Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Booty from Premier

More books, this time from Premier Book Shop (on coupons, of course! thank god for quizzing in bangalore)and the gentlemanly owner held up his lunch while I picked my books

heat and dust by ruth prawer jhabvala
anandamath by bankim chandra chatterjee
blindness by jose saramago


so the collection swells as does the pressure to read!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Learning & Teaching - One

First, the dedication to Satya and Sivani, both of whom have encouraged this for a long time.

Yesterday was another happy day in life since I got around to finally start something I have been wanting to do for a long time. Thanks to Siva (a fellow runner) who provided the opportunity to do so. Siva works with an organization named ASHA, which works with underprivileged children among other things.

We (Siva and some more ppl) went to this govt school to play with some school kids. I have had this plan to teach school kids for some time, but had sadly done nothing about it. Yesterday I made a start. After we finished playing I met the school princial and took a look at the syllabi of standards 5, 6 and 7 so that I had an idea where to start. Then we did a lot of discussing the current state of the school.

Satya had asked that I write about the challenges that one encounters while trying this out. So here they are. First one is on infrastructure. There are currently 3 classrooms. There are 31 kids in class 5, 33 in class 6 and 8 students in class 7. This means that we are severely stretched for space, especially since the classroom also serves as office room for the teachers! Next, the kids start off class 5 with no English knowledge. No alphabet even! Some kids even join straight into class 5 as they come from all sorts of places and some would have never even been to a school. Also the attendance is poor as not all kids attend regularly. Not all teachers who come to the school are engaged throughout the year. Some are leaving after September. So ASHA volunteers are welcome to teach.

The kids (due to some reasons above and others) do not continue much beyond class 7, which is evident from the nos above.

God Bless ASHA. They have accomplished so much with so many constraints, including constructing an extra building for the school above, picking up salaries for some additional teachers elsewhere, etc.

So that is the report from day one. More next weekend when we meet the kids. Lots of work to be done. Am all excited.

Landmark Largesse

I utilized my landmark vouchers to redeem myself of not having read enough classic fiction by buying the following y'day. Its the largest no of books I ever bought at once
1. freakonomics
2. the kite runner by khaled hosseini
3. blink
4. tipping point
5. the true history of the kelly gang
6. the old man and the sea
7. the tin drum by grass
8. lolita
9. the unbearable lightness of being
10. one man's bible by gao
11. american pastoral by philip roth
12. the bell by iris murdoch
13. slaughterhouse 5 by vonnegut
14. beyond a boundary by clr james (a classic book on cricket)
15. the sound and the fury by faulkner
16. ideas that have worked

the last one above is published by the indian govt (dept of administrative reforms and public grievances). i had seen it on my previous visit to madras at odyssey and had been unable to find it in bangalore until y'day (primarily due to my searching it under an incorrect title). was very happy to find it. it has essays by some change agents in india starting with kalam, nrn, premji, mashelkar, kurien, ela bhatt, swaminathan, etc. its the only hard bound book i bought and the most expensive, but i doubt if it will ever published in paperback. should be a great read.

arthur and george by julian barnes was priced at 930 and i felt that was too much in addition to being in hard bound form. i dont usually buy hard bound books.
the sea by iris murdoch was unavailable.

let me start reading some now!

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Landmark Quiz 2005, Madras

The Landmark Quiz is hosted at the Music Academy in Royapettah, Madras. There were 900 teams this year! The number is mostly boosted by school teams, to put things in perspective. This year, the quiz was organized by Derek O Brien, unlike previous years where it has been done by Naveen Jayakumar. Naveen did half the prelims this year.

Some of the questions were
“What constitutes almost 80% of a banana?
The currency of Botswana is named Pula, after the local word for something precious …What is Pula?
Over 20% of the earth is covered by this species of plants. Which one?”

