Blog · Book

Five books to re-read this winter

For never-resting time leads summer on, to hideous winter, and confounds him there – Shakespeare’s Sonnet 5

Although Shakespeare metaphorically refers to a youth’s prime and old age as summer and winter, he kept winter where it belongs. And this winter when ‘Bomb Cyclone‘ attacks, there must be enough reading material to beat the cold. Here are my pick to re-read and to #RuleTheWinter #LikeABoss.

1) Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson – Last year, I got my son the Calvin and Hobbes series and he has been reading and re-reading it like a true 8 year old. Often, he would call me to read a strip with him as it was ‘too-funny to read alone‘. And as I read those random strips with him, I could recollect the joy I had reading them myself as a kid.

For starters, Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip about a intelligent six-year old boy named Calvin and his imaginary(anthropomorphic) friend Hobbes. Bill Watterson the genius and reclusive creator of this comic series named Calvin and Hobbes after two philosophers, John Calvin and Thomas Hobbes. Going by that it’s the most entertaining philosophy book in the world and one that touches every aspect of human life. I would probably re-read this over and over.

Bill Watterson balanced the sensibilities very well with Calvin and Hobbes. Hobbes’ sarcasm and his dim-view about human nature is brilliant while Calvin is a straight shooter with no filters to his mouth whatsoever.

There are way too many memorable episodes of C&H(the one with the raccoon, the one with aliens etc..) to mention but a personal favorite is the final strip that summarizes the spirit of the comic. It always brings a tear to the eye while reading this one.

2) Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel – While I manage to read a lot of tech blogs, books, articles and magazines, Thiel’s book was different. I read the book when it was published, and he re-framed my thinking with his controversial thesis – Competition is for losers. This was a persuasive and a refreshing take on monopolies creating the best value for an entrepreneur and the society. Wait…what?? So, is capitalism bad? “Not-really”, says Thiel. It’s just bad for the companies while its good for the customers.

The perfect target market for a start-up is a small group of particular people concentrated in a group but served by few or no competitors – Peter Thiel

He wants the next generation entrepreneurs to embrace monopoly using a) proprietary tech b) economies of scale c) network effects and d) great branding. Using these, startups can launch services to the smallest set of users who will help perfect the product like how Facebook was initially released only to Harvard students and how PayPal was released to just eBay customers.

Is this a self-help book for entrepreneurs? No, the book is an intellectual jog through the start-up world with contrarian insights like ‘focus as much on sales as on product’. In a way, the book became a sort of monopoly in its own business genre.

3. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – The broadest summary of human history ever told in 464 pages. Mind-boggling in its gargantuan goal and a minimalist in approach, Harari’s writing will make you re-think everything you know and will know.

A few million years ago, humans took the long view of life. They traded muscles for neurons. It led to a situation where a chimpanzee could rip through a human like a rag doll. But over the last 2.5 million years the humans used those neurons and evolved to the top-of-the food chain that no other species can stand in the way of them today. Yes, Harari’s story is the sweeping and exciting rise of homo sapiens into the super species. And some more. A must read.

4. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse – This novel can also be called as The last temptation of Siddhartha as it reminds one of Nikos Kazantzakis’ controversial novel. It tells us the story of rich young man who leaves his home looking for self-realization but in the process, gets tangled in the web-of-life – starts to party hard, meets a girl, falls in lust and then in love, gets married, has a kid and then realizes he is living the life that he actually wanted to walk away from. Then in sheer despair stumbles upon enlightenment.

This is a story of everyone’s life – the paths we take, the mistakes we make and the lessons we learn along the way. Hermann Hesse is a German poet and this novel is written feverishly and poetically. The prose is flowing and arresting to point that one will usually read this in one sitting. There is a long discussion between Siddhartha and a ferryman Vasudeva that reminded me of the Tyler Durden monologue in Fight Club.

Best suited for cold, gloomy Sunday afternoons and for sure will leave a smile on your face.

5. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

“After all, our lives are but a sequence of accidents – a clanking chain of chance events. A string of choices, casual or deliberate, which add up to that one big calamity we call life.”

One of the best fiction novels that talks about the dark period of 1975-77 in India. While the background of the novel is about The Emergencythe novel about four lives that come together during this time.

