Tell me not in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal.

When I go from hence
let this be my parting word,
that what I have seen is unsurpassable.

Friday, 19 December 2008

It's bliss to be back in Delhi.... Read More

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Happy holidays

The days just don't seem to end. My vacation starts this friday and it seems like it is a hundred years off. The last couple of months have been pretty stressful what with multiple release schedules in office and troubles with bank accounts, loans, cars and everything else under the sun at home. This leave has come at the perfect time for me. The best part is that it is compulsory - all employees have to take the next week off. So I will not feel guilty about running off without closing all issues here. I have added a week more to the leave of my own so that I will be back only next year.

I am going home initially but then the entire family is taking off to Puri. We might even visit Konark and Chilka if we have time. I have never been to Orissa. Actually, none of us have except my Dad. He has been there four times. It is one of his favourite places. We will all be traveling together after a long, long time. I am really looking forward to it.

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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Cinema: Two movies

Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye! is not a comedy. Sure it has lots of humour. But ultimately it is a tragic tale of a bright boy lead down the path of crime by his environment and his own greed, taken advantage of by everyone around him and then betrayed by all. It is to the film maker's credit that he manages to tell the tale with humour instead of with the usual dose of glycerine.
It might have something to do with the fact that I am from Delhi but the first thing that I noticed about the movie was its atmosphere. This movie has captured Dlehi in all its avataars. From the posh colonies of South Delhi to the run down mohallas, Oye Lucky! does for Delhi what Aamir did for Mumbai. Abhay Deol and Manjot Singh as the teenaged and adult protagonist are terrific. Abhay is quickly becoming one of my favourite actors in Bollywood today. His just being in a movie guarantees that it will be different from the run of the mill stuff. Paresh Rawal is great in all his roles. I did not understand the logic behind him playing three characters though. If there is some hidden meaning behind it I totally missed it. Both Archana Puran Singh and Neetu Chandra do justice to their roles. The pace flags a little in the second half but not so much as to prove distracting. This is probably where the director's first movie Khosla Ka Ghonsla scores over it with its tight pacing through out. I liked it the open endedness of the story and the morally ambiguous ending. Any attempt to tie all ends would have made it either sermonizing or clicheed. Dibakar Bannerjee set out to make a more difficult movie than his first movie which was an out and out comedy and has succeeded admirably. I would have liked to see this movie become a big hit but that will be tough considering that it does not offer push button entertainment like most audience seems to expect.

Dil Kabaddi seems less like a movie than a collection of random scenes taken from a different movie. It starts and ends abruptly and zig zags in between. For a movie which claims to be a comedy, very few situations have anything funny in them. The only saving grace of this movie is Irfan Khan. He practically carries the film on his shoulders. Khan has all the rib ticking scenes in the movie and does full justice to them. The movie becomes entertaining whenever he comes on screen and goes back to boring when he exists. Rahul Bose is totally miscast as a college professor and also has the most irritating story arc. But then he also has the best (and only) kiss. Konkona Sen is competent as usual, Rahul Khanna has nothing much to do and Soha Ali Khan is incompetent, again, as usual.

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Why should Pakistanis leave India?

Now that our Army and police have cleared the streets of Mumbai the self appointed moral guardians of our society have started stepping out from under their beds. Shiv Sena was the first to proclaim their return to action with another of their all too familiar diktats. They have proclaimed that all Pakistanis in Mumbai have to leave the country. I was watching a Shiv Sainik on TV calling all "rashtra bhaktas" to join them in driving out all the Pakistanis in our media yesterday. Their main targets are basically the people who are trying to make a name for themselves on the various television talent shows. Apparently, they (Shiv Sainiks) respect their(singers', actors', etc) art but they do not need Pakistanis in Mumbai. He also said that all producers and directors of television serials have been served notices to expel Pakistanis from their shows or face rashtra-bhatks's wrath. It is funny how these people are so creatively challenged that they cannot even come up with new speeches for their different agitations. Replace Pakistanis with North Indians or Muslims and you will get the speech they used in their "agitations" against those people. What is not so funny is how these people, who presumably represent a significant number of our countrymen, can never come up with anything that is constructive for our society. They are obsessed with dividing and destroying the fabric of our society. What harm have any of these Pakistanis done to anybody? They are ordinary people who are trying to realize their dreams with their hard work and dedication like millions of other Indians. How will driving them out help us? Why target them? The answers are simple. Driving them out will not help anybody but these people do not carry AK-47s and hence can be attacked without fear of retaliation. The people who attacked Mumbai did not ask for Shiv Sena's permission before entering Mumbai. They attacked Mumbai in broad daylight. They were easily recognizable after they fired their first shots. Where was Shiv Sena then? Why didn't this band of rashtra-bhakts come forward to protect their rashtra then? When all of Mumbai was out on the streets expressing solidarity with the victims of the attacks the leaders from Shiv Sena and MNS were conspicuous by their absence. Raj Thakeray has not issued a single statement since the attacks. The fact the a Bihari has been hounoured by the Maharashtra Governor for saving the lives of many Indians with no regard to his own life during the attack on CST has probably put a seal on his big mouth. I am waiting to see just how long this seal lasts. Probably, till he decides that the public has forgotten this inconvenient fact. We will never be able to face the enemies by dividing and persecuting helpless people or by pointing fingers at foreigners. Doing so will only serve to justify the actions of these extremists. The only way to face them is to become so strong and united ourselves that these enemies give up trying to divide us. In view of this fact, I submit to you that the only people that Mumbai and India do not need are these Shiv Sainiks and their copies.
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Wednesday, 3 December 2008

The newly awakened

Would the Mumbai attacks have caused such a furor among the public if they had been directed at the usual targets? There is no doubt that these attacks are completely different from those in the past, both in their nature and their intent. But they are not so different when it comes to the body count. The serial blasts in Mumbai claimed more lives. And as for the symbolic value of the targets, they are definitely not more important than the parliament. So why is it that this time we are so angry about it? Is it because this is the first time that the victims are not just the common people on the streets or trains? Is it because this time the victims are the people who "count" in our society, the ones who actually have a voice? People died at CST just like they died in Taj but I do not hear about their miserable fate on TV. Our society has traditionally shown a strange kind of apathy whenever the nameless and faceless people have been affected by violence of any kind. Take the last serial blasts in Mumbai. The media sang about the spirit of Mumbai for a day or two, the authorities offered condolences and things went back to just the way they were. The people who survived the blast just took the same train to wherever they had to go the next day. There were no protests, no vigils and no calls to change the system. This time things are different. TV screens have been taken over by celebrities who have suddenly woken up to the threat of terrorism. Chat shows are filled with current and has been Bollywood stars talking about how unsafe the country has become. Media is filled with accounts of how angry the people are. I do not understand who are the people they are talking about. The "aam aadmi" has been frustrated and frightened for years now. Who are the newly awakened people? Are they they people who are not affected by bombs in trains or richshaws because they do not travel in them. Have they suddenly started to realize that they too are vulnerable? If the answers is yes, it is both pathetic and encouraging. Pathetic because there is this vast segment of society which just does not matter, people whose lives and deaths do not evoke any reactions from any one who has the power or the position to better their lot. Encouraging because maybe finally, the two classes are identifying with each other. All that remains now is to unite the political class with them. Or will they have to become victims themselves too before that happens?
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Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Divided we totter

Mumbai police was not able to protect Taj and Oberoi from terrorists even though it had received information about their plans in September. It did not have resources to guard the hotels and also protect the rest of Mumbai from being ravaged by Raj Thakeray and his goons. The ATS chief who died fighting terrorists at CST was busy investigating Malegaon blasts done by Hindu fanatics from within the country. He probably didn't even get time to plan for threats from outside. Our public is more interested in real or perceived insults exchanged between communities than in threats from outside. We are all fighting against each other - Marathis vs. north Indians, Hindus vs. Muslims, south Indians vs. north Indians, Christians vs. Hindus, tribals vs. non-tribals, lower castes vs. upper castes. The list is endless. The ironic part is that in all the fights all the communities involved use the same arguments to justify their violence. Apparently, "someone else is always trying to humiliate them, demean their culture, rape their women, take away their jobs, or inflict some other horrible injustice upon them. They are just returning the favour". Is it so surprising that somebody from outside will try to take advantage of the situation? Every time we have fought against each other some one else has been there to exploit it to his advantage. All this makes me think. Can we really blame outsiders for trying to use our infighting to his advantage? After all, if we have so little sympathy, kindness, consideration or respect for our own people, why should an outsider have any such feeling for us? Our behaviour after the attacks has only served to justify the fact that we deserve to be taken advantage of. Look at how our leaders are behaving. The home minister of Maharashtra dismisses the attacks which took 200 lives as a "small incident". The chief minister of Kerela calls the home of a fallen soldier not worthy of a visit from his dog. Every political party is out to gain political mileage from the attacks. Every celebrity wants to turn the event into a PR drive. Every security agency is busy trying to pin the blame on somebody else instead of analysing and rectifying its own errors. If this is the way we react to these attacks, how will ever prepare ourselves for the attacks that are bound to happen in the future. We know they will happen but we are just not ready to give up our petty concerns and unite against them. Ariel Durant might have not been speaking of India when she said that a great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within but it sure fits us more than any one else in the world today. But we, as always, will just not listen.
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Monday, 17 November 2008

I am back...

