On USA and India: Part 1

   I will soon complete five months of living in the US, and I have a few things to share. In a way a lot of us Indians growing up in big cities have already tasted the Western culture vicariously – what through our following of the TV Shows, Hollywood movies, American Foods, celebrities, books etc. It should not have been such a big leap living in the US. Well it was for me. Primarily because I have never lived away from home (most people I know have had this experience). I would also soon find that in the US you do your own things. No cook to help you with the food, no maid to clean your house, no one to do your laundry and no one to wash your dishes. No, in US you do everything on your own. An American lady uber driver once told me,” I wish I was in India. They say I would live like a queen there.” The irony of being a developing country was not lost on me.*

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Me after landing in USA

Oddly the one area I thought I would find it really easy here namely – food is where I am having a rough time adapting. In India if you would ask me what my favorite cuisine is I would jump and say Italian. The pastas, the pizzas…yummy, yummy. That along with American burgers etc. which I was sure to find at every other street and I knew it would be a blast. I thought it would be easy. I thought wrong. Turns out my craving for Indian food is beyond! (When did that happen?). It seems I would soon get bored of sandwiches and pizzas and burgers. I thought it was so cliché when people said they miss mom’s food when they are away. Well it ain’t no cliche, it is the ultimate truth of life.

It is an interesting journey. It is apparent that the people of US are pretty well mannered, social and generally amiable. I found that almost every American is highly emotionally intelligent (and increasingly I think that this is generally enough in life to get by).

Another aspect of USA that is really enjoyable is the weather. The US weather is so kaleidoscopic and vast in its scope and range. And fall, fall is amazing. There are a lot of trees here and lots of trails you can walk in. Between different cities there is a lot of green life so to speak. A refreshing change.

So those are some of my thoughts on USA (so far). Well, what do Americans think about India? The views are all over the place: ‘All Indians smoke hash’ ; ‘ Urdu is the commonly spoken language’ ;  ‘Most Indians are Muslims’ ; ‘ Half the Indians are poor’; ‘India is a mystical place.’ Now while most people have a positive outlook on India some of the opinions are simply factually incorrect (Ex: India is one of the peaceful nations in the Middle-East). Clearly the common perception about India is as diverse as India itself. It seems however there was unanimity about three things:

  1. Yoga is from India and it is amazing.
  2. Indian food is spicy
  3. Indian marriages are arranged.

The first one I am proud of. The second one is a given. The third one…well. It was thrown at me by another uber driver**. The question was how can you marry someone you don’t know? I jumped to give my opinions on that matter. I said, now hold on, it’s not like that. But wait! Why was I defending a concept I did not believe in myself? It seems I found myself on the back foot often, defending notions about India. Indeed however, how much about India do I know myself? My knowledge comes from living in a big city and it is not very reflective of the humongous piece of land that is India. Often I showoff what a unique nation India is, each state having its own language and culture. The listeners are shocked. They say that is like different countries. Indeed that is why when I am asked to summarize India I find it difficult. These are things that make India unique. These are things that make India beautiful.

(to be continued)

*Of course It would hit me much later that perhaps for these reasons i.e., having people who do things for you is what contributes to India still being a ‘developing’ country.

**They are my unexpected source of interesting discussions.

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Tech Overkill and the Ensuing Paradox

 

   It’s been a while!

   Some once said a lot of the modern technology kills the romance out of many things. He could not be more right. Stargazers once fished their telescopes to the skies and skimmed constantly to spot rare events like the death of a star. It was a time-consuming process but an enjoyable one. But now this can also been done automatically by computers! Our generation is an interesting one, we have witnessed many technologies from their inception to a point now where they have invaded every sphere of our life.