We scored 26/40 and were the last team in. In fact, I had thought we were out and messaged 2 friends that we were leaving and when Derek announced the last team as “Answering Machine” I thought it must be a different team. While I was wondering whether to go and check the team composition, Derek started counting to 3, before the 9th team (8 teams in finals) would be let in. I had to scream out his name and get on stage. In fact he didn’t take kindly to the fact that all our team members didn’t get on to the stage from the same end. He thought we wanted to make a show of being late to arrive and also make an entry!

Anyways the rules were that the difference between the top team in the prelims and last team(us) would be added to the score after being multiplied by 5, as their starting score. We started on 0 and the top team started on 15 and the rest started on 5, 7, 10, etc.

We were a little rusty to start with and the other teams, especially one IIT team (There were 2 on stage) were off to a great start. We opened our score with me identifying Madonna reading something! And then there was a question about “Which actor won the best actor and best supporting actor at the Filmfare awards in 1985?” Now, I believe that all Filmfare award related questions can be answered with 1st choice as Kamal Hasan since he’s won so many of them. Right I was!

Then there was a video clip from the movie “Fahrenheit 451.” This one passed right round the stage before it came to us and I rocked! I had not seen the movie, but I have the book and have read it too!

The rules also stipulated that after 32 questions, the bottom 2 teams would leave. Suddenly we found that we were in the last 6. One of the IIT teams named IIT42 departed alongwith another team. Similarly 2 more team would leave after the solo round, in which one quizzer from each team would participate in a buzzer round of 15 questions, after which the individual score would add/subtract from the team score and the bottom 2 would leave again. I represented my team and got 2 right and 1 wrong. Questions here -> Which is the most abundant mammal on earth?! I can’t believe no one else went for this. The answer in case, you are still wondering is humans! Suddenly another good team QED (Samanth’s team left the stage since Samanth had an unusually bad day. Samanth, a freelance journalist is an amazing quizzer and much respected in Madras and elsewhere. He cracked one excellent question which went around all teams before he cracked it It was a visual, which had what appeared to be painting of Krishna and Radha in medieval Indian garb. Turned out that it was the cover of Amartya Sen’s new book – The Argumentative Indian. The solo round was won by Ramana, who’s another legend in Madras quizzing circles. He is a journalist for the Hindu. He rocked too and kept the audience and Derek (who insisted that he wear dark glasses and even borrowed a pair from the audience just for this!) amused.

Similarly one of the IITians answered an amazing connect between a composition sung by DK Pattammal (of Muthuswamy Dikshitar) and another of Tyagaraja’s whose name I can’t recall – The answer being Tsunami! Apparently both were composed in Nagapattinam as requests to the rain gods to protect the city from storms! Derek bowed to this guy! We were all mightily impressed. Sadly, the team came 4th.

We were 20 points behind. We took 1 plus, 1 minus, 1 more plus,1 more minus and finally 2 more plusses to tie the score on the penultimate question. Two teams on 100! One of the questions was on the Canadian postal code HOHOHO. I cracked it as the location for Santa Claus. Then Paul identified Frank Tyson after the visual had passed around all teams left.

Now, we were down to 2 teams – Rajiv Rai’s (Know Brainers) and mine (The Answering Service). Rajiv Rai is IITM, IIMA (as is Sumo, his team mate) and is also the winner of this year’s Brand Equity Quiz. He works for Citibank and makes the trip to Bangalore for weekend quizzes. He’s one of those rare quizzers who are good at business, business quizzing and trivia quizzing! What we call a pedigree quizzer.

The last question was, “Which organization (appropriately enough) hosts the World Fair Play Day?” (the 2 words in brackets were Derek’s remarks and we answered IOC as we felt that that was the most likely answer.

Turns out that the answer is FIFA. Made a difference of 5K worth of Landmark vouchers as the winner took home 10K each, while we got 5K (Who’s complaining!?) We also got the Kaleidocope puzzle and a tshirt each!