Its good to be back after such a long time. My last post was two months ago. So many things have happened since then and I have so much to write about. I don't really know where to start. Its probably best to talk about the present first but I have had a completely uneventful week so there is nothing to talk about there. The week before that I bought a 6 DVD pack of Guru Dutt's classics and held a Guru Dutt film festival over the weekend. Needless to say, I was the only attendee. But more about that later.

I have been buying a lot of DVDs lately. The sale section at Crossword is to blame for that. They have a "Buy 1 Get 2 Free" offer going and I just could not help myself. I got Blade Runner - The Final Cut, Flags of our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima for just 600 bucks. I also bought the anniversary edition DVD of Lagaan at half the price. I also bought a whole lot of books. The great thing is that I didn't have to spend any money on them. I had got Crossword gift vouchers as prize for something I did at work and I spent all of them. I will ramble on and on about my purchases later. Right now I have to go for lunch. Bye...

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Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Mothers and sons

Margaret Alva has alleged that the Congress Party sold tickets to politicians before the Karnataka polls and that tickets are given on the basis of inheritance rather than on merit. While the first allegation has to be proved, the second can be easily verified by a brief glance at the list of nominees fielded by Congress in the last couple of polls. Neither of the two allegations are as earthshaking as the electronic media - perennially starved of news - would have us believe. Given the state of Indian politics it would be surprising (though probably not news worthy) if any aspect of our democracy is found to be free from corruption. I am pretty sure the opponents from the other parties have the same skeleton in their closets as well. This is the most probable reason they are not making as big a deal out of Alva's revelations as they could have.
The bit about inheritance being more important than merit is even more ridiculous coming from someone who has spent her life serving a party which has been ruled almost uninterruptedly by a single dynasty for the last five generations. Inheritance has always been of paramount importance in the Congress Party since it first came to power. In fact, none of the rulers from this dynasty have had any claim to the throne - either because of their talent or their experience - except for their inheritance. Ms. Alva is not concerned by the lack of democratic spirit in her party. She is merely miffed that her son was not allowed to benefit from the lack of it.

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Saturday, 6 September 2008

Chrome continued

I finally managed to try out Google Chrome. It was not a good experience. First of all, let me clarify that I know it is a Beta release and is probably not a reflection on how the product will turn out to be in later versions. However, being a software engineer myself I am aware of the standards a Beta release from any decent self-respecting company should meet. This release does not meet those standards. My take is that Google never meant to release Chrome for at least the next couple of months. They were forced to do so because information about it leaked out. Given a choice they would have resolved some of the major problems, stabilized the product and then announced it to the world. This is borne out by the nature of problems plaguing this release. The problems are mostly related to memory consumption, stability, compatibility, etc. These are short-term problems which are typically taken care of during intensive testing cycles which this release missed. On the other hand, the design decisions that went into Chrome are fundamentally sound and should pay rich dividends later in the product life cycle.
I did not sit and go through every feature of Chrome. Nor did I consciously compare it with other browsers in the market. Here are my impressions of the basic product in isolation:

User-Interface - Chrome continues the Google tradition of minimalist product interfaces. Google has maintained this tradition in all of its products till date and has been the gainer for it. The Chrome UI is very elegant and it does not miss out on any major functionality. Combining the address bar and the search bar is a very cool idea. Of course, once Google unveils the API kit to develop add-on plugins for Chrome, everyone will be free to add his/her own bit to the UI and mess it up. But then it won't be Google's fault.

Separate process for each tab - This is one of the design decisions that will have long term gains. Having separate process for each tab will insulate them from one another minimizing browser crashes. It will of course add a lot of overhead in terms of resource utilization. So if you have a not-too-high-end machine forget about Chrome. Also, as of now the product is too unstable to show any benefits of this design. Browser crashes are pretty frequent.

Grouping tabs into new windows - Another great idea. Often when I use a browser for a long time I end up creating a lot of tabs which I subsequently want to move to a new window. This feature will let me do that.

Incognito - A special window whose activity cannot be tracked? Great for watching porn. But enterprises will probably want to be able to disable this feature on corporate networks.

Buggy product - Some problems that I faced:
  1. I had opened five tabs and was browsing through the Times Of India website watching news clips and reading articles. After one hour of browsing the memory consumption reached almost 300 MB and the machine became very slow.
  2. I closed the browser but one instance of the process continued to show up in Task Manager. I had to kill the process manually.
  3. On Vista, if a browser instance is running, the machine hangs when trying to hibernate.

All in all, Chrome has the potential to become a great browser in the future but I am not going to use it till it becomes more reliable.
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Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Chrome woes

Google launched their new web browser yesterday. They call it Chrome. I am dying to install and try it out but for some reason it is just not starting up. Every time I try to start it, it gives an application error and shows an irritating smiley. The error log says that some essential files have not been installed. Downloading again and reinstalling does not help. Granted this is a Beta or trial version but I still expect some reliability from a software I install on my machine. And surely I should be able to expect better quality from Google. What makes it more frustrating is that hundreds of other people have already been able to try it out successfully. The web is full of reviews and screen shots. Meanwhile, I can only sit and sulk.

The offending screen.

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Monday, 1 September 2008

A Lazy Sunday

00:10 AM:
What!! It's midnight already!! Should really go to bed now. Have finished season one of LOST. This is a good time to take a break. Wait, lets just take a peek at season two.

03:15 AM:
Can't stay awake any longer. Have finished four episodes of season two. Going to bed.

06:30 AM:
It's morning already? And a hot and cloudy one at that. Feeling hungry.

07:00 AM:
Am sick of having noodles for breakfast every damn weekend. But its easiest to make. Why can't we have Chicken in Atta Noodles? It will be some variety. Feeling sleepy. Think I will go back to sleep.

10:30 AM:
Is that a door banging somewhere? Its very quite otherwise. Am I sleeping or am I awake?

01:00 PM:
Can hear noises outside my door. Roomies must have got up. Lazy bones!! Lets join them. Have to decide what to do for lunch.
Oops... they have already bought mutton. When did they go out? Whats the time? O my God! Its one already. I slept for that long?

02:45 PM:
Finished lunch. Mutton curry was delicious. Lets finish the remaining episodes of season two.

04:30 PM:
Did it have to rain now. It is making me feel sleepy. But I won't fall asleep. Otherwise I will have to spend the night awake. Now lets see where was I in LOST. Episode 16 or 17?

10:30 PM:
Must have fallen asleep. Whats the time? Shit!!

10:45 PM:
We have some mutton left over from afternoon. Just have to make rice.

11:30 PM:
Dinner is over. Now, since I will not be able to sleep anyway lets finish season two.

00:30 AM:
I was watching LOST. When did I fall asleep? What the heck!! Just turn off the lights and go back to sleep. Have to get up early tomorrow. Hope it does not rain in the morning. Have to go swimming . Already missed it on Saturday.

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Thursday, 21 August 2008

You have been erased!!!

