Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Books: The Outfit

This is the third book in the Parker series by Donald E Westlake writing as Richard Stark. The Parker series is what a paperback should be - an interesting story line dealt in an ambiguously superficial way. At the smae time, it is poetically written. The ambiguity makes us wonder about the good and the bad side of human nature. In this case, we think more about the bad side as Parker is an anti-hero. The style of writing prevents us from keeping the book down.

In the third book, Richard Stark starts the story with Parker escaping a murder attempt. Then he neatly ties with the first book in the series, The Hunter. There were many things Parker could have done when the story ended. But Parker did an entertaining detour in the second book. In the third book, he comes a full circle to demonstrate his threats weren't empty ones to the big boys termed as "The Outfit" in this series.

The story is simple. But the narration is captivating especially when Parker's threat is put into action. With simple words and a clear vision, Richard Stark describes the world of organized crime like how they operate and how this predictability can be used for heists. This books also demonstrates the funny side of the novelist when the Outfit brings in a consultant to find out what is going wrong. There is wisdom and irony rolled into this installment.

Like with any series, read the previous ones before taking this one.

The other books in the series are.
The Hunter
The Man With A Getaway Face

Tags: Books,Donald E Westlake,Richard Stark,Parker


Monday, August 26, 2013

Books: The Hard Way

A good coffee can lead to trouble. You don't agree with me? Then, ask Jack Reacher. In this new installment of the Reacher series, Jack Reacher visits one of the cafes in NY and likes their coffee. So the next day, he decides to go there one more time . While he is sipping coffee, a stranger shows up to ask questions about Jack's last visit to this cafe. One thing leads to another and very soon, Jack is trying to solve a kidnap. The time is running out. With Jack's values, he should either free the hostages or at least apprehend the kidnapper.

As usual, Lee Child wastes no time in thrusting both Jack Reacher and us, the readers, right into the middle of action in the opening pages itself. Like his previous installments, it is a brisk read primarily because we want to know what is the mystery behind the kidnapping. The success of the Reacher series is not surprising as the reader eagerly wants to go through the journey of finding out what is the mystery. We are engaged because we want to know if we have guessed it right. Sometimes, the reason might be silly. But you don't want to fret about it. Lee Child is in form towards the end when he pits Reacher against the villains for the final showdown. Lee Child is best in describing the action.

This is strictly for the Reacher fans. I have to confess I am one by now and I have no idea when I crossed over from sceptic to a fan.

The other books in the series are.

Tags: Books,Lee Child,Jack Reacher


Sunday, August 25, 2013

Books: Trains and Lovers

It is about trains and lovers as evident from the name. Alexander McCall Smith weaves his novel around four travelers in a train. He unveils four love stories which are in some way related to train journeys. The four travelers are from different parts of the world and are traveling to London when the story unfolds. The four main character go down their respective memory lanes. This is what Alexander McCall Smith captures beautifully using words.

There is suspension of disbelief necessary to read this. Can four strangers drop all pretenses and share intimate details about their life? I am not sure. Luckily, not all the four are open minded and forthcoming. There is a person inside the group who is very shy and his story is told by the author transgressing into the character's mind. The reason might be because that character's love story is not conventional and the author wants to play on the suspicion of the character towards the external world. What I mentioned above actually works for the book. Alexander McCall Smith switches between the conversation of these four people and also what goes through their minds. While switching to the conversation happening in their minds, the author gives us many philosophical gems. These gems are written so poetically and simplistically which makes the reader pause to absorb these mostly in the context of one's own experience. This is indeed the best part of the book. 

The author deliberately does not tie up all the stories to give a perfect ending which has different effect on different readers. Sometimes, you keep the book down with the feeling of an unfinished journey. It was the effect on me. I agree these are four strangers sharing some intimate moments. But I would also like to have a closure.

If you are into trains and romance, give it a try. You will definitely like everything except the ending.

