Friday, December 31, 2010

Book Review 2010

While 2010 was momentous in many respects, reading-wise it was terrible. I don’t want to give myself an excuse by saying that it was inevitable while trying to balance all the other things I started doing. I know it’s bad to be so set in one’s habits but I am making a very conscious decision to be tied down to a habit when I say – this just won’t do.

Anyhow, here’s what I thought of the books I read this year, a lot of them being plays. I’ll skip the books I read until March since the reviews are available here and here.

Dance Like A Man
Mahesh Dattani

This is a play I decided to pick up since I had never read Mahesh Dattani’s plays before. And I really liked this one in terms of the way it showcases the conflicts that pursuit of the arts can bring about when it comes to the bare act of routine, marriage and daily life. This will need some effort when it comes to staging due to the heavy production requirements but a nice read for those who like a good intense play about human relationships and their dynamics.

Black Comedy
Peter Shaffer

Again, a play that is very interestingly devised. The play is largely set during a power failure and hence all the scenes, though enacted on a brightly lit stage, are really happening when there is no power and a blackout signifies that power is back. Quite a challenge for anyone who wishes to perform this play but a good comedy about a man trying to impress his father-in-law and a rich man using the antiques from his neighbour’s house and the confusion caused by the neighbour returning unexpectedly.

Marjane Satrapi

I had seen Persepolis in PVR when it came out but reading the book was long overdue. I got my hands on the book this year and found it to be a good insight into Iran’s political history seen from the eyes of a child growing up in that time. And yet, I enjoyed the movie more. The autobiographical book talks about how it was to grow up in Iran after the Shah fell and all sorts of control was brought in place. You couldn’t stay and yet when you left the country in pursuit of a better education, you couldn’t belong. The policies in Iran seem outrageous and it hurts to see so many people being executed just for believing they deserve a better life. And when one gets that better life in Austria, it becomes impossible to enjoy the frivolous joys that make teenage fun because one has seen people dying for bigger causes…it just seems juvenile. The narrator seems to constantly be engaged in a tug-of-war between rebellion and allegiance to one’s state. But somehow the book does not necessarily bring out her character in positive light. I didn’t like the feeling I was left with after finishing it. 

And yet, a highly recommended read. It provides a human, more so a child’s, angle to a political turmoil and is a valuable read in that sense.

My Friend Sancho
Amit Verma

Ok, frankly, I picked up this book simply because my friend had entered the cover design contest that Amit Verma had run for this book. On a totally objective note (and you can trust me on that since I am Libran – a fair judge), I liked my friend’s design better than the one that went to press. I haven’t seen all entries but then Amit Verma’s book, Amit Verma’s choice. I am sure I will find myself in a similar situation tomorrow if I were to come out with a book and ran a contest for the cover design. So complete respect for the design that won too.

Anyhow, I found this one to be an average read. I have to confess there are many bits of the protagonist Abir Ganaguly that I closely identify with, which is the other reason I picked up this book upon reading an excerpt. The read remains engaging for most part but seems to lose the plot somewhere towards the end. But it isn’t too difficult to get to the end. What I really like is certain moments where the matter comes down to an interaction between two human beings, nothing else, and how the story uses those fundamental things to build on. For instance, the point where Abir talks to Sancho, whose father has been shot by mistake by the police in an encounter, and asks her to talk about her memories of her father. The story has quite a few such nice moments and I would probably read it again just to experience those moments again. But otherwise, not one of my best reads.

Malcolm Gladwell

I like Malcolm Gladwell’s books. Even if the whole book may or may not have a string I can hold on to and summarize the book on the basis of, I have always learnt a lot through his books. And Outliers continues that learning for me.

