Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Books that defined my 2012 (Part 1 of 2)

The end of the year is always a good time to keep your blog going. You can always look back with fondness at moments that looked, and probably are, insignificant when they happened. Newspapers, websites, and uninteresting blogs use the immense marketing potential when a year ends, and review the mundane aspects of the year. I would like to claim, as I often tend to do, falsely, to be someone who does not jump a band-wagon. But when it comes to choosing between reason and keeping your blog alive, the latter usually triumphs. Last year, I wrote a similar post about the Tamil movies I liked the most. Regular readers of my blog (a species that is endangered, and soon to be extinct) have anxiously and eagerly emailed me asking for a similar post this year. I will diligently try to watch many movies I missed during the course of the year next week and attempt to write a similar post, but there are no guarantees.

Until then, I would try to list out and briefly review the books I read this year. As my regular readers (refer above) would know what I mean by "brief",  I will not restrict this list to a single blog-post and extend it into a two part series. So, here goes

1) Freedom at Midnight (By Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre)

As described in a previous blog post, I have always had an aversion to Hindi. Since I had to learn most of my social sciences in Hindi, the aversion translated to History and Geography too. I also read non-fiction very rarely. My reluctance to read a historical non-fiction was thus understandable. Having no other book to read,  I attempted to read Freedom at Midnight for the third time this February, and am glad that I did. Freedom at Midnight describes the Indian struggle for independence starting roughly a year before, and ending roughly a year after the day of independence itself. The thoroughly researched book is filled with numerous sub-stories. Despite being a historical novel, the narrative style is so good that the book, for most parts, is a page turner. On the flip side, the authors idolise Lord Mountbatten and Mahatma Gandhi. One also doubts the accuracy of sensibilities captured by people who played no part in, and were in no way affected by, the freedom struggle itself. But the writing style makes it thoroughly readable, and it inspires us to try and learn more about our own history.
Verdict : I would thoroughly recommend this book to most people. Go read!!

2) The Final Reckoning (by Sam Bourne)

Glancing at the name of this book in my "Books Read" list, I had to wait for a full minute before I could remember what it was about. I am not sure if that reflects on the book itself, or my (well-established) poor memory. The novel is based on the second World War and a few hidden revelations of the holocaust. The writing is fantastic at times, but ordinary at others. It is a good read, if you are not put off by this inconsistency in writing style. Here is a link to the Goodreads review I wrote for this book.
Verdict : Just a regular international conspiracy story. If you are looking for a fast-paced, relatively lighter read, this one is for you.

3) The Namesake (by Jhumpa Lahiri)

The title character in The Namesake is Gogol Ganguli. Born in the United States to a traditional Indian family settled there, and named after his father's favorite author (Nikolai Gogol), Gogol hates his Indian ancestry and his name. The novel depicts the identity crisis of Indians settled abroad, trying to adapt to a new culture while keeping their own culture alive. The story begins with the Bengali  parents, Ashok and Ashima. The characters of both the parents are wonderfully etched out, and their experiences are delightfully described. Ashok is well-educated and well-read, and adapts quickly to the foreign place. Ashima is more conservative,  and takes a lot of time to cope up with being separated from her family and friends. But when the need arises, she shows her independence and self-sufficience. It is in the characterization of Gogol himself that I personally felt let down. The plot falters while dealing with Gogol, and I didn't have much admiration left for him after completing the novel.
Verdict : A could-have-been brilliant novel ends up being ordinary. Read it to draw your own opinions though, and let me know if you feel differently.

4) Last Man on Tower (by Arvind Adiga)

Let me declare at the outset that I haven't read this author's more famous "The White Tiger". I was lucky to get my hands on The Last Man on Tower, and was bowled over by Arvind Adiga's narrative prowess. The Last Man on Tower is set in Bombay, and is centered around a long-standing apartment complex named Visharam Society. Real estate developer Dharmen Shah provides the apartment owners with a very generous offer to relocate their houses, so that Visharam Society can be razed to make way for a high rise luxury building. The money convinces everyone to agree to the offer, except a retired school teacher fondly known as "Masterji". Can Masterji, waging a lonely battle, stand up against the powerful Dharmen Shah?

The Last Man in Tower is a classic tale of good vs evil, the power of money to corrupt vs the virtue of sticking to one's principles, with subtle but important twists. Dharmen Shah, a rags-to-riches man, will stop at nothing to fulfill his life long ambition. But Shah prefers to cunningly bring out the evil in other people than soil his hands. Masterji, on the other hand, is not a perfect embodiment of good. He is stubborn, proud and has numerous faults of his own, making him doubt his virtues. Caught in crossfire between these two men are a motley of interesting and wonderfully developed characters. The novel takes the form of a social commentary rather than passing moral judgements. With a detached air, Arvind Adiga just describes the society as it is, without taking sides. I am yet to read another book by Adiga, but I am already his fan.
Verdict : A must read.

5) Of Human Bondage (by Somerset Maugham)

Each of us is a philosopher, and we all come up with a brand of philosophy that fits in closest with our own lives.  Of Human Bondage, a novel very close to my heart, is about the quest of a Dickensian boy - Phillip Carrey - to frame his own philosophical world view. Born with a mild disability and orphaned early, Phillip   grows up with his religious and narrow-minded uncle, and his unremarkable aunt.  As he grows into a young adult, he initially aims to be an artist. A little stint at Paris tells him that he is just a mediocre painter, and his chances of becoming a successful artist are dim. He bravely relies on reason over passion, and shifts his profession mid-way. Meanwhile, he gets fiercely attracted to Mildred, a woman who ignores him, insults him, and uses him. Despite all this, he overrules his reason and pursues his passion for Mildred. 

Maugham ends the almost autobiographical story with Phillip realizing the pointlessness of the whole World. Life, he realizes is largely filled with pain, but one must enjoy the occasional flashes of happiness. Fittingly  the novel has a "he lived unremarkably ever after" ending instead of a "he lived happily ever after" ending. The books touches upon quite a lot of questions I have wondered about, like the purposelessness of life, the pointlessness of love, the uselessness of reasoning against love, pursuit of passion and so on. There are also quite a few incidents in the book that I was able to relate to, like the protagonist's loss in faith, and the overpowering loneliness he faces at times.
Verdict : A personal favorite. This one is a classic that you need not agree with, but you definitely need to read.

6) Rahul Dravid : Timeless Steel (Collection)

Strictly a collector's edition for Rahul David's fans. This book is a collection of articles (mostly available online) written about Rahul Dravid.

Verdict : Only for Dravid fans

7) Pet Sematary (by Stephen King)

I have grown up hearing a lot about Stephen King's horror novels. I tried reading one of his novels five years back, but was unable to finish it. As a result, I had no expectation towards my second  attempt at being acquainted with his writing. Frankly, Pet Sematary spooked me (as it is intended to). Louis Creed, a physician, moves to a new house in a small town along with his wife, daughter and son. Settling down for an idyllic life, they find some chilling secrets held in the woods behind their house.