Tags: Books,Alexander McCall Smith,Trains,Lovers


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Photos: Flower show at Lal Bagh 2013

I am not sure if this is an annual event. As I was back in Bangalore, I decided to go for the flower show. The first thing that hits you the entrance fees. It costs Rs 150 to get. The kids get in free. Once you are in, the whole place is very crowded. That is when you realize the garden is actually generating a substantial revenue despite the steep prices. I say steep price without even checking what are the normal rates or if there is an entry fee when there are no events!

With the onslaught of people, it was not possible to see all the creations associated with the flower show. I only managed to click the house boat and the wall created for the show.

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Tags: Photos


Thursday, August 22, 2013

Books: The Kill Artist

An art restorer. An unlikely cover for a spy. Yet, that is what the author Daniel Silva choses for his protagonist Gabriel Allon. Gabriel Allon is an Israeli. He is also part of the elite team which uses all means to eliminate Israel's enemies. Now he is in retirement after a tragedy. But his former boss Ari Shamron closing toward his retirement due to old age and struggling with the internal politics coerces into accepting an assignment.

Daniel Silva uses the backdrop of Israeli-Palestinian peace summit in NYC during the 90s to tell a story of espionage. This becomes interesting because he weaves in real incidents and real people in his narrative. Moreover, he uses an unlikely profession which needs a lot of patience and sharp eyes as the cover for his protagonist. How he links the cover job to the actual job of the protagonist is interesting.

At the bottom line, this is an escapist fare. This is a good read if you enjoy fiction and you also follow the current affairs actively. Otherwise, it is a routine spy thriller. Be warned, this is a series and this book is the first one in the series.

Tags: Books,Daniel Silva,Gabriel Allon


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Hands Free Experience

Hands free devices are extremely useful. Without these fancy devices, we would be keeping our delicate ears pressed against the rapidly heating mobile phones. Imagine latching on to the phone while driving. This is indeed a foolproof way to get you pulled over by the cops. The other option is to switch on the speakerphone thereby making us less intelligible with the resulting atmospheric interference. Imagine ourselves on public transport vehicle and carrying on a conversation on the speakerphone. This can be either entertaining or terribly disappointing for the fellow passengers. For all the above reasons, I regard hands free devices as extremely useful. The same devices, which are useful, can also give rise to funny situations in real life.

A friend of mine uses the hands free device while attending calls. In his job, most of the operations are conducted using his mobile. So he has wisely invested in a hands free device. Instead of the fashionable wireless hands free devices, he has opted for the traditional wired one. So he plugs it into his ears and conducts business. The immediate after-effect of this action is the isolation. He is insulated from the outside world and hence he is isolated. Because of this, he doesn't realize when he is talking loudly to the phone. To complicate matters further, he is naturally loud. When the conversation becomes heated, he can be heard miles away. Do not think this as an exaggeration. Once he received a SMS from his wife when he was attending a call from home. His wife had gone to the third floor of the apartment complex for an errand and he could be heard from the first floor all the way up to the third floor, may be even higher than the third floor. So, hiis wife sent a SMS to keep the noise levels down!

While using hands free devices, my friend also gesticulates animatedly. As a result, you can see him pointing in the air and also pushing the index finger into vacuum to stress a point. This is fine as long you have a private office or even a covered cubicle. If you are in an open space, it is quite a show for all those who are sharing the open space with you. The situation is indeed weird for your family members if they are watching you working from home. With decibel levels rising as is the case with my friend, it is hard for his family members not to notice it. As a result, his job description is summarized by his daughter in the following words. "I know what my dad does. He puts on the earphones. And wave wildly in the air. This is what he does in the office!".

Tags: Musings,Office,Hands Free


Monday, August 19, 2013

Photos: Offerings of Lal Bagh

This was taken at Lal Bagh

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Working within a budget

Haven't we all done this in our professional and personal lives? We have a budget and we have to work with this constraint in mind. A couple of days back, I watched 2 seven-year-old girls struggling with their budget. Sometimes, parents can be cruel and experimenting. This is exactly what we ended up doing to these two girls; one is my daughter and the other my niece. "You have to take the kids to Landmark and pay for whatever they choose". These were the simple instructions given by my wife. When my heart raced thinking about the adverse effects on my wallet lest the kids choose something expensive, the next statement from my wife was a relief for me. "They can take anything as long as the price doesn't cross 200 rupees".

