Archive for October, 2009

The Read-a-thon day has started beautifully! This is the first time that I am doing the Read-a-thon and it is very exciting! It was tempting for me to change my planned book-list for the read-a-thon and include a YA book, a thriller and a graphic novel 🙂 I resisted the temptation though and stayed with my original list.

4.30 PM (GMT) / 10.00 PM (IST)

I stared Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Lathe of Heaven’ because it is the shortest book on my list 🙂 (184 pages). Have finished a little bit more than half of it (110 pages).

Hoping to update this post periodically and also cheer other friends and book bloggers who are participating in the Read-a-thon today 🙂

8.00 PM (GMT) / 1.30 AM (IST)

Finished 150 pages of Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Lathe of Heaven’. Wanted to finish the book by now, but have got distracted by a few things 🙂 It was heartening to see many cheerleaders stop by here! It has really boosted my morale and confidence for the rest of the day 🙂 I also went and cheered a few participants of the read-a-thon. The internet is buzzing with read-a-thon related discussions, cheering and mini-challenges! Am loving it!

Have to take a nap now and get up after a few hours and continue with my reading 🙂

5.30 AM (GMT) / 11.00 AM (IST)

Finished my first book – Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Lathe of Heaven’. Even though it was short (184 pages), it took its time 🙂 But I am glad that I have finished my first book. In my happiness scale, I am ‘satisfied‘ 🙂  Am thinking whether I should start a second book or whether I should cheer fellow readers who are awake late at night and continuing on the read-a-thon. I will probably browse for a while and do a bit of cheering and see whether there is any mini-challenge I would like to enter. Then maybe I will start a new book – a shorter one that I can finish, possibly a graphic novel 🙂

Thanks to all the cheerleaders for leaving comments and cheering me and keeping me going!

8.45 AM (GMT) / 2.15 PM (IST)

Participated in two mini-challenges. Cheered a few fellow read-a-thon participants. Starting ‘The Wit of Cricket’ (by Barry Johnston). Don’t think I can complete this one. But hoping to come close to that as it is a light book.

For the mini-challenge hosted by Dana, the 4 favourite books are :

(1) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
(2) Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse
(3) Beyond a Boundary by CLR James
(4) The Amulet of Samarkhand by Jonathan Stroud

12.00 Noon (GMT) / 5.30 PM (IST)

Finished 187 pages (out of 274 pages) of ‘TheWit of Cricket’ (compiled by Barry Johnston). It is the last few minutes of the read-a-thon. Thought I will check in and see how others are doing 🙂 Listened to Beatles ‘It’s been a hard day’s night’ post in the read-a-thon site 🙂 It really has been!

My stats for this read-a-thon have been like this :

(1) Number of books finished = 1 (+ 70% of the second book)
(2) Number of mini-challenges participated in = 2

Would have been happier if I had been able to finish the second book 🙂

Thanks to all the cheerleaders and friends and everyone else who dropped in and cheered me till the finish!

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I was watching the Champions League cricket semifinal between New South Wales and Victoria today. The first wicket fell – David Warner who was playing brilliantly, unfortunately, got run out – and I was waiting for one of my favourite players, Simon Katich, the captain of the New South Wales team, who was all padded up, to walk in. But Katich decided otherwise. He sent one of his younger players, Daniel Smith, who was the wicket keeper, to go in and express himself. Katich disappointed fans like me, but he was merely doing something that he had done during the previous few matches. 

Katich’s puzzling  move

Watching Katich’s captaincy in this tournament, made me think about a few things. In his team’s first match, when the opponents and the conditions were uncertain, he came in to bat at No.3, after the loss of the first wicket. He was the best batsman in his team, and this is the position that the best batsman of a cricket team typically plays in. In that match, he changed the momentum of the game with a few strokes. He created gaps where none existed and teased the ball around for runs. When he was around, the pitch looked different and the bowling looked average. Then, after having nearly done his job, he got out to a loose shot. A Katich fan like me, felt disappointed, because the innings was primed up for the frenzied hittings of the last overs. Fortunately, New South Wales’ bowling attack was world-class (they had four bowlers who played for the Australian team) and so they won the match. I waited for the next match to watch Katich bat again. But in the next match against Sussex, Katich sent the younger players in to bat, to give them an opportunity to prove themselves in foreign conditions, while he enjoyed their displays from his team’s dugout. He continued doing this in subsequent matches – except for playing a brief cameo in the match against Somerset to take his team past the finishing line. Today’s match was a big game for his team. It was the semifinal of the tournament, and so though he sent one of his team members above the order, he himself came in after that and delighted fans like me by playing a beautiful cameo.

