Dec 30, 2012

Books I read this year....

This post is just to pen down the books I read this year. No particular order, just noting them as I remember.

Stieg Larrson's stunning millennium series (Recommended)
1. Girl with Dragon Tattoo
2. The Girl who played with Fire
3. The Girl who kicked Hornet's Nest.
Review - This is a stunning trilogy. As morbid as the coincidence may be, but it describes how evil societies are to girls and women. This book talks about Swedish, but the recent case in India is no different. Indeed our country lacks the machinery to tackle this menace. That we don't have a deterring punishment history for past cases is a tacit go ahead to the potential criminals.

John Le Carre's (Recommended)
4. Our game
5. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Re-read this)

Review - Le Carre remains one of the darkest authors I will ever read. Our Game was a new book and not as great as his Smiley series. But TTSS was once again fun to read! Smiley as a spy is something that tells on how cerebral that vocation is. And how movies have trivialized it with the likes of Mr. Bond. Yet, I love both these characters, Smiley as well as Bond.

John Grisham's
6. The Litigators (Recommended)
7. Theodore Boone: The Accused (Recommended for teenagers)
The Litigators is a different story told by Grisham. The best part about the book - you can identify with the protagonist. Loved the book. Not pathbreaking, but immensely entertaining.
So it is for #7 there but for teenagers.

Michael Crichton's
8. Timeline (Not Recommended)
9. Rising Sun (Recommended)
10. The Disclosure (Recommended)

I started reading Crichton recently. And have I enjoyed his writing! Immensely insightful. Consider #9 and #10. Such polemic about things like globalization and corporate games in fiction is incredible. Plus the breadth of subjects Crichton can cover is unbelievable. Science fiction, thrillers, aliens, dinosaurs... wow!
By the way, Timeline is something you can avoid. Quite ordinary and full of holes in the story.

Dan Brown's
11. The Symbol (OK if you like Dan Brown)
The line above has told you what you want to know.

Michael Lewis'
12. Liar's Poker (Recommended)
Brilliant non-fiction. I read his Big Short back in 2010 and I loved it. This one is also immensely entertaining!

Wodehouse's
13. Much Obliged Jeeves (Recommended)
Wodehouse is way too big for me to say anything. Read it, enjoy it!

14. Rubbish called Greed (Sorry to have noted this.... but utter waste of time)
This author is called Chris Ryan. I hope no other author turns out like him.

Will add as I remember the missed ones...

WISH YOU A HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Thanks,
Sid

Dec 23, 2012

Changing Stance on Media for once

I am not a fan of Indian media, to be specific TV media. It hardly does any investigation, waits till someone like Kejriwal exposes using publicly available material, is purely opportunistic and believes in total sensationalism.

But for a change, I think this precise attribute of theirs is keeping alive a subject that has been swept under carpet far too long. Government, Police and other actors have been oblivious to the fact that they need to not only investigate post-facto but also PREVENT CRIME by good governance. It may be fear, respect or education but a potential criminal needs to be converted to ordinary being as much as possible.

For God's sake it was 9.30 in the night. And we are talking of DELHI not some kheda where there is no power line at that time! Shifts across cities end at 10pm or 11pm. Hospitals, BPOs, cinemas, hotels, buses, trains they all operate at this hour.

Some of the incomprehensible lines our highly competent politicians have said, "Girls need to be more careful with their clothes", "Why go out this late"... what are you talking about! If our good finance minister wants a country as vibrant investment destination with healthy finances, safety comes first! If Government wants more revenue, thereby implying more tax, people need to spend. And spending by volition happens if streets are safe. Not when people are scared of darkness.

There was a tweet from Nitin Pai stating the need of urgent approval of police reforms, which may be correct. But I have been hearing about police reforms for at least 10 years now.



Our governments just sit on them and do nothing. This is not a rant. Take the Janlokpal bill, after the protests and several anshans by Anna and team, see how it has been made to fizzle out. The protesters have all disintegrated. Same with police reforms. Where is the political will to do something like that?

In such time, I admire the channels because they are keeping alive this subject in people's minds. This is required. It is required as long as some meaningful change happens. Unfortunately history of our country in concerted public action has been not promising in independent India.

Dec 16, 2012

Life of Pi - Visuals and Metaphors

Life of Pi is a stunning movie.

I have not read the book. And those who have read have mentioned that the movie tries to remain as faithful as possible to it. Ang Lee brings to us another wonderful story with stunning visuals and some very good acting.

I have seen Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, which too had a lovely story told with some brilliant visuals, great cinematography by Lee.

