Saturday, February 18, 2017

Chronicles of Narayana - The Punch

The mental and physical lives of Z.Narayanan, Senior Comrade - Technology , Yetnothersys Technologies Limited ("Moving IT to the cloud and beyond") are often in-congruent. It was no surprise thus that he chose to reflect on his life of twenty-eighth years at the exact moment when a resolute punch was half-a-second shy of landing on his face. He was, more specifically, attempting to identify the turning point of his life, the moment that shifted events to come irreversibly leading to him standing here at the Medavakkam Koot Road traffic signal, bracing for a blow. Was it the day when as a ten-year old, his own meekness denied him his favorite thayir-vadais on a train journey to Madurai with family friends? Or was it the day when he checked-in his location at the J.F.K airport to get 153 likes from his Facebook friends? Was it the day when he decided to quit his job and come back to India for good? Or, was it the day when he concluded that all corporates are equally pathetic, and that he should rejoin IT? Was it much before, even before he was born, when his father had picked up a chit each from two lots of folded papers with the words "Z.Narayanan" and "Z.Malavika"? It was each of them and all of them. Every moment, every decision and every action in a person's life conspire together to make them what they are today.

What was Narayanan today? He was a scrawny guy often mistaken for someone younger. But he had momentarily forgotten his physique on his morning bike ride to his office. When a black Swift Dezire had trotted along the middle of the road, he had zipped past it from the left lane gesturing viciously at the bespectacled driver whose left hand was holding up a mobile phone. Another Project Manager on his way to work. A Yamaha R200 insistently buzzing its horn from behind had evicted from Narayanan the loud curse "what's the hurry, you moron!" And when a Toyota Qualis had harried him with loud horn when the signal was red at Medavakkam junction, Narayanan decided not to budge. He glanced at the rear view mirror to see a driver draped in silk-white shirt frantically yelling at him. He turned his head a full 180 degree, and lip-synced a generic curse word. He would wonder later on if the driver had interpreted his lip moments wrongly, exaggerating the humble cuss word he had uttered. However, his thoughts were presently occupied replaying his life as the driver walked to him, adjusting his silk-white veshti. Scowling, the driver pulled his left hand back. The wrist which landed on Narayanan was as thick as hardened cement. Things were a blur after that, until he woke up a couple of minutes later. He was on the ground. His knees hurt with the pressure of his Bajaj Pulsar on them, and a wetness was slowly beginning to form beneath his left thigh, reddening his jean. "Bloody Indians", he thought, "random hooligans don't punch your face like this in America". They shoot you with their guns.

(Might be continued)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review of A Feast for Crows - Book # 4 in A Song of Ice and Fire series

A Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire, #4)A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

*Minor Spoilers ahead*
"A Feast For Crows" is a misleading title, as there is not much fodder for the crows here. The war of five kings is at its fag end, and there is an uneasy calm to the South of Westeros as it concentrates on rebuilding the ravaged settlements. Except for the ironmen, scattered bloody mummers and Beric Dondarion's troop of outlaws, there are not many swords out. "An age of wonder and terror will soon be upon us, an age for gods and heros", we are told earlier, and as we expectantly turn through nearly 800 pages of this novel, we realize that "in the game of thrones, even the humblest of pieces have wills of their own. Sometimes they refuse to make the moves you've planned for them". George R.R. Martin is a man of detail, and it is his attention to detail that sets him apart from other writers. It also lets him down at times. The Song of Ice and Fire is like a role player computer game, and some characters run out of things to do and end up in loops, repeating the same motions. We have seen it earlier with Bran and Sansa, and we see it now with Briene and Arya. At the end of the book, Martin writes a short, almost apologetic write-up explaining the absence of some of the most interesting characters. What we have as a result is a lot of episodic sub-plots, and POVs from a myriad, not-so-important characters, most of which do not move the larger story forward. We get to know Cersei as she becomes a megalomaniac, and we get to know Jamie, who becomes an unlikely hero. We also learn about a host of other random characters, and a numerous trivia. Why did Illyn Payne lose his tongue? What was Cersei's childhood like? Does Aemon have normal, humane feelings? What are the different harbours in Bravos? How many chains-links to a Maester?

Many of these sub-plots and tidbits are engrossing. Briene's quest through Cracklaw Point, for instance, takes us through a visually marvelous exploration. However when you already know that the object of her trip is not where she is looking for, the pay-off is underwhelming. Another such instance deals with a "Queenmaker", which is an engaging episode but ends up as a dud. Even when things happen, like at Kings Landing, it almost seems farcical with a touch of dark-humour (albeit without the requisite darkness). Which brings us to the thing about A Feast of Crows - without having read the subsequent books in the series, I would not belittle this part at this point of time. For all I know, it could be setting up things for a riveting climax. A calm before the storm. Or maybe, a calm before more calm. But then, how many pages more should I read before I get to find it out? Which brings us to the second thing about A Feast for Crows - did it have to be so damn long?

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Friday, February 3, 2017

Review of The Black Tower by P.D.James

The Black Tower (Adam Dalgliesh, #5)The Black Tower by P.D. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"In this job it wasn't the last piece of jigsaw, the easiest of all, that was important. No, it was the neglected, uninteresting small segment which, slotted into place, suddenly made sense of so many other discarded pieces"

'The New Queen of Crime', proclaims the front cover of "The Black Tower" by P.D.James. Having never heard of either the author or the book before, I set my expectations on an Agatha Christie like murder mystery. In what is probably a nod to the detective genre, we even have a character called Moriarty. The hero here, Adam Dalgliesh - commander of Scotland Yard, is recuperating from an misdiagnosed illness (probably something to do with an earlier novel in the series). A letter from a childhood companion, the fatherly figure of a priest, requesting his professional advice takes him to Toynton Village in coastal England. Father Baddeley is the "Chaplain to Toynton Grange, a private home for the young disabled". Dalgelish takes this as an opportunity to convalesce (a word used often in the book) and brood over his decision to quit detective work. However he reaches to find that his 90 year old friend is dead, buried and cremated. The cause is said to be natural, but Daeglish's is not so sure.

Very soon into the book, if you make past the tough first few pages, you realize that P.D.James is no Agatha Christie. This is no procedural crime investigation. We have a protagonist just back from a near death experience, with his own mid-life crisis. And the atmosphere is dark. P.D.James is a solid writer, capturing the darkness so well that this could be a Scandinavian thriller. The characters only add to the goriness. There is no white or black, and every character is grey. A man who was cured of a disease by a divine miracle, but who does charity for self-gratification. An ex-convict, a nurse with a history of violence, a promiscuous woman struggling to get out of the place, an illegitimate couple, an unpredictable rich art-collector and a kleptomaniac. The disabled, helpless characters have their own perversions too, and their emotions are more of spite, hate and envy than love. There are mystery poison letters floating around, and deaths that look natural. There is no evidence of foul-play though, and our protagonist does not want to get too invested. After all, Toynton Grange seems like a place where not much would be out of ordinary. As "The Black Tower" trots to an unpredictable climax, I felt satisfied at having read the work of a wonderful writer. Others may not feel so, for this book lacks most elements expected of a detective novel. But who are we to fit books into genres and determine how it is to be structured? I would recommend this book for the sheer darkness of the atmosphere, with dialogues such as "We all suffer from a progressive incurable disease. We call it life". Go for it, unless you don't like getting a bit scared and depressed.

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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...