Outliers analyzes success. It looks at the pre-requisites of success, and reiterates that merely talent has never gotten anyone anywhere. It looks at everything else but talent, sometimes that too, but more importantly other things including the cut-off birth dates for a soccer team in any year, proximity to a university with the right infrastructure (as in the case of Bill Gates) and the words we use for numbers in any language (analysing why Asians are better at Math). I think Gladwell tries really hard to keep the term luck out of the picture but for me that is exactly what he is trying to paraphrase. For me, the right combination of opportunities, infrastructure, hard work, when it supplements talent, becomes luck. Anyway, he doesn’t say this. Just like in Tipping Point, I really don’t know what he is saying in this book. But I loved loved this book! It taught me so much in isolated portions. I think I am going to look at his books in parts henceforth and concentrate on learning rather than reading as a complete work. It works much better that way!


Moonlight and The Birthday Party
Harold Pinter

Two abstract plays by Harold Pinter that I really liked. Not for those who don’t like abstract plays but quite nice otherwise. I liked Pinter’s use of repetition as a device and also how he brings out the dynamics of human relationships. Nice!

Eat Pray Love 
Elizabeth Gilbert

This book has a lot of me in it. Aside from that, this is a good book about finding yourself. It’s the journey of a woman in through three countries in search of herself. It’s about making peace with yourself and then watching the pieces fall into place once that happens. It is an inspirational story of faith. And I immensely enjoyed reading it. Recommended with a big smile on my face : )

Lights Out - Manjula Padmanabhan
Party - Mahesh Elkunchwar
Avinash - Shanta Gokhale

These three came as a set of City Plays, grouped together by the common use of an absent character who is key to the plot of the play. Brilliant plays, all of them, but I liked Lights Out the most. In brief here’s what each play deals with:

Lights Out – a couple is troubled by the beseeching cries of a woman every night as heard from the building under construction right opposite theirs. They speculate and debate at length over whether it is harassment and whether they should intervene but don’t end up doing anything. This is based on a real incident that happened in Mumbai where no one came to the aid of a woman who was tortured for days on end in the middle of a residential area.

Party – This play highlights the dynamics, politics and hypocrisy among members of the art fraternity. They all seem to be perturbed by this person who has left the clan to do some real work for grass root level in a remote village. 

Avinash – A family is torn apart by the condition of their once-brilliant and now-alcoholic elder son. He is getting difficult to deal with by the day and they face conflict in terms of what is duty and what is indulgence. 

How Starbucks Saved My Life
Michael Gates Gill

A top boss at JWT who thought he had everything and was waiting to hang up his boots in style gets the pink slip due to a management decision. At 60 and with a tumour that needs to be operated on, he finds himself desperately looking for a job and finds one as a Starbucks barista. This is a real story of Michael Gates Gill who learnt life’s lessons after 60 and the hard way but grew to realize how much he enjoyed this new life for such fundamental reasons. A frank admission to conceit and a candid account of his feelings while getting used to this new job makes this book an endearing read. The book also gives you a good insight into how Starbucks works. And the life lessons Gill learnt are ones we can always do with. Recommended.

Dreams In Prussian Blue
Paritosh Uttam

This is a good intense urban read. Michael and Naina are studying at the same arts college and they fall in love. Michael is a painter and Naina falls for all that he is and can be. So when Michael proposes that they drop out of college and live in so they can start earning and start fulfilling their dreams rightaway, she readily agrees. Soon she realizes that Michael might just be using her to fulfil his dream of being a full time painter. Fate then enters the picture and the story takes a tragic twist with Michael becoming blind in an accident. What happens to the two thereafter and how Naina resorts to an unexpected form of deceit forms the rest of the story. A really good plot and an intense story…definitely worth a read. Plus, I love the title…I mean the moment I saw it I was like, woah! Now that’s the kind of title one should write a book with! It’s so dreamy…so beautiful and filled with such anticipation! I give it to Uttam and recommend this book for that sole reason.