Disaster struck in office on Monday. My computer refused to boot. I have three machines in my cube. I use two of them for (secret...wink, wink) developmental activities. The third is for communicating with the outside world. It is my email machine, the machine I use for browsing the net and, since the last few months, also the machine I use for blogging. In short, it is my lifeline. So of course, it had to be the machine to conk out. I had to spend a three days out of touch with the world. Not that it bothers me the least, I am only too happy to be left alone. But work suffered. I have got a new hard disk now and am back online. However, I have lost all personal data that was on the old disk. This includes online passwords, bank and credit card passwords and statements, pictures and everything else I had accumulated in the last three years that I have been using this machine. Its like the soft copy of the last three years of my life has been erased. Feels funny. Strangely enough, what I am most bothered about is the loss of a Eva Mendes wall paper that I had set as desktop background. It was a beautiful black and white portrait of the lady. I spent last evening looking for that wall paper all over the net but did not find it. Passwords and statements I can find again, but beauty lost once is lost for ever. I think I will now switch of the computer and spend some time mourning my loss. In case you haven't guessed already, I love Eva Mendes...
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Friday, 15 August 2008

Cinema: Mere Baap Pehle Aap

MBPA is probably the first film to show a father fantasising about his son dancing with lots of semi-nude women. Unfortunately thats the only interesting thing in the entire movie. MBPA is one of those movies which make you think more about what could have been than what has been. It is full of interesting sub-plots that have not been realised. It seems like Priyadarshan had lots of plots in his mind and could not decide which to make a movie out of till the end. As a result the focus of the movie changes from one scene to the next and justice is done to none. MBAP start of well enough. We see two friends past middle age, Rane and Mathur, who set out in search of a bride for Mathur. They encounter a series of hillarious misadventures with a strict cop, ACP B.B. and we think the movie is about to carry the adventures further. But then enters Rane's son and takes him away. We see a nice little family of two where the traditional roles are reversed and the son is the father's guardian. Now we expect the story to develop along those lines. But then enters an anonymous woman who stalks the son and claims to have been wronged by him in the distant past. But this story is disposed off hastily and the father is made to meet a woman from his past. At this point the film loses its way completely. Suffice to say that at the end of the mandatory three hours both father and son pass their agnipariksha and live happily ever after. Throught this time all I could think of were the half a dozen other movie that could have been made from each of the sub-plots. Take the story of Mathur and ACP B.B.. Everytime Mathur goes in search of a bride he ends up being hauled up by B.B.. Their story would have been interesting. Instead, we are merely told towards the end that Mathur has convinced B.B. to marry him and thats about it. Or the story of the father and the son in reversed roles. That would have been a first for the Hindi film indutry. But we don't get that either. And by the way, the baap here is the one who wants to get married while others don't want him to - exactly opposite to what is conveyed by the title and the promos.

Of the actors Om Puri is the worst. He is extremely irritating. He looks very uncomfortable (as he should) in a meaningless role dancing on beaches with babes in bikinies and leering at any woman who happens to be in front of him. He is only funny when he is with Archana Puran Singh as B.B. This is the first time I have liked this lady in any movie. She is the only one I felt sorry about. The charactor was tailor made for her and she was doing justice to it before being edited out of the movie. Akshaye Khanna and Paresh Rawal were competent as usual but they deserve a flop this time just for signing up for this movie. Genelia does not have much to do. I can't really find fault with the actors when they don't even have a story to back them up. All my venom is reserved for Priyadarshan. He has been going downhill since Hungama. This movie continues his descent. I just can not understand what he was thinking when making MBPA. Somebody should tell him that just having Rawal and Akshaye in a movie does not make it a comedy.

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Tuesday, 12 August 2008

A wall paper for programmers

I found a forgotten wall-paper when cleaning my hard drive of junk today. It is so hilarious I had to put it up here. It is a list of possible icons for various HTTP client error codes. I don't remember where I got it from. If I did I would have acknowledged it. Please let me know if I am violating any copyrights.

For illiterates: HTTP codes are the mysterious numbers you see on your browser when you are not able to access a web page. These numbers tell you (or will tell you if you have the sense to interpret them) what the problem is. For example, 404 means the page (or resource) you requested could not be found.

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Sunday, 10 August 2008

Cinema: Aamir

Why would a terrorist organization go to all the trouble of forcing an unwilling man to commit a terrorist act by kidnapping his family when it has thousands of volunteers who would do the task willingly? That's the question that bothered me all through the movie. If you can ignore this question though Aamir is a pretty good movie. It is the kind of inexpensive no frills movie that I like. The plot is simple. The protagonist, Aamir lands in Mumbai from London. As soon as he gets out of the airport somebody throws a cell phone at him. He is wondering what to do with it when it starts ringing. Aamir takes the call. The caller tells him that his family has been kidnapped and he will have to follow certain instructions if he wants to free them. The movie follows Aamir all over Mumbai as he deals with the situation. All the action happens in half a day. One situation follows another and the action almost never lets up. It does get a little tedious for a little time in the second half before picking up again for the climax. This is mainly because of the lack of characters and dialoges. The movie concentrates exclusively on Aamir. We see only brief hazy shots of the caller on the phone. Some other minor characters turn up from time to time to help or hinder Aamir. This is not a big problem for most of the movie as Rajiv Khandelwal as Aamir is more than able to carry the film on his shoulders. He is perfect as an ordinary guy who does not understand what is happening to him. He just wants to go home to his family and carry on with his life. It is all like a bad dream for him. I especially liked the part where he finally realizes what all this is about and reacts to it. Aamir is a very well shot movie. It captures Mumbai like few movies have done. In keeping with the no frills look, there are no songs or heavy background tracks.
I have heard Aamir is actually a "remake" of a foreign film. Since I have not seen that movie I cannot comment on that. Even if it is, that does not bother me. A creatively made remake may sometimes surpass the original. Aamir is a serious effort at making a realistic suspense thriller and it has succeeded.
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Friday, 8 August 2008

Bookmarks: Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie

I got yet another Poirot mystery from my boss yesterday. Its called Elephants Can Remember. After reading it what I truely want to say is: I wish they couldn't. Christie is nowhere near her usual top form here. There is no real mystery for the reader here. Christie's forte is in letting the reader see all that is visible to her detective, sharing all clues with him, letting him try to figure out the puzzle on his own and still surprising him in the end. Here unfortunately, the reader is able to figure out the solution long before Poirot gets to it. I found myself struggling to concentrate on the plot after the first few chapters, a thing that rarely happens between me and Christie. One of the reasons was the distracting attempts at humour. These come from the person Mrs. Ariadne Oliver. This person is said to be a caricature of Christie herself. Now, I for one believe that caricatures do little to improve any suspense thriller. They merely loosen up the plot. I have never liked this character in any of Christie's novels and must confessed to being biased from the outset. But even by her usual standards, Mrs. Oliver was a little too irritating this time. For instance, the first three pages were devoted to describing her trying on her hats. And it is she who brings up the reference to elephants. Having made her point she, or rather Christie, should have let go of it. But elephants keep coming up in all conversations up to the point where they become tedious. So between Mrs. Oliver and elephants we somehow get to the climax in the twentieth chapter but it isn't really a climax because we already know the solution somewhere around the fifteenth chapter. And to top it all the motive for the crimes is really sentimental mush. The whole plot hinges on the fact that multiple women loved a man and he in turn loved multiple women. The ending where everybody is professing his/her love for everybody else was really embarrasing for me. For anyone not obsessed with eading all Poirot mysteries, reading this one would be an elephantine waste of time.
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Bookmarks: The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu

After completing Rabindranath's biography, I have run out of new books to read and have taken to rereading the old books on my shelf. The first such book was The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes by Jamyang Norbu. Norbu attempts to fill in two missing years in Sherlock Holme's life between his apparent death in The Final Problem and reappearence in The Adventure of The Empty House. By his own admission Holmes spent the two years in Tibet disguised as a Norwegian named Sigerson. Norbu takes this as his point of departure and follows Holmes in his travels in India and Tibet.

TMSH is a delightful pastiche. Jamyang Norbu has maintained seamlesss continuity from Doyle's stories in both language and atmosphere. His description of 1890s India from the bustling crowds of Bombay to the hills of Shimla is superb. His recreation of Thibet and the forbidden city of Lhasa is fabulous. My personal favourite is the passage describing the traveler's first view of the city as they enter through its gates. Norbu draws his characters from not only Doyle's stories but also from Rudyard Kipling's works, Kim being the most prominent among them. Since Watson cannot be here his shoes are filled in by Babu Hurree Chunder Mookerjee - one of Kipling's creations - who becomes the Bengali Boswell to Holmes. In fact, the tale is populated throughout with characters from Kim and the language is nearer to Kim's than to any of Doyle's works.

The book has decidedly political overtones. This is not surprising given that Jamyang Norbu is an eminent Tibetan political activist fighting for its independence. The events in the book happen in 1892, the Tibetan Water-Dragon year. This is just about the time when China was making her first moves to grab Tibet. Setting the story in this year allows Norbu to introduce a political backdrop. Needless to say, all the villains are Chinese.

