Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Book Review: Thug By Mike Dash

Thug, (ठग), a member of the murderous Indian cult
Thug, slang for a gangster, a petty thief, or a minor villain, deriving from the above cult

For nearly two centuries, this lethal murderous cult made the life of the highway travellers hell throughout the central India, Rajputana and South (to some extent as well). Thugs were normal native people - nothing different about them - they used to do farming at their homes and then due to certain problems (like famine, bad crops, loans, etc...) they get onto highway and murder people for as little as eight annas.

The Thuggee cult was suppressed by the British rulers of India in the 1830s, due largely to the efforts of the civil servant William Sleeman, who started an extensive campaign involving profiling and intelligence. A police organization known as the 'Thuggee and Dacoity Department' was established within the Government of India, with William Sleeman appointed Superintendent of the department in 1835. Thousands of men were either put in prison, executed, or expelled from British India.The campaign was heavily based on informants recruited from captured thugs who were offered protection on the condition that they told everything that they knew. By the 1870s, the Thug cult was extinct.

'Thug: The true story of India's murderous cult' by Mike Dash is the result of three years of research in the voluminous archives of the English East India Company, preserved in London, New Delhi and Bhopal. Mike Dash gives a competent historical account of Thug beliefs and practice, through to their extermination by Sleeman and his men. This book traces the history of Thugs, looks into their lives, their modus operandi, their victims, their leaders and their decline.

A wonderfully researched and written book, Thug by Mike Dash, is a honest attempt towards understanding this controversial subject.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Visit To National Museum Of Natural History, New Delhi

Sometime back, on a Sunday, we made a trip to National Museum Of Natural History. The museum is location in the FICCI building on Barakhamba Road. Looking through their site, they boasted of several things spread across four floors. The museum has four exhibit galleries, namely: The Introduction of Natural History, Nature's Network Ecology, Conservation and Cell - The Basic Unit of Life.

But on reaching there, we were all very much disappointed. First of all, there are no lifts for the visitors - they are only for the staff. You have to actually climb stairs through the floors to view the exhibits on different floors. The air conditioning at nearly all the floors was not working; and with the whole floor a closed area, there was very stuffy environment inside. The exhibits on display were ill-maintained - some were looking like they have never been maintained from the time the museum was opened (in 1978).

Overall, a bad experience. What does the government expects from people if their museums are so ill maintained? Looks like nobody cares about these things anymore in India.

National Museum of Natural History,
FICCI Museum Building,
Barakhamba Road,
New Delhi-110001
Telephone: 91-11-23314849

Monday, May 26, 2008

Book Review: Desperately Seeking Paradise By Ziauddin Sardar

"Desperately Seeking Paradise" is a spiritual-cum-philosophical autobiography by British author and scholar, Ziauddin Sardar. In this book, the author is in search of the right approach for paradise (and please do not take it literally) - one notion which is termed as the prime objective for every Muslim. In his search, he joins one sect (or thought of school) and then gets dejected by its approach/thoughts/people etc... and then leaves it to join another and same thing happens there as well and then another and so on... His search takes him from Mecca to Bejing and all the other places, in between meeting with people like Zia-ul-Haq to Anwar Ibrahim, even attending a mujaheddin meeting with Osama Bin Laden in attendance, and him running into Iran's military police in times of Ayotollah. There is an entire chapter dedicated on 'The Satanic Verses' controversy - talking about how the author felt bad about 'The Satanic Verses' and the Ayotollah's fatwa as well. Here the author regrets that the core issue was buried under whatever political drama that took place around the controversy.

The book is filled with lots of information about various aspects of Islam, ranging from different terms associated with it to the current as well as traditional interpretation of different things associated. He also looks into different school of thoughts and poses a not-so-rosy picture of things. This book was written in pre-Iran, pre-Iraq, pre-Afghanistan era and with his descriptions one can relate to what is happening now and how its roots are related to those times only. The authors quest for a new initiative about "paradise-seeking" is not accepted in the traditionalist societies where the true meaning of Islam has been confined to having a beard sometimes. He also tries to understand what does Sharia means in actual terms and how it should be adapted in modern times - again he finds that societies just want Islam in totality but are never open to understand the totality itself.

I am not sure what to make out of this book - I am as confused about this book as the author is about his search. The main problem as seen by the author is that nobody is willing to listen to modernist Islamic views. Overall, a nice read for me at least - for understanding more about Islam and another face of it where there are modernist thoughts in plenty.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Unaccustomed Earth By Jhumpa Lahiri

After reading her two earlier (commercially) published works, Interpreter Of Maladies and The Namesake, I was eagerly waiting for Jhumpa Lahiri's next one - Unaccustomed Earth. And once again, I was spell bound by her literature. Unaccustomed Earth is truly wonderfully written and keeps the short story writing to the top. She is a master (short) story teller and this latest collection of short stories is another example of it. The best part about her short stories is that her characters are well defined and complex, her handling of the words is marvelous, her stories are never incomplete and they feel like a full novel.

The short stories in this work are:-
Unaccustomed Earth
A Choice of Accommodations
Only Goodness
Nobody's Business
Hema and Kaushik:
Once in a Lifetime
Year's End
Going Ashore

First five stories are individual in themselves while the last three are interconnected. In the title story, a young mother Ruma, is visited by her father, who forms a bond with his grandson. All the while, Ruma is unable to make a decision to ask him to stay with them or not and his father, on the other hand, is harboring a secret love affair. In "Hell-Heaven", a young girl narrates the story of her mother falling secretly in love, outside of her marriage, all the while not accepting it but feeling emotions of a jealous lover when her love marries another girl. In "A Choice of Accommodations", a husband's attempt to turn an old friend's wedding into a romantic getaway weekend with his wife takes a dark, revealing turn as the party lasts deep into the night. In "Only Goodness", a sister tries too hard to get her brother all the support to come out of alcoholism and in the end it threatens her own family. In "Nobody's Business", a young girl makes a wrong choice in love while her family is looking out eligible suitors for her and her roommate hesitantly tries to save her, nearly getting himself dammed in the whole process. And Hema and Kaushik, a trio of linked stories — is about the lives of a girl and boy who, one winter, share a house in Massachusetts. They travel from their foolish childhood to adulthood on separate painful paths, until destiny brings them together again years later.

I would say that I started this book with a prejudice and finished with it as well. But it never came in my way of reading this book from another point of view. It was just that I could not find faults in her writing - for me a fault is a boring phase through the book, a predictable story line or a complete lack of words and emotions. She kept me involved in the book all the while and never once I felt like what-am-I-reading. And for me that is a big thing while reading something. She has surely kept her high short story writing status well and truly intact throughout this book. Some people would say that she writes about confused Indian immigrants again and again and re-using her character set but then there is no deny from the fact that she is doing it wonderfully well.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"Malgudi Days" By R.K. Narayan

Nearly everyone of us (from my generation) would never forget the "Malgudi Days" we used to watch on the television in our childhood. That title music still lingers on our lips. To hear the tune, click here. Well, the serial was based on a wonderfully written collection of short stories from one of India's greatest novelist, R.K. Narayan.