   It must have been in fifth grade when I got a computer to play games. In my seventh I was introduced to the marvelous world called the internet via a 56Kb* Modem…56Kb! What it mean was that my maximum download speed was a lowly 2Kb/sec. Never mind the long 2 minutes it took to actually get started. Never mind the droning siren like noise the modem made while it was getting connected. Never mind the frequent disconnection issues. Still back then it was all magic. I remember that at night the internet speed would be faster. My brother and I tried to make the most of this. We would leave an anime episode for download at night and then hopefully by morning it would be done. This was an 8Mb episode, mind you. But alas it was not so simple. The internet disconnected frequently. So to get past this we would get up every 2-3 hours at night and go check if the episode was still downloading. And we would be excited when it was done. The size of the video was a mere thumbnail and the quality was not altogether great but you know what? We had a blast! That 8Mb episode is a far more fond memory than even the 1 Gb blu-ray rip of today. Nowadays the video quality is blu-ray/HD and you can download a GB of data in under 5 minutes. Nowadays u can also find almost any movie you ever wanted. But being spoilt for choice is not necessarily a good thing.

   The apple analogy comes to mind. If you had just one apple you would eat it, savor it, relish each bite. But now if you are given a basket full of apples and told to finish them suddenly each apple seems far less tasty and it becomes like a chore now. That is the way I feel when I see the choices for Movies/TV Shows/Songs/Clothes/Books and almost everything we have today. That is the way so much of tech is today. Automated, uber fast and far too reaching. Clothes are increasingly being bought online. Whatever happened to the actual shopping experience? Even groceries are now being delivered home…it’s downright crazy! (And ironic that a lazy guy who would not do much of these things anyway has to point it out). Try out and return clothes. Basically don’t step out of the house! I think this one beat everything – The Flying Barber – the barber comes home to cut your hair.

   Travel is set to go to digital through augmented reality in the next decade. That day ain’t far where you wear 3D headgear and you can be teleported to Paris (not literally). That’s right…just remove all the romance. This then is the paradox of the world now. Tech is helping all of us, no doubt. I am not questioning that, just making an observation. However the technology overkill is actually making many experiences less exciting; this in-spite of the fact that it is providing us with so many many many more experiences than earlier. Abundance of options within seconds is not really making (some of) us feel overjoyed. It is making us indolent, further from reality, confused and less satisfied.

 

 

 

*To the uninformed 1 Kb stands for 1 Kilo-Byte. 1 Mb a Megabyte i.e is 1000 KB. One Gb is a Giga-byte i.e 1000 Mb

Why Harry Potter has an edge over A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)

 

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I loved the Harry Potter (HP) books and movies. I have just started reading the books in the song of Ice and Fire (ASOIAF) but I have watched every episode of the TV show Game of Thrones and am very familiar with the world created by George RR Martin – in short I am entitled to an opinion. True that the worlds are so different that’s its quite unfair to do so. But such comparisons have crept up. In some ways they were unavoidable because of the cultural phenomenonHarry-Potter-Logo-Wallpaper-HD-3 both have become in the last 15 years. My comparisons are more of a response to people who proclaim ASOIAF is better with funny arguments.

I honestly believe that if anything HP is greater than ASOIAF because of many reasons combined. Let me counter pseudo arguments that favor ASOIAF :

1. ASOIAF is a complex world, HP is not.
2. HP Characters are black and white, while ASOIAF are gray.
3. HP is too comfy and feel good…and never gets gory like ASOIAF.
4. HP is predictive. But with ASOIAF You don’t know what to expect next.
5. The HP books are just a great escape. That’s why everyone likes them.

1. ASOIAF is a complex world, HP is not: The first is true but HP world is fantastically complex. Where else before did we see so much magic in a world. Where newspapaers spring to life; where a sorting hat decides where students go; where wizards have their own sport! Hogwarts was the creation of a genius. There is magic…so much magic. The story has so many arcs to it: friendship, coming of age, struggle, fighting against the dark forces, mysteries, riddles, ghosts…there really is SO MUCH and yet nothing feels out of place. There are stories like ASOIAF and the Stormlight Archive that seem because of the narration as more complex than HP- perhaps they are – but I attribute that to the number of elements involved. HP is not just complex, it’s bloody complex.