TMSH is an extremely well researched book filled with interesting nuggets of information about the peoples, events and places of those times. The narrator is an enlightened Brahmo Samajist and is as such familiar with most of the prevelant philosophies and scientific theories of his times. One of the most amusing conversations in the book takes place when a character mentions that the light waves are electrical and magnetic vibrations. Though we know it to be true today, our narator, true to his times, dismisses it as bakwaas and having "nothing scientific about it"

(To be completed)

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Monday, 4 August 2008

An online conversation...

Transcript of a chat I had with a female friend of mine this afternoon. My friend requested anonymity. So I have removed my her name. Otherwise it is a word to word transcript spelling mistakes, sms lingo and all.

i see you'hv been writing quite a bit:)

yes :)

Sent at 12:55 PM on Monday

u know what
this is the season for girls

as in?

most new babies are female
a frnd of mine had a girl
she is the thrd frnd to hv a girl
last year it was all boys

i thot...
lots of women proposing to you

i wish :(

come on
with such writing
you'll be a hit among women journos

i dnt know any journos :(
neways writing is the last thing women look for

what do they look for then?

writing indicates brains/intelligence

women like that

women luk for dumbos

i thot men look for dumbos

of course they do
both luk for dumbos


and since the world is full of dumbos of both sexes
nobody has any problems hooking up

and getting married

except a few poor souls like me

me too
me too:)

Sent at 4:13 PM on Monday
i thot u said u r surrounded by intelligent people in ur co. :)

i am...
some women
men r married

same here with women

Sent at 4:17 PM on Monday
u know wht this is a funny conversation
i will post it on my blog
after hiding names
u mind?

go ahead
but hey..
no names

yeah i said that "after hiding names"

Sent at 4:21 PM on Monday

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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

A look at Ekta's Mahabharata ... finally

After reading post after post on Ekta Kapoor's Mahabharata on Jabberwock's blog (honestly, the guy is obsessed with it) I finally got around to seeing it this Monday. It did not disappoint. The acting is horrible, the dialogue is contrived and the direction is pedestrian. The costumes of course are ridiculous. The sets are pretty good though. At least, they are not the usual Amar Chitra Katha style sets first created by Ramanand Sagar for Ramayana and adopted by every director since.
Two things stand out among all others. One is the furious pace of the serial. It covered Dhritarashtra and Pandu's marriage, Pandu's curse and the birth of the Pandavas and the Kauravas in one episode. Coming from soap opera makers who don't make their actors utter a single word without zooming in on their faces from half a dozen different angles this is amazing. Unfortunately, it not done very gracefully. There is a rushed feeling to things here. It is as if they are telling a bed time story to the audience and are worried that the listeners will be late for bed. It also does not let the audience appreciate the significance of these momentous events which shape the epic.
The second thing I noticed was the absolute lack of screen presence in any of the actors. It is hard to distinguish between all the royal princes and princesses. All of them look alike. One can't help comparing them with the cast of B.R. Chopra's Mahabharat. Whatever the shortcomings of that serial, the casting was absolutely spot on. This serial is supposed to bring together the reigning stars of Indian television. Not that I have any respect for the quality of Indian television today but I did expect to see at least a couple of actors capable of leaving their mark on some of the characters. Seems like I was expecting too much. The only actor I did remember between scenes is Shakuni who was trying so hard to look evil that I almost felt sorry for him.
All in all, it was an humourless and empty experience.
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Thursday, 17 July 2008

An old blogger and a new one

Sis has finally published her first post. Now I can add her blog to my blog roll. She has named the blog darkness. She is not very happy with it and is looking for a better name. I am really imporessed with her post. I didn't know she could write so well.

Olive Riley, said to be the world's oldest blogger has died. She was 108. I visited her blog The Life Of Riley to check it out. There are hundreds of comments, all expressing grief and offering condolences. The lady seems to have had a lot of fans. Personally, I think its all a bit of a farce. I mean, this woman never even used a computer in her life. The blog acknowladges that posts were from a documentary film maker called Eric Shackle. He and his wife used to get Ollie to tell them stories about her life and then write them down, edit them and post them. That does not make Ollie a blogger. It makes Eric Shakle a blogger. I could get my mom to talk about her life, write down whatever she says and post it regularly. That won't make her a blogger. It would be my blog. At best, it would be a blogumentary (I think I have coined a new term here).

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Tuesday, 15 July 2008

I've got plenty of common sense...

I am a huge fan of Clavin and Hobbes. Here I have collected some of my favourite quotes from Calvin and Hobbes.

Calvin: People who get nostalgic about childhood were obviously never children.

Calvin: Girls are like slugs - they probably serve some purpose, but it's hard to imagine what.

Calvin: Dad, Look! The sun's setting and it's only 3 o'clock.
Dad: It's not 3 o'clock. Your watch stopped.
Calvin: Time doesn't stop if your watch stopped?
Dad: Nope.
Calvin: Phooey. For a moment there I thought I'd get rich patenting this thing.
Dad: I'D have bought one.

Calvin: Why can't I stay up late? You guys can! IT'S NOT FAIR!
Dad: The world isn't fair, Calvin.
Calvin: I know, but why isn't it ever unfair in my favor?

Calvin: I was put on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I'm so far behind I will never die.

Calvin: I liked things better when I didn't understand them.

Calvin: Art is dead! There's nothing left to say. Style is exhausted and content is pointless. Art has no purpose. All that's left is commodity marketing.

Calvin: Talking with you is sort of the conversational equivalent of an out of body experience.

Calvin: Sometimes when I'm talking, my words can't keep up with my thoughts. I wonder why we think faster than we speak.
Hobbes: Probably so we can think twice.

Calvin: I was reading about how countless species are being pushed toward extinction by Man's destruction of forests. Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.

Calvin: I can't sleep, Hobbes. I've been thinking.
Hobbes: About what?
Calvin: Well, I suppose there's no afterlife. That would mean this life is all you get. And that would mean I'm sitting here in bed as precious moments of my all-too-short life disappear forever.
Mum: Honey, wake up. Do you hear the television on?

Calvin: The world is a complicated place, Hobbes.
Hobbes: Whenever it seem that way, I take a nap in a tree and wait for dinner.

Calvin: I've been thinking, Hobbes.
Hobbes: On a weekend?
Calvin: Well, it wasn't on purpose...

Hobbes: Are you making any resolutions for the new year?
Calvin: Resolutions? ME?? Just what are you implying? That I need to change?? Well, Buddy, as far as I'm concerned, I'm perfect the way I am! For your information, I'm staying like this, and everyone else can just get used to it! If people don't like me the way I am, well, tough beans! It's a free country! I don't need anyone's permission to be the way I want! This is how I am - take it or leave it! By golly, life's too darn short to waste time trying to please every meddlesome moron who's got an idea how I ought to be! I don't need advice! Everyone can just stay out of my face!

Calvin: I've got plenty of common sense. I just choose to ignore it.

Hobbes: It says on the back of this record that the composer could play the piano at age three. He wrote his first symphony when he was four. That's amazing.
Calvin: When I was four, I think I was toilet trained.

Hobbes: Let's ask the Ouija Board another question.
Calvin: OK, I've got one. Oh great Ouija Board, will I grow up to be president?
Hobbes: It's moving!
Calvin: "G... O..."
Hobbes: "D... F... O...R... B... I... D."
Calvin: When I want an editorial I'll ask for it, you stupid board!

Calvin: I wonder if you can refuse to inherit the world.
Hobbes: I think if you're born, it's too late.

Hobbes: How come we play war and not peace?
Calvin: Too few role models.

Hobbes: Do you think there's a God?
Calvin: Well, SOMEbody's out to get me.

Calvin: Who's the bimbo with you in this old prom picture?