It is a collection of short stories written by the author (around 32 in number) which are based in a fictional South Indian town of Malgudi. The fiction town of Malgudi has been imagined and described in such a form that it could be any town of India. The vast majority of the stories are less than ten pages long; several are under five; and only one is more than 20. Narayan wrote many of these stories under deadline, within the limits of word count and column length for The Hindu, a Madras newspaper for which Narayan had a contract for a weekly submission beginning in 1939. At the same time they all seem spontaneously and effortlessly composed. Each stands on its own, but they are inherently intertwined while remaining independent from each other. The only force binding them is the town of Malgudi.

The main characters in each of the short story is a real life character - be it a school boy, a retired old man, a gardener, a maid, post man, snake charmer, cobbler, a gateman or even a dog. They all seem so familiar (especially for people like me who were born and raised up in a small city - not a metro); they are people from every walk of life. In nearly all the stories, the description of Malgudi is very real-like - you can actually imagines its market place, its school, its main roads and other things while reading the stories.

Here are some of the best stories from the lot:-

Attila is a small pup in a family who is bought with the expectation that he will grow up to fierce and protector of the house, after all he has the right pedigree. He turns out to be the friendliest dog in the world and when a thief enters the house he turns protector in most unexpected fashion.

Leela’s Friend: Sidda works as a domestic help in an affluent household. His main task is to play with the daughter of the household, Leela, who is just a small girl. Leela is very fond of Sidda. One day her gold chain goes missing and Sidda is accused and handed over to the police. The chain is found later on.

Iswaran: In India, we seem to have very little tolerance for failure and Iswaran flunks his 12th board examinations more than once. He seems not to care and develops a tough exterior. This story rings true for many Indian youngsters even today.

Lawely Road: Lawely Road pokes gentle fun on the fixation of changing names of everything British after India got independence. In this story, the municipality wants to pull down a statue of Sir. F. Lawely with hilarious consequences.

Father’s Help: Swami (a small child studying in first standard) develops an headache in the morning just before school. Father is adamant that Swami has to attend school. Swami tells tales to father that his class teacher Samuel has a fascination of skinning people alive. Father writes a strong letter to the Headmaster of the school and Swami has to deliver it. The dilemma Swami then faces makes this story the best one.

A must read classic in my opinion.

Monday, April 21, 2008

A Visit To International Dolls Museum, Delhi

On the weekend, thinking about a place to go in the summer heat of Delhi, we zeroed-in at Shankar's International Dolls Museum at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. Since, there is no photography allowed inside it, I would not be able to share photos here but I would try my best to describe the place.

It was set up by cartoonist K. Shankar Pillai in 1965 with around 1000 dolls. It now has 6,500 dolls from 87 countries across the world making it probably one of the largest collection of costume dolls anywhere in the world. They have dolls from nearly every part of the world - including special sections on Indian dolls from different states as well as depicting different events through dolls (like Mahatma Gandhi's Dandi Yatra, Man's landing on Moon and much more). There are some very interesting dolls like Boys and Girls Festival dolls from Japan, replica Dolls of the Queen’s collection (UK), Maypole Dance from Hungary, Kabuki and Samurai dolls from Japan and Flamenco dancers from Spain.

For more information, visit their website by clicking here.

Contact Info:-
Shankar’s International Dolls Museum
Nehru House
4, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg
New Delhi 110002
Phone 91-11-3316970–74 (5 lines)

Timings:- 10 A.M. to 6 P.M. (Ticket counter closes at 5:30 P.M.)
Weekly Off:- Monday
Tickets:- Rs. 15 for Adults and Rs. 5 for Kids (below 12 years)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Book Review: From The Holy Mountain By William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple is that sort of a writer you would love to read just because he has written it. For me, he will always be such a writer. Every book of his has been good than the other one. He surely writes a lot about Middle East and Indian Subcontinent. In "From The Holy Mountain: A Journey Among The Christians Of The Middle East", he travels the Silk Route of ancient Byzantium through the present day Middle East retracing the AD 578 journey of John Moschos, a well known Byzantine monk, traveller and historian. All along the way he only sees a dying heritage in form of neglected monasteries, declining number of Christians and great sort of confusion among different religions in the region.

He begins his journey on Mt. Athos after seeing the older manuscript of 'The Spiritual Meadow' (the book by John Moschos), travels to Istanbul, eastern Turkey, Tur Abdin, then on to Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Egypt. Wherever he went, he retraces Moshos' route, visits remains of his era and tries to stay in the same monasteries as Mochos has done centuries ago.

All the while he notices that early Christian presence in the area was very significant and it has been declining steadily ever since. It has been sometime due to political suppression or sometimes just due to better opportunities outside - but in nearly each instance it has taken its toll on the region's culture and heritage. Some of the monasteries mentioned by Mochos are now extinct or destroyed either by time or governments. On the one hand, he notices the differences between Islam and Christianity getting wider and wider down the ages. On the other hand, he still find these religions intermingled together at some holy places praying together for miracles or babies.

Certainly worth a read for its rich description of the place, early times and understanding of current scenarios.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Book Review: "My Name Is Red" By Orhan Pamuk

Reading novels from Nobel Literature winners is not my cup of tea. So, when a friend suggested "My Name Is Red" to me, I was apprehensive to start. After all, it is written by Orhan Pamuk, Turkish writer and winner of Nobel Prize in Literature 2006 for his novel titled "Snow". My Name Is Red was written much earlier (in 2001) but still it would be an effort to read it - so as I thought. And, I was indeed correct. It is not effortless reading but it is surely worthwhile.

In general, Orhan Pamuk has been vocal about freedom of expression issues. In year 2005, he was forced to flee from his country due to the hate campaigns against him after he made a statement regarding the mass killings of Armenians and Kurds in Antolia. There were criminal charges brought against him for these remarks but they were subsequently dropped. I have earlier read some part of his Nobel lecture and his thoughts touched me a lot. An excerpt from his Nobel lecture is as follows (translation by Maureen Freely) :-
What literature needs most to tell and investigate today are humanity's basic fears: the fear of being left outside, and the fear of counting for nothing, and the feelings of worthlessness that come with such fears; the collective humiliations, vulnerabilities, slights, grievances, sensitivities, and imagined insults, and the nationalist boasts and inflations that are their next of kind ... Whenever I am confronted by such sentiments, and by the irrational, overstated language in which they are usually expressed, I know they touch on a darkness inside me. We have often witnessed peoples, societies and nations outside the Western world–and I can identify with them easily–succumbing to fears that sometimes lead them to commit stupidities, all because of their fears of humiliation and their sensitivities. I also know that in the West–a world with which I can identify with the same ease–nations and peoples taking an excessive pride in their wealth, and in their having brought us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and Modernism, have, from time to time, succumbed to a self-satisfaction that is almost as stupid.

