Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Heavily Misconstrued ...

If your mail box was flooded with "Buy Gold Coins", Gold ETF and Gold Funds investments related emails, pouring in from the likes of Reliance, Tanishq, Birla, ICICI and HDFC and many more banks and business groups for the last 20 days, you sure knew Akshaya Trithiya for this year was round the corner. 

Yes, the D-Day has arrived and it is today, April 24, 2012 and what a start it has been for the day, one opens the newspaper and finds page after page decked up with advertisements of gold and diamond jewellery, gold coins, gold bars, biscuits and cookies, what not. About 60% of the newspaper print today carries these ads. The percentage of these ads has only increased since last week mimicking the transition from a gentle reminder to a mandatory guideline to buy gold. Heavily misconstrued, I must state, is the importance imparted to this yellow metal and in matters like this India stands united. Class no bar, religion no bar, money no bar; beg, borrow but buy gold today, that is the norm. 

Even a casual search about this day will yield results that Akshaya Trithiya or Akha Teej is an important and auspicious day for Hindus and Jains. For Hindus, it is believed to be the birthday of Parashuram; an incarnation on Lord Vishnu, the day when Lord Ganesha and Veda Vyasa began writing the Mahabharata, the day when Ganga descended onto Earth from heaven; simply a day when prayers can bestow upon one infinite good times, luck and success. A small gesture of charity performed today is expected to bestow unlimited good luck, health and good will. But people have grossly misunderstood it all; they utter by rote, like machines- Charity begins at jeweller's shop. 

As for Jains, this is the day when their Tirthankara Rishabadeva,  renouncing all his riches, meditating for an year, broke his fast and penance. Even when one uses a magnifying glass and puts all effort to read between lines or within lines of any description of this holy day, there is no vague mention of buying gold and diamond and platinum. 

However, from retail outlets to online portals, there is complete frenzy on gold, gold and gold. It is proven that many traditions and practices get distorted over time when handed over from one generation to another. Blind faith creeps in at times, horrific rituals dominate at other times, heavy misinterpretations usually mar an original idea.

In case of Akshaya Trithiya, we do not know who started to spread the wrong word around, the day's notion is so heavily misconstrued that to question "Does buying gold on Akshaya Trithiya day augur prosperity?" seems to invite wrath from many quarters, not definitely from the gods but from humans.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Book Review: ANIMAL FARM


When it is said that Animal Farm by George Orwell is a classic, the statement marks absolute, timeless truth; for the book belongs to the highest literary rank and has a lasting significance. Written by the author during Nov 1943- Feb 1944, this book has endured the test of time with strong meaning relevant even today, unfazed by several passing decades.

I read this book last when I was in class 9 at school. Back then, I hardly grasped its import and Animal Farm to me was more like a fairy tale where animals residing in a farm talked, plotted and planned the ouster of their drunkard and tyrannical master. 

I grabbed this title and 1984 (another book by George Orwell) last year from a retail outlet in a sale on Penguin books and I re read it about two days back. This time the book unraveled a completely new dimension and the impetuous message contained in the book made complete sense.

The book is an allegory depicting Stalin era and his communist regime. Mr.Jones owns the Manor farm where many animals stay and labor - pigs, sheep, horses, cows, geese, hens, mare, raven et al. Jones's drunken revelry, his bacchanal ways stir a rebellion among the animals as they grow tired of not being cared for, not fed for days together and tortured with excessive work and brutal punishments. The idea of a rebellion is ignited in the heads of animals on the farm by Old Major, an old boar who envisions farms free from human parasites, farms where all animals are equal, animals toil for their own good, need not part with their produce for the sake of useless humans, animals eat enough, work enough, rest enough and are most importantly, independent.Old Major does not live long enough to see his ideas materialize but Manor Farm is rechristened as Animal Farm with Mr.Jones kicked out of power by the animals. Two pigs - Napoleon and Snowball frame Seven commandments governing Animalism in the farm, sing Beasts of England taught by Old Majoridolize him and vow to make Animal Farm a heaven for all animals alike.  

