Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ten Favorite Books - Part 1

Books I've read appear, in retrospect, in two orthogonal dimensions to me. One, as a pointer in time - it brings together the year-season-state of mind of the reading period as a unified packet to the present day. This aspect is often overwhelming for its non-discrete and strongly associative nature. That I had seen a then popular movie two days before reading 'Tintin in the Congo' and a particular part of the omelette had too much salt in it as I reached the last page would never otherwise be correlated other than the book reference. A madeleine helped Proust remembrance of smells past and write a very long book. For most others, a particular book often uncovers remembrance of a slice of past - comfortably zipped like a well-behaving benign set of computer files. Two, in a more direct way, we keep becoming an average of the books we read. 'Education of a Value Investor' may leave permanent neuronal bonding in us that refuses to jump in to buy the latest fad stock, while John Wright's 'Indian Summers' may forever make us want to discover 'who was the character he did not name on page 38'. This way, books get enfleshed into what we dream, abuse and think when we drive longer than few hours. 

When I chose the "Top Ten" Books - I made three conscious choice criteria.

1. For past 15 years or so, I've almost exclusively read english. But for the decades before that, I almost exclusively read Bengali books. So, I will create two sets of "Top 10".

2. My list would be as much about the goodness of the books as about the importance of the period the book points to. I suspect the latter criterion inevitably would have crept up irrespective and bloat ranking of an otherwise potboiler, I just wanted to be cognizant of it. 

3. I've excluded "academic" or "career" books even though a few I would happily rescan if I am sitting idle. Though I massively enjoyed some of these otherwise perceived "boring" tomes and financially benefitted from it, I doubt it merits mixing it within a global view of literature.

Here goes my "Top 10 English Books" (in parenthesis is the year I read it) with a brief "why" for each -

  1. The Road (2012) - I was interested to read McCarthy after learning that he never uses quotation marks (as a computer programmer, minimal ink per page principle fascinates me). Immediately after, our local bookstore was offering a british paperback edition for $1.99 on the sale rack and I dutifully picked it up. As it happened, we were expecting our first child a few months later and I was mostly agnostic to the phase transition to parenthood. This book, that I originally had put high on my reading priority list because it technically belongs to 'post-apocalyptic genre' and is a thin one at that too, left me completely shaken and often into tears of helplessness. Before I finished first 30 pages or so my life revolved around myself. After finishing, I just wished my kid would be lucky to sip into a cold can of Coke when I am gone. I was also never more impatient and perhaps more ready to welcome him. 'The Road' is indeed a definitive guide to fatherhood, not the "how", but the "what" parts of it.
  2. A Fine Balance (2006) - This Russian novel like wide structural narrative accompanied me to get over a somewhat serious illness. Trying to reign over strong medicines and depressingly lit bedside lamp, I was looking forward to vicariously share a life in 1970s India. I quickly read each of Rohinton Mistry's other books and while mostly enjoyed them, 'Fine Balance' was far and above of anything I'd ever read about India.
  3. Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) - Scott Adams once wrote an insightful article on 'How to get a Real Education' and listed 'Learn Persuasion' as a key domain. We follow the classic Greco-Roman partitioning of education and have mostly refrained from introducing anything newer (conceptualized in past 50-ish years) to middle-education. Also, there is very high domain-specificity for recent subjects, e.g., 'Bugs of our Mind' is mostly appropriated by business education. Thinking, Fast and Slow should be a prerequisite reading, and again, for everyone. It is enjoyable, does not read at all written by an academic and puts a big light on the darkest fuzzy areas of our minds. This is as close to a "Manual for Human Thinking" as I could find within 400 pages or so.
  4. The Walking Dead: Compendium One & Two (2010) - Perhaps the only time I "read" 1000+ pages within 24 hours. What a series! How could someone better a story with many multi-dimensional characters in black & white graphic surviving reactively in a zombie-infested world? It could also be a supplementary material for "Evolution" class in Biology, I guess.
  5. Book of Lists: The Original Compendium of Curious Information (1994) - This book led me to consume a very large number of books supplying trivial knowledge. In hindsight, addiction to this genre could also be seen as the only non-competitive - like walking - way to gain knowledge. Particle Physics knowledge and such is associative with a formal method of evaluation, but who on the world would rank the knowledge of "Everyone who knows '5 Celebrities who Spotted Elvis after Death''?
  6. Stumbling on Happiness (2008) - In summary - all human woes could be attributed to our pursuit of transitory assets disguised as 'happiness'. Like 'Thinking...', this book is a very readable "Manual to an OK Life". Some of the concepts from this book, like quantifying commute in context of active life, have baselined in my decision-making heuristics.
  7. Conspiracy of Fools (2013) - I cheat, I actually haven't read this one. But I listened to the audio book over two weeks of commute. The real-life narrative of Enron collapse and the ubiquitous randomized executive decision-making environment of any high-flying public entities hit the spot. It is not easy to explain concrete details of 'accounting fraud' and rivet the reader's/listener's attention that the author managed to do such effortlessly.
  8. Team of Rivals (2010) - The only reason I purchased this book was its brand new condition in a $1 used-book sale! A few weeks later as I casually started scanning it was difficult to stop. Any politician, especially an elected President of a monolithic republic, mostly loses mass interest after a few weeks in power. It speaks enough of Lincoln's that he grows more interesting with each passing century. This particular tome led to a series of history binge-reading that only was traded at a "Stop Loss" while buying into 'Walking Dead'!
  9. At Home (2012) - If Bill Bryson speaks as he writes, I could buy drinks for him every afternoon just to listen to him. Who else could sneak in Queen Elizabeth's silverware stealing habit in a very enjoyable ride through history of home? The key thing about Bryson is his uniform high quality of writing across 10+ books. I considered at least three of his books for this list.
  10. Phaidon Design Classics (2013) - Originally consulted a volume of the book for a talk I was giving, I purchased the ebook for iPad. The hardcover volumes total 5 lbs each and are difficult to handle. The iPad version is beautifully designed and easily navigable as you would expect for an anthology of 1000 beautiful functional design. Who knew the cap of Bic pen has a hole to comply with an international design standard to reduce accidental choking! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Avatar Experience

