Saturday, October 29, 2016

Books: All the light we cannot see

It has been over seventy years since the World War II has ended. Numerous writers have devoted a lot of literary ink on this topic. So how does a novel set in this ear appeal to you? I approached it with skepticism. There were some interesting points in the beaten to death theme. The story unfolds in the walled city of Saint-Malo, a picturesque location but an unlikely setting for a novel. The main protagonists are a blind French girl and a German boy. On the outset, it looks like a love story combined with the coming of age. I was right about the latter part. Was I right about the former part, find out for yourself.

Marie-Laure grows in Paris. She loses her eyesight due to cataracts and depends on replicas made by her locksmith dad to move around the city. When the war breaks out, the father and daughter move to Saint-Malo where the girl's great-uncle lives. Werner is an orphan in the town of Zollverein in Germany. His interest in radio devices takes him to special training camps and all over Europe before Werner descends into the city of Saint-Malo. How are these two people linked?

Anthony Doerr has already the won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for this book. In this novel, Anthony Doerr explores the tragedy of conflict and war. It is in aspect the author can find the similarity to the chaotic world of today. The protagonists are victims of chances. They are children, and their belief system is developing. They are thrust into the world of conflict aiding the opposite sides. The author uses the Allied bombing of the walled city to segregate two clear timelines, lives before and after the war. During the initial part of the book, the author flips back and forth between the past of the characters and what happens in Saint-Malo during the fateful day. This technique keeps us on edge. The post-war section makes us melancholic.

At 545 pages in the Kindle edition, the number of pages is more than that of a regular book. Keep this fact in mind when picking up the book. This book details human emotions. So it is more of a book for which you have to devote time to savor it.

Photo Courtesy: Amazon

Friday, October 28, 2016

Movie Review: The Riot Club

Appearances are deceptive. When I saw the poster of this movie a year back, the tail suits worn by the lead actors, unknown faces for me,  gave an impression of a period drama. Although there were posters splashed across the city, the design did not generate any curiosity. Hence it is one of those British films which gets overshadowed by what the cousin across the Atlantic ocean has to offer. There are two things that you need to know before you even rent or stream this movie. This film is an adaptation of the play "Posh" by Laura Wade. The second is the Bullingdon Club, an exclusive unofficial all-male student dining club based in Oxford. The Riot Club is a fictionalized version of the Bullingdon Club.

The Riot Club was formed after the death of Lord Riot, a hedonist. There are ten members, selected by invitation from the existing members. The story opens up in the present time where Alistair(Sam Claflin) and Miles (Max Irons) joins Oxford. Both of them have diametrically opposite personalities, and they are inducted into the Riot Club. During the annual party of the club in a nearby country pub, things get out of control. When we come together as a group, our morals and principles become diluted. The popular belief is a group acts better than an individual. However, we have often seen the opposite. The film explores this theme as the annual party of the Riot Club shows how a group can get corrupted without any remorse. The members of the Riot Club are wealthy and belongs to the upper class. The class divide and the contempt of the less privileged are the other themes explored in the movie. Sometimes it is also dangerous to sit on the sidelines and not make your point. Miles learns it too late.

The movie has to depend on performances and not on expensive CGI. The director Lone Scherfig uses the authentic location. You cannot miss Oxford in the film. She has shot inside the colleges and also on some of the easily recognizable areas in Oxford. Even the country pub is an authentic location. Of the performance, Sam Claflin stands out because he is the bad boy of the group. After seeing him playing a cute boy in many movies, it is refreshing to see him as a manipulator. He starts as an insecure student and goes on to become a wicked man. Although the transformation is abrupt, the performance is distinctly clear.

The Riot Club honors hedonism. So you cannot watch it with the kids. However, as adults, this is a must watch because the movie is questioning us. It might be the beast in some and the weaknesses in the rest of us.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Sarcasm and Negativity at workplace

You are in a hurry straddling between your team members who are busy working towards a deadline. A colleague emerges out of nowhere, directly in front of you. You have not seen this colleague for a long time. The colleague inquires. "Hi..How are things?" How would you react? If you have already played this scenario in your mind, let me add a couple of more details. The colleague belongs to the opposite sex. Not a head turner but this colleague is flashing one of the warmest and the most genuine smile while posing the question. What will be your reaction?

I am not the "you" in the above incident. Neither am I the colleague. If you thought I was one of the two, then you are reading my posts for the first time. I am always the person lurking in the background, scouting for the next blog post. I am never the hero. I am the innocent bystander. In this silent role, I was shocked by the reaction the "you." The "you" in question replied with a smirk. "Rahu is having a fabulous time." If you are confused about Rahu, I am no expert in Vedic mumbo jumbo. But the "you" was mentioning the times weren't right because of the strange alignment of stars. I guessed as much. That brings me to the question of the day. Do we have to negative and sarcastic at work?

