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.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

BooKMarks #17: Treasure Island

Title: Treasure Island

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Genre: Fiction, Adventure
Setting: 18th Century England with pirates as backdrop
Published: 1883

Jim Hawkins is a pub-owner's son. One of the residents is an old sailor, who is worried for the contents of his chest and keeps Jim as a lookout. He is visited by his old shipmates and suffers a stroke and dies. Jim finds a map in the sailor's chest and takes it the local physician Dr. Livesey, after escaping a search of the pub from the sailor's former fellows.

The Doctor believes it to be a map showing treasure buried by pirate Captain Flint. He enlists the squire, Mr. Trelawney, who plans to buy a ship and go in hunt of the treasure. They take Jim along with them. Trelawney hires a crew to manage the ship with Long John Silver, a one legged fellow with a parrot as the ship's cook. Captain Smollett is in-charge of leading the ship but he is wary of Silver and the rest of the crew. As they approach the island Jim manages to overhear Silver's plans of mutiny and warns the Doctor and others.

Once the ship reaches the island, the mutiny is out in the open. Jim and his friends are heavily outnumbered by Silver's crew. At the island Jim runs into Ben Gunn, a marooned sailor, who was part of Captain Flint's crew, who agrees to help him. Jim's friends in the meantime abandon the ship and take fort in a stockade at the island. Jim rejoins his friends and Silver's men take control of the ship. Both sides suffer losses in the battle that follows.

During the night, Jim quietly goes to the ship and cuts her anchor, making her drift away, but has to get onboard to prevent being drowned himself. With the aid of the remaining mutineer on the ship, he steers it into a secluded area. In the ensuing fight, he kills the mutineer and makes way back to the stockade only to discover it having been taken over by Silver and his men and with no signs of his friends.

While the others want to kill Jim, Silver saves his life. The next day the crew alongwith Jim go in search for the treasure. On reaching the spot they discover that the treasure has already been removed by Ben Gunn. The Doctor and his team had met up with Ben Gunn and attack Silver's party. Silver tags up with them while the remaining mutineers are abandoned on the island. 

On the return journey, Silver gives them the slip having made off with a share of the treasure.

An action adventure tale which has become the basis for nearly every pirate tale. A book which has been in my to-read list for ages now. Finally managed to complete it.

It is also a sort of coming-of-age story where a 15 year old boy goes on an adventure. He does things on impulse, which sometime land him in trouble and sometimes bring good fortune to his friends. 

Map of Treasure Island - as drawn by Robert Louis Stevenson - Source Wikipedia
Previously on BookMarks: A Game of Thrones

Friday, August 26, 2016

BookMarks #16: A Game of Thrones

Title: A Game of Thrones
Author: George R R Martin
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Setting: Fictional continent of Westeros, in medieval times
Published: 1996

“In the Game of Thrones, you win or you die”

That’s the central theme of this epic plot set in the fictional continent of Westeros. It is a tale of seeking power, in the background of political intrigue and conspiracies, with alliances being forged and broken, sworn duty and deaths (lots of them). Multiple plots are in progress across the seven kingdoms of Westeros in a gigantic chess board where each player plays his/her own game. 

We follow the tale of Eddard ‘Ned’ Stark and his family as they are torn apart having been caught in the eye of a raging political storm. King Robert Baratheon and his family arrive in Winterfell to offer Ned the position of the Hand of the King thereby setting up a series of tragic events for the Stark family, which culminate in Ned getting beheaded for treason post King Robert’s death, his son Bran crippled, his daughter Sansa kept near-hostage as new King Joffery’s bethrothed, while younger daughter Arya goes missing. Meanwhile his wife Catleyn and eldest son Robb seek revenge. The book concludes with Robb being appointed as the new “King in the North” by his fellow northern Lords. 

Ned Stark discovers the incestuous relationship of Queen Cersei Lannister and her twin Jaime. He also learns that Robert had not fathered any of Cersei’s children, thus the rightful heir to Robert's throne would be his brother Stannis. But he is betrayed by Petyr Baelish leading to his arrest for treason and later beheading on the orders of new King Joffery, Cersei's son.

