Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dear Bombay, I miss you...

I arrived in Bombay during the monsoon in May 2009. Mentally I was kicking and cursing (at least the first part like a baby!).I hated the weather and was more than shocked by the rents. However the day I ran my first loop of Shivaji Park, I was in love. And I have raved about Bombay before, even before I started living there.

I have always been a Bangalorean at heart. I have lived in Trichy, Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida, Lucknow, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Madurai, Jalgaon, Rayagada and now Mountain View. I have also spent enough days in Vishakhapatnam, Warangal, Kolkata, Dhanbad, Asansol, etc to have an impression of what it would be live there. However, whenever I have missed 'home', it has been Bangalore that I have thought of. My ecosystem - running, quizzing, bookshops, parks are all in Bangalore and I grew up with most of them, except perhaps running. I still love walking down MG Road with a packet of popcorn in my hand with nothing particular on my mind and repeating the exercise when the popcorn has run out. I love walking down Gandhi Bazaar too in the morning when the flowers have just arrived and smelling fresh chrysathemum and jasmine flowers.

However today, I was overwhelmed by a sensation of homesickness - you know when you want to go thru the sights and smells of something you love - that feeling. And the sights and smells that came to mind were not from Bangalore. This is unfamiliar territory for me. I am almost embarassed to admit it. It is like I was married and was caught blushing by my wife when I saw an ex-girlfriend*. I was thinking of taking those old FIAT taxis to office & back, eating my chat at Shivaji Park, kothambir wadi in Mahim from Aaswad, my run up Pedder Road on Sundays, the chai at Tea Centre at Sunday morning breakfast, just sitting on Marine Drive, etc. It is a rush of memories and I am hoping it will pass. I have a feeling that this is an 'Inception' style memory implant by Arun & Yashwant (friends and fellow quizzer) who triggered the thought by bringing it up in a Facebook post.

But I am somewhat surprised it didn't happen sooner. It has taken 10 weeks since I got here for me to remember what I am missing. Of course I will be chastened the moment I get back since I will be going back into the heart of the monsoon :)

Here, go ahead and hum this earworm and you will know how I am feeling...

* I am not married, but I shall claim to know the feeling. As someone said you don't need to touch the flame to know it burns ;)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

This book is an extremely well written portrait of the three defining athletes across the world - Roger Bannister, John Landy and Wes Santee each of whom chased the holy grail of the first four minute mile.

It is an inspiring tale - actually it is three inspiring tales - one each of Bannister (well known), Landy (less known) and Santee (unknown!).

To me the bulk of the inspiration from the tale springs from the fact that each of the above, endured a horrific letdown at the Helsinki Olympics but refused to be bogged down by it. And each approached it differently but not one backed off from the challenge. Santee's tale in particular is tragic due to his run-ins with the establishment, but he did lead a decent life. Landy of course went on to win a medal at Melbourne in 1956. Roger Bannister remained an amazing amateur choosing to focus on his career in medicine. As wiki promptly informs us, he seems to think his career in medicine makes him prouder of himself. Makes you like him even more!

Strong recommendation to read if you are a runner. Good read even if you aren't since it is an inspiring tale with loads of personality profiles of all characters involved in each of the three stories and how their lives were interlinked for a while, especially in an era of telegrams, newspapers and amateur athletics.

Spoiler Alert on Four Minutes!

I did see the ESPN movie "Four Minutes" and it doesn't do justice to the true story. For one, the movie doesn't really highlight the role played by Brasher and Chataway enough. Two, I am unable to find why they had to fictionalize the coach Stampfl in the movie - despite Plummer's role, the movie is dull at the least, despite such a stirring tale to back it. Not to mention another inaccuracy on Bannister's love life.

 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What I talk about when I talk about Reading

When I set myself a goal of reading 20 books in 20 weeks, I didn't expect to have too much time to read on hand. So I thought it would be relatively tough to get through. However I am quite surprised that I got it done so quickly. I thought people who perpetually put off reading books and who read my blog may want to know how I got thru my list.