My Name Is Red is a kind of murder mystery set in 1591, when the murder of Elegant Effendi, a painter in the Ottoman Empire, threatens to expose a blasphemy that has infected Ottoman court painters. It is rumored that a secret book commissioned by the sultan is dedicated to European artistic styles, which favours figurative arts (prohibited in Islam). Four miniaturists, under the guidance of a rival to the sultan, have been painting it secretly. Consumed by guilt, Elegant confesses one evening, inciting someone to murder him. The clue to which miniaturist murdered him hinges upon the nostrils of a horse: In a drawing found on the dead man's body, these nostrils displayed a distinct style. This story of the sultan's secret book and the murder is told in the first person from the point of view of various narrators, not all of them human. So we hear from the corpse, the lovers and the murderer, a gold coin, the color red, and many more. The characters talk with the reader directly, and nearly each chapter has its own narrator starting with the murdered painter himself in the first chapter.

Wonderfully written book.


Whenever a politician says he/she has sacrificed a post to work for the people, I do not believe him/her. So, when I heard the news that Rahul Gandhi has sacrificed a ministerial post for working at grass root level, I started laughing. Gone are the days of Mahatma Gandhi when such sacrifices were done (even then Mahatma Gandhi was not able to stop himself from running the government literally from his house). Now, politicians only make calculated gambles when they sacrifice something.

When Sonia Gandhi sacrificed PM post, it was termed as historic by her followers. "Historic", excuse me, she is a politician and she took a very well calculated step. Let Manmohan face the hostile opposition and run the government from her house. Otherwise she would have been targeted due to her foreign origin and she would not be able to remain "all-clean-and-clear". Same has happened with Zardari in Pakistan. By keeping his own control, he has remained good and became pseudo-PM as well.

If we want to talk about real sacrifices then let’s talk about numerous parents in India, who sacrifice their middle age and their old age for happiness of their children. Or, talk about numerous wives who still sacrifice their ambitions first for their husbands and then for their kids. Some of them even sacrifice their food for their kids. Now, this is real sacrifice - not "Rahul baba" declining a post. He was born with golden spoon - no matter how much he sacrifices he would still be with golden spoon.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Book Review: Freedom At Midnight By Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins

Freedom At Midnight is supposedly a non-fiction book written in fiction style by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins, first published in 1975. Although I would say that it is more fiction that actually a non-fiction book - some of the facts mentioned in it are controversial and biased. With all the fiction and fact thing being mixed, you will be left wondering if this book is a fiction book or factual one. The book covers the events around India's independence, starting from Lord Mountbatten's association with India to the death of Mahatma Gandhi. This book is surely one of the better accounts of the most important phase in the Indian subcontinent - especially India and Pakistan. The book covers different aspects to the Indian independence very effectively - who were the main people driving the whole process, who actually prepared the maps of India and Pakistan, what happened to the royal palaces/property/grandeur of pre-independence princely states, and many other such questions are handled.

One thing which I realized in this book is that it is somewhat biased towards Indian National Congress political leaders of that time and portrays Muslim League leaders in the negative shade. Well, I may not agree entirely with the authors - no one is just black or white - everyone has grey shades. And INC leader surely had their fair bit of share in grey shades.

Even though I would say that this is a better way to learn about those events. It is surely not a historical commentary of events - the writing style is simple and engrossing. Surely a one time read.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything

Whats great about this book is that it will change the way you look at things. Economics, for me, has never been my cup of tea. It is a science much bigger than reaching to Mars, I think. But this book is made for people like me. It is fun reading, all the while using data mining, to prove why things happen as they happen in terms of economics.

"Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything" is a book by Steven Levitt (University Of Chicago) and Stephen J. Dubner (New York Times). It proves that economics is not dull all time and not all related to finances most of the times. The book's topics include:
Chapter 1: Discovering cheating as applied to teachers and sumo wrestlers (See below)
Chapter 2: Information control as applied to the Ku Klux Klan and real-estate agents
Chapter 3: The economics of drug dealing, including the surprisingly low earnings and abject working conditions of crack cocaine dealers
Chapter 4: The controversial role legalized abortion has played in reducing crime
Chapter 5: The negligible effects of good parenting on education
Chapter 6: The socioeconomic patterns of naming children

Authors ask a lot of hilarious questions like: If drug dealers make so much money, why do they still live with their mothers? or Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? or Do real estate agents have their clients’ best interests at heart? or What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? or How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

The book was first published in 2005 and was a best seller, selling more than 3 million copies till now in around 30 languages. For many people, this book is an absurd book. But for me, this has been a "aha" effect book - nice one time read. Wonderful way of looking at things - it surely turns conventional wisdom on its head.

For more, have a look the book's official site.

Shoaib banned for five years

Suddenly, PCB wakes up and bans Shoaib Akhtar for 5 years for bring disrepute to the game. Hello, where have you been till now? You are the one who actually made him a star and gulped all his tantrums since the beginning. If there is a coaching manual on "how to destroy a cricketer", then PCB's handling of Shoaib should come as the highlighted chapter. Ball tempering, drugs, indiscipline, fake injuries and lack of commitment - you name it - and Shoaib has been linked with all of the cricket's bad things. But PCB always overlooked them all - just for their benefit - they made the man bigger than the game. And now it has destroyed a wonderful career - the most fascinating fast bowler will only be bowling in IPL for some days.

Well, money is a big deal but then cricket is not just about money. It is about pride.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Book Review: "The Namesake" By Jumpa Lahiri

Jumpa Lahiri has done it again. After her marvelous debut short story collection titled Interpreter Of Maldies, she has delivered The Namesake (now a Hollywood movie as well). If anyone had any doubt her talent after reading Interpreter Of Maladies, they would be surely removed once they finish The Namesake. The way she builds her characters early in the novel through short story type episodes and then weaves unexpected turns of events all through the novel is truly amazing and refreshing to read in today’s fiction writing.

Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli are immigrants to Boston from India when they give birth to their son. Their son ends up with the name of Gogol, just because his "good name" never arrives from his grandmother in India. Gogol hates his name and grows up as American as he can while his parents stick to their Bengali past. The unfortunate Gogol is tethered to this dual Indian-American life, never quite fitting anywhere. At first he shifts to Americanization, pushing aside the Indian rituals. But after a number of relationship failures and some few successes, Gogol is attracted to the comfort of his heritage. His perspective changes dramatically over the course of events, especially when he sets a bond with his father as well as the name given to him.