Meanwhile, Ned’s bastard son Jon Snow, becomes a sworn brother of the Night’s Watch, at the Wall, which protects the realm from wildlings and mystical creatures. The Wall has its own troubles with frequent disappearances of their rangers, the appearances of undead creatures and the wildling army being raised by Mance Rayder, a former member of the Night’s Watch. Jon’s loyalty to his oath is tested when he hears of Ned’s beheading and Robb’s battles. Jon is also troubled by the disappearance of his uncle Benjen, who had gone beyond the Wall and not returned.

Catelyn captures Tyrion, the younger Lannister brother, the dwarf, accusing him of attacking Bran. This leads to Tywin Lannister unleashing his forces on Catelyn’s family. Tyrion is released with the aid of a sellsword Bronn and joins his father’s forces. During the battles, Jaime gets captured by Robb’s army. Robert Baratheon’s brothers Stannis and Renly also stake their own claim for the Iron throne.

There are multiple references to the events of fifteen years before which led to Robert Baratheon taking over the throne from the “mad” King Aerys Targaryen, with the aid of Ned Stark and Jon Arryn and other Lords. During the rebellion, Aerys Targaryen was killed by his own Kingsguard Jaime Lannister, thus earning him the derogatory title of kingslayer. 

Meanwhile Aerys’s son Viserys is plotting to take back his “rightful” throne. He marries off his sister Daenerys to a tribal warlord Khal Drogo in hopes of gaining control of the Dothraki warriors to mount a challenge for the throne. But his over-eagerness leads to his death at the hands of Drogo. Later when King Robert attempts to kill Daenerys, Drogo is ready to take on the Iron Throne for Daenerys and his unborn child. During a raid, Drogo gets wounded and is attended to by a healer who sacrifices his unborn child for Drogo’s life. But Drogo is left in a vegetative state which lead to Daenerys killing him out of mercy. Drogo’s funeral pyre is lit. Daenerys walks into it clutching the three dragon egg which were her wedding gift. When the pyre burns off, Daenerys is seen with three baby dragons while all remaining Dothraki and Ser Jorah Mormont swear allegiance to her.

This is the first book in the series “A Song of Fire And Ice” and also the basis for the megahit TV show – “Game of Thrones”.

The book is filled with a huge number of characters, too many to fit in such a short summary. Each chapter is told from a central character’s perspective (known as point of view character).

I started reading the books after having seen all the six seasons of the TV series. And also knowing about how the story unfolds makes the reading even more interesting. I could enjoy the details without losing grip of the tale. 

The storyline of the book and the first season are broadly matching. Although the books present a more vivid picture. The biggest difference is that the characters are much younger in the book than in the TV adaptation. Thankfully the TV Show-runners decided to age the characters, otherwise it would have been a show all about teenagers doing adult stuff (which would have been very weird to watch)

Although set as a fantasy in a fictional realm, the storyline has quite a few parallels to the history of Britain. 

Previously on BookMarks – Infinite Sacrifice

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BookMarks #15: Infinite Sacrifice

Title: Infinite Sacrifice
Author: L.E. Waters
Genre: Fiction, Spirituality, Religion
Setting: Across timelines
Published: 2011

The story begins with Maya having died, finds herself in a place which is different form her idea of heaven. She meets a spirit guide, Zachariah, who explains to her the rules of gaining salvation from the cycle of life and death. Maya has to review everyone of her re-births.

We see Maya in different forms in different births. First, as a priest in Egypt, who breaks the temple's rules but condemns another for his crimes and meets his end.Then as a lady in Sparta, who tries to protect her progeny from the strict Spartan traditions. In the third stage, Maya is an Irish boy who gets kidnapped by the Vikings and lives amongst them before returning to his own village. In the fourth part, she is an English woman living in the times of plague.

The book ends with Maya moving partially out of her confusion and gaining some insight to her lives. But there are still more re-births to go through.

1st book in "The Infinite" book series.

The story is based on the concept of karma and souls undertaking multiple births before getting salvation. We see the character of Maya empathizing more with her srroundings as we progress through here many births. Also there are certain physical characteristics which pass on in each life and act as a continuity for the soul.

And I wonder, why London is always depicted as filthy and dirty in almost every book that I have read set in the 19th century of before.

Previously on BookMarks: Harry Potter & the Cursed Child

Friday, August 19, 2016

LearnNBlog #9: Repechage

Sakshi Malik's Bronze winning effort at the Rio Games, makes it the 3rd successive Olympics in which India has got a Wrestling medal through the repechage, after Sushil Kumar in Beijing and Yogeshwar Dutt in London. In fact, repechage is fast becoming India's favorite sporting terminology.