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Sunday, 13 July 2008

Bookmarks: Tintin

What is it about Tintin and his escapades that makes them my favourite comic adventures? I really cannot put a finger on it. What is even more puzzling is that my favourite hero is not Tintin. That crown belongs to Spiderman. Spiderman, with his emotional conflicts, the desparate-to-be-normal attitude and existential dilemas, torn between love, friendship and duty facinates me. Any ordinary man faced with huge responsibilities and even huger decisions forced upon him can identify with the dimunitive college boy who suddenly has to look after the whole world. Tintin, on the other hand, presents no such problems. His world is a black and white one, made up of a hero, his sidekicks and a bunch of villains. A one dimensional character who can put any psychologist to sleep, he jumps from one problem to another with the alarcity of a school boy. The only things that keep him alive are his luck and the imbecility of the villains. One would think, Tintin is only for little boys who have not yet started to expect the world to be grey. Yet, strangely enough, I have not stopped loving him since the day I first made his acquaintance. And its not just me. People far older than me are diehard Tintin fans. I have seen middle-aged fathers discuss Tintin among themselves with the same animation as their sons. It seems like people never really outgrow the Tintin-phase of their lives. I can ascribe only one reason for it. That is the simplicity of Tintin's world. Tintin never tries to fit into the adult world. He is happy in his world where good people are good and bad people are bad and you can always know one from the other. Whenever we are stressed, frustrated or plain bored we can escape to his world where we can solve all our problems with a little bit of luck and a little help from a dog.
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Saturday, 12 July 2008

Bookmarks: An Epic Retold

I finished re-reading "Prince of Ayodhya, Ramayana Part-1" yesterday. Ashok Banker's retelling reads like a fairy tale. Now I have no objections to retelling Ramayana like a "The Hobbit", (I enjoyed it well enough to have any), but I would have been happier if Banker had not gone about it in such a light hearted way. A darker tale in the style of LOTR would have been more enjoyable. Banker has attempted to convey a sense of a vibrant and mischevious Vedic Bharat. That is a refreshing change from the "prim and propah" image of those ages we get in the traditional tellings of the epics with adarsh pita, adarsh mata and adarsh putra. Rama and his brothers are typical 15 year olds who happen to be extremely talented. Banker's Rama is much more human with his doubts, weaknesses and emotions without having to live upto the reputation of a God. He actually feels anger at his father leaving his mother for a younger Kaikeyi, kills a poacher for resisting arrest and takes lives with glee when the lust for battle is upon him. This is very different from other works where the you find Rama given a secular treatment only in academic discussions. Having said that, I should add that this is just the first part of the story and I do hope that Rama does not tramsform into an avataar by the time his adventures end.

However, Banker would have done well to give a little more attention to the settings of the story. I found it very difficult to believe that Rama loves Marathi and Bengali food. But the real low point was having Ayodhyans cooking in tandoors during Holi. For Heaven's sake, tandoors in Vedic Age!!! One other thing, why does everybody speak in Hindi? I failed to understand why Banker tries to give the impression that he is translating from Hindi for the benefit of his readers. He could just as easily have made characters speak in Sanskrit - which was the language of the educated classes in those days. There were no Bengalis, Marathis or Malayalis then. And most of all, there was no Hindi. Moreover, Rama certainly did not dance the bhangra during Holi. All these points take away from the authenticity of the story. However, these inconsistencies may not be apparent those not very acquainted with Indian history (this book marks the US debut for Banker - and is presumably targetted at Westerners).All in all, its an enjoyable book. Ashok Banker is no Tolkien or Shashi Tharoor, but he certainly can write a good story and retelling The Ramayana is not for the weak-hearted. I give the book 3 out of 5.
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Eating Out: Kobe Sizzlers, Pune

This is a review I had written quite some time ago for another blog. As that blog has disappeared, I thought of adding it here as part of the restaurant review series. It is dated Thursday, May 25, 2006.

Kobe Sizzlers opened a branch in Aundh quite some time ago but, with one thing or the other, I never got around to try it out. So last sunday, I convinced P and A to accompany me there. They had never had sizzlers. I told them sizzlers are just the kind of food they like and they will enjoy it. Now both A and P are die hard traditionalists. They don't like anything out of the way in any aspect of life, more so in matters gastronomic. It was unethical but what the heck, I was desparate... Anyways, we went there at around 9:00 PM. It was crowded as hell (the people of Aundh certainly don't like cooking at home). We ordered soups for starters. I had chicken sweetcorn soup while they had chicken soup. Both were excellent. Going on to the main course, we were stuck over the menu for sometime due to the lack of options. They have only steaks on their menu. Granted they have many (and I mean it) varieties of it, but what if I don't want to have steak. And in India, very few people have beef. I guess they realised it as well and have kept two varieties of "chicken steak". Predictably, A and P opted for chicken steaks. I asked the waiter for the best item and he said satellite steak. So satellite steak it was. Sizzlers take a long time to prepare, and there was no crowd worth looking at there, so we got bored for sometime. When the dishes came, my friends were shocked to see that they were expected to eat what they described as "slabs of meat covered in leaves" and nothing else. Anyways, I had no such problems and attacked my food immediately. Satellite steak, however strangely named it may have been, was good. The amount they serve is quite large and I had to exert myself to finish it off. My friends lessened the fun somewhat by keeping up their comments - pata nahin kaise log patte ke saath meat kha lete hain - but I managed to enjoy my dinner. My major complaint is the small menu. There is absolutely no variety in it. Though the food is good, if anybody wants to have sizzlers I would recommend Yanna's. Their food is just as good, and they offer much more variety (since it's Yanna's sizzlers and wok). P and A are definitely not going to go back there. And as I am not going to go there alone, I don't think I will be going there any time soon. Read More

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Blogging from my car

I am blogging from my car. I came home today to find that I had left the keys to the flat inside. I was going to go back to office to get P's keys when P called. He said he would be coming home in an hour or so. So I decided to wait it out in the car. Luckily, I had the laptop with me.
Posting on Ekta Kapoor's version of Mahabharata inspired me to google for all screen adaptations of Mahabharata till date. Its quite a list. I had no idea that the first movie version of Mahabharata was made way back in 1920. Its a kind of hard to imagine the epic as a silent movie. Wish I could see it. There have been a few attempts to dramatize Mahabharata by westerners too. The most famous one seems to be Peter Brook's The Mahabharata. The western critics have been effusive in praising it. Indian critics have been less kind. See the article Peter Brook's Mahabharata by Pradeep Bhattacharya. I am thinking of putting the movie on my must watch list. There was a rumour that Mani Ratnam is going to make another version of the epic. Don't know what happened to that. I would understand if he chickened out. It's not an easy task. Recently, Amir Khan announced that he wants to make Mahabharata but he will need 10-15 yrs for that. Hope he will be able to satisfy Mr. Pradeep Bhattacharya.
Its already more than an hour since P called. My laptop battery will last another 38 mins. Still waiting...

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Kunti Ke Bete

What kind of a name is Kahani Hamaraay Mahabharat Ki? It sounds too much like Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki for me to expect it to be any different from it. If Ekta Kapoor had to name the serial with ‘K’, Kunti Ke Bete would have been a better name.
I had recently said that all mythologies being aired today have the same standard for special effects as the B.R. Chopra’s Mahabharat two decades ago. It seems like this one has done better on that score. But only marginally. But what’s with the costumes? All characters have a Conan-the-barbarian in a dhoti look. That is true for most such serials like Dharam-Veer, Prithviraj Chauhan and now this.
My favourite screen version of Mahabharat was a serial called Mrityunjay. It was told from Karna’s perspective. Unfortunately, it was taken off the air after a few episodes. Mrityunjay was not the sort of serial to appeal to the Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki loving crowd. Hence the demise. Another class work sacrificed on the altar of mass appeal.
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Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Bookmarks: Reading Poirot

I and my boss have discovered that we share a passion for mystery stories. He is a huge fan of Hercule Poirot and has the entire Poirot collection. My regard for Poirot is second only to that for Sherlock Holmes. I have a small Poirot collection of 12 novels. We have agreed that we are going to exchange books. I am afraid it is going to be a one-way traffic of books. I have nothing that he does not already have. He has been lending me the novels two or three at a time for the past couple of weeks. I have already read Mrs. McGinty is Dead, Murder in the Mews, Lord Edgware Dies and the The ABC Murders. I am currently reading Appointment with Death. It is beginning to head towards its climax.
The book which had me most engrossed was, surprisingly, not a Poirot mystery but one without any detective.It was And Then There Were None. I read it over the weekend. I had asked for it even though Poirot is not in it. I had seen the movie Gumnaam a very long time ago. Someone had told me it is an adaptation of this book. I have been wanting to read it ever since. I was not disappointed. It is one of the most chilling murder mysteries I have ever read. Agatha Christie’s works usually appeal to the head and not the heart. This is an exception. I could not help sharing the helplessness and the fear of the characters as the unknown murderer selected his victims one by one. I had forgotten the movie sufficiently to be kept guessing till the end. And there was no hero to rescue the heroine in the book as was in the movie. I finished it in one sitting.
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Monday, 7 July 2008

Once upon a time in India...