Snowball imparts literacy to all animals though equines like Boxer, Clover fail to pick up more than four alphabets. Snowball's  ideals move towards an egalitarian society but they are always in stark contrast to those proposed by Napoleon. Arguments alone ensue between these two pigs and their views are most often least understood by the lesser intelligent animals on the farm except for a wise Benjamin, an old donkey who is too wise and equally pessimistic. The Rebellion seems to bring everything just right for the animals on Animal Farm as they taste success against human enemies in the Battle of Cowshed. But all is not hunky dory.

The idea of rebellion gets lost with leaders losing their sense of rectitude. The novel, thereafter, presents how the concept of revolution is made corrupt by power hungry, wicked, myopic leaders and equally void in its effect by ignorant masses who express profound allegiance to their lords with no discernability. The Seven Commandments are re written with ease, their original intent mortified to suit those in power. Equines like Boxer toil endlessly in servile docility nodding in approval to the leader's hogwash. From "All Animals are Equal", the essence of Animalism effortlessly changes to "All Animals are Equal, But some animals are more equal than others".

A revolution, dreamt of being effectual, lands in complete paralysis and the novel ends with the sentence below - The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. 

A brief note at the beginning of this book quotes Orwell saying that Animal Farm is primarily a satire on Russian revolution but has wider applications. The moral to be was revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. And true it is as Orwell quotes, his Animal Farm, a grim humored novel, a satire, stands relevant to every word, every alphabet even to this day. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Top Notch Marketing Strategy

I always wanted to write about this place, a bakery, I visited in Mumbai and it has taken me over an year to do the needful. The address of this bakery is as below - Paris Bakery, 278, Dr.C.H. Street, Our Lady of Dolours Church Lane, Dhobi Talao, Mumbai - 400 002. Phone 2208 6619, 6423 3678 (Time: 9 am to 8 pm with lunch break from 2 to 5 pm, Mon - Sat). I visited this bakery in June 2011 and I must admit, though it is a small outlet with no facilities to sit and dine, the shopkeeper exhibited some of the top notch marketing strategies and impressed me. 

The shopkeeper at the bakery had a smiling face, was willing to answer our questions with just the right details, there were no curt replies like Indane/Bharat Gas agencies and no over mollycoddling like McDonalds and Pizza Hut, some examples that starkly hit my head. Paris bakery is famous for its Butter Khari (many layers of maida, thin and wafery, baked to precision, basically a mini puff sans filling) and when I browsed about Mumbai before my visit, I learnt people traveled far and wide to fetch a stock of their kharis.

At the shop, my husband and I would casually ask the shop keeper, pointing to a bottle of bread sticks - What is this? He would reply - Garlic Sticks, draw few of them out and make us taste them. He would then show more varieties of these garlic sticks, the ones that use less butter, ones with a lavish dose of butter, ones that go well with tea, ones prepared with a liberal dose of cheese. He would not only stop at that but ensure we tasted a small sample of each variety. We were little embarrassed by this shower of affection and decided not to ask any more questions in the fear we would finish quite a substantial portion of his shop in the name of tasting. But he would not relent. 

If we quizzed mutely over the biscuits in trays, he would politely point out the facts behind them all, again provide a small sample of each to taste. This treatment was not only meted out to us given that he figured we came from outside Mumbai but to every customer who visited his shop, regular or irregular or a first timer. There were superbly delicious shrewsberry biscuits, buttery and divine short bread biscuits, nutty and sugary kaju macroons, jam biscuits and fan biscuits. 

We were lucky for two reasons -
1) We visited the shop before they closed for lunch. We went to this bakery on our last day of Mumbai visit to take back some goodies to Bangalore. We would have missed out some excellent tasting baked goodies and such refreshing hospitality had we hit the place a little late in the afternoon. 
2) We reached the bakery at 1 pm and were planning to break for lunch thereafter, but our meal plan was almost taken care of by the shower of affection from the shop keeper. 

