Indian General Elections 2014 with Social Mobile Apps


The government of India was very concerned about the low turnout of voters especially among the youth and called all the country’s IT Moguls and told them to collaborate together to come with some mobile Apps to encourage voting. A special Voter Awareness Development Authority of India (VADAI – not to be confused with south Indian delicacy that goes by the same name) was set up for this purpose. The country’s best talent was recruited and they set to work. They worked for six months without a break and finally came up with three types of Apps and Plugins – Detective, Preventive and Punitive.

Detective

These are apps to detect if user has voted or not.

1. Polling Officer Bio-metric – This will replace the current practice of putting ink on voter’s finger. Instead polling officer will record his or her finger print on the voter’s mobile phone biometric app to confirm person has voted.

2. Location based identifier – This will track user’s location and record if person has been within 5 meters radius of a polling location for more than 15 minutes on an election day.

Preventive

These are apps to prevent user from not voting.

3. All Roads Lead to Voting Booth Plugin – A specially designed plugin for Google Maps that will ensure every time user tries to use Google Maps, it will lead him or her to the nearest polling booth.

4. The Howler Arnab App – An App which has voice of Arnab Goswami that keeps exhorting the user to go and exercise his franchise till a vote is detected by a detection App.

5. Angry Voters Game – A game where voters will get to launch missiles at politicians hiding behind complex structures.This will build up the rage to go and express anger through the polling booths as well.

6. Parliamentville Game – A game based on parliament on the lines of Farmville wherein one has to manage a government within the game. They would need to enroll friends who have voted into various game campaigns to open up new levels. That will get people to put pressure on their friends to vote.

7. E-Tube App – Special movies made for elections that can be viewed on one's mobile phones only when within 10 meters radius of a polling booth.

Punitive

These are apps to penalize users who have not exercised their franchise.

8. Giraffe Update (not to be confused with Google's Penguin Updates) – The profile pictures of all defaulters will automatically be changed to that of a giraffe on all social media app till the next elections

9. Himesh Reshammiya Ringtone – The ringtones of all defaulters will automatically be set to patriotic songs sung by Himesh Reshammiya.

10. MLA Wallpaper – The background of mobile phones of all defaulters will be set to a close up mug shot of the winning MLA of their constituency so that they can remember who they helped win for the next 5 years.

Adventures with my best Friends - 2



A shred of cloth, a tuft of hair, a bottle, a cigarette packet cover and a strange shaped stone! That is where I left the tale of my adventure with my friends. In case you are starting with this one, I suggest you go back and read this first.

We had the clues – now it was time to join the dots and come up with the picture. I was the most imaginative of the lot. So it was up to me to come up with the hypothesis. So this was how I interpreted. The bottle indicated a drunken man. The tuft of hair seemed to have something brown on it – could be dried up blood. Torn piece from Sari – a woman was involved. So if I put these three together my hypothesis was a man had murdered his wife in an inebriated state by striking her head with a sharp object and then buried her in the grounds of his house and made his getaway. This also tallied with the rumor of the house being the favorite haunt of a female ghost. Why would she haunt the house unless she was murdered there? It was up to us to bring her murderer to justice.

Now again we were short of two things – suspects and murder weapons. Ideally we could again get into the house and look around for the murder weapon but somehow we did not feel too keen to enter that house again after our last experience. So we decided to shift our investigation to a more accessible location – the local park. We had seen lot of suspicious characters lurking there. Maybe it was one of them. But how do we identify the murderer? Of course, the packet of cigarettes! The criminal was the one who smoked that brand of cigarettes. One clue was still left unaccounted for – the stone. It was kind of star shaped. I had a theory that it was part of meteorite or from a distant star. But no way could we fit that with our case. So Deepak decided to make it our team’s logo and as the boss retain its possession.

Somehow our search for the murder weapon seemed too fortuitous. It was out there staring us right in our eyes. There was a screw driver driven into a tree and flies were buzzing around. What else do flies buzz around but blood, eh? So there it was: the murder weapon. However we could not retrieve it as it was too high for us and it was not one of those climbable trees. But the police could always retrieve it later. This had however given us another clue about the suspect: he was a tall man. So we had to watch out for tall men who smoked.

But let me tell you from experience: it is not a great idea to go stalking tall men who smoke. One day as I was intently observing a suspect, I suddenly found pain surge through my shoulder as my right arm was forced close to my back.

What are you hooligans up to? Last few days I have noticed you people following me suspiciously. Now you are after that other gentleman. Trying for some easy money, eh?

My hand hurt as he twisted my hand hard. I was trying hard not to cry. It did not suit my tough image to be seen crying in public, eh? Deepak would disown me as a sissy.

I will take you to the police station. A few months in juvenile prison will set you right.

Now this was getting serious. I did not want to go to jail. I was really scared. I prayed to God that I would give up the investigation if I got out of this safely. I closed my eyes and started fervently chanting the name of God as I was being dragged away.

God seemed to have suddenly answered my prayers for I felt the grip on my hand loosening.

Run!” said a familiar voice. I needed no further persuasion. With a strong tug I freed my hand and ran like hell without looking right or left.

I won’t leave you boys. Next time I catch you, you will regret it.” The man was shouting furiously. I did not stop to hear. I just ran out of the park across the street into Deepak’s house.

Phew! What an escape. It was hardly a minute before my friends were there too. For it was they who had rescued me my throwing stones at that man. We hoped he had not seen us getting into Deepak’s house. We decided to remain underground for the next few days. We avoided the park. We did not even come out into the streets except to go to school. We suddenly discovered a passion for indoor games and books. As far as detective work was concerned, it was meant for television and story books. In real life, it was better for one’s health to stay away from such stuff.

But I was really overwhelmed by my friends’ gesture of putting their neck out to rescue me. Our friendship was cemented. I felt a kind of close bond even with Ragi from that day. A few years later, when I read this line in Harry Potter, “There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them”, I knew exactly what J K Rowling meant.

Picture Credit: http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7291/10074677025_0ed011a02f_b.jpg

Adventures with my best Friends

Abandoned House


I do not know about children of current times but in our times we had a lot of fascination for abandoned houses. When I was 10, we had one right up our street. Various rumors were circulating about the house and the reasons for its non-occupancy among the children of the street. Another aspect that added further aura to the mystery of the house was the staunch opposition of the adults in the neighborhood to any attempts by children to enter the premises of this house.

We were literally a gang of 4 – Deepak, Ragi, Kulla and yours truly. Those days Doordarshan the only TV channel in India, used to screen a serial called ‘Ek Do Teen Char’ on Saturday afternoons. All of us used to religiously watch that serial. It was a story of 4 school boys who would double up as amateur detectives and help in crime detection. We were also 4 and we fancied ourselves as amateur detectives. Only thing was we had no case to solve and no dog. After all what is a detective without a dog? We solved the dog problem by laying claim on a stray that bore a strange resemblance to Snowy from Tintin Comics. Not that we tried to take the dog captive or tame it or anything. In fact all of us were scared of dogs. So we just decided to call the dog our own and leave it at that. Except for the notional master- dog relationship, we minded our own business, the dog its own.

For the other problem of the case - the house presented an interesting option. We were sure something fishy must be going on in the house. We had to secretly enter the house, collect clues and solve the case. We could not directly enter through the front gate, for it was locked and always someone would be watching it. That left us with three options: the three compound walls. We had to break into one of the neighboring houses and scale the wall. The house to the left was occupied by a hostile gentleman who enriched our vocabulary of R-rated abuses in the Kannada language whenever he caught sight of us. So that house was ruled out. The house to the right was occupied by Nagaraj the notorious, the gang leader of the street boys. We were not too keen to discuss the case details with him. For one, he would not believe us and scoff at us. And he would definitely not allow us to use his home as the launching base for our crime investigation activities. So the only option that remained was the house behind. But again there was a complication. The people there had a dog: a huge black mastiff. None of us were too keen to run afoul of this ferocious animal. But an animal adversary did seem a better bet compared to human adversaries.