  1. Make a list. I always have a list of books I want to read/buy, handy (usually in a Post-it note although these days I use Gmail Tasks). Ask for suggestions
  2. Carry a book in your bag when you get around. Unlike a lot of people I know, I find it unpleasant to read in the loo and hence don't. But I managed to read quite a few books while commuting. And ever since I began training here, I spend atleast 6 hours every week in a bus/train
  3. Try and use electronic forms. I used a Kindle to read a few books on my list. When you are tired, you can activate the text to speech option although I prefer reading myself
  4. Keep adding to the list. For ex., just because I am done, I am not stopping here. I am not even halfway through my sabbatical. I intend to read at about the same pace everyday
  5. Set a time to read everyday. I read every night after dinner before I went to sleep regardless of whether it was 8 pm or 1 am for 30 mins at a stretch. Usually I was asleep by then.
  6. Keep yourself motivated by 'cheating' once in a while by picking short books/unputdownable books (See point 1 above) such as "Once a Runner" which is both short in length and unputdownable. It was also recommended by a friend!
  7. It is easier to start if you pick topics which fascinate you. Given my current preoccupation with running, 8 of the 20 were related to running. But I also read books in other genres - graphic novels, literary fiction, economics/business and neurology among others
  8. In Dhoni speak, "Well, Of course" if you really love something, take time off even it is a week to attend to it. Part of the reason I maintain an active list and buy books manically is that I expect I will have a vacation sometime and I don't want to look around for books to read. I just pick them off my shelf/out of my bag, etc...

I shall now attend to Tibor Fischer's Under the Frog and Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco, which shall be read at a slightly leisurely pace, now that my rather silly quest to read 20 books in 20 weeks is now over in less than 9 weeks. And those other books, Martin Meredith's The Fate of Africa, SJ Gould's Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville as well as The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb are all being read a few pages at a time. Meredith's tome in particular is both daunting (due to its size) and depressing (due to its subject matter).

Frank Shorter's Running for Peak Performance didn't turn out to be much of a book since Shorter's personal presence is felt only at the beginning of sections. Else it feels largely like a training manual for running which could have written by anyone else. So it lacks the warmth that Shorter otherwise conveys in just about every interview of his that I have read. (Bonus trivia: Did you know that he was the last person to see Steve Prefontaine alive?) As a training manual for even someone starting out to run, it seems quite good. So that is book 21 if you please, but like Lata Mangeshkar at the Filmfare awards, I am now out of the numbers game ;)

20B20W - 20th Book, Faster by James Gleick

Phew!

Yet another book I started reading before I left India, but had to leave behind. Thanks to a public library, decided to continue in Magnus Magnusson tradition of finishing what I had started*

I had picked the book mostly on the recommendation of a friend and also since the other books by Gleick that I have read (Chaos and Isaac Newton were both excellent books). This one written in 2000 is written with the rather exasperated tone of someone who has turned cynical with the modern human's apparent quest for speed in everything also termed "hurry sickness." This is characterized by the indelible images of the worn out "Door Close" buttons on elevators or by the fact that some people press 88 on the microwave since pressing 90 would take more time. The author presents various such cases while alluding to the work of various researchers including one which shows that we spend roughly the same amount on sex as we do on paperwork daily! By some incredible coincidence it happens to be about 4 minutes, each.

While Gleick writes well, the book overall fails to keep the reader enthralled and conveys the impression of having an ad hominem being read out, albeit at a fast pace.

Read it and let me know what you think.

* By that token, Unseen Academicals shall also be despatched soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

20B20W-19th Book, Strides: Running Through History With an Unlikely Athlete

This book by Ben Cheever is a heartfelt memoir of his love affair with running and the transformation it has wrought on his life. And he is quite a mean marathoner too, having run a 2:50 for a marathon when he needed to qualify for Boston and still maintains a 7 min mile pace at 10Ks, well into his late 50s.