Life of Pi begins with Irrfan Khan narrating his birth and childhood. His parents (Tabu and Adil Hussain) are owners of a zoo and a botanical garden. The story of his name "Pi" is an amusing anecdote told nicely. The story moves ahead where Pi and his family and their animals begin a journey to the new world.

The bizarre, incredible and stormy journey begins with a thunderstorm on the ship. Pi survives and ends up with a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena and a tiger on a lifeboat. There, the story begins. Pi, armed with a book, some food and his father's advice, and the tiger share some moments of glory in the story. The story takes us through a magical journey with a denouement as brilliant as expected.

Trust me when I say that I cannot describe it on the blog. Go, go to your nearest theatre and see it. It is recommended for children of 8-9 years and up. But you do need some patience and that is a small weakness, since we are talking of cinema here.

The story is a metaphor to how one must live a life. One can wonder whether it is the best way to explain things, but the extreme example makes it a brilliant medium.

Suraj Sharma, as Pi, is magnificient. So is Richard Parker. Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain, Tabu, Rafe Spall, they all add up well. But the movie belongs to Pi. The special effects, 3D images and the vistas shown are brilliant.

4* of 5* from me....

Nov 15, 2012

Backups and Redundancies

This is an evolving post.

The trigger to this is Prof. Varma's following viewpoint on  redundant networks:

"In my experience, backup sites in the financial industry are a big joke. Typically, these systems are set up only to satisfy check box ticking regulators who require them to have back up sites, but do not bother to check whether these are actually adequate. Many of these backup systems have significantly less processing capacity than the main site. "

Read the full post here: http://www.iimahd.ernet.in/~jrvarma/blog/index.cgi/Y2012/parochial-global-exchanges.html


Yes, that is kind of true and not just in financial industry. I think most industries do consider this as more of check-box item than anything else....

Except where retail ops matter, that is where significant revenue losses can occur....

Oct 15, 2012

English Vinglish & My love for Food!

We saw the delightful English Vinglish yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sridevi's Shashi Godbole and her English class is a fantastic tale with the moral that no odd is bigger than your will! The movie was worth every penny and the best part is that it is 100% family viewing affair.

That said, I loved the supporting star cast of the movie - most of them, Mehdi Nebbou, the silent Frenchman whose yearning for Shashi starts growing on you, the viewer.

Now there is a fine discussion between Shashi and Laurent where they say something of this sort:

Laurent: Food is art.
Shashi: When a man cooks, it is art. When a woman cooks, it is her work / duty.
Laurent: No no no... you cook, you make other people happy. This is worship. This is art. Prayer.

It is better viewed on the screen than me describing it here. It is a fine discussion on how we all should view the person cooking for us - your mother, your wife, the cook, the vada pav waala....whoever. I have never heard a more intelligent discussion on food in Hindi cinema.

I am absolutely loving the way Indian cinema is moving. English Vinglish is another example of this sophistication that is coming our way.


Oct 6, 2012

Barfi!++ : Loving where Indian cinema is going!

Having seen Barfi! and being completely charmed by the lovely fairy tale of Barfi, Jhilmil and Shruti, I refuse to fall into the debate whether this should have gone to Oscars or not.

For me and for us Indians, I do not think it should matter. What should matter is where our cinema is going! After the rubbish we saw coming in the 1980s, some limited risk taking in the 1990s, some more boldness is portraying stories in the 2000s, we have now reached a wonderful point where some excellent movies are being produced.

I have written this earlier too, Hindi cinema is undergoing a wonderful transformation that needs to be appreciated, applauded and encouraged.

Now Barfi! may have picked up some scenes, but the way the story is told, the cinematography, the music and the actors, they all show what can be achieved. The audience is entranced by this team. And this has been happening at a very good frequency. In fact that is what is making us spend reasonable sums at the movie halls.

In general, this bodes well for Hindi cinema viewers.

Now the point of Oscars, sure they should award an original movie over one which may have redone some scenes. But the way movies are made today, we need not worry too much.

Before you go, here enjoy this lovely lovely song from Barfi!


Sep 14, 2012

Finally awake or U-turn on cards?

Well finally diesel has been marked up, FDI in aviation and retail allowed...

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/industry-and-economy/government-and-policy/article3897120.ece?homepage=true

The thing that makes one worry is that is this again lip service which will follow the now routine U-turn or has this page been turned once for all?

Also, are things this bad, fiscally speaking, that this reluctant Government is now being forced to use every option they have?

Eventually things will come out. Lets hope that decision is taken with future glory in view.

Jun 21, 2012

MSCI rejig may benefit India & cricket


This article MSCI rejig may increase fund inflows: http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/taiwan-korea-exit-may-help-india/478002/

reminds of those days of Indian cricket, when to qualify, we needed someone else to lose to some other team by some margin.

Something that I noted in one of my earlier posts: "To qualify, India needs Zimbabwe to beat Australia in league A matches. In league B, South Africa needs to beat Namibia to ensure that the overall net run rate of Zimbabwe puts it on the 4th position ahead of Australia. In case of Australia winning, the net run rate of its...
Rest here:  http://indian-eagle.blogspot.com/2012/03/luck-runs-out-and-history-comes-back.html "

Basically, India is only relying on some other nations in the index to move up so it gets the diverted funds. Instead, why not fix the fundamentals?

Jun 20, 2012

Supercomputers....

The first time I heard about a supercomputer, it was some paper telling about a supercomputer called PARAM. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PARAM)

There is news about the new supercomputing top 500 list: http://www.top500.org/list/2012/06/100

Other than the above, check the following link on what is a supercomputer: http://techland.time.com/2012/06/19/what-exactly-is-a-supercomputer/?iid=tl-main-feature

The best line in the above article: "Researchers aren't booking time to play minesweeper." :)

Jun 7, 2012

Rains are back

Mumbai had a lovely grey blanket today evening....

What wonderful feeling it is when those clouds cover the bright shining sun,
what peace it brings to toiled minds of this busy city, 
when the smell of soil absorbing the raindrops fill the air,
one forgets the travails this season will bring for the 3 months now,
just because the monsoon  has come and it has driven freshness in our lives....

just like every year, we now await those days...days together when the clouds pour the joy on the grounds below...

May 14, 2012

Kaksparsh - Movie Review

Sunday evening went viewing the new film Kaksparsh.

Kaksparsh - the title translates as the Crow's Touch - people with knowledge of Hindu customs would identify this with a custom that happens after the death of a person. This is probably the Golden Era of the Marathi Cinema. Having seen Deool, Natrang, Valu in recent past.... the addition of Kaksparsh is a welcome addition.

Mahesh Manjrekar breaks new ground by reciting this haunting tale of love and sacrifice on the big screen. So power packed is the impact of this story that the scenes and dialogues keep coming back to your mind hours after you have left the theatre. Before this, there was English Patient that left such a haunting memory in my mind.

Coming to the movie, it starts in, I think, 1930s and goes on till early 1950s. The movie is set in verdant Konkan region of Maharashtra. The backdrop of the village, the customs, the clothes, the local involvement with freedom struggle, boat travel and other such things set up the tone of the movie.

The story starts with a tragedy striking a newly married couple of Mahadev and Uma, where Mahadev dies on his first night after his wife Uma reaches puberty. Mahadev's elder brother, Hari, is a well known and respected elder of the village. He breaks tradition and protects Uma from being forced to tonsure her head as a widow as per the customs of the time. Not just that he becomes inaccessible to opinions on how to treat Uma. He is authoritarian and does not allow any decision to be taken by anyone when it comes to Uma. This lasts for almost 2 decades and each development in family, the village only puts the entire village and us, the viewers, confused and perplexed about his motives. The denouement is perfect, if you have the guts to digest such a story.

The critical question this movie asks is about relationships and marriage. The movie tries to explore the topic of existence of love and how it manifests between two individuals. I must say, it is a very difficult topic and has been brilliantly handled by Mahesh Manjrekar.

Now the actors - Sachin Khedekar has delivered the performance of his lifetime. I easily put this in the ना 
भूतो ना भविष्याती category for him. He is astonishing as the hardnosed, principled, unshakeable Kartaa purush of the family.

Ketaki Mategaonkar and Priya Bapat both as the young widow, Uma, deliver stellar performances. With so little dialogue your way, both these ladies have shown rich expression through eyes and body language.

The supporting cast is also very good and completes the story - the villagers, a local villain, Hari's freedom fighter friend, and his family members.

Go watch it, but only if you want a serious treatise of a difficult topic.

Trailer:

Apr 20, 2012

Blaming Railways for Mishaps?

So a pretty bad accident happened in Mumbai yesterday. Most media channels duly blamed Railways. Most of the people duly blamed Railway. I am sure some enquiry is in progress too.

As a commuter, here is a photo I clicked today.



Question is : How can you blame Railway for this?!

Apr 6, 2012

Strange Case of 1 BHKs in Mumbai...

Have you ever felt when searching for a home in Mumbai, 1 BHKs charge a premium on the property rate in that very area? That is if in a area, the property is at 10000 Rs. per sq. ft for 2 and 3 BHKs. My guess is, it is a Giffen Good.