2. HP Characters are black and white, while ASOIAF are gray: One common complaint is that the characters are not very gray. ASOIAF has made characters gray. HP starts when eleven year old Harry and his friends enter Hogwarts. Just how gray do you expect eleven year olds to be? They ended up breaking half the rules themselves (inspite of Hermoine) and they each have conflicted emotions as the series progresses. Ex : Hermoine stuns somebody so Ron could enter the Quidditch team. There is friction between their friendships at times. Everything is not hunky-dory.
What did you want them to do – go cut somebody with a knife over dinner in the great hall? Would that make it realistic? Sorry not buying it.
While we are still talking about the kids, Draco Malfoy is the classic gray character among the school mates. He is always bad-ass and yet when those moments came when he could have made himself a monster (before Dumbledore’s death for example), he quivered. He had some sanity deep down.
What about Snape?  And Dumbledore himself turned out to be a quirky character no?
It’s a classic good versus bad tale. That’s just the way it is. That doesn’t make the characters black and white. There is a difference. All characters have their own degrees of flaws. Just dont assume that the definition of gray means to slit somebody’s throat every now and then.

3. HP is too soft…and never gets gory like ASOIAF: Yes it is feel good but dont you want to feel good ? The feel good is very genuine and not forced by people trying to look cute. You like them because of the friendships, the adventures ,magic , puzzles and Hogwarts! HP is primarily targetted toward a younger audience (Observe here that it was equally well received by parents and grand parents alike). That is the genre it is in. ASOIAF sticks to what it is and never tries to mellow things down which is good for the spirit of the series and perhaps you like this feature. It is a good basis for liking one series but not for belittling the other.

Sure you can pick an action movie over a rom-com movie depending on your experience. But you cant say you didn’t like the rom-com movie because there wasnt enough action in it!

4. HP is predictive. But in ASOIAF you don’t know what to expect next: Yep we don’t know when the next book is coming out do we 😉 On a serious note, what rubbish. It had become an obsession to predict how HP would end in the final book. Hundreds of critics gave their opinions and predictions using hints and their own intution. But how many could predict Snape’s true story ? Or Dumbledre’s past ?
Or frankly who even expected Dumbledore to die in book 6? Or Sirius in book 5 ? Or that Ron’s rat was actually wormtail ? Or Crouch’s secret ? To call it predictable is insulting how intelligent the books actually are.

5. The HP books are just a great escape, that’s why everyone likes them:                               Firstly I dislike the word escape for any fantasy, ASOIAF or HP. Both are fantasy works. They are meant to take you to different worlds. But why are there no other better escapes in other works? If the story was shallow, a smart reader would n’t feel they were escapes…he would feel foolish. If it is a great escape, it is a bloody good one.

And now for what I feel works for HP:
1. JK is a better storyteller than Martin: There is consistency in the HP series. Last I heard A Dance with the Dragons was heavily criticized for not moving the plot too forward. Martin style is to be descriptive but sometimes he tends to be over romantic about either the sex or the killing at the cost of the story.
There was no such catastrophic mistakes in HP books…ever. Even if it got a bit slow (book 6) there was still so much happening and so many loose ends being tied and it was more racy than ASOIAF. Seriously so much build about Winter and it hasn’t even come.

Update: It seems winter has finally come 🙂

2. Harry Potter blew everyone’s mind: The world was something new , something fresh and so exciting and magical (agreed that dark lords and wizards are not very new). One which you could touch and feel and almost live in.

3. It is feel good: I remember being in a poor state of mind when I read Order of the Phoenix and it was so comforting and a great relief not because there is cute hapiness all around but because the story was always moving forward , puzzles were exciting, the interaction between the characters was fun – these kept me gripped. I am not sure ASOIAF would have the same effect with it’s dragging and often morbid theme.

4. Harry Potter brought the magic back to books: It quite simply changed the entire book world on it’s head. Hundreds of Thousands of copies booked even before the release date ( Mine included ). People from other languages learning English just to be able to read those books. It was not just a great book series that was widely acclaimed , it was an unprecdented phenomenon. It was not a small series , mind. It was not just a couple of books that did well. Each one of them did. Even after the hype.

5. Book for all Ages: It is sad to classify it as children’s book and that is what I feel when see Eragon, HP in the bookshelves of children. Fantasy is a better word. It appealed more in fact to the people in 20s and 30s not to mention the 40s and 50s…and yeah basically everyone! This is rare for any series. Any world with magic etc. can be shunned by a more adult audience but HP was loved. It was endearing but it was also very intriguing and adventurous and exciting!

