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