I have taken the title for this post from an email my friend H sent me this morning. The mail contained stills from popular serials that were aired on Doordarshan when we were kids. It brought back a flood of memories from those days. The days when Doordarshan used to be the only channel around seem so long ago. I cannot remember the last time I watched Doordarshan. And yet, there was a time when our daily schedules were regulated by program timings on Doordarshan. The most maddening part of the day was the news hour. Father insisted on watching both the Hindi and the English news. He claimed that the english version contained more information. I failed to find both the difference between the two and why he didn't just watch the English version. What made it worse was that he demanded absolute silence during that time. News hour coincided with dinner time. So we were never allowed to talk during dinner. But it was not all bad. Apart from the special breakfast mom used to make on Sundays, Doordarshan was what made Sunday mornings so special. Mornings started with Chitrahaar at 7:00 AM. That was my and my sister's only chance to see newly released movies as we were not allowed to go to the theaters back then. Chitrahaar was followed by Disney Hour at 8:00 AM. The whole family used to gather around the TV for Ramayan at 10. That ended at 11. Everybody else moved off to do whatever they wanted to do after that. But my day was just starting. I used to stay glued to the TV for the english programmes that came later. Doordarshan provided me my first taste of western serials. My introduction to Agatha Christie was through David Suchet's Poirot. I faintly remember another serial called Bay of Danger. It involved a lot of flying in a sea-plane. I have never heard it being mentioned anywhere since then.

I can go on and on about Sunday mornings but I don't want to risk being called a bore. Though I am strictly against putting up copied material on my blog, I could not resist putting up the images from the mail. Here they are with my notes (couldn't resist those either):

The slowly revolving logo with the accompanying trademark music which used to indicate the start of any program. I don't think Doordarshan has changed the music even today. And rightly so. No other channel has been able to create a signature tune which identifies it to the viewers. All of them have to resort to something on the lines of "You are watching XYZ" to announce themselves.

The most irritating image on TV ever. It was always accompanied by a mind numbing metallic whistle. I lost count of the number of saturday movies that were spoiled by this image. This was one thing I will never be nostalgic about, ever.

Complan really did work wonders for these two. Did you ever imagine Complan boy and Complan girl would go on to become what they are now? Ayesha Takia still looks the same as she did then. Only a little plumper. Its hard to guess that the boy is Shahid Kapoor. Incidentally, I watched these two romancing each other in the eminently forgettable Fool N Final just yesterday.

Vicco turmeric,
नहीं कॉस्मेटिक,
Vicco turmeric आयुर्वेदिक क्रीम

I have never used Vicco turmeric cream, but I thought the lady in its ads was simply the most beautiful woman on television then. She went on to played the role of Ahilya Bai in The Great Maratha. I have seen her in a couple of saas-bahu serials which I don't care to remember.

वाशिंग पाउडर निरमा, वाशिंग पाउडर निरमादूध सी सफेदी , निरमा से आए,रंगीन कपड़े भी खिल खिल जाए
This ad showed a lot women creating a lot of foam while washing a lot of white clothes with just a spoon full of Nirma washing powder. I still hear people humming its jingle.

Few screen adaptations manage to retain the spirit and atmosphere of their sources as well as Malgudi Days did all those years ago. Even today, I cannot read any of R.K. Narayanan's works without placing his characters in Shankar Nag's Malgudi. I think this still is from the episode about an old man (pictured) whose son comes back from the US with an American wife.

Enough has been said about the phenomenona called Ramayan and Mahabharat. I won't add to it. Just for the records, my favourite was Mahabharat. I can't help noting though, that the mythological serials that are aired today have the same sloppy standard for special effects that these serials had almost 20 years ago. I guess poducers rely more on viewers' devotion for TRPs than on production values.

Not a patch on Karamchand or Reporter. I was old enough to judge things like plots and production values by the time Tehekikaat was aired. I don't remember ever being satisfied by its resolutions. But it was fun to watch none the less. And definitely better than the later serials like Raja aur Rancho,etc. I think it was Saurabh Shukla's first big break. He played the role of Vijay Anand's assistant.

Before Discovery, NatGeo and History channels made their debut in India, there were Surabhi and Turning Point. As far as I remember, Surabhi used to be aired on Saturday nights. It was as popular as Ramayan in our house. I remember sending answers to the weekly quiz quite a few times. I did not win even once. Thats not surprising really. The response the quiz generated every week would compare with what todays reality shows generate and that too when sending postcards was the only ways to participate. The government introduced special competition postcards priced at INR 3 just for these competitions. Turning Point was hosted by Girish Karnad. He used to give away prizes for best questions on science every week. I sent a number of questions but never won.

Shyam Benegal's adaptation of Jawaharlal Nehru's Discovery Of India was one of the best serials ever aired on Indian televsion. It is difficult to accpet anyone other than Roshan seth as Jawaharlal Nehru. Bharat - Ek Khoj was part of Doordarshan's sunday morning treats. I was an avid follower. I still remember a few of the episodes which moved me most. The ones on sepoy Mutiny and ancient Vijaynagar, for example.

I didn't realize, I have rambled on for this long. This must be the longest post I have ever written. I have got to stop right now. Have to go and cook dinner anyway.
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Sunday, 6 July 2008

Eating Out: Sarjaa, Pune

I have just got back from dinner at Sarjaa. The Sunday night dinner is a like a ritual with me and my roomies. We never ever cook on Sunday nights. Instead we head out to one or other of our favourite restaurants for a have-to-slog-for-next-5-days kind of dinners. Truth to tell, there aren't many places we like - Pune is definitely not the place for non-vegetarians like Delhi or Hyderabad are. Sarjaa in Sanewadi is one of our favourites. In fact, we have been going there, every Sunday for the past few weeks. In my humble opinion, Sarjaa is the best place for non-vegetarian food in Pune. I have to hasten to add my reasons for conferring this crown to Sarjaa before there are any howls of protest from anyone. I have tried almost everything on their (varied) menu and I have not had a single complaint so far. My favourite in the starter section is Murg Ghee Roast. Roshali Kabab and Tandoori Murg come close second and third respectively. My favourite mutton dish is Mutton Rara while Murg Bhuna takes the honours in Chicken items. If you ask the staff though they will, for some unknown reason, recommend Murg Kalimiri. It is a tasty preparation but for me it comes after Murg Chatpata. Sarjaa is an Indian specialty restaurant and understandably the Chinese and Continental menus are limited and not quite up to the mark. But then, if you wanted Chinese or Continental food, you would go to a specialty restaurant in the first place. What you get here is authentic Indian food along with a great ambiance and terrific service. I am not much of a drinker and cannot vouch for the bar though. Their bar list is long and they stock what they advertise, which is more than can be said about many other places I know. It is a perfect place to take your family to. Also a safe bet for a first date.
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Saturday, 5 July 2008

Of Posts & Comments

Blogging has suddenly become a craze among my friends. NJ and C have already started their own blogs. Others are still at the planning stage. All of them have different reasons for blogging. NJ and I started our blogs on the same day. She said it was for putting down random thouhts that walk through her mind. She has not been able to move beyond three posts one of which was about why she has started blogging. I can only hope that thoughts have not stopped walking about randomly in her mind. C, always the financial genious, has filled his blog with Google Ads. His stated objectve in starting the blog is to earn money from the ads. I tried explaining to him, that the way Google Ads work, it will take atleast 30 yrs for that cheque from Google to reach him. He retorted that if he gets $100 after 30 years it will still be $100 he wouldn't have got otherwise. I can't beat that logic. He posts pretty regularly. No body will accuse him of doing nothing to earn his $100. His posts are always about the stock markets and performance of companies I don't know even exist. Being a complete moron in all matters financial, I find it tough reading any of the posts from end to end. I have read his disclaimer though. It is hard to miss, being longer than most of his posts. It says that C is not responsible for any opinion anyone might form after reading his posts. Before I read it I had no idea, anyone can say a simple thing like that so many times in so many ways in a single paragraph. The weirdest though, is my little sis. She told me she had got an account from Blogger and had tried posting but, somehow, the title of the post had become the title of the blog and the post had disappeared. That was around a month ago. Yesterday, she wanted to know the difference between a blog and a post. I tried my best to explain all the terms but I have no idea if it has made any difference to her. Her ways are mysterious. I have never pretended to understand them.

