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Sunday, June 30, 2013

May Reading Summary

Life has been busy and once again I haven't had time at hand to write in detail about my May reading yet. So here is just an interim post to list down my May reading without any comments on individual stories/novels etc.

I will prepare the detailed posts about the stories and novels as and when I get time and post them later ...
 
 

1              Non-Fiction: Business Sutra by Devdutt Pattanaik

2              Hitchcock – Most Wanted: A Matter of Chances by Ron Butler

3              Hitchcock – Most Wanted: The Marley Case by Linda Haldeman

4              JA Shorts - Quiver Full of Arrows: The Chinese Statue by Jeffrey Archer

5              JA Shorts - Quiver Full of Arrows: The Luncheon by Jeffrey Archer

6              JA Shorts - Quiver Full of Arrows: The Coup by Jeffrey Archer

7              Novel – Death on a Deadline by Christine Lynxwiler, Jan Reynolds & Sandy Gaskin

8              Hitchcock – The Shadow of Silence: The Perfect Cop Story by Miel Tanburn

9              Hitchcock – The Shadow of Silence: The Displaced Spirit by Bryce Walton

10           Hitchcock – The Shadow of Silence: Twice Fifteen by Anthony Marsh

11           Hitchcock – The Shadow of Silence: Off Trail by Ray T Davis

12           Novel: Chankya's Chant by Ashwin Sanghi

13           Hitchcock – Shrouds & Pockets: Meeting Cathleen Casey by Barbara Callahan

14           Hitchcock – Shrouds & Pockets: The Return of Bridget by Jack Ritchie

15           Hitchcock – Shrouds & Pockets: Trial by Fury by Caryl Brahms & Ned Sherrin 

16           Hitchcock – Shrouds & Pockets: Theft by Hanko by Ron Butler

17           Hitchcock – Shrouds & Pockets: The Day we Killed the Madman by Edward D. Hoch

18           3I Crimebusters Novella: Funny Business by William McCay

19           PKD Shorts: Jon's World by Philip K Dick

20           PKD Shorts: Progency by Philip K Dick

21           PKD Shorts: Some Kinds of Life by Philip K Dick

22           PKD Shorts: Martians Come in Clouds by Philip K Dick

23           PKD Shorts: The Commuter by Philip K Dick

24           Novel: Shoes of the Dead by Kota Neelima

25           ACD Shorts: The Last of the Legions by Arthur Conan Doyle

26           ACD Shorts: The First Cargo by Arthur Conan Doyle

Friday, June 28, 2013

Book Review: Romi and Gang by Tushar

   
Book: Romi and Gang

Author: Tushar Raheja

No. of Pages: 234

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Pirates Publisher

It is quite possible that an author approaches a book reviewer with his / her debut novel. but how about a Publisher approaching a book reviewer with their 'debut novel' !!!
Pirates Publisher approached me with the book review request and I accepted. I was intrigued by their name and the very very interesting email I received from an email which read Captain@Pirates ... I readily agreed and the book was delivered at my doorstep from their partner Snapdeal. 
I was surprised to see that the Book was author-signed. Thank You Pirates and Author Tushar Raheja for that. These small things count.  
Even before I began to read the book, I shot off an email to the Publishers … appreciating a couple of things. I am reproducing the exact text from the email for you to read …

Received the book today. Will start reading it only on Monday but 3 things caught my attention immediately and thought of communicating them to you ...

1. The size of the book is pretty unconventional. Gives a different feel to simply hold the book.

2. illustrations .... a simple flipping across the book revealed several illustrations ... both the size of book and existence of illustrations took me back to my school days of reading ... when i would pick up novels with illustrations and interesting cover designs ..

3. Last but not the least, I loved your Pirates Logo !!! 

All the Best Guys for your venture ....