What is Repechage?
Repechage is giving a second chance to those competitors who failed to make through the initial qualifying rounds. It is a French word meaning "rescuing" or "fishing out". 

In sporting competitions it is done to give a second chance to those strong competitors who might have been eliminated at an early stage because of the bad luck of draw. (a la Djokovic getting knocked out by del Potro in the first round of the Olympics Tennis tournament. Unfortunately there is no repechage rule in Tennis). 

There are multiple forms of repechage with different formats being used across sports.

In Olympics, it is used in the sports of Wrestling, Judo and Rowing.  Wrestling has a knock-out format with only one winner going through to the subsequent round. When the two finalists are identified, everyone who has lot to them enters the repechage rounds. The loser in the first round plays the loser in the second round. The winner of this bout takes on the losing particiapnt of the subsequent round and so on till the semi-finalist. The winner of the repechage is awarded the Bronze medals. Wrestling has two sets of repechages (one for each of the finalist).

With the repechage action, Wrestling embodies Olympic spirit. The moment you lose, you start hoping that your opponent goes on to win every successive bout and reaches the final, thus giving you a second chance.

Further Readings

Previously on LearnNBlog: Gerrymandering

Sunday, August 14, 2016

India @ 69

15th August, 2016 – Time for my 10th annual Independence Day blog post - a little round-up of all things India. (Here is the 2015 edition).

How is the nation doing as a whole? Current mood of the nation seems quite grim, especially if one is in the habit of watching TV news and following social media. Apparently, intolerance has been rising to new Himalayan levels while the nationalistic pitch is reaching the moon and hyperbole on every single topic has piggy-backed to Mars riding the Mars Rover. Meanwhile there are intense debates (mostly hot-air) on freedoms of expression, choice of food etc. And there are new folks demanding different forms of "Azaadi". Oh, and there are intellectuals who are disturbed enough by the goings-on to return their well-earned awards. Where we begin wondering how many awards are given.

The country seems to be in a perennial state of elections. And that means that our elected leaders are in a non-stop campaign mode rather than in actually running the country. Hunger for quick take-over of power has resulted in a couple of states having governments changed and then reinstated via court interventions. In fact, we are seeing too many court interventions, certainly not a healthy sign for any democracy.

Governance of the country is being done through Twitter. While it feels good to see ministers addressing individual grievances, it also shows a lack of proper complaint redressal mechanism in our massive bureaucratic set-up. From missing passports to trains running late, if every complaint requires ministerial intervention, there is something terribly wrong in the system.

Its becoming increasingly difficult to separate the real from the presented news. There is a media version and there are multiple social media versions (depending on the ideology). Not sure which is more dangerous, the message shaped by conventional media (whatever their agenda) or the more extreme one shaped by social media based on one's belief. Add a multitude of whatsapp forwards which are mostly in the nature of garbled version of truth. Why people join online (and in some cases real) lynch mobs  and outrage without doing any basic fact-check is something beyond me. And there seems to be a constant need to fix the narrative has led to history books being re-written.

Meanwhile nature has started fighting back. We have had played enough with nature. It was a year of drought in many parts of the country. And followed by floods all over. Floods in multiple cities (Chennai, Bangalore, Assam, Gurgaon) have shown up the reality of our mismanaged development. World class IT parks surrounded by medieval drainage system, certainly a recipe for disaster. That the monsoon is still the single largest factor in the economic indices in a telling comment on the state of infrastructure development of the country. The sensex maybe growing at a steady rate but it hasn't been able to keep up with the food prices.

Start-ups are the new cool thing in the business domain. Everyone seems to be starting up something or working in a start-up. And there is a whole industry of start-ups. Start-ups seem to mushroom out of nowhwere and many either get absorbed into another company or simply disappear. Anything and everything is coming under the aegis of start-ups. A fellow running multiple blogs is now termed a "serial entrepreneur". Lets see how much longer this cash-burn continues.

On the sporting front, we have sent our biggest contingent to the Olympics, which is a tremendous achievement. But mid-way through the Rio Games, things haven't exactly panned out in our favour. Michael Phelps has now moved ahead of India in the Olympic medal tally. Well, there is always cricket to fall back onto for the Indian fan.

The most tragi-comic news of the year -  ISIS considers its Indian recruits inferior to those form other countries. (Indian Express). Hmmm!