6. Characters are Personal and their relationships are dynamic: Any good story is about characters. I think every one of them, the students, the professors, the death eaters was so developed and all their lives well knitted together.

7. HP has so much of everything: There is adventure, there is thrill, there is elements of intrigue expected of a fantasy, there is love, there is poetry, there is comedy and it also has it’s share of whodunnits.

Ending note:
I hope my tone in this article is not mistaken HP is not flawless and I really like ASOIAF. It is another step in being a more rounded reader. The world is pretty original and killing was actually quite common in the worlds similar to the ones in which it is set in (Medieval times for example).
What I dont like is the pervertedness that come with these books. Gore and Deaths are one thing. They add a necessary dimension which makes them believable but the perversion in the books at times makes me want to quit them. I cant imagine what must be going through the heads of teenagers who read them (yes, they do and how are you going to stop them?) .
It is not that I am looking for a soft fantasty. I love the action, I dont mind the deaths but the evil and pervertedness in these books is another level altogether and that repulses me.
The only reason I am still watching the show is because of Tyrion Lannister. If he dies, I pull the plug.

P.S: After a second reading of both the series if my views do change even slightly, I will definitely update this article!

A Wave of Life

We have come across this unique entity in some form or another, sometimes on a daily basis. It is the enigmatic ‘Sine Wave’. I call it enigmatic because I think it encompasses in it a lot of secrets and has well… philosophical implications:

Sine Wave - Green Reflection Removed

Does the above ring a bell? Remember the heart beat or pulse monitoring machine? This is the kind of thing they display (roughly speaking).

Some background info (skip if you have a decent understanding of waves):

A wave is a phenomena that carries information or a signal. Sound Waves are one such example. So are Light or Radio waves.
The essence of a sine wave is this: It has crests and troughs or you could call them simply as ups and downs; or to and fro motion about an axis. Mathematically ANY Wave function can be represented as a sum of some sine waves.
If you are interested in a detailed understanding you can read the following section or choose to skip it:

Let’s see how we arrive at the ups and downs. Take the heart for instance. For simplicity let’s think it’s spherical with a radius. It pumps blood so it is constantly bulging as well as compressing itself…there are cycles. There is a normal state of the heart ( in which it is just it’s proper size neither expanding nor contracting) around which the cycles happen . Let’s say I am able to catch the heart ( not literally ) at it’s normal position on an instant where it is expanding. I call this as my start time or t=0. I will now measure the radius of the heart at this instant. And I will measure the radius of the heart an instant (making a note of the instance) later and as expected the radius will be larger ( since the heart is expanding). An instant later the heart will be bigger and hence my radius will be too…and this goes on until the heart reaches the peak of the wave ( or Up). Next it begins to compress so the radius falls until it’s normal position after which it continues to fall because the heart is now shrinking even more than it’s normal until it reaches a minimum where the heart and the radius are at the smallest and this marks the lowest peak ( or Down ). After this point the heart begins to grow again and so on. If you were to plot the radius of the heart now V/S time you would get a sine wave!

Note: This is not to say that this is what hospital machines display. No one is interested in the radius. It displays the electrical activity but the concept is similar. I have taken a few liberties like assuming the heart is a sphere but yeah I am just trying to get the concept across.

Back to the topic now:
Ups and Downs, Downs and Ups. Cycles. Hmm. If in a similar way I were to plot the intensity of light at different points of the day. Then I would get say sometime where the sun’s light is brightest (i.e the Up…Mostly some time during mid day ) and sometime at night when the light is absent or it is the darkest (i.e the Down… Around midnight) and the other values would be in between. So if I plot this data I might roughly arrive at…the sine wave!
It is all around us really. The Day and Night Cycle. The Breath. The Heartbeat. The Pulse. The Tides of the sea. The Light waves. The Sound waves.
They are all the variation of some sort of sine wave or simply a wave.
And perhaps this phenomenon is internalized within us in multitude ways. Perhaps this logic could be extrapolated to ourselves? Our states of mind perhaps? The highs and lows. Happiness perhaps? Highs and Lows. So luckily it means that if we are down for a while it wont be long before a UP wave hits us and life becomes good! So keep going! ( Of course we should be vary of the other way around…and not be carried away completely when we have our highs!) . In another sense it is a law of averages. Everything evens out. As an optimist I would hope for highs everyday but the fact also is – it has not happened (yet). But of course I will keep trying!