If you are wondering why would i comment on their logo  … look at he black and white image above ... the Publisher's logo appears in the same. Look closely and you would know what I mean.
The book has a very different feel to it and the pencil sketch illustrations bring the story to life. There are full page illustrations as well as small tiny stamp size ones through all acorss the book and I would love to drop an email to the illustrator/artist - Biswajit Das - regarding his work. Nothing exceptional again but he has infused life into the writen words of Tushar and that itself is noteworthy.
The novel is but a simple story of a school kid who loves cricket and his close friends. The story is about learning the true meaning of the game – it is not about the century you claim, its about your standing at the crease holding fort for your team.
As you read the story, you discover the nature and character of the 4 kids amidst the school time innocence and mischief. They grow through the story (not in age, but in character and strength). They learn lessons of life. Even the character of Romi's father is shown as a very strong one in a very subtle manner. None of the characters are over-glorified. Each one gets their space and due importance. In some ways, it reminded me of Lagaan - parallels being cricket and the importance given to all characters rather than focusing on Amir alone. 
In this story too, Romi is NOT the HERO. He is one of the 4 central characters who have a strong and realistic suporting cast of parents, teachers, bad-ass principle, female interests, childhood innocence and perspective. The writing style is the hero here ...
The story is nothing exceptional or fast paced or thrilling … it is a simple story which touches you in some ways. I enjoyed reading it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Optical illusion is it??


Take a look at this ... what do you think it is ...

 








Now look closely ... at the saMe picture ... magnified for your benefit ...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Book Review: The Oath of the Vayuputras by Amish

 
Book: The Oath of the Vayuputras

Author: Amish

No. of Pages: 575

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Westland Publications

Reading a trilogy as and when it gets published is painful … simply because of the waiting time in between. I prefer to read trilogies if I can buy the 3 parts together. Came across Meluha at a friend's place and read it. Liked it and realized it was a trilogy. Waited for the second one to come out and read that too … happy that the author did not disappoint.

The wait for the 3rd and final installment has been a long one and once the book got published, the reviews online and those from my close friend were not exactly exciting. So that created the dilemma of 'to read or not to read'. Not reading would like akin to leaving a book without completing it. On the other hand, reading may most possibly lead to disappointment.

Remember the dialogue from The Dark Knight – "you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villian"; well, a similar philosophy seemed to guide the climax of the trilogy; where the great Good is turning out to be the Great Evil. It is a difficult to digest at first but gradually it becomes clear. The first 100 odd pages of the book seemingly explain a lot about the Great Good and how it is slowly becoming the Great Evil and its effects on people and how things are tied together in cause-effect loops and counter-loops.

The 3rd episode of the trilogy is nothing but realization of the great evil and a war against it as well as the mastermind behind the forces against the Neelkantha. A very long and a very slow novel spanning 575 pages has very little happening across its pages and often I felt like giving it a 'speed read' treatment.

There is one reason the book appeared slower than it actually is … the era of the story and their travel means. Since the war is being fought across the country and in that era, travelling across the country took several months, so the war was also spread across years and any strategy would also be spread across years. A simple decision like putting up a notice across the country on the same day had to be implemented after a year for the simple reason of ensuring the message reached across the country and the army also travelled across the country in that time.

It was interesting to read about the war efforts and practical interpretation of the Astras; with the Brahmastra as Nuclear Bomb.

A few things were disturbing though. One – referring to the country as India again and again in the novel, a name that has originated only a couple of centuries ago when the British came to India and named the country so. Second is usage of language and idioms of the modern era; especially those inspired by the American lingo. Shiva using a word like 'crap' definitely did not go down with me … not because he is divine; but because crap is not a word we have used in India until recently. We have been introduced to this word by American movies and TV series in the past 2 decades. These glaring language slips make for uncomfortable reading and take away the charm of reading a period novel.
And yes ... What exactly was the 'oath of the Vayuputras' ??? I somehow missed it.
I also completely missed the point behind an entire chapter near the end of the book. The chapter was titled a Banyan Tree or something ... and it went way over my head. I am sure there was some subtle message which Amish wanted to convey ... which I completely missed.

I wish Amish had more 'story and plot twists' in the 575 pages rather than detailed description of war efforts and the routes taken across rivers and the war scene descriptions. Some of the war scenes and duels are described well and maked for interesting reading … BUT I would have still preferred this novel to be wrapped up in around 300-350 pages without losing the storyline. 