One. I opened the REAL-D glass at exactly five minutes into the movie to see things look without. Screen looked exactly like how Doordarshan did back in 80s when a strong afternoon wind moved the rooftop antenna from its perfect alignment with the "tower". Two or three able bodied men would immediately rush to the roof, one person with better eyesight than imagination would keep staring at the screen down. There would be back and forth communication between the two groups till the exact alignment is restored, evident from a 'good picture'. Only if we had these cool 3-d glasses back then.

Two. The major problem with a perfectly shot 3D movie is the new way to deal with who I call the popcorn pirates. These folks probably have perpetually bad toilet at home and find theater popcorn more gourmet than anything at French Laundry. In normal movies you can strategically maneuver your legs as they pass through the tiny isle to hurt them real bad. In such well executed 3D, it's indeed confusing to figure out whether these creatures in front are Popcorn Pirates or just a few oversized folks from a different planet.

Three. My wife keeps stalking Abhishek Bachchan in Twitter et al. She'd told me Abhishek thinks Avatar is a lot like Hindi movies. I was still looking for a Johnny Lever among Na'vis who would ape humans, or a veteran Omprakash - modern Aloknath type Na'vi who would want to hand over the planet to humans with no axe to grind. Hint: Na'vis were mostly arboreal. Not Na'vi as in Navi Mumbai!

Four. Stephen Lang (the nasty colonel) is 57. Seriously? Or, his muscles came from the same data center Na'vis' tails did?

Five. During the climactic fight, I was literally Wii-ing my hands to punch the colonel or take out a couple of planes. It was, to paraphrase Gulshan Grover, 'a bit more than games, a bit less than classic'.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Kevin Khekra et al

How about who all I am talking about? Extra credits if you name the movies along.
  1. Heera Singh
  2. Kesariya Vilaayti
  3. Tapasvi Gunjal
  4. Bob 'Odzhora'
  5. Tyson
  6. Sir Juda
  7. Kali Babu
  8. Inspector Sher Singh (this, I have to give movie name -- "Cheetah". Inspector Sher Singh in Cheetah. Ha ha)
  9. Kevin Khekra
  10. Dost Khan

(Courtesy: Filmfare, Oct 14, 2009)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Snowflakes on the Bald Tree

Moment 1

1995. A bunch of thin, clueless and boasting Engineering students keep bunking all classes. During the college fest, suddenly they enroll to a "Computer Training" to learn Unix and C. Two evenings every week. He would be there the first every evening. While the instructor waits frustratingly for others to arrive from different joints within the city, he would open his tiffin box and munch things in extreme peace with himself. The instructor does not look too happy when others show up. Finally.

Moment 2

1997. The bunch of thin, clueless and boasting Engineering students are chatting inside the 'pavilion'. As it happens at such times, people are cutting each other with random sentences. One of his was (obviously translated) - "The most important thing is where we will be in another ten years. First five years, I want to get out of this coding business. After another five years, I want to get into Management. Coding sucks." People laugh. He was damn serious.

