Friday, November 14, 2014

The devotion of suspect X - Keigo Higashino

Good gripping read.

Its a typical murder mystery thriller, with the added twist that the author shares the complete details of the initial crime with us. So how does the whole book hold the interest while we see the police trying to crack it? Therein lies the rub, what really is the cover up? A bit of advice, don't go looking for realism, its meant to be an unrealistic brain teaser, like a majority of books from this genre.

The blurb called him the japanese steig larsson, and I don't think I agree with that. I loved the girl trilogy, and personally found it a lot more interesting. Plus its a huge compared to this relatively slim volume.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Interstellar - Christopher Nolan

Strictly OK.

The earth seems to be in bad shape and life is dying out. New planets need to be found for the humans. So off someone goes to save the world or rather the human race in this case. Across wormholes, raging against the dying light, pining for the children left behind.

Can't say there was anything awfully new or memorable.. For me it will end up as just another of these endless doomsday movies from Hollywood. As for Nolan, memento remains my favourite.

Which brings me to another puzzle I have been ruminating over for the past couple of years. What is it with this obsession with doomsday scenarios ? If its isn't climate that's going to get the world, then its a nuclear fallout, biological agents, aliens, evil corporations, something.. anything. I don't know if anyone, sociologists, psychologists or anthropologists have done some research on it , but surely there must be some reason for the fear gnawing away at us ? I mean if a human being had as many disaster dreams as we have these kind of movies , we would place them on the counsellors couch and psychoanalyze the hell out of whatever childhood trauma was causing such obsessive thoughts.

Anyway the movie is worth a watch, but only just!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The sceptical patriot - Sidin Vadukut

Quite liked it!

Its a collection of short pieces about various 'patriotic factoids' that we have often come across, and it digs in with some research into how accurate they are ( or aren't).

Some of the better known ones are about the invention of zero, the oldest university, the first surgery, sanskrit being the super language of computers, etc. I like his casual conversational style, the occasional dollop of humor, and the approach he has taken in trying to research and analyze these. I found pretty much all the chapters quite interesting.What I didn't particularly care for were the prologue and epilogue, I thought they were too long, and somewhat preachy, something which the meat of the book isn't.

Definitely worth a read, and the approach is worth emulating. Even if we usually don't have the time or energy to check up on the gazillion pieces of patriotic forwards which bombard us everyday, it might be worth inculcating just a bit of the skeptical approach. And no, the united nations hasn't just declared the indian national anthem to be the best of all the countries. Yes really. It hasn't. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Breastfeeding , formula feeding and the data-less tamasha.

So this has been a simmering rant for the past few months, and I really wanted to wait to blog it out when I am in a more composed frame of mind, and not simmering and apoplectic.

Lets start with something else though to put things in perspective.

Exercising is good for you. There is one ton for data, your own experience, and plain common sense to back that. But perhaps you don't exercise, or perhaps close family members don't. Sure you feel a bit bad about it. But do you spend every ounce of your energy worrying about it, complaining about it, nagging about it?

Eating 'good food' is good for you. Ditto about backing data, common sense and probably your personal experience to support that. But how often and how much do you follow common sense here?

There are various other things like that, which measurably and unmistakably improve our lives and  the lives of our children. However we usually don't spend all our time and energy worrying and nagging about it.

So what makes breastfeeding such a different case? Breastmilk is a gazillion times better than formula ( and we will come to the data on that in a minute). Even assuming that it has the same easily measurable and quantifiable data to back that, ( and it doesn't, yet), even if thats so, surely it deserves to be treated at the same level as your own exercise and healthy eating?

But no, its like the moment the topic is breastfeeding, we throw our common sense to the winds, mothers get trapped in guilt trips, and the whole world feels like it has full freedom to tell you that you must breastfeed. Its one thing to ask about it,  but quite another to give advice on various mythical reasons why it must be done. When you meet a person with no stamina and visibly out of shape , do you directly start expounding the case for exercise and good food to him/her? And that is a more straightforward case of cause and effect than breastfeeding will ever be. What happens to your urge to give them good advice for their own good then?

I have been told various things, ranging from the likely to the ludicrous. If the baby sucks a nipple and not a breast, his jaws will not develop and he won't learn to swallow well. The bottles will cause infections. The mother-child bond will not develop. He will fall ill more often. You will die of breast cancer. I tried to find the data behind them. Its iffy at best.