So what's the verdict? Can't really say I liked it, can't say I did not.

I had read the first 2 parts of the trilogy and reading the 3rd one was a compulsion otherwise it would be akin to leaving a novel mid-way; which I don't really do. If you have read the first 2 parts, you have to read this one too. If you haven't read the first 2 parts, I would readily recommend them to you and then you would have to read this too. So, either ways, you can't escape reading this one; whether one likes it or not.
Just FYI - This review is not part of any book review program nor was the copy received from author/publisher. This book was on my reading list and i got this book as a gift from a new friend and colleague. Thanks Pramod for the beautiful and thoughtful gift !!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Reliance Digital Experience … What Experience?


Indiblogger presented an opportunity for a Reliance Digital Experience in some of their newly opened Reliance Digital stores dedicated to selling Electronic goods – TV, Music Players, Laptops, Tablets, Kitchen Durables and so on. I was back in Mumbai and took this as an opportunity to step outside with wifey.
After having spent a couple of years in Dubai and being exposed to Super Stores like Carrefour and dedicated large format electronic stores like Jumbo and Max which are housed in buildings spanning several floors … Reliance Digital Store came as a disappointment at first sight. Reliance is one of the biggest companies in India and they do things at a large scale. I had expected a really HUGE store. But then a little thought tells me that they don't really need to have HUGE stores; big ones are just fine.
I went to Reliance Digital at Infinity Mall in Malad and asked for their store manager. The staff found him after a few minutes and he guided me to an individual who seemed to be a trainee. He took my printout, located my name, verified across the name in list and that on printout. I thought, now he will take me on a guided tour of the store and give me some real memorable 'experience' of the interesting electronic goods here … almost making me buy some. But alas … he did not do any such thing nor did anyone else. He asked me to go around the store and look around and then write about it.
I was taken aback. This was not what I had expected. But then … I was anywhere there and thought no harm in going around and looking. I went straight to the end of the store so that I could start from the rear and finish off at the beginning and simply leave from the main gate !!
To my surprise, there was this whole section of BOOKS at the back of the store. At first, I was surprised that the electronic/digital store was selling hard copy books but then a Book Lover like me does not question the existence of a book section. I spent quite some time going through the various sections of the book section. What I found was there there were several books missing from the series and trilogies and they had been placed somewhere else by casual visitors who inadvertedly forget from where they picked up a particular book and end up keeping them in the nearest shelf. I understand that there is little that can be done to change visitor behavior but the staff should constantly be on a lookout for the mis-placed and displaced books. Also, empty shelves/racks are never a good idea unless you are trying to shutdown business.
Another thing which was conspicuous by its absence was an Apple dedicated counter / section. I think the electronic store will have a better chance of selling Apple products if they have their own section. In fact, what surprised me further was the absence of iPods in the music players section. When I enquired, the salesman pulled out 2-3 pieces from the cabinet saying there was not enough display space and hence it was kept inside. Guess the store manager and the staff have forgotten the age old principle of 'Jo Dikhta Hain, vo Bikta Hain' (That what is visible, gets sold).
I visited the store but did not really get any 'Digital Experience'. I had hoped to get a guided tour of the store along with sampling and demo of various key/select products like some action sequence or sports scene on a 3D TV, listening to some instrumental music on iPod, Bose speakers/earphones etc and then giving me hands-on experience of using tablets as well as touch-screen laptops with Windows 8 … experience of the products and their fine quality would indeed translate the visit into an experience
Next time I want to buy something electronic, I am sure to visit the Reliance Digital store but if the staff response is as cold as it was this time around … then I am not going to visit them again. There are other players in the market who have been in the large format stores and I would readily go to them.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ready to Eat Nostalgia

