Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Life In July 1 - Oct 15



A period of calmness and taking things slowly. Not worried about goals and directions. Enjoying life at its pace and be okay with every moment. No guilt, no lofty goals.

Yet, with all of this, there was some action -

Travel - 

1. Trip to Gokarna - Documented here - http://arvindbatra.blogspot.com/2018/08/gokarna-trip-2018.html

2. Trek to Kurinjal peak - With Nitin, Ashutosh and Vikram. Full of leeches and in rain . 3 different type of bus transport. Beer and munchings. Very less planning and no expectations.


Books

Have been very slow on this. In the middle of two books -

1. Baburnama - Very fascinating to read .
2. A feast of vultures - Very difficult to read.


Movies - 
Movies at home have been way better than the one in theatres. Here is a list -

- Miss Sloane - 3.5/5 Debut by Aaron Sorkin featuring Jessica Chastain, this was on my list since the day it was released. Very different from usual Sorkin and loved the story. Highly recommended.

- Blue Valentine - 4/5 Wanting to watch a easy film, I picked up this one hoping how serious it could be but it was totally opposite of easy but very well made and a story that is so difficult to capture.

- Our souls at night  -3.5/5 Loved it. Robert Redford with Ritesh Batra. I am a fan. Suburb life and some serious questions in the background.

- Julie and Julia - 3/5 Okayish film. Good one to watch when one wants to watch a light hearted film.

- Her - 3.5/5 Excellent performances and a life imagined with AI as partners.

- Ex Machina - 3.5/5 Truly a thriller film in its execution and a tad cliched in its ending but still very good. Execution gets full marks and scifi bits are very well done.

- Village Rockstars - 4/5 Kind of the movie that grows on you. Very authentic and genuine film about life of kids in one Assamese village. Very moving and the kind of movie where nothing happens but still it stays with you for a long time.

- Mulk - 3.5/5 Movie of our times . Had to be watched to understand what is happening around us. Good performances but it is just the theme that scores more than anything.

- Manto - 3.5/5 About the writer and his life. Movie mixes his short stories with real life in a very clever way. Good performances as well. But because of its structure does not feel complete. Yet it should not be as it is not fiction

- Mission Impossible Fallout - 4/5 Mindless action at its best. Loved the sound track part of it.


Plays
Macbeth what is done is done  - 2/5 Have never enjoyed their Shakespeare based performances.

Board games - 
Learnt Hanabi and  Blokus . Also played Pictionary twice and Poker. Gaining some traction here.

TV series - 
Finished Shooter - 2/5 Will not recommend.
Line of Duty - 4.5/5 Loved it. Have not seen a police procedural with this much level of dialogue. Brilliant.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Book Review - The Guide by R.K. Narayan


The bliss of having read a book before watching its movie version. The Guide movie is a cult classic, ranked #4 in best Hindi movies of all time (some Time list somewhere). Even with this knowledge, to have grown in India and to have survived to get a chance to read the book first is simply to have very good luck. Having said that, I am writing this post with OSTs of the movie playing in background. Hey - SD Burman's music is God level !

The Guide by R.K. Narayan, (sidenote - RK Narayan and RK Laxman - the cartoonist extraordinaire, are brothers coming from southern tradition where surnames are written before first name) is a fictional novel set in Malgudi chronicling life of Raju. The novel, written in flashback style, describes Raju's present times where he has just been released of prison and his transformation into a local guru. In flashback, he remembers his childhood, his job as a local Guide, and how he fell in love with the wife of a tourist, all the way leading him to be jailed.

The scenes describing the transformation to a local Guru are insane yet believable, hilarious with shades of sadness lurking in the background. The writing breathes simplicity into characters and it is effortless to read through the book. Raju's early days as a Guide are so ahead of its times. For one, the profession of Guide at a train station is something that is almost non-existent and yet so cool. Raju's love interest - Rosie's husband is shown to be a man who is interested in studying drawings of early men in caves. He even travels outside India and ends up with a book with his findings. I have rarely read or even seen an Indian movie which talks about such professions.

But the best part of Guide, what makes me recommend this book is the depiction of relationship between Raju and Rosie. Rosie comes from a family of nachnevali, is frustrated with her marriage but ambivalent of leaving her husband. Raju falls instantly in love with her and the progression of a relationship from a casual affair to something totally unique is the best part of this book.

Post reading the book, I searched and realized that Rk Narayan did not liked the movie and called it 'a misguided guide'. To be honest, I do not think that Indian audience is mature enough to have mass level appeal on what goes on in the book. I have read the movie synopsis and clearly, the movie fails to capture the better part of the book.  I will however watch the film just for curiosity's sake.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Gokarna trip - 2018

The itch to visit Gokarna had been there for quiet sometime. So, when this was floated as one of the destinations of our trip with Nitin, Parul, Kanishka and myself, we zeroed in on it.  The only catch was that this is now an off-season, monsoon time, and hence it could limit our options but since when has weather dictated my trips. So, we went ahead. On the plus side, off-season meant fewer tourists :)

Day 0 -
Friday night departure via our typical western ghats train. We had packed Aloo parathe, Paneer parathe, pickle and dal-chawal for Kanishka. Kanishka was recovering from a sore throat and couple of other ailments, so was on full precaution mode. She only jeera rice + dal as the default meal during the entire trip.