Now the question arose who would bell the cat or in this case the dog. Each of us in the team had a role. Deepak was the leader, I was the brains, Kulla was the kid. So the logical choice for dangerous field work was Ragi. He did not at all seem keen on this role that had been thrust upon him. I was delighted at an opportunity to show the boss’ right hand man in bad light. When he finally chickened out, it was my opportunity to grab the coveted position and I raised my hand. I could see a new respect in Deepak’s eye. I had shown my prowess in matters of the brain: now was the time to show my mettle as well. Once I accomplish the mission, I would be the undisputed second man in the gang.

We began to plan my adventure carefully. We spent the next two days carrying surveys of the location and studying the habits of the dog. We discovered that the dog was generally taken for a walk between 5.00 and 6.00. That was our window of opportunity. Ragi was literally glowering when he realized there was going to be no direct encounter with the brute after all. But he was by now thoroughly discredited in the gang’s eyes. Even Kulla was already deferring to my new found authority.Finally the D-day arrived and I entered the house as per plan. Clearly there was no sign of the dog. I bravely scaled the wall and dropped into the abandoned house. I began to look around for clues. Having no practical experience in detection before, I had no clue what a clue would look like. I just went about grabbing anything that looked interesting; I mean suspicious. Suddenly I heard a whistle. My friends had stationed themselves outside the house to warn me in case our four legged foe returned to his base before the pre appointed time. The whistle was the signal. I scampered towards the wall, scaled it and was about to jump when I heard the creak of the gate followed by a blood curdling growl. The dog had already arrived. We had not timed it right: a clear case of strategic planning failure.

I jumped back into the abandoned house. I wondered what to do. No way was I going to brave the mastiff. The dog’s barks and howls had taken away all my courage. I no longer wanted to be Deepak’s right hand man, I no longer wanted to play detective. I just wanted to be back at home: safe and sound. I silently sent out a prayer. What was I to do? I then calmly considered the options. The dog definitely was not an option. If the man in the house to the right side caught me, he would haul me to my parents. On the other hand what could Nagaraj do to me? At worst he could scoff at me and ridicule me. I could take that. So I quickly went to the right side compound wall and jumped. I landed with a thud.

Hey what are doing here?

It was Nagaraj’s younger brother Vinayak. We used to call him ‘Loose’ for his stupidity. I quickly built up a story of me getting spirited into the house by the ghost that resided there and how I had escaped and made my way into his house. He was simpleton who drank it all in. I was sure Nagaraj would not believe a word of it. So having secured myself, I walked out with my head held high: now a hero of the gang.

My friends were still waiting anxiously outside the 'doghouse'. I walked up to them and waved at them. They were so surprised and relieved to see me. We were soon at Deepak’s house going over the treasure trove I had managed to retrieve. The was a piece of cloth, presumably torn from a Sari, a tuft of hair, a bottle, a cigarette packet cover and a strange shaped stone.

I think this is becoming too long for a blog post - I’ll keep what we inferred from these clues and our next steps for another post, hopefully a much shorter one at that.

Click here to read the remaining part of this story.

Five Gifts for my Newborn Son


If there were five things I could gift my child to secure his or her future, what would they be? Interesting question! I would like to give him the five things that would make the entire world his and make his future secure for eternity: five of my favorite sets of lines from Rudyard Kipling's poem ‘If

GIFT - I

If you can keep your head when all about you
  Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too

There is so much negativity in the world. No matter what you do, you are going to be blamed, doubted and hated. Isn't it indeed a gift to be immune to all this negativity and just be oneself?

GIFT - II

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

Today’s competitive world puts all the more premium on success and shuns failure like plague. Wouldn't it be a gift to not be a rat in this mad rat race?

GIFT - III

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
  And never breathe a word about your loss

In these uncertain times, one is scared even to take the smallest of decision. Wouldn't it be a gift to be able to just stake everything you have and not be concerned even if you lose it all?

GIFT - IV

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
  Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

People are judged by their clothes, their net worth and their positions. Wouldn't it be a gift to interact with all kinds of people as just people: listen to them, know them and understand them but still not become them?

GIFT - V

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run


With so many distractions in today’s world, an hour saved is an extra hour lived. Wouldn't it be a gift to be able to get the maximum out of every minute of our lives?

This post is a part of the 1001 Gifts Activity by HDFC Life in association with BlogAdda.

Misadventures with Tablets



Well, apparently I need to write about my misadventures with a tablet for a contest. Misadventures, yes – they are easy to write about – my life itself can said to be one big misadventure. But where does tablet come into the misadventure? Pondering over my situation brings to my memory the boy who went into his exam, well prepared with an essay on cow and encountered an essay on an aero plane instead.  Unfazed the boy had started out his essay thus, “An aero plane is a vehicle that can fly our cities, jungles and country sides. When it flies over the countryside if one were to look out of the window, one can see many a cow grazing in tranquility.” Taking on from there he had gone on to rattle out the essay he had prepared on the cow. Not sure how amused the teacher was on finding this essay or how much marks he got. Nor do I know how amused the sponsors will be with my entry and whether I shall win anything. But then the boy did show some initiative, eh?

Well, so what about the tablet? I am no stranger to tablets. I was not a very healthy child and have had had more than my share of tablets at a young age itself. I also used to be fond of tablet covers which I used to call tic-tac for the sound they could make. I remember trading all the colored chalk pieces my grandmother had gifted me with my friend for tablet covers. I used to love trading stuff with my friends, often against my parents’ wishes and every one of them can be considered a misadventure in itself. I can remember so many instances of smuggling away all the good stuff my parents had got me to trade away for trash like bubble gum covers, tablet covers and discarded lottery tickets.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away and daily Yoga can keep tablets away. So far, so good! So I can conclude that Yoga is a better way to maintain health and complete my essay, sparing my readers any further torture. But then the catch is, the Yoga here is itself a tablet, a different kind of tablet, a tablet that does Yoga. And I have to write what misadventures I had with other tablets that do not do Yoga and how all that can be avoided with a Yoga tablet.

The greatest misadventure I can associate with my current tablet is buying it for I hardly ever used it. And I can avoid this in the Yoga tablet by choosing not to buy it. I can’t even imagine what other kind of adventures or misadventures one can have with a tablet of all things. As they say a dog is a dog is a dog, a tablet is a tablet is a tablet. In fact, one can have plenty of adventures and misadventures with dogs. I have even written a post about my misadventures with a dog and a story based on my adventures with another. Come to think of it, it would have been revolutionary if Lenovo had manufactured a computer in the form of a dog. All they have done in this Yoga tablet is added a stand to the tablet and they are touting it is as if it is the next biggest revolution in computers.

Talking of computers in shape of dogs, it is in not really such a ludicrous concept either. I remember reading a story in school of the love between a boy and his robot dog. There is also this famous robot dog Juno created by Tamil Science fiction writer Sujatha. Also it is not a concept confined to science fiction. Sony in fact manufactured a robot dog called Aibo way back in 1999 itself. But unfortunately the product did not turn out to be commercially viable and had to be discontinued in 2006. Guess people don’t find such products exciting. What they find more exciting are things like tablets with stands, mint with holes and soap powder whose molecules vibrate when put in a washing machine. Well, that’s the real world. Thank God, there is at least science fiction.

Well, while you are about it, check out this link for this innovative product.

Riding the Wave

Riding the Wave (Jun 2011 - Dec 2011)

High intensity can be sustained only over short bursts. Soon the intensity of writing had begun to tire me out and it was becoming stressful to keep up with the various prompts. So I had to slow down. But I had picked up good momentum in the previous two months and had picked up a good repertoire of blog post types. So in this period, blogging was completely effortless. There was no stress to write anything within a timeline. On the other hand, when I wanted to write there was no dearth of topics. I could just pull out a blog post like a rabbit out of a hat. It was around this period I became active on IndiBlogger.

Meaning of Real Beauty
I generally tended to keep away from IndiBlogger contests as the themes seemed too commercial. But I was inspired by one of my friends' take and finally put my hat into the ring. I did a thorough philosophical analysis of the concept of beauty. But to my disappointment, my entry was not even considered for a consolation prize nor my friend's while the winning entries were so mundane and superficial. Welcome to the world of blogger contests.

