Monday, December 31, 2007

Books Read in 2007

  • A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
  • Dress your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth
  • The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Money by Martin Amis
  • Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
  • Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
  • Talk to the Hand by Lynne Truss
  • Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
  • How late it was, how late by James Kelman
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
  • Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk
  • The Ancient Olympics by Nigel Spivey
  • A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
  • Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes
  • From Our Own Correspondent - A Celebration of Fifty Years of the BBC Radio Programme
  • The Color Of Magic by Terry Pratchett
  • The Know it all by AJ Jacobs
  • Going Postal by Terry Pratchett
  • Thank you for Smoking by Christopher Buckley
  • The Perfect Distance Ovett & Coe: The Record Breaking Rivalry by Pat Butcher
  • 700 Sundays by Billy Crystal
  • The Record Men: Chess Records and the Birth of Rock & Roll by Rich Cohen
  • Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
  • The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai
  • Arthur and George by Julian Barnes
  • The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford
  • Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes
  • High Fidelity - Nick Hornby
  • Notes from a Big Country - Bill Bryson

A Farewell to Charm?

Amit Varma had recently written about the issue of doping in sports
arguing with 2 reasons to relook at doping. The first was that it will become impossible to catch dopers and
the second was that using performance- enhancing drugs will no longer seem an ethical
problem. While the latter seems more possible, as Amit himself argues,
we may be looking at the wrong glass. Amit’s idiomatic, (schizophrenic!) glass (half-full/half empty?) being represented by a lot of dopers being caught these days and its pessimistic twin - that of doping being a lot more widespread. But then again, the glass Amit is looking at is not the same as what we should look at, according to me.

Sometime ago, my sports fanatic buddy, H and I had this long argument on the same issue, before work intervened to ensure we justified our salaries and returned to more worldly matters;) H's argument then was similar to Amit's. H though has had a rethink on his stance now.

My reasoning is based on a rather old fashioned attitude. The reason a lot of us follow sport is that it offers vicarious victories and defeats to us. We grow up admiring sportsmen and some of them become role models for us. We see the reflection of a part of ourselves in our heroes and perhaps think we could have done something with our talents had we had 100% control over our lives. Now, if that aspiration is left at the mercy of doping, there is little else to
look up to sports for. I think Amit's argument is largely economic. I don't think performance in sports must be viewed only from an economic lens.


A recent incident where Sachin donated a bat from one of his historic knocks to the Bradman museum drummed up the argument against purely economic reasons for decision making. Would it have been more economic for Sachin to open his own museum and place this as one of his exhibits?

Similarly, would you rather look at Mark Taylor's bat from his knock of 334 where he declared at the same score that Bradman had set and express your admiration for the same or would you rather be pleased looking at Hayden's bat for the (currently) highest individual
Australian score? Your answer to this question would largely determine your stance on the doping argument. It is about making the choice against charm. It is known that Taylor declared fully aware that he was level with Bradman's score and one more would have taken him past
that Australian icon. Hayden went about his business overhauling the same score with little fuss. It is not that Hayden has any less respect for the history of Australian cricket but I would argue that his sense of charm for the sport is not comparable to Taylor's.

Further, there is a certain charm in competing on fair grounds.
There is a definite contentment derived from knowing that your hero is unblemished. Surely Ben Johnson's legion of fans (if there are any left) cannot be comparable to that of Michael Johnson. Surely you would rather support Paula Radcliffe (in a sport close to my heart)
rather than support Katrine Krabbe, regardless of which nation you belonged to.

If doping is legalized, the Olympics will largely turn into a contest between pharma companies if you asked me. In that case, I would say lets do away with the concept of nations competing against each other and just decide on performance of molecules.

And finally, the other argument of legalizing something only because it is difficult or impossible to catch up with the wrongdoers, is a whole can of worms waiting to be unleashed. For one, we should then invite the legendary Pakistani hackers to Janpath and make them admin
for nic.in since we can't match their wits anyways.