Day 1 -
Our arrival at Gokarna was at noon. The good part about this train is that by the time you wake up, you are on the Konkan line and you get to see amazing scenery from train itself. Plus, we played Court Piece on the train to keep ourselves occupied. My usual boastful statements ended up making me deal till the last station.



Upon arrival, we were really hungry and decided to go the town first to have lunch before we drop our bags at our hostel. We had chosen a hostel this time with bunk beds to experience simplistic travel. Pai restaurant has been there for last 80 yrs and prepared a nice lunch for us even though it was not lunch time yet. Local transport is very expensive in Gokarna. Four of us ended sharing one auto multiple times with Nitin sitting at the front. My first impression of Trippr was quiet bad. First, there is no direct access road for the property. Our auto guy dropped us 200 meters away on the beach and we had to walk to reach the property. Property is very basic, dogs were roaming around and the chef was absent as it was off season. The room was ok but our bigger disappointment came later when we realized that the water is muddy.





Somehow we managed to take the bath and decided to visit the temples at Gokarna. Since the temple only opens up at 5 pm, we had an hr to kill which we did by roaming nearby streets. It was fairly deserted. Many shops are closed because it is an off-season. Very few tourists were visiting. In the market, we saw an art gallery. A few kids were learning basic drawing and coloring while the walls had paintings which were quiet abstract. 


After roaming streets, at 5 pm, we reached our temple and one of the requirements for entry was to remove the shirt. I skipped visiting it inside. After the temple, we walked to RamTeerath - another temple about 750 m away. At RaamTeerath, it is believed that Lord Ram had meditated here on his way to Lanka. It was a breezy and peaceful place with a big rock where you can sit and enjoy waves going sideways. Typically, you see waves coming at you but at this point, you can see waves going and hitting the Gokarna beach shore.


We decided to have dinner at Namaste Cafe on Om Beach. The cafe was the only one open. You can hear the waves from your dinner table. Food and service are ok.

Gokarna autos have a differential pricing structure where they have fixed rates between destinations and if you divide the rate by distance, it roughly comes to be about INR 50- INR 70 per km.  I used to believe that hotel and transportation from home to city are the two biggest expenses in travel. Food is variable - you can get both cheap and 5-star options, so it depends on us. But over last 3-4 trips, I have realized that within city transportation is also a significant expense. At Gokarna, about 20% of our total expense would have been local city transportation. A majority of this is just union controlled dynamics which will be shattered in few years by a corporation with lots of money.


Day 2

Day 2 was our beach hike day. We took an auto from our hostel to Paradise beach. Our plan was to start hike from Paradise beach, then to Half moon beach and end at Om beach and have lunch there. If we have energy, we may want to hike to Kudle beach or just relax at Om beach. Both Paradise and Half moon beach are not accessible by roads, one has to trek to reach them. Our Auto guy dropped us at about 1.5 km away from the Paradise beach.


Both Kanishka and I instantly realized the mistake of not having floaters on this trip. We had to cross a stream which meant taking off our shoes and then wearing them again. The trek was ok. Even though it was off season and it had rained last week, the trail was firm and clean. Paradise beach is indeed beautiful but for humans. People have etched their names on rocks, there is a garbage pile at one end. But the beach overall is clean and if you have a sense to ignore your distant surroundings, you can stay in peace there.






From Paradise beached, we started our hike to Half moon beach. But in the absence of a guide, we took two wrong turns and ended up at a point where there was no trail ahead. We had to back trace and then figure out an alternative path. That is the joy of natural trekking.  In this process, we had to face couple of paths which were difficult to climb. Parul was a little scared but Nitin guided her.  We did manage to reach Half moon beach and it is a small beach with some nice rice paddy fields behind it.


It reminded me of Half moon bay near SF and my good memories of that place. Trek from Half moon beach to Om beach was much easy. We were guided by couple of folks who had come to Half moon beach to relax, chill and smoke weed. We were also offered to join them but we decided to move on. The trail goes through a nice tree cover and you can see the ocean through them at some points. There is also a view point where you can see the boundary of Om of Om beach.


Om beach was almost empty, this being the off season. There were few tourists near the Namaste cafe but for the most part of the beach, it was clean and clear. We enquired from a life guard on possibility of taking a boat to see dolphins. He said that this is high tide and off season and hence dolphins trips are not happening.  Our lunch was good at Namaste cafe. Post that, we decided to dip ourselves .


Water was not that cold but since it was high tide, we were advised to not go deep. We were at the rim of ocean where waves were little slower. Hence in addition to water bath, it was also sand bath for me. Fortunately Om beach also has a water bath facility but it is in poor condition. Bathing rooms did not have latches, there was no light plus you had to carry water in bucket from a tap 25 meters away.  Somehow, I was able to take bath and then was all freshened up.

