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 All the outdated mobile phones can be sent to the local breweries to manufacture Black Berry Crush, IPhone Smash and Android Squeeze.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.


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.

For whom the bell tolls

A book of faces