Adding more Color to our Lives
This was another IndiBlogger Contest post. Here I attempted a humorous cum philosophical take on the topic of importance of color in our lives. While my friends seemed to love this article, contest sponsors did not seem too impressed. This sealed things for me - decided contests were not the thing for me.

How to Write a Story
Given my mood to write essays, I wrote yet another essay - about the art of writing. Though many of the things I have said look obvious, it is difficult to practically follow in your art. I have been struggling to actually do some of the things in my stories.

Infatuation
Got back to taking poetry prompts - a haiku on infatuation.

Curse of the Last Swan
This was my fourth and last post in a genre I loved to write - stories of exactly 777 word size based on a picture prompt. After this one the pictures in the prompt failed to inspire me and eventually the prompt website closed down.

Mask of Life
This was poetry for a weekly picture prompt. At that time I was fascinated by what I had read about packrats. So I used that in my poem. Actually this poem and the previous story had inspirations from the book by Jared Diamond's book 'Collapse' I had recently read. Otherwise a general philosophical poem. It was also an attempt at poetry form called vilanelle.

Revenge
This was another experiment with poetry - this time a ballad. I have tried to express in poetry form, a story by Anton Chekov I had read in school. I have also used 3 poetry forms for the 3 parts of the story. This was for the monthly Blog-a-ton prompt.

Old
A combination of 2 poetry forms - Haiku and Acrostic with a philosophical theme.

Chrestomanci Series Review
A review of one of my favorite children's fantasy book series.

Legacy of Bharatavarsha
A piece of poetry on what India meant to me on the eve of independence day. This was for a contest organized by a fellow blogger. Poem was well appreciated. However did not win. It was a kind of semi ballad on Mahatma Gandhi.

Dune Series Review
This is a review of my all time favorite science fiction series. I somehow always find lesser comments on book review posts. Don't know if people don't read them or find little to comment about.

In Search of Freedom
I have attempted to retell an ancient story in modern settings. This story was well appreciated and won me my first Blog-a-Ton.

Ender Series (Bean Saga) Review
Yet another science fiction series review. I liked writing these despite low number of comments on them. One good thing about these was they brought Google traffic.

Bombay Duck is a Fish
This was the first free book I got for review. It really excited me to be given something free as a blogger. Tried to give a more professional review rather than the dreamy ones I give for my favorite book.

Technologies to beat Fuel Hikes
Finding a contest that afforded me scope to indulge in zany creativity, I entered into IndiBloggers Contests again. Had goo dun coming up with crazy ideas to save fuel.

All in a Day's Work
This was a post for a contest about the life of tree. Topic was somewhat like a school essay. But I enjoyed writing this and won a prize for this as well.

What if we don't go Organic?
This was again a straightforward topic. But I tried to use pictures and write in simple language like explaining to a child. Though different from my usual style of writing, I enjoyed it.

Fifty Grand Worth of Apparel
This was not meant to be a fun contest - a purely commercial one with little scope for creativity. So I decided not to give a damn to winning and have fun with the topic.

Not Totally Unbelievable
Another free book for review - This time from a close blogger friend. Could not be really critical with this one though given my personal friendship with the author.

A Tryst with Death
Another contest for which I have attempted a comical take. This time a kind of mythological spoof commercial.

The Latest Addition to Endangered Species: Leaders
This is the kind of post that is most popular in blog-o-sphere and what I like writing least. But at times when I feel strongly about some current political or social issue, I end up pouring my feeling as a blog post. I do it very rarely though, as I see writing more as an artistic expression.

A Corporate Parable
This was an attempt to adapt an ancient tale from Aesop's Fables to modern settings.

Paradox of Middle Class in Indian Democracy
This is again a political opinion post. I usually like to write such topics in an abstract sense to avoid emotional baggage and preformed notions associated with specific events and people. But then people do not relate to a purely abstract and theoretical post.

Salamander - A fiery Adventure Tale
Once again for a contest, I gave full expression to my creativity and came up with a zany tale right out of Calvin and Hobbes. It was a kind of free flowing tale written in an exaggerated voice.

In Quest of a Steed
I felt it was a long time since I had written a post about some comical personal experiences like the bride hunt tales that had catapulted me to the next level. So decided to try one of those again.

Miss Minoes - Review
Movie reviews is a popular topic for bloggers. Somehow I was never into this. But after seeing this particular movie, I felt like writing about it. Maybe one day I might even write beauty, tech and cookery posts.

The Revenge of Kaivalya


This book is something I have wanted to read since a couple of years back. This book was self-published way back in 2011, when the author Sumana Khan used to be one of my closest friends. I met her at a fiction writing contest in 2010 and her encouraging words about my entry really helped me develop confidence in my writing abilities. I fondly remember those few months when I interacted with her and 3-4 other writers about all things writing – when I really felt like a real writer rather than just someone scribbling on one’s blog for time pass. We even planned to do an anthology together. Unfortunately that project was shelved but the idea that was seeded then remained in my mind and is nearing fruition now for me with a different group. I however could not pick up the book then as I was a bit hesitant about online transactions and not having anyone at home to receive mail. But I am happy I was finally able to pick up this book now when it has been taken up for publication by a reputed publishing house.

Coming to the book, it is a genre that is not attempted much by Indian authors – paranormal thriller. The premise of this story in itself does not have much novelty as such but it is the execution that makes this work special. The narration is just immaculate and each character has been etched with care. The descriptions are vivid: the author works on the five senses of the reader and draws the reader into situations being described in the story. I seriously felt as if I was in the jungles of Sakleshpur while reading the story. Another thing I loved about the book was the authentic scent of local Karnataka culture that wafted from almost every page – be it the descriptions of the local cuisine, the locations, flora and fauna or the history. I liked how the story was linked to real events from history. That made it feel more real. Somehow the reader tends to respect an author who has done a bit of research rather than someone who pulls history or mythology out of his posterior.

I do not want to go into too much details of the story for the fear of giving out any spoilers. Of course this is not a cliff hanger whodunit where telling who the killer is will ruin the whole story. But it is more fun discovering events along the way rather than things being revealed before their time by a spoilsport reviewer. Also this story is laid out like a jigsaw puzzle where different seemingly unconnected pieces come together as the story progresses. So I would like to just share my impressions and leave the reader to discover the story.

Characterization is another aspect of the story that is superb. The book has so many characters and each character is so well etched that one can distinctly remember as many as ten characters at the end of the book. This is a big achievement as I have read quite a few books where even one character did not manage to remain with me till the end. However I felt some of the minor characters need not have been etched to that level of detail.

Given that it is a thriller, one can’t miss the aspect of pace. For a 377 page book, it remains quite taut and there is no point at which the reader feels like putting it down or skipping through pages. Something keeps happening all the time to keep the reader’s attention.

I did feel that the plot could have been a bit stronger and the narration a bit scarier. I don’t know if the author meant this book to be a horror. Things get disturbing at times but the reader will definitely not end up wetting his pants. But overall for a first time author, I would say it is a great attempt and way better than most of the books in the Indian market. I would definitely recommend this book to any reader looking for a light read with good language and narration.

Ad Mads - Comical Endorsements

We used to have this contest called Ad Mads at school, wherein a team of 5-6 participants would be a given a product and the team has to come up with a small advertisement skit for 5-10 minutes. Often the teams were rated highly for humor in the content and creativity than the effectiveness of product promotion.

When I saw so many blogger contests that required bloggers to directly or indirectly endorse products, somehow the idea did not appeal to me and I kind of felt readers would enjoy these kind of posts only as much as television viewers enjoy commercials. But I still wanted to give a shot at these contests. So I decided to treat them like the ad mads at school and come up with something comical that readers can enjoy and still technically meet the requirements of the contest. Who knows - if the brand folks have a sense of humor, I might even end up winning something.

Following are some of my posts of this kind:-

Technologies to beat Fuel Hikes
Here the contest itself required one to come up with outrageous ideas to save fuel. I have come up with 10 really wacky to save fuel.

Fifty Grand Worth of Apparel
This was a contest requiring blatant commercialism wherein you had to select fifty thousand rupees worth of products from a website with reasons why I would pick up the same. I found this topic so boring I decided to have some fun with this theme.