Jhumpa Lahiri has written a wonderful novel about immigrant lives, families, and bonds that can never be broken. Gogol’s story is actually a simple one, as lived by many Indians in America. This is surely one of the best ones in recent times.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Book Review: "Interpreter of Maladies" By Jumpa Lahiri

Interpreter of Maladies is a collection of nine short stories by Jumpa Lahiri. It won the prestigious Pulitzer prize for fiction in year 2000. It is Jumpa Lahiri's debut and it tries to capture the dilemmas of Indian immigrants and their identity crisis with themselves. The stories are mostly set in America and India.

The short stories are titled as
A Temporary Matter
When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine
Interpreter of Maladies
A Real Durwan
Mrs. Sen's
This Blessed House
The Treatment of Bibi Haldar
The Third and Final Continent

This is a remarkable collection from one of the most promising Indian American writer. The way Jumpa Lahiri makes the reader relate to her stories characters is hard-to-believe and need-to-read-to-understand. To write a short story is not an easy thing to do - there is such a short time to build a story and take it to its peak. But Jumpa Lahiri does this wonderfully. Although her message is through the lives of Indian immigrants but it could be globally related - that is the beauty of it - you do not need to understand Indian culture, aspiration, society and mentality to understand her stories.

Surely, worth a read. Short story-telling at its best in some of the stories.

"If" By Rudyard Kipling

A great inspirational poem

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master,
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Moonrise @ Satvik Resort, Bhimtal

A shot of moonrise as seen from The Satvik Resort in Bhimtal on 21st March 2008 at about 7 P.M. (courtesy Pulak Ranjan Shukla, founder of Satvik Resort). As per his observation over the past decade, before and after poornima (full moon night) near holi, the spectacular moon rise is visible and it appears very much coloured on Holi night.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review: "Notes From A Small Island" By Bill Bryson

Notes From A Small Island is a travelogue by Bill Bryson about his farewell journey through England, Wales and Scotland before leaving for U.S. so that to "give his children the opportunity to live in another country, his wife the ability to go shopping after 10 P.M., and rescue Americans from the delusion that they were being abducted by aliens" (all is his own words). He travels through his adopted homeland by rail, bus or foot and captures, as usual, the details wherever he goes.

The best part about Bill Bryson is his eye for detail and his laugh-out-loud humor. This book has the details part intact but the laugh-out-loud factor is somewhat subdued. If you are truly a Bill Bryson fan, you will be a little disappointed by this one - at least I was. The book is more about his experiences rather than the history, people and other local things for the places he visits. Also, the second part of the book goes rather boring with his same type of rant about hotels he stays in, strange place names, identical places etc. Maybe it is because, as he says, there is everything identical in all the British places.

Overall, single time read. Not as good as "Walk in the Woods" or "Down Under" but still it has its own moments.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Taslima is right

Yes, she is right when she termed Indian government of being no better than "religious fundamentalists". If a so-called secular Indian government cannot protect rights of an individual (that too an artist) then it is surely religious fundamentalism. This episode brings shame to the country and now wherever she will go, she will talk about her experience here with the government machinery and surely they would not be good.

For me, as an Indian, I feel bad about turn of events and the government’s inability to stop or correct them. I also do think that it is better to be a non-secular entity than being a pseudo-secular one (which I feel the current government and its constituent parties are). At least being a non-secular entity, you can be straight forward in your approach. It is strange that the government was all quiet when Taslima was being humiliated in Hyderabad or Calcutta or was treated like a fugitive in New Delhi/Jaipur - now she has every right to say what she is saying. What all does these politicians do to stick to their posts :)?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Book Review: "Transmission" By Hari Kunzru

Hari Kunzru's Transmission is a wonderful, witty yet thoughtful fictional novel about an Indian programmer who dreams of working in US, gets the opportunity, but finds it hard to survive there. It is a story about a computer virus, the man behind it and its effect on the global economy. It is also a satire on American culture and its technology dependence by means of the main protagonist's journey as well as other characters.

The main protagonist, Arjun Mehta, is a computer programmer & bollywood movie buff, who lands into his dream - working in Silicon Valley. But once he reaches there, he realizes that the reality is very different from the dream. His job is not what he desired and working is part time. Living in near poverty, he lands into a job at an antivirus company. When job cuts in the company threaten his job as well, he devises a plan - to create a virus named after his favorite bollywood actress, unleash it on internet and then become a hero by finding a "cure" for it. Unfortunately, he can't, and the things go out of his hand - the virus threatens the whole world economy and brings a lot of disgrace for his favorite bollywood actress as well.

Although the characters are shallow and the focus is more on their plight as well as satire over American culture, I feel this book is worth a read. Not as good as "The Impressionist" but still readable - easy read and funny.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Book Review: "White Mughals" By William Dalrymple

"White Mughals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-century India" is a marvellous non-fictional work by Dalrymple. The sheer detailness and vastness of the subject shows meticulous research done by William Dalrymple for this book.

The book is set in late 18th century and early 19th century India and tells the romantic affair and marriage between James Achilles Kirkpatrick, East India Company resident in Nizam's Hyderabad, and Khair-un-Nisa, a Hyderabadi nobleman's grand-daughter. I think I have put it very much in simple terms but this book is more than this love affair. It is a research into complex East India working during those early days as well as a research into their complex administrators and office bearers. It is a research into cultural, religious and political state-of-affairs from Indian perspective. It is a research into Nizam's & Maratha's political clout at that time as well as English and French impact on it. The book is solely based on historical archives from those times - never once Dalrymple tries to put unnecessary words into the main character's mouth. It is really a remarkable feat considering the sensational nature of the topic itself.

A great book and must read for anyone who likes to read about Indian history as well as Anglo-Indian legacy with East India Company.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review: "Eating India" by Chitrita Banerji

"Eating India: An Odyssey into the Food and Culture of the Land of Spices" is a book by food writer Chitrita Banerji about Indian cuisine, its evolution and present state of affairs. It is a wonderfully written book much like a travelogue - or a culinary travelogue. It is a journey filled with food culture across India - from the backwaters of Kerala to the Saffron fields of Kashmir. The most important aspect of this book is her attempt to cover obscure food traditions as well from the Parsis or Jews of India. Really a credible attempt.

For all the people who love good food and love knowing more about what they eat, this book will be worth a read. If you think you know a lot about Indian food then read this book to prove yourself wrong (at least I was proved wrong). The author has covered various aspect of Indian food which we are not aware of - like the impact of Portuguese, French, Dutch and obviously English waves in Indian history. It also touches upon the geographies, local customs, history and people of certain regions and the impact of all these factors on that region's cuisine.

