Sunday, December 11, 2005

The diary of a young girl - Anne Frank

Im not quite sure how to describe this book. Its title says the diary of a young girl but Anne cannot be categorized that simply as a young girl (which she is) and much more.
An introspective self indulgent diary , but but but it has a quality in it which touches and moves and you. And you finish the book with the sense that this girl should have lived (and she does) and you cant help but feel anger at the perpetrators of war and hatred and the havoc they wring. But anne is still cheerful(most times) through it all and maybe that’s another lesson to learn.
Does she really love peter? Probably not.  
There are doubts on the veracity of this book and while reading the last 4-5 essays I felt it as well. But does it matter whether anne wrote the diary or her father. ? No it doesn’t the book would touch you anyway and would have things you can learn from it.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Riot - Shashi Tharoor

The characters in this book are all as two dimensional as the paper that riot is printed on. The divorced non Indian couple, the foreign social worker who has an affair with the Indian, the smart south Indian, his repressed wife and aiyo, the hindu communalist, the muslim who forces his children on his wife, the hard drinking swearing surd well you get the picture. The telling of the story from various point of views is also not that innovative, well not really the same story since each point of view progresses the story rather than looking at the same item from a different point of view. The story is also told in a slightly non linear fashion with two timelines being followed. What saves this book however is that the writing is quite good and full of some memorable quotes (A large percentage from Oscar Wilde) and has a lot of themes regarding India that the author will return to in his later writing, notably in India from Midnight to the Millennium
It concerns the pointless death of a foreign woman social worker killed during a Hindu Muslim Riot during the Ram Janmabhoomi foolishness. And her parents journey to find out more about the circumstances in which their daughter died and the work she was doing. Adding to this cast of characters is the IAS officer the woman is having an affair with , his wife and daughter, his Punjabi Police Inspector friend -whose English abuses seem out of place. Would any self respecting sardar say sisterloving or ban****?
And other sundry characters involved in the riot.
Tharoor also tries to highlight the complex issues that India faced and still faces over the babri masjid issue. But people like me who have already formed their opinions about this matter are unlikely to change their opinions (the people of both communities who participated in the reprehensible acts are a bunch of fools and bastards. At least the politicians had an excuse they did it for votes.)
Tharoor can’t resist mentioning to of his pet topics, the greatness of St Stephens college (which of course cant compare to St Stanislaus even though the latter is just a school) and The Great Indian Novel.
Tharoors writing is of course quite good and that makes this book a worthwhile read

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell
This book deals with the factors that make certain events tip. The event could be anything from why some people become chain smokers to why Paul Revere’s message was spead or why people watched sesame street or why the ya – ya sisterhood book after a quiet start suddenly tipped and became a bestseller.
The author has an interesting hypothesis and has plenty of real life examples and experiments to prove his point. The book is worth reading if not entirely convincing. This is mostly to do with the fact that most of these factors are analyzed after the event and the theory can therefore be retrofitted to suit the known outcome.
There is however an interesting example about a company where everyone is called Associate, there is no defined management structure and in no plant are the number of employees allowed to exceed 150. And the company is a multi million dollar one. Now could this be done for a software company?. Theres no reason to believe it couldn’t!.
Useful tidbits of information like connectors, maven and salesman which you can certainly identify from your own circle of friends are also present here. Well written and informative but not persuasive.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Life And Times of Scrooge McDuck - Don Rosa