Packaged pre-cooked ready to eat food packets remind me of my first trip abroad after taking up a job after MBA. In India, the only things I could make in the kitchen were Maggie and Tea. When the prospect of going aboard for long term came up, I knew the biggest challenge I would face was Food since I had no clue about cooking.
 The contest by Indiblogger in collaboration with Kitchens of India took me on a nostalgic trip to Switzerland which was the country of my first stay abroad. The first month of survival moved from dining in restaurants in first week to food packets in subsequent weeks. I don't recollect the brands that were available in those days but I remember surviving on packaged foods.
If I had to have a packaged food themed party; I would surely invite some friends from those on-site days who all went through similar times and experiences of living on packaged food. I would plan a trek with them to a place like Matheran near Mumbai and there we would build a small fire and heat the pre-cooked food. Breads and Pav/Buns would be the accompaniments besides Theplas and Parathas.
We would spend most of the time getting nostalgic and remembering our times in Swiss city of Geneva … a list mist across Matheran and a light drizzle would only add to the fun.
Since it would be an outdoor trip and I won't be restricted to carrying only Vegetarian foods. I am a pure vegetarian but my friends aren't. Had this party been at my home, the food would have been strictly vegetarian but since it is a outdoor trek, we can have food for all. I could carry the entire range of KOI ready to eat foods along with desserts and at least 2 varieties of pickle / conserve. A visit to the KOI website at http://shopping.kitchensofindia.com/  shows that the following options are available for us to carry on the trek …
Veg Currys - Mughlai Paneer, Dal Bhukhara, Mirch ka Salan, Paneer Malai, Paneer Darbari
Non-Veg Currys - Murgh Methi, Chicken Darbari, Chicken Chettinad
Desserts – Jodhpuri Dal Halwa, Hazoori Petha Halwa, Phulka Rotis
Conserves / Chutney – Tamarind and Date Chutney, Mango Saffron Conserve
With the above selection, I am sure the 10 of us will have a ball !!!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Irony of Life ...

 

I reach the airport a couple of hours in advance and sweet lady at the check-in counter tells me that she can put me on an earlier flight which is scheduled to leave in 30 minutes.
I am overjoyed and say yes to the prospect of reaching home 2 hours earlier than scheduled time ... a surprise for my family ...
With joy in the heart and a spring in my step, I reach the designated gate to find a subdued crowd around the airline staff.
I make way and overhear the ground staff telling customers that the flight has developed technical glitch and a spare part is being flown in through an incoming flight. The flight will now leave with a delay of 2 hours.

My feelings are 'grounded' (literally and figuratively) and I am Back to Square One.

 (I write this while waiting for the flight at Bangalore International Airport.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling

Book: The Casual Vacancy

Author: J K Rowling

No. of Pages: 503

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Little Brown Book Group

I am sure you have read this before but for the benefit of those who haven't, let me reiterate. Do not pick up 'The Casual Vacancy' looking at the name of the author. TCV has nothing to do with the hugely successful Harry potter series, it is not in the same / similar / comparable league and it is NOT meant for children anyway so do not expect the innocent exuberance which the earlier episodes of HP novels had.

This is a young-adult novel, meant for the matured audience. It has a host of characters with complex relationships and random secrets and fears.

JK Rowling spends quite some time in establishing the large number of characters of the story and their setting – a small county / village with another neighboring one and the marginalized society in between. A lot of complex relationships are discovered as the story moves forward and since these places are pretty small, everybody knows everybody and has something to hide as well as knows something about the other which they want to hide.

There were times in the novel when I felt certain aspects were not required; they were either gross or something that you would want to blink out of existence. There are times when the novel becomes quite sleazy. But then I realized that this is reality. Fictionalized yes, but still inspired by reality. It made for interesting reading.

The story is a tragic one. Begins with a death and ends with another death, in fact, ends with 2 deaths which are extremely tragic. The complex relationships amongst the many characters give color to the narrations.

Frankly, I did not like the novel and would not recommend it to anyone. It is a very sad novel and it is not even emotional. The only interesting thing for me in there was the 'Ghost' of the deceased that becomes an integral and critical part of the storyline.