If you are food lover, do read this book.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Review: "Three Cups of Tea" By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Very seldom one comes to reading inspirational non-fiction at its best. This book is one of them. If you are reading this review and have not read the book yet, my advice to you to read this one. It is not high on its literary merit but its on the top for its inspirational value. Tegu recommended this book to me and what a recommendation it has been. Thanks Tegu for this one...

This book is one man’s story about fighting poverty, cultural divide and educate girls in some of the remotest corner of Pakistan and Afganistan. It is also this man's answer to the increasing terrorism in these areas - as he says, for every child going into regular school (not extremist schools) he is reducing the terror factor. The man, Greg Mortenson, is a ex-army medic and a mountaineer. During this failed attempt to scale world's second highest peak, K2, he lands into a rather forgotten region of the Karakoram Mountains. And begins the extraordinary journey to defeat poverty and terrorism, one school at a time, in these areas. Inspired by the need to give back to the villagers who cared for him a lot, Greg starts a mission to build schools for the children. And then it spreads from one village to another, till the time it becomes a full fledged humanitarian organization called Central Asia Institute building schools, bridges, water systems, and vocational centers. Although he faces lots of personal, financial & political obstacles, Greg Mortenson works his way through them and is still delivering to people not just in Pakistan but also in Afganistan. And during his course, he is also shattering the very negative views people have about this region. Not every child is terrorist here as is usually projected.

This book would make you think before saying, "What difference can one make?” Read this book for not how it is written, read it for what it has been written.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Australian Brand Of Cricket

They say they are hard and competitive. But do they fall to the other side of the line more often than not while playing? I would say "Yes" as well as "No".

Yes, because I am an Indian and in recent past they have been involved with non-cricketing issues with Indian team members only. At those times, it feels like they are rude, arrogant and snobbish all at the same time. They sledge at people and when people sledge back, they feel bad about it and run to match referee to interfere. They cannot take other people's spit-at-the-face attitude while they are ones who started it all. I was most hurt by Andrew Symonds column in an Australian paper on returning from last Indian tour, where he took shots on everything about India - its people, its crickets, its climate etc... Well, if you feel so bad about India, whey are you then signed up for IPL?

Now to the other part - No, because this is the way their society is. They are born and raised tough - unlike Indians. Parents there take their kids to fishing & sailing trips which is unlike us. This is the way their treat their life and their sports and they are competitive about it. It would be pretty hard for us to understand what they are like. One thing is for sure that they love their cricket.

Overall, I think there is surely some extent of arrogance in Australian cricketers - especially after Steve Waugh left the stage. And it is easy to be arrogant when you are successful.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bulla ki jana mein kaun?

A great sufi song by Baba Bulleh Shah - one of the greatest sufi poets to walk on this earth.
Na maen momin vich maseet aan
Na maen vich kufar diyan reet aan
Na maen paakaan vich paleet aan
Na maen moosa na pharaun.

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen andar ved kitaab aan,
Na vich bhangaan na sharaab aan
Na vich rindaan masat kharaab aan
Na vich jaagan na vich saun.

Bulleh! ki jaana maen kaun.

Na vich shaadi na ghamnaaki
Na maen vich paleeti paaki
Na maen aabi na maen khaki
Na maen aatish na maen paun

Bulleh!, ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen arabi na lahori
Na maen hindi shehar nagauri
Na hindu na turak peshawri
Na maen rehnda vich nadaun

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

Na maen bheth mazhab da paaya
Ne maen aadam havva jaaya
Na maen apna naam dharaaya
Na vich baitthan na vich bhaun

Bulleh , ki jaana maen kaun

Avval aakhir aap nu jaana
Na koi dooja hor pehchaana
Maethon hor na koi siyaana
Bulla! ooh khadda hai kaun

Bulla, ki jaana maen kaun

Not a believer inside the mosque, am I
Nor a pagan disciple of false rites
Not the pure amongst the impure
Neither Moses, nor the Pharoh

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not in the holy Vedas, am I
Nor in opium, neither in wine
Not in the drunkard`s craze
Niether awake, nor in a sleeping daze

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

In happiness nor in sorrow, am I
Neither clean, nor a filthy mire
Not from water, nor from earth
Neither fire, nor from air, is my birth

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Not an Arab, nor Lahori
Neither Hindi, nor Nagauri
Hindu, Turk (Muslim), nor Peshawari
Nor do I live in Nadaun

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Secrets of religion, I have not known
From Adam and Eve, I am not born
I am not the name I assume
Not in stillness, nor on the move

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

I am the first, I am the last
None other, have I ever known
I am the wisest of them all
Bulleh! do I stand alone?

Bulleh! to me, I am not known

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Book Review: "The Age Of Kali" By William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple's fourth book, published in 1998, is again on Indian subcontinent (mostly India but also touches upon Pakistan & Sri Lanka plus a brief visit to Réunion, an French island in the Indian). It is a collection of essays collected through his nearly a decade of travel around the Indian subcontinent. The name, Age Of Kali, is a reference to KaliYuga - which is the time (as per Hindu cosmology) when world's imperfection's become so big that there comes a need to start the whole cycle of life afresh. He is surely an Indophile Scotsman, which become more evident after reading this book - where he (despite all the essays of political corruption, ethnic violence, and social disintegration) does feel for India's diversity and the will to survive all times. Nearly half of the essays in the book are not written in his usual travel chronicle style - they are more like interviews and interactions with people. And nearly, in each chapter, he asks some tough questions which the subcontinent is still facing. I would not say that the book is dark, but it would still make you think "why did not he found any happy stories to tell in India?".

Dalrymple covers a lot of ground including Bihar, Rajasthan, Vrindavan, Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Cochin, Madurai, Goa, Sri Lanka, Réunion Island, & Pakistan: Islamabad, Peshawar. He starts with Bihar, where he finds corruption, caste conflict, government breakdown, and general lawlessness to alarming extent. He then moves to Lucknow, once a beautiful pre-Raj city, where he finds its heritage decaying due to poverty, neglect, corruption, and being replaced by ugly concrete towers. Next is Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, a "temple town" where many devout Hindus believe Krishna still lives, and also heartbreakingly a place for many thousands of widows, who live lives of terrible poverty and suffering, the result of traditional Hindu society views on widows. Next significant essay is from Rajasthan, a tale of informal social workers among village women struggling to stop infanticide and child marriages and promote education for all children, focusing on a social worker who was raped and faced both caste and gender-based bias. Another good essay is about sati (the act of a widow throwing herself on her husband's funeral pyre); and his visit of the village where a famous sati case was reported in 80s. Then there are some essays on Bombay, Bangalore, Madurai, and Cochin. Next significant essay is a wonderful summation of his interactions with Tamil Tiger - he went to their core areas and met a significant leader as well. The most turning part of this essay is his meeting with the 20-somethings Tiger girls who were trained to give life for the cause. The essays on Pakistan consists of his interactions with Imran Khan, ultra-famous sports star turned politician; the ruins of the fascinating Gandhara civilization (a composite civilization influenced by the Alexander the Great), and an interview with and account of Benazir Bhutto and her family.