I suppressed my smile. What can you get for 200 rupees? Nothing! That was my forgone conclusion. But like a good husband, a good father and a good uncle all rolled into one, I decided to play along. I suspected there will be some lessons to be learnt with this exercise. "How much are you going to spend?", I asked the girls before we left for Landmark. My daughter replied, "Yes, 250 rupees". This was a shock to me. I immediately looked questioningly at my wife. Seeing the surprise and confusion on my face, my wife sheepishly answered, "They asked me to increase their budget". This turned out to be the first lesson. The kids can negotiate.

After reaching Landmark, the kids went directly for the branded toys. Here, I watched with amusement for I was sure they will not be able to buy those with the allocated budget. It took 10 minutes for them to figure out. Initially, they picked up the characters they loved from the TV shows and asked me to tell them the price. After a while, they figured out how to find the price and I was more or less of not much use to them. At this point, I told them an easier way. All three of us approached a salesman and told him our needs. Once they found stuff which was well within their budget, they tried to combine a couple of items and find out the total price by trying to add the prices. Although they were not successful in finding the total price quickly, there were two lessons for me. The kids adapt and also improvise.

Finally, both of them bought stuff well within their budget. Even the salesman at Landmark was helpful as he helped my niece to get two pieces whose combined price was within our budget!


Thursday, August 15, 2013

Books: Paris

This is not a travel book even though the title might have misled you. This is a novel written by Edward Rutherfurd. I have read novels from James Michener before. So when I heard Edward Rutherfurd is a Michener disciple, I was interested. James Michener is known for choosing a place and writing a story which spans centuries and generations. In this book, Edward Rutherfurd uses the same principles as Michener to tell the rich history of the city of lights. Edward Rutherfurd tells the story of Paris from 13th century to the second half of 20th century, a decade after the WWII. How does Rutherfurd accomplishes this difficult task in such a way he has the reader hooked to the beginning to the end? He accomplishes this by two techniques. The first one is to weave the story around 4-5 families whose lives are intertwined through the evolving time and the turbulence associated with these times. The second technique is to tell the story in a non-linear fashion.

By setting the story against 4-5 families, Edward Rutherfurd explores all the possible complexities which occur in human relationships. The complexities revolve around the French theme of liberté, égalité et fraternité. Using this theme, the author explores not only class inequality, bigotry and prejudices through the ages but also the struggle of the various members of the families to overcome these obstacles. The chasm which has deepened the ages is finally forgotten and a brotherhood formed between various families against the occupying forces during the concluding chapters set in the 20th century. If this is not melodrama at the best, then what is? The second technique to jump between ages which means you might be reading what is happening in the 19th century and the author abruptly switches to 13th century when the next chapter begins. This is very effective to build suspense and capture attention. Even though the reader is confused, he is still eagerly looking forward to the next chapter. He desperately wants the the author to connect the dots. This also forces the reader to be very attentive while reading.

A few months back, I read Graham Robb's Parisians. You may find similarities between these two books. If you love Paris, these two books should be in your reading list. Both these books explore Paris through centuries. In Graham Robb's Parisians, the author tries to tell the story of Paris by putting himself into the shoes of many historic figures. In this book, Edward Rutherford spins a story where records the actual history of the city with fictional characters interacting with the historical figures. The streets which are existing today in Paris comes alive in both the books. If you have walked through Paris, then you inadvertently becomes a part of this novel.

This is recommended if you like to read an epic. This is recommended if you love Paris.

Tags: Books,Edward Rutherfurd,Paris


Movie Review: Chennai Express

As an ardent fan of all kinds of movies, there are quite a few aspects that captured my attention in this movie. Let me be very clear, the plot or the script is not among those few aspects. With Rohit Shetty directing the movie, I am not going to waste my time discussing about the plot or the script. If I were to sum up the plot line, this is how I would do it. A fun trip to Goa, planned by an overgrown adult Rahul(Shahrukh Khan) goes haywire when he meets Meenamma(Deepika Padukone) on the train referred as Chennai Express and then Rahul gets accidentally becomes the nemesis for the best laid plans of her father(Sathyaraj) to get Meenamma married to Thankabali(Nikitin Dheer).