We left the shop with a sizable purchase - 3 packets of garlic sticks, 2 packets of cheese sticks, 1 each of shrewsberry and short Bread biscuits, 3 of kaju macroons. The supreme friendliness of the shopkeeper and his excellent marketing strategies of answering our questions patiently, providing us with required information of his bakery's products and more than enough goodies to taste and make a decision, bowled us over completely. Prima facie, it may appear the shop keeper will turn a pauper if he exhausted his supplies in name of providing the right to taste to his customer. But the warmth in his business dealings and the fine quality and taste of his products will sure win anyone's heart. None in my opinion will leave the shop without his/her share of bounty. A customer from Thane, alongside us, was in tears when he came to know that the shop exhausted its morning stock of kharis. He promised to return at 5 pm and get fresh evening stock before he headed back home that day. 

Other products that Paris bakery offers are - butter batasha, cheese batasha, cheese papri, nankhatai, mawa cake, fruit cake, sponge cake, buns, milk toast, melba toast, garlic toast and soya toast. I will always pay a visit to this bakery every time I am in Mumbai.

Some more information:  

We stayed in Goregaon (West) and traveled by the Western Line of Mumbai sub urban railway. We got down at Marine Lines station and from here any one can guide you to Paris Bakery or Lady of Dolours church. 

Paris Bakery is barely 10 minutes walk from the station. On the way to Paris bakery, there is a likelihood that you hit the Parsi Dairy branch in Dhobi Talao. Do not miss out the Malai Khaja and Mawa Khaja sweets here, they are truly out of the world. On all days of our stay in Mumbai, we commuted by the Mumbai western line trains which serve innumerable commuters at an unparalleled frequency. As a tourist, if you resort to road travel, then you will only kill time and all your energy; hissing and sighing in traffic. 

Quick tips: 

Get down at Mahalakshmi station and take a taxi if you wish to visit the Mahalakshmi temple and Haji Ali dargah. 

Get down at Charni Road station if you wish to spend the evening at Girgaum Chowpathy. This beach is a well-kept short strip with many food stalls; definitely much better than heavily polluted, plastic stricken and congested Juhu beach. 

Get down at Marine Lines station if you wish to spend time at Marine Drive, catch a view of the Queens' necklace by sunset time, take a stroll by the Arabian sea on wide and well laid out pavements. 

Get down at Churchgate (terminus of western line trains) to take a tour of all buildings and monuments of British colonial times located in South Mumbai - the Taj hotel, Gateway of India, Victoria Terminus (this is the last station of the central line route), Kala Ghoda circle, Mantralaya, Mumbai police headquaters, Prince of Wales Museum (now known as Chattrapathi Shivaji museum), Art galleries. You can take a taxi to save time but a walk would definitely be more interesting. The roads are wide, pavements well laid out with small road side eateries at intervals; milling around the buildings of British colonial times and gazing at their exemplary architecture would provide many cherishable memories. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review: HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES



This is the first Rushdie book I read - Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Wikipedia (Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haroun_and_the_Sea_of_Stories) calls this book a phantasmagorical story, the word (in italics) meaning - characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtapositions. 

The book begins like this - There was once , in the country of Alifbay, a sad city, the saddest of cities, a city so ruinously sad that it had forgotten its name. It stood by a mournful sea full of glumfish, so miserable to eat that they made people belch with melancholy...

Though this is the first paragraph of this 12 chapter book, there is no gloom in any page or chapter of the book. This book would come under for children category but it offers a great read for adults too. In fact, the narration style deployed brings a wide smile on the reader's face as he/she sails happily through the Sea of Stories. 

Brief overview of the plot:

The story is based in India, there is mention of Town of G (possibly referring to Gulmarg), then the Valley of K (referring to Kashmir), the tunnel of I, Dull Lake (referring to Dal lake). The story, in short, is about Haroun Khalifa, a child, who lives cheerfully with his parents - Rashid Khalifa and Soraya in a house that looks more like a cake. Rashid is a great story teller and has credits like the Shah of Blah, the one with Gift of Gab and tells tales, truly amazing and interesting ones. When Haroun wonders where his father gets this immense talent and multitude of stories from, Rashid quips - from the great Story Sea. There is a sudden nasty turn in their lives that forces Rashid into depression and pale silence; Haroun swears to himself that he will restore the Gift of Gab to his father, bring back cheer in him, at any cost, even if takes a trip to the unknown land of Gup on Kahani - the second satellite of Earth, he interacts and makes friends with aliens - water genies, eggheads, floating gardners, many-mouthed fishes and machine like birds. He learns that on Kahani, there are too many Processes too Complicated to Explain (P2C2E). Haroun even finds himself in a war like situation on Kahani where people of Gup city - the Guppies are fighting to save themselves from the Land of Chup, across the border and its inhabitants - the Chupwalas. 