Most puzzling though are the comments I am getting from the few people who have read my posts. Or rather, the diverse methods in which I am getting the comments. I have enabled comments on my blog but you won't find a single comment there. So sir, that way is too simple. My readers prefer giving comments in person. It is probably because are people who know me personally. I get stopped in office corridors and parking lots to be told what so and so thought of that post I put up last week. Friends give their opinions over IM and mails or over phone. The weirdest was a friend of my sister's. He read my posts, pinged my sister on GTalk, sent his comments to her over chat and asked her to copy-paste his comments to me next time she chats with me. He also added that it would make me happy. I have been trying to figure out a more complicated way of commenting on any post since I got his comments. I am ashamed to say, I have not been able to come up with any. And I am not even going to try to understand why his comment is supposed to make me happy. However, people, especially people who are little sis's friends, have to be humoured. They ususally have the best intensions in mind. Their comments are always welcome irrespective of the ways they choose to convey them in.

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Designing the blog - II

Continuation of Designing the blog

I spent last evening exploring ways to give the blog a more profesional look. I have already done all that can be done within the Blogger framework. Now I want to go beyond that. I discovered two important sources of information. The first is from Blogger itself. Its called Blogger in Draft. Its the place where where Google lets users test out widgets and tools that might not be ready for widespread use. To access it, log into instead of You may find options for new page elements that have not appeared in the regular dashboard yet. I got the search widget from there. It is a very useful addition as it allows me to search for any keyword in all posts in my archive so that I do not have to go and search manually. It takes an awful lot of time to load though. I am still not sure that I want to keep it. Thankfully, the rest of the blog loads without problems. the second source is a treasure trove of tips and tricks. This place is called Download Squad. Its a team blog and this post talks about enhancing blogger blogs. It also has links to other resources for enhancing the blogger experience. I have made quite a few changes mentioned there. My favourite is the Tag Cloud in the side bar. I have wanted it for sometime now. Another, change is that the Blogger navigation bar is no longer there. My blog is entirely my own now. Except the domain. I will have to change that soon.

What I really want is a tabbed layout. I found a few hacks which claim to enable that. I am not entirely satisfied with any of them. Guess I will have to implement one myself. Till then I will have to stick to the current layout.

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Friday, 4 July 2008


Today I had the most relaxed day in office yet. Boss took the day off and a network problem in the lab brought all work to a stop. I spent most of the day in the cafeteria or surfing, playing and chatting. I knew the day was going to go well right from the morning when I had breakfast with the most beautiful girl in office. Right after I came back to my cube after breakfast, the lab network had to be shut down. That took care of work. I had to make one brief presentation which went off without a hitch. After that it was all play. But one can’t stay in the cube doing nothing for long. So I had to leave office early. My weekend has begun…
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Designing the blog

I have been trying out various themes for the blog. I want something very simple but elegant. Something in keeping with my "its the content that matters" approach to blogging. If I am writing something I would want it to be easy to read. Contrasting background and foreground colours (black-on-white, white-on-black) without too many decorations are the easiest to decipher. Most themes are too fancy or too colourful or just plain distracting. Also, there seems to be an abundance of themes which center all content in the middle of the screen leaving lots of empty space on the sides. Can't figure out the reason for that. Why not utilize the whole space? The only theme I could find which fulfilled all my requirements is "minima stretch". But I am already using it. So I guess I will have to stick with it. I think all these considerations of space utilization and readability comes from being trained as a software engineer. When designing products our biggest concern is usability followed by optimum resource utilization. Every decision is made keeping these two points in mind. Blogger themes have obviously not been designed for software engineers.
Now for layout. I want to create a website-like look for my blog. Unfortunately, Blogger does not support web-pages like Wordpress does. So I am using simple links on my side bar. Wish I could at least have drill down links from Cuisine to Reviews and Recipes. But thats also not supported. I have also added a visitor counter and a blog roll. The counter is courtesy StatCounter. Its the best I could find and free. I intend to add my favourite blogs to the roll. Looks like I am all set.
Now for the content...
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Thursday, 3 July 2008

A rose by any other name? Never...!!!

I hated my name when I was a teenager. "Rajorshi" seemed long (especially when combined with my double barrel surname), out of fashion and nobody seemed to be able to pronounce it. Worst of all, most people pronounced it "Rajoshri" which is a feminine name. For a fourteen year old boy, that was the ultimate humiliation. Filling up forms used to be a headache. My name always exceeded the space available. All this made my name the biggest source of unhappiness in my otherwise peaceful teenage life. My parents, on the other hand, were delighted with it. They just could not understand what the problem was. Which was why they were shocked when I announced that I would be changing my name. I had decided on "Rishi". A shorter, more pronounceable and, in my opinion, trendier name. My parents, of course, did not agree to it. And, since I was a minor I could not change my name legally without my father's permission. I was furious. I raved and ranted and then begged but he was not moved. He advised me to wait till I was eighteen and then do what I liked with my name. But he was not going to be a part of it. I never did change my name. By the time I turned eighteen I had completely changed my views on it. I had even begun liking it. In hindsight, my father's decision was the best.

Say what you will, but I love my name now. It gives me a sense of identity like nothing else does. It is deliciously ethnic and quintessentially Bengali. And now that everything ethnic is in fashion, it seems trendy too. Surprisingly, somehow people generally have no trouble pronouncing the name anymore. So everything should be alright now. But no, I have a new problem now. Some people have started shortening my name and calling me "Raj". It annoys me to no end. This name reminds me of that atrocious Shahrukh Khan movie called DDLJ. I absolutely hate that movie and, by association, this name. "Raj" is so bland and so devoid of character that it makes me feel invisible. I think NJ was the first person to call me "Raj". Since then, a few people in office have started calling me that. Apparently, "Rajorshi" is too long for them to remember. I think it is unfair. Why should my name be mutilated just because they are too lazy to remember it? Well, I probably can't do anything about the people who already call be "Raj", but I will damn well make sure nobody else does so.

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Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Define Life

The condition which distinguishes active animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, functional activity and the continual change preceding death.
Concise Oxford Dictionary, English

Myô, Inochi:
The totality of one's existence including karma. the totality of one's existence including karma.
Teachings of Nichiren Daishônin, Japanese

Complex physico-chemical systems whose two main peculiarities are 1) storage and replication of molecular information in the form of nucleic acid, and 2) the presence of (or in viruses perhaps merely the potential for) enzyme catalyst.
Penguin Dictionary of Biology, US

1 a: the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body
b: a principle or force that is considered to underlie the distinctive quality of animate beings
c: an organismic state characterized by capacity for metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction
Life noun (plural lives) capacity for growth, functional activity, and continual change until death.
Merriam-Webster OnlineEnglish

1. The aggregate of the animal functions which resist death. Bichat.
2. The state of animated beings, while they possess the power of feeling and motion. It commences in contemplation of law generally as soon as the infant is able to stir in the mother's womb and ceases at death.
3. For many purposes, however, life is considered as begun from the moment of conception in ventre sa mere. Vide Foetus. But in order to acquire and transfer civil rights the child must be born alive. Whether a child is born alive, is to be ascertained from certain signs which are always attendant upon life. The fact of the child's crying is the most certain. There may be a certain motion in a new born infant which may last even for hours, and yet there may not be complete life. It seems that in order to commence life the child must be born with the ability to breathe, and must actually have breathed. 1 Briand, Med. Leg. 1ere partie, c. 6, art. 1.
A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.

The average number of hours a bulb will burn.
Lumber terms dictionaryUS

I have always been interested in how different cultures, peoples, professions and philosophies look upon life. I want to collect as many definitions for life from as many varied sources and in as many languages as possible. I hope eventually all major points of views will be represented here.
Note: This is a running post.
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Sunday, 29 June 2008

Epitaph to a dog

It is ironical that the most glowing epitaph known to man is that of a dog. It is perhaps because the dog in question was Lord Byron's. But I prefer to read it as an expression of Man's disappointment with himself, his follies and weaknesses. And a desire to reclaim those qualities which are so dear to him and yet so hard to acquire.