Yes it’s tragic and very very depressing so in that sense its not a book for winter. However it is also the best book for winter for summer is not so far away. It may leave you heart-broken but the fantastic prose of Mistry will make up for it. Personally I read this a few years back and want to re-read it now.

Those are the five books I’m reading this season. You?

Blog · Book

The real last minute gift

A tower of used books

It’s last minute, right? At this point, its a race between Santa and Amazon Prime. You, like me, is yet to buy anything worthwhile for your friend/colleague with whom you are partying on the Christmas day. And you don’t want to look absurd with just that bottle of D’Asti from Trader Joe’s. Well, here’s an idea. A tried and tested one. Pun intended.

Walk into your reading room and locate the tower of books that is stowed away at the corner. Books that have been given to your by your friend, boss, grandma or your dad. Books that have been read, waiting to be read or will never be read. They have surface dirt, they appear torn, their spines damaged due to mishandling, discolored, some have ingrained stains, scribbled at the margins and some even have mold.

Look at their spines – On the top of the pile is Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin. Then there is Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker. Followed by Black Swan, The Essays of Warren Buffett, Good to Great, The Lean Startup, The Alchemist, Dracula, Rendezvous with Rama, Slaughterhouse-Five. Don’t give up now, work through the pile. Way below is all the stuff you acquired from your dad’s library – The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, Middlemarch, The Brothers Karamazov. You stop and wonder when you will ever get to read that Dostoevsky’s magnum opus. You also find a Modesty Blaise, Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction, Chase’s No Orchids for Miss Blandish and PGW’s Piccadily Jim. Under the lamp there is Seth Godin’s Linchpin and Thiel’s Zero to One. All of these books have changed a bit of you and made you into who you are.

Just pull out a book, may be The Lean Startup or The Slaugtherhouse-Five. Why not Middlemarch? Just pull one out, it actually doesn’t matter. This is your curation with judgement already made on each of these books. You have already spent a few hours or days with most of them.

Pick a book, open the flap and write down – Batteries not required. Funny? May be its a friend you are gifting this to but you don’t want to be too informal. How about something more simple – For Kayla, on Christmas 2017. From my bookshelf to yours but read it before it hits your bookshelf. Or how about we borrow the words of wisdom by JK Rowling – Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Enjoy!

Given its a used book, how about we beautify it? No this isn’t some JSON to beautify so let’s just tie a bow around it and present it without a wrap. A gift wrap makes the book ugly, IMHO.

via GIPHY

In any case, at this point, your used books are faster than Santa and Amazon Prime. Simpler to wrap and they don’t break your bank. Used books are the ultimate re-giftables. More importantly you are sharing a piece of your world with them. Just do it!

Crossposted: LinkedIn

Blog · Films · Kollywood · Mani Ratnam

Marghazhi Mani Utsavam

Back in 2013 when Kadal released and was kalasified across the web, I was a mad about those harsh reviews for a truly different Mani Ratnam film. During the Christmas break of that year, I revisited all of Mani’s 23 movies up to that point. In that process, I discovered Guru – a movie that I sort-of disliked during the time it was released. And I really loved it.

So every year from then on binge watching Mani’s films became my personal holiday tradition. A guilty pleasure just like how some grown-ups like to drink marshmallow hot chocolate or wear elf ears headbands. This is in addition to the excessive consumption of carnatic music and Thirupaavai.

Today I started the binge watch with Agni Natchathiram, one of Mani and P.C.Sreeram’s experimental smash hit. Stay tuned – Will report back with the Ratnams I find.

Being Desi · Blog · Personal

HondaToyota ToyotaHonda – 3

Third time’s a charm. So for the third time in the last 12 years, I ended up buying another Toyota. This time it was a Prius and it’s been such a joy so far.

As the summer faded away, my procrastinated mind finally settled to buy a car and replace the Camry that was bought nearly 11 years ago. Given that this was a commuter car, I started to look for an AWD SUV. The new Honda CRV was my first choice, given it was redesigned inside out this year. And when I visited a local dealership, not only they didn’t have a CRV in stock but they also didn’t show any salesmanship in trying to persuade me to buy one. The car wasn’t bad at all, except for the weird taillight situation.