It is relatively easy writing about how a character came to be as he is, In the case of Scrooge McDuck you know he’s an honest miser,loves adventure is a cantankerous mean old geezer, so to show his life history its relatively easy to come up with situations that would have made him as he is. It is however far more difficult(im tempted to say nay impossible) to do this as well as Don Rosa has done in his 12 issue comic series describing Scrooge McDuck – His life and times.
On a purely factual level, Rosa tried to incorporate every known fact about Scrooge , written by Carl Bucks, give it a timeline of sorts and write the history of Scrooge. However Rosa’s efforts, his research and indeed his love for this character makes this book rise well above everything. It just shows. The book would have been worth buying just because Rosa loves the characters so much. Writers like these must be encouraged.
I had issue 9 of the series bought from Happy Book Stall and when I read it the first time it was simply too good. I hadn’t expected this from a Disney. In time and during the course of many trips to the raddi-wala shops I managed to pick up two other disney’s one a cornelius coot history where scrooge declares himself king to avoid paying taxes and another regarding scrooge celebrating some anniversary and every Disney character from the duck world I knew was there in the story and a few other I didn’t know. Of the Disney books I had these were the best. It was then that I noted the similarity among these books. Their writer was Don Rosa. There began an unsuccessful attempt to hunt down the other parts of Life and Times. Google searches showed collections but not in English and much as I loved part 9 I was too old to learn a language just to read all the parts. Till about 6 months back when the book was collected in English!
Back to the Book
Scrooge takes us around the world for his various adventures and we learn the incidents that made him who he is today. You can’t help but laugh at some of the statements the characters make throughout the course of Scrooge’s laugh either because you know how untrue its going to turn out or because you know how true its going to turn out
Sample the following
Do you want to end up with a coal bin with the dang stuff?-Uncle pothole talking about money tells a young scrooge
He’s broke. We beagle boys wont have to bother about robbing him again- Blackheart Beagle to the beagle boys referring to scrooge
I shudder to imagine the kid that would come home from that unholy union –Dabney Duck To grandma duck referring to donalds parents

And Scrooge’s comments that bring out a guffaw
“Who needs self respect when you have money HAHAHAHAHAHAHA hawwwwwwwwwNUTS”

And a few sentimental moments as well
Like when scrooge goes to meet his mom in part 9, or the lock of goldies hair(I vaguely remember reading this issue) or scrooge’s first and second  meeting with his illustrious nephew

And action and adventure,see scrooge destroy soapy’s casino
This book has it all.
Part 9 will always be the best for me since I only had it for a long time. Among other things the last sequence is amazing(warning a character dies) and it has the gags to make you laugh.
But the entire books is a gem , one scrooge himself would have been proud to own

Saturday, November 05, 2005

State of Fear - Michael Crichton

Its nowhere near as good as Andromeda Strain or Sphere. In fact it has an unbelievable(As in bad) plot. It doesnt have the pace or the suspense of his earlier novels and most of the novel seems forced. And this is still money well spent. Do you like the environment? do you want to preserve it? do you think the industry-politico-underworld nexus are slowly destroying our environment?. Read the book some eyeopeners here. Not that I believe everything in the book is true but like the author says everyone has an agenda except me.
The problem with the book is similar to Da Vinci Code. The author had a statement to make and the the fictional part of the book is written around this statement. So while the statement may be an astonishing one, the fictional part of the book suffers. In this case its the whole Does Global warming really exist question with an impressive array of charts to prove that it may not. Other facts!? regarding the environmental issues that may cause people to reconsider their stand on some issues.
This book though is redeemed by The author's statement at the end which clearly states where he stands (like mike carey as opposed to a scott adams!)
Maybe crichton is right about the some of the issues he raises. But i remember reading about Carl Sagan and his arguments regarding the industries reaction to the ozone layer problem. The industries said it couldnt be proved, that the proof show no signficant impacts etc etc and they stalled for years. And his point was if you werent sure about something so important wouldnt you choose the safe option?

english august

Its been a long time since i read the book and now when im actually typing this up. I only remember being totally disappointed with this book which seemed to be completely pretentious and mostly boring.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Gone with the wind - Margaret Mitchell

Sold to me as the Best love story by a colleague , in the end its neither the best story nor a love story, which isn't the same as saying its not a good read.
Chronicaling the life and loves (or what purpots to be love) of Scarlett O'Hara , set in the time of the American Civil war and the fight to free the slaves, A reasonably well written and engrossing book which however fails in some crucial areas. Some of the parts that make me uncomfortable is the cleaning up of the treatment of slaves and the rationalization of the Ku Klux Klan (admittedly not a major part of the story) which if treated correctly could have made this book so much more (for an example of how to do this read To Kill a Mockingbird). The famed love story between Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in the end for me is anticlimatic (and in ways reminiscient of the shakinh head feeling i had when i read Pride and Prejudice). And in the end my favorite character in the book has to be Mammy, A woman who knows what she wants and knows how to get her way , rather than Scarlett who one cant dislike or like. Perhaps Mammy's story would actually be a much better book

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Midnights Children - Salman Rushdie