With that the list for 2010 looks like this:

  1. On Seeing The 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning - Haruki Murakami
  2. The Kidney-Shaped Stone That Moves Every Day - Haruki Murakami
  3. 2 States - Chetan Bhagat
  4. Kari - Amruta Patil
  5. Stilettos In The Newsroom - Rashmi Kumar
  6. Welcome To Advertising, Now Get Lost - Omkar Sane
  7. In Xanadu - William Dalrymple
  8. Dance Like A Man - Mahesh Dattani
  9. Black Comedy - Peter Shaffer
  10. Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi
  11. My Friend Sancho - Amit Varma
  12. Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
  13. Moonlight - Harold Pinter
  14. Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert
  15. The Birthday Party - Harold Pinter
  16. Lights Out - Manjula Padmanabhan
  17. Party - Mahesh Elkunchwar
  18. Avinash - Shanta Gokhale
  19. How Starbucks Saved My Life - Michael Gates Gill
  20. Dreams In Prussian Blue - Paritosh Uttam

And to correct the anomaly of reading too little in 2010, I am creating a list for 2011 as a guide. More names will, of course, get added to this list but these I definitely intend to read this year. More recommendations are most welcome!

  1. The Consolatiosn of Philosophy – Alain de Botton (halfway through)
  2. Mind Watching – Hans and Michael Eysenck (because it must be returned in Feb)
  3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society – Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows (because it must be returned)
  4. The Unbearable Lightness of Being – Milan Kundera
  5. All and Nothing – Raksha Bharadia
  6. Truly Madly Deeply – Faraaz Kazi
  7. Tough Choices – Carly Fiorina (halfway through)
  8. The HP Way – David Packard
  9. Train to Pakistan – Khushwant Singh
  10. Kim – Rudyard Kipling
  11. The Book of Nature – Ruskin Bond
  12. The Story of Philosophy – Will Durant
  13. The Last Mughal – William Dalrymple
  14. Gora – Rabindranath Tagore
  15. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell
  16. Autobiography of a Yogi – Paramahansa Swami Yogananda
  17. Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  18. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
  19. My Invented Country – Isabelle Allende
  20. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  21. House of the Winds – Mia Yun
  22. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde
  23. The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen
  24. The Great Indian Novel – Shashi Tharoor
  25. The Whole Malgudi Anthology
  26. Either Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

Anybody who realizes how extremely random that list is should know that except for four, all of those are the unread books on my shelf and if I don’t finish them this year, the guilt will give me ulcers or something…all those beautiful works just lined up there and waiting for their turn to enlighten me! So that’s what it’s going to be this year…read what’s unread and give them their due.

Hope my thoughts on the books I read help. Have a great year of reading ahead all you bookworms. Everyone else, have a great year in general : )

Another Decade Of Existence

It’s the last day of the year. More than that, it’s the last day of the decade. If not the first, the latter fact makes me feel like there must be some significance attached to this day. Ok maybe it’s not the turn of a century or even a millennium like 10 years ago, but then it’s not just the turn of another year either. So let’s give it it’s due, shall we?

What is passing today is what will become a significant decade for me when I look back on it in the future, I am sure. Ok I did not get married and have a child in this decade so that leaves space for another decade to contest but let’s face it…this was the decade in which I crossed three educational milestones – school, junior college and college. A master’s degree could have been squeezed in there but let’s leave something for the coming decade? I got the first visa stamped onto my passport, crossed international borders. I moved out of the city I had called home for 21 years and built a new life in a city that I have truly grown to love ever since I encountered it the first time. They say home is where the heart is and in that sense, home is here now. And that in itself is quite a change that this decade has to its credit.

I faced a few personal crises, some irreparable losses, and grew through each of them. I definitely changed as a person in the process. It’s hard to admit there is a slight degree of scepticism that has crept in, much to my chagrin. Mistrust and doubt have found a place in my head. I am still not a great judge of people, but at least I try now, unlike before. All in a failed attempt to protect myself from hurt. But all contributing to a successful series of life experiences. But largely, my heart remains the sole controller of where I go and I am grateful for that.

I set free the traveller in me this decade. The writer in me grew like never before. I found new passions and avenues including photography and theatre. I met a whole bunch of beautiful people who are etched in fond memories. And somewhere in all that, I met myself…a yet undiscovered part, an aspect I hadn’t known before, a capability I was unaware of. It has been a valuable decade.