I personally feel breastmilk is probably better, mostly based on my bias for things natural vs things artificial. Also what literature I could find on the internet, often pointed to the great things breastmilk has: antibodies, balanced amino acids, perfect ratio of protein and fat, adequate hydration, and droplets of elixir / amrit to make the baby a superman/hanuman.. Ok, maybe not those last.. ! But there is actually very little literature to prove how much this actually affects the baby in a quantifiable and measurable way. The best that most sites can do, is say that breastfed babies fall ill less often. If you google for breastmilk vs formula, you will find lots of respectable sites rooting for breastmilk. When you open them, you will find a dazzling array of the advantages of this elixir. Just one thing, if you are in an open frame of mind. Read them carefully, and then make a list of words like usually, may, probably. BM may do this wonderfully, BM probably does that wonderful thing. The less respectable and more sensationalist sites probably dispense with those carefully inserted may/probably.

In that case, lets go searching for some studies. Studies which will stand up to dispel doubts in a sceptic. Studies with adequate sample sizes, accounting for correlation vs causation, ensuring a double blind, and most importantly, measuring the effect of the milk and not just the constituents of milk. Now that is a really difficult one, because the data is minimal, and its really hard to eliminate other correlations. Here's a skeptical one which goes contrary to established wisdom.

Personally, I don't breastfeed directly. It was the most painful thing in my life, ( even counting labour, induced labour after a missed miscarriage, post c-sec pain with very few painkillers). I found a compromise solution in pumping and giving. I am lucky that nn could afford an expensive machine, and I have the time, space and facilities at home to do this. If I didn't, I would largely and perhaps even exclusively, formula feed.

Parenting is a lot more than just feeding. A whole lot more. And the differences between the effects of formula and breastmilk are minuscule and not well understood, compared to various other things you can do for your child.

Advice to self : laugh at the advice givers, rather than getting all laal-peela. If you give breastmilk, they will turn their energies to how you are not eating right and hence not producing the right milk. And if you are eating right, they will then tell you that the food today is full of chemicals and pesticides. One way or the other its all your fault that the baby cries. These people are basically looking for someone to blame, and in a new mom, they usually find the perfect guilt-filled person. If you check further, you will also usually find that they are either child-less or parents with normal flawed children. After all, no one raises perfect children, and then we all feel that we failed as parents. Perhaps setting more stringent standards for someone else, will give us an outlet for our own guilt. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

The unreal elections - C.S. Krishna & Karthik Laxman

Not bad for a few laughs.

A humorous look at the elections, making fun of the key players, Rahul, Sonia, Modi etc.

This was an impulse buy, while trying to set up my kindle account with amazon. I didn't follow the unreal times on twitter, so wasn't aware of their biases in the political spectrum. But although I don't share their leanings, I still found the book rather funny.

Worth a read, specially when you are stuck doing stuff you don't enjoy! 

The Happiness Project - Gretchen Reuben

Another one I read 6 months back, seems so so long ago! Lying in the drafts since then.. 

Didn't like it overall.

The author looks at her reasonably happy middle class life and decides to consciously focus on improving her happiness. She goes about it as a one year project, and focusses on a different aspect each month. She also chalks out project aids like charts etc to keep things measurable and on track. She also makes it quite clear that the focus areas she picked are very personal to her and aren't a prescription for everyone else, however the 12 month format, and the tools are often prescriptive. Many people have tried their own happiness projects following her template and the book is a best seller.

In some ways I had started my own happiness project many years ago, at least starting with a conscious focussing on happiness. At that time, this blog was one of my project aids. I didn't follow it with quite the rigor of a professional project though, and over the years, the focus rose and ebbed. I guess its a good idea to consciously focus on happiness, after all isn't that what we are all chasing.  The reason I found this book somewhat underwhelming, is that it starts with what seemed to me to be rather band aid solutions. Of course, a band aid is better than nothing, but perhaps I expected more!

Shogun - James Clavell

Time to clear out the gazillion posts lying in the drafts folder. Here's one I had started few months back. 

Really enjoyed this one. It had been a while since I'd read a well written, fast paced piece of historical fiction, and this ticked all the boxes.

Set in the 15th century, it follows an english captain who lands up in japan, and gets caught up in the intrigues and power struggles of the time. The imperialist powers, portugese, dutch, english and spanish, jostle for control, ostensibly bringing their catholic vs protestant wars to this land. In reality of course the squabble is less about the sects of christianity, and more for monopolistic trade and plans of domination, proselytization and colonization. Added to that backdrop, are the intrigues within Japan and it makes for a great page turner.

Must try other books by the same author, and thanks g for this one! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Queen - Vikas Bahl

Decent watch overall.

A 'good girl' from Rajouri Garden, is all set to get married, when a day before the wedding, the groom  calls it off. She decides to go ahead with her planned honeymoon trip to Paris and Amsterdam alone, and of course undertakes the journey of self - discovery in the process.