An intelligent book , A smart book meant for an intelligent audience or atleast one who is willing to read the book thrice. yes i didnt get all of the book especillay the end, but there is a charm to this book, the phrases used that bkeeps you engrossed even if you didnt understand parts of it.
The story of Saleem Sinai , he who will always be as old as India is told , blending his story with parts of India's history. Notice the articles where Saleem cuts out newspaper headlines to write his note to Commander Sabarmati . Turns of phrase that shouldnt work but do (rusted time) abound aplenty in this book
A good read though a bit dense sometimes

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Pather Panchali - Bibhutibhushan Bandhopadhyay

A story about a poor Indian Household, told through the eyes of a child Opu that moves you with its realism and authenticity. In parts very much like R K Narayan filled with the bitter sweetness of the hum drum lives the characters leave. The major difference is the view point of a child who notices things without understanding them. His life , His play his imagination. His interactions with his sister. The fate of his sister is tragic, I didn't like it.
The translators chose to translate names as the Bengali pronounciation (so we have Horihor,Opu,Shuresh etc.) which was funny at first but now lends authenticity to the tale.
And the end , a new beginning.

5 Russian Masters

This is a collection of short stories by the following writers, Chekov,Tolstoy,Dostevsky,Maxim Gorky and Ivan Turgenev. There is really no way to describe this collection of short stories each story is sufficiently distinct from the other so to comment on this book as a whole is pointless.
The best writers are Tolstoy and Gorky (and the two stories that stand out in my memory are Ivan the fool and The travelling companion). Most of Chekov's stories lose me. I feel that the author has some point to make which i cannot grasp.(See what you can make out of the first story)
Most of the stories are sad, even tragic sometimes. Perhaps a reflection of the times the authors lived in. However there is a haunting quality to some of the stories that can't really be described
Go ahead read the book!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Ignited Minds - APJ Abdul Kalam

This book is a continuation from India Vision 2020 (which i havent read) and also picks up some threads from Wings of Fire. Kalam makes some suggestions on how to arrive at his vision for India.Kalam recognises as do I that the only way for India(or any country) to progress, to develop the only answer lies in the youth of the country and the the things that they can accomplish if allowed to do so, if taught to do so. It is of course a lot more difficult to do this even as i have found out in practise.Kalam writes in the same vein as he did Wings of fire. Anecdotes from his life which got him thinking and ruminations on the same which makes for an interesting read as it includes opinions of people from varied strata of Indian Society.His interest in meeting the young people and the questions and answers that he gets from them which have the unadulterated innocence are a pleasant read in themselves.However there are also a number of instances where the author and i differ significantly in our views which cause some chapters to jar. Kalams belief in the spiritual side of things, his willingness to listen to the sadhus/mullahs/saints/godmen which i would say are the cause of a number of problems in India. The willingness of people to entertain these people and listen to them with blind faith. Also the extra emphasis on India,India is paradoxical. Kalam wants us to get rid of our prejudices and think of ourselves as Indians. Shouldnt that be Earthlings? or universites? (is that the right word). For humanity to succeed on the whole we have to get of all our prejudices and The country that we are citizens of is one of them. The book is definitely wortha read. It makes you think on a wide variety of things. Which means it has partly accomplished some of its goals. the only thing left is of course to act.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Bookless in Baghdad - Shashi Tharoor

"Show me a writer without an ego , and Ill show you a good actor" - Shashi Tharoor
While reading this book , Tharoors writings on various topics connected with book's , you can definitely tell that the writer has an ego and a big one at that. However this does not take away from the fact that most of the essays are eminently readable, witty in part, preachy in others.
A lot of the space is dedicated to tharoor's own work , which in my opinion is a good thing. I have always been fascinated by the thought process that an author goes through and the reasons for writing things in the way he has. On the other hand its amusing when Tharoor begins an essay on Rushdie, quotes his words on India and then proceeds for the next 10 pages to dicsuss India and his motiviations for The Great Indian Novel. In fact the Great Indian Novel almost always finds its way into Tharoors essays. I think the author hasn't gotten over the fact that he had hit upon a brilliant idea and feels the need to explain it at every instance.
But you do nuggets of information (like why the Jalianwala Bagh massacre was renamed the bibigarh massacre). The snappy comebacks (like the one's for Shobha de when she disparaged Show Business).
Its also nice to note that while young Tharoor and I read mainly the same books and had the same tastes and its only later that you choice of books seem to have diverged.
But a person who is so fond of P.G. Wodehouse cant be all that bad.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Godan - Munshi Premchand

