Thursday, October 16, 2008

Two Books

A much undesirable period of some sickness last week, helped me knock off two from my reading list- one of which was pending for over 6 months.
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman is a delight to read, filled with an intelligent plot, rich characters and tremendous intelligence that comes from the collaboration of two successful authors. It tells the amazing story of an impending apocalypse*. Must read if you are Pterry or a Gaimanophile. Must read also if you love fantasy infused with wicked humour

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is yet another fantastic tale of magic and magicians. It is difficult to believe that this is the author's first work. Must read again if you are a fantasy/magic buff.

* The indefinite article as opposed to the definite one here in line with the popular concept of creations/destruction cycle of the universe as per atleast one myth!

Monday, October 06, 2008

India After Gandhi

The book by Ramachandra Guha as exemplified by its title rests on a simple premise - What we know of Indian history stops at 15th August 1947, atleast in our textbooks or at best the assassination of Gandhi. It serves to remedy the gap and does so splendidly.

It matches his "In a Corner of a Foreign Field" on scholarship and serves to illustrates the diligence of Guha, whatever the topic.

It sweeps across a broad group of topics, not least of which is politics which has to necessarily dominate a historical work of such ambition. To review the book would demand a perspective almost equal to that of the author! And I must admit my shortcomings at writing. However the book more than does fulfil its stated aim - One is given the feeling of being a witness to a canvas while it is being painted by the talented, almost affectionate author (somewhat like standing alongside a scholarly version of the common man by RK Laxman) - drawing on scenes from Gandhi's assassination to Nehru's rise and somewhat tragic demise, the rise and fall of his daughter and then his grandson, the rise of several factional events that have shaped modern India from JP's attempt at unseating Indira Gandhi to the emergency, ...

The last time I felt so educated was when I read an issue of the Frontline which discussed the background to the Cauvery conflict. This book does the same for just about everything that has dominated India in our lifetimes, before those and almost certainly, the ones after. The author does permit himself only one indulgent nod to modern India's current state and the reasons for India's staying together, advancing that movies, a staple for most Indians, have created a fabric for such a diverse nation. I am not sure I agree with that, but it is worth an amusing read anyways.

Must read for every Indian and for anyone else wanting to know the evolution of our country since its independence.

p.s. The only reason this got read finally after having begun a long time ago is due to a really bad case of antibiotic allergy which has confined me to home, with no running!

Friday, October 03, 2008

TGIF - the work version!

Had planned a day's leave to try and get a 4 day weekend.
Did my 1st run on a weekday in a long time. Did a mix of interval, tempo and fartlek training.
Ran about 12K, 4K at less than race pace, 4K at cool down pace and 4K at what my host in Portland would have called "Oh brother!" pace (essentially ran atleast 4 loops of 770 m at 3 min-3min 20 sec pace). Got such a violent kick out of it, decided to cancel leave and go to work!
This is my 1st ever workout and am glad to include it in my Boston series.
Hopefully by New Year's eve, if this continues, I shall be kicking up a fuss at 400 m in closer to 1 min 15 pace. Tempo running, here I come next...

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Succumbing to Temptation...

Confession: Last time I went to Landmark to redeem my points, I had actually left behind my card at home and they refused to entertain me :( So I paid cash. And the sale got extended!!!

However, I went and bought 2 delightful books today on those pending points
The Pythons (Autobiography by the The Pythons)
i before e (except after c) by Judy Parkinson

The first book is an account of the romp thru life of The Monty Pythons by the 6 members of the troupe, while the second is a set of mnemonics, etc or as the author calls it "old-school ways to remember stuff"

Now the itch to get any more books is gone :) Back to reading now, which is proceeding at a brisk pace (to my delight) for the week. More soon...

I am not talented enough to run and smile at the same time

I am fairly teary-eyed with inspiration reading Za-to-pek Za-to-pek Za-to-pek.
The title of this post is a quote from Emil Zatopek, who replied thus when asked why he grimaced when he raced.

The book is a somehwhat dry, though fawning account of an obvious Zatopek fan, Bob Phillips.
The book discuss Emil Zatopek's rise to a status of pre-eminence in World Athletics, though Zatopek raced predominantly in Europe which was the hub for world athletics till the early 60s. In fact, till Roger Bannister broke the mile record, the leading runners of the times were either mostly Swedish or Finnish. The book also discusses Hagg and Andersson, the legendary Scandinavian rivals (also mentioned in The Perfect Distance), as well as other great athletes of the age, not least of which was Emil's wife, Dana, herself no ordinary woman, having made 4 Olympics in a row. The book has described in detail most people Emil competed against including complete list of marathoners at Helsinki, etc. This included 2 Pakistanis and an Indian, Surat Singh!

The book discusses Emil, the athlete and his tremendous, nearly inhuman training methods which got him where he was. It also discusses Emil's wide fan base and his contribution to athletics by virtue of his sharing his training methods and race plans, including during the race or at the start of the race! I guess only Haile (and of course Paul Tergat) come close to being counted in the same league, on both performance and humility.

Now for some of the teary-eyed part: Emil spent some time labouring under the Communist regime after a revolt was rebuffed in 1968, serving with a geological survey team!!! And this was the fate of a national hero who almost single-handedly raised the profile of the Czech nation in world sport.

Spoiler Alert:

However the story does have a happy ending, since Emil was back in the public eye from 1992. He passed away in 2000. RIP

This will be enough inspiration for a personal best atleast and should be of great use over the next year. Thanks to B, for the book.

p.s. I liked the quote mostly because I look awkward too when I run. I am not world class, but hey, I can always say that my style sucks anyways and I am not alone :)