Some precedents

Katich was doing something, which managers do all the time in the corporate world. He was trying to be a team player. He was trying to reduce his team’s dependency on himself and make his team run on autopilot mode, by giving the young players more opportunities and exposure, getting them into the limelight, empowering his players and building their confidence while he himself stayed in the background. However, he chipped in with crucial runs and made crucial decisions when his team needed them. I have seen a few other cricket captains do it – Viv Richards who used to bat at No.3 till he became captain, promoted younger players after he became captain and continued doing that till he retired. There were matches where he batted as low as No.7, while greenhorns batted above him. When the going got tough, he opted to come in earlier and blasted the bowling of the opposition. Another captain who did this was Imran Khan. Many times he gave the ball to the rookies or the younger players, while he fielded at slip or at midon and watched the proceedings quietly. When the going was not good for Pakistan, he took the ball from the youngsters, bowled at a blistering pace, fired out a few of the best opposition batsmen and then handed back the ball to the rookies and went back to his perch at midon. It made for interesting viewing.

The question

The question is this : Is what Katich did or what Viv Richards and Imran Khan did in the olden days, the right thing to do? Is it a good idea to take the back seat, when one is the best player in the team, and give opportunities to the young guns? Is it really a good idea to be a ‘team player’? It is an interesting question.

In the corporate world

If one puts the above question to a corporate manager, the answer that would come back would probably be ‘Yes’. The manager’s job is probably to reduce the dependency on himself / herself and make the team run on autopilot mode. That way the manager can take on new responsibilities and move up the ladder. It will help his / her teammates move up the ladder too, when they learn how to delegate responsibilites themselves.

It is quite interesting to look at the other side of the equation too. What happens to the manager’s skills when he / she delegates most of the core work? After this happens, the manager probably makes plans with deadlines and keeps track of the deadlines. The manager allows his / her teammates to do most of the work. After sometime the manager loses touch with the core technical part of his / her field. The manager’s skills in his / her area becomes rusty and after some point of time they become useless. The only thing that the manager can do is negotiate, make and track project plans and assign tasks to teammates. This might even have negative repercussions on the manager’s resume value in the job market. It might also increase the risk to the project, because the core of the project will be managed by people down the line, while the manager plays the role of a figurehead. The COO of the company that I used to work for, thought on these lines, and decided that if things continued in this way, the potential risks to projects were too high. He decided to introduce technical tests for middle and senior managers in the company. It was no surprise when a significant proportion of middle and senior managers failed in this test.

In cricket

If we apply this reasoning to cricket we can say this : if Katich (or Viv Richards or Imran Khan) keeps following this strategy, his cricket skills might rust while his players will love him for giving them more opportunities. There might come a time when he might owe his place in the team more to his team’s loyalty rather than to his performance. Then a day will come when he will be ejected out of the team. This has happened many times before. (Imran Khan retired before his skills rusted, but Viv Richards was rusty in his last few matches and the West Indian selectors couldn’t wait for him to retire. It happened to Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh too). Is that a good state of affairs? Another way to look at it would be from a fan’s perspective. As a Katich fan, I was looking forward to watching him bat in every match. But because he wanted to give more exposure to the young guns, I could watch him in just a couple of matches. Isn’t that unfair to a fan like me?

A personal experience

I had an interesting experience on this front, when I was working with a team on a project once (this was during my study days). Our team had around six to seven members, it didn’t have stars, one of our teammates was a dissident, but the others bonded well. I did most of the organizing, always came prepared for meetings, bunked classes so that I could research and get information from the library for our project meetings, performed all the chores that teamwork demands and offered the limelight to other teammates. One of my  teammates was shy to get on stage. We groomed him for a few weeks and built up his confidence. He did a good job when our final presentation had to be made. There were other teams which made flamboyant presentations, but our team came first. I think the reason for that was that we jelled as a team and brought the power of teamwork to the stage. Was what I did – being selfless and doing the grunt work and leaving the limelight to the others – the right thing? Was it good being a ‘team player’? It definitely was good for the team. It definitely helped my team’s performance. Was it good for me? I am not sure. I definitely missed an opportunity by giving the limelight to my other team members. The exercise showed me in good light as a team member, but it didn’t improve my presentation skills. My professor even asked me why I wasn’t part of the group which presented the team’s findings in public.

Finding the balance

So, what is the answer to the question – in cricket and in life? I think, looking at both sides of the equation, reducing the team’s dependency on stars and making the team run on autopilot mode, where everyone stands on his / her own legs knows his / her responsibilities and the team runs like a well-oiled machine, does seem to be a good thing, because it reduces the dependency of the team on an individual. On the other hand, it should probably be done without sacrificing individual brilliance or without allowing any individual player’s skills to become rusty. If this happens then the concerned individual player doesn’t add value to the team. I think sacrificing one’s individual interest for the team is like using a knife which cuts both ways. It should be done with care.