The first time i read a premchand short story was in school - Bade Ghar Ki beti was part of the syllabus. And now i have finally got to reading Godan which some rate as his best book. There is however a problem reading a transalation of someones work , in that you may lose the flavor of the book , which i think has happened in this case. Still It's a very good read( though the spelling mistakes tend to distract you but thats about my only quibble about the book)
The book , set in rural India follows the life of a peasant Hori Ram and his family and people they come in contact with. It attempts to depict the crushing loans a peasant lives under , his exploitation by all and sundry , by the zamindars, the panches , the money lenders. It exposes the hypocrisy of the rich , the high castes and points out the flaws in the poor as well , their actions, their beliefs which serve to keep where they are , crushed under the feet of the rich and powerful. There are also side stories of a miscellany of characters , none really noble or heroic, all flawed in some way or the other , petty, vengeful and ultimately human.
The character that remains with you after you finish the book is undeiably dhunia. Strong willed , sharp tongued, argumentative , soft and hard alternately, loud spoken , opinionated, contradictory everything that i would like in a woman (except my wife!) , she is the character that remains in memory. The chief porotoganist Hori Ram comes across as pathetic loser , though a good man at heart and is representative of a lot that is wrong with India's farmers even today.
This book is indeed a worthwile journey through rural India

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Lord Emsworth and the Girlfriend - PG Wodehouse

Rudyard Kipling called this The Perfect Short Story.
And it is.
There isnt much more to say about this other than this short story has the one instance when Lord Emsworth stands up to his Gardener and His Sister.
The scene wherein the little girl slips her hand into his giving Emsworth the courage he needs is stunning for the visual imagery that it draws in your mind.Picture a western where the lone hero is about to face the rampaging hordes. Its sunset and you can see mostly silhouettes , the hero is resigned to his fate and then a child puts her hand in his and grips it tightly. Your viewpoint is from their back and suddenly the hero draws himself together stands upright and you know then that he is invincible today.
I think that only Uncle Fred Flits By comes close to matching this story

Friday, April 01, 2005

Wings Of Fire - APJ Abdul Kalam

APJ Abdul Kalam was one of the architects of India's Missile Weapon Development programme. He is also deeply religious and attributes a lot of the events in his life to fate , destiny and God's hand. My current views on war and thanks to Lucifer my views on fate destiny mean that this should be pretty much a book i dislike
To add to this the history of the missile development is mainly dry , mostly consisting of i worked with the great man so and so and together we achieved great things.
And yet this dry history is interspersed with such brilliant observations which are so undeniably worth spending time over, that i did like this book. Though i may not agree with most of the things the author does say most of the advice , quotes and verse did make me think and you cannot ask more of a book.
Kalam does come across as an extremely well read person though a trifle naive at times (he calls India Gandhi a great person ..on second thoughts he is either naive or extremely shrewd!). And he is of course extremely smart. It is a pity then he is just a figure head for India, i'd rather see people like him in the role of a ruling politician.
In some ways the author does show the things it is possible to achieve even in India's corrupt bureaucratic systems.
The best chapter of the book is the last.
There is a sadness that Kalam’s life seems to have revolved around his work . He does point out himself that his bloodline will end with Kalam. But I guess that’s a conscious choice he has made and he seems happy to have made this choice.
And some words to live by given my current penchant of resigning from my job
Dont worry and fret, fainthearted
The chances have just begun
For the best jobs not yet started
The best works not yet done

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Nehru - The Invention of India - Shashi Tharoor

The title of the book is misleading. It brings visions of a book that is about to denounce Nehru's policies and generally show that Nehru isn't what we thought him to be.
This however is not the case. The book is a biography of sorts tracing Jawaharlal Nehru's life and views from an undistinguished teenager to the undisputed Leader of Free India.
My only exposure to Nehru is through the reading of The Discovery of India. A book that went more or less over my head, but had the unmistakable stamp of a person who loved India and identified with its people.
This book is not great. But it is a book about a great person and some of the attributes do rub of on the book. As the author himself puts it , its a book by a layperson for laypeople. Its not comprehensive, the author only brings out incidents and quotes he wants to dwell on. It is however distinguished by its last chapter, where the author looks at Nehur's policies and what they have meant to India with of course the benefit of Hindsight. The four main policies of Nehru
a. Democratic Institution Building
b. Secularism
c. Socialist economic policies
d. Non alignment
There is no doubt in the author's mind (or mine) that the first two were ..indeed are .. necessary for India to survive. It is the third and fourth policies which the author believes are partly responsible for India's poverty and corruption. While i do not know enough of the Socialist economic policies and their impact, I am certain that the policy of Non Alignment was the right one to follow. It is only today that people can smugly predict that India should have stood with the USA in the cold war instead of being part of a Non Aligned Movement. Taking sides in the cold war would undoubtedly have been wrong.
The book has some of the more memorable quips by Nehru which makes we want to search for the full text on the Internet or read some more on Nehru's speeches and perhaps on that front alone this book has served its purpose