The book is written in a very loose style, if it could be called so and several chapters feel as if they are a collection of his notes, while he wanted to write the chapter. But for a runner and there are around 40 million in the US alone (give or take a million ;) ), ANYTHING about running which is written by a talented writer is worth reading.

And the author does take on the oft-repeated debate of whether too much exercise is too bad for one's health among several topics he addresses in his book, quite leisurely. His wit and self-deprecation will win over any reader, especially readers who are runners themselves.

And I picked it up only when I saw that he had written a lovely piece on "must-have" books for every runner at the end of the book when I was just flipping through it and wondering whether to pick it up.

And yes, in case you are wondering, he is the son of John Cheever, the celebrated author and that fact seems to have caused quite angst in his life and running seems to have played no small part in his getting out of his dad's shadow.

Must read.

Moron check on those touting McRunner

Several of my friends and acquaintances (on Facebook, Twitter and email) have sent forwards about McRunner aka Joe D'Amico, who ran the LA Marathon in 2:36 last Sunday.

I am compelled to write this post, lest the less informed are misguided into not watching what they eat.

Joe ran 91 miles at peak training (I assumed he tapered 2 weeks before the race), including twice a day runs and about 55 miles in the week before. He is not an ordinary guy. He is an above average athlete. He finished 28th overall and 23rd among men. So morons thinking he is just a gobbler of McD items, note that just 5 women were ahead of him and that includes elite athletes!

On an average he must have burnt (I haven't totaled his entire mileage) about 7000 calories or more per week* assuming he maintained that level of mileage for his entire training. That is 2 kg a week lost. He could have afforded to eat about 20% more than his daily dietary requirement.

With that level of fitness, you need not watch what you eat if you have some sense of how much you are consuming by way of calories. So go ahead and emulate him first on mileage and timing and then on diet and that too, for a month.

What I found admirable is that he raised funds and without being sponsored by McD, both of which are commendable. But please don't quote his diet without context and then justify eating junk. I am sure Haile could run a 2:10-2:15 on a McD diet or a Coke diet or whatever, but he wouldn't even abuse his body for something like that. Why don't people talk more about Joe's raising funds for a worthy cause and emulate that?!

 

* Besides he has only logged his mileage from 18th Feb on his blog.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Librarian Invasions

Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville (A Lifelong Passion for Baseball) by Stephen Jay Gould

Striders (Running through history with an unlikely athlete) by Benjamin Cheever

Frank Shorter's Running for Peak Performance

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (a book I began reading in India, but didn't have time to finish)

Once a Runner by John Parker (a true classic as per everyone!)

Four Minutes (ESPN documentary on the first 4 minute mile and Bannister)

 

were all borrowed from a public library in a frenzied sortie. Looks like 20B20W will get done way ahead of schedule. So I thought I might as well have some fun while I am at it. And I had gone there to return the last four books I read :)

Am already more than halfway through Parker's work, which is entertaining reading, especially written with the empathy of an accomplished athlete that Parker was. This is the second work of 'art' on running by a former athlete that I have enjoyed, the first one being Saint Ralph directed by one awesome runner, Michael McGowan (sometime winner of "Round the Bay Race" and the Detroit Free Press Marathon)

P.S.The title of this post is gibberish if you haven't realized already, with a nod to the title of that awesome French movie

Friday, March 18, 2011

20B20W - 17th book, In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce

Began reading this book long ago in India, having bought the book when I moved to Bombay in 2009! Since I have been bingeing on purchases and not doing them justice and also since I carried just 1 book on my trip to the USA, hadn't managed to get around to reading this. Since my bro had the same book, began reading it again.