A Tryst with Death
 This was for a contest sponsored by Surf Excel stating what you would do if you could save 2 hours per day due to use of the product. I attempted a spoof on a grand scale in the classical Ad Mad style.

Cloud Black and the Seven Sardars
This was for a contest sponsored by Lakme Sun Screen. Once again I did a double spoof on product advertising as well as the old Snow White fairy Tale.

Greek v/s Geek
This was one more take for the same Lakme contest where I attempt a more caustic take in dialogue format having fun at the expense of the product branding and the contest theme.

A Brief History of Washing
This was again more a traditional Ad Mad - where I have attempted to present an exaggerated presentation of the product positioning through a tall tale.

The Great Indian Braid Hunt
This post was not for any specific product or contests. It was just my take on the various blogger contests on hair products. Here I tried a funny take on the format of the contests rather than taking on the product.

Yet Another Untold Story
I felt people were beating the old fairy tale of Rapunzel to death for contests related to hair products. So I have attempted an offbeat take on the story with a slight dig at hair product endorsements.

The Blackberry Crush Way
This post is for a contest that requires bloggers to endorse flavors of a drink. This is my attempt at lighthearted pun around the name of one of the flavors.

The Blackberry Crush Way


I really love the sound of a drink called Blackberry crush. It brings me memories of my childhood when I used to be in a small town in Tamil Nadu. I remember someone telling me about the illicit arrack manufacturing process. Apparently one of key ingredients in the arrack was crushed batteries. It supposedly delivered an extra kick. At that age I was not sure what this kick meant for I was familiar only with those I received at home when the teacher wrote something about my behavior in the diary. So for the life of me I could not figure out why that was a good thing. But years later I did have the opportunity to consume alcoholic drinks and understand the profound significance of the kick. So I figure if a mundane battery itself is able to give such a good kick,  a sleek Blackberry would surely be totally kick ass.

If this concept is tried and it works out, it can also solve the reverse supply chain problem of burgeoning electronic waste. We no longer have to worry about the impact of the fast pace of product development in the electronic industry on the environment. All the outdated mobile phones can be sent to the local breweries to manufacture Black Berry Crush, IPhone Smash and Android Squeeze.

This would also solve the problem humanity has wrestled with over the ages – how to make people smarter? Policy makers no longer have to struggle with complex education bills. Instead all people can be given drinks that have the essences of smart phones in them and they will automatically imbibe the smartness from the phones and turn smart.

So as we see, this divine nectar will have impact across three industries – technology, beverages and education. But the effects can be even more far reaching. If people in the country become smarter, they will be smarter in electing representatives as well. If candidates try to buy voters with alcohol, they will drink smart drinks and become even smarter. So the quality of governance can only increase. This will lead to a better and stronger nation.

In short India will become heaven on earth where rivers of milk honey and breezers will flow. A nation where people have stopped being country bumkins and island pineapples! A nation where people no longer crane their necks to look at the berries in their neighbor’s garden! A nation where no one differentiates between black and white or orange and lime! A nation where Indian reason rules over Jamaican Passion!

That is the power of the Blackberry Crush. Please go over here to support this noble drink for a better tomorrow.

Warning: The stunts in the picture are carried out by trained professionals. Readers are advised not to try it out at home. If you desperately want to have a Blackberry Crush after reading this post, please head to the nearest Bacardi outlet.

Hilawi



In my review of Ritu Lalit’s book ‘Chakra’, I have mentioned that the book is a pioneer in the genre of urban fantasy based on Indian mythology. I must take back my words from there and say it here now for this is an earlier book, though of course I read ‘Chakra’ before ‘Hilawi”. There is actually lot of similarities between the two books – lead female characters with an attitude, story centering on conflict within magically powerful families and last but not the least – pulse pounding action. While Chakra draws from Raja Yoga, Hilawi draws from the well-known story of Samudra Manthan.

Hilawi has a rather interesting premise – that of humans acquiring some of the objects emerging from the churning of the divine ocean by the Gods and Demons. Hilawi is a shield a human woman acquires out of the churning which brings great power to her descendants. The power makes all her descendants successful in various spheres of life. However, only one female descendant can be the holder of the shield. She would have much greater power than the others and would be the queen of the clan. The protagonist is this female descendant. Like Harry Potter, her parents are killed during her childhood and her grandfather sends her and her brother away to UK to be brought up ignorant of her legacy.

The story starts with her grandfather summoning his grandchildren back fearing his end. The story follows the adventures of the two siblings and the brother’s girlfriend as they discover their legacy. The story is really fast paced as peril awaits them at every step with the rest of the family members seeking to dispatch off the siblings and acquire the complete power of Hilawi for themselves. The story becomes even more complicated with the emergence of a powerful villain from outside. Will the family rally around or play into his hands? Will the siblings and their allies find their way through the maze of intrigue woven by the power hungry family members and powerful external foes? I can’t answer all these questions as that would make this a spoiler. You need to read the book to find answers to these questions.

This is after all a review. So I need to come to the hard part: the verdict. A review after all has no value without the element of judgment. The positives are the pace of narration, the basic premise and the language. Some shortcomings can be seen in the areas of characterization and world building. Also some readers may feel the plot is rather too simplistic for their tastes. But I would say it is just right for fans of Bollywood movies such as Nagin series, Jaani Dusham, Rudraksh etc. Off late we have not had too many such movies coming out from the Bollywood stables. But then things move in cycles and we have seen the revival of genres such as mindless action flicks. So far all we know, this genre might revive as well. If it does, Rutu’s books are ideal picks for any director hunting for the right script. I do hope someday I see Ritu’s books as successful Bollywood movies.

Armageddon's Children



This is not a review. Stories are after all a labor of love. Shouldn't they be loved and cherished rather than put on trial, dissected, compared and judged? I like reading and I like to hold those lovely images the words have conjured close to my heart and share the same with the world. But that necessarily is not a review, eh? For a reviewer takes the position of a judge, jury and executioner and pronounces a verdict on a book. Doesn't sound like much fun, does it? So I decided for a change I shall just ramble on about the book I last read.

Well the book is by this guy Terry Brooks. Incidentally he is the first fantasy author I have read after Tolkien. His most popular series is one known as Shanara series. I somehow did not enjoy that series all that much. But that I guess is more my fault than the author’s. The series has multiple sub series which are standalone but within a sub series the books tell one continuous story and have to be read in order. But I unfortunately read them in random order often following books in one sub series with a book from a different sub series. So it became like the experience of seeing a movie in bits and pieces. You know some of these popular oft repeated movies: you switch on the TV and the middle scene is running. You have always wanted to watch it but not got an opportunity. You sit to watch and some work comes along. Then another day the last scene is coming on TV and the first scene comes on a third day. Somehow you have watched the entire movie; yet you have not. The experience somehow does not feel wholesome. That is what happened to me in the case of Shanara series. Maybe I need to pick them up again and read them in proper order.

Well, the author has another series – ‘Word and the Void’ – which I read in order and enjoyed. Now Shanara is high fantasy while ‘Word and Void’ is urban fantasy. For those of you who do not know the difference, the former is a fantasy set in a whole new world different from our own while the latter is a story in our own world with some fantasy elements such as say dragons, witches or vampires. Coming back to this new book I am reading, it is a new trilogy that establishes a link between the stories told in ‘Word and the Void’ and the ‘World of Shanara’. In some ways, without the urban fantasy elements, it becomes a kind of science fiction, exploring the future of our world. From the point of view of Shanara however, the story reads like history. In that way it kind of brings together my three favorite genres – science fiction, fantasy and historic fiction. That way this post should have been on my other blog – Three Realms of the Mind. But then that blog is supposed to be a useful resource for information on these genres while this one is for my idle ramblings.

The story talks of a post-apocalyptic world. Humanity has fought wars, cut down the forests and polluted the land, water and air. The whole world is in shambles. Human and animals are mutating under the effect of the chemicals. We have new mutated species of humans called spiders, lizards and croaks – all grotesque effects of chemicals and radiations. The world is no longer safe. There are just a few small pockets of safety called compounds where small groups of humans live marshaling their limited resources under strict martial law. Then there are the underprivileged orphans who have not been accepted into these compounds – groups of street boys and girls who form gangs and live on their own foraging for resources from the ruins of the destroyed human civilization. The protagonists of the story are one such street gang lead by a boy who calls himself the Hawk. In some ways, this part of the story oddly reminded me of Peter Pan and his lost boys.