Back at a friend’s place, he showed me his newly bought Toyota Prius which apparently was driving at 55+ mpg. So I test drove a Toyota RAV 4 and the Prius. The Prius was hands-down a better car. There was a night and day difference in the driving experience between Prius and other ICE cars. It was smooth driving, relatively quiet and had a quirky personality to it. From then it was an easy decision to buy a Prius because it was the most efficient car in the hybrid market.

So I’ve been driving it for the past few months. What do I liked about it? Everything – The drive quality, interiors, JBL speakers, maneuverability and of course the king of reasons to buy a hybrid – fuel economy. So far I’ve been averaging at 58 MPG despite the dropping temperatures. What do I hate about it? Nothing at all. I’m sure the styling of taillights look obnoxious to guy behind me but it doesn’t bother me at all. That’s probably why the car was rear ended within a week. But that’s another story for another day. The Entune entertainment system needs an overhaul but given that one can operate everything via Bluetooth from the phone, its bearable.

The best feature of Prius is the driving feedback loop. The digital buffet of data that’s available in front of the driver would make every one of us a better driver. There’s a rating for your overall drive, a quick feedback about the fast turn you just made and the lifetime driving average. Basically the data is gamified to the point, one can say its the best real-life car game ever made. It certainly helped me realize how all these days I was overstepping on the gas.

It’s easy to stereotype a Prius owner as listening to Fleetwood Mac or NPR, shopping at the nearby Trader Joe’s and talking about environment friendliness. But it’s also easy to make fun of the geeks. Regardless, they always strike back with their smarts and the latest Prius is certainly a nerd strike-back car.

Previously – Honda Toyota 1Honda Toyota 2

Film Reviews · Films

Of passion, pixie dust and devasena

I was worried about the uber driver. Worried about me. Worried about the woman who had a cigarette stowed in her hand and driving a mini cooper next to us in 405 interstate highway. Google maps on the driver’s dashboard showed 11 more miles to the airport. Today was yet another rainy day(61% chance of rain, the weather app on my phone accurately pointed) in Seattle. This past weekend was the start of fake summer. Yes, memorial day weekend kicks off summer flicks and vacations, although summer usually arrives much later in Seattle. At least the first rose(rich yellow) bloomed in my front yard, I saw that after coming back from a trip to Port Angeles for the long weekend. Rosy digressions aside, the song on my ears was about 3 minutes and 27 seconds long. If the driver took a minute to drive a mile I could listen to the song roughly 3.3 times. That would push the total listen count past 600. Yeah, 600++ times, conservatively counting.

I was worried about the driver and the woman as they probably wouldn’t get a chance to hear this song in their lives. It was mesmerizing, slightly hypnotic, kinda psychedelic, kinda trippy and completely engrossing. I was worried about me as I was getting mad about the song. The song – Orey Oar Ooril from Baahubali 2. You, just like me, probably saw and heard it for the first time on-screen while watching the movie. And if you are still trying to recollect the song, its also called Hamsa Naava in Telugu, Veeron ke veer aa in Hindi, Ore Oru raja in Malayalam, <something> in Mandarin and Madness Me in English(nah, I’m kidding now!).

Amarendra Baahubali arrests his love interest, the princess Devasena as a token of respecting Raajamatha RamyaKrishnan’s words to take her back to Magizhmathi and the ship sets sail. The sailcloth expands into a symmetrical shape on either side, the camera closes in on Devasena who is technically a prisoner but also a prisoner in the heart of Baahubali. As she throws the pink pixie dust into the ocean, the ship transforms into a fantasy fleet. Amarendra, who is now drumming, to his part throws in some blue pixie dust that makes the ship rise above the clouds. This is where Rajamouli’s craziness starts to show up. As though a flying ship isn’t crazy enough things get pushed a bit too far and the clouds get converted into white horses that run along with the flying ship. 40 odd dancers belonging to both genders appear and the scene is all set-up for romance. A medieval flying ship, a tricky prisoner-cop situation between the protagonist to-be king and his lovely princess, cloud horses, dancer women and some mind blowing music. Here’s how the music goes at a closer look –

0:00 – 0:35 – The music starts off low-key, slowly fading in with some bells and plates clanging far away. At 0:08 the Mohana starts to slightly hint the ohhohhhoh humming and at 0:14 the rhythmic drumming starts to join in. Stop here.