I am likely going overboard with this (which is perhaps the point of a blog). But while we are at it let’s make a daring speculation: Do we experience the highs simply because we had the lows before and we will have the lows after. And we are experiencing a low simply because what follows will be a high…and for it to be a high this has to be a low.

I know…too general and taking too many liberties but something to think about. If everyday was the same would there be highs and lows?

Which reminds me of what Ted said to Barney, ” If every day is legendary, no day is legendary .”

A letter to people who think they know it all in the world of writing and books

Hi Pretentious Self-Assumed expert,

Let me start by introducing myself. I am pretty well read and what follows is not sarcasm. My favorite book series are Harry Potter, Twilight (Do I hear distaste already?) and books by Dan Brown. I could mention some more but I guess this is a good enough flamebait.
Ok fine Harry Potter is not the best book ever (if there is such a thing and if there was, it would have a good chance if it were up to me) but what is with the hate? Why did it take you seven books to realise you did not like it? Why are you supressing (or have conveniently forgotten) the exhilarating experience that it was. And don’t tell me you did not secretly enjoy Twilight. I mean I am a guy and I loved it. If I was a girl I may have bonkers even.
I was reading an article where Dan Brown was described as a poor writer and I thought to myself… really? The euphoria I got reading Dan Brown was pretty unmatched.
Closer to home people blast Chetan Bhagat. At this point I would like to ask you this?
‘What does it mean to be a good writer?’
And I think your explanation of this is going to be something like this:
‘He should make his words sing.’
‘Should use as few words to convey as much as possible with no repetitions.’
‘Structure should be good.’
‘Prose should be refined.’ etc…etc.

Example:
Dan Brown on Page number 8 wrote ….
‘The sky was blue-green’. What a poor writer. He should have written ‘The sky was the color of the light tinge of turquoise waters on a warm beach.’ You have a point there…but that’s about it. Prose is an integral part of writing but it is not writing itself.
The soul of writing to me is the narrative voice and plot. To me good writing is simply what pulls you right in and makes you want to finish reading. The reading does not come out of effort but simply being genuinely interested in the tale.
When you were told or read Cinderella you did not trip over the color of her slippers which were something like translucent blue crystal; you were more keen on knowing what happens next and how the story unfolds. And I think you are now going to say that, we have grown up with time hence our stories cannot be so simple and they should have more detail and blah…blah which is partly true but mostly rubbish. There is a reason why Harry Potter appealed to Everyone and not just kids. Even as adults our child like curiosity to stories remains. And I feel you have lost yours. Your obsession with prose has blinded your innate capacity to enjoy stories. As if it is the only means of measuring ‘good writing.’ I would say grow up dude but actually I will say, ‘don’t grow up.’
Recently my mom asked me, which novel she should read. And this got me thinking. She was asking for a novel and not the tinkles and magazines that she has read. There was a long pause and then I said, ‘Chetan Bhagat.’ I was half surprised by my own answer and for some reason even half-ashamed. What else could I suggest to a potential novel lover who really wants to have a good time with light prose. I could not suggest Harry Potter or Stephen King cause funnily enough their prose is a bit high. So I suggested something that makes for not only an easy but also an interesting read.

I am not a Chetan Bhagat fan but I am not his hater either. I read a couple of his novels and they were decent enough. Nothing more. Nothing less. Give him credit, atleast he’s honest with himself and not trying to be someone else. It’s easy to bitch and say he sucks (I have done it too) but that’s quite far from the truth and it is the equivalent of telling someone casually, ‘You know that TV show sucked’ while it might have genuinely entertained you.