Timing the release of the movie with Ramzan, Rohit Shetty and Shahrukh Khan(also one of the producers) wants to cash in on the festival season and the holidays associated with it. Everyone is in the mood for a movie during this time. Rohit Shetty and Shahrukh Khan has done a good job to make this a clean movie. Even the movie has a fair share of lowbrow humor, at no point does it cross into the territory of vulgarity. This move is obviously aimed at the "U" certification of the censor board. There is neither excessive violence nor skin show. The makers keep the visuals and dialogues to what is suited for a family audience. Even the song number "1 2 3 4", a nod to the dappan kuthu songs from Tamil movies, is sans the signature shots of the navel. On the flip side, Shahrukh cannot dance like Vijay but to the lead actor's credit, he matches up with his boundless engergy.

Although the theme is about mismatched couple represented by Rahul the boy from the north and Meenamma the girl from the south, the real mismatched couple is the director Rohit Shetty and actor-producer Shahrukh Khan. Who would have thought this combination would work. At the end of the day, it is Rohit Shetty who thankfully overshadows the lead actor. Because of this, we see a different comic version of Shahrukh Khan. Shahrukh still has the infamous stutter but Rohit is bring out a performance which is a cross between that of Woody Allen and that of the Golmaal gang.On top of this, Rohit pokes fun at some of the famous movie scenes of Shahrukh Khan. Unfortunately, the director fails to successfully convey this fact to an ordinary viewer.

The movie also stands out for the visuals and the action sequences. As for the visuals, it is very colorful. When Rahul meets Meena's father for the first time, the train stops in the middle of a bridge in supposedly Konkan area. The bridge is set against a mountain and a waterfall whose water falls below the bridge. Where did they find such a location? Is it CGI? Similarly in many other scenes, the director makes us forget the absurdity of the situations by having abundance of color everywhere. No movie of Rahul Shetty is complete without spectacular action sequences and vehicles blowing up in the mid air. Compared to the previous movies of Rohit Shetty, the action scenes are toned down. But the final fight sequence where Shahrukh Khan fights Nikitin Dheer and his sidekicks is the best in the movie. The interspersed slow motion with normal motion during the fight sequences elevates the viewing experience.

The movie belongs to three people - Rohit Shetty, Shahrukh Khan and Deepika Padukone(despite the bwakwaas accent!). Sathyaraj because of sheer presence and Nikitin Dheer because of massive size makes an impression in spite of badly written roles. The only Shetty regular Mukesh Tiwar as the Sardaji inspector who speaks Tamil makes us desire for a more longer role for him.

It is not a landmark movie. But it is an enjoyable one. My guess is you have already seen it. If you have not, what are you waiting for? It is holiday time. 1 2 3 4.

Language: Hindi

Genre: Comedy

Rating: **


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Birds of the same feather

Birds of the same feather flock together. Isn't that the case with an expatriate? I am no longer one. I have returned to my nest. How long am I going to stay in my nest? This is to be seen. This is not about me. This is about my friend visiting India. He was in Bangalore and I took him to the Mosque street in Frazer town. It was around the time when people were breaking their fast as part of Ramzan. I thought it was the best place to make my friend enjoy street food.

The food was good. It was a bit too spicy for my friend's palette. After capturing all the sights on the street with both our cameras and eyes, we waited for an auto-rickshaw. While waiting for the auto-rickshaw, a couple of them passed by us. There was a woman in one of the rickshaws who was waving wildly at my friend and shouting to catch his attention. The woman was also non-Indian like my friend. I was surprised because my friend had been in the city only for a day. So I turned to my friend with inquiring eyes. He smiled and said , "I know her. We met at a restaurant and exchanged notes about India...the usual like what to do, where to visit, what to avoid".