All said and done. things not looking so good. But we are relatively better off given the goings-on in other parts of the world. And one always carries a sense of hope. After all, tomorrow is another day!

Happy Birthday India

Monday, August 08, 2016

BookMarks #14: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Title: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Author: JK Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne 
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Play
Setting: The Parallel world of Witches & Wizards
Published: 2016

Official Synopsis
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

All of us thought that the journey of Harry Potter and his fight with Voldemort was over. And they all lived happily ever after, but as in real life, that is not the case. 

The story continues from the epilogue of the concluding book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. We follow the paths of Albus Severus, Harry’s son and his new-found friend, Scorpius, the son of Harry’s old school nemesis Draco Malfoy. Both of whom are seeking to survive in the wizarding world, burdened by the names of their fathers’ reputations. Meanwhile, efforts are on to revive Voldemort once again but this time the Dark Lord has a different ally.

We live in the times of cinematic universes with stories spawning from one central theme and going on and on. Seems the Harry Potter universe is also expanding along similar lines with spin-offs and sequels adding to the original tale. And in multiple media - books, movies and now a play [As a fan of the series, I am not complaining].

Lots of references to the previous stories, as would be expected in any fictional universe. Always brought a smile while reading, whenever anyone of the old characters makes a cameo appearance in the tale.

This story is different from the others. After all it is a play and not a novel. Thus we find more dialogues and less action. And that changes quite a bit of the reading of the story. Also necessitating jumps in the storyline. [Reminded me of reading Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice & Hamlet – compulsory part of our English Literature exams]

I do not like this business of time-travel as a plot device. It is too convenient, creating alternate realities. Although in this case somehow we are spared changes in the main timelines. Add the “Interstellar” inspired source of sending a message through time. Playing with time adds its own share of plot-holes.

Plot-holes (or maybe not)
  • Whose wand is Albus using in the climatic duel?
  • In one of the alternate timelines, how are they taking Voldemort’s name?
  • And with so many illegal time-turners floating around (and in the hand of death-eaters), why wasn't any similar attempt made in the "past"?
Aside - I like the word discombobulated.

After many years, actually managed to read a whole book in a day. In all a fun read.

Previously on BookMarks: The Privateersman

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

LearnNBlog #8: Gerrymandering

Following the seemingly never-ending American Presidential elections provides a fascinating learning experience, even for a citizen of the world’s largest democracy (India, just in case you are wondering). This long-drawn process of selecting the person for the most powerful post in the world keeps throwing out interesting terms – electoral colleges, primaries, delegates et al. Seemingly a fair and transparent process but open to manipulations through procedures like “gerrymandering”.

What is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries during the process of defining electoral districts (constituencies).

The term was first used by the Boston Gazette on 26 March 1812. Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts passed a bill to redraw the senate election district boundaries to benefit his party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander. 
The Original Gerry-mander (Source Wikipedia)
Gerrymandering has been used (rather, heavily used) by incumbent officials (in US) to ensure their re-election. The incumbent official would re-adjust the district boundaries to ensure that his voters have a larger share in higher number of districts. 

Gerrymandering has been a fairly common practice conducted by both the major parties at times in collusion. And its not just at the ground level. North and South Dakota were created along this line instead of a single Dakota state. It has ensured that the likelihood of change in guard at the Congress is quite low. 

This could be done by ensuring their voters are spread in more areas, or that all the opposing camp voters are packed up in a single area. “Cracking”, “Packing”, “Hijacking” & “Kidnapping” are some of the different methodologies of gerrymandering. 

This has resulted in creation of very odd-shaped electoral districts. 
Stealing an election via gerrymandering (Image Source - Wikipedia)
US townships have historically been divided along racial and ethnic lines with different areas belonging to different communities, which generally tend to vote as a block. Thus easing the work for the incumbent officials who also have the power to re-draw the boundaries. (Unlike say in India, where all election activities are conducted by a fairly independent and neutral election commission).

Manipulation is the name of the Political Game everywhere in the world.