Stephen King writes with a calculated detachment. The description of events become silly at times, but this silliness adds to the impact. Once the plot is set into motion, there is no respite from the tragedy the Creed family experience. Just like Lois Creed gets repeatedly attracted to the mystery in the woods despite his better judgement, I was unable to stop reading this book. By taking a seemingly silly storyline and making a full-blown horror tale, King shows us why he is considered as a master of this genre.
Verdict : If you are a fan of horror genre, don't miss this.

8) The Negotiator (Frederick Forsyth)

A standard Forsyth fare of international intrigue. Forsyth doesn't loose his trademark detailing prowess. Marketed as Forsyth's most unforgettable hero, Quinn - the negotiator, is introduced pretty late into the story, and the plot is gripping for a while. But halfway through, the story looses its tension. Reading his description of how USA and UK respond to a crisis, I wonder if such detailed crisis emergency response plans are made in India. But apart from the detailing, the book is relatively uninteresting. I can't remeber any other Forsyth book where a single central character is given so much importance, and probably this deviation from his usual style turned me off.
Verdict :  Not upto Forsyth's usual class

(To be continued)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Social Network

The first thing that struck him as he opened the door was the uncharacteristic pleasantness of the weather. A perfect start to a Saturday after the dampness of the previous day. He woke up a little later than he  had planned and had to hurry to make it up, leaving him without a chance to notice the weather until he stepped out of the house. As he locked the door he realized that he had subconsciously broken into a song. He stopped himself , looked around quickly and let out sigh of relief after confirming that no one had heard him. Still cheerful, he pushed his bike out of his driveway. He had a long day ahead and later, he would thank himself for having found the time to gobble a few slices of the bread before leaving.

He finally managed to break out of the traffic jam. He had always wondered on the fact that there seemed to be more people returning home on Fridays than any other day of the week. And add to it the festive atmosphere all around - why were so many people so happy on a Friday? It is almost like everyone in the World hates his job. Of course he looked forward to the weekend too. His roommate would not be home but still it will be a well needed break. He would probably watch a movie or two, and get a long pending haircut. He'd had dinner at his office canteen but the Friday atmosphere made him stop at a bakery near his house to treat himself. He was quite sure he would be too lazy to go out for breakfast the next morning, so he bought a loaf of bread and hastened home as it started to drizzle.


He hated rains and was glad that it didn't rain today. The roads were still pretty wet, but he would enjoy his ride. As he eased on to a comfortable speed he caught himself singing again. This time he didn't stop himself. He savored riding in this weather. He was proud of the way his pair of legs and hands work in coordination to control and increase the speed as necessary. Sure, there were a million other people on the road who were as skillful as him - just look at the number of people riding bikes. But that doesn't take away anything from the amazing feeling. He loved riding his bike.

He loved the internet. Outside, it was raining pretty heavily now. He was crouched over his laptop constantly refreshing various tabs on his browser to get instant updates. He had been sitting in the same position for the past two hours, and he couldn't think of anything that would remove him from his place for another few hours. As he refreshed another social networking site and realized that there were no new updates, he wondered if he could be spending his time more usefully and immediately brushed aside the thought. Shivering in discomfort, he instinctively covered his naked feet with a blanket to reduce the chillness.

It was becoming sultry now - the only sort of weather you would expect from this part of the country. The sun was coming out and so were the vehicles. This city never has a holiday, he told himself. People constantly keep travelling from one place to another with no purpose at all.  He lifted the helmet visor to let in air. Wearing a helmet always involves a call between keeping out the dust and letting in the air, and the later usually wins. He gladly breathed in the relatively fresher air.


He needed fresh air, and he needed it badly. It had been months since he had even talked to his friends, let alone meet them.  He had spent the past few weekends slouched in the same fashion and there was no doubt in his mind now that he was getting addicted to the internet. Will it really be so difficult to be disconnected from the web, he asked himself. No, It shouldn't be. He used social networks just out of choice. He was just a passive user who was more interesting in watching the activities of his "friends" than announcing his own activities. In fact no one would miss his presence online if he inactivated his account at the very moment. Outside, the rain had considerably reduced. He could hear water drops trickling down from somewhere.

Like drops of coffee trickling out of a filter, motorbikes can find a way out of most traffic jams. However when half the width of the road is stagnated with water from the previous day's rains, even the shrewdest of drivers are forced to wait in a logjam. A traffic jam on a water-logged road is a motorcyclist's nightmare. To add to it, it was sweltering hot now. He glanced at his watch. He was sweating profusely and suffocating within the helmet. He decided to remove his helmet, and loosened its straps when the bus ahead of him started moving slowly. Immediately the car behind him beeped its horn loudly, forcing him to move forward.

His phone beeped and he glanced at the display. "Harsha calling". Another close friend he had been meaning to give a call for a long time, but had never summed up the strength to do so. Apprehensive of a a mild rebuke for being out-of-reach for so long, he pressed the Accept button and said "Hi da!!". As his friend greeted him back, he realised that nothing was amiss, and close friends can continue conversations they had years back as if they had been in touch every day.  Ending the call after an hour he realized that he had missed a lot in not remaining in touch with his friends. Harsha had called him to arrange a get-together the next day, and convinced him to join. The rain outside had stopped, and his mind was easing out.

The traffic eased out as he reached the highway. He increased his speed a little - he could still make it on time. It had really been long since he had met any of his friends, and he was quite excited at the thought. His mind drifted of to the last time they had met, when he noticed a water tanker ahead of him leaving a trail of water in its wake, which would soon evaporate due to the heat. He realized that he could not remember any of the vehicles he had noticed in the past few minutes, and that he had been riding mechanically. He forced himself to concentrate a little more on the present.

He was quite sure that his lack of concentration was not a result of his addiction to the internet. He had always had trouble concentrating on the present, and as a result, poor observational skills. He rarely noticed the details in his surroundings.  "Come on!", he told himself, "you can't blame everything on the internet". But then, another part of his mind countered, he couldn't deny that his addiction had affected him. Only the extent to which it had affected him was debatable. There is only one way to know for sure, he decided. He would remain away from the internet for a month, and see how he fares. Before that, he would have to remove all the temptations to go online. He would start by deleting his Facebook account. He clicked on the "Deactivate Account" link in his browser page, to be greeted with a confirmation window. His cursor hovered over the confirm button, and hesitated.


There was no time to hesitate, and it was an impulsive decision. Being just a few minutes away from his rendezvous, he was going at a fair speed, and was getting ready to overtake a dump truck passing on the left lane. The dump truck was carrying loose gravel, and just as he lined up with the rear end of the truck, a handful of stones fell out of the truck. The first flew straight to his helmet, through his open visor, and hit him hard on the chin. He exclaimed in pain, and noticed that there were more stones flying towards him. He decided to brake, and as he braked hard, a SUV speeding behind him brushed his bike's rear.

Thrown towards the ground, he felt his untidy hair fall over his forehead. His helmet was flying ahead of him, the straps he had loosened a few minutes before  flapping on the helmet's mass rhythmically. He hit the ground full stretch, but the helmet was still revolving. He could see the visor now, dirty and scratched, the scratches combining by chance to form the first letter of his name. His bike was lying before him. Its MRF tyres covered in mud. He wondered at his ability to grasp in these details when he least needed them.