Then we have the other story line – the urban fantasy part from ‘Word and Void’ series. That series sets the world as a battle ground between the forces of good and evil called the Word and the Void. You have agents of the Word called Knights of the Words and agents of the Void called demons battling it out. The author tries to portray the current state of the world as a result of the activities of the agents of the Void, who feed on negative human emotions such as greed, envy and anger and exacerbates the same. We have here two Knights – Angel and Logan on separate quests for the Word, who appears to them in the form of a Goddess – this kind of reminds me of Zoya from cartoon series ‘Captain Planet'.

And last but not the least the third story line connecting to the world of Shanara – the elves. Yes, elves, the elder race from Tolkien! Apparently they are still here and have chosen to withdraw from the world and stay hidden from humans who have taken a path of destruction. Now apparently the destruction of the world would affect them as well and they have to act, but then they have a leadership resistant to change. Kristin is an elf who sees the need for change and the urgency and has to battle inertia and bureaucracy of his race to mobilize them to act.

All the story lines are left hanging at the end of the book, but the linkages have begun to emerge. I need to pick up the other two books to know what happened next. Characters are not too complicated but you can relate to them. Even minor characters like the members of Hawk’s gang have some history that make interesting reads – that kind of reminded me of the TV series ‘Lost’. To someone reading this post, this book might sound like a magpie’s nest with trinkets picked from all over the place and stitched together. Possibly that is what the book is – but it is still a fun read and I enjoyed it.

A Stronger, Healthier and more Immune India


He was intently focusing on destroying the alien. Suddenly a spoon with some dark shiny substance appeared between him and the screen and distracted him for a few seconds. But that was all the aliens needed to break through his defenses. His last ship was gone. “Game Over,” the screen flashed. He turned angrily towards his mother.

I don’t want to have this. You only eat it.

She ruffled his hair, gently. “It is only a game. Have your Chyawanprash and start a new game.

He shook his head. “Do you know who much effort it takes to build a score of 100000? Another 5 minutes and I would have beaten my previous highest score. Now I have to start all over again from 0.”

Ok. I am sorry. But now please have your Chyawanprash and milk and come to sleep.”

He was about to remonstrate when he noticed a glint in his mother’s eyes. He knew it would be fatal to push her any further. He quietly took the spoon and the milk. He noticed she was not saying anything. He wondered if she was not angry with him for throwing tantrums. He gingerly tried to make conversation.

Why do you give me Chyawanprash every night, mom?

The answer came from the bedroom, “because she is an alien spy!

Her nostrils flared up and her anger found a new target, “You are just impossible. Everything is a joke for you, isn’t it? No wonder your son is growing up like this.

Then she turned to Neeraj, “It will help boost your immunity and keep you safe from disease causing germs.

He turned to her and remarked,” So that is the answer.

She looked at him quizzically, “Answer to what?

Our science teacher has asked us to write an essay on how to builder a stronger, healthier and more immune India? So the answer is to give Chyawanprash to all the Indians.

Then he scratched his head. “But the teacher has asked to write essays of at least 1000 words.

She smiled at him. “Wish all problems in life had such simple solutions.” Her anger seemed to have evaporated.

Shankar also got up and came out, “See Neeraj – an essay is not about jumping to a solution. It should have a structure. You should define the problem, identify the causes and then present a solution that will address the causes.”

She glared at him, “You again starting with your MBA Gyan? Spare him.

He pretended to ignore her. “So tell me: what is the problem here?

Neeraj stared at him blankly. ”The teacher?

They both burst out laughing. “That is of course true. But I am talking about the problem the essay is trying to address.”

Building a stronger, healthier and more Immune India?

Yes, that is correct. But still it does not sound like a problem. How would you put it as problem?

Our country is not strong, healthy and immune.”

Right! Now let us move on to the next step. What are the causes for this problem?

Disease causing germs?

Right! They make you unhealthy and weak. But if your immune system is strong, can disease germs attack you?

He shook his head.

So what makes the immune system weak?

Again Neeraj looked lost. However his mother was all charged up.

“All this modern lifestyle is what makes our immune system weak. Our previous generation was much healthier. This is what comes of giving up our time tested traditions and blindly running after Western consumerist culture.

Shankar shrugged, “Your mother has once again started her rant against loss of traditional values.”

Yeah, and your dad loves anything Western.

Neeraj looked helplessly as he saw the usual squabble between his mom and dad starting. He decided to quickly step in. “What about my school essay?

That brought them both back to focus. Shankar spoke up, “I like to needle your mom at times. But she is right. Life style is one of the major causes for weakening of immune system. Healthy eating habits, adequate physical exercise and systematic sleeping habits help strengthen the immune system. Traditions in general tend to reinforce these aspects.

He looked towards Rama for approval. She pretended to ignore him. He continued.

It is not just about India. Most cultures have evolved similar traditions. That is what has strengthened these cultures and enabled them to survive through so many years. Theory of evolution you know – survival of the fittest. Cultures that reinforce strengthening behaviors survive. Cultures that promote weakening behaviors go extinct. For instance Bolivia, a South America has such a strong cultural bias towards traditional foods that they rejected McDonalds outright. They made losses year after year and had to close shop and leave

But what is wrong with McDonalds, Pa? They give out those nice toys and all. All my friends’ parents take them there every weekend. Only you have never taken me.” He started at his parents accusingly.

And do you see how your friend Suraj keeps falling sick every month and what is the name of that other friend? Yes – Mahesh! How obese he is at this age itself! Do you also want to become like that?” Rama chipped in.

Both Neeraj and Shankar knew it was prudent to step aside when Rama was on the warpath. So Shankar decided to change the topic and Neeraj did not try to press the topic.

I think we did discuss a few points: healthy food, regular exercise and systematic eating and sleeping habits are some of the things that can boost immunity. At a national level, there should be campaign to encourage this kind of behavior. Parents and schools should also try to enforce this behavior. Maybe you can take these pointers and start writing your composition. We will see what you have written and discuss tomorrow. Now let us go to sleep. It is already way past bed time.

This post is for a contest sponsored by Dabur Chyavanprash.

Traditional Knowledge, Natural Growth



This post is about my understanding of Ayurvedic and chemically processed/synthetic products, and its role in a baby's early growth and development for a contest on IndiBlogger sponsored by Dabur. The topic of baby’s needs is something that has always been beyond my horizon. But the recent addition to our family has changed that. On the other hand, Ayurvedic versus chemically processed/synthetic products is something I have passionate views about. So let me start with my understanding of this topic followed by its specific relevance in the context of a baby’s early growth and development.

I see this topic having two facets which are closely intertwined– one is traditional system of medicine v/s modern systems of medicine and the other is natural products v/s synthetic products. Let us start looking at the fundamental differences between the two systems. Traditional systems developed at a time when there was very little knowledge available about the detailed anatomy of human body and it’s working and limited mechanisms available to carry our accurate diagnostics. On the other hand, modern medicine has the benefit of access to vast medical literature, specialists with deep knowledge in very niche areas and sophisticated diagnostic equipment. This difference has played a key role in the development of the two systems. While traditional systems are based on intuition and take a more holistic approach, modern systems tend to follow a rigorous cause and effect logic and have a very problem focused approach.

Since traditional systems depended on intuition, most solutions revolved around naturally occurring substances rather than specifically synthesized substances and it evolved over the years through trial and error. Since there was no way to exactly pinpoint a problem, most solutions were such that it strengthened the natural mechanisms of the body to address the problems by itself. That way one solution would address a multiple array of ailments – some kind of panacea for ills. This is the reason the traditional medicines tend to be holistic and promote general health. So these systems are best for general well being over a longer period.