Other Readings
  • Gerrymandering (Wikipedia)
  • Electoral District (Wikipedia)
  • What America would look like without Gerrymandering (Washington Post)
  • Understanding Congressional Gerrymandering (NPR)
  • Why are there two Carolinas and two Dakota (MentalFloss)
Previously on LearnNBlog – Tax & Cess

Friday, July 29, 2016

BookMarks #13: The Privateersman

Title: The Privateersman (Google Play Books)
Author: Andrew Wareham
Genre: Fiction, History, Business
Setting: Late 18th Century 
Published: 2013

The book narrates the story of Tom Andrews. When we first meet Tom, he is running away from the authorities. His father and associates have been killed for piracy. Tom manages to escape with his life but finds himself onboard a privateering ship. With time we watch him grow from a crew member to a leader of the ship to businessman in New York. He moves back to England with his riches acquired in the West alongwith his free slave friend Joseph. They set up their businesses of ironworks and cotton in England. With the help of his sharp business acumen, Tom becomes richer and richer, expands his business interests and acquires a big estate to become a gentleman. The book ends with Tom attempting to fit into the higher society.

Throughout the book, there is an underlying suspense of whether Tom Andrews’ past will catch up to him?

This is the first book of the series A Poor Man at the Gate.

The book provides an insight into the late 18th century business. It shows how the business grew and who profited from them. It acts as a basic guide on how to make more money out of your money. We also learn a few things about economic bubbles and how they are brought up. And who can make profit from bubbles as well. (Something which is true in today’s markets as well).

The book also gives glimpses of the sea-faring life, the business of piracy on the sea, slavery, the culture of high society, the interactions between different cultures and working classes and most importantly the need to fit in. 

Previously on BookMarks: Great Expectations

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Who is in the Cage?

A typical July Sunday morning in Mumbai. Its raining on and off. Bright and sunny one moment and raining heavily the very next, as if a shower tap has been turned on. 

Heard the sounds of the rain drops and looked out of the kitchen window. And spotted an unusual sight. A squirrel moving around the kitchen grill, probably in search for food or shelter from this sudden rain or maybe both. Up and down the grill it went for a while. Long enough for me to run off, and get my phone for a picture. After a couple of clicks, it probably realized that the infiltration attempt had been noticed. And it disappears from sight.

Such a wonderful shot has to be shared immediately. And so the squirrel gets it moment of fame as its mugshot gets posted across social media. 

The picture got a couple of interesting responses
  • "Hard to say who is caged"
  • "They will be happy if we don't infiltrate their world"
And as is wont with the human mind, such philosophical thoughts lead to more philosophical thoughts. Yes, it is members belonging to the homo sapiens who have created cages for themselves with their endless needs and wants. As well as the tendency to accumulate for the future. Very few other species think beyond the present moment. Certainly no other thinks beyond the current season. All other species are capable of roaming around as is their wont, but homo sapiens have modified their existence to come back to the cages that they have built for themselves.

And as for the second comment. We have already infiltrated their world and the world of every lving creature on the planet. No other species has caused so much damage to the rest of the eco-system as us. Human activity has changed the very face of the earth, building artificial environments like cities and farms, depleted natural resources and in the process wiped out many plant and animal species. And in spite of having done irreparable damage to the eco-system, there are many amongst us who live in complete denial

Had read somewhere that Homo Sapiens are 99% animal and 1% human. And it is the 1% human which is the cause of nearly all the troubles in the world.

Friday, July 22, 2016

India @Rio - The Hopes

The Olympics are coming!!! It will be fortnight of cheers and thrills, jubilation and heart-break... and anecdotes. Everyone will have their own memory to associate the Games with.

After a high of London, India is going to Rio with their biggest contingent ever. 121 athletes will be competing with the very best of the world in 70 events across 15 sports. And with a big contingent comes hopes for a big medal haul. After all, post Beijing & London, winning has become more important than participation.

Having followed the qualifications very closely this time around, I can safely say, no one can predict an Olympic medal. Forget a medal, qualifying for the Games is a tremendous achievement. But how can one be a sports fan without awakening their inner Octopus. So here are my predictions for the Indian contingent at Rio. (Found a website which predicts Olympic medals table).