So, how does one find the balance between mitigating risk and encouraging individual flair and brilliance? That is a very interesting and a million-dollar question 🙂 It is a question for cricket team captains and managers to ponder.

What do you think?


Postscript : For the record, Katich’s batting doesn’t look like it is going to get rusty in the near future 🙂 He is one of the best batsmen in the world, going by his present form and is a breathtaking fielder (the best in the world, if you ask me!) and an interesting unconventional bowler. He is also a brilliant captain. How the Australian selectors missed giving him a longer run and elevating him to the Australian captaincy (after Ponting) remains a mystery. How can the selectors allow such breathtaking talent to not flower to its potential? It boggles the mind!

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My fellow book bloggers Michelle and Emily are participating in the Read-a-thon this year. I decided that I will do that too. It is scheduled for the coming Saturday (Oct 24). There seems to be a symmetry to it – a 24-hour read-a-thon on the 24th 🙂 I don’t know whether I will be able to read for 24 hours straight. I have not done an all-nighter in years. I will probably get up early and read till late, have lots of coffee in between, and have a short lunch and dinner and lock myself up in my room for the whole day and avoid all distractions. I don’t know whether it will work, but I am going to try. While I am reading, I will try to post my favourite lines from the book I am reading. I will also try to cheer fellow bloggers as they embark on this read-a-thon. The following are the books that I have chosen to read during the read-a-thon. 

Read-A-Thon Book Covers

Read-A-Thon Book Covers

Read-A-Thon Book Spines

Read-A-Thon Book Spines

  1. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin
    • (Note : Heard about Ursula Le Guin when I saw the movie version of ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’. She seems to be an interesting science fiction writer)
  2. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini
    • (Note : A swashbuckling adventure story with pirates and gold in the Alexander Dumas tradition! Have been wanting to read it for years, but could get hold of a copy only now)
  3. The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain De Botton
    • (Note : Alain De Botton is an interesting commentator on contemporary life. Looking forward to reading what he says about work).
  4. And God Created Cricket by Simon Hughes
    • (Note : A history of cricket written in an easy conversational style).
  5. Being a Scot by Sean Connery 
    • (Note : Sean Connery’s biography + his take on Scottish culture and history)
I will probably start with Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Lathe of Heaven’ (it is the thinnest) and then read Simon Hughes’ ‘And God Created Cricket’ (I am hoping that it will be an easy read :)) If I still have time after this, I am planning to tackle one of the other three.
If I finish
  • One book – I will be satisfied
  • Two books – I will be happy
  • Three books – I will be thrilled
  • 3+ books – I will be <insert all superlatives of thrilled here> 🙂
Please pray for me 🙂
If you want to participate in the read-a-thon, you can register here.

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My sister had come home for Diwali, and yesterday, on Diwali day, she suggested that we explore some bookshops where she could get some books and magazines which will help her in her research. So, after finishing the sumptuous Diwali lunch, we went out and explored a few bookshops. There was not a soul on the street in many places – people were probably taking an afternoon siesta, after the hectic schedule in the morning, or were probably watching one of the Diwali programmes on TV. I have been trying to avoid bookshops for sometime now – because my book-buying had gone up but my book-reading had gone down (Some of my fellow bookbloggers compute something called a book-reading to book-buying ratio every month. I think I should start doing that now!). So, yesterday, I knew that I was in ‘trouble’ 🙂
Both of us got ourselves a juicy drink and some delicious milk chocolate and then went to my favourite bookshop. My sister got many magazines and a few books which she thought would help her in her research. I selected two books. One of them was about the important ideas of mathematics and another was ‘The Lives of Muses : Nine women and the artists they inspired’ by Francine Prose (this is an exciting book and so I will write about it separately). When I decided that I am not going to get any more books, a book from the top shelf jumped into my view, grabbed my attention and refused to relinquish it. I took it down from the shelf, browsed it and fell in love with it. For a change, I decided that I will resist it, and put it back on the shelf. But I couldn’t resist it for long. When I showed it to my sister, she told me (in that bullying voice that she used when I was a kid :)) to keep that book back on the shelf, and I wouldn’t have any use for it. But by that time my affection for that book had grown considerably, and so I put it together with the other books that I had planned to buy.
The book that won my affection is called ‘Seductions of Rice’ by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. It is a book on food – specifically it is about rice. Generally, I don’t buy books on food – I seem to remember just two that I have got in all my years of book buying. This is odd, because I love reading descriptions of food in newspaper articles and in books. This book was special. I loved everything about it starting from the title (‘Seductions of Rice’ – it is beautiful, isn’t it? Who can resist such a title :)) The book was not just about recipes to make different dishes using rice. It describes the rice culture in different traditions –  Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Indian, Central Asian, Persian, Mediterranean, Senegalese, North American. It also describes different varieties of rice – of different colours (white, brown, black), sticky and non-sticky varieties, short pudgy grains and thin long ones, plain ones and fragrant ones – how they are cooked and different dishes which go along with rice, in different traditions. The book also has interesting anecdotes based on the writers’ experiences during their rice adventures across the world. Thus, it is a book on history, culture, traditions and recipes all combined into one. When I showed it to my mom yesterday, it piqued her curiosity so much, that she immediately picked a recipe that she wanted to try soon.
Rice is something that I have been eating forever. I never thought someone could take something which is so mundane and commonplace and write about it affectionately and create a romantic and beautiful book out of it – like a work of art. One of my friends once said that Pablo Neruda wrote beautiful poems about everyday subjects – this book does that to rice. Marcel Proust once said “The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” I think the same is true about the food we eat everyday – we probably need to see it with new eyes to discover the romance, beauty and history behind it. I realized it after browsing through this book. I am looking forward to reading the book soon 🙂
I am giving below an excerpt from the ‘Preface’ to the book. Hope you enjoy reading it.