The wikipedia link contains full synopsis of the book, a complete spoiler, much like the detailed synopsis of movies on IMDB. So if you plan to read this book, please keep away from Wikipedia link. 

About book and the author, my recommendations: 

I have read or heard more negative reviews of Rushdie's writing style/books than positive ones, so I was little skeptical when I picked this book from Flipkart. But from this book, I can state categorically, there is no better story teller than Rushdie; he is an impeccable master at his job. 

Most fiction books we read fall in "read and forget" category, then there are classic works of Dickens and many more great story tellers that leave a lasting impact. Very few, barely a handful, bring a childlike happiness and envelope us in bliss, Haroun and the Sea of Stories belongs to this smallest subset of books. Being quite possessive about my books, one will surely make me cross even if they marginally displaced this book in my shelf ;) 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

IPL 2012 - what will make it interesting for me?

Ahhh ... so April 4 2012, it is, tomorrow! Indian Premier League Season 5 will kick start tomorrow with an inaugural session and a match between Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians at the MA Chidambaram stadium, Chennai. Nine teams battle it out with each team playing against the other - 9x8 = 72 T 20 games in the league session itself barring qualifiers, semis and finals ... that's a whooping big total.

1. With MS Dhoni steering Chennai Super Kings this time too, from the front, no surprises if a repeat of 2010 and 2011 years happens. 
2. I think Sachin really got tired of all media reports, tons of questions and speculation of his calling it quits from cricket, so he decided to pacify press folks by handing over captaincy of Mumbai Indians to  relatively younger Bhajji. 
3. Sehwag will get to make his own rules and run his own empire, no Dhonism to hamper his progress, no injury will now come his way, he will fight like many kings history has seen from times of Hastinapur to Shahjahanabad and conquer it all for the Delhi Daredevils. 
4. What is Kolkata Knight Riders without Dada? Though we are now used to his absence, Gambhir with equal bouts of fiery temper, arrogance and attitude like Dada may work hard and harder to Korbo, Lorbo,  Jeetbho! Still somewhere, the positive passion that emanates from fury and attitude as in case of Dada will go amiss. 
5. Pune Warriors India will miss a true warrior, Yuvraj Singh, who is waging an even more critical battle than cricket itself. To not have the swashbuckler play the format he excels at creates quite a loss. It is a little absurd to see Dada - Saurav Ganguly head Pune Warriors India, even more absurd to learn from the newspaper that he insists on opening. The only Bong connection that is evident is that the team is headed by Subrata Roy. Hope this Poorab Poschim connection works. 
6. Kings X1 Punjab don't have any Chak De Phatte effect. This season, even rumor mills will fall quiet as Preity's pretty guy Brett Lee does not figure in the squad. 
7. Loyalty changes and so does royalty... may not make sense but it does rhyme well. The Wall - Rahul Dravid who recently became more of a Wailing Wall after retiring from cricket will have his hands full as the coach and captain of Rajasthan Royals. 
8. Royal Challengers Bangalore can earn back all fortunes lost, save many a sinking ships or more aptly said save many a drowning planes if two things are tightly adhered to, one keep Deepika Padukone out of all matches and never issue her a ticket and secondly keep Virat Kohli just happy (not too much or too little) and more focused so that centuries rain down heavily without stoppage. 
9. Deccan Chargers.. ahha ..there's something in the air of this team, they are like students who prepare extremely well for their exams, so well, yet flunk on d-day. 

Not too many reasons in favor to kindle and sustain interest in this season, yet I am sure I will keep a good eye on most, if not all matches :) After all, for really long, have I waited to break free from endless news debates on NDTV, CNN-IBN and Times Now channels .. so long, so long ....  