Hockey: 2 events
Men: After years of living in the glorious past, Indian Hockey had scraped the very bottom with non-qualification for Beijing followed by wooden spoon at London. But things are looking up now - Asian Games Gold (2014), World Hockey League Bronze (2015) and Champions Trophy Silver (2016). Add a new format with an extra knock-out round added, it becomes more of a lottery. All in all, raising Indian hockey fans’ hopes once again.
Women: It was a tremendous improvement for the team to qualify itself, after a gap of 36 years. A quarter-final finish would be a good result.
Expectations: Very High; Chances: Medium (Men); Unlikely (Women)

Archery: 3 events
Since the days of Limba Ram, Archery has promised much and delivered nothing. This time, the men’s team hasn’t qualified with Atanu Das being the sole representative in the individual category. Like last time, the women’s team and Dipika Kumari are all in good form. If (a big IF), they maintain the current form, a couple of medals can be added to India’s kitty.
Expectations: Low (after the London disappointment); Chances: Medium (in all 3 events)

Badminton: 4 events
Indian players have been consistently winning at the World Stage with Saina, Sindhu & Srikanth being ranked in top 10 for a long time also securing world championship medals.
Expectations: High; Chances: High (Singles), Low (Doubles)

Shooting: 11 events
One sport where multiple medals are expected (lots of them). Jitu Rai, Heena Sidhu, Bindra, Narang are amongst the favorites in their categories, but can’t count out the likes of Mairaj Khan, Apurvi Chandela, Chain Singh, Gurpreet Singh et al. But this is one sport with no room for error. Multiple world cups have thrown up different winners. Lets see who wins on the day.
Expectations: Very High; Chances: High (Count can be anywhere between 1 & 5)

Boxing: 3 events
The mess in the Boxing federation has ensured that Indian Boxing has regressed, with entries declining from 8 in London to 3 in Rio. Indian boxers have had to fight under the AIBA flag for the last couple of years because their own federation kept getting suspended. Even for Rio, there was a fear that they may not get to represent India. Shiva Thapa (current world bronze medalist) is amongst the favorites while Vikas Krishan & Manoj Kumar would certainly want redemption for their controversial exits at London. 
Expectations: Low; Chances: Medium (for Thapa)

Tennis: 3 events
Tennis broke India’s 16 year medal drought at Atlanta through Leander Paes. 20 years down the line, Paes is still going strong albeit in doubles. Speaks volumes of Paes’s longevity and India’s inability to produce another top notch player. Tennis should have brought in more medals, but players’ incompatibility/ego issues /bad luck have combined to ensure that it remains one of India’s biggest Olympics disappointment. The run-up to London was marked with bad blood, some of which has been spilled over this time also. Do not see any of the 3 doubles combinations going much farther in the draw. Interestingly, one of the medal predictor sites gave India a Gold in Mixed Doubles!!! (with the wrong pairing).
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low (Mixed Doubles is best hope)

Wrestling: 8 events
Post London, the expectations are high with India sending its biggest ever wrestling contingent. Run-up to the Olympics was marred by the Sushil Kumar-Narsingh Yadav battle. That High Court had to intervene in the selections left a bad taste but finally the Wrestling Federation stuck by its decision of picking the current world championship medalist Narsingh over two time Olympic medallist Sushil. (Quite a bold move).
Expectations: High (Yogeshwar Dutt, Narsingh, Vinesh); Chances: Medium (1-2)

Weightlifting: 2 events
Bucking the trend of every sport post an Olympics medal, Indian weightlifting has been in a free-fall since Karnam Malleswari’s bronze lift at Sydney. A succession of doping controversies even led to the country getting banned for some time. For Rio, India earned a quota each for men’s & women’s division. There is a good chance of a top 5 finish for Mirabai Chanu, but a medal will be an exceptional achievement.
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low (Chanu may lift a surprise though)

Athletics: 21 events
If we discount Norman Pritchard’s two medals at the 1900 Games, Indian athletics at Olympics has been mainly a case of participation being more important than winning. Our most celebrated moments are Milkha Singh & PT Usha missing podium finishes by a whisker. This time we have our biggest ever athletics contingent going to Rio. To give an idea of how far behind Indian athletics is to the rest of the world, many of the qualifiers had to break existing national marks to just meet the qualifying standards!!! Special mention must be made of Dutee Chand who had to fight to just be deemed eligible to participate as a woman.
Expectations: Low (Likes of Vikas Gowda (Discus), Lalita Babar (Steeplechase) should make it through to their respective finals); Chances: Nil (New national marks will be highs)
Following the recent crackdown on the doping front (ban on Russians & close watch on Kenyans), Athletics events might just throw interesting results.