He felt something wet flow over his spine. Someone was running towards him now, but he couldn't make out their features. His mind was starting to become hazy. It was funny how time seemed to slow down at the most critical moments. He felt like a character out of a computer game. His mind drifted on. Computer game - computer - internet - Social Network. The events of last night played back in his mind. The rain, the dil pasand (or was it dil kush?), the depression, the call, the plan (would he be able to meet them now?), and his conviction to erase his online presence. As he recalled hovering over the delete button, he realized that he was in great pain. He couldn't move his legs, and he felt an immense urge to close his eyes. He forced himself to think back on the previous night. Did he click the button? Think, dammit! This is important. This could mean life or death!

Note : Though some parts of this story are based on real incidents, I wrote it with a wild idea - what if social networks have more power over us than we fathom? 

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Hindi Test

If my life were to be made as a movie, in all probability I would still be playing a not-so-important side character. If I ever write a SOP, it would never resemble this (if you are going to read only one blog post today, I recommend you read the one that is linked). Admittedly, not many of us get to live a life that is movie-worthy. But, there are few moments in each of our lives that we remember for ever. I have described one such fond memory from my schooldays.

It was July 1999. I had just completed my 5th class, and our family had shifted from Thiruvanmiyur to Tambaram. Kendriya Vidyalayas work in a unique fashion (unique relative to other schools in the southern part). As soon as an academic year is over, students have an one-week vacation. Following this, the academic results are declared during the first week of April, and the next academic year is started. The summer vacation starts at around first week of May and extends for two months. Usually, a student can request transfer from one KV to another quite easily. Knowing this, we had shifted to our new house at the end of March. Unfortunately (fortunately from my perspective) my transfer got delayed, and I was asked to attend my old school at Adyar for the month of April alone. Since it was impossible to imagine a daily journey  of more than 40 kms, it was decided that I would simply bunk one month of school, and join my new school only after it reopens from the summer vacation.

For someone who has always dreaded the prospect of going to school on a Monday, and has spent most of the time in his two years of professional career counting the number of days left to the next Friday, rejoining school after a three-month long vacation is never easy. And the very idea of a completely new environment had me totally scared. In the first few weeks in my new school, I had quite a few challenges.

Most importantly, there was Hindi. I had a chronic fear of Hindi and Hindi teachers. As an example, in my 7th grade  I promptly replied to a Hindi sir's question of "where is your holiday homework" with a "Tumkohi diya tha" (I have give it to you only). He politely requested me to bend down, and smacked hard on my back for primarily two reasons - firstly because we are supposed to address elders as "aap" (the more respectful form of "you") and not "tum", and secondly because I had lied. To compound this innate fear of Hindi, my Hindi teacher was quite disciplinarian. She had a furious temper, and she spoke only in Hindi. I don't remember every little detail of those nerve-wracking moments, but I somehow ended up sitting near this nice and friendly little guy "V". In retrospect, my perception of his niceness was probably increased by the fact that he was little - an inch shorter than me to be precise - and stood as the second person when arranged by "height-order" for the school assembly (I would be third). But seriously, V was quite nice. He gave me quite a few tips on how to handle my Hindi teacher. He even coached me with the exact Hindi sentence I should use to get my handwriting approved from her ("Likavat teek hai, madam?").

Then, there were the monthly tests. Since the syllabus for a whole month had been completed, we had our first monthly test as soon as school reopened. I was clueless about any of the subjects, but managed to scrap through a few of them. When it came to Hindi, I couldn't even make head or tail out of the syllabus. I turned to my by-now-close-friend V for assistance, and asked him to list out the chapters I had to study. He helpfully took my book, and marked the name of a single poem with his pencil. Having diligently studied the poem word-by-word, I entered the exam hall filled with a high amount of out-of-character-optimism, which was shattered when I glanced at the question paper. I realised that the poem I had so thoroughly studied was only a minor part of the syllabus. The result of the exam? Please refer to the image below.

Finally, there were the seniors. Back then,  Kendriya Vidyalayas didn't believe in "retaining" students till 6th grade, and every student scraped through . Once we entered the 6th grade, we were made to face the "harsh realities of the competitive World outside", and a lot of students were forced to redo the year. As a result, we had quite a few 'Annas' in our class, who had to be talked to with deference. One of these Annas - let's call him "A" - happened to be the only person living anywhere near the vicinity of our house. In order to make-up for the one month I had lost, I had to borrow notes from A (which were almost always incomplete).

On one such occasion, I visited A's house to borrow notes. I met his Mother, who seemed quite pleasant. Being a shy and reserved person, I was determined to strike a friendship with A, and willed myself to be at my extroverted best. However my best was not good enough, and it was time for me to leave without having conversed much. As I removed the side-stand of my BSA cycle, an inspiration struck me. I turned towards A, and asked him how much he had scored in his Hindi test. Even before he could react, his mother overheard me, and came rushing out, asking me if our marks had been distributed. Proud at my new-found-ability to strike conversations, I nodded my head, and voluntarily told her how much I had scored.  She consoled me (though I didn't need much consoling) explaining that I needed time to get used to the new environment, gave an affectionate glance towards her son (in retrospect, it could have been more of a furious frown), asking him how much he had scored. He replied without any trace of pride (understandable, as he hadn't scored as highly as I) that he got zero. Not wanting to over-exert my friendliness, I chose this moment to cheerfully wave them both a goodbye, and start home. Soon after I left, I heard a couple of noises - a slap and a shriek of pain.  

The aftermath? For reasons unknown, I had to suffer some intense bullying from A for the next two years. Lessons learnt? More often than not, truth leads you into miseries. Honesty is not always the best policy. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Broken April - A poetic and poignant movie

I spent this weekend watching and re-watching a Brazilian movie titled Abril Despedacado (literally translating to Broken April), which was released in English as Behind the Sun. The movie is directed by Walter Salles, who has also directed the wonderful Motorcycle Diaries. I have been so touched by the movie, that I decided to write about it.

The movie starts with a young boy, who introduces himself as Pacu. He goes on to explain that it is a brand new name, to which he is yet to get used to. Pacu is trying to remember a story, but it gets mixed up with another story - one involving the boy, his elder brother Tonio, and a blood-stained shirt tied to the wind. Cut into flashback, we are introduced to the poverty ridden Breves family - the father who is a taskmaster, the mother who just gives in to her husband's wishes, and their two sons. The Breves make their living by farming sugarcanes and extracting sugar. Later in the movie, the father says to his wife that after loosing everything, the only thing they have left is honour. And what form does this honour take?

Years earlier, we learn, the Breves got into a feudal fight with another family, the Ferreiras. The fight carried on for generations, leading to Pacu and Tonio's elder brother being killed. Now, it is upon Tonio to protect the honour of his family by avenging his elder brother's death. Meanwhile, Pacu gets acquainted with, and introduces Tonio to the vagrant circus artists Salustiano and Clara. Tonio is enticed by the beautiful Clara. Does he protect the "honor" of his family, or does he get victimized in the family feud? Does he stick to the family tradition despite knowing the futility of it all, or does he go on a quest for a better life? Will the bloody saga of family vengeance be resolved? And, what has Pacu got to do with this all?