      Our favourite way to eat rice is out of a bowl, the way it is commonly eaten in China. We also like eating rice from a small dinner plate using a dessert spoon to pick it up, Thai style. And when we are in South India, we eat it from a banana leaf with our hands, and then we think that is the best way.
      But at home we like to use a bowl, a largish one the size of a cafe-au-lait bowl. We scoop out a generous helping of plain rice from our reliable rice-cooking pot using a wooden rice paddle, and then reach for something flavorful to eat over it : chopped fresh tomatoes from the garden mixed with basil and Vietnamese coriander, or roasted sesame seeds ground with coarse salt, or spicy Sichuan tofu left over from the night before, or a hot Thai curry. We always have on hand a few different condiments to pull out from the refrigerator : nam pla prik from Thailand, Japanese pickles, a Chinese jiao jang.
      This big bowl of rice is our everyday lunch; occasionally it’s dinner, sometimes it’s even a midmorning snack. It’s our comfort food, and we never get tired of it. It is, in many ways, what this book is most about.
      We didn’t grow up with rice, we came to know it through travel in Asia, like people who travel to France for the first time and there discover good cheese and good wine. But it took a while for this discovery to happen. We were without all the little sensibilities that people have when they grow up eating rice as a staple food. It took years for us to really appreciate the smells and textures of diffferent varieties, and to have a sense of why one should be cooked one way and another a different way.
      Somewhere along the line we found outselves hooked on rice, on good rice, that is, and on rice as a way of preparing meals. Just like in millions – maybe hundreds of millions – of homes all around the world where rice is a staple food, we fell into the habit of putting rice on to cook first thing in the kitchen. It’s effortless. Then we would start thinking about what to serve with the rice, but we’d already be well into preparing our meal.
      If you weren’t raised with rice, this might sound a bit monotonous. But good rice is just like good bread. It always tastes real and it always sparks an appetite. In fact, this is even truer of rice, as it goes so well with a staggering number of different foods, from Senegalese peanut stew to Yunnanese spicy ground pork. And unlike bread, which requires a grain that has been ground into flour, and that flour transformed into bread, rice is simply cooked!


      We sometimes laugh when we think about the food we eat at home. It’s as unlike the food we ate growing up as any could possibly be. We eat curries from India and tofu dishes from China, seaweed from Japan and little dried fishes. We eat tiny bird chiles – and have a fit if we run out. We have a pantry that looks like a United Nations banquet. But the most exotic food is rice. Without it, none of the other ingredients would be there in our kitchen. It’s the great facilitator, unrivaled.

Hope you enjoyed reading the excerpts from the book.