It is a good book, written with honesty and dedication towards India. Although some of the initial essays are depressing - but then India is not what you see on travel books.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Book Review: "The Men who killed Gandhi" by Manohar Malgaonkar

“Men Who Killed Gandhi” was first published in 1978. It is like a research work by the author where he tries to unearth the facts about Gandhi’s assassination. Recently, the book has been released with new documents, and rare pictures that leave the readers amused. Interesting archival records include copies of the Air-India tickets used by Godse and Apte to make the trip from Bombay to Delhi and back for the assassination and even their bills at Hotel Marina in Connaught Place where they stayed while carrying out their mission.

It is an informative book about historical facts but it reads like a thriller about a well-laid murder plan. It traces the whole events (partition of India, riots, Gandhi’s fast) leading to the assassination and the trial at Red Fort afterwards. The book tries not to take a side at all – which is a good thing provided the fact that neither of them (Gandhi or Godse) was justified. If Gandhi was not justified to go on hunger strike for releasing 55 crores to Pakistan while India was at war with them, Godse was equally not justified to kill somebody (and that somebody in this case was Mahatma Gandhi). The book states that both Godse and Apte were pledged to the cause of an independent and undivided India. And they held Gandhi liable for India’s division.

The book also points out the leniency with which police handled the events leading to Gandhi’s murder (including a failed bomb attack only two weeks ago). As per the author, if the police would have been fast enough (and would have cut through their internal egos/red-tapism) they would have surely caught all these persons earlier enough to avoid the assassination. On the other hand, book also points out the childish ways of the murders and their co-accused, how on each step they left some witnesses behind to identify them and bring them to justice. It also points out that how Gandhi was all together alienated from the realities of divided India and public sentiments during last days of his life – and paid with his life for that.

Book Review: "A Thousand Splendid Suns" By Khaled Hosseini

This is another wonderfully narrated novel by Khaled Hosseini. For those, who have read his first one, The Kite Runner, and appreciated it, would not be disappointed with this one. It is a great read. Written in his usual story telling manner - where he tells some unbearable events with so ease that they become readable – he tells a lot about human relations and how the will to survive is much bigger that the destiny to perish. This is a novel where at some point of time, you feel like putting the book down and crying our heart out. And for me, it is just a wonderful feeling – there are very few writings which can do this. He also has a way of making Afghanistan very real and its people come live in front of your eyes while you read his books.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” is a female centric novel. It makes the reader feel the plight of women in the conservative societies. It also highlights the impact of civil unrest on women specially. The story begins in 1964, ends in 2003, spanning over the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the defeat and withdrawal of the Russians that led to the warlords in-fighting, followed by the rise of the Taliban, and ending with the beginning of democratic rule in which the warlords are given legitimate posts in the government. It is primarily set in Kabul with some early incidents in Herat and later ones in Pakistan. It traces the life of two women, alternating between their points of views. First one, Mariam is from Herat, born as an illegitimate country girl to a wealthy businessman, married to a 30 years older Pashtun man in Kabul, and unable to conceive a child (victim of domestic violence due to that). Second one, Laila is a Tajik from Kabul itself, born to a literate family, looses her family in a rocket attack & brothers fighting for freedom over Soviets, and agrees to become second wife of Mariam’s husband due to his extremely calculated manipulations. The two of them, are initially repulsive to each other. But in due time, they gain each other’s sympathy and trust, and become inseparable. After living their lives like rats, as an act of desperation, Mariam kills her husband, allows Laila to run away to Pakistan with her true teenage love along with her kids, and goes to hell as per Taliban’s law. After Taliban’s fall, Laila comes back to Herat & Kabul to pay visit to Mariam’s place and starts a new life in Kabul working among kids affected due to civil war & Taliban rule.

It is an extremely moving piece of writing – well narrated. It is surely worth a read.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Book Review: "If God Was A Banker" By Ravi Subramanian

Generally I do not condemn books and writers but this book is an exception. If God Was A Banker is a debut fiction novel by an Indian writer, Ravi Subramanian. And I think after reading this, you would surely feel that why did I read it in first place. It is a totally amateur-ish, childish & naïve attempt at writing a book. It is not a book; it is more like an typical Indian movie. It is a story of bad boy & good boy, how bad boy reaches to higher things in life but finds himself tangled into his own web; and later realizes that he was bad and returns home and blah blah blah…

There are two main protagonists in this book – Sundeep & Swami. Both of them are from IIM (by the way, the writer is also an alumnus of IIM) – one is bad and the other one is good. While Sundeep rises to the top most position in a bank through his devilish acts, Swami raises to similar heights but with sanity. And then there is the climax, like a bollywood movie, where in Sundeep realizes that he has been bad; gets into organization enquiry and is fired (or asked to put his papers down) from the company. And then he realizes that it was all bad and blah blah blah…

The plot is very bad in the book. The characters are black or white – no gray. Each character would be established as soon as he enters the story – which shows that the writer is too immature. The novel is also loaded with unnecessary (read detailed) description of the sex escapades of Sundeep – totally crap and useless sleaze. The internal politics & working of so-called world’s number one bank has been shown in such a manner that it looks like a middle-man (one of the characters) runs it. And the only thing which people do there is either to screw colleagues wives or their lives. Ok, even if this all happens – what is the need to write a book about it? The novel is totally useless. Do not do the mistake of buying it. If you still want to read it – get your hands on someone else’s copy instead. After reading this book, I wonder how can a IIM guy write such a book – and he gets a publisher to publish it (well, this shows that he is from IIM).

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

भाई, क्या बात है?

गूगल ब्लोग तो हिन्दी में भी लिखता है। यह तो बहुत ही अच्छा हुआ। यह एक और सबूत है भारत के बढ़ते हुए प्रभाव का। और हमे यह फ़ायदा हुआ कि हम अपनी मात्र्भाषा में भी ब्लोग्गिंग कर पाएंगे।

Book Review: "The Kite Runner" By Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner is the debut novel of Afghan writer, Khaled Hosseini. It is also the first novel published in English by a writer from Afghanistan. And it is a wonderful book - so simple to read but yet gives subtle messages about life and human relations in between its pages. Khaled Hosseini succeeds in the blending of his drama with its context. His narrative takes the reader on a journey of self-discovery, where actions, memories and guilt are experienced.