Phew! Haven’t had a more exciting outing in years. And I have a year’s supply of books. And doing what I love best.

The past 2 weekends have marked 2 highs. The Sunday before last, I did 21 km in 1:55:48. (Click on 'Timings' and then on 'August')And last Sunday, I had a great outing at my other pursuit. It’s a good feeling having fun at what you like doing.

Tribute to Gunjan Sharma, a young student and our lucky charm and team mate, who cracked quite a few questions, in the prelims and in the finals, both Paul and me had no clue about, including the original English song, from which the song that is picturized on Rekha in Parineeta, is based. To think, we picked him from the venue, while he was waiting in the line for waitlisted teams!

November 2nd is the date for the Bangalore edition of the Landmark quiz. Hope we qualify!

Closing. Although the best team name prize went to a Tamlish name, my favourite was a variant of the Spiderman quote, “With Great Power comes A Large Electricity Bill!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Rising - Sunset of Period Movies?

Why on earth did Deepa Sahi have to do the editing (I did remember her name in the credits! Or maybe I am hallucinating!)? Why is there a Holi song right after there is a buildup to rebellion? Was this the surprise packet that Amisha was supposed to be in? If ever you had any misgiving about her, her characterization is your vengeance! But then I am getting ahead of myself.

Mangal Pandey (MP) was my most eagerly awaited movie of 2005. No, let me correct that, 2003, 2004 and 2005. And boy, what a damp squib it is. God bless AR Rehman-poor guy, atleast he delivers. A few days ago, ARR publicly announced that he will not do any more period movies in the future, since he had put in a lot of effort into MP and Bose (Bose was produced by Sahara) and Sahara had not promoted the film’s music like they had said they would. Also he said that he had picked up MP because it had Aamir Khan (AK) in it. Bloody hell, I went to see MP since it had AK in it. Atleast I am in good company. Now that’s two paragraphs of rage without saying what’s wrong with it.

Ok, MP has an excellent sound track backed by the hard work of ARR who’s strived to recreate the music of the era and the region. In fact, I have been humming, “Mangala, Mangala…” for the last month during my runs as it is an awesome track full of life. And Javed Akhtar’s lyrics are as good as ever, like we would expect it to be. Aamir’s costumes look slick and are well done. Kailash Kher and Sukhwinder Singh deserve special mention for their rendering of their respective tracks Almaddath Maula (& Mangala Mangala) – and Takey, Takey (reminiscent of his track in 1947). Om Puri is the narrator and we all know he has been blessed with just the voice, That’s about all I can say in its favour.

The movie kicks off with a painting transforming into a real scene – Excellent cinematography. And it is knit by the traveling band of musicians, astride an elephant – nice concept. But then you wait all thru the movie for the bloody script to kick in and suddenly there’s the interval and 100 mins of your time has gone by. You assure yourself that the movie will pick up post interval and wait till the credits roll over! And to add to the outrage, the national anthem is played at the beginning. The saving grace was that everyone did standup. So people in my country are still proud of being here. I was whistling when Aamir emerges from the river and ascends the steps in that memorable scene. But at the end, I left the theatre feeling like I had been abandoned on the highway – you know a long way down and only yourself to blame for the distance not covered.

Too much is made of the relationship between MP and his officer Gordon (played well by Toby Stephens) and too little of the scale of the revolt of 1857, the latter being made to seem like some local riot. Rani Mukherjee essays a brief role as a nautch girl. There seems to have been a conflict of priorities in the 2nd half of the movie as to whether to give prominence to the revolt or to the character and the result seems to have been like Deve Gowda’s coalition government - tacky and superficial.

Maybe I should go and watch James – atleast I have a very low expectation from it, since it seems to be a signal of the Gultisation/Rajnisation of Bollywood, what with guys flying 20 ft in the air after being hit by James!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Sad but true story!

Like they say, reality is stranger than fiction sometimes. This story could not have been more sad with its own twist ...