Here is the investopedia definition: Giffen Good: A consumer good for which demand rises when the price increases, and demand falls when the price decreases.

(Read more: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/giffen-good.asp#ixzz1rBy0aMMa)

Real Estate in India, particularly in cities like Mumbai, has typically risen manifold in price terms. So much so that it has gotten out of reach of most middle class people with usual career curves.

So about 10 years ago, a young couple of around 30 years of age in Mumbai would be stretching but being able to eventually buy a 2 Bedroom Hall Kitchen apartments ranging from 800 sq. ft. to 1100 sq. ft. depending on location, rates therein, their budgets. While that was a tough one to achieve, it was somehow managed with financing by loans, parents / friends helping and savings done in their 10 odd years of working life.

If I am not wrong the average price of such a flat would be 5 to 6 times their combined gross incomes.

Today, time has changed radically.

The apartment prices have shot through the roof. Completely through the roof. In fact,buying just the roof has also become quite difficult these days. Across board rates have shot up.

Many many of today's 30 year olds are today preferring to stay in rental homes rather than buying them. Yet, in India, as in most countries, property remains one of the major aims of life. In fact, it brings a lot of prestige for those buying one early. Home loans are easier and not frowned upon by the society. Yet, homes today are that much out of reach especially in tier I and II cities.

So the aspiration of these 30 year old pairs have moved down from 2 BHKs to 1 BHKs. 1 BHKs are generally anywhere from 500 sq. ft. to 700 sq. ft.

These 1BHKs ask for a premium in most areas, especially in areas like Borivali, Thane, Mulund etc. Yet their demand is going up.

One simple explanation I find is that the 1BHK is a Giffen Good. Because of the steep increase in rates, with incomes not rising with the same slope, 2BHKs have gone out of hand. The premium comes simply because real estate developers have virtually stopped creating 1 BHKs. Thus limiting the supply. So because 2 BHKs, which seem to be in oversupply, are beyond people's reach. Thus we have our own Mumbaikar Giffen Good, the equivalent of Potato during the Irish famine. 

Update:

I requested Prof. TT Ram Mohan to comment on the above post. Here are his thoughts on the above post:

"I read your piece. I am not sure this is a Giffen good phenomenon. Demand for 1 BHK apts would be high in the face of rising prices because they would still be cheaper than 2 BHKs. The question is why then builders don't build more 1 BHK apts. The answer, unfortunately, is that they find there is still enough demand for  2 BHK apts on which they, perhaps, make better returns."

Mar 13, 2012

Kahaani - Movie Review (4****)

Vidya Balan - The contemporary Hindi cinema, my generation, we Indians should be proud to have her amongst us. After Parineeta, Bhool Bhulaiyya, Ishqiya; Vidya Balan delivers yet another power packed performance that catapults her even further from the already astronomical heights she has achieved. I haven't seen Dirty Picture, so I am not commenting on it.

Kahaani is a thriller so well made and delivered that one keeps thinking about it even 24 hrs later.

With a movie of this type, it is difficult to write anything without giving away something. So let me stick to praising the stuff. The script is amazing, actors are excellent - yes the supporting cast around Vidya is very very good. They make the movie come alive. Especially the new actor playing Sub-Inspector Rana. The direction is flawless.

It is a perfect edge-of-the-seat thriller that makes you guess till the last scene. And Kolkata is beautiful. We have seen Mumbai, Delhi, Punjab and other places. This movie creates a great background of the City of joy. The music is also very nice.

Coming to Vidya Balan. She creates brilliant layers in the woman in distress. Her pregnant looks, slow walking, vulnerability are all endearing. In fact, she comes out even better than she was in Ishqiya.

Does the movie drag? No. Does it get over sentimental? No. Does it give you scope to complain? Not me at least. In its 2 hrs and few minutes, it is a tight tight thriller.

Its an excellent movie that you should not miss. Go go to the nearest cinema before someone spills the story to you!

4 out of 4 stars on my scale.

The trailer here:

Mar 8, 2012

Paan Singh Tomar - Movie Review

We saw a late night show for Paan Singh Tomar.I knew the broad storyline of the movie. My expectation was a movie that justifies the banditization of a sportsperson.

But the movie is much more than that. A quick brief about the story. Paan Singh Tomar was a Indian Jawan and an athlete who was a national champion, record holder, represented India in Asian Games and in International Defence Athletics. After retiring, his families land issues caused him to take up arms and become a dacoit.

Simple story that was oft repeated in what were Mithun or Dharmendra's movies in 80s. But Paan Singh Tomar is a different movie. What makes it different - Irfan Khan. The man assumes the character as if is Tomar and no one else.His athletic image and built in the first half. His pursuit of running and running fast. And his love for his family is endearing.

The second half where he becomes a dacoit is also quite good. There is no justification for his conversion. Yet you feel for the character. That is Irfan Khan's accomplishment. He builds the character with panache.

The photography is excellent, especially the scenes of Chambal river and the shootouts.

What is a drag is the climax. While it is a drag, the movie ends abruptly. Thats the only grudge I have. All in all, brilliant movie. Go watch it for Irfan Khan.

Yes and at the end, I agree with the director - spare a thought for our sportspeople who sacrifice so much of their life to bring glory to India. Yet ours is a country which is so selfish it quickly forgets this sacrifice. We have seen this happen time and again. Let us hope that such movies help change this sad state of affairs...

Mar 3, 2012

Luck runs out and history comes back....


Sri Lanka won against Aussies yesterday. India has lost its chance to the Finals in the Australian Tri-series. So luck has run out eventually. Or the law of averages has caught up.

This time the discussion of points table, net run rates, 3 possibilities etc... made me nostalgic. This is a hark back from the late 80s and most of the 90s. Our team then used to end up in this situation quite often.

I mean things used to be so funny, the newspaper would read something like this:

"To qualify, India needs Zimbabwe to beat Australia in league A matches. In league B, South Africa needs to beat Namibia to ensure that the overall net run rate of Zimbabwe puts it on the 4th position ahead of Australia. In case of Australia winning, the net run rate of its winning should be lower than 0.436 to ensure that India still has a chance of making it to the next round. In that case though, South Africa should win by a net run rate of at least 3.14159265.

With a number so unique many Indian fans are first running around the ground perimeter followed by the running from the perimeter to the pitch and back. However, because the grounds are generally oval in shape, they are able to achieve a ratio of either 2.96845 or 3.32338. This has put them in a worry on what exactly the outcome would be....."

OK, the second paragraph was a little exaggerated. But I am sure the first paragraph reads much like it used to read back then....

Till the next series, lets pray our players get all the team spirit back and form back and get back to winning more by practice than by luck.

Adios!

Feb 6, 2012

(1) Space Commercialization & (2) Financial Education

Two links which I feel like sharing:

1. First is the near (or not so near) future for mankind. Space commercialization! Business Insider is running an article on it here.

Some interesting facts from the article:
a. Man may get his first trillionaire.
b. The cost of fuel as a percentage of a space flight is only 1%. The bulk of the cost is labor.
c. Read the points about "Ownership of space" and that is the point you may find things interesting or well, interesting :D


2. More serious stuff. Prof. Jayanth Varma has written one of the finest papers on financial teaching by management institutes. The reasoning with that of how markets and prices behave during and around crises is worth reading.


Here is the link to Vikalpa and his paper in it.It is a exhaustive paper, so keep some time for reading the same.

Jan 19, 2012

New year and change...

It has been a while since I wrote a post of which I have been long thinking. In general, 2011 year has been an ok considering the pluses and minuses each year has.

Year 2012 was welcomed with the usual frenzy. Some newspapers said that many people preferred to stay home and indoors instead of partying hard on 31st night. That is strange considering the lovely cold that Mumbai is experiencing. But it is perfectly understandable considering that the same cold is quite harsh in the north.

So how was your celebration at the turn of the year? Party or ghar pe TV ke saamne? Not that the TV had much to offer. I apologize in advance but I cannot resist pasting this excerpt from one of my earlier posts :

      "Well, these days the TV does not stop, the viewer has to muster the courage to go to the power off   button. These days there is no need of news wrap because you have been fed the same news 24x7 till you have learnt it to the last headline and you no longer wait for that 5 minute magic from Jaaved Jaffrey because there are like a million copies doing rounds on 50 channels."

Nevertheless, the year had its share of headlines - the anti-corruption headlines from our nation, the Arab spring headlines, the Japanese earthquake and the tragedy thereafter, the British royal wedding, the famous Indian World Cup victory and the Euro zone fiasco.

For me, in 2011, I read one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read on general science - Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything. I have since been recommending it to anyone who has been showing a slightest interest in science.

So here we come to the close of this post. It was just a general chit-chat on the year that went by.

What am I looking forward to: Seeing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. One of the finest spy novels I have read as well as one of the finest mini-series I have seen ever. It would be interesting to see how Gary Oldman compares to Sir Alec Guinness. Having missed the movie in the cinemas, I now await its DVD release...


Disclaimer

All the opinions expressed are of the author only. Any action taken by readers on the basis of this blog is entirely at the readers' risk and they are solely responsible for the same.