Monday, April 2, 2012

Book Review: CHANAKYA'S CHANT - A cornucopia of politics and history

Authored by Ashwin Sanghi, Chanakya's Chant, a work of historical fiction is actually more than a book. The book, the authors' second one, after The Rozabal Line, remained a hotseller last year and was well received, well publicized as well with a website (www.chanakyaschant.com), a video trailer and a free downloadable vedic chant mp3 file. The book, in about 430 pages, sails alternately between 340 BC, times of Chanakya and Chandragupta Maurya and the present day political scenario in Uttar Pradesh, India. 

Cold and calculated means to achieve political agenda - larger interests of unifying Bharat under the force of a mighty ruler like Chandragupta Maurya were employed by Kautilya or Vishnugupta, best known as Chanakya. An immaculately planned script in this kingmaker's mind translated into the most brilliantly strategized capture of power over Magadha and with it the advent of a very valorous and prominent Mauryan dynasty, thus saving the country from invasive throes of Alexander the Great and draconian Macedonian forces. All sorts of means - cruel, cunning, deceitful, lecherous and lascivious were deployed to avenge ones' loss, do the needful that the country and its people rightly deserved. 

The book emphasizes the fact that history exults in repeating itself and that is when the focus shifts to present day scenario in India where a simple Brahmin, a history teacher from Uttar Pradesh - Pandit Gangasagar Mishra elevates a simple girl from Kanpur slums - Chandni Gupta to reins of power - the prime minister of the nation. There is one chapter about the past, the scenario about 2300 years ago and the next chapter seamlessly shifts to present Bharat, much more diverse and divisive by class, caste, language, gender and religion. The techniques and tactics employed to get to the pinnacle are roughly the same and this parallel is drawn out fantastically by the author. 

Plot - its pros and cons



Book chapters describe the political moves of past and present in an alternating fashion 


A map in the beginning of the book marking empires of 340 BC times

Pros: Chapters revealing the ascent of Chandragupta Maurya to the throne of Magadha and rule of ancient India are highly intriguing. There are many witty conversations between the teacher - Chanakya at Takshila University and his students - Chandragupta, Sinharan, Sharangrao and Mehir. These conversations abound with ingenious quips/punchlines that reveal a lot on history, human psychology and politics. The author has dedicated a section for some of these quotes, their sources at the end of the book. History personally interests me and I found this section on past highly interesting. 

The book offers an easy read with no complex language thrown in. 

The fiction part dealing with the present political scenario bears nothing new, therefore is banal - magical numbers to attain majority in state or central assembly, playing minority card for vote bank, electoral rigging, venomous nexus between businessmen and political honchos - they are all there. While reading through the chapters that deal with present one cannot refrain from thinking that a thousand NDTV news episodes content were squeezed into them. Scenes from movies like Rajneeti, Apaharan, Gangajal and may be many more of forgotten names also trickle in. Despite all this, there are certain portions that toss you in surprise. 

The prologue gives a nice opening to this well written work and the epilogue ends well answering if the erstwhile Chanakya's chant rendered success, many years later. 

The author deserves immense credit for extensively researching the topic and writing this piece of political and historical fiction. He maintains interest and draws parallel between past and present quite well. To me, he is far better and more adept a kingmaker than both Chanakya and Gangasagar Mishra. 

Cons:  The hackneyed portions dealing with present day politics, the huge array of characters of past and present, remembering their names and connections, what they did and did not do may get taxing at times and make the reading a little cumbersome. You might have to stay up and erect and quit your slouching position on account of this. The book draws its entire life and blood from history and politics - so for folks not interested in how kingdoms and kings rose and fell, what stirred rebellions and revolts, what apart from people's votes brought parties to power, this book is a definite no-no. 

My recommendations 
I enjoyed reading the book, not a racy read, nevertheless delightful. There are moments where one is bewildered by the multitude of political strategies and tactics used. I am not sure if I will re read it as a whole, but I would love to turn its pages some time and revisit some interesting dialogues and quotes, particularly from section dealing with Chanakya and Magadha times.