Posted in book review

Short Story: The Dream

One of the first short stories that I wrote. Read it when you have the time and please leave your feedback.

DayDreamer

Nikhil dreamed a dream.

Nikhil opened his eyes. He was sitting cross-legged in a corner of the room reserved for death row convicts.  This room, unlike the others in the jail, had a fan. It seemed like a cruel joke to Nikhil on the part of the jail authorities to give him such privileges just as he was to be executed in a few minutes time. His other cell, the one he had called “home” for the six months that he was in jail, did not even have a window. And in the heat of the capital, the stay was unbearable.

From the jail, he could not even make a petition for bail; he was a “threat to the society and the general public”: the words of the judge as she had given her judgment. And then had come the final crushing blow: he was told yesterday evening that the…

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Posted in book review, Europe travel

Book Review: Origin by Dan Brown

Dan Brown is one of the authors that I hold in high esteem. The Da Vinci Code was his first book that I had read, and it fascinated me. Never had I imagined that a subject as abstract as art symbols would make a compelling mystery, let alone a bestseller. But I was proven wrong. After the Da Vinci Code, I moved onto his lesser known work- Digital Fortress. Angels and Demons was next, and this book for me cemented his place as one of the best authors in the world currently. His handling of Christianity and its symbols, along with the setting of the novel in CERN and the Vatican made for a brilliant book.

The Lost Symbol is where it all began to go downhill. The infallible Dan Brown-one who could do no wrong-suddenly appeared to have a chink in his armour. Inferno was his second failed attempt. The novel failed to match the success of his previous works, and the movie did not work much either.

Origin-his latest book, released on the 3rd of October and I immediately picked it up for reading. The start was promising. I particularly liked the use of analogies made by Edmond Kirsch (the science-geek protagonist), when he goes to meet the religious heads on a mountain top (“Moses climbed a mountain and restored faith in people, and I am climbing one to destroy it”). Like all of his other novels, this one too takes place over the course of 24 hours. It is his fifth work featuring the famed Harvard Professor Robert Langdon and as usual, he finds himself in a spot of bother when Kirsch (One thing I found funny is that Kirsch is a denouncer of religion while his name Kirsch seems derived from Kirsche which means Church in German) makes a presentation in the Guggenheim Museum in Spain which could shatter the foundations of religions, but is killed midway. What follows next is the usual cat and mouse game, where Robert Langdon and Ambra Vidal-queen consort of Spain find themselves racing across Barcelona trying to broadcast Kirsch’s presentation to the world.

However, unlike the Da Vinci Code, this seems like a work that has not been thought about much. The plot never picks up (never even thickens for that matter) and you begin to wonder midway through the text whether Dan Brown has lost his art. Entire paragraphs on the description of places seem to be copied from Wikipedia and every new place that Langdon visits is either “awesome”  or “breathtaking”. The allusion to the mickey mouse watch of Langdon still continues and climax ends too easily for my liking and I believe also for those who have read the book.

But the book is not without its moments. The presentation by Edmond Kirsch where he tries to answer the two fundamental questions of life (Where do we come from?; Where are we going?) is nothing short of a masterpiece. The novel has questions about faith at its heart when technology becomes more intelligent and starts taking over our lives.

Although Dan Brown’s storytelling ability is not much to speak about in this work, trying to answer the questions about faith and technology is no mean task- one that he has done reasonably well.

Posted in blog, book review, life

Book Review: The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma

I am not a big fan of self-help books, but after hearing a lot about Robin Sharma and his work, I decided to give his best known book-The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari- a try.

Written in an easy to understand prose, the book is all about following simple guidelines that can help you transform your life towards the positive. The author tells the story of a workaholic lawyer, who although achieves great heights in his career, neglects his health which leads him to have a heart attack. The protagonist then travels to India where the mystical saints in the Himalayas teach him some simple rules to live a meaningful life.

The rules are told in the form of a story where in a green field consisting of a lighthouse, a giant sumo wrestler with a pink wire rope around his waist stumbles and falls on a gold stopwatch. His hand touches some flowers and he sees a path of diamonds ahead. Each element of this story represents a part of life that has to be modified to make it more meaningful. The garden represents the mind which needs to be full of positive thoughts in order to be nurtured. Enter one negative thought (or weed), and the corruption of the mind begins.