Golf: 2 events
Golf returns to Olympics after 112 years. Given the spate of withdrawal by its biggest stars, there is a good chance it might not appear again in future. The sport will be missing many of the biggest stars following withdrawals and nationality restrictions. This opens up a slim chance for Anirban Lahiri & Shiv Chowrasia. Chances for Aditi Ashok are not that great in the Ladies side.
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low 

Gymnastics: 5 events
An Indian girl qualified for Gymnastics!!! And if Dipa Karmakar executes her Produnova Vault perfectly, India might be getting their hands on their most unexpected medal ever. 
Expectations: Low; Chances: Low

Table Tennis: 2 events
In Table Tennis, unlike Badminton, Indians haven’t been able to break the East Asian hegemony. All the 4 paddlers might win couple of rounds but don’t see them progressing much further.
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Nil

Judo: 1 event
Avtar Singh will be sole Judoka representing India at Rio. How much progress he makes will depend a lot on the luck of the draw.
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Nil

Rowing: 1 event
Dattu Bhokanal will India’s sole rowing representative. Has an interesting back-story of coming up from a drought-prone region to representing the country in a water sport!!!
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Low

Swimming: 2 events
2 swimmers have been allocated wild cards for Rio. Don’t see them progressing beyond the Heats.
Expectations: Nil; Chances: Nil

Olympic Medal Predictor Site says India gets a silver & a bronze. My prediction would be a tally of 5-8 medals. Will it be the known names? or will there be new ones raising the flag? The draws will also play a crucial role. A better measure of progress would be the number of athletes making different finals. After the sweat and toil, which they went through to just qualify (all unseen), now we add the weight of expectations of a nation of a billion plus watching.

Predictions done. Now to enjoy the grandest sporting spectacle as it unfolds at Rio. The run-up to the Games have been marked with controversies galore (reminding one of the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games). Hopefully it will be incident-free and bring positive news amidst all the gloom and doom unfolding in the world.

With best wishes to all the members of the Indian contingent.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

BookMarks #12: Great Expectations

Cover page of 1st Edition, 1861
Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Fiction, Social Life, First Person
Setting: Early 19th Century England
Published: 1861

Great Expectations tells the story of Phillip Pirrip or in short “Pip”. The story is a first person account from Pip. Pip narrates the critical events of his life as he grows up. And how the past events shape his life.

Pip is an eight-year old orphan, living with his cruel sister and her kindly husband, Joe, the blacksmith. One day he encounters an escaped convict, who forces him to get food and a file for him, which Pip does. Next day the convict is again caught by the police, but does not reveal Pip’s secret.

Sometime later Pip is selected for “playing” in a big house owned by an eccentric old woman, Miss Havisham. Here, Pip meets her adopted daughter, Estella, who makes life miserable for Pip. But Pip falls in love with her. After a few years pass in this routine, Pip is assigned as an apprentice to Joe in the forge. 

Mr. Jaggers, a lawyer from London, comes over to the village and informs Pip that he has come up with “expectations” from a secret benefactor, whose condition is that Pip goes to London and become a gentleman. Pip assumes this secret benefactor to be Miss Havisham. Pip moves to London for getting an education. There he stays with Herbert Pocket, a boy his own age and a distant relative of Miss Havisham’s. 

With his “expectations” on the way, we see a transformation in Pip’s character and his attitude towards Joe. He deems that Joe is an unworthy fellow and not a gentleman. Pip begins living a life of extravagance and is in debt. All this with the aim of getting Estella to marry him, something which he feels was also Miss Havisham’s wish. However Estella doesn’t reciprocate his feelings and gets married to another. 

Meanwhile Pip learns that his secret benefactor was none other than the escaped convict, Magwitch. He is initially repulsed by the revelation. Meantime he also learns that Miss Havisham, having been jilted in her younger days, was just toying with him with Estella. Slowly Pip’s attitude towards Magwitch also changes as he learns more about his life. Pip with the help of Herbert tries to take Magwitch along with him abroad, as Magwitch is still wanted for his crimes in England. However, they are caught and Magwitch is sentenced but is very ill. Pip also learns that Magwitch is Estella’s father. Pip tells Magwitch this secret before he dies. With Magwitch’s arrest, all his possessions are seized and Pip’s expectations are gone. Miss Havisham also passes away but acknowledges that she has done wrong with Pip. At Pip’s request she provides a regular sum for Herbert (who is unaware of this) to start his business. 