I have lived as an expatriate. So I know better. When you find someone else who like you have planted themselves in a new environment, it is natural to find a non-visible yet strong bond between each other. 

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Tags: Musings,Expatriate,Street Food


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Books: The Man with a Getaway Face

Parker gets a new face by enlisting the services of a plastic surgeon based in Lincoln, Nebraska. After the surgery, Parker is left with very little money. So he starts looking for a new job. The new job that comes by is not something which Parker is not extremely comfortable with. Nevertheless, he takes up the assignment. Before long, his past also catches up with more complications.

Donald E Westlake writing as Richard Stark picks up the story a few months later where he stopped with the earlier book in the Parker series. The author wastes no times and quickly weaves a new tale of suspense and treachery. Parker is a criminal who has no regrets about his deeds. He is ready to go any distance if it suits his plan. This is the perfect recipe for a paperback which is intended for a break from our routine.

I advice you to read this in the order it was written.

The other books in the series are.

The Hunter

Tags: Books,Donald E Westlake,Richard Stark,Parker


Photos: A restaurant waiting for you.

This picture was taken at Varkala Beach, Kerala. The right season to go there is between September and March when the sea recedes more than a kilometer making it possible for us walk through the beach wading into the waters. It is monsoons in Kerala right now. There are many restaurants along the cliff at Varkala. All of them were filled with tourists.

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Tags: Photos


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Movie Review: R.I.P.D

This is the screen adaptation of the comic book of the same name by Peter M. Lenkov. If you are have no clue about the comic book, then this is about a department of police officials. The difference between R.I.P.D and any P.D in the world is that the former comprises of dead police men. After their death, they are inducted into R.I.P.D to apprehend the dead people who have escaped judgement and wandering on earth. Normal people cannot distinguish these aimless souls and hence it is up to R.I.P.D to capture them in order to transport these "deado"s to next life.

Did I pique your interest? If the answer to the question is yes, then let me assure you I had the same enthusiasm while reading the premise. Unfortunately, the director Robert Schwentke wastes a good opportunity of making a watchable action movie. If you are not familiar with Robert Schwentke, he is the same person who gave us R.E.D a couple of years. He seems to have a penchant for adapting comic books which has acronyms as the name. So we have R.E.D, R.I.P.D etc. Unlike the previous movie, he doesn't have an ensemble cast. But he is consistent in rendering an interesting premise into a boring movie.

Detective Nick Walker(Ryan Reynolds) is killed by his partner Bobby Hayes(Kevin Bacon) when the former decides to walk away from making easy money by stealing the unexpected gold unearthed as part of a drug bust. In between the journey from earth to afterlife, Nick is grabbed by Mildred Proctor(Mary-Louise Parker) in order to recruit him for R.I.P.D. Nick is also assigned a new partner Roy Pulsipher(Jeff Bridges) who was a US Marshal in the Wild West era.

One thing for sure, Ryan Reynolds needs to spend more time in choosing scripts. None of his comic book adaptation has turned out to be a watchable fare. If you have any doubts, think Green Lantern. What is Jeff Bridges doing in this movie? If you examine his character, it is an extension of Rooster Cogburn played in the Coen Brothers' adaptation of True Grit. But this alone cannot make the movie enjoyable. The odd couple theme of Nick and Roy falls apart because it is a rehash of cliches we have seen many times before.

The interesting part of Nick and Roy is normal living people see them as different people on earth. So Nick appears as an old Chinese man(James Hong) and Roy as a beautiful Russian blonde(Marisa Miller) to normal eyes. This is interesting but the treatment of this angle leaves a lot to be desired thereby taking all the humor that could have been associated with it.

Moreover, this movie is in 3D. Why? I am still asking myself. Stay away from this. This is not even worth sleeping through. I advice to spend your time wisely

Language: English

Genre: Action

Rating: *


Friday, August 2, 2013

Photos: Courtyard inside Bangalore Palace

This was taken at Bangalore Palace

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Tags: Photos


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Photos: The Pyramid of Louvre

This was taken at Musee du Louvre, Paris

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