Luce's book has been acclaimed quite a bit and hence I will only add my bit and do some nitpicking as well

  1. The book is mostly written with affection & patience. So Mr. Luce, take a bow.
  2. For a book that is priced at $15.95, it has at least 2 really awful proof reading errors - a missing fullstop and a "they" instead of "the". I am quite turned off by such errors anyways but when I have paid good money, I am more than pissed
  3. He mentions dining with the Rajputana Rifles and having mulligatawny soup. Is that possible? Just a harmless question, ok?
  4. One of the telling comments he makes is about an India-Pak match, where several 'VIPs' including Sonia's kin request and get passes while MMS' wife Gurusharan Kaur sends a cheque for the right amount for hers. Commendable. Shame on the rest
  5. At some point, he says an apt description for Pakistan is "Not India." Tragic
  6. He talks quite fearlessly about everyone from Modi to YSR and Ravishankar (the one with too many "Sri"s) and doesn't mince his words about them. Apparently Modi said even Indonesia, a Muslim nation has Ganesha on its currency. So Luce says perhaps India should have some Muslim symbol to showcase its secular nature. Modi may be being petty but does Luce have to be? (I checked the Rs.10, 20, 50 and 100 notes I had. There is no obvious Muslim symbol, but neither is there any Hindu one. Am I missing something?)  
  7. Apparently NRN described Indian bureaucrats as MAFA for mistaking articulation for achievement. Maybe Nandan heard him!
  8. One amusing/witty anecdote is about a group at Infy called "Good for Nothing" which works for social causes. Nice name I thought

Overall, it is a nice read but perhaps I should have read it when it came out as it feels a little dated now. However what is worrying is that one of the author's only pleas/prescriptions to India to pay attention to its HIV problem is still perhaps largely unheeded although the govt. did take a big step by sort of recognizing homosexuals.

 

Nearly half a million marathoner finishers in USA alone

HT to Runner's World.

Running USA's State of the Marathon et al report here http://www.runningusa.org/node/76115  Am quite surprised to discover Boston is 7th on the finishers list. Perhaps they should also show a % finishers vs. starting runners.

It is interesting to see how Boston's getting faster and faster over the years! Median finishing times have dipped 9 mins in 5 years from 3:53 to 3:44...

Fastest Median Times 199520052006200720082009
Boston   3:53:03 3:44:47 3:48:40 3:46:13

3:44:04

Excellent work by Running USA. Wish they could share raw data for people like me to slice and dice a bit more - For ex., how many men in the age group of 18-34 actually go well below Boston's norms, etc 

What will reporters want next? Why India's PM and the word MMS are trending together?

Serious WTFness this is -> http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article1550610.ece?homepage=true

What is so abnormal about Hillary asking how India's finance minister was chosen?

I am waiting for the day when some idiot will ask India's PM why his name and MMS trend together.

Reminiscent of the Peepli Live kind of absurdity. 

Alam Ara - Google Doodle

Am I the only guy to have missed Google's tribute to Alam Ara's 80th anniversary? I know loads tweeted about Pi day, but surely other people noticed or have been sleeping?

http://www.google.com/logos/

Seems to be the only casualty of using the integrated address bar in Chrome :(

20B20W - 16th book, Once a Runner by John Parker

"Once a Runner" was written in the late 70s, but it is perhaps the only work of fiction that was dared to be written in the harsh reality that is the world of competitive running and that has held its own over the years.

Now I see why. It is an awesome book if you are a runner. It is fairly unputdownable by most standards, but for a runner, it is like a breath. You have to take it in!

Must read for all distance runners.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Librarian Invasions

Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville (A Lifelong Passion for Baseball) by Stephen Jay Gould

Striders (Running through history with an unlikely athlete) by Benjamin Cheever

Frank Shorter's Running for Peak Performance

The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (a book I began reading in India, but didn't have time to finish)

Once a Runner by John Parker (a true classic as per everyone!)