However, one note of anxiety which dominates my own mind these days, is that of whether I will soon read about the ungracious fall from glory of yet another sporting hero of mine. A recent case in point being Alexander Vinokourov who had ascended a pedestal in my mind due
to his tribute to one of his Kazhaki comrades a few years ago. However when the unthinkable happens, I shall perform my own mental funeral service to my fallen hero, I will continue to argue for keeping doping away from sports. It is fine if I don't find newer, cleaner ones
to fill that space.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

You are into movies now?!

Bhakta Kumbhara (Kannada)

Sholay

Dhoop

Johnny Gaddar

Metro (aka Life in a Metro)

12 CDs of Charlie Chaplin’s Comedy Classic Collection

joined the books on my already crowded table today, due to some discount coupon from Reliance Time Out which has recently opened a store in Bangalore on Cunningham Road. Thanks to an sms based prize from Radio City (turned out to be a "not so generous" prize from the retailer, but all I needed was the free pen they gave away along with the 1st two movies above. I bought the rest at 25% discount on a coupon which came with the rest). This is the first Reliance Retail outlet, which is classy, although the staff is still almost as lost as the consumers are.

Good place to pick up a few of those low priced Moser Baer DVDs, VCDs as well as VCDs and DVDs from a lot of other companies at decent discounts as high as 50% over MRP.

Jasper Fforde and Merry Christmas

There are several joys to reading. And for those of you who are not in the habit and are yet to discover the delights in the writing of Jasper Fforde among other authors, here is a splendid sample

Merry Christmas

Taare Zameen Par, Om Shanti Om

Yesterday I managed to see 2 movies – one each by the 2 big Khans of Hindi cinema – Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan. The only thing I like about SRK is the fact that he makes no bones about his making good money by making ordinary movies. Aamir on the other hand takes his movies seriously and more than one of them has had a paradigm changing effect on Indian movies, not just Hindi cinema. (For the skeptics, think of what QSQT, Lagaan and RDB have done).

Warning: The discussion may have some spoiler elements on TZP and OSO.

OSO serves to enforce the image I carry of SRK. It is a silly movie entertaining in parts and mostly poor editing. The movie tells the story of Om, Shanti and Om (born again), combining with it the standard elements of a masala movie, including mother & son, villain, murder, love and rebirth, while poking some good and some ill timed fun and older Hindi movies and moviestars. The best part of the movie is the end credits and it is heartwarming to see the end credits and most of the crew appearing in it, having fun. Due credit (no puns here!) to whoever came up with the idea for that. The music is quite ordinary except for 3 tracks – the title track, Dard E Disco, and Ajab si, all of which have been overplayed on FM radio all over the country. Deepika as expected is fresh and does a decent job. Her good looks should earn her atleast a couple of movies and even then she could go the Gayatri Joshi way. The music director Vishal, who also used to be the lead rocker at Pentagram essays a cameo.

You can watch OSO on DVD if you are desperate not to miss popular stuff like me.

Taare Zameen Par is a really good start to Aamir’s career as a director. It was to be expected considering all the rumours about Aamir interfering with most of his directors. One suspects that Amol Gupte had more than a good hand in the success of the movie.

TZP tells the story of a dyslexic kid, his travails and eventual triumphing over the odds. It does so, in a gentle manner using the kid for the most part. In fact, Aamir does not appear till a moment before the interval. The movie stays true to the tale, using the family of the kid to create a very realistic backdrop to its narration. The protagonist essays his role well, being as a mischievous as a 9 yr old can be and generating as much as sympathy as a kid can in the viewers’ eyes. Aamir of course looks younger than he did in RDB and looks as good as only he can. The assorted actors playing the family of the kid, especially the father, turn out great performances. A special mention to Bugs Bhargava as the English teacher. The others playing teachers in the school as well as several child artistes all deliver realistic performances.