We decided to check the Zostel hostel and its Mantra cafe. Coffee was good and hostel is decent, much better location as compared to our hostel. We walked from Zostel to Kudle beach. Along the way, we found the birthplace of Hanuman Janamsthal. This was so ironic . We have so much going on for Ram Janambhoomi and for Ram's biggest bhakt and he himself being such an iconic lord, his birthplace is lying in tatters.



Kudle beach is decent but could be maintained well. We walked from one end to another hoping to find a nice dinner place but could not. With this we have walked all famous beaches of Gokarna from one end to the other. We had done it for Paradise, Half moon, Om, Kudle and Gokarna. We decided to have dinner at a fancy white elephant restaurant but when we reached there, it was all empty. We decided to have food at a restaurant opposite White elephant. Food was decent there. Through out our stay at Gokarna, we could not find any Roti, it was always the Chapati (Maida roti). Kanishka due to her head issues was very careful with her diet and only had Jeera rice + dal tadka/fry at all times.




Day 3
After having breakfast at our usual Pai restaurant, we went off to Yana to see the caves there. Our plan was to see Yana and then go to Mirjan fort if time permits, have lunch and then board the train back. We had rented a car who charged us INR 2000 for the entire day. Drive from Gokarna to Yana is scenic.

Yana was absolutely stunning. It was by far the best part of this trip. Located inside a dense forest, with no network (bonus), we had to trek about 30 mins to reach the top. There are two Yana rocks, we visited the smaller one. Wikipedia has a nice anecdote about the mythology behind this place - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yana,_India . The rocks truly are alien given the surrounding landscape and the theory that they were left by aliens ages ago seem plausible.

The trek to cave top was very beautiful with waterfalls, lush green forests and no leeches . At the top, there is a temple. The caves are behind the temple with proper staircases leading up to them but the catch that one has to walk bare feet. At this time, it was raining there and we were all wearing ponchos. Rain had made the steps and the path quite slippery. But we still went ahead. There were very few people and hence it was very beautiful.







Getting down was quick. Kanishka was feeling little sick because of motion sickness. She took some candies. From there, we went to Mirjan fort but we saw it in a hurry as we had only 30 mins. Mirjan fort is in ruins but could be very beautiful.


After having lunch at a highway restaurant - delicious and cheap - we even got some packed for our dinner, we were before time at the railway station to catch our train back home. We played Bonus on our way back and I tried to read The Guide - by R K Narayan at night. 

During the trip, we saw how new constructions are coming up in Gokarna and we felt that in next 10 - 15 yrs, it will become present day Goa. It needs more attractions and possibly couple of good pubs. Gokarna as of now is still very beautiful and green. It is still not as commercialized. Its beaches are still pretty and off-season with fewer people is a good time to visit. If it rains, just carry a poncho. Dolphin siteseeing is anyways not good for Dolphins and hence I was in two minds to avoid it. But the highlight of this trip and this destination is indeed Yana. It is truly secluded and untouched by tourists as of now. Yana made this trip totally wow. If I visit it next time, that would be because of Yana and not Gokarna.



Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Book Review : In Custody by Anita Desai


As part of my goal to read 20 Indian books this year, I was exploring good listicles on Indian books. Most of them had similar items but this one - https://www.hindustantimes.com/interactives/70-books-independence-day/ struck a cord. On the occasion of India's 70th Independence Day HT had chronicled a list of must read 70 books. The author shares the choosing criterion in the end and I liked it. With this, I decided to selectively pick a book from this list and I chose In Custody by Anita Desai.

In Custody is a story of Deven who is a Hindi professor in a university at Mirpore but his true passion lies in the Urdu language. Through his friend Murad, he gets a chance to interview Nur, a famous poet, but now living in small lanes of Chandni Chowk with no recent works.  Deven is short of money yet decides to take up this endeavor for his love and respect to the language of Urdu, and a chance to meet the great poet. However, Nur is now living in an unbearable state  of penury with failing health, just like the state of Urdu language. He is surrounded by jobless sycophants who just eat and drink at his house. He denies to give any interview to Deven and ridicules his endeavor. The story traces the journey of Deven as he ploughs through to make this long distance interview work.

From the first few pages itself, Desai's warmth language and fluidity makes this novel very easy to read. We know much and more about these characters in few paragraphs where other books take their entirety. Desai has loftier goals set for her. The idea behind In Custody is to understand how in India, a man, insecure and under-confident, someone who has made compromises in all aspects of his life so far, stumbles upon a chance to follow his passion, struggles to do so both emotionally and in the real world. Pessimism and insecurity goes together in this book creating an undercurrent of gloom.

Deven faces one hurdle after another but at every junction, he gets help some genuinely good while other trying to use him; he fails to differentiate between the two and ends up paying no gratitude to either.  Desai also throws in the complicated husband-wife relationships that exists in typical Indian society.  The whole volume if rewritten from the point of Deven's wife Sarla, will make Deven a villain. Yet she endures him.  The relationship between Murad and Deven is even more complicated to the point that it is not clear how they are even friends.