Reading my sludgy attempt to describe the plot line, you must be imagining a gory and violent movie. The movie is anything but gory. It is, to the contrary, poetic, picturesque, and heavily laden with lovely metaphors. I have listed just a few here, taking care not to have any spoilers.

  • The Breves family crush sugarcane in a mill that is pulled by a couple of Oxen, which go round and round. Pacu points out that they are like the oxen, going round and round all day, but never going anyway. This is a remark at all of us, who are afraid to break out of our routines.
  • Pacu is presented with a book by Clara. She asks him if he can read. "No", he says, "but I can read the pictures". He then goes on to make his own story from the pictures. This signifies the creativity of the little kid, his ability to use his imaginations to escape the dreariness of everyday routine, and the need for escapism
  • Of the two brothers, the younger Pacu is more imaginative, and more dissident to the traditions. The older Tonio recognizes the futility of the family feud, but is too reluctant to disobey his father. Pacu's favorite hangout is a swing, which symbolyses freedom from their dreary routine. In a decisive point in the screenplay, Tonio is shown to be sitting on the swing. He tells to his younger brother "I thought you how to fly with this, remember? You were scared shitless". "Tonio", replies the kid brother, "today, it's your turn. You take my place, and I will take yours". "No, I don't want to" says the older brother, but is urged on by the younger one. What follows is a wonderful scene of brotherly love. This  conversation also signifies the role-reversal between the bothers.
  • In a direct metaphor,  Salustiano compares the feuding family to a couple of snakes he had seen fighting. "Each was biting the tail of the other. They ate each other up until nothing was left. Nothing but a pool of blood on the ground." 
Apart from the symbolisms, the movie has quite a few scenes of pure cinematic beauty. The whole experience takes you to a different time and space, and the stunning climax leaves an impact for a long time after the movie ends. If you have some time to spare, I urge you to watch this one. In case you are not yet fully convinced, here is the movie trailer.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Undesirability of Truth

Late last week, India's Union Cabinet approved the launch of a satellite to study the atmosphere of Mars. The estimated cost of the mission will be Rs. 450 crore, and chances are that the real cost will be much higher. ISRO's ex-chief, Padma Vibushan Madhavan Nair believes that such a mission to Mars might not really achieve something. Apart from him, quite a few voices in India feel that the money could be spent in a more useful way. Others, a second and a larger group, have applauded the initiative by ISRO, and are looking forward to the November 2013 launch with eagerness. Money spent on scientific pursuits, they argue, always pay rich dividends. Rs.450 Crore, they calculate, is roughly 40% of the money lost in the 2G scam. Even if the money is not spent in research, they reason, it is highly probable that the money would land up in another corrupt minister's personal account. And after all, they assure us, the pursuit of knowledge must be one's ultimate aim in life. If you tentatively ask them what if the mission failed, they would   probably quote the names of numerous great minds, who crossed the hurdle of fear of failure, and ultimately led humankind to significant truths.

Just for argument's sake, as I explained my liberty to do so in my previous blog post , I am going to consider  two sets of queries :
  1. What if real truth is undesirable? Is suffering, like Nihilists and a few others claim, the real purpose of life? Even otherwise, if there are times in a Man's life when he suffers, is he morally bound to face it, or is it permissible for him to attempt an escape into an alternate reality?
  2. What if real truth is unpercievable? What if the real truths are beyond us? What if certain things are not meant to be understood? How important is pursuit of knowledge? Are all spheres of knowledge equally important?
For the first set of queries, I have listed a few situations from popular movies where truth is indeed undesirable.

Life is Beautiful

A strange title, one would say, in a post that is supposed to touch upon the the possibility that life has no intrinsic meaning or value. But, I am trying to draw your attention to the wonderful movie with the same name  directed by Robert Benigni. In an unlikely case that you haven't seen this movie, I advise you to see it as soon as possible. Here is the plot of the movie in short : Guido Orefice (Robert Benigni) is an Italian Jew blessed with immense wit and humour. He charms a schoolteacher, Dora, and they both get married. Leading a perfectly happy life, they proudly watch their son - Giosue - grow into a 5-year old, until they face the horrific political situation around them. They are arrested by Nazis for being Jews, and sent to a concentration camp. Orefice makes his son believe that they are on a holiday, playing a complicated game. He takes immense risks to convince his son that they have a good chance of winning the game, if only the boy follows a certain set of "rules". Throughout their time at the concentration camp, Orefice suffers, but protects his son from the brutal truth. The movie ends with a grown up Giosue (who narrates the whole story in flashback) saying "This is my story. This is the sacrifice my father made. This is his gift to me."

I have talked to quite a few people about the movie, and they unanimously agree with me that it is one the the best movies ever. But, just extending the story a little bit, I wonder how the son must have felt growing up. Would he be eternally grateful to his father for not letting him suffer, or would he feel guilty for living a life of a lie, for being immersed in his own imagination when the most horrific crime in humanity was being committed, for being happy when his father suffered. The son would even be justified in feeling a little angry at his father  for not trusting him to handle the truth, for betraying him. What do you think? Was the father right in constructing an elaborate alternate reality just to protect his son's mind? Is truth, at least at times,  so undesirable?

Cristopher Nolan and Escapism

"Sometimes the truth isn't good enough, sometimes people deserve more"
                                                                                       -Batman, in The Dark Knight

For a movie-maker, it is extremely difficult to get the approvals of both the popular public and the hard-to-satisfy movie critics. Cristopher Nolan has undoubtedly achieved this symbol of greatness. But how realistic are Cristopher Nolan's movies? Read this wonderful profile of the director to know more about Cristopher Nolan's own brand of escapism. Escapism is roughly defined as the avoidance of reality by absorption of mind in entertainment or other imaginary situations, and an escape from the banalities and unpleasantness of everyday life. The wonderful article explains Nolan's moviemaking with enough examples, but I would like talk about a scene from Dark Knight Rises (No spoilers. Nothing you couldn't make out from the trailers anyway).

Gotham is under a bomb threat, and it seems like nothing can save them. Detective Blake tries to lead a bus full of children out of the city, but he is stopped. Still stranded inside the city, and noticing that the there are only a few seconds before the bomb will explode, he urges all the children to get inside the bus. The bus driver, already reconciled with his perceived fate, asks (Sorry if the quotes are inaccurate, I am repeating it from my unreliable memory) "Seriously? Do you think the bus will protect them from the explosion?". Blake replies with a question of his own "Would you let them all die without even a hope for survival?".

Would you? Is hope so important that truth can take a backseat? I would say not always, but at least at times. An over-used, but true description that suits most movies is that they are a "willing suspension of disbelief". If truth is extremely important, why are so many popular movies escapist?

"Ignorance is a Bliss"

Whenever I hear this quote, I am invariably reminded of The Matrix, and the character of Cypher. Cypher is the character who strikes a deal with The Agents -he would lay a trap for Morpheus in return for being sent back to The Matrix as a rich and powerful man, with no memories of the "truth". Cypher is a perfect example that there are quite a few people who would like to escape reality, if it is full of suffering.

As you can see, all these instances consist of people living life filled with perceived or real suffering, and choosing to escape it. A few people may oppose with this way of dealing with life. They claim that the truth must be faced - regardless of its nature. Others may claim that each person can make a choice, like choosing between Morpheus' red and blue pills. To make this choice, however, complete knowledge is essential.

