Sunday, July 22, 2007

And I was told I write mundane stuff

Look at what Joe was doing

Whither Vino?

Is it time to say, well done Vino for the Tour De France 2007?
Well there are 6 more days of cycling. But after today's race in which Vino lost 29 min, I don't think he will get the maillot jaune this year. He is now 34 mins+ behind :(
While I was hoping that he would win this year, an accident ruined his chances. He had set hopes aflutter y'day when he won the time trials with 50 stitches on his knees after the accident, but today destroyed all of y'day's work.
I am more shocked to learn that he is 34 and has perhaps little chance of a repeat performance of hard work that he has shown over the years. But then Lance won his last when he was around the same age and Vino was the only guy who matched him move for move in 2005 although Basso came 2nd.
Hope Team Astana can sock it to the other teams t'row and for the next 5 days.
Good luck to him.
I think that Contador is a definite contender for the Tour sometime soon although Kloeden (also Team Astana) can also upset calculations this year itself. He has lived far too long in the shadow of teammates such as Uhlrich.

No More Pottering around or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!

First the embarrassment of having actually bought an original Harry Potter and that too on day one! Phew!

Don’t blame me. I was sick with fever and needed something to do on a ruined weekend and I decided that being in touch with popular culture won’t hurt me. Besides I have read the other 6 and hate to not finish something I have started, a la Magnus…And by the way, your brain doesn’t really work like you want it to, when your body temperature crosses 103 deg. So forgive me my follies. And besides I hate people who think it is really clever to tell you the ending of a book or a movie you want to read/see. I wanted to see if JK Rowling would finish off her favourite creation like another popular writer of fiction before her, albeit much classier (AC Doyle for the uninformed). Most writers tire of their creations, especially when the popularity gets a little hot under the collar. Or would JK Rowling not kill the golden goose? And is there a sign that JKR might weaken and leave herself a Portkey (For those who don’t read HP, it is somewhat like the Teleportation Station in Star Wars!) for an HP8 or another spinoff franchise? Also, if I understand books well, is the ending what I predicted it will be? The answer my friend, is something I shall leave you to discover.

For those of you who have never read a Potter. Don’t. For the rest and those who want to read something anyways, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (HP7) is the story of how the wizard HP and his chums from magic school (Hogwarts) try to bring an end to the doings of the Dark Lord, called Voldemort, while engaging in an adventure filled with magic, romance, tragedy, action and death, amongst other things.

And now for the good news. For Potter maniacs, the 7th is better than the 6th, (which sucked which is not a great comparison by itself.) The bad news, the book is yet another Harry Potter adventure, which is usually a shameless, unacknowledged filching of Tolkien and the rest – I mean seriously, giants, goblins, elves, trees, dark lord, death, to say nothing of wizards etc. I rest my case.

HP7 is a tale much like all other Potters – tales of sacrifice, cruelty, male bonding, female bonding, family, legends, power, talent, etc – masala, in short; what the wise old Indian film industry has unfortunately stuck to, emerging into a century of mostly movies miserable in their creativity or predictability, two important facets of story telling. However it has one redeeming feature – IT IS OVER!

What surprised me most was the occurrence of the F word in HP7, thrice. Ok, the E word, to be precise - Effing, or Effin, rather than you know what. But seriously, is this what I want my kids to be reading (if and when they happen!). I hope not. I wish there is better stuff to read by the time they come around. Anyways, there is some goblin legend to add to what you didn’t really care about in the HP series and some numerous other artifacts, literary devices to keep you occupied. Much though I’d be Pterry (and I am an avowed LOTR fan), one can’t help but be impressed by JKR’s ability to get ‘inspired’ by so much stuff from popular literature. Shows how much decadence my generation has engendered. But then, why read it? The promise of a good book has made me do worse things.

The usual suspects are all there – the Malfoys and various other families that dot the Potter landscape. And what do you expect to read in the last book – More magic, more curses, more deaths than in the previous HPs? What about blossoming romances? Plenty, considering that HP is now 17 and the generation that grew up reading HP, must be itself around the same age, unless you started reading too early or too late, for your own good. But I thought Harry loved Hermione and she did too?! What about the multiple women in HP’s life – Luna, Cho, etc? Will HP have sex? Oh come on, don’t be so puritan? If snogging can be allowed in an earlier Potter, surely sex can’t be all that way off. And besides the average age for losing your virginity in the UK is not 18! And there are assorted things English - alternately finding the French annoying and fascinating, dosages of Latin phrases, radios, etc. What about weddings? Does HP get married before he’s killed in a cruel finale – much like the Hindi movie hero who has taken care to attend to the furthering of his lineage?

The book could be read, if only to know whether HP’s discovery of the Horcruxes in HP6 and the oft repeated quote throughout the latter books of the HP series (apologies to Ms. Hewlett and Packard, Sorry dudes) about whether HP needs to eliminate himself to destroy Voldemort, (Woo Hoo, He Who Must Not Be Named. The one watching over. The one who can see inside your minds. Where did I hear that last? 1984 written in 1948, by a brilliant writer.) turns out the way all good things end. For one, you would want to know what in god’s name are the deathly hallows? Whose death?

And it is not such a bad way to spend a Saturday. If nothing, you can test your reading speed. In the end, JKR does deliver something you can read as a story. Part of her phenomenal success derives from her ability to tell a story, albeit ‘borrowing’ devices from incredibly talented people before her. This is perhaps where the likes of Pratchett, and to a lesser extent, Fforde, in recent times have faltered. They have written for much smarter audiences, with greater doses of humour and creative excursions. For ex, you can never make a good Pterry movie. You can make a successful movie on the HP series, as 5 of them have shown, by subscribing to the LCD.