This book is a study of India in 1980s and continues to be today. Urdu language is in decline and so are the poets and the artists. Cunningness is growing and relationships are getting complicated. Women are trying to find a place in the man's world either under them or through sidelines. Summers are getting unbearable at one end and old havelis are falling down. Markets are getting crowder and people short tempered.  Universities are short on budget and bureaucracy is the machinery. Money is the driver of everything. In all this, a tailor lives in the house of a widow who feeds him as a random act of kindness. A language student has done correspondence course in electrical to have a shot at some kind of job.   Desai's prose is easy and even in the novel's bleakness, her words are kind and make this emotional journey bearable.

This is not an easy read but read you must.  Rated 3.5/5






Saturday, June 30, 2018

Life in March 26 - June 30


This report covers a significant milestone in the journey of yours truly. We decided to merge our startup with another company. Right now, I have a deep feeling of gratitude and humility  along with some fond memories and very crucial learnings (some of them quite painful as well :) ) While the memories will be cherished forever, I do hope that learnings stay and remembered and made use of in future. But overall, it has been a very exciting ride and I am very glad that I did it. So many fears had to be overcome and it takes real effort to see it through. And it takes effort not just from me but from family and everyone around you to make it happen.

Note - I am intentionally not saying the name so as to not make this searchable. It is quiet ironic given that I have worked on SEO for so many years now. While blog is public, it is largely meant to be personal reflection along with some random musings.

There will be a detailed post mortem and I will write more in a more private setting :)


---------------

With that, it is time to cover what other interesting stuff happened.


- Family trip to Munnar. Detailed post here - http://arvindbatra.blogspot.com/2018/06/munnar-2018-family-trip.html


- Finished Sahir Ludhianvi's biography by Akshay Manwani.  Book review was shared earlier.

- Finished The Free Voice: On Democracy, Culture and the Nation by Ravish Kumar.
It is a small and tight book by one of India's finest journalists. It is a difficult read, it is a reflection of life in our times. But this is what makes a nation. Tough times and how its citizens deal with it. To run is easy, to stay and fight is the challenge. We as a nation are becoming quieter and that is what Ravish is arguing us to not do. To speak up is the need for a revolution and we must participate in it.

- Running has started. I ran 22K in May as part of training but had to go on a break due to work pressure. Now, it has started again.

- Movies :
Incredibles 2 - 3.5/5
Good movie especially on highlighting the gender issues and pushing the envelope on fathers taking care of kids. Good to see in Incredibles as Mr. Incredible always was shown as the macho man. I think they did it little bit much with JackJack.

Ocean's 8 - 2.5/5
I do not feel good to be this much harsh on a this genre and this intent but come on, it could have been so much better.

My happy family - 4.5/5
https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/my-happy-family-2017
I think this review sums up my feelings bout the movie - https://www.villagevoice.com/2017/11/29/the-best-film-of-the-year-isnt-coming-to-theaters-its-coming-to-netflix-this-week/

I am Jane Doe - 4/5
https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/i_am_jane_doe/
A good documentary based on a true story is so much better than any fiction. Plus, I am a big fan of Jessica Chastain

Florida Project - 3.5/5
Best move of 2017 as per avclub, I found it to be good but not that good to be the best one.

The Shape of Water - 3.5/5
Loved the effects, the acting. A touching tale of pure love with a fantasy ending.


A standup comedy show by Varun Grover.
Good one, typical grover saab.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Munnar 2018 - The family trip


Let's do a family trip ! yayyy!
Destination - Munnar
People - 8

How should we go ? Flight/ Train to Kochi and then temp from there? Two cars from bangalore?  One tempo from bangalore? Direct bus from Bangalore to Munnar? Note - Three people have acute travel sickness.

Should we leave on 18th night and come back on 21st morning? 22nd morning? 21st night? Can we travel overnight? Note - Three people out of seven are more than 58 yrs old

Where should we stay ? Homestay? Close to city centre? Outskirts in nature with no network? In a tea plantation? Budget kitna hai? Note - Three people do not have any preference, they are ok with anything :)


Planning a family trip that satisfies all the constraints is practically impossible. Given all that, we decided to take a tempo traveller 13 seater on 18th night to Munnar. The plan was to travel overnight on 18th night and comeback on 21st night by travelling during 21st day. We will have full two days in Munnar 19th and 20th to enjoy. Munnar from Bangalore is 9 hrs drive without any stops. With stops, it will be 12 hrs and if we leave by 8:30 pm, we will be there by 8:30 am next day.  The stay was booked at a top TA hotel to minimize any concerns and to top it, it also had a swimming pool :)


Day 1
The tempo was clean and okay - only issue that it made noise on acceleration but it had a functioning TV with DVD player and we had taken Amol Palekar movies - Formula for success. We wasted one hr while leaving Bangalore trying to find a mosquito repellant but with no success. We forgot that the bus will have to stop at RTOs for permits. On top, our driver was really sleepy through the night and made 3 extra stops to drive his sleep away. It took us a total of 16 hrs to reach Munnar at 12 noon and we were really exhausted.  On the way, we had stopped for breakfast at a typical Keral breakfast joint and it served yummy food


We reached our hotel - The leaf at 12 noon. We quickly decided to get fresh, have lunch and sleep for sometime. The plan for Day 1 was to go to Kalari Kshetra and see Kathakalli and KalariPayattu shows. Kalari Kshetra was very close to our hotel. The shows were decent, definitely a one time watch. They do not provide a good justice to the history behind it, also not very polished but a good start and if more people come, they can make it a lot more polished as well. 