Our best case scenario is a writer with superb prose in addition to a strong narrative voice as well as plot but that’s rare and even subjective.
If I had to choose between an average prose with beautiful plot and rich story telling ( Brandon Sanderson/ Harry Potter/Twilight/Dan Brown perhaps?) or between an epic prose (oddly enough I have ran out of words…haha not really I am just trying to make a point!) and a poor story I would choose the former everytime. I am not saying I am a good writer (by your definition I am not) but I did make you read this far… so that kinda proves my premise 🙂

Yours Sincerly,
Harry Potter Lover

Movie Review: Dawn of the Planet of Apes

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You would think that watching apes fight humans would be an out of sync outdated plot which is sure to be…umm uninteresting. But you would be wrong. This movie is a great watch for anyone who likes a good story with depth in it’s plot and characters. The scenario is intriguing enough. Post a mass virus pandemic attack the human communities have become largely isolated, dystopic and resources deprived. This story is different in the sense that it involves a clash of two different species.

It was a refreshing watch and it gives you a unique perspective (at least to me) on life, family and how war actually begins. Our time on earth is limited and in the end we are just another species which is looking to survive and it would be interesting if you were to put yourself in the shoes of the humans in the movie. The movie touches on several topics. Is war due to need justified? This is an age of ‘grey’ characters ( they have become quite a fashion). I liked the fact that neither the humans nor the apes were portrayed as villains. Each’s action was justifiable (mostly). I liked that this movie did not go the *Humans are evil…Apes are innocent victims… so Humans deserve to die* way. I was actually proud when a human offered beer to an ape. Both worlds are so similar yet both worlds seemed to be acting only to their elementary needs of survival and self-defense.

This one lacked a James Franco, but I think Jason Clarke did a commendable job as a human who is as terrified as the rest of them but has a heart. I enjoyed this one more. The apes are so fantastically done (CGI etc.) with a personal touch and you seem to feel each ape having it’s own personality. The facial expressions, the body language are so real …at times you think you know each ape. Ceaser’s character continues to develop in different ways but is yet as endearing. The execution and animations and ape world just had to be so perfect to make sense and they did.

Apes ain’t bad. Humans ain’t bad. But there are bad apes and there are bad humans. Unfortunately they are sometimes all it takes to screw the world.

Rating: 4.5/5

Movie Review: Transformers 4 Age of Extinction…Ready to trip?

 

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The future is back. The Tranformers’ franchise returns with possibly their last movie but of course we can never be sure of such things. This one was bound to be different with Mark Wahlberg replacing Shia as the protagonist which was not to my liking. Fortunately though he’s playing a different character (There is no Sam in this one) which makes it slightly better because Shia was amazing and because Mark is any day a poor replacement for any body; especially for Shia since they are poles apart.

I did myself a favor. I did not watch the trailers- which are nowadays more spoilers than trailers (3 min long, all great scenes shown). Anywho the movie starts well. The cast is pretty amazing. Inspite of my bias against Mark (Cade Yeager) he is really good in this one and suits his part. I loved Nicola Peltz (his daughter) and I think she carried out a smart 17 year old who looks after her dad; all while still looking hot  perfectly. Stanley Tucci’s character was fun as well.

I liked the first one and half hour or so. Decent (relatively) storyline, good characters and lots of action. Heck if they had clubbed this with the last 15 min and tied up the story I would have actually being completely satisfied. But then they had to do it over the top (Michael Bay). After the first hour and half, the next one hour was well…I don’t know what it was coz I was tripping. I got zero space to breathe. Poles are falling, roads are getting shattered, buildings are falling, robots are falling, everything it seems is falling. Ear shattering ultrasound mixes with high frequency sound mixes with  robots fighting each other mixes with conversation of characters mixes with mixes with …everything is a mix! There is simply TOO much happening. You think one action scene has ended only to find that another has begun which is bigger and louder. I think people were relieved when the movie ended and their heads and body were still in one piece (perhaps that was the idea: extinction of us viewers).

I found myself covering my ears in that period (in self defense; it’s not like I am new to action movies). A dizzy headache and a needless hour later I was out of the theater. But I had survived. Chances are you will watch Tansformers anyway (and I shall reiterate that the first hour and half and last fifteen min are great). However I suggest you carry noise-cancelling headphones along.

Overall Rating: 3/5