The Pursuit of Knowledge

Rationalists are people who believe in human senses - they believe that the answer to all questions on life can be eventually arrived at.  There are quite a few sets of people who do not agree with this chain of thought. Even Plato is said to have believed that what we sense and see is not essentially the reality. For the moment, let's assume that the rationalists are right.

Can we still understand the complete laws of nature within the lifetime of humanity as a whole? There are numerous specializations in Science today, and numerous unanswered questions in each of them. Is the query " why are women more/less prone to texting during office hours" (I can be pretty sure that a team of researchers in some part of the World are trying to deduce this) as important as finding a cure to, say,  the common cold? If knowledge is power, is more knowledge essentially more power? I would rather say that more essential knowledge is more power. I have nothing against ISRO's satellite launch, and I wish ISRO all the best. But, personally, I would like to see some one prioritize the most important avenues of research, and ensuring that we have the right questions before seeking the answers. This would save a lot of resource and money.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Importance of being Fickle-Minded

"I have opinions of my own -- strong opinions -- but I don't always agree with them"
- George Bush (Sr.)

For as long as I have known, I have had a malleable mind. I am sucker for good arguments, and will completely agree with anyone's opinion, as long as it has a shred of logic in it. For instance, reading Ayn Rand's wonderful portrait of Howard Roark and John Galt, I remember thinking that the pursuit of one's own happiness must indeed be the purpose of Man's life. This view was shortly reversed by reading (only partially) Fyoder Dostoyevskey's The Idiot, whose protagonist Prince Myshkin is the very definition of saintliness. A character diametrically opposite to John Galt, he attracted my sympathy towards himself, and his way of life. My latest views on life have been shaped by reading Somerset Maugham's semi-autobiographical novel On Human Bondage , which I believe (probably wrongly), derives its philosophy from Spinoza and Schopenhauer. I have little doubt that my views - to paraphrase Douglas Adams - on the answer to The Life, The Universe and Everything will be influenced by the next well-written book I read. I find even Ram Gopal Varma's views on life (follow his infamous twitter account @RGVzoomin to get a first-hand experience) brilliant at times. 

Should this indecisiveness on opinions worry me?  I don't think so. Like Phillip Carrey of On Human Bondage who toys with a myriad ideas - both on philosophy and his career, before zeroing on his own brand of philosophy (and a suitable career), I am ready to take ample time on shaping my opinions. It is also my belief that a World filled with people having only extreme opinions will be boring at best, and catastrophic at worst. Moderates are essential for civilization. So, I may write about the benifits of democracy when the World goes gaga over China's achievements in Olympics, and the  necessities of an authoritarian Government when the country aims its guns at Kapil Sibal. I might write about the importance of pessimism (which I firmly believe in) today, only to write on the uplifting qualities of a Wodehouse novel tomorrow. In short, I would try to play a minor - often insignificant - role in buffering the public opinions. 

In case you have survived reading the first two paragraphs, and you are still not wondering about the purpose of life and other such metaphysical questions, you must atleast be wondering about the purpose of this post. I am writing this just as a disclaimer to all further posts, and this whole blog in general. When freedom to have an opinion, and to express it is recognized in a large part of the World (and is used, and even exploited by every Joe in the internet), I also reserve the right to alter, or even reverse my opinions. For argument's sake, I will write blog posts on opinions I may not agree with, and highlight their merits. It is just a personal exercise, something that you might find as a self-indulgence. But, I intend to carry on with it. Any help that you can give in the form of discussions will be accepted gratefully. 

Finally, in a tribute to my essay writing school-days, I have begin and ended this post with a quote. I once again draw the assistance of Douglas Adams, who succinctly sums up my dilemma in maintaining a blog.

"The history of The Hitchhiker's guide to Galaxy is now so complicated that every time I tell it I contradict myself, and whenever I do get it right, I am misquoted"
 - Douglas Adams

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Ten Video Games that I grew up with

There have been lots of posts going around in Facebook recently claiming that we, those of us who are in our twenties at this point of time, are the luckiest generation ever. the posts reason that we have had the best of most things, and we have seen a lot in our short lifetime already. I had mentioned in a previous post that every generation probably thinks it is the best to ever have set foot on this planet. But, the circulating status messages may have an iota of truth to them, considering that we have seen the advent and demise of many things in our short lifetime. I remember a time when the house at my native place Trichy was the only one I knew with a landline connection, and I still remember the phone number. We have come a long way since then, especially in electronics.
When I see the variety and detail in video games today, I never cease to be amazed. Though not an ardent gamer, I do try my hand at a few of them at times. Whenever I do, I get a feeling that even though the games I grew up playing had much poorer graphics, they were better in many ways. Gamers of today might disagree with me, but for someone who often gets satisfied by the simpler things in life, the games of the yore were more charming and addictive. I have listed 10 games that I found most addictive as I grew up, and I still find them so. Most of these games had a very simple concept, but still managed to engage us for hours.

1) Brick Video Game - Cars
I apologise for the not-so-catchy-sounding title, but if you stretch your memory a litttle, you will remember that hand-held games we grew up with did not have names. They had numbers, and in my own device, the car games were numbered B1 to B4. The concept was simple. You are riding a car in what can be imagined as a two lane highway. The only aim of the game is that you should not crash with the cars coming in the oppsite direction. Yet, this game was completely engrossing. I remember starting with level 1, where the car would move slowly, and the speed would get increased as we gather more speed. In case I stirred your nostalgia a little, have a look at this video

2) Super Mario
I am sure this is up high on everyone's list. I won't waste time by trying to describe with my limited vocabulary the beauty of this most famous game ever. I was introduced to this game by a next door neighbor when I was a kid, and I remember her laughing at my ability to understand the complex maneuver of jumping over a pit. A few years later, a boy at my apartments taught me a few shortcuts involving pipes and creepers to reach level 8.1 quickly. He was struggling to finish this level within the stipulated time limit. It took a long time before we discovered by chance that Mario could not only walk, but he could also run. Our joy knew no bounds when we were finally able to conquer level 8.4 and save the Princess. I am not sure if anyone can make a game to equal this one.

3) Kung Fu
This was one of my favorites, simply because I was good at it. With simply 5 villains, each with unique style, this game guarantees fun. I remember a partnership ship I had with my flatmates, where we would play alternate chances each. Playing the last chance, I kept on defeating Wang, Tao, Chen, Lang, and Mu for a long time, until I was finally beaten by Lang, the toughest opponent of the lot. Never let Wang get close enough to you, and never let Chen move far enough. Jump on the walls, and kick Tao on the rebound, ahh, as I am writing this, my hands are itching to play this game again.

4) Commondos - Behind the enemy line
I saw this game for the first time when a school mate took me to a browsing centre, and explained its virtues. It was a game perfectly suited for me. A very slow, stealthy game, it requires laying down elaborate strategies to complete the 20 levels. I have been able to reach only upto level 16 of this game, and one of these days, I will try completing the remaining 4. There is also a newer version of Commondos (Commondos 3) that has great graphics, but still retains the essence of the older version.  In an unforgettable stage in the original version, you have only Green Berret and Spy to try and destroy an air-plane at the other end of a mountain. You need to navigate your way through numerous minefields, and packs of Germans before you can complete the objective. Commondos is probably my most favorite PC game.