Day 1 ended with us having dinner at our room - some home items and some hotel items. At midnight, we cut Aarti's birth day cake.


Day 2
Day 2 was going to be a full outing day. It started by a visit to KFDC garden. Followed by a boating at Matupetty dam. But before that, we stopped at a classic Munnar view point and clicked like hundred pictures.




The garden was okay. Matupetty dam was crowded with huge lines for everything - from food court to boat rides. We booked a Shikara ride and to our joy, we even saw an elephant family. While the boat ride was on, it had started to rain making the experience even better




Post the dam, we decided to come back and went to a Kerala massage centre to have a oil massage. I also tried Shirodhara for the first time. I have realized that I am not a big fan of oil based massages. Once we came back to hotel, Aarti gave her birthday treat with a big dinner buffet.

Throughout the day there were lot of traffic and our tempo was stuck. I leveraged this opportunity to my favor by finishing half of Sahir Ludhianvi's biography. Even in the morning, I had decided to skip the pool and enjoy morning coffee along with the book while cool breeze was blowing. 

At midnight, we celebrated Anshika Didi's birthday by cutting yet another cake



Day 3
Day 3 started by us taking advantage of the pool before we depart these beautiful premises. While the property was beautiful, the thing that stands apart for Leaf is their hospitality. They were able to get us cakes for both nights and were very patient in attending to our other requests as well.



Return journey was straight back journey. It was already 10am by the time we left the property. On the way back, Aarti, Kanishka and Babu were feeling travel sickness. We had to stop so that could puke. It was 2 by the time hunger hit us. We stopped at this local place for lunch which served us amazing Kerala food on banana leaf. 


After watching Amol Palekar flicks, Jaane bhi do Yaaron, we also watched a travel movie - Riding solo to the top of the world. It was a new one and I totally dig this movie. While others may have found it boring,  it is a very special movie made with lot of pains as it is a solo movie. 

For dinner, we stopped at A2B for a treat by Anshika didi. We had Appe along with very good North Indian food.  By the time we were home, it was 11 pm. We were all exhausted but it was a good family trip! We truly had lot of fun.








Books in 2018 - #1



2018 is going to be a year of books. At-least far higher than previous years. I had made a resolution to read about Indian authors / books about India. But that is not the only thing that I am going to read. Here is a brief summary about what I have read so far -


Miss Laila armed and Dangerous by Manu Joseph
Review here - http://arvindbatra.blogspot.com/2018/03/book-review-miss-laila-armed-and.html


Aap & Down by Mayank Gandhi
Review - A decent book to give a glimpse on what went behind the journey of AAP - both its rise and subsequnt downfall, as told from the first hand experience of Mayank Gandhi. I liked all Mayank explains the AAP chapter when it comes to dealing with Anna Hazare, and sums up his experiences of working with Anna before. This information is something that not everyone has been pricy to and is a delightful read.
However, I have many misgivings about Mayank's role in the AAP saga during its downfall. He should have spoken more eloquently and atleast resigned much earlier. Even in the book, those chapters needed more details, more information should have been made transparent. But it fails to do so. In addition, Mayank has some spiritual philosophies which are difficult to digest. However, given that Mayank is doing some wonderful work now in Parli, it is difficult to have any misgivings about him.
Overall, this is a fine book, written in easy English and is a good accompaniment for what may be the best political struggle of my time yet.



The Dreamers by Snigdha Poona
Review - A must read. The idea behind reading about Indian author or books about India is to know and learn about India up close. From the position of privilege that I have, from this bubble that I live in, it has often been hard to understand why India is behaving the way it is. Deep down, I like to believe that people are rational, sensible beings and they truly want what is the best for the nation. Yet, given that, the choices they make are sometimes difficult to rationalize with. 
The Dreamers by Snigdha Poonam goes to the heart of my conundrum by focussing on folks from all walks of life and trying to make sense of the idea of India through their aspirations. While at one end are individual stories, witty, delightful, full of interesting people and their colorful experiences, hard work and sometimes scary as well. But where the Dreamers shine is when Ms. Poonam is able to find the common emotion across these diverse narratives - that of challenging the status quo and an intrinsic nature to stand apart from your surrounding milieu and fighting very hard to win the respect of your local peers. This drive is the one that pulls India ahead and it is this drive due to which folks are able to look past the trashy environment and plow to build a secure and rich future for themselves.
I would highly recommend the chapter on Richa Singh - who for the first time became the President of University of Allahabad and the one which involves a Gau Rakshak.



Sahir Ludhianvi - The People's poet by Akshay Manwani
Review - My fascination with Sahir Ludhianvi's lyrics has been in the background for quite sometime. In numerous cases I had marvelled at the quality of lyrics of songs and upon research I had found that they were penned by Sahir saab. In addition, his zidd to have the name of lyricist announced on radio is something that i deeply respected. The newer radio stations do not follow this and I hate them for it. In March, I saw a play Ek Mulaqat featuring Deepti Naval and Shekhar Suman as Amirta Pritam and Sahir Ludhianvi respectively that touched about their stories. While the play was alright, the next day I had ordered this biography and I finished it during my Munnar trip.
On the biography itself, Manwani does a good job in covering the childhood and young days of Mr. Ludhianvi. It is his roots from his earlier days, his association with the leftist, the people's movement that has shaped Sahir views and his poems are mere reflection of his conscience. Manwani talks about his struggles and then the first breakthrough and from there on documents his journey. This journey documentation becomes little non-interesting as it is devoid of much anecdotes. Manwani shows glimpse of various eccentricities of Sahir, example - his fear of lifts but does not go into its manifestations. Sahir was also very arrogant and had taken fights with everyone, Manwani documents these instances but feels incomplete in certain ways. However, the first part of Sahir's life, his pre-Bombay life comes across very nicely in the book. 'Bada artist banoonga' - Sahir's claim to become successful and awareness that he is very good put against a backdrop of partition, bad father and a family to take care of. The other great part of the book is that it is filled with his lyrics along with their English translation. 
Definitely a good read for fans of Sahir Ludhianvi.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Review - I had always longed to read novels about people, the kind which are frequently adapted and made into movies such as Fault in Our Stars. But I have always been confused on which one to pick up. This dilemma was solved when Parul had recommended this book.  With this weird title, I thought to first check its reviews and was surprised that it was loved so much. So, I immediately picked it up, ahead of my this year's reading list.
TGLPPPS is worthy of all its praise and probably more. It is truly a delightful read, written with wittiness and a tone of utmost candidness and genuine caring and warmth. Set in post-world war II UK, it is a story of an author living in London where half of the city is in ruins. She starts to communicate with residents of a island under the United Kingdom which was under the German occupation, these residents had created the TGLPPPPS. Narration unfolds in the form of letters that flow from its characters. In the backdrop of a literary society, casualties of a world war, an island with beautiful landscape, it is an unlikely love story but very fulfilling read.
I highly recommend this book, infact I have already gifted three copies of this book,


Foundation 2 & Foundation 3 by Asimov
What a joy to have finished the ultimate Sci-fi series of all time. I would rate Foundation 1 > Foundation 3 > Foundation 2. I did not like that much of Mule storylines. Also, Foundation 3 ending finale reveal felt forced as well but other than that, books are awesome to read. Truly inspirational in their scope from beginning, what I loved about these books is that Asimov continues to add mysteries and unravels them masterfully in subsequent chapters. With such a premise, the options are numerous and many will not work. It is truly Asimov's skill that he binds these instance in a coherent manner while keeping the literary thrills intact.


Its been 7 books so far and one that is 65% over. More about that one in next edition.









Sunday, March 25, 2018

Life in Jan 1 - March 25, 2018

2018 was going to be a year of a lot of activity and change.  It was going to be a change from passive to active.  My new year resolutions for this year are -

- Attend 20+ music concerts
- Read 20+ books by Indian authors or Indian subjects
- Do 2+ GHR runs
-Run 2-3 Half marathons

Here are the highlights so far -


Travel -

- 1D-1N trip to Urban valley Resort, Kanakpura
This was our team outing to celebrate the NY season. Did ziplining for the first time along with Kayaking. Also, played cricket and swam at the resort pool. Played scrabble and also did some kite flying or rather kite crashing.  Good fun but got tired because of too much fun. 

- Trip to Malaysia - Langkwai and Kuala Lumpur.
Kanishka and I celebrated our 3rd anniversary with a trip to Malaysia. It was part relaxing and part touristy trip. Album and blog post to come out soon.




- 3 day trip to Mumbai
While this was a work visit, I had plenty of time to explore this city. I was lucky that the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival was happening at the same time there. Went to some amazing cafes such as Poetry by Love and Cheesecake, Kala Ghoda cafe, Cafe Leopold and finally Theobramas. Also, went to NCPA and saw the play Chanakya. Finally ended the trip watching sunset at Juhu chowpatty. Liked the city a lot this time and it has a lot of stuff to offer



- Office trips - 1D trip to Delhi and 1D trip to Mumbai
1 Day trips are just too hectic causing loss of sleep and just throws schedule off balance


- Udupa Music festival
As part of my NY resolution, Kanishka and I ended up attending all 3 days of Udupa music festival.

Feb 16,2018:
Vidwan Shankar Mahadevan: Vocal
John McLaughlin: Guitar (Special Guest)
Vidwan Selva Ganesh: Khanjira
Vidwan U Rajesh: Mandolin
Gino Banks: Drums
Sheldon Dsilva: Bass Guitar

Feb 17, 2018:
Vidwan Guru Karaikudi Mani: Mridangam
Vidwan Mysore Nagaraj: Violin
Vidwan Abhishek Raghuram: Vocal
Pandit Yogesh Samsi: Tabla
Vidwan Guruprasanna: Khanjira

Feb 18, 2018:
Pandit Shivkumar Sharma: Santoor
Pandit Rahul Sharma: Santoor
Pandit Vijay Ghate: Tabla
Pandit Bhawani Shankar: Pakhawaj


Day 1 was quite good. John McLaughlin is truly versatile and Shankar Mahadevan is a treat to hear for his classical voice is so familiar because of his mainstream music. Day 3 was my favorite as I just love the Santoor. Both SKS and his son were amazing. Day 2 was also quite good. But traveling to Malleshwaram back to back on 3 days was quite a challenge. But it was totally worth it.




- Attended Tamasha Theatre's Soul
An evening of bhakti music from different languages.  Created by Sunil Shabag of Stories in a Song fame. Delightful experience.

- BIFFES 2018
Attended two days. 9 films screened.  Detailed report here - http://arvindbatra.blogspot.in/2018/03/10th-biffes-2018.html


- Books -

Read Miss Laila Armed and Dangerous by Manu Joseph. Review here - http://arvindbatra.blogspot.in/2018/03/book-review-miss-laila-armed-and.html


Almost finished Dreamers by Snighdha Poonam
5/5. Fantastic book. Review coming soon !

Aap & Down by Mayank Gandhi.
Read it just to understand more about how AAP the movement has failed

Foundation - 2 (Foundation & the Empire) by Isaac Asimov
Little bit let down as compared to Foundation 1 but still very good. I was expecting a good clash between the two worlds but it did not turn out that way.


TV Series -
In 2018, I restarted my Netflix membership and in 3 months, I have just exploded here.

Daredevil Season 1
4/5
Veery good action masala series. Very engaging with a very good villian.

Daredevil Season 2
3/5
Ok season. Not as good as S1 but still worth going

Defenders Season 1
2.5/5
Average, borderlining bad as it is just painful to see good talent go to waste.

Money heist Season 1
4/5
I was not aware that it had a next season until it reached the end. A very good series to binge watch on.

Breaking Bad S1-5
5/5
It took some time to get used to it but once I got it, it was amazing. Very well written and shot very beautifully. In particular, the characters are sketched out brilliantly. I can go on and on about it.

Jessica Jones Season 2
3/5
Should not have seen this one. But did so out of respect for season 1.  While in season 1, it was good to keep JJ mysterious, but in season 2, it maintains that same layer. The only wrapping is done in background which is basically to introduce the series villian. In season 2, it becomes frustrating

People v O.J.Simpson - An American Crime
4.5/5
Loved it. Very good acting. With a real world story that is full of unexpected plot twists, this is a treat to watch.

Altered Carbon
4/5
I liked the imagery, the premise and Poe :)

Gilmore Girls - Season 1
3.5/5


Too much binge watching has happened. I have now cancelled my Netflix membership as well.




- Made Gajrela of 5Kg gajar. Again tried two methods - one with Khoya and other one with Milkmaid. Khoya one was better



- Made Upma after almost a decade. Turned out ok



- Reading Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews


Movies -
Black Panther
3.5/5

Mukkabaaz -
4.5/5 Loved it

The shape of water
4/5

Star Wars - The Last Jedi
4/5


- Have joined RH and resumed running. Ran 10K, 12K, 14K in last three weeks.  Feels good to run long!






Life in Sept 11, 2017 -Dec 31, 2017

Writing the Life In Series in March, 18 but ending on a date prior is going to be a first. But it had to be done as 2018 has gone off on a very different start.


Life in Sept 11 - Dec 31, 2017

It is amazing that memories are getting so fickle. Perhaps, all I can remember now of this period is the insane work that had gone in to make the NY season work for Events High. Indeed, from Oct end to Dec 31, I was thinking of just work. It was crazy but I enjoyed it a lot. While the results were good but little less than expected, in terms of journey, I am so glad that I did it.

Outside of work, my memory draws a blank. My phone camera serves that purpose of documenting my outings and I must say, it does a decent job at it. So, lets start the way back from Dec 31

- NY night was celebrated once all work was done and EH support closed for the night at around 10 pm. At home, there was an awesome pineapple cake to have.