Can't say I would rate it comparable to movies like English - Vinglish, Luck by Chance or even Band Baja Baraat, which were much more nuanced. However in its own right it was quite enjoyable, and fun, if somewhat simplistic.

Definitely worth a watch though, nice escapist cinema !

Friday, March 28, 2014

Highway - Imtiaz Ali

I quite liked it.

A rich girl gets kidnapped by a gang of ruffians. While on the run on the highway, we see a fragile connection develop between the talkative girl and the taciturn kidnapper.

While seeing the promos and the song, I had initially dismissed the movie as yet another silly love story, where the rich girl and the poor but golden hearted kidnapper would sing duets, while I spent my time and money on something more realistic. But a couple of interesting reviews piqued my curiosity, and I am glad we went to watch it.

For one, it isn't a typical 'love story'. One of my pet peeves has been the straightjacketing of relationships into neat slots in most hindi movies. Lovers, siblings, parents, friends, but never erase those boundaries. I really loved the way the relationship in this movie between the girl and the man, avoids easy labels.

Also liked the general staying in character of the two, specially the ruffian kidnapper. Hooda is completely awesome there, and full marks to the script for avoiding magical long speeches and incongruent sweet nothings from a man given to silence and monosyllables. Alia as the girl was much better than I expected, although a couple of her early monologues were a bit grating, both in script and execution.

The confrontation scene towards the end was a let down though.

Still, definitely worth a watch. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Ship of Theseus - Anand Gandhi

In the end, it all came together and I loved it!

A blind photographer gets an eye transplant, how does that change her? And change her art ? A swetambar monk tries to come to terms with his beliefs and his condition. Are there fixed answers, or will it always be a fluid debate? Where does the mind and reason begin and end? And lastly, a marwari businessman, who has mostly been content to live as a 'good person' in his relatively insular and inward looking world, might find himself challenged. Where does the individual begin and end in the society?

It is a very 'slow' moving film, and there isn't a lot to the 'story', which is perhaps easily guessed. To be honest I almost gave up towards the end of the first segment, finding the long silences, the dilemma and even the beautifully framed shots somewhat boring. I am glad I didn't give up though, because its towards the end when it all comes together, that you realize why the first part was building as it did. Its the sort of philosophical movie that leaves you with much to mull over, and a second viewing might be in order.  Some of the dialogues are really really thought-provoking, specially loved the contrast of the second and third stories as the level shifts from the intellectual masturbation, to the almost banal, and still maintains much depth when viewed in context of the full movie.

The opening lines:

'As the planks of Theseus' ship needed repair, it was replaced part by part, unto a point where not a single part from the original ship remained in it, anymore. Is it, then, still the same ship?

If all the discarded parts were used to build another ship, which of the two, if either, is the real Ship of Theseus? '

Friday, March 14, 2014

Minority Report.

Probably been the longest break on this blog.. and of course this is while I have plenty of time on hand. Time not just to post, but also to read, watch movies, do crafts, or pretty much indulge myself in any way I want. But I haven't been doing any of those. Haven't felt like it. Have waitlisted books, lying untouched. Have movies that I waited for, for months, lying unwatched.  I really don't have an answer these days, when people ask me, 'what have you been doing'. I think I sulk and I brood. And when longsuffering nn, or my friends try to cheer me up, I mostly crib, and sometimes try to lie and say I am fine, and feel even angrier at that.

But mostly the fact of the matter is, this has been the most miserable 6 months of life ever. By a long shot. Jaundice was a walk in the park. The occasional high fever, cough, cold episodes don't even register. Discussions of it , veer into other areas very rapidly. Comparisons with other people. Your own attitude. How there must be something wrong with me, since my experience does not mimic either the majority's or the popular narrative.

But heck I am just too pissed off today. I HATE this. I can't wait for it to get over. It has to be the worst experience of my life. There is no joy in it. Maybe you get a few kicks out of it, but thats it. The endless soul destroying exhaustion, the nausea, the headaches, the constant painful infections, the puking, the interrupted sleep, the constipation which makes you almost pass out, and most of all, the mental changes, I am sorry but they don't in the least make for a beautiful experience, and don't showcase the amazing grace of god or nature. When I hear beautiful, amazing and wonderful, I barf and snort.

Its only reminders of evolution and the much more bizarre things out there, which occasionally give me some perspective. Just reminds you of what a trial and error thing this whole process is. Yes it could be worse in many many ways, but just for once I want to rant without looking at the positive side. It sucks. Period.