Moment 3

1998. He just started 'seeing' someone in his first job. A friend visits Bombay from Chennai. Three of us meet to plan to go to Khandala / Pune for a couple of days and just drink throughout. He bailed out seriously pissing off both of them. Did not even come for the drink session that evening. His reason? "Borivali te national park ache. Rate bagh beroy. Oke bari chere dite hobe.' (Tigers sometime come out from National Park and roam around in open after dark. I have to drop her to her place).

Moment 4

1999. He is in Canada for work. Spends several thousands of dollars in a month to call his wife (the same one he escorted home).

Moment 5

2001. He shows up at Amber Calcutta every Saturday usually direct from a shoe sale. Or, clothing sale. Or, some shop. He loves to buy. And to eat too.

Moment 6

2003. He and a couple other friends would phone conference during the world cup and analyze the games. The analysis often ran for hours, with no seeming stoppage of liberal opinions on non-performers.

Moment 7

August, 2009. He calls up a friend, this one in fact. Practically ambushes him on why he does not "keep in touch" anymore. He also mocks at the lame excuse of "recession, boss" at any serious questions he asks. Talks about Madhuri Dixit sightings in Denver; Mamata Banerjee's accent; Subhash Bhowmick's Coaching camps; Fate of aging programmers in US; State of the Economy - and especially a few companies he and his friend knows about; the not-so-funny moments of home-ownership and a whole bunch of other topics. While doing so he also kept a close eye on his 5 yr old daughter playing in park. As she finished playing, he keeps the phone promising to call back. Soon.

When someone leaves, he leaves a lot of moments behind. His social networking site "Title" reads -- "enjoy every moment of life". He surely did. His activities read - "getting limited day by day :)". We saw him coming to college on bike, almost every day. Unsurprisingly, his favourite movie list starts with "Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar". His fashion sense reads -- and shows as he sips into a cool cocktail in the profile pic -- "trendy". Some guy even wrote in his page "abe woh phot change kar... kudiyon ko phasa raha hai... abhi tu buda ho gaya.." Another close friend commented - "uuf, gola chhobi to re...pechhone line diye meyera nacha nachi korle aro bhalo hoto".

One of his professional recommendations ends with -- "He will be a good asset to wherever he goes!"

He is not here anymore. Only The Good Die Young.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Terrible PJ

(Please do not read further this unless you can take awful pun that could ruin your day OR unless you have been following the connection between Pradeep Rawat and Aamir Khan over last decade! I could dare publish it because only three people ever care to read my blog.)

Just came back watching Ghajini. As Aamir was beating the shit out of Pradeep Rawat, one thought came to mind. In the original Ghajini (Tamil) Pradeep had a twin brother. Rawat also played the role of Aswathama in B.R.Chopra's Mahabharat. So - HUGE SPOILER ALERT -after Aamir Khan kills him, does Ziah Khan whisper to his effervescent memory - "Aswathama hata(h) (iti Ghajini)"?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lost Worlds - What have We Lost & Where Did it Go? - Part 1

(Idea shamelessly copied from this paperback - definitely worth a read. A lot of the following references would not be obvious -- just like fragments from another scattered life.)

Here is my list -

  1. VCR Rental Nights. VHS (not) rewind fine.

  2. Morning newspaper delivery - the "thud" on the balcony.

  3. Nylon back "Easy Chair"

  4. Borolene. Not the cream - but the the most wonderful program to ever air -- "Borolene-er Sonsar".

  5. TV Box - so the TV screen can be "locked". Close second - phone padlocks.

  6. "Niruddes Sonkranto Ghoshona" (Announcement on Missing Persons) before 7:30PM Bengali news - Me and my brother used to play guessing game on the age. One had to guess the correct age in the 3 seconds between the appearance of the photo and the utterance of the details. Later, I even started "Guess the name" contest. One had to be really fast to even aim that.

  7. Bryan Adams in a Pizza Shop / Scoop - welcome adulthood!

  8. Anil Grover column in "The Telegraph" magazine.

  9. Leaving "Adarsha Hindu Hotel" unfinished on one evening as the rest of the hostelites came back from their stupid football game.

  10. Watching "Rani Rasmoni" on open air screen with 350 other boys who just stepped into teens.

  11. Anandamela Pujabarshiki before 1992. Especially, Shailen Ghosh's first five years and Sanjeev Chattopadhyay's middle two!

  12. First road trip in US. Yes, it was Niagara and we stopped at McDonald's at 3AM!

  13. Used magazine purchase from train "hawkers" before the train picked up full speed.

  14. Comparing notes about "phone card charges" with fellow first-timers in US.

  15. Dulal Chandra Bhar's Taal MichDi ads on right newspaper ear. The distinction between it and Dulal Bhar's was as ethereal as that between "Kuwari Dulhan" and "Kunwari Dulhan" (worth a full separate post!).