Modern systems on the other hand could come up with exact reason for a specific problem using advanced diagnostic techniques. So it made it possible to develop precise solutions. So any modern medicine will have to have a planned chemical composition. Synthetic substance fit the bill here more than natural substances as natural substances are likely to be much more complex and have constituents other than what is required to solve the problem at hand as well. This kind of a system works best for a timely cure for a specific malady.

Now coming to the issue of growth of a baby, it is definitely not a specific problem to be diagnosed and fixed; a holistic solution is what is needed. So the traditional system is likely to work best. Also natural substances are closer to food and likely to interfere lesser with natural body system.

However one needs to keep in mind a couple of things while opting for an Ayurvedic product. While natural substances are good, it does not necessarily mean all plant based substances are good for the body. Many naturally occurring substances have toxins that can be fatal to the body. I am sure many of us would have heard warnings about consumption of unknown fruits or berries in a jungle.  The other issue is authenticity of the preparation and even in case of genuine recipes, quality controls with respect to hygiene etc. Since traditional recipes are not backed by heavy literature and in many cases manufactured by establishments not necessarily adhering to rigorous government norms, in some cases it might be difficult to differentiate between something genuine and something being sold by a snake oil salesman. Going for branded products manufactured by recognized companies like Dabur and Himalayan pharmacies may remedy these issues to some extent.

To summarize, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. Modern medicine in my opinion is like giving a man a fish while traditional medicine is teaching him or rather his internal system to fish. But then if a man is dying of hunger, it would benefit him more to be given a fish than taught to fish. So we need to take a situation based call.  

Platinum Day of Love



The bell rang. Neeraj ran towards the door as his mother went to open the door. It was his father. He looked expectantly as his dad opened his briefcase. His face fell as the tiffin box came out. Nothing for him! His face lit up again as his father thrust his hands into his suitcase. A tiny box covered in blue colored velvet came out. Neeraj could not imagine anything of interest to him in such a tiny box. Still he looked on curiously. His mother was also standing by and watching. Shankar rose dramatically, dropped to his knees and handed over the box to his mother and said, “Happy Platinum Day of Love, Rama.

Seriously, you are a sucker for these marketing gimmicks. Every year, they keep inventing some new day to make people squander money. It is time you learn to be more sensible,” she chided him. But Neeraj could see his mom’s face blush with pleasure as she opened the small box to discover a pair of platinum Celtic knot earrings.

What is this platinum day thing, Pa? I don’t remember anything like that celebrated in the previous years.

Rama replied from the kitchen, “It is as I was telling, Neeraj. These people who want to make us buy their stuff invent a new day every year to make us buy things we wouldn’t normally buy. Hope at least you don’t grow up to be gullible like your father and fall for these things.

A small smile lit up on Shankar’s face as he drew Neeraj closer to him. “Your mom is right in some ways. But then these days do have their benefits you know. I do not buy presents for your mom every other day. In the hustle and bustle of modern life, one can easily start taking one’s loved ones for granted and get lost in the mechanical humdrum of life. Occasions like these days present an opportunity to express one’s feelings openly through some gestures.

Neeraj nodded. But a barb landed from the kitchen. “Not mere gestures. Expensive gestures! I am sure these rings must have cost you an entire month’s salary. In the increased cost of living and monthly EMIs to pay how can you be so extravagant!

Come on, Rama. Don’t be so cynical. Aren’t you happy or not? Would you have been happy if I had got you some cheap imitation earrings from the roadside?

Ok. Ok. Now don’t get all sentimental. Dinner is served. Come over both of you.

As they ate, Neeraj noticed his mom was already wearing the earrings gifted by her dad and was smiling more than usual. As he sat shoveling his food around, taking in one morsel at a time, a new thought entered his head. “Pa, do we have a day of love for every metal? Like copper day of love, aluminum day of love etc.?

Both Rama and Shankar burst out laughing. Shankar ruffled Neeraj’s hair. “Different metals have different symbolisms. Typically precious metals that are used for jewelry only have symbolisms associated with love.

But Pa, what do precious metals and jewels have to do with love?

Well, jewels are a universal gift for any woman. So gifting a piece of jewel is a widely followed way for a man to express his affection for a woman. And as far as precious goes, it is a bit more complicated.

Men find everything with respects to relationships is complicated. They are more comfortable with things that can be reduced to simple formulas,” quipped Rama.

Shankar ignored the jibe and continued, “See the essence of love is putting another person’s interest above your own. So sacrificing my new I-Pad to get something for your mom is my way of expressing I care for her more than myself. If it was not a precious metal, I could have easily got it without any effort on my part.

Neeraj continued to be persistent. “But Pa, I have not heard of a gold day or a silver day either. Are there any?

Neeraj looked thoughtful. “That is an interesting question, my son! I can only guess at the answer. Let me take a shot at it.

He paused for a while and continued, “That has to do with marketing. There are two types of products – things that have direct utility and those that have symbolic significance. Jewelry and clothing are typically items that sell more on symbolic associations than practical utility.

Neeraj was looking blank. Rama raised her head. “He is still a kid. Don’t bore him with management theories.

But when Shankar was in full flow, there was no stopping him. “See, Neeraj – consider those Spiderman tattoos you like so much. Do they have any utility value?

But I like them. All my friends have those tattoos and they make me feel good.

Precisely! That is what is called symbolic value. Things that make you feel good.

So why does one have to create these days to make people feel good about platinum but not gold or silver?

Well, gold and silver have been in use for jewelry since ages. There is already so much history and myths associated with them that one does not need any new symbolism. However platinum is a relatively new metal. Have you ever heard of platinum in the stories narrated by your grandfather?

Neeraj was looking deeply thoughtful. “So what is this symbolism about platinum?

If you have finished, get up and wash your plates and hands. Don’t sit there in front of an empty plate and let the remains of the food dry up.” It was Rama again.

They were all cozily tucked into bed, Neeraj between Rama and Shankar by the time Shankar got to talk again. “See platinum is a white metal that does not fade or tarnish with time. So the symbolism would be to associate this property with the quality of human love that remains white and pure and does not fade or tarnish with time.

But, Pa the tattoos you get me often fade away in weeks. So does that mean your love for me is not pure and eternal?

Shankar had no answer. Rama pulled Neeraj towards her and snuggled him close to her bosom. Soon they were all fast asleep.

This post is for a contest on IndiBlogger sponsored by Platinum Day of Love.

Faded Memories of a Diwali gone by



Memories are such a lovely thing. Many of best ones are associated with the festival of light. So I am thinking of starting a yearly post on my blog on the lines of ‘This Day that Age’ column in Hindu. This day in 2013, I reminisce over my most memorable Diwali: that of 1990. It seems like it happened just yesterday. But 23 years, nearly quarter the human life span has passed in the bat of an eye lid. I wonder whether I shall suddenly find myself writing about this year’s Diwali 23 years later with my grown up son in the next bat of another eyelid.

The thing I remember most about that Diwali was that it was when I moved from reading children’s novels to adult’s novels. My mother was a member of a mobile library and she had picked up a Jeffrey Archer and an Agatha Christie. I had nearly a week long vacation at school that year: the longest ever. I settled down happily to read ‘Not a Penny More not a Penny Less’ and ‘Towards Zero’. I remember trying to concentrate on the books amidst the sound of crackers all around. Those years, there was not so much sound control and Diwali used to be celebrated very loud. Somehow I liked it: trying to create an oasis of peace in my mind amidst the entire din outside.

Not that I did not like crackers either. That year father had got a box for two hundred bucks through some scheme at office. If shopping for crackers has one kind of attraction, getting a box with an assortment of crackers chosen by someone else is all together a different kind of attraction. There is this sense of discovery and surprise in opening the box and exploring its contents. Often you find some new type of firework that you might not have purchased yourself. The surprise item I remember from that year was diamonds: small magnesium tablets that glow like diamonds on being lit up. My usual favorites were also there: roll caps and snakes. Snakes are black colored tablets from which a black colored zombie snake emerges on setting to fire. Roll caps are something you start with before Diwali and stays many days after. That year the remaining roll caps led to another incident later that is detailed in this post.

Another memorable thing about that year was my first camera. Those were the pre-digital camera days. My father had got me a Kodak camera for my birthday that year and two free film rolls had come with the camera. We had a fun time snapping away during Diwali.