When someone is asking your well being in an earnest way, what is the need to reply in the negative? There is always a gentler way of sharing bad news. Aren't we supposed to be restraint? Sadly, when people tend to be negative, they also tend to be sarcastic. Sarcasm is a very useful tool in creating a funny situation in literature. But I don't think it has helped much in a workplace or a relationship. What do I know? I have very poor life experience. Bingo! That was sarcasm. Wasn't it? Recently, a friend was a target of sarcasm.

The friend was visiting another city on business. There were two offices in the city, and my friend was going to one of them while his boss was working in an another office. So he emailed his boss. "How long will you be there?" My friend wanted to know his boss's schedule to visit him for a face to face meeting. Pat comes the reply. "As long as it takes." My friend was confused. What does this mean? 4 pm, 5 pm or 9 pm. Was the boss angry at him? He struggled with these concerns for a long time before newer problems caught up with him.

The negativity and the sarcasm affect us. Even the most pleasant persons are affected in the long run. I know many individuals who have crossed over to the dark side. A friend who was the most pleasant person until recent times is an example. He was typing away on his laptop when his boss turned up. He refused to look up when finally the boss caved in. "How are things shaping up?". The friend looked up and stared for a few seconds before he replied. "As good as it gets." He then continued typing. The boss was baffled. He asked with nervous laughter. "What does that mean?"

In case you are worried, my friend still has a job.

Photo Courtesy: Peter Forret

Friday, October 21, 2016

Books: A man called Ove

There are two things interesting about this novel. Firstly, the author Fredrik Backman is a blogger who is debuting with this novel. A blogger is never short of stories to tell. They may not be able to weave a coherent story, but there have a lot of exciting episodes. So if you are short of time, the book can be read at your leisure with sufficient breaks without losing the overall plot. Secondly, the Fredrik Backman is from Sweden. I have only seen mystery writers coming from this region. So a fiction and not a crime or thriller caught my attention.

Ove is an old man who is always fighting with the world around him. He is never happy. As the story starts, an interracial couple moves in as his neighbor. When they reverse their trailer, they destroy Ove's flowerbed and overturns the postbox. Ove reluctantly helps the couple, and this act changes Ove forever. In the past, we have encountered many grumpy old men in real life, books, and movies. It is Fredrick Backman narrative style which makes Ove different and intriguing than the ones we know. Fredrik Backman devotes each chapter to tell us about an event in Ove's life. All through the book, he uses non-linear narrative like a seasoned player. He switches between the present and the past. You can never understand a person without knowing his history. Fredrick Backman realizes it. So he describes the present which makes us laugh at the old man's eccentricity. But when he explains the past, our smile dies quickly, and we empathize with the old man. Even after knowing the history, the author still makes us laugh with Ove's escapades in the present. It is quite evident that the author wants us to have a fun filled ride with adequate room for thought and reflection.

The book is translated from his original language. The emphasis is on the narrative and not the style. After reading the book, you are engulfed with a warmth and newfound love for life. There is an explanation for human behavior. Are we ready to let go of our initial reluctance and delve deeper to find out more about people we try to avoid? There are a lot of profound messages in spite of this book being a quick read. There is no time like now to read this book.

Photo Courtesy: Amazon

Thursday, October 20, 2016

No more shopping lists

Automation is the buzz word. The machines are taking away our jobs. There are even talking about Universal Basic Income so that we still have money to spend while we will not have any job. Isn't that a dTream come true? We do not work. However, we get paid. When you get over the initial euphoria, there is another angle to the UBI. We are back to being kids. Whoever is handing out the UBI becomes our parent. While we debate our fate, there is no dispute about automation is going disrupt our lives. So the article by HBR caught my attention.

Quoting Amazon's Dash buttons, the article infers the following.
" closets and refrigerators in the home will place orders directly with the retailers’ algorithms, sparing the consumer the need to prepare shopping lists, remember which products to buy, and go to the trouble of doing everyday shopping. Products will flow to the household like a utility, as electricity and water do.
Although the article is a guideline on how marketing changes as a result of automated shopping, I could not get past the reference to shopping lists.

Every week, my wife prepares a list of purchase and sends it to me. Though I dread this list, it has become a part of my weekend ritual. I use this list to undertake the journey to the local grocer. The list is unstructured in many ways. Sometimes, I have to go to multiple stores to buy all the items. Most of the time, I go through a couple of passes in the grocery store as these items are arranged differently in the list and the store. To tell you the truth, I reorganize the list to ensure I take the shortest possible path in the grocery store. Don't be surprised. Blame it on the no man's land created by efficiency and obsessiveness.