5) Age of Empires
I discovered this game along with a couple of my cousins, and we were awed by the concept. We first played a demo version which was extremely difficult. The campaign we played was called Battle of Kadesh and our empire was simply given three villagers, and minimal resources. Even before we could start developing the empire, red coloured militias will storm into our empire and slay unsuspecting villagers. My cousins and I sat together, and framed an elaborate strategy to ward of the attackers, slowly build a great defense, and then start a cautious attack. We were so engrossed by the game that while returning from my cousins house, we would point at things around us at the railway station, and pass silly remarks such as "mine here for gold". The next version of the game, The Age of Conquerors was great too, but the subsequent versions lost the charm of the older versions. Personally, my favorite characters were the Teutonic Knights, Monks, and Elephants.

6) EA Cricket
I have always had a fascination for cricket games, and EA Cricket is here purely because it is one of the very few cricket games in market. The very idea of creating my teams, setting fields, captaining a side excited the cricket fanatic in me, and I have spent a numerous hours playing this game. Despite the fact that it is a very monotonous game, I play it occasionally even today, and I have issued a stern warning to my brother against uninstalling it.

7) Snake xenzia
This was a game that originated from a less interesting version in Brick video game. Snake is believed by many to be the best cell-phone game before the advent of touch phones. I preferred snake xenzia because it was a little faster, and the snake looks more, err, snake-like. During my first year in college, I had competitions with my cousin who visited Trichy frequently, and we would break each other's high score record. We even discussed strategies to master this game.

8) Stick Cricket
The best cricket game ever, its only drawback being that the game is very fast paced. We discovered the game in the first year of our undergraduate. The game had just been released, and was too young to be blocked by the proxy servers in our college. The game demands outrageous required rates, and makes us keep pace witch such run rates. My current week has been occupied by attempting to chase 450 odd runs in 20 overs against a Pakistan bowling attack filled with variety. I am also trying to master the android version of the game. Stick Cricket is so close to my heart that I had half-written a silly post about it during the third year of my college. It still lays unpublished in my drafts.

9) Table Tennis
I discovered this game when I got a laptop during the beginning of the second year at my college. A simple flash game played only using mouse, I have always had the feeling that this game is a very useful stress buster. Whenever I felt down, I would have a go at this game. Numerous hours, which I labelled as breaks,  before my exams were spent playing this game.

10) Johny Crash does Texas
I came across this game in a friend's Sony Ericson mobile in my third year. The game simply involves flying and crashing at random objects, and meeting a specific target. It seems simple, but mastering the game requires quite a lot of practice, skill and luck. A game that can be played using a single button, it is another instance of a very simple idea turning out into an addictive game.

I have tried arranging the 10 games in the order I started playing them. I might have missed quite a few games, but these were the first 10 that occurred to my mind, and hence these must be my most favorite. Just to list a few more interesting games - Tank (Brick video game),Pacman (PC,a delightful game), Duck Hunt (TV Video game),  Galaxian (TV), Loderunner(TV), Bomber Man(TV), Road Rash(PC), Bonkheads(PC), L A Noire (x-box), Red Dead Redemption (x-box). Do let me know if I have missed a few more. Right now, I will be off to try and score three consecutive sixers of an off-spinner in stick cricket.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Impatient Indian

The greatest thing about reading books is that they transport you to a place far far away. One such book, that had a great impact on me as I read it was The Sicilian.  Written by Mario Puzo, the author more famously known for his Godfather series, The Sicilian is a side story to The Godfather. It describes the events in Sicily, when Michael Corleone is spending a four year exile. The protagonist of The Sicilian is not Michael Corleone himself, but Salvatore "Turi" Guiliano.

Turi is an intriguing character. For the first 20 years of his life,  he lives the life of a normal, sweet, and loved-by-all kid, who is over-shadowed by his more dominant friend Pisciotta. But when confronted with a challenge to his principles, he stands up for what he believes in, and ends up murdering a caribinieri. This incident leaves a mark on his life, and his hidden characterestics of dominance, fearlessness, and decision-making surface, soon converting him into a dreaded bandit. A good writer etches the characters of the novel so well that each reader will relate with the characters of the novel. Reading The Sicilian, I likened myself to Turi, and imagined myself as some one who is usually calm, but will stand up when a principle I believe in is threatened. I was of course cushioned by the fact that living in a democratic country like India, I may never face such a situation. I was sub-consciously convinced that revolutions occur only in fiction, or in History text books.

But then, looking at the events of the past two years, my assumption that I will not have to put my secret fantasy to test was proved wrong time and again. There have been so many people who have stood for what they believe in the past two years that TIME's person of the year for 2011 was 'The Protestor'. These protests were not restricted to far-off places that hold no importance to us, a few of them were at our own home. There are indications that people around us have much more to protest, varying from occupy movements for internet freedom to price rise and anti-corruption protests. There are many things to wonder about internet freedom, censorship,price hike and other issues, but I am more concerned about the anti-corruption protests here. Granted, I am about 10 months late in writing this, and there is almost no point in bringing it up now, but I just had to get this out of my mind.

A little more than a year before, the country was hit by continuous reports of  corruption in the Central government, as well as various state governments. From literally nowhere, activist Anna Hazare sprang to the national scene by declaring a hunger strike in protest against corruption. Suddenly, the whole country found a vent for their hidden tendency of activism. People all over the country found a way by which they believed they could really contribute to the society. The protest was so widespread that skeptics were labelled as anti-national. Here was probably the closest opportunity I could probably get to stand up for the country's good. Here was the chance to bring out the "Turi"-like determinism in me. Yet, I chose to sit back, and just watch how it turns out to be, instead of walking to the beach with an "I-love-Anna" cap. My reasoning was very simple, and probably wrong. I will not join the anti-corruption movement until I can follow the traffic signal.

Driving a lot around the city in the past two years, I have realized that the operational traffic rules in the city, and probably the whole country is very simple - never stop when the lights are green. When a signal is red, you can choose what to do. When it is orange, you can choose what to do, albeit you need to do it carefully. The instance a signal is green, you need to to race away, or be subjected to severe abuse from the people behind you. Like this wonderful advertisement says, "we are always in a hurry"

Looking at the alarming number of people who do not care to stop when a signal is red, I took a simple personal oath, that I will never jump a signal. Believe me, this seemingly simple act is extremely difficult. For someone riding a vehicle in the city, the temptation to jump a signal is always there, and I have often succumbed to it. There have been numerous times that I have been abused for stopping when a signal is Red. Just a week back, an aged two-wheeler rider watched me stop at a signal which was red for a long time. He came to me, and whispered "poidunga sir, adhu work aagathu" (Move on sir, the signal doesn't work). Just as he finished saying this, the signal turned green. It is often that we feel we are more mature than a stupid signal post, and are capable of making our own decisions. It is not unreasonable for us to get the impression that all rules in this country are  ill-thought out, made by people with less wisdom than us, and hence cumbersome. In our impatience, we feel it is only right to bend them for our own convenience.

I firmly believe that it is this impatience that leads us to corruption. The desire to get things done fast is manifested into corruption, and from what I have seen, almost all of us have this desire. Corruption is in our genes, and it cannot be eradicated by passing a law against only a certain strata of the society. The irony of the whole Anna Hazare campaign is that Team-Anna, and its supporters have shown this quality of impatience in abundance. They have even went to the extent of trying to blackmail the Government to follow their whims. They need to understand that our country will be free from corruption only if we all are ready for it. They also need to understand that corruption is not the only hindrance to the betterment of our country. There are far more important issues to be concerned about.

So in case you are joining Anna Hazare's fast today I wish you luck. I will not join you, at least not until I can confidently say that I don't jump signals.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Gen Next - Are we heading in the right direction?

It is fortunate that each generation does not comprehend its own ignorance. We are thus enabled to call our ancestors barbarous.
-Charles Dudley Warner
Modern man is just ancient man... with way better electronics.

Having led a mostly impassive life, today was one of those occasions when I felt the need to react to whatever is happening around me. What is rare about today is that I have chosen to overcome my inherent laziness and write about it. As it often happens, the incident itself was minor, but it has caused me to vent out a few things that have been nagging me in the recent past. Now, if you have not set up a decent base in the wonderful social networking site twitter, you might not even be aware of the incident in question. So, let me just update you in brief.

The Dirty Picture was scheduled to be screened in Setmax this afternoon. It seems the channel had acquired a clearance from the Bombay High Court, and was all set to screen the movie as per schedule (with quite a lot of cuts). Just before the scheduled time, the Ministry of Information and Broadcast, having suddenly decided that the movie is not proper for matinee viewing, directed the channel not to screen the movie during daytime, and to screen it after 11 PM instead. Now, this was just a passing news for page 3. I was not even aware of this snippet of information until I logged into twitter. What greeted me was an combined outrage by all the twitterati and twitteople. Having nothing better to do, I decided to click on the trending topics, and see what the fuss is all about. I saw that almost everyone seemed to be outraged at the fact that the Government was trying to decide what is suitable for us.

The Dirty Picture trending on twitter

Let me declare at the outset that I have nothing against the movie. In fact, I haven't watched it yet. Till an extent, I am against censorship too. An artist has the right to express what he considers as his opinion, and the citizens of the country have the right to choose if they need to experience the piece of art themselves. In fact, I am not concerned at all if the Ministry I & B was right in restricting the channel (I believe that their intention was correct. Television programs need censorship to an extent simply because they are easily accessible to children). But there are other things about this outrage that concerns me, and I have listed them below.

1) Time and again, various tweeters have expressed that twitter is a breath of fresh air from the mainstream media. They accuse the mainstream media of being sensationalist, while they consider twitter is more reliable in highlighting important events. I agree to this to a large extent, because I am pretty sure that my hang on current events has improved considerably since the time I started using twitter seriously. On the other hand, considering that twitter gives lesser importance to  a collector being abducted than a movie not being screened on TV, how can we accuse the mainstream media of being sensationalist? It is pretty clear that the media is just giving us what we want, and that the public should change their priorities first, before they can expect the media to.

2) The new generation of the people of India are quite 'modern' in their outlook. They have broken almost all the taboos of our forefathers, and will soon break all of them. From a predominantly theist country where Sadhus and Sanyasis prospered, we seem to be transforming into a country of agnostics and atheists, where rock stars are prospering. Despite the accusations thrown on the internet, this generation reads a lot, watches movies made in every corner of the globe, mocks at superstition, fights for freedom of speech, takes feminism seriously, and often does this all with a refreshing sense of humor. Most of these changes are heart-warming. But I feel that it might not be wise to discredit all the ideas our forefathers had. I can see a lot of people around me who project themselves as having a liberal mindset when they actually do not. It is as if being liberal is a fad, and people prefer being 'cool' over being themselves. If it is really true that people are blindly accepting the ideas of  liberalism simply because it is popular, it is a fearful thought. It is always dangerous to have only a single popular stream of belief throughout the globe, since these people were as much the victims of popular belief as they were of the church.

3) The immediate reaction to this ban was to blame the Government. Looking at the trends of the past year, the modern day public is holding the Government, and sometimes the system itself,  responsible for everything wrong with the country. Instead of improving the system, or using it properly for betterment, we seem intent at completely rewriting the system. As the response to recent Anna Hazare protests (I have more to say on what I think about Anna in a partially completed post) showed, we are in danger of discrediting our democracy. The protests might be held with really noble intentions, but we must be careful that we do not slip into the anarchy. After all, the current global setting is perfect for anarchy to prevail.

Note : My thoughts are fickle, and I change my opinion as per the popular opinion, usually opposing it. Please let me know what you think about my current opinions, so that we can achieve a moderate opinion. I am always willing to change my ideas :)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Strange Tale - A Short Story

(Disclaimer : All incidents mentioned below are completely fictitious. Or at least, that is what the owner of this blog believes.)

As soon as I was born, my mother came close to my ears, and whispered "son, one day you could become anything. You could become anything you want".  Thus the adage that you are in control of your own destiny was inflicted in me soon after my birth. I had no reason to doubt it, until I heard that voice on a fateful day soon after my 60th birthday. As soon as I heard the voice, the realization that my destiny was as much controlled by the other Man as by me, if not more, struck me like a lightning. I also realized that my mother had only been half-correct. The voice,belonging to a Man, had simply said "Ah! That one would make an excellent bureau!". With those words uttered by the voice, my life - a large part of which had been spent standing peacefully in a jungle among creatures behaving with a consistency that I now miss - changed its course. Though I didn't end up as a bureau, I ended up as an "old teak chair"


As you must have noticed by now, I am not an eloquent narrator. I would blame it on the lack of practice. It is not that I don't have much to say. Think about it, after all, like my brethren all around you, I have a keen eye for detail. It might be shocking for you to realize it, but my brethren and I have been watching you, and we have been noticing a lot of things you do when you believe that you are alone. No, it is not that I don't have much to say, it is just that, until now, I have never felt the need to say. But in the past few days, I have seen some really strange little things, strange even by my standards. Ever since I saw them, I have felt the irresistible need to talk about it. It is as all four of my legs would burst, unless I recount the short, but strange tale. Without further delay, let me describe the incident.

My current master brought me for a worthy price at an auction a few years ago. Ever since, I have been the darling of his eyes or, rather his posterior. After a tiring day's work, nothing would relax him more that a peaceful sedentary session with me. Having lived at his house for quite sometime now, I had just begin to feel settled. I was hence surprised when my master packed me in a cardboard box few days ago. Blinded and suffocated, I could sense that I was being moved somewhere. As with all other journeys that I have been through, I had a tedious time throughout. I couldn't wait to come out of what seemed like a coffin, and get a whiff of fresh air. After what seemed to be a really long time(standards change when you are locked up in a box and are barely able to breath. I have seen Men change their standards for far less), we came to the end of our journey. I wasn't unpacked yet, and after a few minutes, I  was carried by hand somewhere. Judging by the change in pressure, I was being taken upwards (having spent most of my life in dormant positions, I am highly sensitive to changes in altitude). When I was finally able to open my eyes, I was in a room.

The room smelt as if it had been cleaned only recently. From where I was placed, I couldn't see the entrance of the room, and worse, I couldn't watch the television. All I could see was a bed, placed in a perpendicular direction to me. By stretching my eyes a little to the left, I could see an open window. Rays of morning sunlight entered through the window, and illuminated the bed in front of me. I wondered if my master had shifted here for good. I was a bit upset at this thought, but the fact that I will still be owned by a person I had got used to cheered me up. From the other rooms, I could hear my master shifting more furniture. After about an hour, the sounds of furniture stopped. I could now hear footsteps, and they were moving away from me. I told myself that this was just a normal day, and like every other day, and the master would come back in the evening. Maybe he will pull me in front of the television, and fall asleep on me. Throughout the night, I could watch one of the most amazing inventions of Man. By now, I could hear the door shut, and his footsteps climb down a staircase. I had been right about the house being above the ground level. I desperately hoped that I was right about my master coming back to me too, but my intuition told me that he won't.

The length of the sunlight in the room slowly receded as the Sun climbed up. I kept staring at the empty bed, and the wall behind it. Soon, it was dusk, and I still had nothing interesting to observe. For the first time in my long life, I regretted not being able to turn my neck around. I had no way I could see even the entrance door of the room. A couple of times through the day, I thought I heard a flutter outside the door, but realized that it was wishful thinking. Gradually, my mind was getting depressed contemplating the uninteresting future ahead of me, and this depression must have led me to sleep. I have no idea for how long I dozed. But when I did open my eyes, I saw the two of them.

My initial reaction when I saw them was to be surprised at not having heard them walk in. With all due modesty, I have a very keen sense of hearing. In fact, my sense of hearing is so keen that by just hearing a person's footsteps once, I can easily identify him just by hearing him walk. I was surprised because I hadn't heard them walk across to the bed, and by the look of it, they had been in the same position for long. One of them was a middle-aged man, and the other was a young boy. The windows were drawn, and they were illuminated by a single candle placed before them. The boy was resting his head on the older man's lap. I was stripped of my initial surprise at not having heard their footsteps, attributing it to my disappointed state-of-mind, and was now filled instead with curiosity. They were already into a conversation.

"I felt it today uncle. I am sure something is about to happen". The boy said, in a voice that betrayed fear.
When the older man replied, his voice seemed to come from a distance, as if it didn't belong to the him. "Nothing will happen my boy. They won't dare to come here."
"I am afraid of them. I really hope they don't come here."
"You have nothing to be afraid of. I have been living here for quite sometime now, and I have never felt their presence here. Now, you have had a tiring day, and it's time to go to bed. Did you drink the  milk I kept for in the kitchen?"
"No, I forgot"
"Quick then, drink the milk, and sleep", the uncle said, his voice now raised to a gentle command.

The boy got up, and walked with an unconvinced look. My mind registered his footsteps as unnaturally light. The uncle blew the candle, and the room was cast into complete darkness. I could hear some notice from the kitchen, wherever it was, but the noise stopped soon. As the minutes passed, the house seemed to be eerily silent. I kept vigil for a few more minutes, staring at the blankness and seeing nothing, and finally I dozed off.

When I woke up again, the uncle was not in the room. Once again, my senses had failed to awake me at the sound of his foot-steps. I could hear very light footsteps walking around from the other rooms, and I identified the footsteps as that of the boy. Not much happened for a long time, and occasionally I could hear the boy roaming around the house. Around noon, after a reasonable period of silence, I could again hear the boy's footsteps. I didn't give much attention to it, and continued to concentrate on what I had been doing, which was nothing. But then, I heard two people climbing up the stairs. Both pairs of footsteps were new to me, and I wondered if one of them belonged to the uncle. In a couple of minutes, the boy must have heard them too, because his footsteps stopped abruptly. Now, I could even hear voices. Abruptly, I could hear the running footsteps of the boy, and I realized that he was coming towards my room. He soon entered the room, and I could see that he was frightened of the footsteps from outside. He closed the door of the room without locking it, ran and attempted to hide behind the head of the bed. His eyes were facing the door, and I could see his face, which was white with fear. I had no doubt that anyone else walking into the room can see him too.

Meanwhile, the noise from outside the house increased. The footsteps had momentarily stopped, and I heard a  key being inserted into a lock. The door opened, and one loud and masculine set of footsteps entered the house. Apparently, the other person stayed outside the door.  The Man who had entered the house seemed to be unaware of the tension in the room I was in, and he seemed to be casually wandering around the house. With each passing moment the boy in front of me turned whiter.

The footsteps from outside came closer towards my room now, and there was a creak as the door opened. A couple of steps more, and I could see an unremarkable man walking inside the room, whilst looking at me with mild interest. He was now exactly front of me, and was turning his head toward the bed. I turned my full attention to the boy. He was shaking with fear, but rooted to his spot, as if the visitor might attack him anytime. And then I heard the ear-piercing shriek. It took me a moment to realize that it was coming from the visitor. The man seemed to be as much afraid of the boy, as the boy was of him. He was still shouting, as he took a couple of steps back, turned around and ran out, knocking a few things on his way out. The boy still stood at the same spot.

I could soon hear blurred voices from outside. The visitors were running down the stairs. I heard the women shout something like "I told you so! The neighbor warned us before coming here. This must be the reason he offered the house at such a low price!" As the noises faded, the house was cast back into silence. The boy just stood there for sometime, and soon walked out of the room. Soon, he climbed down the stairs, and I was left to myself once again. I had plenty of time to ponder over what had happened, but still couldn't make head or tail out of it. A few more hours passed before I heard the boy's footsteps again. It seemed the boy was speaking to himself as he climbed the steps. As the door to the house opened, I could make out what he said.

"No, you go in first." He still sounded agitated.

I was startled when I heard another voice replying to him. "All right, you stay outside for a minute. See, no one is inside. And I am sure no one will be coming back for sometime". It was the uncle.

"You are so sure of everything." The boy entered the house, and his voice lost some of its initial fear. "But, why didn't you believe me when I said they were coming. You almost convinced me that they won't".

The uncle sighed, took a deep breath. "Look", the uncle started speaking in a explanatory tone, "you are very young, and you are very new here. Whereas, I have been here for quite some time". The faint footsteps of the boy becoming a little stronger as he spoke. Both of them were walking towards my room. "As time goes on", he continued, "you will start losing all your senses. It starts with your sense of touch, and when you are as old as me,it becomes very difficult to sense these humans. Soon, you will start moving like me too".

"Humans!", he uttered the word as I would have uttered them, if only I could speak - with rage, combined with a feeling of powerlessness. "These humans are everywhere. They take over all houses, destroy them, and rebuild them. At this rate, we soon won't have any more houses to haunt." As he said this, the uncle entered the room. As soon as I saw him, I understood why I had never been able to hear his footsteps. He didn't walk, but glided in. It was almost as if he didn't have a pair of feet.

My 2022 in books

We are already into the new year, but I did not want to give up on what has now become my little routine - a summary of all the books I rea...