The music is well off the beaten track. Although one feels that AR Rahman could have perhaps delivered a better track, the current track is not without its memorable moments. In particular, the track Maa reminds the Floydian buff of the heart rending Mother by the men from the Dark Side of the Moon. The title track is eminently hummable as is Mera Jahan sung by the kids with excellent picturization on the protagonist. The track Kholo Kholo which appears towards the end of the movie as the tale approaches its denouement, does a fantastic job of creating the right mood.

The cinematography is evidence of talent that can match the PC Sreerams and Rajiv Menons of the world in the future and is a vital foil to Aamir’s direction and the music by Shankar Ehsaan Loy. The editing needs a little improvement and there are several moments, especially ones involving the kids where the kids are obviously conscious of the camera and are looking at the camera rather than being involved in the scene. A keen editor could have snipped these in time to deliver a slicker, shorter movie but one hopes Aamir will only learn from this and move to better movies.

I think the proof of the pudding is in the fact that in the 10 pm show I went to – the audience was mostly of young couples of which the two which sat on either side of me, were in tears during the movie and got up to applaud the climax, as did a lot of other audience members.

TZP is a Must watch.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yevada? Thadiyendamol or …

How I took the song, “Climb every mountain” as my statement for the day and tried to kill myself.

The title of this blog refers to a peak in Coorg whose name loosely translates to “I am the tallest” a rather immodest name for a mountain peak which seems rather inapproachable. In fact my pal, (a football buff and sworn devotee of AC Milan and Kaka,) and myself likened it to Japp Staam, the footballer built like a Hummer, while a neighboring peak was of slender build and looked neatly approachable and cheerful.

On Friday, the 1st of my 5 day holiday, I decided that I must go to Coorg. Once the small details of how I would get there had been worked during the course of my bibliophilic excesses on the same day and a few helpful coffees at Indian Coffee House, all I had to do was leave town.

We started y’day morning at 5:30 am from Bangalore and reached there by 11:50 after a half an hour break for breakfast at Kamat Lokaruchi at Chennapatna. While there, we also met two other groups of friends who said hello and one friendly angel, who also does double duty as the wife of a friend, promptly arranged for rooms in Coorg for us! So our acco was sorted, for a day atleast. We got to Madikeri and checked out the local spots, in our own unique way by running around, since I had missed my weekly run! I could immodestly proclaim that this must be first of sorts given the amount of curiosity we generated from localites of all ages.

During this sortie around the city, my pal also spotted that the Coorg Marathon was also due this morning. We spent a couple of hours figuring out how to register. After a lot of tracing, we found the place, but the organizers were missing!

Finally, in the context of my planning to climb the highest peak in Coorg next morning (2nd highest in Karnataka?), I decided with a heavy heart against participating in it. A local also told us about the son of a famous Indian armyman who also runs every morning along the highway, like we were. We went to the house of the general to offer our respect and see if we could run with him, but sadly he was out of home. Hence we drove to Siddapura for a lovely drive just to see what it was like and had a nice drive thru several kilometers of estates of various sizes and spices. We also went and say Abbey Falls. Overall busy day.

In any case, I woke up this morning at around 4 am and finally went running at 5:15, but didn’t see the general. But the fact that the highway is not lit and also since I didn’t want to get bitten or hurt by some creature on the pitch dark highway prompted me to abandon my plans to run beyond 2 km into the dark highway and do laps from my hotel to the same spot. After an hour of running in this fashion, I returned to hotel and we drove to Kakkabbe for Thadiyendamol, the peak mentioned earlier.

The path to the peak is thru a private estate, (Palace Estate) and is quite steep for quite a bit of the distance. We made it to the apex in 72 min from where we parked my car. After taking a few pics and resting to soak in the spectacular view, we began our descent and completed in 68 min.

After refreshing ourselves with some water (no breakfast), we decided to return to Bangalore since we couldn’t get acco for tonight. Also had brunch at Virajpet on the way. Drove back in 5 hrs 6 mins. Not bad for a two-day vacation, eh?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Biblioholic

The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan

were acquired during my third sortie to the Strand Book Sale this year :) The 2nd was y'day when I selected the above and then asked if I could return 1 book I had acquired during the 1st sortie of which I already had a copy :(

Bibliomania peaked today, it being the 1st of a 5 day holiday and hence the following were acquired from Book Worm

Enduring Love by Ian McEwan

The Innocent by Ian McEwan

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

Finally, the MG Road footpath yielded

Playing for Pizza by John Grisham

Games Indians Play by V Raghunathan

Ok, that’s it. I am not buying any more books this year :)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bangalore Ultra 2007

This is dedicated to all those who asked for it. Thank you people. I am touched that you care.
Now, there is a simple reason why I had not written about my ultra experience so far. I was embarrassed by it. And I don’t usually like talking about bad days.

The ultra began on time, one of RFL’s few races to start bang on time last year (mostly due to latecomers, rather than due to the organizers themselves) at 6 am on 16th Dec 07, like it had been planned for almost a year.

I had decided that I shall run at whatever pace was comfortable and stick to it for all 4 laps. Each lap was 13 km. Apparently some of the ill-wishers of RFL had gotten some of the local police to mess with them, as a result of which the race route got altered to a course which was only half the original course – 6.5 km up and then down for the most part.

I had Hari for company for most of the 3 laps and then he discovered some secret reserve on the last lap and sprinted off. He made his last lap in a little over an hour or less, I guess. I did even paced 1 hr 15 min laps for almost each of the 1st 3 laps. My time at the end of 3 laps was 4 hrs and a few mins.

I had experienced a mysterious pulled muscle in my lower abdomen which extends all the way to the groin at the beginning of the week (p.s. This still persists at the time of writing this post on Jan 24th 2008!) which had begun bothering my stride with the result that I was running with some stunted stride. Less than halfway thru the 4th lap, I had a pulled hamstring. I did a few stretches to relieve it, but nothing much improved. I also mentally reassured myself that I was then in unknown territory anyways since I had never run more than a marathon. So whatever I did was a bonus.

My fluid intake seemed to have gone for a toss and with the level of discomfort I was feeling, I decided to force myself to puke and felt better immediately after. A1 gave me a check to seeif I could carry on since I was bent over by the running track and told me he knew how I must be feeling, when I said I will finish crawling if need be. These dudes (A1 and A2) actually stayed up all night so that we could have a great race. Hats of to them.

I managed to walk for about 2 km, but trust me, with a pulled hamstring, just because you can’t run does not mean that you can walk with ease. It is just painful all through. After trudging through 2 miles for what seemed like a humiliating 2 hours or more, I realized I had even gone past the 6 hr mark which I had thought was like the worst I could have done. I didn’t even pick up my cert and medal, etc.

Notes to myself: Never run with an injury if timing matters so much to you
I had driven to the venue early in the morning after waking at 3 am or so and returned quickly after lunch to ensure I didn’t die. I slept for the next 12 hours.

The organization which had ensured hot showers and ice, etc made sure one didn’t go home upset at all. In fact, if I had not run 52 km, only the last lap in pain, I would have felt like I was on any other vacation.

Update: This was a retro post in that I posted it in Jan 2008 and then changed its date back to Dec 16th, 2007.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Strand Book Festival 2007, Bangalore

The Last Pick – The Boston Marathon Race Director’s Road to Success by David J McGillivray
The Spice Route by John Keay
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (with original illustrations by John Tenniel)

were all picked in perhaps what will be my last few purchases of books in 2007, at the Strand Book Festival.

Update: Mastermind 5 of which I already had a copy has since been returned!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Seizing the Saturday

Frequently I am accused of writing mostly on running, reading or quizzing, all three fond loves. Considering that my life outside work is not enough to do much else, (not that I would want to do anything else currently,) that is mostly what I write about.