Last but not the least, in fact the most important: the people. Having been brought up in a nuclear family, I have fascination for joint family with house full of people. My maternal grandparents and my mom’s younger brother had come over to celebrate Diwali with us. So I remember having a gala time with lots of people around the house and the associated chaos.

Those were some of the fragments of memories from the Diwali past. It is all hazy now but the very thought of that Diwali brings a smile to my face.

Making People Pay


I remember a joke I read long back. A man shows the visitor his dog and says “He is like a member of our family.” The visitor, a tax man retorts, “But that doesn’t give you the right to mention him as a dependent in your tax returns and claim tax breaks.” Tax is something that is so entrenched in our psyche that it has even become part of our jokes, movies and day to day conversations. I can immediately remember at least 2 popular Indian movies around the theme of taxation: ‘Lagaan’ and ‘Special 26’. One of the most important events we remember in our freedom struggle was Gandhi’s Dandi march which was against the salt tax. But ironically though taxation is a topic which holds a lot of emotional baggage, if we come to think of it, our intellectual understanding of the same is rather limited. We do not even want to understand the technical details of the annual taxes we file and prefer to outsource it off to a professional. This book, “Making People Pay” gives us an opportunity to gain a holistic understanding of this esoteric yet so relevant topic.

The author, Dr. Sibichen Mathew, a tax man himself, an Indian revenue service official who has served as the additional commissioner of income tax, is an erudite scholar whose qualifications alone can fill an entire blog post. He beautifully blends theoretical rigor with practical insights to create an eminently readable treatise on taxation. He has taken the topic head on starting right from the genesis of the concept of taxation in historic times, right up to the challenges posed to the international taxation regime due to globalization and manipulation of tax havens by multinational firms.

The author has managed to cover this topic from almost all possible angles. The book covers the historic context, both from an Indian and international perspective, the economic aspects, the operational aspects and the human aspects. He has written in a simple language that can be understood by a lay man without sacrificing the academic rigor. However the casual reader may like to skip the sections pertaining to the survey methodologies and sources as that might make it look a bit formal and heavy. They are there just for the more serious readers who will want to validate the claims made by the author. The general reader can just lay back, skip those portions and just read through the high level ideas the author tries to present. The author has enriched the book with interesting anecdotes accompanied by nice illustrations throughout the book to break the monotony of the reading experience and put a smile on the reader’s face.

Coming to the content, the first topic after the introduction sets the historic context to taxation and how history has shaped people’s mindset towards taxes which will possibly influence present day behavior. The next chapter presents the view of taxation and an individual’s compliance behavior purely from an economic angle. The following chapter brings out how a nation's politics and taxation policies are closely intertwined. Having set the background, the author then details the survey method he has used for his hypothesis. The next two chapters deal with the author’s hypothesis substantiated by surveys and backed by statistical significance of findings. The author tries to point out that the major causes for non-payment of taxes are sociological rather than economical: a perception that their peers also do no pay taxes, a perception that the government is corrupt and does not use the tax income for the said social objective and there is no seriousness on the part of tax authorities to stop evasion. The book also provides some empirical evidence to allay misconceptions about general harassment of public by tax authorities.

Overall, it is very insightful book and I would recommend everyone to pick it up to gain a better understanding of this critical and unavoidable aspect of our lives.

To know more about the book and the author, you can click here.

Chakra - Review


As a fantasy buff, I mostly read about fantasy world adapted from Celtic and Norse myths. It was delightful to read a fantasy story fabricated from elements of Indian mythology. While Amish Tripathi’s work is a retelling of mythology, Ritu Lalit’s Chakra is a work of pure imagination which she has woven around some of the concepts from Raja Yoga. So in some ways she can be considered a pioneer of this genre and I hope she paves the way for many more authors.

The story is about three girls with magical powers who are part of prophesy. They are caught in a gang war among multiple magical clans. The clans are like different covens of witch craft with their own politics and power struggles. Some clans and individuals want to bring the prophecy to fruition and some want to prevent the same. The girls have to navigate their way through this complex maze of intrigue and survive to the finish while coming to terms with their own powers and their role in the prophecy.

Overall the book makes a really pacy read. There is never a dull moment. Something keeps happening all the time and the entire book can be completed in one sitting. Having read so many stories set in Western locales populated with Western characters, it was a welcome relief to read a thrilling fantasy set in our own country.

Hardcore fantasy buffs may be a bit disappointed because this is more of urban fantasy wherein some fantasy elements are introduced into contemporary world. There is no elaborate world building that is the hall mark of pure blood swords and sorcerer fantasy as such. But that serves as an advantage as well from the point of view of Indian readership. In my opinion, India still does not have a market for full blown fantasy. So a contemporary thriller with some fantasy elements is something that can jell better with Indian readers.

Another thing I felt was that to some extent depth of characterization was sacrificed to accommodate more action. This again I believe was probably done keeping in mind the Indian audience’s preference that can we well gauged from the blockbuster Bollywood movies.

One good thing about this book compared to most other Indian books is the language. The language is of much higher quality compared to most Indian authors. She has also done the descriptions well and one can experience the events in the story through all five senses.

Overall I would say this is a nice and breezy read that I would recommend to every Indian reader. This book is the first in a trilogy and I look forward to its two sequels.

Life is like this

I guess many of us would have heard this saying attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” Same can be said of humor as well – the joke can be on ideas, events or people. Humor around people and events are both easier to write as well as easier for the reader to grasp and succor, which is one of the reasons for the high popularity of this brand of humor. On the other hand humor around ideas requires an intellectual caliber of both the writer as well as the reader. ‘Life is Like this’ is one of the rare humor blogs that focuses on satire around ideas. However I must say it enjoys a reasonable amount of popularity.

The blogger in question, Suresh has been someone with who I have had close association for close to two years and he follows my blog reviews and kind of respects my opinion on making a blog effective. So the blog is more or less in line with what I would probably be looking for. That way I think there is little I may be able to offer by the way of suggestions for improvement. But let me still go over each aspect one by one.

In terms of name, I think he has nailed it. ‘Life is like this’ puts across appropriately what the blog is about – a humorous look at the vagaries of life, some of the ludicrous social norms and foibles of human behavior. The punch line describes the nature of his writing perfectly - A dose of adventure and entertainment, a lot of humor, a bit of philosophy. However I am a bit unsure of the adventure bit. I guess that was included to cover his posts on trekking. But I think the trekking posts are out of resonance with the main theme of his blog unless he wants to assign some allegorical significance to his treks and starts to use them to take pot shots at human life. So even if these posts figure in the blog for the lack of an alternate medium to bring them out, they are not something I would highlight in the punch line. The url however is not an easy one to remember and has not much to do with blog title or content. So if and when he goes for own domain, I would suggest to go for a different one.

Moving on to the look and feel, it is a very simple theme and has a clean look – no fancy colors or designs. One of the striking features of this blog is an utter paucity of images. Generally I would recommend adding some images to supplement posts. But in case of Suresh, I feel this the lack of pictures deliberate and kind of accentuates his image as a ‘to the point’, ‘no frills’ kind of person. So I would leave it that way. In terms of gadgets also they have been kept to the minimum. The one gadget that is there is one I do not like and I have expressed previously on many of my reviews – the live traffic feed one. I hope the makers of the gadget don’t end up suing me. Well anyways – I see it as a non-value add from the visitor's perspective and I feel it occupies an inappropriately large amount of space. But I guess bloggers like to indulge themselves and like to take a peek from time to see if anyone is visiting their blog and from where they are visiting. Navigation is exactly how I would want it to be – there are the archives, all posts labeled accurately and use of static pages and tabs to give links of posts belonging to different major themes.

I had started off this post with a mention about the content. I feel the content is perfect and there is always the same underlying theme. It is humor at its best and many of his posts work at two levels –there is the deeper satire on social norms and a more superficial self-deprecating humor. So it caters to both kinds of people - those who like simple slapstick and those who like something that tickles their intellect as well. Also he has a social message that he tries to bring out in both his serious posts as well as the humorous ones. As I had mentioned earlier, if one were to see his blog as a niche blog, some of the contest posts, book reviews and trek reports seem a bit out of place. One thing I usually recommend for blogs that depend on regular readership rather than floating traffic from search engines is to have a regularity and pattern in posting. This is something Suresh has already started already doing. He usually has a post on his blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Also series are good way of keeping readers engaged – they keep coming back every week to see what is next. The 'phrases and meanings' was one such good series. Hope to see more such series.