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Tunnel Of Time - R K Laxman

The uncommon man of Indian Cartoonists writes his autobiography of sorts. Laxman writes with a style which is very similar to his elder brother R K Narayan and perhaps suffers for it. But his insights to life are as sharp and you do get to see the flashes of sarcasm and cynism that Laxman's The Common Man cartoons are famous for.
Well worth spending an afternoon on.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Show Business - Shashi Tharoor

Ok so I expected a Great Indian Novel.
It didn't help that the lead character is Ashok Banjara(AB ahem) is married to Maya (J) acts in a movie starring both his wife and the actress he is having an affair(Rekha?) with (Silsila) where the story of the movie resembles Abhiman, who has a disastrous stint in politics and who suffers a life threatening accident while filming (Coolie). In typical tongue in cheek manner Neetas Natter (Stardust) becomes Cheetahs Chatter.
The book follows the life of Ashok Banjara but that is only an excuse to look at the world of Bollywood. The story is told through multiple perspectives, that of Ashok, Pranay (the villain , I wonder if its Pran), Ashwin(Ashok's brother - Ajitabh?), Mehnaz (Rekha).
The book has flashes of brilliance like the Hindi movie script interludes describing Ashok's movie. Because like it or not you are laughing at yourself. Who among us hasn't liked Amitabh's movie, but reading them in detail like this, i have to marvel at the things we tolerate in the movies we see.
The book has sharp commentary as well. As the guruji notes Topless Nudity which is still part of India's rural truth is banned in our movies, But violence etc which is illegal is cheerfully glorified

So why was I disappointed on the whole with the book ? Oh its still worth reading But it lacked something. Perhaps the fact that I didn't identify with the characters or maybe I didn't want to do. I still want to remember Amitabh as the hungry ..Sorry angry young man. And to see him as a flawed human being somehow subtracts from the movies that I have fond memories of.
Perhaps it was the fact that the ending is weak. Perhaps because most of the things you get to read in this book are cliched. True but cliched. You have heard it so many times before.

The 10 Second Internet Manager - Mark Breier

It is somewhat fun to read a book written in the Internet Boom time exhorting the virtues of the Internet and the Need for Speed. The way the Internet has changed the way business is done and how if the author wasn't fast enough his company would be Behind.Com instead of domain) is up for sale.
Oh yes there are some useful suggestions (Work fast, Work hard, Work Smart....Yawn)
Alright so I usually approach all management books(except DILBERT) with a closed mind so I am biased.
But really do we need highly paid managers stating the obvious?
That meetings generally end up wasting people's time? That employees should be rewarded for accomplishments? That unless you have fun in the workplace its not going to be fun working?
Or the contradictions that are inherent ..Like in the chapter the secret to acting fast the 11th point is slow down?
And this is a book that I more or less agree with most of the things it says. The best being that the author wouldn't hire a person who could sit through a 4 hour meeting without getting restless. I cant sit more than 10 minutes without wanting to leave, I wonder if I'd get hired.

All in all nothing gained, but at least the book was quite short

A Midsummer Night's Dream - William Shakespeare

Lysander asks Hermia to meet him in the wood to elope to his aunts house.
She replies
I swear to thee by Cupid's strongest bow,
By his best arrow with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus' doves,
By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves,
And by that fire which burned the Carthage queen,
When the false Troyan under sail was seen,
By all the vows that ever men have broke,-
In number more than women ever spoke -

In that same place thou hast appointed me,
Tomorrow truly will I meet with thee
Get the point?
If i ended this here, It wouldnt be possible to know whether im praising Shakespeare or being sarcastic.