Occasionally, something nice outside the above trio comes my way and I do seize the moment. Yesterday, someone who is currently a coach of sorts to me, for running and other stuff, called up and asked whether I would want to sit in the corporate box to watch India play Pakistan. This has been my only other live cricket match experience, the other one having been a Kar vs TN Ranji fixture at the same venue more than a decade ago. So I eagerly assented and watched Yuvi and Dada, first rescue India and then punish Pakistan. There is a certain masculine delight in hearing the bat hit the ball and go thwack! Thanks Commander.

I also managed to see the movie Maqbool, y’day after almost few years of waiting to see it. Good watch. Really nice background score and my crush on Tabu continues to strengthen.

Finished reading another book in the week by Bryson. Now onto Keay.

And finally, I was a little sad to discover that I missed the selections for the Indian Scrabble team that is on in Bangalore from this morning and continues till t’row evening. Considering I read it only an hour before it closed for the day, I am not very unhappy, especially since a pleasant lady answered the phone when I called the club. And they being the nice people they are, they invited me to join them to just play in weekends or for other scrabble events in the future. Now I have another hobby to cultivate every Saturday evening. If you are also a scrabbler or even just a word-maniac, join the Scrabblers on Saturdays.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Mere Yaar ki Shaadi, Mumbai se gaya mera dost, ...

No, this is not a Hindi movie music medley. Just a succinct description of the wedding of a pal in Bombay that I attended y'day. Now the bride has moved to one of our favourite cities, Hyderabad.
While we were savouring the delights of a day begun with champagne at 4 am, Bacardi at 10 am, Johnie Walker at 6 pm, assorted liquor brands post 8 pm, we also found time to be in Leopold's, Mondegar and also buy original copies of The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett and the movie Maqbool, about which we had heard much and seen little, from the Colaba Causeway.
Other bonus delights included pani puri from Kailash Parbat.
The only item in shortage in this madness for about 36 hours was sleep

Monday, December 03, 2007

Raising Funds for Parivaar though Mumbai Marathon 2008

For the last two years, I have raised funds for Parivaar, an organization for underprivileged kids, based out of Calcutta.

Some of you who know about Parivaar, can skip most of this post and write to me about
your willingness to contribute.

Last year, we managed to raise about enough funds to fund about 3 kids
for a year. Thanks to all those who were involved.

This year I hope to do better since I am upping my own contribution.

The rest, please read on.

I am running in Mumbai on Jan 20th in the marathon. Through my run, I
wanted to raise funds for Parivaar, (http://www.parivaar.org/ )

which is an organization for working for total rehabilitation of homeless children from categories like orphans, children of women in prostitution, street children, abandoned children, and other such highly vulnerable children.

Parivaar was started by Vinayak Lohani, a friend of mine from Infosys days. You could read about them at the url above and also at my blog http://dhammo.blogspot.com/2005/04/parivaar.html

for my personal take on them.

It costs around Rs. 15 K per year to sponsor one child at Parivaar. I expect that each of you can contribute 1K or more (I managed to contribute more than 1K personally last yr). I am writing to more than 45 people so that we can help support atleast 3 kids for a year. But if you want to contribute less than 1k or even nothing at all, it is still fine since this is a request for voluntary donations.

I need you to reply to me so that I can get an idea of how much I can raise. If you are willing to contribute, please let me know your postal addresses as well. The receipts will be sent directly to you by Parivaar.

Any further questions about Parivaar, write to vinayak@parivaar.org

I also have a couple of CDs which have information on Parivaar. Those of you who are interested, please let me know and I can send them to you. When you write to Vinayak as a donor and if you are interested, you get a periodic update on the activities at Parivaar.

Also, please feel free to forward this to friends of yours who would be interested in contributing to such a cause and copy me on your mails.

I should be in Mumbai b/w Jan 18th and 20th.

Looking forward to your replies.

Thank you and wish you a happy new year, well in advance.