  16. Reading Panjika on a lazy summer vacation afternoon.

  17. Reading "Bharoter Sadhok" (Sages of India) on another lazy summer vacation afternoon as there was literally nothing else to read.

  18. First sexual "awakening" as Heike Dreschler long jumped for the gold in World Championships 1987. This was the exact photograph, BTW, printed on one amazingly used page of Anandabazar Patrika. I saw this photo of her's first time today, however.

  19. First drink at New Cathey Restaurant. It was Gin and Lime.

  20. Sarodiyo Khela. Especially the best ever sports series called "Utko Sangbadiker Diary"

  21. Sportstar Posters! Need I say more?

  22. ATN. Where did it go? Why did it go? Could someone one day do a comparative analysis between ATN and CVO at their peaks?

  23. Park Street Cemetery - St Xavier's would never be the same without the very dead Sahibs relaxing so close by. Smoking anywhere else would never be the same again.

  24. "Rubber Deuce" ball. Any bozo and his uncle can play first-class cricket. Surviving 7 balls or more with those red tiny things that changed its shape, contour, speed and even horizontal path within a whole 18 yards separated men from sissies. BTW, has anyone else ever felt that someone always seems to carry rubber deuce ball very until it hits the bat? Otherwise, why the hell it NEVER really attains a circular shape on its trajectory!

  25. Reading comics at relatives house. Why does comics feel so much better when someone else buys it and when there is a tight time line you have to finish it within?!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Six Unspectacular Quirks

This is the first time someone has "tagged" me. I feel the same excitement I felt when my parents had bought me a cool "Omega" pencil box replacing the bland "Camel" one.

Here goes the list -

1. I can burp the words - "I love you". Seriously, ask my wife. However, I only resort to perform the trick when my wife complains I am not "romantic enough".

2. I am somewhat scared to fly. The fact that I was scheduled to be in airspace on 09/11/2001 does not help. So much so that even though my job requires a wee bit of travel, I always drive. This is not a quirk though. The mentionable fact is I am highly fond of plane crash movies. I have watched all of them. Yes, "Final Destination 1" plane crash is the best of 'em all. Bordering obsession, I have extensively researched all major air crashes and even read the FAA reports and deep engineering analysis of most of it!

3. I have watched each and every one of Shilpa Shirodkar's movies. "Bhrastachar" was the best; "Raghuveer" - I watched twice as I was in Ghatshila for a month and nothing else was running.

4. I wear a watch where I can measure heartbeats per second. During numerous meetings, I measure the pulse. If it goes above 90, I try my best to not speak.

While buying that watch, I got tax break from US Government. That's the most productive career tool I ever owned.

5. Much earlier, after all the beers I drank in a session, I could write my full name - including surname - on the urinal wall. These days, I could only do my "daak naam" (pet name) that has about five letters.

6. I very strongly believe that intelligence is over-hyped. Stemming from a faux-confidence intelligent people make the worst kind of mistake. Leaders and top Managers should have a little less brainpower than their followers. That would at least make it possible for them to consult smarter people. We have seen the best educated people putting us in the present economic mess we are in. Now we should put common folks at the helm and see why exactly top formal education is worthless. My friends, that's why, I have contributed to John McCain's campaign.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Someone I never (really) disagreed with

Our sweetest moments always coincide with unexpected success. Kapil's Devils' 83; myself scoring a 25/25 in "Gaan" class with Prabhatda -who looked like Hemanta - in Narendrapur; myself - again - cracking the JEE in 1993 and so on. As I, Prantik, Partha and BeNte (Aniruddha) met a couple of days after JEE results were out, celebrating the much expected demise of our Math coaching class on Saturday evening in Golpark -- Prantik bore his trade-smirk and warned me in his very "I know you will be disappointed if you cut this tomato for Omelette" tone that one of his schoolmates would probably be in my Engineering class considering our pretty close ranks. I was 315, the weird named unknown folk talked about was 310. While expecting Partha's mother would bring another round of Bourbon biscuits to dip into very sweet and lukewarm evening tea, I mumbled a feeble "so?". I was already being told about "characters" I would meet in Jadavpur University by rank and file, somehow letting me fantasize of the chaotic life ahead where I could somehow redefine anarchy with the help of so and so.