Four Minutes (ESPN documentary on the first 4 minute mile and Bannister)

 

were all borrowed from a public library in a frenzied sortie. Looks like 20B20W will get done way ahead of schedule. So I thought I might as well have some fun while I am at it. And I had gone there to return the last four books I read :)

Am already more than halfway through Parker's work, which is entertaining reading, especially written with the empathy of an accomplished athlete that Parker was. This is the second work of 'art' on running by a former athlete that I have enjoyed, the first one being Saint Ralph directed by one awesome runner, Michael McGowan (sometime winner of "Round the Bay Race" and the Detroit Free Press Marathon)

P.S.The title of this post is gibberish if you haven't realized already, with a nod to the title of that awesome French movie

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

20B20W - 15th book, Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco

There are several reasons I picked up Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde (The War in Eastern Bosnia 1992-95)

 - A good friend had recommended Sacco

 - One of my favourite sportsmen ever was the Croat - Goran Ivanisevic

 - No Man's Land which is about the senselessness of the Yugoslovian conflict is among my top 5 movies ever

 - Christopher Hitchens has written the foreword

 - I am not much of a graphic novel buff and the genre itself is completely new to me (As an aside, Sacco strikes you as a quasi-journalist due to his knack for sounding like a archivist/reporter)

 

My first reaction was "WTF is Hitch doing in the foreword of a graphic novel?" And I read the foreword in the library before I picked the Gorazde up. It was like most stuff Hitch writes, compelling.

Now the novel itself is compelling. Sacco's art is by turns beautiful, purely as art itself and the tale he tells - sad & depressing, uplifting and absurd. Why would people in a war-torn region think of jeans as the first thing they would need?

The book leaves you with the kind of dryness and emptiness that you get when you have cried your heart out and can't any longer. It should be made essential reading for everyone incl. all the idiots who think war is the answer.

Here are some haunting lines from the book "Dubrovnik and Sarajevo endured their maulings in the living rooms of all those with a TV set. But Gorazde had been cut off from cameras. Its suffering was the sole property of those who had experienced it..."

It is a scary thought to know that people with whom you once celebrated birthdays with, could shoot you the next day in a conflict.

Makes one wonder why conflict is treated with such a detached feeling in schools when we study history. For most Indians and Pakistanis for example, Partition is perhaps just an event in history. For those who moved to either side of the border of course, it is an altogether different feeling/memory. Perhaps a new generation of Indians and Pakistanis could study this as part of history in the future and see the futility of war/conflict. I remember we used to have this subject called Moral Science in school. That could do well with some real stories.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

20B20W-14th book, Delivering Happiness

Excellent read. Written with the irreverence and passion of someone brilliant who chased his goals regardless of how much money he had.
Best parts are about the initial days of zappos and the epilogue on various hypotheses on happiness. Some part of the book which is about company policy, etc is downright boring

20B20W-13th book, The man who mistook his wife for a hat

Another book by Sacks. Written with empathy for the most part, although he does sound insensitive or politically incorrect on occasion. Some of the stories don't necessarily have a feeling of completeness. Still worth a read although I personally found the previous book a better read.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

20B20W - 12th book, An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks

I finally managed to read this book which has been on my wishlist for a while. I knew almost nothing about the book, knew that the author was a celebrated writer and has been a neurologist.

The book is an amazing read, written in a simple manner with the lucidity of an expert communicator and the empathy of an understanding parent. Sacks is one of a kind. Amongst other things it did to me, it lent renewed meaning to the expression "in my senses" and a sense of gratitude for the same. A lot of our perceptions and feelings including having "sympathy" for blind people and handicapped people in general, is forced to be re-examined based on the author's fascinating narration of various anecdotes throughout the book.

One striking example is the unwittingly done debunking of a popular plot device in several movies (and perhaps in a lot of books too) wherein a congenitally blind person gains vision through surgery and how and why that is incongruent with the experiences of various such patients in reality.

Must read book

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

20B20W - 11th book, The Fixer by Joe Sacco

Thanks to Arun, who recommended it, I just finished this graphic novel, officially classified as YGN (Young Graphic Novel for teens) by the library I borrowed it from.