Those who like Sheakspeare, will probably love the visual imagery in the words. The women will proibably nod their heads knowingly at the all vows that men have broke. Others may seek reference to to Dido,Queen of Carthage by Christopher Marlowe.
Detractors, Lovers of Simple,Concise and Clear writing will shake their heads and say with a painful expression on their face "Couldnt she have simply said 'Yes,I'll be there'".

I find myself firmly with the detractors. The story does have it twists and turns and is entertaining, but the writing. the dialogues! Painful.
I think Shakespeare has outlived his time and should now be consigned to the dark recesses of history.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Author - Alistair MacLean

I greatly regret that i read all the Alistair Maclean's a long time ago and a diminishing memory will not allow me to do justice to his titles (and i don't think i could do that anyway but now it has even lesser chance). And the numerous books i have yet to read prevent me from going back and re reading these books.
Anyway For those who haven't yet read this author , do so , for those who have read some of his books but not all , what the hell are you waiting for?

HMS Ulysses
When i first read this book i gave it up after 100 pages. Too boring. I was used to books like Satan Bug, Ice Station Zebra and the other staple diet was Hardy Boys. A year or so later much more experienced and with the knowledge that no maclean could be a waste of my time, I sat and read this book again, understood why the books was so slow in the beginning and completed reading it. This book has the dubious distinction that i cried when i read it(i was only in the 6th or the 7th standard). It also changed my views completely about war and it was the first time i realized that something you read can change the way you view the world.
Note that so far all notions of war were romantic. I thought of shivaji besting the mughals. I thought of the good beating all the evil of the Ramayana. This was the first book i read about War in which all the good guys died. All of them(except the doctor and another guy who was indestructible). The Captain who even if he died should you would think be the last to die and only after beating the Germans dies half way through the book. The character whose name i cant remember who commits a form of suicide because he killed a person in the mutiny. The character who has to torpedoes his father's ship. The character who gives his girlfriends handkerchief to the doctor. All sentimental stuff. But they did bring home one lesson. In a war everyone loses. I have been staunchly against any sort of war ever since. Not those fought for religion, not those for territory(yes i refer to Kashmir), certainly not those for oil.
The other striking thing in the books was that the *enemy* was always smart. Not a caricature. (I'm reminded of Warren Ellis in the introduction of Queen And Country where he said The Tom clancy's of the world , when the cold war ended simply replaced the Russians with another community and carried on writing as before - i don't read tom clancy). And sometimes you felt sympathy for them. The best example of course is The Last frontier. But its true of his other novels as well
Satan Bug was the first Maclean I read from my Moms Library in BPT. A fast paced book completely entertaining and I'm lucky i read this when still in the thrall of Franklin Dixon. If i had HMS Ulysses at that point i may never have read an Alistair Maclean again
The other ones that stand out in memory are Ice Station zebra and The Dark crusader (this almost made me cry but not quite).
And Sir George And the Dragon (i think it was) in the collection of The Lonely sea was too funny.
And i have shamelessly used his line from Fear is the Key "Eternity is a long time, Eternity Lasts Forever..... But ill be waiting" though completely out of context of course(It was in a romantic context for those interested , though in the book its said by a murderer plotting revenge against the protagonist)

It has been said that the public devoured his work and the critics hated it. Indeed i think that the first review that Maclean himself read said Burn this Book (the review was for HMS Ulysses) and since then Maclean didn't read reviews. I sometimes wonder who the critics were reviewing the book for? It cant be for the common man because they seldom agree.

Surprisingly i think that the most famous of the Maclean Books the Guns of Navarone, Where eagles dare , When eight bells toll i like but they aren't what i consider his best. Perhaps the view is colored by the movies (The outrage you feel when you see Hollywood changing the characters from male to female in Guns of navarone - The change of the scaling of the mountain in guns of navarone to a 5 minute sequence which looks so fake - though i guess that was because of the time).

I. Asimov - Isaac Asimov

The most striking thing about this book is how closely the author's view mirror mine. There are I think only two significant differences. Asimov is an atheist though I believe in god and secondly Asimov was an immensely talented writer whereas I am .. Well we'll find out. Yes we have the fact that Our Egos are quite large, in common. This book is meant to be a more introspective book with Asimov's thoughts on events and is very personal. This I think is a trademark from his other collections as well where he would have a word to say about how he got the idea for a story , or an incident related to the story or some other background that added a charm to the story.
Very well written , light hearted and Self Indulgent. A must read for those who have read the works, Fiction or Non Fiction. For those who haven't read Asimov before this books not for you , go read his other tales first.