The ordeal takes a toil on Pip and he falls ill. He is taken care of by Joe, who also pays off all his debts. Pip feels guilty about his treatment of Joe. Finally, he starts leading an honest life working as a clerk with his friend Herbert. 

The book ends with Pip meeting a widowed Estella again at the Miss Havisham’s house. Estella asks for his forgiveness for the wrongs she had done. They walk out together, with Pip seeing “no shadow of another parting with her”.

Great Expectations is a story about characters and their response to sudden change in fortunes (theirs and others). It also tells the story of different social classes and how they look on each other. 

It is also a coming of age tale. The reader grows up with the central character as he matures from a scared young man to an extravagant adolescent to a wiser man. He sees wealth come to him and then go away but he does become a better person in the end. 

Society was quiet different then. A young boy being selected for "playing" at a spinster's home would certainly be seen with raised eyebrows now. Also many of the terms and phrases have gone onto acquire different meanings with the passage of time.

Previously on BookMarks: The Very Best of Common Man

Sunday, July 10, 2016

MovieNotes: Sultan

Title: Sultan (IMDB)
*ing: Salman Khan, Anushka Sharma, Amit Sadh, Anant Sharma, Randeep Hooda
Language: Hindi (in a Haryanvi accent)
Director: Ali Abbas Zafar
Genre: Sports

It's the Eid week, and in the Hindi film industry, that means time for a Salman Khan blockbuster. 

Basic Premise
The movie tells the journey of a happy-go-lucky fellow from the village akhara to international wrestling glory to personal tragedy and finally redemption via participation through a Mixed Martial Arts tournament.

Movie Notes
The Highs
The realistic sporting action sequences, especially in the wrestling part of the movie. The moves and the training scenes can be part of any wrestling documentary as well. The MMA action sequences however does go a bit over the top. Most MMA games wouldn't go that long with that much action. 

Even the training sequences are well choreographed. Like every sports film since 1975, they follow the Rocky template, training not just in the gym but also out in the open. And similar to Rocky's run up the steps, we have Sultan running up Raisina Hills.

The Sultan background tune is really catchy. And the one-liners keep the laughs coming, specially when the characters try to speak in English.

The Lows
The climatic fight has a little too much "melodrama". But then the makers have to take care of their core audience also.

Sultan may all about be Salman Khan but the actor himself is a misfit in the role. Why do the makers have to put in a 50 year old in the role of somebody 20 years younger? 

In today's extremely competitive sporting world, a 30 year old taking up wrestling and going on to become World Champion in a period of 3-4 years? Also taking on somebody in a much higher body-weight, not something any federation would ever allow.

And the Others
Since the success of Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, sports as a genre seems to have taken up the fancy of Bollywood. It is a welcome change from the usual romance and/or revenge dramas served up.

The movie is a series of product placements - Tractors, DTH, Ghee, Pressure Cookers, they are all there. Must have recovered a lot of cost in that. It also serves as a big platform for the promotion of MMA fights.

However controlled a performance he gives, Salman Khan's signature dance moves do tend to come out without any notice.

Rating - 8/10. A surprisingly well made film. Outcome vs Expectations on the lines of Bajrangi Bhaijaan.

Previously on MovieNotes - Udta Punjab

Saturday, July 02, 2016

BookMarks #11: The Very Best of Common Man

Title: The Very Best of Common Man
Author: RK Laxman
Genre: Non-fiction,  Humor, Compilation
Setting: India
Published: 2012

The Common Man needs no introduction to all Indians. Created by RK Laxman in 1951, the Common Man has been silently observing the many goings-on in India's journey. And bringing on a little smile in the grim business of news.

The Very Best of Common Man is a compilation of the hundred most memorable cartoons drawn over the years. The book begins with RK Laxman giving a brief history of political satire in India and the genesis of the Common Man. 

These cartoons provide a telling socio-political commentary on the state of the Indian nation. The most endearing aspect of the cartoons is their agelessness. Comments made on politicians in 1950s still hold true more than 60 years down the line.

With RK Laxman's passing away, the Common Man cartoon strip may have been discontinued. But he is still very much needed as he holds a mirror to the society and provides an anti-dote to all the bad news brimming on the front page of the newspapers. After all, as Mr. Laxman says in the introduction itself - "If things had gone the way our founding fathers had hoped, the cartoonist would have become an extinct species long ago".

The Creator & His Creation (Image Source - Wikipedia)
Previously on BookMarks: Frankenstein