FYI – Review copy was my own and not received from any Book Review club/blog/website.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Indiblogger - Microsoft Office365 #CloudBlogathon Meet

 
Indiblogger - Microsoft Office365 #CloudBlogathon Meet
 

Indiblogger is committed to bring together Bloggers in different cities and they manage to arrange pretty interesting and attractive events with good sponsors. Unfortunately, as a result of my travelling across the country, I have missed almost all of Mumbai Indiblogger events as it turns out that I am out of town, precisely on the day of the event. Many a good events missed …

So it came as an interesting turn of event to be in Bangalore when a Bangalore event happened and I decided to break the jinx and attended the meet - The Indiblogger powered and Microsoft sponsored "Office365 #CloudBlogathon" Meet on Sunday 2nd June at 'The Tower Kitchen' in UB City

It was a Microsoft Office365 promotion event with an invitation to about 200 bloggers  out of which I guess about 150 did turn up and we all crowded the venue – The Tower Kitchen at UB City. With most of us standing and most of us tweeting, it was not surprising to see the fresh event related tweets (hashtag'ged as #CloudBlogathon) appearing on the screen. Soon we all were reading a tweet "We Blog, Therefore we …. Stand??"

Enthusiastic Bloggers were introducing themselves to each other. It was interesting to see people meeting total strangers and striking up conversations with ease … since we all had a common thread binding us – blogs. There were also 'regulars' who would seek out other 'regulars' and exchange stories and news about blogging community and other events. I witnessed bloggers exchanging books and discussing the Book Review program of BlogAdda.
This was my second opportunity of getting into an high-rise in bangalore and first opportunity of doing it in day time. So, for the first odd half an hour, I was more interested in the view from the top rather than the gradually gathering crowd. I did indulge in small talk with a couple of bloggers but my focus was clearly outside the building :) enjoying the stunning view of the city from the top and enjoying the fantastic weather with 'real' clouds over our heads; threatening to pleasantly pour over any moment.

After the initial round of registrations and settling down, the event started with a bang with prizes and gifts being showered on the bloggers. Swatch watches became the sought after items of the afternoon.

 After this initial euphoria, we came to the slightly serious part of the meet where the top guns from Microsoft - Ramkumar Pichai (GM, Microsoft) & Tarun Malik (Director, Product Marketing & Strategy) – addressed the bloggers explaining the vision behind Office365 and how it will seamlessly integrate and offer productivity to a wide variety of target audience from the students to the working professionals from different industries and profession. It was interesting to hear them speak about the possibilities of Office365 and also about the CSR activities of Microsoft. MS also has announced a unique initiative for students across India – winners get a Virtual Mentorship at Microsoft – check out details at https://www.cloudblogathon.co.in/

I took a chance to interact with Ramkumar one-on-one about the possibilities of 'Cloud' and the seemingly time-delay in Microsoft products getting onto the cloud. It will definitely be a conversation I will remember for a long time. I will look forward to interacting with him again at some other event.

Post serious talk, the bloggers meet was back in its elements of fun and games.

The thing which struck me most was the sheer enthusiasm of the Bangalore bloggers. The event had a life of its own. I haven't attended a Mumbai IndiBlogger meet yet so don't know about them but I do remember a Blogger Meet arranged by BlogAdda and although the crowd there was small (about 50 only); the enthusiasm was infectious. I am looking forward to attending a Mumbai Indiblogger event to feel the pulsing enthusiasm of Mumbai bloggers too.

Office365 does have the potential to change the way we work. Microsoft Office products are the soul of any office with the documents, presentations, excel sheets being the primary tools of working. Office365 takes these and several other tools online on the clouds and paves way for collaborative and seamless working across platforms, gadgets, devices and boundaries (geographic as well as office wall boundaries). It will depend on how well does Microsoft effect the adoption and usage of Office365 amongst the early-adopters and corporate offices.

Corporate with their data security concerns have not embraced 'cloud' properly yet and are playing a wait and watch game. Will Microsoft give these corporate the much needed chance and opportunity to experiment with cloud on practical basis? Time will tell – whether MS defines a new way of working or dumps Office365 in the end claiming it to be 'ahead of its times' …
I am not talking much about Office365 here on my blog ... guess you will get more accurate and clutter-free info on the wiki page and of course, the Office365 website (where you get the 1-month free trial also)