There are some absolute gems in the book. For e.g. regarding his argument with a speaker where neither one was willing to accept the others viewpoint Asimov writes ," the reader may well point out that I was being as stubborn, but I was right and he was wrong and that made all the difference!". I cannot remember the innumerable occasions when I have felt this way

The book was written when Asimov had almost completed his life and is full of fond reminisces. All his friends have been sanitized and the book shows a man who has lived the life he wanted to lead and would have no regrets on his death.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Tamas - Bhisham Sahni

The reason i wanted to read this book , was because the TV series by Govind Nihalani was as far as i can remember gripping and shocking. Though i now remember none of it,except that Om Puri acted well. And you could say that of most of Om Puris movies be it Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro , Ardh Satya or Bollywood Calling. But this isn't about Om Puri.
Tamas is set in the riots of 1947 and are based on true accounts that the author has witnessed in Rawalpindi. It has a multitude of characters all of whom are equally important to the story and perhaps equally insignificant because the topic the author tackles is no easy one.
It begins with a sweeper Nathu being fooled into killing a pig which is subsequently dumped onto the steps of a mosque. This leads to a rapid polarisation within the communities and the 'I want to live in peace but if they do anything then i will retaliate in kind' attitude. The situation worsens by wild rumors , some killings,looting and everything else that we can see repeated these days.
The book shows the inability of even the well meaning politicians to come to an understanding. The apathy of the people in power (then the British but which applies for the riots today as well).
There are no politicians , criminals or British that you could blame these riots on though these characters are of course present. The villains(if you could call them that) are the common people.
The striking feature is that the story is authentic. Loose ends are left untied and you do not know how the lives of the people continued. There are no moral judgments to be found here.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Bible Code -2 Michael Drosnin

Perhaps the problem I had when I read this book is that I expected a Da Vinci Code.
The Bible Code describes a code that is supposedly hidden in the Hebrew text of the old testament which contains predictions of events occurring after the book was written.
The Bible Code 2 is the sequel and contains some more predictions and includes the authors search for an Obelisk that he believes could crack the code.
I have read the book and I can say I am not convinced.
There are many reasons for it some of it illogical like the author always mentions that the bible is 3000 years old and therefore its prediction of events occurring now is nothing short of miraculous - yes I got it it the first time. The author keeps repeating that he is an objective reporter and does not believe in religion time and again , so many times that you begin doubting his words!
The main problem is that there are no maths to back up his claims. I have to believe the word of an Israeli mathematician. There are other who have pointed out that Moby Dick, War and Peace even the Bible Code itself contain predictions by pure chance of course
The other striking feature is all the predictions deal with Israel , Palestine and in some cases America. Its as if there is no world outside of these communities and that the world revolves round them.
The author of course hedges his bets saying the bible only has predictions and these are meant to be warnings which means we can change the course of events. It of course follows that everything that comes true is because the code told you so and everything that doesn't is because we did something that changed the future.
The book is also poorly structured as most of the pages are taken up by Hebrew text screens that I do not understand. It wastes a lot of real estate without much gain to the normal reader.
The only redeeming feature is that the author claims he tried to bring peace between Arafat and the various Israeli leaders. Even if the code is false, but peace could be bought by it then it is indeed a worthwhile endeavor

In any case the code predicts a great disaster in the year 2006 so we shall see whether the author is right

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Great Indian Novel - Shashi Tharoor

No epic, No work of art is sacred by itself. If it does not have meaning for me now, It is nothing it is dead. - P. Lal The Mahabharata of Vyasa
The above quote,from the book itself, illustrates quite adequately what the author -Shashi Tharoor has attempted to achieve in his book The Great(Maha) Indian(Bharat) Novel. He has retold the Mahabharta using the context of India's freedom struggle upto The Emergency. The Author has created an amalgam of characters from the Mahabharata and India's politicians.
So we have a Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as Dhritirashtra. Since Nehru was so concerned with modernizing India that he was blind to the fact that the India's poor were exactly where they were before Independence. We have Gandhi as Gangaji Or Bhisma Pitamaha , he of the terrible vows , the patriach of the clans. Some characters represent Organisations like Bhim is the Army , The Strong Man who considers his duty to his brothers (in the infamous gambling scene in this case The Emergency) more important than the duty to his wife (Democracy)

This is a very clever book-almost smug sometimes - It is also a sharp commentary of Indian Politics, Indian Politicians but as importantly this book will make you laugh. It is essential before reading this book to have some understanding of the Mahabharata(If you watched the serial on doordarshan it should be enough) and of some of the events in Indian History if you wish to truly enjoy (or understand) this book. Its not often that i spend my time on the Internet trying to look up Indian Politicians to match them and events with the events depicted in this book. For this alone the author has my thanks.

