bond movies were standalone with passing nods to the previous films. With Spectre the makers are trying to connect all of Craig’s previous appearances in one overlying story-arch. Which also brings us to the question - Is this Daniel Craig’s last Bond movie? 
  • Voldemort vs Moriarity was fun. Especially given that we all (i.e. Indian audiences) do know what “C” stands for :P
  • Useless factoid – Lea Seydoux is a descendant of Marcel Schlumberger.
  • Disappointed to see that India was not a member of the 9-Eyes program. There goes our Security Council seat.
Rating – 6/10. Faltering storyline while following up on the expectations setup by Skyfall partly redeemed by the slick action.

Previously on MovieNotes – Bajrangi Bhaijaan