I think when talking about content itself, I have got a bit into the interaction space. Suresh is one blogger who maintains an excellent rapport with numerous bloggers. He visits many blogs, has done guest blogs on over a dozen different blogs and replies religiously to every comment. He always uses the same picture with red striped shirt in all his social media interactions making him easily recognizable at sight. So overall this aspect is going quite well.

In the final analysis, this is definitely one of the better blogs in the blog-o-sphere that I would recommend everyone to frequent regularly. Let me give a select sample from his blog to get the new reader started.

New Blog on Science Fiction, Fantasy and Historic Fiction

Many of the regular readers on my blog would by now be aware of my passion for science fiction and fantasy. I have reviewed quite a few books in this genre and have attempted my own short stories in these genres. Now I have taken the next step in pursuit of my passion and started a blog focusing exclusively on these genres. Through my new blog I hope to spread around the passion for these genres that are not so popular in India and get more people into the fold.

The current blog will continue and it will have all other miscellaneous things as it always has. So that way I have one niche blog with focus and one generic blog for everything else under the sun.

My new Blog can be found here : Three Realms of the Mind

This is the link to the first post introducing my blog and its name: Three Realms of the Mind: Introduction

In my new blog, I propose to post series of post on different topics following a weekly routine. The first such series will be on Science Fiction Novel Series. I would be putting up a post every Tuesday. To start with, I will post weekly. Maybe after the blog has stabilized a bit, I may start posting twice a week. Only thing is once I have started the routine I want to stick to it, which is one of the reasons I am opting for a slow start.

The kick off the Science Fiction Novel Series Posts: Science Fiction Novel Series

And this is the first post in the series : The Dune Series

The Imperative Subterfuge: A Review



Hitler v/s Gandhi’ is a theme many people have contemplated. Instead of just stopping there, popular satirist blogger Rickie Khosla goes ahead and weaves an entire novella around this interesting premise. It was indeed interesting seeing serious fiction from a writer whose humorous works you have been acquainted with. The title of the book is quite intriguing and that along with the Nazi Swastika on the cover illustration makes one curious and want to pick up the book.

The language is quite good and at the same time the prose does not become as heavy as to intimidate the reader. The work is richly sprinkled with memorable lines, especially on political philosophy. The characters are really well etched and the reader can easily relate to the emotions of the characters. The story maintains a steady pace and the book can be finished in one reading.

The series of events have been plotted quite meticulously and lends an air of plausibility. However personally I am more inclined to agree with Leo Tolstoy that individuals are just pawns in the flow of history and do not really deserve the importance some historians place on them. But any opinions on these matters cannot be anything beyond mere speculations. So personal prejudices aside I fully appreciate the alternate history plotted by Rickie Khosla.

The story could have been much more compelling if the author had taken the point of view of a single character and created an intense conflict running through the novel. Currently the story is laid out like a jigsaw puzzle with things falling in place one by one as we move along. That is an interesting style as well and I am partial to that style as a writer but as a reader I think I prefer the other style.

Many of the characters make brief appearances and one wishes one could have seen more of them. This definitely has scope for a much bigger novel where these characters are explored as well. This book is definitely worth a read for anyone who is in to reading books by current day Indian authors and I would rank it close to top of the pack.

Details of Book and Author

The book link is The Imperative Subterfuge

The author's blog is Who cares what I think?

In the event that you do not have a Kindle you can download apps for reading Kindle books on PCs, laptops and Smartphones from this link
http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000493771

Four Letters and a Phone Call - V



She was trying to focus on her books when she was suddenly jolted by the announcement of her name on the public announcement system at the hostel. She wondered who was calling at this time of the evening. This was not the time her parents usually called.

She quickly walked down and picked up the call. “Hello. Who is this?

There was a pause. Then slowly the receiver came to life. “Is it Sarah? This is Phani.

Her heart skipped a beat. It was the first time she was hearing his voice ever since they had started corresponding.

Are you there?

His voice sounded anxious.

Yes,” she replied. There was so much they had to say to each other but words had clearly deserted both of them and they found themselves fumbling for the simplest of words.

Well, did you get my last letter?

I did.

He waited for her reaction. But none was forthcoming. So he continued.

I got this weird letter from someone claiming to be your friend.

Her heart sunk. This was not sounding positive at all. Had her friend’s brilliant idea not worked out? She had no clue what to say. So she remained silent

He waited for her reaction and after a while spoke up again. “Are you still there?

Yes. Tell me,” she replied in a feeble voice.

Her lukewarm response was beginning to infuriate him. “So you have no idea about this so called friend of yours?

No. No. Rachel is my best friend.

So you only asked her to write the letter?

Now where was this heading? What was she to say?

What happened now? Cat got your tongue? If you are not interested in speaking to me, tell me. I will keep the damn phone down this very minute.

No. Please don’t keep the phone down.

So you finally found your voice, eh? Let us leave the topic of your friend. Did you get my last letter?

I did,” she said after a short pause.

And so what is your response?

Don’t you think we are rushing things? Shouldn’t we take some time and think things out?

Is that supposed to be a no? You do not wish to marry me?

You have been such a good friend to me,” she said weakly.

The usual just friends dialogue, eh? So it was never love at all this while? I should have known this was coming. You girls do this to guys all the time, right? Make use of us when you need us, play with our emotions, build up our hopes and then finally say that we are just friends!

His voice had by now hit a feverish pitch. He was fuming with rage. Even from such a distance the heat of his fury was seething her. She had never seen him like this. It frightened her to see him like this.

She broke down into sobs. “Please, don’t say such unkind things to me.

He was completely disgusted. These women! She had answered none of his questions. Whenever logic failed, they had their favorite weapon. They would just turn on the tap and bring the men to their knees. But he knew better. He was not bowing to this emotional blackmail. He had enough of her. He slammed the phone down!

He was fuming even after he got back to his room. He had to smoke a full pack of cigarettes before his nerves calmed down a bit. Then he noticed a large envelope lying near the door of his room. He wondered what it was. He opened it apprehensively. He wondered what knew trouble it heralded. The moment he read its contents, his spirits soared to the skies. His application for Masters in Physics at the University of Stockholm had been accepted! It seemed like a sign from heaven. Physics was his true love. He had lost his way the past three years blinded by love. Now his vision had cleared. This was the opportunity to bring his life back on track.

She wept the whole day. She did not know what to do. A week passed by with no communication from him. One day as she sat brooding over Phani, suddenly her name was announced on public announcement system. She ran to the phone excitedly. But it was not Phani. It was her mother. Her parents had got a marriage proposal for her from a distant relative based out of UK. He was willing to let her finish her studies and was willing to support her higher studies in UK as well. It was a dream proposal as far as her parents were concerned. She was in a dilemma. She could not think of any reasonable objection as such. With things about Phani so uncertain, she saw no reason to upset her parents. So she did not raise any objections. The next couple of days, she tried to call Phani a couple of times. But he was always unreachable. She was not sure if he was busy or purposely avoiding her. But there was only so much she could do.

Time, they say is the best healer and add it to the good news of his application for higher studies being accepted, Phani’s mood had greatly improved. He felt probably he had not been entirely fair to Sarah and decided to speak to her again. He called her up at her hostel. After a long wait a new female voice greeted him. “Hi, I am Sarah’s friend. She is not here this weekend. She is in her hometown for her engagement.

The news hurt him. But in a way, it gave him a sense of closure. It kind of freed him of guilt. As far as she was concerned, she was back to being the obedient, dutiful daughter. It was not in her nature to go against the tide. But a sense of loss and sadness would prevail in the depth of both their hearts forever.

Beginning of the Series        : Four Letters and a Phone Call - I
Previous Post in the Series  : Four Letters and a Phone Call - IV

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces