Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie Review: 11.6

11.6 stands for 11.6 million Euros, the sum stolen by Toni Musulin. Toni was an armored truck driver. One fine day, he drove his armored truck with 11.6 million Euros and never returned. The story of Toni is the subject of the book written by Alice Géraud-Arfi. Philippe Godeau uses this book as the foundation of his movie. Instead of the thrilling elements of the heist, the director focuses on the human side of the drama. This choice is one of the major setbacks of the movie. The human side of a heist is less attractive than the thrills.

François Cluzet stars as Toni Musulin. If you remember the quadriplegic in Intouchables, then you know who François Cluzet is. The role is not challenging for him if you consider the fact he has already played a role where he has restricted movements. For a man who does not want to get into trouble but becomes angry at his living condition, François Cluzet does a good job. Although Toni teaches the oppressive capitalists (no points in guessing how these corporations become villains in France), we are unable to sympathize with him because of ambiguities in the character. How can he afford fast cars? What tips Toni to be vengeful? These are neither explained nor alluded, and it is where Philippe Godeau fails to make this movie a gripping drama.

Toni Musulin was hailed as a hero after the heist. He had a lighter sentence because there was no firearms involved in the heist. The authorities have not recovered a sizable chunk of the money. All the above are exciting to read. But the director chooses to show what is Toni's background, who are Toni's friend and why weren't they implicated. These factors contain the ingredients of drama but not an interesting one.

If you run out of other choices, then you may try it.

You will find more information on this movie here.

Language: French

Genre: Drama

Rating: **

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Movie Review: Battle of Wits

We are conditioned to expect an action movie with stunning, but gravity defying stunts with a non-existent plot when you mention an Asian movie. Although the above statement is primarily due to our stereotyping, there are great movies that do come out of this part of the world. Battle of Wits, directed by Jacob Cheung and starring Andy Lau, is one of those which gets the right kind of publicity.

The movie opens in 370 BC. At this time, China is not united but under different warlords fighting each other for their personal agenda. The movie is about a siege. Liang, a city-state is under a siege. Although Liang is not a formidable city-state, it comes in between the fight for supremacy between two states - Zhao and Yan. When the movie begins, the rule of Liang is ready to surrender to Zhao forces who are on their way to a bigger battle. When a lone Mozi warrior Ge Li(Andy Lau) turns up, the city-state decides to fight back. This exercise is indeed a battle between David and Goliath. At the same time, it is also a battle of wits.

Jacob Cheung does get preachy about the Mozi philosophy while telling this story. Frankly, I was not able to find anything new in the philosophy that is mostly about universal love. Aren't most of the philosophies based on universal love? The other reason for distraction is the action piece. The grand scale used by Jacob Cheung is breathtaking. He tells us how the war is fought in a clear way. By doing so, he also depicts the human ego in a subtle yet pronounced way. The rulers are worried about their prestige while commoners are worried about existence. All these facets are beautifully captured.

You will not find gravity defying stunts. Instead, you will find how a war is won with limited resources and intelligent strategies. David wins here against the Goliath. But how does he win? In order to find it out, you will have to see the movie.

You will find more about the movie here.

Language: Mandarin

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Friday, December 26, 2014

Books: The Man Who Ate The World

According to the author Jay Rayner, who is also a journalist turned food critic, nobody goes to the restaurants for the nutritional reasons. They go for the experience. I agree with the author. Whenever I have felt the pangs of hunger dig deep into me with every inch of my body craving for food, I hurry to the nearest fast food joint. The mission at hand is to drive down a greasy whatever they are offering with black colored fizzy liquid. While doing this, I also thank the Almighty for every morsel of food passing down my esophagus. I never achieve this blissful state while visiting restaurants. Coming back to Jay Rayner, he doesn't place a value for the experience. The experience is invaluable. He travels the world looking for the best experience.

In his quest for the best experience, Jay Rayner chooses six cities in the world - Las Vegas, Moscow, Dubai, Tokyo, New York, London, and Paris. Earlier, the restauranteurs were limited by geography. The geographical boundaries are not longer a challenge with globalization. As a result, the local celebrity restauranteurs have expanded to other parts of the world. Now, they can cater to food lovers in different parts of the world enabling them to enjoy the experience without traveling extensively from their home. The branching out has also brought fresh challenges. Earlier the restaurants used locally grown produce. Now these produce have to be flown in from other parts of the world. There are customizations in every part of the world to suit the local palate which brings down the quality of experience.

The book is about food and hence features it in abundance. The author warns the readers. The book will make you hungry. I agree with the author. After a few pages into the page, you are hungry. Added to this, Jay Rayner has a humorous way of writing that makes you laugh loudly forgetting the surroundings. But how much can you eat before you say no more. The book is like a good buffet. You devour it with energy and enthusiasm. Then the overload of food hits your brain. After this point, you can't take it anymore. The initial pace of the book slows down after a couple of chapters. Then the pace is sluggish. When it comes to Paris, we just want to get this over with.

The book is very funny initially and funny in bits and pieces from there. You may agree with the author in many of the observations made in the book. You can equate the book to a dinner with good starters followed by a bland main course and even blander dessert. Read at your peril. If you do not want to waste time, look at the funny quotes from Jay Rayner to save your time.

Tags: Books,Jay Rayner,Restaurant,Experience

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Movie Review: Elite Squad

Elite Squad or Tropa de Elite is a Brazilian film directed by José Padilha. The movie is based on a book written André Batista and Rodrigo Pimentel. Both the authors were members of BOPE which stands for Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais. BOPE is specialized in urban warfare and often sent to favelas to keep order. If you are wondering what favelas are, then these are the slums where all the fancy action pieces in Hollywood movies are shot if the premise is set in Rio de Janeiro. If you are wondering who José Padilha is, then he is the one who directed the updated, but terrible and boring Robocop. After watching this gritty drama, you understand how Hollywood can corrupt a talented director with a gigantic budget and special effects.

The events unfold in 1997 just before the visit of Pope John Paul II to the city. In order to ensure the pope has a restful sleep, BOPE begins an operation to clean up the slums. While the action progresses, Captain Roberto Nascimento(Wagner Moura) using a voice over tells us the situation in Rio de Janeiro. The economic conditions in the city have made the cops corrupt. They are hand-in-hand with the criminals often giving them protection in return for money. But BOPE is a special task force above corruption. But life in this unit is dangerous. Nascimento wants to leave the group as his wife is pregnant, and they are expecting a baby soon. He has to choose a successor for his position, and he narrows it down to two new recruits - Matias and Neto. Do they possess the right qualities for becoming a member of BOPE team? The thought troubles Nascimento.

Using a spirited voice-over from Wagner Moura as Nascimento and shooting close to the characters, José Padilha succeeds in putting us in the middle of the action. Combine the above with an excellent performance from Wagner Moura, we almost sympathize with the dangers these men has to encounter as part of their daily life. Just when we are feeling sorry for this unit, José Padilha shocks us with their training methods and also their brutal treatment of criminals. At the end of the movie, we are left to question what is right and what is wrong. The answer to this question is not easy. During the final scene, Nascimento's choice completes his training by pulling the trigger. The screen whites out and we hear the shot. But what has happened off-screen plays up in our imagination and we cringe.

It is tough to find a genre for this. It is not an action movie. Although there are thrills, this is more of a drama. But there is no question if it is a good movie or not. It is a must watch for serious movie lovers.

You will find more about the movie here.

Language: Portuguese

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Monday, December 15, 2014

Movie Review: The Lunchbox

The Lunchbox resembles You've Got Email. You've Got Email was the most recent adaptation of the many correspondence courtship drama made for the screen. It was able to grab our attention due to hard-to-find-now but the then Hollywood sweetheart Meg Ryan, Tom Hanks, Internet boom and popularity of AOL. When compared to this biggie, the Lunchbox is small in every kind of measuring yardstick. Ritesh Batra, the director of this movie, is not a celebrity. Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur plays the protagonists. The former is an international star but not at the same star status as Tom Hanks, and the latter is an unknown face. Finally, the correspondence is set in the lunch box where they write each other letters using pen and paper! In spite of all these, the movie captures your attention. A simple movie can be very effective in telling a touching human drama.

You may have heard of the dabbawalas in Mumbai. Although their method might seem chaotic for an untrained eye, their efficiency is unparalleled. Even Harvard had come to Mumbai to study their delivery system. A mix-up by the dabbawala places the lunch box prepared by the young wife Ila(Nimrat Kaur) on the desk of Saajan Fernandez(Irrfan Khan) a widower waiting for his retirement. At the end of the day, Ila is surprised by an empty lunch box. She thinks her husband is happy with the new recipe on which she had ample help from the auntie living upstairs, never seen in the movie, but heard through the movie. She decides to write a thank you note and puts in the dabba. This correspondence starts the friendship between two lonely souls living in a crowded city. In real life, this might never happen. Otherwise, the Harvardwala would never have conducted a study on dabbawalas. I am quoting one of the characters in the movie here. 

A simple narrative style, an eye for detail, excellent acting and photographing Mumbai combines together to keep us engaged in the movie. The movie is about two lonely people who haven't got anyone to communicate. Saajan lost his wife to death while Ila is losing her husband to his work. The two lonely people are living in one of the busiest and crowded city in the world. The irony itself captures our attention. They exchange letters not to philosophize instead to connect. The yearning of the protagonist to reach out finally pulls us into the drama. Nawazuddin Siddiqui, in a very short role, proves his versatility. The man can play anyone. Ritesh Batra does not carry any excess baggage as this is feature film debut. But he handles his subject and his actors like a veteran.

This lunch box contains a simple meal. But this would be most fulfilling meal you have eaten in a long while. Go for it.

Language: Hindi

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Choose your off-site wisely

Off-site is one of the favorite events to enable team building. As the name implies, the venue is not your regular work location which provides the much needed and deserved break from the monotonous or stress-ridden environment. Who doesn't like that? But off-sites can also be detrimental. I learned this lesson recently from a friend of mine.

The friend was looking forward to the off-site announced by his firm. The company was trying to shoot two birds with one stone. They were providing back to the community and also building the synergies between the various teams with the off-site. In order to accomplish this objective, the company took all of their employees on a mission to rebuild one of the recreational centers for young adults with special needs.

I don't know how off-sites work in your place. The friend turned up over-dressed and under-prepared for the day. When I met him at the end of the day, he was groaning from 8 hours of hard physical labor. He summed up the off-sites in the following words. " I work hard for 8 hours every day. How is this different? There is no fun. Moreover, I am in pain. My body is aching all over!"

I am afraid this off-site is going to have an adverse effect on the friend. He might resign! I wonder what he would cite the reason in his exit interview.

Tags: Musings, Off-site

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Books: Think Like a Freak

For most of us, Freakonomics is the book that made us look at numbers and their interpretation in a different way. The books also happen to be an excellent example of Lateral Thinking. Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics and self-proclaimed freaks, plans to show us how to think like a freak. In the ever-changing professional fields, thinking like a freak will get you into the hall of fame. So it is not only the right time but also very essential to share this knowledge.

Steven and Stephen are good story tellers. Like their previous books, this one also has a lot of stories. There are tireless doctors who crusade against the scientific community and also an unassuming Japanese guy who become a champion by wolfing down hot dogs. No doubt these are interesting stories told in a captivating way. Unfortunately, the stories are the upside of the book. The rest of the book is a series of mantras that will help you think different, think outside the box or think like a freak. These mantras are an amalgamation of the popular self-help books.

Except the interesting stories and the style of writing, there isn't nothing much you can get from this book. You may want to pick up this book while waiting for the next flight. Easily read and more easily forgotten.

Tags: Books,Steven D Levitt,Stephen J Dubner,Freak

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Doctors and Daddies

A father is always protective of his children, but he is overly protective of his daughter. A daughter always brings the best in a father. You may be toughest person on earth. But when you daughter describes the world, you might want that to be the truth even though your intelligence might point to the opposite direction. I had an interesting conversation with my daughter the other day. When I was talking about paying consultation fees for a doctor, my daughter was surprised.

Daughter: *quizzing* Why do you have to pay a doctor?

Me: *patiently* They need money for various things.

Daughter: *pausing for a second to digest this fact* But I thought doctors were sweet. That is why they are doctors, and they don't money.

At this point, I realize I have to break another fragment of the perfect world my daughter has created in her mind. So I carefully think on how to approach it. Once I have formulated my line of reasoning; I resume.

Me: *slowly* They do accept money. Haven't you seen me paying at the hospital before going to see a doctor? *mentally heaves a sigh, thinking it is going to take some time for my daughter to digest it*

Daughter: *instantly* Yes. But that is because you are sweet and so you pay the doctor.

To be frank, everything after the word "sweet" was a blur. I was flying high after that. Who am I kidding? I am still flying high.

Tags: Parenthood,Doctor,Payment

Monday, November 17, 2014

Restaurants, Accents and Jobs

Over the weekend, I visited a local restaurant serving a potpourri of Asian food. If you been to a Chinese buffet already, then you know what I am talking. The restaurant has a similar theme; the difference is in the spread that belongs to a couple of regions in Asia instead of sticking to Chinese items alone. The wait times are long in this restaurant, but they turn their tables very quickly. They can turn tables quickly because they have a lot of tables. The restaurant has a seating capacity like a stadium. Even though it I am exaggerating with the similarity to a stadium, it is a dining hall and not a restaurant. Keeping aside the food, it is the waiters and waitresses that caught my eyes.

For an Asian restaurant, I expected a lot of Asian faces among the crew. You may call me prejudiced. Although I scanned the crew, I could see very few locals; the few locals carried the tag displaying "Trainee". The trainees looked like a rush job. Most of the other names and also accents indicated they were from Eastern side of Europe. This finding was amusing for me because a couple of days back we went on a team lunch to an Italian restaurant. Diwali is long past, but the pain of organizing a Diwali lunch fell on my overburdened shoulders. Based on everyone's calendar, last week was the only time when all of us are not on vacation or training. Why Italian for an Indian occasion? If that is your question, don't you know Indians and Italians go a long way? 1972 to be exact; Godfather released in 1972 and we all are ardent fans of this movie. That is our Italian connection.

I called up a highly rated Italian restaurant near my work. I was happy to hear an accent at the other end. I was happier to find the accent wrapped in a beautiful voice. Like a naive person, I assumed the restaurant was run and managed by Italian immigrants who will provide authentic Italian food. All is well that ends well. The food was good. All of us had fun. The beautiful voice also turned out to be more beautiful in person with a great and perfect teeth. But she was not Italian. She was from Spain living in England because she wanted to learn English. To my Indian friends, please don't bother asking the name of the restaurant in order to teach her English. She wants to learn English and not Hinglish. To my British friends, if I had denied the pleasure to my brethren, why would I reveal the name of the restaurant to you?

If you analyze further, both the cities - where I live and where I work - are so small that I call them villages. There are still many jobs out in these small places. Then why is immigration a problem? 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Photos: Trafalgar Square

This is another shot of Trafalgar Square taken at night.

Tags: Photos

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Photos: Green Lantern at Trafalgar Square

The reality is different from the perception. Here I was in self-imposed exile, mostly involved, in a self-flagellation, about my lack of interest in photography. After two consecutive moves from Paris and in the process of adjusting to a new environment, I doubted my photography skills because I couldn't either find time or was not happy with the end results. Then comes a day when you go through the treasure trove and finds pictures that are worthy of sharing.

I had taken this picture at Trafalgar Square a year ago. These days, I don't carry the tripod around. This picture motivates me to take my tripod again. I like the fountain lit in green and felt it would be interesting to try out using long exposure. You can see the result below, and I hope you like it.

Tags: Photos

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Delivering the unspeakable

What is the differentiating factor of your company? Recently when engaged in a discussion with a group of professionals, the question arose. The group of professional were all working as system integrators in the IT world. For this particular question, there are many answers that is vague and is hard to quantify. So I was surprised when someone came with an answer. "We deliver shit."

I was taken aback by the bold statement. It is one thing you are providing unusable services, but it is altogether another thing to blatantly admit it. When the speaker saw the shocked look on our faces, he explained. "No, we don't delivery shit. We deliver SHIT". All of us were still baffled. "SHIT as in S, H, I, T." Although the speaker was spelling out each character, we already knew the spellings. "SHIT is acronym for somehow in time." As it made perfect sense, we all smiled.

To think about it, delivering somehow in time is not success. This method is best to meet timelines. It is a defeatist approach to ensure a green status in your report for the most items. On the flip side, this approach doesn't guarantee the usability of what you are providing. Then what is the point in delivering somehow in time?

Tags: Musings,Delivery,In Time

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pappettan teaches to drive

If you are wondering who Pappettan is, click on this link and find out.

Pappettan, being a good samaritan, agreed to the experienced driver for a common friend who intended to appear for the driving test. Teaching driving is a tricky business. A few decades ago, my driving instructor in Kochi used to shout at the top of the lungs for even a silly mistake. Years later in US, I found a very calm person as a driving instructor. I was curious to find which category Pappettan belonged to. I should have known better. He belongs to the cool-as-cucumber category. I learned other lessons on top of this obvious fact.

Our friend was driving on the left side of the road which incidentally is the right side of the road for UK and India. He was following the lane discipline religiously when a car from the opposite direction slowly swerved into our side of the road. The other car had evidently crossed the median and was in our part of the road. My friend was in total control of the car when Pappettan instructed him. 

Pappettan: *calmly* Please move to your left.

Common Friend: *puzzled* Should I?

Pappettan: *explains* Yes, you should. Please move to your left and give that car space to pass safely.

Common Friend: *obeys but is not happy*

Pappettan: *no expression on his face, watching traffic and judging my friend's driving skills*

Common Friend: *unwilling to let go* But... the other car was wrong. They were not following the rules.

Pappettan: *lets out a laugh* Our duty is to drive safely and save lives. Is it right or wrong? That is for a judge to decide.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Unyielding Rule

Rules are rules. Haven't we heard this before? Right from the childhood, there are many rules, and this has also formed the causes of our anguishes. Many a time, these rules have made it difficult to get what we wanted. Many a times, these rules were so absurd which made eventually made our lives less happy and more tedious. Recently, a new acquaintance tells me an incident where rules play an important role. Since the event was set in Paris, I was not sure if the punch was in the absurdity of rules or the French reverence for authority and rules. Regardless, it is an excellent tale to share.

The incident happened quite a lot of years back when my acquaintance was very young. At that time, he was in Paris taking part in a chess competition for the prize money. For every win, you earn money. Since my acquaintance was very young and inexperienced, he was looking for the prize money. On the fateful day, he was pitted against a Russian chess player. After a few moves into the game, my acquaintance was waiting for the next move when the opponent clutched his heart and fell down from the chair. Strange as it may sound, the Russian had succumbed to a heart attack.

After paramedics had taken away the body of Russian opponent, my acquaintance approached the authorities. Although shameful, my acquaintance admits he was more concerned about the prize money. Guess what the authorities said. According to the rules, my acquaintance will have to wait for a stipulated time for his opponent to make the next move. If his opponent fails to make a move in the stipulated time, my acquaintance will be judged the winner. So my acquaintance returned to his seat, whiled away the time till he was judged the winner and could walk away with the money. Now, isn't that a rule that is absurd?

Tags: Musings,Rules,Chess

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Science of Analogy

Analogy is defined as a comparison between one thing and another for the purpose explanation and clarification. The definition leads to the next question. Is analogy the same as example? The answer is no. Analogy is a comparison while example is a representation. Analogy is a good tool while you want to convey a message. At the same time, you have to choose the right analogies for the message.

Today, a colleague brought up a good example of analogy. My colleague was guiding on how to treat bad news. So the analogy he used is of wine and cheese. Being a foodie, I like when someone refers to food while explaining difficult concepts. According to my colleague (and other learned people), wine can kept for longer time. As time goes by, wine matures and becomes a pricier commodity. Unlike wine, cheese cannot be kept for longer time. As time passes, cheese becomes bad. Bad news has to be treated like cheese and not like wine. Bad news has to be communicated as soon as possible.

Sometimes, people get carried away and use the wrong analogies at time. I have come across a few but what stands out is the comparison to kamikaze units. Anyone who is familiar with World War II knows these units were used Japanese fighter pilots carrying suicide attacks. During the project kick-off, a colleague motivated the entire team by showing them the analogy of kamikaze units. The team had a long way to go and also had to make a huge impact. So, he chose the kamikaze units for motivating the team members. Unfortunately, there is no hope for the kamikaze pilot. First of all, why would anyone want to burn themselves out for a project? Secondly, why do we liken a project to war which always is destructive?

Tags: Musings,Analogy,Colleague,Project

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Photos: Sketching intensely

The walkway connecting Millennium bridge with St Paul's Cathedral offers a good view of the cathedral. There are benches along this walkway. During my last visit, I found an artist drawing on a white paper. The subject was St Paul's Cathedral. But she was looking intensely into the paper and was lost in the activity. In between she, would wake up from the trance to share funny lines with her friend who was also sketching.

There was no way I was going to capture this picture without getting close to her. So I decided to ask her permission. I was in for a surprise when I asked for permission. She laughed nervously when she heard my request to photograph her beautiful eyes. "My eyes are evil." That was her response. Her response makes me wonder. Why are women unsure about their beauty?

Tags: Photos

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Books: The Hunt For Red October

I picked up this book after watching the movie recently. I had read the book a while back and also seen the movie once when it came out decades ago. The books written by Tom Clancy requires a lot more than casual reading. It also requires a lot of efforts in order to adapt it for the screen. If the books are made into a movie like it is written to the screen instead of adapting, it becomes a costly affair which will also turn out to be too difficult to comprehend. Considering this fact, I wanted to find out how the hunt for Red October plays out in the book. In this process, I also discover the joys of second reading. 

Set in the Cold War Era, the story is about a missing Soviet nuclear submarine during the maiden voyage. Commandeered by Captain Ramius, the nuclear submarine goes silent. The new propulsion system which emits lesser sound than a normal submarine complicates the matter as it is almost undetectable.  The disappearance causes Soviets to mobilize their entire fleet close to the US coastal lines making the Americans nervous. The US in turn mobilizes their forces in order to keep an eye on the Russian ones. The chances for war increases as the forces of these two nations come closer. The time is close to Christmas, and the world is on the brink of war. The CIA analyst Jack Ryan takes a routine trip from his base station in London to Washington DC for a debrief that thrusts him into to the middle of action.

Tom Clancy describes in detail on technical aspects of modern weapons and m protocols followed by the navy, army and the air force of both countries. The reader has to be vigilant so as not to lose or confuse oneself in the details. Since it deals with espionage, this is a cat-and-mouse game where pawns are so insignificant that they don't realize the importance of the part they play. Since the action is set on the sea, we get to see what is life is aboard carriers and submarines mainly the claustrophobia. He also highlights on the disparities in life in both countries at that time.

If you haven't read it and you love thrillers, this one is for you. The book tells of a different era. But those times were as dangerous as the times we live at present. In many ways, those times were much simpler too.

Tags: Books,Tom Clancy,Jack Ryan

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ana-Maria, the woman in orange

Ana-Maria. Isn't that a beautiful name? Formed by joining two commonly used names, the two of them can exist independently but when concatenated form a more beautiful bond. I heard this name for the first time a decade ago. The Romanian software programmer, with flowing black hair, raised the levels of enthusiasm in the team to get the work done the fastest possible way. I was amused by the Ana-Maria effect. Years later, I came across another Ana-Maria when I was strolling the quiet streets of London a week back. I didn't know her name was Ana-Maria initially. But like the earlier Ana-Maria, this one too left an impression.

This Ana-Maria did not have flowing black hair. She had auburn hair. But it was not the hair that caught my attention. It was the color orange. She had a scarf and shoes which were orange in color. She was dressed formally. While I was walking the streets in lazy pace, she whizzed past my side suddenly emerging from back out of nowhere. She was not running, but she was in a hurry. When such things happen, you tend to admire the only view you have. But in this instance, the orange color was drawing my attention to her scarf and shoes. Since the time I took up camera, I have begun to like these colors. Give me red, pink, yellow, or orange any day. When you are photographing a person in a crowd, these colors are striking.

I still didn't know her name. But since she was walking in the same direction as I was going, I looked at her shoes and also her scarf. Scarf is an attractive accessory. When you don't see the face, scarf drives your imagination and paints a picture of the person in your mind. In this case, she had draped the scarf elegantly on her neck making her graceful and beautiful in my mind. While I was admiring her, a little girl and a man both dressed formally shot past me from my back. They were trotting after the woman in orange. In the midst of hurrying to catch up with her, the man was softly calling out her name. Ana-Maria...Ana-Maria. Very soon, they were able to catch up with her. With great efforts, I averted my gaze while the trio had a private argument in a public place.

Although I summoned up all the reserves of energy, I couldn't help stealing occasional glances at Ana-Maria and presumably her family while passing. Ana-Maria was on the verge of sobbing but demanding in whispers when she was not trying to suppress the anger and hurt  from escaping from her body. Her husband was intently listening but poised to put forward his point once Ana-Maria has finished. Her daughter was watching her not taking sides and isolating her dad or mom but while empathizing with both of them. As a family, there were handling it well. How many of us can do that?

Tags: Musings,London,Woman,Orange

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Big cities have quiet spots

What is the first thing coming to your mind when you hear the word city? Too many people? Busy pace of life? What do you find while browsing through the images when you are planning a visit to one of the big cities of the world? Crowded spaces! Despite the crowded spaces, a big city can make you feel lonely. As everyone is busy in their pursuit of happiness, a man or a woman becomes an island and eventually lonesome. It is an interesting philosophical statement. Strange as you might find it. The big cities can make you lonely not only because everyone is busy but also due to the quiet streets in the middle of the concrete jungle where you can hear a pin drop.

I love big cities not only because of the busy pace but because of different-as-chalk-and-cheese experiences. I was in London a week back. London is a big city, crowded but still secluded. During my exploration, I stumbled into a deserted street. The streets were lined up with office buildings and apartments, but there was not even a soul on the streets. It was an amusing contrast for me. Here I was in the middle of a crowd and two minutes later, I am walking through a street where there is absolute silence. Two minutes earlier, I would not have imagined the noise around me would dissipate thereby making straining my ears to listen to signs of life.

In a big city, you might come across a deserted street emerging from a busy street. For instance, take Trafalgar Square. You can cut across to the Mall from Trafalgar Square through a busy street or through a couple of small deserted streets. To imagine we left a busy square to enter a street with not a soul in sight is difficult to fathom. Sometimes you find lovers tucked away in these streets. Most of the time, a big city does not give you privacy when passions rises up. So you are forced to create an island ignoring the world. When you are lucky, it gives small islands of refuge.

It is not true that big cities can't give you a quiet spot where you can relax and organize your thoughts. If you differ, then you haven't looked hard enough in the city. What I suggest for you is to take a series of right turns or left turns or combination of both from the main street. You will come across a quiet street. Before you leave, please  make sure you have a GPS enabled mobile or even a small map with you.

Tags: Musings,London,Streets,Silence

Thursday, October 23, 2014

St Paul's Cathedral, my sacred heart of London

Have you looked at St Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge? When you are the standing at the Tate's end of the Millennium bridge, you see the dome of the cathedral rising up into the sky. The dome is what makes this view unique. Right towards the lower edge of the frame created by your naked eye, there is a sea of people crossing the bridge. The dome and the human sea together makes this view unique and breathtaking.

The dome of St Paul's cathedral is a light show in itself. Depending on the mood of the sun, the dome displays different colors. This phenomenon makes the dome more interesting and exciting. Similar to putting hand into the cookie jar without knowing what cookie you may end up with, you will see a different color every visit. When you travel in Europe, cathedrals and domes are a familiar sight. Have you noticed dome is a significant feature in both Christian and Muslim places of worship? It is easy to differentiate between the domes (Christian versus Muslim) the way it is constructed.

For me, the sight of the dome from Millennium bridge represents a different thing. Have you climbed the small hill in Parc de Buttes-Chaumont? If you have climbed on top of that small hill, you will get a view of Sacre Coeur from there. The sun, if he likes you on that particular day, will play his magic on the domes of Sacre Coeur giving you a look that is equally breathtaking. The view of St Paul's from Millennium Bridge reminds me that St Paul's is my Sacre Coeur in London.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Your reputation precedes you

"I have heard about you." It is a fairly common statement. Consider the scenario. On a day at work, you meet a colleague. You extend your hands for a firm handshake and introduce yourself. The other person states his name. At this point, you realize the name had cropped up in a casual or a serious conversation. You decide to share this information with the other person. After your revelation, what is the other person's reaction? Is that person surprised, puzzled or uneasy? What would have been your reaction if the roles were reversed?

Yesterday, I was in a similar situation. I met a colleague for the first time. As soon as the introductions were over, I blurted out the truth. I have heard about this person before. I carefully chose the word "blurted" for I regretted sharing the truth. The other person was visibly uncomfortable. Luckily, I didn't have to analyze his facial patterns to find out what he was thinking. He carefully framed the response. "I hope you heard good things about me." It is ingenious but pointless. Ingenious because the unprepared gives out the truth. Pointless because there aren't many unprepareds.

So what can we do in such a situation? As you may have realized, there is no ideal answer to this. One way is to acknowledge and ask what context did the other person come across you. Who was he speaking to? The other way is  to acknowledge and apologize for coming across the other person for the first time. Try to find out what the other person is currently doing at work. What is past is past? There is no point in worrying what the other person has heard. You may be famous or notorious. Right now, you have to move on.

Tags: Musings,Work,Colleague

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Seats seats everywhere but not a single one to sit

I avoid the rush hour while commuting. Since I stay far away from where I work, I have to catch a very early train in order to be at work on time. Then there are days where you tend to miss the your original schedule and, as a result, is caught up in the rush hour. This occasion turns out the day on which you don't get a seat, and you end up standing till your destination. For commuters to London from Reading, this is a daily phenomenon. But I travel in the opposite direction away from the regular traffic.

During the rush hour, most of the seats are reserved. Just like in India, there are unreserved compartments although I have not figured out how to identify one. In reality, all the seats might not be taken. The reserved seats have a piece of paper sticking out of the top of the headrest. This piece of paper indicates the length of reservation with respect to the from-station and the to-station. You can still squat here, but you will have to vacate when the rightful owner turns up.

On the day when I took this picture, most of the seats were occupied, and these stubs were sticking out of most of the seats. I found a seat after the first stop.

Tags: Photos

Friday, October 17, 2014

Movie Review: Philomena

Two different people comes together in life for a purpose. When the difference is akin to chalk to cheese, we can expect a lot of drama and comedy. Hence, this approach is a commonly used one in the movies. Every year, there are movies of two people who can't stand each other taking part in a journey. Philomena is also based on a similar premise. The movie succeeds in giving you a lot of smiles and ends up tugging your heart because of the phenomenal actress called Judi Dench and a surprising performance by Steve Coogan.

Stephen Frears tells the anguish of a mother who goes in search of her son whom she had given up for adoption. He bases his movie on the book "The Lost Child of Philomena Lee" by Martin Sixsmith. Philomena Lee is played by Judi Dench while Steve Coogan plays Martin Sixsmith. Both of them are at a crossroads in life. Philomena constantly wonders what happened to the baby she had forced to give up for adoption. She was an unwed mother, and her family had left in an Abbey during her pregnancy. The sisters at the Abbey had given her son for adoption. Now that she wants to find out, the Abbey is not cooperating in her search. Martin has just lost his job and is trying desperately to overcome the depression. The two of them embark on this quest.

Martin and Philomena are different people. Martin is an atheist while Philomena believes in God. Martin has suppressed hatred while Philomena has nothing against the world. The situation is weird as we expect Philomena to be angry because she is the wronged woman. Philomena is grateful for all the niceties of life while Martin is rude. Philomena is full of wonder when she finally ventures out of her small world with Martin. She is naive. But her naivety is beautifully portrayed by Judi Dench. Judi Dench, with her performance, forces us to look at things we take for granted in a new perspective. The performance also raises questions. How can one be forgiving? Why isn't there any rage? Steve Coogan's Martin learns a lot from Philomena. At the end of the movie, he is at a place that holds more peace than when he started. Steve Coogan, who also wrote the screenplay, delivers a performance that hooks us as the movie progresses. He plays the bumbling Englishman with a characteristic sense of humor initially and later turns serious. Steve Coogan has sprinkled the right amount of humor in his performance thereby not making it heavy duty.

Watch it for Judi Dench.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Books: DarkMarket

Over the years, the internet has transformed from a luxury to necessity. It is fast becoming a fundamental human right. In Finland, it already is. With internet proliferation comes a group of people who are exploiting it for making money. For instance, you have either heard about or received emails regarding the promise of treasure out of nowhere commonly referred to as the Nigerian scam. There are a whole lot of other scams. Misha Glenny uses his background in investigative journalism to trace the rise and fall of DarkMarket, one of the sites favored by hackers. In order to uncover the complex world of secrecy and anonymity, he travels from Brazil to Turkey via Scandinavian and East European countries.

Although the book chronicles the rise and fall of the website named DarkMarket, it is not a straight narrative. It does lack a chronological narrative. The book jumps back and forth between different characters and time periods. As a result, the book confuses anyone who is not reading this at a stretch. The book also will disappoint you if you are looking for conclusions. The authorities catch a major player behind the website as documented in the book. But after capture of this criminal, no one is sure if they have got the right person. The major success of the book turns out to be the shocker it delivers to a person who has adopted technology with both hands without realizing its darker side. These days, we conduct a lot of our day to day activities using the internet. Our online identities are vulnerable. An experienced hacker can effortlessly extract this information from our computers. The extracted information is sold cheaply to fraudsters who then uses it for various schemes. Any legal procedures against these people take enormous efforts, and sometimes fruitless, because these crimes extend international boundaries. With law enforcers spread across the world, it is difficult to keep it a secret and also to get everybody to  cooperate. Since there is a lot of money involved here, the organizations behind these websites are becoming like the modern mafia.

Technology makes our lives easy. At the same time, technology also has an evil side. We have been ignorant of the negative aspects. Misha Glenny wakes up from the slumber. Forget the lack of structure in the book. This book is still a must-read for you to understand the darker side of the internet. I am sure you will be afraid to use even the nearest ATM machine after reading this book.

Tags: Books,Misha Glenny,Hackers

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

When if becomes when

Communication plays an important role in both our personal and professional lives. If you analyze our daily life, you will find us sending out messages. We all have our signature ways of communicating such as overly optimistic, neutral, unfocused and even apocalyptic. In recent times, I have been noticing the usage of if and when while communicating. It is interesting when you choose one instead of the other, the meaning of the sentence changes. Not only does the meaning of the sentence changes, but also there is a change in the tone of the message.

The first instance of change was to move towards optimism from pessimism, and it happened when a person corrected a colleague doing a presentation. The presenter was describing a new process which spans multiple business units. Since there are at inception stage, there were struggling with the corporate inflexibility and also self-doubt. Midway during the session, the presenter said, "If we reach this stage, then everybody will realize the benefits." The colleague quickly corrected, "When we reach that stage, everybody realizes the benefits". Consider both approaches. A simple change. But the message now was sounding more confident than the first take.

The second instance was to sound more apocalyptic than cautionary. Here the speaker was involved in an initiative that was going through trying times. So as the person-in-charge, he wanted all artifacts to be in place so that there is a proper audit trail of what transpired. To achieve this objective, he addressed to his team members. "I want it all in one place. When this explodes, I want everyone to know what happened here. Remember when it blows up and not if it blows up." He was sure the blow up was imminent.

If you analyze this further, the changes were small. But the underlying messages changed. A simple change from if to when can create a bigger effect in the minds of your audience. Always keep this in mind while you are composing the next message. Decide how you want to sound and choose your ifs and whens wisely.

Tags: Musings,Communication,If,When

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Movie Review: The Lives of Others

The German movie Das Leben der Anderen or The Lives of Others is about an oppressive state where citizens are made to distrust each other, freedom of expression curbed, and individuality suppressed. In order to tell this story, the director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck sets his film in German Democratic Republic (GDR), five years before the fall of Berlin Wall. In this drama, the director focuses on a Stasi agent who is efficient in bringing out confessions. When he starts eavesdropping the life of an artist couple, he couldn't resist from getting involved in the lives of the couple. Does this actually bring any difference to the couple? It does not. But does it tell us the value of freedom we take for granted. It does!

Ulrich Mühe is the Stasi agent Wiesler. Mühe plays the methodical agent with considerable restraint. There is no emotional outburst only calculated moves. So he never loses his calm under extreme circumstances. Even when his superior suspects foul play, Mühe displays no visible change in demeanor and before the superior could act, he has already made his next move swiftly. At an unanticipated tragedy, Mühe shows the breakdown and swift recovery of Wiesler beautifully. Sebastian Koch and Martina Gedeck plays Dreyman and Christa-Maria Sieland respectively. They are the artist couple where Dreyman is the playwright and Christa-Maria Sieland the actress. Among these two, Martina Gedeck gets our attention mainly because she is vulnerable, and the exploited. Even the scene where she gets used by a party boss in the car and the subsequent scenes where she tries to forget the incident shakes us up.

Years have passed since the Berlin wall has come down. The director successfully creates an atmosphere that is devoid of color and indicates a potential decay. The film is set in drab locales depicting the strangled growth and stagnant mindset. The movie also focuses on the helplessness of people who wants to change the system and not escape from their current predicament. Unfortunately, they have limited options. It also brings a revulsion in us towards the oppressors. The only drawback is the sudden change of mind in Wiesler. For a man who has devoted his life for this line of work, the change is dramatic and abrupt. But if we overlook this factor, we have a moving tale to watch.

Must watch for serious movie lovers.

Language: German

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****


Monday, October 13, 2014

Explaining God and Mythology to children

My mom used to take me to the temple regularly when I was a child. So it didn't take much to instill the concept of god in me. The job was easy for my mom. My mother reluctantly rewarded me a candy that cost ten paise at that time. She also made sure I earned it. She always went to the Shiva temple instead of the nearby Ganpati temple. The Shiva temple was bigger and well managed. The long walk, the temple pond and the tranquil silence surrounding the sanctum sanctorum occasionally broken by the bells. All these helped with the concept of God and subsequently the belief. It is another matter that growing up thwarted these beliefs. Still I would any day go to the temple because of the silence it offers. You are never able to switch completely off the disturbing chatter until you are in a place of worship. There may be talented people who can accomplish this feat in a noisy place such as a bazaar. Then, they are exceptional. 

The biggest challenge I face right now how to explain God and Mythology it an eight-year-old. Is there a God? Before thousands and thousands of years, did you know what happened? These are the sample questions. When we grew up, there was Ramayana and Mahabharata on Doordarshan. I was surprised to know there is a newer version of Mahabharata in one of the TV channels in India. I consider the TV series created by B R Chopra and his son is timeless. You don't need to shoot it again. You only need to telecast it again. Then, there are other ones like Kailasanathan that incidentally is also my daughter's favorite. I am glad she is getting a fair share of Indian mythology. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly difficult the questions for which I have not found answers yet. Over the years, the stories in Hindu mythology have mutated to distort the original story. The latter day narrators have increased the scale of events, voiced the morals loudly and added sub-plots. How do I tell which is the modern variation against what was written down initially? When we grew up, our first tryst with Mythology was through the TV. It was from Uncle Pai's Amar Chitra Katha books. If you look back, the word "Amar" is so right. I am writing it after 30 years! Isn't that evidence? Even while watching Ramayana and Mahabharata on TV, our reference point was these books. The next Monday, with landlines not achieving the current penetration and our usage strictly monitored, we could discuss these anomalies at school.

Unfortunately, my daughter does not have that reference point. While I am glad she is getting her mythology lessons, I am afraid she is getting a lot of irrelevant subplots.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Photos: Late Sun

As the summer bids good bye, the length of the days shorten. It becomes increasingly difficult to get up from bed when there is no sunlight. The commute becomes tedious. If you still look at this from a positive angle, there are still excellent settings for a picture because the sun, running late, casts an array of never seen before color palette. I say never seen before because we commute usually when the sun is out and misses out on these color palettes during summer. Here is a picture taken in Reading UK right in front of the railway station during the morning commute.

Tags: Photos


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Photos: The British Weather

After a dry September, October is here with a lot of rain. The temperature is dropping. The days are getting shorter. Anyone in this part of the world should be going with an umbrella. I have a lot of time while waiting for my train from Reading station. The waiting time also turn out to be the best time to take pictures using iPhone. Here is one showing the British weather.

Tags: Photos


Friday, October 10, 2014

What makes a photo interesting?

What makes a photo interesting? If you ask an expert, he/she will come up with many reasons. Does a photographer, if we discount their skill levels, think of these numerous reasons before taking a picture? I doubt so. In spite of not thinking about the rules related to photography, aren't people able to come up with breathtaking pictures? I am leaning towards yes. Of late, I come across many blogs that regularly features digital photographs. Many such blogs contain quite a lot of encouraging comments from the subscribers and readers. When I examine the picture, it doesn't make any sense to me. Whichever way I look at it; they do not rise above ordinary.

A few years back, I was requesting my friend's to give me pictures to post on my blog. Although I promised a link to their profiles, it is difficult to match the photographer's aspiration to what I am writing. East is east. West is west. Never shall the twain meet. Since I was in the company of two excellent photographers with opposite attitudes to photography, I decided to learn from them. The resulting exercise turned out to be a boon and a bane for me. I am able to make interesting pictures that were the boon while my condescension towards ordinary pictures turned out to be the bane. I refrain from commenting on these blogs.

There are two styles to shooting a picture. One is visualizing the result before you shoot. You have considered all the necessary rules and incorporated a couple of them. If you do have trouble digesting this, you may check out, https://www.flickr.com/photos/popeyee/. The shot are planned in a split of a second in the mind of this photographer. Such is his brilliance. The second style is shooting from the hip. There is no plan. You like a scene and you want to immortalize it. So you click it. All of us adopt this technique. But it takes talent to create interesting pictures while shooting from the hip. If you want to see pictures of this kind, check out https://500px.com/nishyadu. Shooting from the hip also implies creative genius and an underlying laziness. So this photographer, brimming with talent and laziness, does not update his site too often. If you can find him on facebook, you will see a lot of hidden gems inside his albums.

Now let's come back to our original question. What makes a photo interesting? A photographer friend summarizes, "I take a picture thinking it is a great picture. Nobody likes it. And then I have another picture that I think is mediocre. People can't stop raving about it". These days, I just click if I like what I see in my front. It is more exciting and rewarding when the audience finds a meaning. Sometimes, they get close to what we had in mind. Sometimes they, with their line of thinking, help us find the reason we thought the scene was best to be captured using our lens.

Tags: Musings,Photo,Style

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The importance of laughter

When asked about the secret of his youthful looks, my wise friend calmly replied. "I laugh every day." I still remember that evening. The table had a lot of delicious food on it, and our stomachs were hurting because my friend was cracking one joke after another giving us little time to recover in between the jokes. Now I am wiser; I tend to agree with my friend. A sense of humor is important to survive the hardships of the day. Sadly, I also realize my ability to look at the lighter side is either diminishing or becoming inopportune. A recent bus ride shook me up and made me realize the importance of laughing, sense of humor and related paraphernalia. 

On days I am lucky to get a ride back from my colleague, I end up in the south part of Reading. From there, I walk to the nearest bus stop and use one of the local buses to reach home. The bus stops in front of Royal Berkshire Hospital, one of the famous ones in this part of the world. One of the fellow passengers who boards from my bus stop is a gentleman on a wheelchair. He is the last one to board as the driver has come out of the cabin to lay down the plank that will help the gentleman steer his wheelchair into the bus. The wheelchair is not powered by a motor. It is one of the old ones where you use your hands to control.

When the bus stopped at the Royal Berkshire Hospital last week, a young man boarded the bus. He was also on a wheelchair. His wheelchair was powered by a motor so he could easily fit it into the designated place in the bus. When the wheelchair of the young man had come to a stop, he was also face to face with the gentleman on the wheelchair. The gentleman on the wheelchair was watching with interest while young man parked his wheelchair. The gentleman said, "I like it." He was quick enough to clarify, "Not your condition. But your toy". Both of them laughed. The young man's legs were amputated below the knee and the stumps, though covered, were visible for everyone.

I would classify the statement uttered by the gentleman as a jovial remark. It was not a joke. It could still bring laughter to them and smiles on the lips of everyone who were listening. It is truly important to laugh. It removes the drudgery of everyday life.

Tags: Musings,Wheelchair,Laughter

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Let your team member bask in the glory

In the hectic and frenetic professional life, do we take a moment to pause in order to reflect upon the good work put in by our colleagues? Do we stop on our tracks for a short time to appreciate how our subordinates are accomplishing their tasks while juggling priorities, at times even important personal ones? You may wonder what got me pursuing this line of thought. It was a casual conversation with a professional acquaintance which put in this path.

The conversation happened last Friday in one of those least likely places. After dropping my daughter at school, I was hurrying back to my desk when I bumped into this acquaintance. Since I knew the initiatives, he was working on and also his unhappy state in being associated with these seemingly impossible ones, I was quite surprised to him in a cheerful mode. In the next 30 minutes while other parents were hurrying back to wherever they were planning to go, the acquaintance animatedly, and happily, described what was going well with his initiatives. The customer was finally seeing changes in the many initiatives that had been going nowhere for a long time. They had expressed their happiness in the sudden turn of events in front of his colleagues, his superiors and also his competitors.

Needless to say, I was late when I got back to my desk. But the whole event made me wonder. Why did the conversation take such a long time? Normally, I would have expected the pleasantries to last a couple of minutes. But I had spent half an hour talking to this acquaintance. The whole point of 30 minutes of conversation was about how the acquaintance felt good while delivering a difficult task. Are we so lost in the pace of doing business that we don't have time for simple pat on the shoulder? Are we so driven to make super efficient professionals out of everyone that we forget to give a minute break to bask in the glory of accomplishment, regardless of the size, before giving out new assignments?

Tags: Musings,Acquaintance,Colleagues,Subordinates

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Books: Uneasy Rider

Easy rider is the title of the famous movie featuring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Though I haven't seen the movie, a good look at the poster tells you it is about men, motorbikes and riding. So when Mike Carter names his book as Uneasy rider, you pretty well know where it is leading to. First, this book is about bikes. Second, this book has an unusual way of looking at things, topped with generous dollops of humor. Thankfully, the book is enjoyable because of the second factor. Although the humor comes in the form of self-deprecating type, it is thoroughly enjoyable.

After hitting forty and a divorce, even though he is unsure which is the hardest hitter, Mike Carter decides to take alcohol-induced challenge. Go on a bike trip all over Europe. Possessing neither a motorbike nor a license, he has to acquire these two before setting out on this adventure. He not only does these two but also goes on a course for riding in Wales. Then, he sets out on a road trip from Britain. The trip lasts six months,  and it also takes him all over Europe, Scandinavian countries, Eastern Bloc countries and finally reaches Turkey where he turns around to head back home. During this trip, he finds out more about the middle age crisis, the necessity of human contact, countries and their customs, and finally how to reconcile with the past.

The book is for men. What is the big thing with 40? Why do men feel chained after marriage? Why is it important to buy material possessions like a big ugly motorbike to boost your ego? Why do men after a certain age wants to lock their eyes with young things a little longer than necessary even though it is not leading anywhere except an instant ego massage? Why does thinning hair trouble men? These are some of the many questions asked in the book. Brace yourself. There are no answers in the book. The author frames these questions in a funny manner making you think harder and finally lets you reach the futility of this line of questioning. This style makes the book very enjoyable. These are the very questions which pop up in your mind at the most inopportune times. Mike Carter has written it down in black and white.

Throughout the book, Mike Carter teases himself on why he is doing what he is doing. Who in the right mind will embark on a journey like this? Despite all the self-flagellation, Mike Carter finally finds peace. Most importantly, he makes new memories. He can move on. But, does this book serve as a solution to all men undergoing similar uncertainties in life? No, I don't think so. At the same time, the book confirms the fact you may not be the only one having self-doubts, and you are the only one who can solve the conundrum. 

As a bonus material, here is an article published by Mike Carter on the most beautiful motorbike rides in Europe. http://www.theguardian.com/travel/2008/mar/24/europe.top10motorbikerides

Tags: Books,Mike CarterMotorbike

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 India License.