The lighthouse represents that life should have a purpose. The author suggests to write down the things that make us happy and to act on them. Lots of people have dreams, but somewhere along the line, those dreams are forgotten. Once you set a deadline to your dreams, they become a goal and that is what the author tries to convey through the analogy of a lighthouse.

The sumo wrestler represents the process of self-improvement or kaizen. After determining your life’s purpose and trying to work towards it, it is essential to continuously monitor and improve the performance so that we get better with each passing day. This is achieved through sheer willpower and perseverance and that is the essence of the pink wire string attached to the wrestler’s waist. Each strand of the string represents some work that has gone into reaching the goal that will fulfil the life’s purpose.

The gold watch on which the wrestler stumbles conveys the message that time waits for no one. So rather than focussing on the future or reminiscing about the past, it is always better to divert all attention to the present and make the most of it. The flowers in the field ask us to do good to the society and be kind to others because a part of our deeds rubs off on us. The path of diamonds at the end tells us that if we follow these principles, we would lead a life that will help us reach our goal.

Robin Sharma teaches us the recipe to lead a meaningful life in the form of a simple story-one that will resonate with us for times to come. This book is an essential read for all those who are struggling to find meaning in their lives or need to find a purpose. I would urge everyone to read the book and practice what has been written down. I already started today. Have you?

Posted in book review

Book Review: In the Kingdom of Ice

One of the main consequences of industrialisation in the late 1800s in America was the development of new and improved shipping vessels. These vessels opened up the possibility to reach the north pole that had hitherto been just a dream. Beginning from the 1860s, many expeditions were launched in order to conquer the north and place the flag of the country upon the pole. Most of these missions were British, but the failure of each one of them led to few investors willing to invest money. Also, the advancement of American ships made the proponents of polar expeditions believe that the success of such missions could only come from across the Atlantic. In The Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette is about one such polar expedition undertaken by Captain George Washington de Long and 32 other seamen in 1879.

August Petermann was a German cartographer whose theory had helped spawn the race towards the pole. Although he had never been on any mission himself, he had drawn detailed maps of the north from first-hand accounts of those who had been there. He was also a proponent of the Open Polar Sea, an ice-free expanse of the ocean near the pole believed to be due to the crossing of the Gulf Stream and the Kira Suwa, two warm ocean currents which helped to melt the ice. Petermann believed that once the ice wall was crossed, there was a wide expanse of open ocean where ice-free sailing towards the pole was possible. This was the route that Captain de Long and his ship took in that fateful year of 1879. They would go via the Bering Strait to the north and not through the west coast of Greenland as had been done previously.

Hampton Sides retells a sordid tale of hope of people including de Long and the expedition financier Bennett Jr for being among the first to reach the pole; the hope of Emma-de Long’s wife-that he will return home safe and that of the countless civilians waiting with bated breath for news that one of their own had conquered one of the last remaining lands on the earth.  Indeed Sides intersperses his narrative with letters from Emma to her husband, asking him to be safe on the journey and always telling him that she and their daughter would be waiting for him when he returns.  The journey of de Long and his mates across the north and their fate forms the crux of the story.

Sides is a great author for those of you who are interested in nonfiction in general. He researches his books well and presents the story in a manner that is factual and at the same time not too boring, which I believe is a good quality to have.  

Posted in book review, india

Book Review: The Emergency-A Personal History

Emergency was undoubtedly the darkest phase of Indian democracy. What made it all the more remarkable was that there was no precedent for such a bold step before the event, nor has there been one after. The move shocked the country because of the instantaneous and harsh implementation and also as no one believed the daughter of Nehru-an upholder of democratic values-would behave like a dictator. Indeed many people have compared Indira in the emergency period to Hitler, but as the author of the book mentions, she went one step ahead of Hitler and tried to installed her son as her political heir and successor.

According to the author, there were three main events that contributed to the decision of Indira Gandhi to announce an internal emergency. Mind you, there was already a state of external emergency in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The first reason was the death of D.P.Dhar, one of Indira’s closest advisors. Then came the news that her party had lost the elections in Gujarat. To make matters worse, Indira was stripped of her membership in the Lok Sabha in response to the Election Commission finding certain irregularities in the process, chiefly the improper use of a public servant in the campaign and the use of more money than the permitted amount. These events led her to proclaim the emergency and begin one of the darkest phases in Indian democracy.

The author presents evidence to the fact that while people think the emergency decision was taken in a few days, it was infact the culmination of several events that took place since 1971. There was an increase in the power of Indira Gandhi, both within the party and outside. She began removing CMs (Chief Minister-the head of the government in a particular state) from their post unceremoniously, particularly those who were showing some hesitation in accepting and blindly following her orders. She abolished the privy purses of the princely states and thus went on the wrong side of many princely families, in particular that of Gwalior. Indeed, the Rajmata of Gwalior was one of the first high profile prisoners in the jail following the imposition of the emergency. Another event which convinced the opposition of her growing clout was the installation of a junior Supreme Court advocate as the Chief Justice, bypassing several people who were senior. People saw this as an indication that she wanted a judiciary that was subservient to the government, but her supporters maintained that she only wanted both of them to have the same ideology.

The author, being a close relative of Subramaniam Swamy-one of the firebrand politicians of this country-devotes substantial space to his work in mobilizing the opposition in the country and the support for the opposition in the USA to defeat the ruling party. The contributions of Jayaprakash Narayan and George Fernandes are also mentioned in detail. JP, a leader of the masses hailing from Bihar, was close friend of Indira’s family, with her mother and JP’s wife regularly exchanging letters. The trouble between JP and Indira started from the time of 1969 elections, with Indira feeling that JP wanted to wrest power from her hands, while he was against power in the hands of a single individual. The author mentions how JP was kept in squalid conditions in the jail, mostly in solitary confinement and was denied access to a doctor even when he complained of severe stomach pains. The festering rats, the heat, poor food quality and lack of communication with people, took its toll on the politician and he died soon after.

The story of George Fernandes is not too different. He led a revolt of the railway union and a warrant was issued for his arrest. When the police could not find him, his brother was arrested and tortured for months.

But probably the main man of the emergency was Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of Indira Gandhi. His controversial projects which included development of a small sized car for the Indian public and the mass sterilization program built resentment against the ruling party and prompted Indira Gandhi to call for elections in 1977 and lift the emergency.

Emergency was indeed a dark phase in the strong democratic traditions of Indian democracy. It exposed what corrupt politicians, hellbent on maintaining their strong hold on the government and not let the opposition win could do. Never was there a precedent for such an initiative and as a responsible citizen, I hope there never will be.

Coomi Kapoor captures the essence of the public during the emergency having lived through it and experienced it. She tells about the imprisonment of her husband, and that of her relative Subramanian Swamy. She tells about countless other people who were tortured and imprisoned in unhygienic conditions in the name of emergency. This book is a must read for all those interested in Indian politics and the emergency in general.

Posted in book review

Book Review and Synopsis: A Small Town in Germany — DayDreamer

This brilliant narrative by John le Carre features the capital of West Germany- Bonn- as the provincial small town. The plot is set in the 1970’s . Leo Harting, a low level temporary administrative officer in the British Embassy in Bonn is missing and gone with him is the Green File which contains the minutes […]

via Book Review and Synopsis: A Small Town in Germany — DayDreamer

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The Orwell Essays

harryjohnstone

Orwell-Essays-1Brian Sewell, who died in 2015, was primarily known as an art historian. Opinionated, snooty and disdainful of popular culture, he became something of an ironic celebrity in his later years. Between 1996 and 2003, he was a columnist for the Evening Standard with a brief to “express opinion on any serious matter that interested me”. The Orwell Essays presents a selection of these articles, on subjects as diverse as Zionism, fox hunting, pornography, bear baiting, homelessness and the Elgin Marbles.

Throughout these essays, Sewell challenges “political correctitude”. On spoken English, for example, he resents the “inverse snobbery” of the idea that “the ugly accents of Liverpool and Birmingham are better than a received pronunciation that reflects the literary form and is intelligible worldwide”. He describes the hypocrisy of “blinkered” MPs who ignore the cruelty of the poultry and livestock industries, but support a ban on hunting as a “politically…

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