Considering the never-ending struggles with the weekend shopping, I should be happy to see the obsolescence of shopping lists. Strangely, it makes me sad. As a result of automation, my worth to the family has come out. They do not need me for getting the groceries. What is my contribution once the automatons take over? What would I do with all the free time? My head is spinning.

Photo Courtesy: Bruce Turner

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Buying a watch is not as easy as you think

The story unfolds in a picturesque country. The country was created in a tiny space set up by three bordering countries namely France, Germany, and Italy. Had these three countries come any closer than they have due geopolitical reasons, our story would have happened elsewhere. The country in question is not only known for romantic destinations but also for punctuality. It may be because of this trait of these countrymen that they are also makers of the finest devices to ensure timeliness. If you haven't guessed the country yet, let me spell it out for you. I am talking about Switzerland and their watches.

If you are planning to bring a watch as a souvenir from your Swiss visit, then you need to listen to this story. In like Flynn. So you may think. But the reality is anywhere near that phrase. As usual, the protagonist of this story is not me. I wish I were leading an exciting life like all my friends who have been part of this blog. The truth is my friends live a more colorful life.  The story features my friend who lived in Switzerland. We wish to go there for a vacation, but my friend has lived there. Hopefully, my earlier point about my friends makes sense now. On a fateful day, my friend decides to shop for a watch.

My blissfully ignorant friend walks into a store selling watches. My friend's goal was to buy a watch. My friend was puzzled that none of the watches on display features price tags. He disregarded the warning bells, attributes this strange phenomenon to something Swiss, and steps into the shop. A friendly store assistant greeted him. The store assistant sat with my friend and patiently understood the requirements of the watch right from the color to the size of my friend's hands. At the end of the interaction, my friend was eager to try the watch. But the store assistant asked him to wait as they have to make the watch for my friend to his specifications. The total cost was a 5 figure number. My friend was quiet about his initial reaction on hearing the price. But he went silent at this point while recounting the story. If he was reminiscing, his facial expression was so painful that I didn't want to pursue further down this road.

To quickly escape, my friend said he was on vacation and hence couldn't wait for the watch. The store assistant assured him not to worry as they deliver the item anywhere in the world. Sometimes, the businesses take the word customer-friendly very seriously. At this point, he paused again. He refused to divulge more information. I am not sure how he came out of this predicament. But I am confident he didn't buy the watch because he was not wearing a Swiss watch when he was talking to me.

Photo Courtesy: Blake Buettner

A gift which cannot be used

There is always a leaving do whenever someone resigns or retires from an organization. Leaving dos are always associated with parties and gifts. Under normal circumstances, both are to be cherished. There might be extreme cases to the left and the right of the spectrum. Recently a friend narrated an interesting incident.

A colleague of my friend was leaving the organization. As a result,  there were two gifts presented to the co-worker. The first was an iPad Mini. It is a fitting gesture. The second one was a pen. Once the pen was handed over, they instructed. Do not write with this pen.

At this point, my friend was taken aback just like us. Why would you gift a pen and request not to use it? It doesn't make any sense. So they explained. This pen is a gift. This pen is not for writing. This pen is for passing it over to your next generation. So the pen moves down your bloodline.

I do not doubt my friend. But are there gifts like these? It is a lovely gesture of your friends and colleagues to give you a gift that doubles up as an inheritance for future generations.

Photo Courtesy: Kenneth Moyle

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Pappettan on follower count

When a group of photographers met up, the conversation steered into Instagram. I was part of this group along with Pappettan. All of these photographers are already part of this social network and post regularly. As their photographs are exceptional, the count of followers of these photographers has been gradually increasing.

Photographer 1: *excited* I posted the pic from last week's trip.  And do you know what happened?

Rest of us: *disinterested*

Photographer 1: *ignores and continues* The gorgeous actress from the recently successful crime drama followed me on Instagram.

He shows the star's handle listed as a follower of his Instagram account

Rest of us: *hiding our jealousy and nods*

Pappettan: *after a brief pause* So what? Look at the photographer 2

Photographer 2: *suddenly wakes up and looking suspiciously at Pappettan*

Pappettan: *continues with a sly smile* This actress is only following you on Instagram. His wife is following him everywhere!

Photo Courtesy: Patrik Nygren

Monday, October 10, 2016

All of us are not made equal

Some of the motivational quotes tell us we are made equal. It is upon us on how to achieve greatness. Are we created equal? Philosophy and religion may say this. Today I was watching a gymnastic class for kids. After looking at a bunch of kids performing acrobatics, I have come to the conclusion that philosophy and religion may not be right.