- As is the ritual, Ruhaniyat was attended this year. Like always, it continues to bring some amazing talent that I had known of . This year it was this amazing group called Char Yaar (http://www.sounds-of-the-world.com/band/chaar-yaar/). First Char  Yaar also happens to be one of my fav song from the Sharaabi film. This group among bringing some amazing poetry to music also sang the famous Beatles' song "I am a dreamer" that too in Hindi. Once the dot was connected, it was amazing.
Watch their video here -


The other highlight was this Russian music duo - Two Siberians (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Two_Siberians) They had some amazing instrumental compositions. Kachra Khan his group were there and the Qawaali at the end was by Nizami Brothers.


- Kanishka and I did manage to steal a weekend to run the KTM 2017 run on Nov 26. Weather was much kinder this time. We decided to have a car rental instead of driving down there which made it lot easier. But this time, we left at 2 am in the morning and were back by 12 noon after finishing the run. Feels good to have run KTM




- The Diwali tradition continued with this year we made Badam Katli at home. It was done in two batches with two slight variations in recipes. Making the Badam Katli was an easier process unlike others but the result said that we did missed a step as it did not match the commercial standards. 




- Out Diwali celebration in office involved a potluck. I experimented by making white cheesy pasta, a deliberate deviation from usual tomato based one. Also, office desk was decorated minimally, but other folks in office did a much stellar job at it.


- Gadayi Kallu trip is documented here - http://arvindbatra.blogspot.in/2017/10/gadayi-kallu-kadamgundi-waterfalls.html
A much needed break needed.


- William Gibson's Neuroamancer
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/888628.Neuromancer
Phew! Yes, Somehow I managed to finish this book. It was a great experience to have finished it. Book is definitely classy but written with a vision that requires a lot of effort to visualize and a language that is at times hard to comprehend.  It is a difficult read. Requires will to go through it. Some pages provide sheer joy and some just make the jaw drop on his vision was so wide and could be so true.

- The Absence of Guilt by Mark Giminez
After Neuromancer, which took forever, I wanted to get hold of a page turner masala flick, so I picked this one. Did not like a bit. Found it to be too dull for my taste. Needed more conspiracy and plots to make it more engaging.

- The Foundation by Issac Asimov
Absolutely brilliant. First, the premise which is so awesome is set in first chapter. Then the person behind all this setup is dead. What follows is a just too original, too much style, witty characterization, very smart narration. Loved it. Have ordered both the sequels.


- Movies :

Newton - 4/5
Thor Ragnarok - 3.5/5
Blade Runner 2049 - 3/5

Person of Interest - 5/5
Kanishka and I finished all seasons loving every bit of it

Mr. Robot - 4/5
Watched couple of seasons and it is a good watch.





Thursday, March 15, 2018

Book Review - Miss Laila Armed and Dangerous


Manu Joseph's Miss Laila Armed and Dangerous punches way over its height and only because of its author's ingenuity, it is able to hit more than miss.


MLAD has three sets of action unfolding in parallel. In the first, it is a straightforward case of Miss Akhila Iyer, a journalist lands up at the debris of a collapsed building due to an earthquake. As actions unfold, she becomes a primary messenger between an man stuck under the debris and the army outside. This man becomes a crucial person of interest as he mumbles about a terrorist plot and sets a sequence of events which includes national security advisors, a sangh like organization with no actual official position but a lot of political capita and finally a Damodhar Bhai, a fictional take on you-know-who.

The second set piece is the actual Miss Laila a muslim person suspected of a terrorist plot being chased by officers from a fictional IB unit. MLAD switches between the story lines of Miss Laila and the police officers trying to capture her along with his male colleague, also a suspect.

The third arc of the book, unarguably the best part, is the part where Manu takes down both the right wing and left wing individuals and ideologies. Under the guise of giving background to Miss Iyer, we see her taking down of top left leaning individuals such as Arundhuti Roy. How Feminist Men Have Sex - is a video of Miss Iyer, where in he brutally takes down the pseudo liberal thought.

Timing-wise, Manu places this action right after the victory of DaMo, and then fills various chapters on what it means for the country through various characters. This becomes his canvas to poke fun at the right ideology - from Koran burning lawyers to Gau rakshaks.

Frankly, the first and second story lines exist just just because Manu wanted to have that fictional cloak to unwrap the intellectual sham that exists around us. The fiction exists just to provide the existential cover for his inner frustrations of the present political milieu. Following Manu on Twitter and through his recent articles, you can see that these are truly his views and not a stab at fiction. And when Manu vents, it is his usual no-holds-barred takedown.


What also makes MLAD a treat to read is that Manu packs some of his amazing observational wit in his writing as well. For example read this para -



Or consider this one - The legends of men are the proof that they overestimate the beauty of their own lies.  MLAD is filled with such rich nuanced nuggets that it is a page turner not from a story point of view but to get to the next nugget.


MLAD is definitely a one time read but to make it worthy of your time, spend some time to know more about the author. It is definitely an extension to his non-fiction articles. It is also becomes a challenge because at many places Manu's ideology and mine are at odds but what makes him so good is that many a times, he definitely asks the right questions and sometimes is also able to change my position in the process.


Life In July 1 - Oct 15

A period of calmness and taking things slowly. Not worried about goals and directions. Enjoying life at its pace and be okay with every mo...