It is a story from Sarajevo spanning the decade from around 1990 till its end about a fixer. Since I am not much of a graphic novel buff, the contents were a welcome change - very mature, detailed artwork and amature storyline - would make a dark movie.

Worth trying. Now onto another YGN by the same author.

Have set myself a completely uphill task over the next 11 days, 5 books - of which Martin Meredith's "The Fate of Africa" is a door stopper...

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Parivaar - Give India's Matching Contribution

http://www.giveindia.org/give/pledgepage/ParivaarAmarBharatVidyapeeth

Click on the url above to contribute to Parivaar as part of Give India's Tax Saving Challenge, as a part of which they will match your contributions to Parivaar. For those of you who already know of Parivaar, just go ahead and click thru. You should  be done in less than a minute if you have a credit card or an Indian bank account.

The rest can read these posts http://dhammo.blogspot.com/search/label/Parivaar

Thank you.

Please act before 23rd March 2011, India time 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

20B20W - 10th book, Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

Mister Pip is one of those awesome books written once in a generation combining the affection of a bibliophile and the art of storytelling, while mixing in some dark human character - sort of Jasper Fforde meets Ray Bradbury meets William Golding. The book deals with the story of a tropical island where an eccentric man reads out Great Expectations by Charles Dickens to his students (who have no school otherwise), a chapter a day and how their strife-ridden island is changed by it.

I have special love for the book since it pays homage to Charles Dickens, the first author I read in English (or any other language) over two and a half decades ago. My imagination in those days was developed by conceiving scenes based on Dickens' words. It took me a while to digest that it was only a story and that most of the sadness I was experiencing (I actually cried when I read Oliver Twist by Dickens and several times actually after other books by Dickens and others) was due to the pure power of words. The author as seen thru the kids in this book especially the protagonist Mathilda are not unlike what I used to be when I was younger.

Please read it if you love storytelling in general and books in particular. It is an amazing heartwarming work.

p.s. I can't believe it got beaten by any book for the Booker. Makes a serious case for reading Enright's book, which sits in a box in Bangalore now. 

Friday, March 04, 2011

20B20W - 9th book

Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear is such a beautiful read for a runner, especially someone in training like myself (as of today), that it is difficult to give up on reading it. Well, I solved the problem the only way I knew - read it in one sitting into the night. So here I am at peace at 1:46 am tapping out a short review of the book.

The book tells a riveting tale of the Colorado University's Cross Country Team of 1998 and their punishing training in their quest of the NCAA championships. To read about legends such as Lagat, Abdirahman and Adam Goucher (a CU runner) as they raced as collegians and competitors makes you want to pinch yourself in disbelief. It would make an outstanding inspirational movie in my opinion. And the surprising part is that it is a real story, with more drama than you would expect even from a movie.

Strong recommendation to any runner. Readers who love generally inspirational tales would do well to read it as well, even if they had a passing interest or none in running

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

20B20W - 8th book

The Lore of Running by Timothy Noakes is well deservedly recognized as the most comprehensive tome on running. To even begin to describe its use to the amateur (and perhaps even the pro) runner will take more time than I have on hand currently.

However I must mention here that it is as much a reference work as it is a book to read. It expounds on everything ranging from injuries to training plans (for 10K-ultra marathons) to training plans for elite runners across eras. It has loads of sage advice on overtraining, mental training, etc

If there is one book on running one must buy, this is perhaps the easy choice.

It is a doorstopper that can be consumed over a few months like I did and it is interesting enough for me to have carried it all the way from India on my trip to the US. I have read a few pages a week over the past few months and have finally managed to close it out, although I didn't really spend too much time on the chapter on ultras.

If I had to pick one chapter that I recommend strongly, it has to be the chapter on overtraining, which has several heartbreaking examples, somewhat reminiscent of the futile expeditions of the French explorers in the Amazon and elsewhere in the last century.

Must read for runners

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Marriaguana

Marriaguana - the heady drug which convinces you marriage is the ultimate thing.

Typically 1st event to follow a marriaguana bout is a facepalm :)