Kids are an enthusiastic crowd. During the gymnastics class, they were divided into various groups depending on their skill levels. They were given the same kind of exercises with differing difficulty levels for the different groups. It was fun to watch the kids perform these activities. In one of the exercises, they have to run, jump up a raised platform, place their hands on the platform and then perform a somersault. There were some experts in the group. For most of them, it was improvisation, and that is when I realized not all are made equal.

There is an element which marks the kids apart from the crowd. They may be able to do this seemingly difficult task. But one factor makes all the difference. Grace. During the learning phase, some kids recover from failure gracefully. They not only recover but also perform the act with grace when successful. You can learn grace. It is an acquired skill. But some of us are born with grace. Of course, they are at an advantage in everything.

Photo Courtesy: Malingering

Sunday, October 2, 2016

0 to 10K: Final Transformation

Author's Note: This is the final of a three part series.

You can find the other parts using the following links.
0 to 10k: The desire to rise
0 to 10k: Finishing 5K

During the fifth week of the "Couch to 5K program", I started pain in my shins. I had decided to spend as little as possible to cross the 5K barrier. As a result, I had not bought a new pair of shoes. Instead, I was running in an old pair of shoes. When I reached the fifth week, I was sure this time was going to be different, and I will be completing the program. I have been running three times a week despite my frequent official trips.

When I shared my pain with a friend, he immediately narrowed the problem to the shoes. My friend who participated and completed the marathon had insisted that the shoes are the most important thing for a runner. I had conveniently ignored the advice. As I could not stall expenses forever, I visited the Sweat Shop, underwent a gait analysis and walked out with a new pair of shoes. The pain in my shins vanished with the new pair of shoes.

To maintain my interest, I had initially chosen three different routes for the three runs in a week. As I ran longer, two routes proved difficult because of busy roads and frequent interruptions due to traffic light. I decided to use the on the road leading the to the University of Reading There was a busy intersection, but it cleared out fast. Then there is a lot of activity at the University. There are fellow runners, people playing various sports and students walking inside the University. When I finally ran five kilometers, I was circling the football field twice before leaving the University towards the Royal Berkshire Hospital. Soon, this route became repetitive, and the motivation levels went down.

I decided to change the route. I ventured out of the University and circled it from the outside to arrive at the Cemetery Junction. I realized I was covering more than seven kilometers this way. I became more emboldened. Instead of returning home from Cemetery Junction, I went inside Reading City Center before returning home. Very soon, I was circling the University, going inside the Reading Center from the east, proceeding to the west and then returning home. I was circling the University and also the Reading City Center now. I was also running 10 kilometers by doing so. 

My joy had no bounds. I was doing 10 kilometers in one run. I performed this feat at least once a week. This achievement was the second good thing to happen. A few weeks before this feat, I had gone in for a second health check. The doctor was happy with my lifestyle changes were working out. 

Nothing is impossible. We learned it as children. But I have abandoned these learning while growing up. As far as running is concerned, I have undergone many humiliations by consistently underperforming. I am not sure if underperforming is the right word for finishing last. So being able to run ten kilometers reaffirmed the learning. When I finally accomplished this feat, my confidence also increased manifold. It did not transform my body into that of a Roman God. But my mind underwent a transformation. There are no impossible tasks. There are only tasks which you are either interested to do or not interested in doing. 

Photo Courtesy: Petr & Bara Ruzicka

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The secret marriage

If there is one habit about me which makes me proud, it is reading. I like to read. There are periods when I can never finish any books. When I look back, there has been a gap of years when I had taken up books and never finished it. After a disappointing stint of unfinished books, the interest is ignited again, and there are heaps of books I finish in a short time. Despite all these minor hindrances, I still feel reading is one of the best habit inculcated in me. Being surrounded by my father's collection of books definitely helped me.

As a parent, I am trying to pass this habit to my daughter. It is interesting to note how your kids mirror your childhood. My daughter likes to read, attracted to understand the story and not the storytelling technique. In an attempt to instill the love for classics, we found a children's book which is an anthology of the works of Shakespeare. It contains the abridged version of the bard's famous plays. When my daughter has finished reading one, I ask her to summarize the story for me. She had recently read Romeo and Juliet.

Daughter: *uninterested* Romeo and Juliet belonged to two families.

Me: *listening*

Daughter: *uninterested and trying to remember* Juliet is a Capulet and Romeo is a Montague.

Me: *impressed with her pronunciation of the family names*

Daughter: *continues with less enthusiasm* Romeo and Juliet fell in love.

Me: *uncomfortable and wishing she leaves out the gory details*

Daughter: *nonchalantly* They get married secretly.

Me: *confused* Did they get married? *racking my brains to remember the story* I don't remember reading it.

Daughter: *in a matter of fact tone* They married secretly. It is a secret marriage. That is why you don't know about it.

Who can counter that argument?

Photo Courtesy: Lefteris Heretakis
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