And please, while you are still reading this, please go read Tolkien, Adams, Pratchett, etc while you can. Remember, I kept my bargain of not revealing the denouement of the book. It is bad manners, even for a book such as this.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Monsoon of Discontent

Sometime last year, I had begun teaching English at a nearby school almost once in three weeks for about 2 hours on Saturdays.

Around the same time, when I had shared some problems I was facing with teaching with one of my favourite teachers from school, she had suggested that my teaching had to complement what was already being done by the existing teachers. It is quite frustrating to see what is imparted (or rather not imparted) to the kids by the allocated staff. In fact, I began teaching with the belief that whatever I did would be an upside. Now, I am not so sure any more.

The dilemma is this. After a little over half a year, I stopped coming to Bangalore as regularly, although I still did end up in Bangalore atleast once every month. Thus, I stopped going to the school. Over the last 2 months or so, I have been in Bangalore almost completely except for 1 weekend. When I started working on the current project, I rationalized by telling myself that it was the beginning of the summer vacations for the kids and the schools would be empty. However that is now past and the kids are back in class. If I become irregular again in my attendance, I believe that the kids would suffer from a lack of continuity which is crucial to teaching younger students. However, if I stay away from the school, I am plagued by the thought of not doing my bit even when I am in Bangalore.

This should resolve itself soon, when I complete the moving of my base back to Bangalore for the third time in 8 years, although my job still takes me to random cities, subject to project.

I have frequently pondered the question of when to return to teaching at the school. Thus, I have returned to just thinking and not doing. Add to that, the uncertainty of flights home on Saturdays which don’t exactly get you home in time, leave alone time to get to the school.

Invite any wise readers to help resolve this.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Weekend Sport

The Tour De France 2007 has kicked off y’day. Ferrari is back to its winning ways. But the day belongs to Roger Federer.

But who won our hearts? Rafa, without doubt. He showed himself to be a complete sportsman, scowling when down and playing like a man possessed at all times. If only, he had a better serve or better luck. The golden cup would have been his for the first time.

Instead it went to the same man for the fifth consecutive time. He was humble in his victory, acknowledging the generous dollop of luck that came his way and also paying tribute to Borg, the man whose record on the very same lawns, he matched today. We also liked the custom made signage on his kit - with four little symbols - a derivative of the Swiss flag and some golden tints matching the rest of his Nike gear. There should be fifth one soon.

We think that Fedex is unnerved whenever he plays Rafa, whatever the surface. Rafa on the other hand just plays. Most of his brilliant shots disappear. He plays mostly defensive spin shots for return of serve. Until the last set, he rarely played the blistering forehand shot that he plays a lot, against lesser opponents. In fact his best play of the match was one ace, served at 129 mph. Rafa simply had no answer to that one, despite being in the right place and perfectly poised. Some psyching up is needed. We recommend Lance Armstrong, the maniac with the incredible VO2 max, among other things.

Maria Sharapova who played Venus, was asked about a similar issue – whether she has problems when she plays one of the Williams sisters, considering her poor record against them. She gave a reply befitting a champion. She said that she has been number 1 before and she has won Grand Slams and hence, stuff such as that should not matter. But if you saw that match, you would agree with me that the Williams sisters should really be playing along with men. They are simply too strong for the women a la Judith Polgar.

The Ancient Olympics

The Ancient Olympics describes the heritage of the Olympics, from its beginnings in Olympia and 3 other places in ancient Greece (For those who didn’t know, there were originally four Panhellenic Games – Nemean, Pythean, Pythian & Olympic) to its gradual spread across Europe and other parts of Central Asia and Africa.

Although the structure of the book is a little irregular, in that that its not exactly a logical progression, it does build a thread through various references, largely in sculpture and ancient literature to describe the origins of the Games as we know it today.

One begins to appreciate the origins of the gymnasium, why the Greeks competed in the nude, etc. There are even painting showing women in bikinis competing in some event. To think that the bikini has been wrongly attributed as a twentieth century concoction! One also sees how closely the early games were associated with the heroes that we know mostly in myth today – Milo, Odysseus, Achilles, Ajax, etc. As you read, you realize how cynicism towards sport is not exactly a modern reaction.

All in all, a masala read.

Worth a read, even if you are just a history buff or a sports maniac or don’t mind reading anything interesting.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City

Imperial Life in the Emerald City is this new book I heard about through Barnes and Noble’s podcasts which is one of the podcasts I listen to these days (The Guardian’s podcasts on Books being another one). It describes what has been termed as the Green Zone of Baghdad under American occupation for about 16 months, post Saddam. It is written by Rajeev Chandrasekharan, a journalist for the Washington Post.

Among other things, it describes absurdities - sometimes weird incidents, sometimes downright annoying decisions taken by Americans under Bush, in Iraq. Sample this – a 24 year old with no financial experience is entrusted with the task of reviving & running the Baghdad Stock Exchange. Another 21 year old whose previous professional highlight was driving an ice cream truck, was entrusted with the rehabilitation of the Interior Ministry of Iraq. These and other such appointments were part of the setting up the Green Zone. Other such instances of misplaced zeal include rewriting the Iraqi tax code and traffic rules, etc. I won’t even discuss the selection process of the people who were sent as part of the administration.

It must be quite exasperating for the average Iraqi to have been subjected to this, after having hoped for a democracy.

Assuredly, the above book contains political overtones, but it must be definitely bewildering for people like me, whose life is normally unaffected by the conflicts in the Middle East, except through petrol prices. I don’t see myself reading the book, but the fact that I am dwelling on it and to this extent shows how much it affected my mind to hear what Iraq has been through. Good luck to the Iraqis.