It is a story of a wealthy Pashtun boy, Amir, from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul; his betrayal (and the guilt of betrayal) with his childhood friend, Hassan, son of his father's Hazara servant; his exodus from Kabul to Peshawar and then to United States when Soviets take over his motherland; his struggle in United States for earning. And finally, his return to Kabul when Taliban’s are ruling the country to rescue Sohrab, son of Hassan. All along the story, runs the course of other events in Afghanistan, from the fall of the monarchy to the Soviet invasion, the mass exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the Taliban regime.

The characters are so lovingly drawn - so flawed, so troubled. The story will make you laugh and cry, but more than anything, you will learn about Afghani people, who have suffered beyond words. It also highlights the human cost that the Taliban, and the Soviets for that matter, had on Afghanistan society.

Overall, a great read. You would not like to put it down once you start it. I would surely read other works by Khaled Hosseini based on my liking of this novel.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Bulleh Shah & Sufi Cult

.. Tere Ishq Nachaya, Theyya, Theyya ..

Your Love has made me dance to a fast beat,
theyya theyya,

come, O Great Physician,
else i breathe my last breath!

Your Love made a house within me,
i filled my bowl with poison and gulped it myself.
come quick O Great Physician, or i will die!

a peacock cries in this grove of love,
my pretty Beloved to me is Kaaba and Qibla.
You smote me with Love but never inquired about me.

Ishq (divine love) and fire are same,
but the heat of the love is intense.
fire burns the wood,
but ishq burns the heart.

water extinguishes the fire,
what is the remedy of love?

Gulam Fareed says:
nothing remains
where Ishq makes its abode.

black is my robe,
i am filled with sins,
people think i am darvish.

O Fareed wake up,
and wander around the world,
find someone blessed,
that you also be blessed.

come, O Great Physician,
else i breathe my last breath!

Your love has made me dance to a fast beat,
theyya theyya,

This is a translation (courtesy http://mysticsaint.blogspot.com/2008/01/abida-parveen-sings-bulleh-shahs-sufi.html) of a Bulleh Shah song.

In my opinion, Bulleh Shah is the greatest Sufi poet ever born on this earth. Some people may not agree with my thoughts and would like to compare him with Rumi and Shams-i-Tabriz. Because of his pure life and high spiritual attainments, he is equally popular among all communities. Scholars and dervishes have called him "The Sheikh of Both the Worlds", "The man of God", "The Knower of Spiritual Grace" and by other equally edifying titles. His writings are surely the pinnacle of Sufi literature.

Literally speaking, a Sufi is one who is pure or one who goes about with a woolen
blanket. The cardinal features of the Sufi cult are:
(a) God exists in all and all exist in God.
(b) Religion is only a way of life; it does. Not necessarily lead to Nirvana.
(c) All happenings take place as per the will of God; nothing happens if He does not ordain it,
(d) The soul is distinct from the physical body and will merge into Divine Reality according to a person's deeds,
(e) It is the Guru whose grace shows the way and leads to union with God,

The Sufis believe that there are four stages in one's journey to realization:
(a) Leading a disciplined life (Shariat),
(b) Following the path delineated by the Murshid or Guru (Tariqat),
(c) Gaining enlightenment (Haqiqat),
(d) On realization of truth, getting merged into Divine Reality (Marfat).

I have always been fond of Sufi music or Sufi spiritual people. The Sufi cult is akin to mysticism. And I think this is the one aspect which has pulled me towards it. I have been several times to the Dargah Shareef of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer and Hazrat Nizammudin Dargah in Delhi. And whenever I go to these places, I feel a kind of aura around their tombs – which I do not feel at other religious places. And this is one thing that takes me again & again to these places.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Book Review: "Neither Here Nor There: Travels In Europe" By Bill Bryson

In this book, Bill Bryson attempts to recreate the travel itinerary of his youth some seventeen years earlier when he backpacked across Europe with one of his high school friend; He is alone this time with rucksack and notebook. This book a mixture of his lively anecdotes, sharp observations, and flashbacks to his earlier tour.

The book covers Norway (Hammerfest, Oslo), France (Paris), Belgium (Brussels, Bruges, Spa, Durbuy), Germany (Aachen, Cologne, Hamburg), Holland (Amsterdam), Denmark (Copenhagen), Sweden (Gothenburg, Stockholm), Italy (Rome, Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Florence, Milan, Como), Switzerland (Brig, Geneva, Bern), Liechtenstein, Austria (Innsbruck, Salzburg, Vienna), Yugoslavia (Split, Sarajevo, Belgrade), Bulgaria (Sofia), and Turkey (Istanbul).

The book is pure entertainment (provided you must not fail to catch the humor there). He is quite honest about what he liked or what he did not liked. And he was prompt is downgrading his rating for a "well-known" place once he reached there and did not found it up to the mark. He also diligently lavishes praises on lesser known places. He surely avoids the usual travel writer obligation to adore every place (read famous places) they visit.

I know that some of you may find this book rather strangely funny - or, even absurd at times. But only if you're obsessed with political correctness, he may offend you, but he is democratic in his targets. He has some quite interesting observations to make. Although most of the observations are now out of the date (he wrote the book in 1990) but they are funny and a refreshing change from the breathless romanticism of so many guidebooks and travel brochures. He also shows that Europe and Britain aren't as perfect as they look from the windows of a tour bus.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Book Review: In Xanadu - A Quest by William Dalrymple

Most of us must have heard following opening lines of a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

The poem references Mongol and Chinese emperor Kublai Khan of the Yuan dynasty and his summer capital Xanadu or Shangdu (as popularly known). Xanadu has a significant place in western history as well because it was the destination of the most famous Marco Polo's trip from Jerusalem to China (which he called Cathay) carrying oil from Holy Sepulcher & presents from Pope Gregory X for Kublai Khan between 1271 & 1274.

In his book by name of 'In Xanadu - A Quest', William Dalrymple retraces the epic journey of Marco Polo from Jerusalem to Xanadu, the ruins of the palace of Kubla Khan, north of Peking carrying oil from Holy Sepulcher, in the summer of 1986. He calls this book as a quest - not a vacation - just because it involves hardship and suffering not accompanied by a vacation. An intrepid traveler, and entertaining writer, Dalrymple offers an anecdotal history of the people and places he encounters en route through Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, and the breadth of China. An overland passage through these closed countries is an incredible travel feat in itself.

Although I did not found this book to be as engrossing or interesting as some of the other ones by William Dalrymple. But still, this is not a great book; it is an interesting book. Much of the book is the usual stuff of travel: difficulties in getting official clearance; locals speaking funny (read faulty) English; stomach upsets due to eating strange food at various roadside eateries; staying at inns which are sometimes as dirty as roads outside; and so on. However, in some sections he writes about more interesting things like how dull Polo's own account really is, developments in Islamic architecture, the history of some of the places, recognizing Marco's Polo description of a place and mapping it into current state of affairs. In totality, an interesting enough book by a 22 year old (remember this was his first book).