Jumpcut. July, 1997. The orientation was just over. It rained. As I was about to pay the princely sum of about Rs. 181.50 for the "registration" in Mechanical Engineering, I realized I just had a few hundreds. Always a believer of conspiracy theory and still not coming to terms with me being there, I was scared that I may lose the seat if the clerk does not have a change. Some other Electrical Engineering dude may come ahead with the change and swap. As hard as getting a change was, I broke into cold sweat thinking what would happen if I could not get it in 10 minutes or so. I may have to decide for Printing Technology in REC, Suratkal.

This spectacled and aloof guy was standing nearby with his father. I hid my desperation and asked if they have change. I even took out my most creasefree bill to try lure them. His father, without speaking much and definitely not looking at my bait, took out his wallet, handed me change for a 100 and took the shiny bill from me. We chatted for a moment or two. I shook hands, thanked them profusely and was convinced that Prantik never really understands people the way I do.

Jumpcut. Zoom to first semester. Our roll numbers were adjacent. We both were trying our best to be as blue collar as we can fake to be. We were together in things that are top in every 18 year old's mind - wood working, metal fitting workshop, foundry, forging etc. Worse - him and I were grouped together. I do not know about him, but I started fantasizing I am Robinson Crusoe as I had to take the (literally) hot iron and put it inside a mud-hole. He was not of much help. In the very few classes that required a pen, I saw him - often - doing crosswords. In the ones that required a book, he was omnipresent with "First Among Equals". We started talking more. As I recall September, 1993 was the epiphany. As I proudly walked in with the latest Stardust issue - was very hard to get if you remember what was on the cover BTW - he lost no time in grabbing it. I saw a faint glimmer of appreciation, heartfelt, in his eyes. I liked him. I was about to mention about her sister, the one who was on cover - trying to aim at a juicy conversation. He gave me a sterner look and just mumbled the words "Mithila?". At that point, if Prantik - despite his very unpopular SFI "background - asked for my vote, I would have given it. He was right. Damn right.

Months passed by. Years too. When a senior professor suddenly died and classes were called off, a big group went to watch "Four Weddings and a Funeral". Mainly pushed by him, some of us watched a few Spielberg movies in New Empire. Films were his passion - even my type of films. We spent hours talking about "Tehelka", even about "Vansh" that we both agreed was a masterpiece. I was so proud that someone who reads about Satyajit Ray in English would also read his "Ebaro Baro". The same person who would push for "Citizen Kane" in our newly formed "Film Club" would not mind when I tell him how much I enjoyed "Tilak" the other night. In fact, I too enjoyed the screening of "Rashomon". I really liked it. I still remember the day Dipta paid for the Pepsi and did not ask me back for Rs 8. I remember it so well because it happened just twice. I envied his vast collection of books - even some Bengali ones. However, I do think no one could beat me there. On one summer I was so out of bengali reading material, I finished thirteen volumes of "Bharater Sadhok" (The Saints of India). He did never smoke, most of rest of us did. He almost rarely drank, most of rest of us reveled in that. He was the Vinod Khanna of quizzing circuit. People did not know he was the best because he did not want them to. His academics did not improve much, mine deteriorated a lot. But I took great pleasure when, once, he asked me something about "Fluid Mechanics". I felt so proud someone asked me something "technical", I tried re-branding myself as a "Fluid Expert" and starting to break ongoing conversations about how I think it will be really tough to crack "Fluid 2". He was never much into dramatics and when we went together for the Viva, he was extremely conservative and not very forthcoming. Since he was not, and he was very sincere, he could speak three entirely disjointed and irrelevant sentences together as answer and still would somehow give a 7/10 performance. My theatrics could either earn me an "Alpha Double Plus" (rare, actually just once) or a plain "You disappoint me. Your father tries to stop crime, and you do crime" (frequent). Sadly, that blurb reminded him of Shakti, I could tell it from his eyes he was watching me run through a runway.

As we broke into our final year, something I was not much expecting to, I decided that I was cut made for MBA. He was scoring the prep tests like Greame Smith scored in counties. It was unbelievable. I tried to focus on the "strategic preparation" part and tried to chip in with theories like - in CAT, they may print a 4 page long "Reading Comprehension" passage. As you go through it reading fast and finish it, you may see there is no question asked on it. My proudest moment in JU came in form of only two of us making the final round of HCL (Marketing) interview. I mostly copied from his analyticals for the elimination round however. As he came back from TELCO interview somewhat glum, we watched "Showgirls" without speaking much. He also could not stop talking about the book he read on the way back in train.

We spoke everyday morning over phone *before* we got to college. Usually, I will tune down "Chitralok" (a program another of our friend loves) and talk about the things that we would talk later in the day and on. These days, one of the first things I do is check his blog in the morning. I do not really miss our conversation all that much. He mostly keeps writing about it, even after so many years.

Keep writing, my friend.