An attempt to identify the characters and events in the book. (with thanks to jitsi who began this)

Gangaji (Ganga Dutta, Bhishma) – M. K. Gandhi.
Dhritarashtra – J. Nehru
Pandu – Subash Chandra Bose
Vidur – Sardar Vallabhai Patel
Gandhari – Kamala Nehru
Priya Duryodhani – Indira Priyadarshani Gandhi
Kunti - ?
Madri - ?
Karna – M. A. Jinnah
Yudhistir – Morarji Desai
Bhim – The Army
Arjun – The Indian Media.
Nakula – the Diplomatic service
Sahadev – the IAS
Drona – Jayaprakash Narayan
Krishna - ?
Kanika Menon- Krishna Menon. In the book he is the defence minister of India and is the one who is sacrificed when China Invades India.
Drewpad – Lord Mountbatten
Draupadi Mokrasi– Democracy
Ashwathaman - ?
Eklavya - VV Giri was the rebel candidate that Indira gandhi made president but F A Ahmed the president who signed the emergency
Ved Vyasji- I think it could be Rajagopalachari. But he may have died before the emergency so the time lines dont match. But he was known as Gandhi's conscience and is reputed to have written the best translation of the Mahabharata. Ved Vyas is also India's first Governor General in the book
Mohammed Rafi = Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad
Vyabichar Singh = Maharaja Hari Singh
Sheikh Azharuddin = Sheikh Abdullah
Lord Richard =
Heaslop =
Shishu Pal = Lal Bahadur Shashtri
Shakuni Shankar Dey = Siddartha Shankar Ray
Shikhandin = Nathuram Godse
Ganapathy = The Author himself? But Looking at the author's views on Ganapathi (in From midnight to millenium) I doubt it.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Round And About - BusyBee

There never was a writer like BusyBee. There never will be a writer like BusyBee.
I forget who said this , but it is obviously true.
Round And About is the column BusyBee aka Behram Contractor wrote for 36 years in Free Press Journal, Mid Day and the Afternoon. Though there are a couple of articles which say that everyone mistakes Behram Contractor for BusyBee but no one mistakes BusyBee for Behram contractor!
The columns dealt with event in Mumbai and India , food, cricket and anything else that BusyBee might put his mind to. The Articles were Simple, Humorous,Sometimes with gentle criticism but so gentle that you could not really call it criticism, Sometimes with a dash of sarcasm,were always eminently readable.
If he wanted to make a point about Azharuddin or Kapil Dev he would write an interview with the Cricket fan or the Cricket Stadium , and in the end you would end up laughing at the Cricketer , at the Fan , at the BCCI , but not really at them.
If he wanted to say anything of Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena Government he would end up pointing his remote control at the TV and ending up with Manohar Joshi on Channel 1 and Gopinath Munde on channel 2. You can picture the bespectacled BusyBee in his T Shirt and jeans with the befuddled expression on his face wanting to watch the latest cricket match and ending up with Manohar Joshi in the mantralaya and you cannot help but laugh.
If R. K. Laxmans common man had to look different , it would be have to be BusyBee even though BusyBee was anything but common. There was no one who understood the average Mumbaikar(or should i say Bombayite) better than BusyBee and as Bombayites' go there were few better than BusyBee.


Reviews of books I have read appear here , provided the book interests me enough to devote some time for its review or angers me enough to spend time denouncing it.
However there wont be a rating system. (That book is three stars , the other one's three and a half, but I like this one midway between the previous two so should I give it three and a quarter?)
This represents a selection of what I'm currently reading and mostly doesn't cover what I have read in the past. Which is a matter of regret to me , because so much of what I loved in Books I wont get time to write about. But to Quote Calvin
Its a magical world out there , Hobbes old Buddy. Lets go exploring