At first I didn’t know why this drumming was so jiving and mesmerizing. It took me a good 10 times to understand. When I was 10, we used to go on summer vacation to Trichy. It was either through Chozhan or Malakottai express. And as the train nears Trichy, somewhere near Srirangam, it crosses the kollidam bridge. Being one of India’s longest bridge, we used to wait for the bridge crossing to come by. And when it crosses it used to make a kind of pleasant clickety-clackety sound. Pleasant because it announced the arrival of vacation for an urban dweller like me. The usual clickety-clackety of a train is amplified while crossing bridges and the sound is super cool. The drumming in OreyOarOoril reminded me of the clickety-clackety train crossing kollidam bridge. From here the drumming continues all the way to the end. That could have been the only reason why I fell in love with the song. But there’s more.

As the train noise drumming goes on, at 0:21 the nana nana nana nana nananananana of Mohana and the harmony team starts. This nana sound is key for the song as the lyrics depend on every other line ending with an ‘na’ based word. I don’t know if this sound found its place by itself or if was by design, it elevates the musical quality of the song.

                                  loopety loop of a single song. madness.

0:35 – 1:12 – The lyrics start with the pleasant Orey Oar Ooril, kind of like a fairy tale beginning (once upon a village, there lived a king). Between every phrase, you hear the fish plates sound of the train tracks as the train passes over them. So does this love ship. Now we get to know that this song belongs to Devasena. Its from her point of feelings. Every line ends with a question indirectly posed to Baahubali. Something like – this Devasena is like a struggling ferry in middle of a river, will he come to hold me up? In the next line she talks about how she is a prisoner of Baahubali (literally and figuratively).

1:12 – 1:40 – A tiny but a lovely interlude of violin or some modern string instrument comes in only for it to be taken over by the trumpets and a grand sounds of a ship fleet crossing the ocean. This is place where the sheer grandness of the song is established. You know the song is already transported to a different world.

1:41 – 2:08 – So we are right at the midpoint of the song and the first charanam of the song starts with Devasena and Baahubali both sharing the lyrics equally(Mohana for Devasena and Tippu for Baahubali). Devasena puts forth a romantic question to clarify if she is in a dream state and Baahubali responds like a true warrior prince. Metaphors starts to show-up and things gets heated up.

2:09 – 2:26 – Devasena starts a loud pitched ohhohhhoh followed by an amazing piece of poetic verse. In order to not spoil this by translating, she asks – ekantha kaalam maatrinana, thee pola en meedhu patrinana, theekolamai devasena. Your lyrical mileage may wary in various languages but in Tamil the imagery is that Devasena is now a burning hot ball of passion for Baahubali. The song reaches its brilliant peak. All the build-up is for this 15 seconds of brilliance. Vairamuthu’s son Madan Karky and Maragadamani come together along with Mohana. The tamil lyrics fit the whole scene hand-in-glove expressing the Devasena’s side of love towards BB. This culminating effect is mind-blowing when experienced in big screen.

2:27 – 3:00 – The second paragraph is a bit condensed. You get to hear the Orey Oar Ooril pallavi quickly followed by four lines of a new charanam. Devasena concludes that she is now under the spell of Baahubali, blindly following him and speechless.

3:01 – 3:27 – The clickety clackety and the nananananana continues to fade out and things wrap-up.

It’s not often that I go mad for a single song but it’s also not so uncommon. Maybe one per year is my average. First it was Vellai Pookal from Kannathil Muthamittal, then it was Oh Eesa! from Aayirathil Oruvan, Dhan te Nan from Kaminey, Manipaaya from Vinnaithandi Varuvaaya, Asku Laska from Nanban, Kanukkul Pothivaippen from Thirumanam Enum Nikkah and recently Parandhu Sella Vaa from OK Kanmani. All these songs attack you at different level of lyrics, music and singing quality.

With this particular song it is the fantasy situation of the song in an already fantasy movie. Fantasy movies are always tricky. You either believe it or don’t. The reason a fantasy movie works for you is purely based on whether you take this leap of faith or not. All the ones who took the leap in Aayirathil Oruvan thoroughly enjoyed it, same with ET or King Kong or Baahubali. You either question how a bunch of untrained soldiers catapult into the fort using the Angry Birds formula or you just don’t. I loved the movie completely. Even more so the song. 700+ and counting now…