This year by itself was important too. I acted in a play for the first time. Ok it was a cameo but still. I acquired a DSLR and am better equipped to capture the world around, the only limitation being my vision. I wrote my first play, my first work of fiction that went public, and got decent validation for it as well. And I met more people; some of them tested my sensibilities, some tested my sensitivity and some became sanctuaries. Somewhere in the middle of all that was happening, I turned 26 too. But more than in years, I grew as a person…some more.

I think it’s been a phenomenal decade in terms of existence, not just personally but also in terms of the world around and how it’s changed. I know I am going to look back on this time in my mellow years and realize what a good time it was to be alive and independent. I know it already and I know the value that these ten years have added to me as a person. It does mean lagging behind in terms of traditional milestones and how the world evaluates your net worth if I were running their race - 26, single, just a graduate, one promotion and two pay hikes in 4.5 years at the same company…nothing else matters. But then I set my own pace and I run my own race and I enter the New Year and the new decade not with a checklist of growth milestones but with dreams. I may not have achieved that Masters degree, the wedding knot, a car/house/whatever yet but I have lived a good life that I regret no part of. I have a lot to look forward to and that makes the times ahead exciting. What more can one ask of existence?

Wish you all a decade full of fulfilled dreams and more good things. And a memorable year ahead too.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Other Side Of Rock

So I am unwell and at home hoping to recover before the new year arrives. And the route that I have taken to recovery includes among other things drinking lots of tea, listening to John Mayer and reading old letters from my friends. And while I do that, here is a piece I came across in an old letter, about the other side of rock. A big hug and thanks going out to my dear friend Vinni for sending me this all those years ago, back in the year 2000:

The Other Side of ROCK…
From Reflections Oct ’00 – the magazine of Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology

“Rock stars live on drugs. The music defies noise pollution barriers. Doesn’t have a melody or rhythm. I can’t understand people banging their heads for this noise trying to force their brain out of their skulls. Breaking guitars on stage, et cetera et cetera…” – for all those who agree, read on…

Look at your young men fighting
Look at your women crying
Look at your young men dying
The way they've always done before

And the wars go on with brainwashed pride
For the love of God and our human rights
And all these things are swept aside
By bloody hands time can't deny
And are washed away by your genocide
And history hides the lies of our civil wars

D'you wear a black armband
When they shot the man
Who said "Peace could last forever"
And in my first memories
They shot Kennedy
I went numb when I learned to see
So I never fell for Vietnam
We got the wall of D.C. to remind us all
That you can't trust freedom
When it's not in your hands
When everybody's fightin'
For their promised land

I don't need your civil war
It feeds the rich while it buries the poor
Your power hungry sellin' soldiers
In a human grocery store
Ain't that fresh
I don't need your civil war

Look at the shoes your filling
Look at the blood we're spilling
Look at the world we're killing
The way we've always done before
Look in the doubt we've wallowed
Look at the leaders we've followed
Look at the lies we've swallowed
And I don't want to hear no more

My hands are tied
For all I've seen has changed my mind
But still the wars go on as the years go by
With no love of God or human rights
'Cause all these dreams are swept aside
By bloody hands of the hypnotized
Who carry the cross of homicide
And history bears the scars of our civil wars

I don't need one more war
What’s so civil 'bout war anyway

That’s ROCK, very sensible…right? Contrary to what you thought we believe. Most people out here are under the impression that ROCK advocates violence, drugs and extreme behaviour. What made you jump to that conclusion?

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Homecoming

The Mother looked out 
As the time for them to return came near.
She worried
That her bosom wasn’t as warm.
She waited
With open arms.

She saw them in the distance
And grew a little alarmed;
They ran,
Their feet bare,
In a tearing hurry
Without a care.

She knew it would hurt
If they fell down.
She watched
With anxiety,
They ran
With gaiety.

As the first few stumbled
And fell while they ran,
She hurried
To pick them up,
Pacified them,
Wrapped them in a hug.

And then she extended her arms
So all of them she could hold.
It was winter,
The night cold as hell;
Mother Earth welcomed her long gone children,
More snowflakes fell.