Read this book if:
1. You love reading travel books which are not like essays.
2. You are on a vacation which has turned wrong - in this book you will find that it could have been worse :)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ishant Sharma & Perth

"Perth was won" - as they said in nearly every news channel for about 24 hours after India defeated Australia at Perth. But this blog entry is not about Perth. It is about a man (not boy) who is just 19 years old, is 4 test matches old. This is also about another man, who is 33 years old and has played 115 tests for his country. This is about a small session of play (nearly about one hour) when this boy of 19-year old bowled like I have never seen anyone bowl till now for India and made the life hell for this 33 year old gentleman who is surely regarded as one of the greatest batsman of this generation.

You must have guessed it till now - yes, it is about the fine bowling display which Ishant Sharma did to Ricky Ponting on the fourth day of the 3rd test between Australia & India at Perth. If you want to have a look at the bowling display, have a look at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAEXuMnw3tI or at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4UEW3luWzY.

This was Ponting as not seen before, a Ponting without reply. For more than an hour Sharma tortured him until he got his wicket. It was fast bowling at its best and it was heartening to see an Indian bowling like this. In the mould of West Indies giant Courtney Walsh with the way he hits a good length on seam and attains extra bounce, he traumatised Ponting. He put his heart out and was cutting the bowl into Ponting very sharply, had a couple of good lbw shouts turned down and eventually found the outside edge to produce a slip catch. And the moment he got out, Ponting just stood his ground in his follow through - he did not looked back but just felt that this was about to happen. If it would not had happened then it would had been justice denied for the young man & cricket in general.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Satvik Resort, Bhimtal – Experience of a lifetime

I visited Satvik Resort (http://www.thesatvik.com/) with my family & my in-laws during 29 Sep – 1 Oct 2007. We traveled from Delhi to Rampur through train and from there on we hired a cab. The road from Rampur to Rudrapur is pretty bad – full of potholes especially around Bilaspur. But after that, it is quite smooth. We got stuck in a traffic jam due to mud slide just after Haldwani (and eventually covered Rampur – Bhimtal distance in 7 hours), it was a respite to reach Satvik Resort and be greeted with herbal tea and warm home cooked food.

The Satvik Resort is a no-fuss, no-frill resort founded by Yoga Guru Pulak Ranjan Shukla. The USP is ‘experience of Satvik lifestyle’. It offers complete peace as it is half-a-kilometer before Bhimtal. The rooms are airy, well maintained, simple-yet-elegant & clean. We were pretty happy to find our rooms very clean and the bathrooms spacious plus clean. This is one thing which I personally like a lot in a hotel/resort.

Satvik Resort
Our room filled with morning sunlight

Never have I thought that food can be so tempting even when it has no garlic, onion & no meat. Yes, as per their Satvik experience, the cooking staff does not serves foods containing “tamsik” elements. The sitting in their restaurant is on low height chairs & food is served on low height tables as well. Food is served on “pattals” & copper bowl/glasses. And it is always served hot. They did a special lunch for us with focus on Kumaoni food during our stay.

Satvik Resort
Food was served in tradition Indian style

All the rooms face East direction, so we could see sunrise each day. On the first day, there were clouds and hence sunrise was not that spectacular but on next day it was pretty clear and I got several shots of sun rising from between of two mountains. It was much like how I used to draw it during my childhood. Our rooms were on 5th floor and there is a big balcony in front of rooms where we used to sit and have our morning or evening tea enjoying the views. The resort faces a valley and then mountains so it gives a feeling of openness.

Satvik Resort
Sitting area in front of our room

There are several excursion around like Naukuchiatal, Sattal, Nainital & others but we just visited the Bhimtal Lake & Naukuchiatal.

Go there for
- Relaxation
- Different living experience
- Tasty vegetarian food
- Beautiful sunrise

Bhimtal, Satvik Resort
Panaromic view from our balcony

Monday, January 14, 2008

Book Review: "Shakespeare By Bill Bryson"

I am not a great reader of biographies (or that too from Jacobean or Elizabethan literature) but I just finished a new book by Bill Bryson (and you say - but Bill Bryson is not about bioraphies). Yes, you are true - but this book is about a prominent figure from that era. The book surprisingly is not a travel book (oh thank god, I would not have to laugh-holding-my-stomach-till-I-cry a lot like I do while reading this travel books) but a biography of Shakespeare.

It is a very clean book - it actually does not gives its own theories about many mysterious facts of Shakespeare's life; but just tries to be itself. It is author's attempt to decode more of what Shakespeare was as a human being not as a writer. He traces William Shakespeare journey from Startford-upon-Avon to London (in Lord Chamberlain's Men) and then back to Startford-upon-Avon, where he died in 1616.

Bill Bryson highlights the major feature of Shakespeare's life (or whatever we know of him) - scant facts as we know. For example, it is rather strange to know that for nearly eight years of his life - nobody knows where Shakespeare was - before he actually surfaced as one of the most prominent play writer in London. Or, that there are hardly a dozen writings of Shakespeare in his own hand writing - and half of them are his signatures - each one different from another. And there is not a single painting of William Shakespeare in which we can say for sure how did he looked like - or even if the guy in the painting is indeed Shakespeare. Few records of Shakespeare's life survive, and there has been considerable speculation about matters such as his sexuality (just because he wrote a rather risque poem dedicated to an Earl & some sonnets of intense friendship), religious beliefs (just because it was so confusion out there at that time in general) and whether the works attributed to him were written by someone else (this is height of... !!). Bryson documents the efforts of different scholars (some bizarre and others more bizarre) - where each one tried to prove a point about Shakespeare's life. Consider this, an eccentric Delia Bacon, who developed a firm but 'unconvincing' (read "no proof") conviction that, Francis Bacon, was the true author of Shakespeare's plays.

Emulating the style of his famous travelogues, Bryson records episodes in his research, including a visit to a bunker like room in Washington, D.C., where the world's largest collection of First Folios is housed. Bryson celebrates the great era of English literature & London play circuits with facts rather then defining them on speculations. Bryson also points out that we know so little about Shakespeare because till hundred years after his death there was no serious attempt to write about his life - was it because he was not so popular at that time?

Overall, a nice read if
1. You love to read about history.
2. You love to read Bill Bryson, which I do.
3. You can imagine Jacobean or Elizabethan era and its descriptions.

Too Lazy To Update

I must admit that I have been too lazy to update this blog. There had been several occasions when I had thought of writing something for this blog but just had enough will to write it for the blog.

In the new year, I would be more active on this blog. Oh no... not another resolution...