Extract from Epitaph to a Dog by Lord Byron

Near this Spot
are deposited the Remains of one
who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength without Insolence,
Courage without Ferosity,
and all the Virtues of Man without his Vices.
This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes,
is but a just tribute to the Memory of

The full text of the poem can be found in Wikipedia.
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Wednesday, 25 June 2008

…so tell me something about yourself

I have never been comfortable talking about myself. That is one (of many) of my problems. It is very inconvenient really. Every where I go - parties, dates, job interviews, chat rooms, social networking sites - everyone seems to want to hear me speak about myself. It has become standard filler in any conversation these days. I will be chatting merrily with someone I have recently met when suddenly there is a pause in the conversation and I know its coming. And sure enough, the other person will come up with some variation of “…so tell me something about yourself”. What do I tell anybody about myself? Which parts of my personality should I present? I have been in this planet for almost three decades now. There are a lot of parts to me. Which parts would interest you? Are you even interested? And above all, why on earth would I want to discuss myself with you? It used to be a lot easier when I was a kid. Back then they used to ask very specific questions like “what is your name beta?” followed by “how old are you?” followed by “which school do you go to?” and so on and so forth. At the end of the Q&A session I used to get a pat on the back. Now, people - polite and well-mannered as they are - will not even think about interrogating me like that. Its far easier for them to ask the vaguest question possible and let me handle the details. Believe me, I would take the interrogation any day over this. The opening sentence is the biggest stumbling block. How do I start talking about yourself? I can’t start off with “My name is…” because, obviously, the guy already knows that. After many missteps, I have come up with some strategies for the most common situations. Here are some openings:

Job Interview: "I am currently working on...". Start of with what you are doing now (proffesionally). Present the major points in your career in reverse chronological order, i.e., latest first. Stick to dates and numbers. Don't try analyze or explain anything. If the other person wants to know details, he/she will ask. Stick to your professional life only. You personal life is irrelevant here.

Social occasions: "I am from...". If you have already told him/her your name, this might be a good opener. You can then go on to mention you profession, etc. Stick to basics. If the other person is really interested, he/she will help you along with specific questions or comments. If not, you can throw the ball right back at him/her by returning him/her the same question. But in social occasions, it all really depends on the mood. I went to a meeting of car enthusiasts once. Everyone was introducing himself with the his car details - "Hi, one Honda, model xxx, yyy years old". It was funny.

Online chats: "Hi, I am xxx, from yyy". Always use your username, not your real name. Never offer anymore details. Don't even mention the area of the city you live in. You never know who is at the other end.

Most importantly, don't ever ramble. This is true for all situations. The person asking you this question does not know you. He/She probably wants a glimpse of specific aspects of you. Rambling will kill all interest he/she has in you.
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Monday, 23 June 2008

Bookmarks: The Flood by David Maine

I just finished reading a delightful novel called The Flood by David Maine. It is a funny and imaginative reconstruction of the Biblical Flood as seen and endured by Noah and his family. David Maine takes a simplistic god-punishes-bad-people story and a set of one dimensional characters from the Bible and infuses them with so much warmth and humanity that they start coming across as real people. Eight ordinary people who are faced with an extraordinary journey and must make it together. No one really knows what is happening. Even Noah is not certain of what God wants from him or why. He can offer no reasons for what he is asking his family to do. He only has an unshakeable faith in his God.
Each chapter of the story is told from the point of view of a different character. Each of them has a different take on the events. We see each character evolve as the flood changes him or her in unexpected ways and we leave them as very different people than we find them at the start of the tale. Maine injects just enough irreverence and humour to enable us to suspend disbelief and avoid getting bogged down by the fantastic events in the story. In his hands even God ceases to be a unidimensional all powerful entity and acquires motivations and intensions that can be questioned. Towards the end of the tale each character tries to answer the question: Why did God do it? They come up with eight different answers. Answers which reveal more about them than their God. Sample some:

"Because He wishes to cleanse the world of sin and punish the unbelievers"
"Because He can"
"Because He wants to encourage us to do better"
"Because, like most males, He loves destruction for its own sake"
"Beause there is no limit to the suffering He makes available to us, for reasons only He understands"

The Flood is ultimately, the story of a family, its trials and tribulations and individuals who, inspite of all their differences, love and respect each other. Its humour and irreverence hold more lessons in life and love than is readily apparent. But what stands out above all is the humanity in the novel. Its refusal to come to a tame happily-ever-after ending only enhances its humaneness. Blessed with a thousand year life and cursed to out live all his family, Noah's fate is far from being what we would expect.

The Flood is David Maine's debut novel.
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Saturday, 21 June 2008

Obama, Clinton, McCain

Looks like Hillary Clinton is finally out of the presidential race. Good. Never liked her. Pundits say that President Clinton will be better for India than President Obama but I don't care. Political alliances are driven by need. If America needs us and we need America, any president will fall in line. I would rather choose the guy who I feel has greater personal integrity. Clinton totally compromised hers when she condoned her husband for Monicagate. I can't help feeling she has a "you scratch my back, I will scratch yours" kind of a relationship with her husband. That she supported him in his presidency so that she could use him to get into the senate and then the president's chair. I just don't understand why women go ga-ga over her. I mean, this is the woman who humiliated every self-respecting woman by her conduct during her husband's scandals. Now she is using his name to get what she wants. How is she an inspiration to anybody? A feminist is someone who earns what she deserves by her own merit, not by using her father's or husband's name. Thats why neither Indira Gandhi nor Sonia Gandhi are celebrated as feminists in India, even though both of them were/are the most powerful persons in the country in their own times. I have heard a few of her speeches. They are so rhetorical and jaded. Her favourite line seems to be "It took one Clinton to clean up after the first Bush, it will take another Clinton to clean up after the second" or some such variation. That one sentence tells us all that is wrong with her. It's witty but it says nothing and it proves nothing. All it does is invoke her husband. Compare her with Obama. The first thing that struck me about him was how fresh he seems. The answers he gives to questions are well thought out and consistent. True, he seems a little long winded sometimes but thats because elaborating on some issue takes more time than simply coming up with a witty quip. And more than anything else, the stands he has taken on various issues have been consistent with what he has said and done in his entire political career and not changed with swings in public opinion. For example, he has been against the Iraq war from day one. Thats more than can be said about Mrs. Clinton. Now all I hope is that Clinton stops waiting for him to be struck down by lightening (cause that's the only way she is going to win) and gets out of his way as soons as possible. Let him and the party focus on taking on John McCain and the Republicans.

The Obama vs. McCain battle will have a far more serious impact on the world than Obama vs. Clinton. McCain seems like an older version of Bush, just more pig-headed. He reminds me of the war mongering general from Mars Attacks ("we must nuke 'em, nuke 'em, nuke 'em"). He plans to send in more troops to Iraq. Honestly, you would think that after Vietnam, Afganistan and now a decade in Iraq, Americans have learnt that you cannot crush ideologies. No matter how sick or pervert it is. Force is not the answer. People like John McCain do not understand it. They do not have the balls to stand up and say that what they did was a mistake and it will go no further. And when someone like him becomes the president of the most powerful nation in the world, it can only mean trouble for everybody. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

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The survival value of a brain

Why did Nature give us more brains than is absolutely necessary for our survival? All She had to do was give us enough brains to be able to invent a few stone tools to make up for not giving us claws. That would have been enough to ensure our survival. What makes it more amazing is that Nature generally is very stingy with her gifts. Chimps have just enough brains to survive and procreate. On a good day, the deer can only run fast enough to out run the tiger. So why indulge humans?
A chap named Snell proposed a standard called encephalization quotient (EQ) to compare the brain to body weight ratios among various species. I found the following chart showing the EQ for a few mamals:

Man 7.44
Dolphin 5.31
Chimpanzee 2.09
Dog 1.17ut
Horse 0.86

It basically means that man's brain to body weight ratio is 7.44 times the average ratio for mamals. This really is over kill. 3 would have been sufficient. Look at the state Nature is in today. There is not a single part of her that is not fighting for survival today. And it is all due to the "extra" few ounces of brain matter she granted Man all those milenia ago. The first things man discovered that were more than just survival tools were fire and wheel. That was around 40,000 years ago. Since that day, Man has not done a single thing which has not upset Nature's equations in some way. He has made a mess of whatever he has touched. He is the only species to have single handedly brought the threat of total extinction upon himself. And not just himself, but all of Nature. None of this would have happened if Nature had stuck to her policy of giving just enough resources to enable a species to survive. That one mistake has effectively sealed her fate.
I found a nice article called What is intelligence, anyway? Its discusses the definition of intelligence and explores the relationship between brain and intelligence. The Wikipedia entry for human evolution is here.
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