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Sean Connery is one of my favourite actors (awesome voice, so handsome even when he is pushing eighty!). I like both his James Bond movies and his other movies. My favourite out of his Bond movies is the first one ‘Dr.No’ – I think the scene where Bond is introduced in the movie is still the best out of all the Bond movies. Out of his non-Bond movies, my favourites are ‘The Untouchables’, ‘Entrapment’, ‘Rising Sun’, ‘The Hunt for Red October’, ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’ and ‘The Name of the Rose’ – the last more because it is based on one of my favourite books of all time (‘The Name of the Rose’ by Umberto Eco), where Connery plays the role of William of Baskerville. 
A few years back I watched a long interview by Connery and his wife (I think she is Spanish or French). It was a wonderful interview and revealed the human side of Connery. It was also lovely to hear Connery’s wife speak English in that soft and musical mainland European accent and it was also wonderful see their big family in the interview.
I read sometime back that Sean Connery was working on a book which would be his memoir + biography + his version of Scottish history and culture. Being a Sean Connery fan, I was looking forward to getting the book, when it came out. When I had dropped into the bookshop yesterday, to collect another book that I had ordered, I saw Sean Connery’s book in the new arrivals section. It is called ‘Being a Scot’. I was thrilled, browsed the book, bought it and as I always do, read the foreword by Connery. I am giving below some extracts from it.

It’s only in retrospect that you know anything about deprivation. As Craigie Veitch, my Fountainbridge neighbour all those years ago, told me recently, ‘Looking back, we were disadvantaged because we grew up in an area of social deprivation. But since we didn’t have social workers to tell us that we were deprived, we were all as happy as pigs.’
(Comment : One could identify with what Connery says here. I know I did.)
My first big break came when I was five years old. It’s taken me more than seventy years to realise that. You see, at five I first learnt to read. It’s that simple and it’s that profound. I left school at thirteen. I didn’t have a formal education. And yet there I was, accepting the thirty-fourth American Film Institute’s Life Achievement
Award in the summer of 2006. I told the glittering Hollywood audience that without the lust for reading instilled in me all those years ago by my teachers at the Bruntsfield Primary School in Edinburgh, I would not have been there with them that night. It had been a long journey to that star-studded event, from my two-room Fountainbridge home in the smoky industrial end of Edinburgh near the McCowans’ toffee factory.
(Comment : ‘Lust for reading’ – well, I have it too 🙂 Looks like I am not in bad company :))
When I took a taxi during a recent Edinburgh Film Festival, the cabbie was amazed that I could put a name to every street we passed.
‘How come?’ he asked.
‘As a boy I used to deliver a milk around here,’ I said.
‘So what do you do now?’
That was rather harder to answer.
(Comment : These are my favourite lines from the foreword. Quite humbling and inspiring, isn’t it?)

Now that we have got the serious quotes out of the way, I thought I will also give a humorous anecdote about Connery 🙂 I got the autobiography of Roger Moore, another of my favourite Bond actors, sometime back. It is called ‘My Word is my Bond’ – not surprising because the Bond character Moore played was fond of one-liners. I read a little bit of it and have kept it aside for future reading. (The way I am reading bits and pieces of books, I am going to end up reading parts of many books rather than finishing even a single book! God help me!). Moore mentions an interestng anecdote involving Connery and the Bond movies producer Albert Broccoli. The background to the anecdote is this : Connery and Broccoli (he was called ‘Cubby’ among friends) had parted on acrimonious terms when Connery walked out of the Bond franchise. Here is how Moore describes the anecdote.

      Some years previously, I attempted to bring Sean and Cubby together at a party at our house in LA, hoping they might settle their differences. I should add that, a couple of weeks prior to the party, there had been a newspaper article in which Sean was quoted as saying that if Cubby Broccoli’s brain was on fire, he ‘wouldn’t piss in his ear to put it out.’
      At the party, I sat them both down with a drink. I heard Cubby – who was very much a gentleman Don Corleone – say, ‘Sean, did you really say if my brains were on fire you wouldn’t piss in my ear? I found that very upsetting.’
      ‘Cubby,’ replied Sean, ‘I’d gladly piss in your ear any time.’
      End of conversation!

Hope you enjoyed reading the above quotes and anecdotes.

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Cricket Humour :)

I got a book today called ‘The Wit of Cricket’ which has humorous cricket anecdotes and jokes compiled by Barry Johnston (son of the famous BBC Radio cricket commentator Brian Johnston). It features many of the classic anecdotes and jokes including ones by Richie Benaud, Dickie Bird, Henry Blofeld, Brian Johnston and others (I have to say, what a cast of characters!). I am giving a couple of anecdotes below – two of the best from the ones I read today. You don’t need to know about cricket to enjoy the jokes 🙂

Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie was the flamboyant captain of Hampshire who led them to their first county championship in 1961. Hampshire’s training diet in those days used to be ‘wine, women and song’. Colin was once asked what time he liked his players to be in bed and he said, ‘By nine.’ When someone said, ‘Isn’t that a bit early?’ he replied, ‘Well, play does start at eleven thirty!’ 

                                                              – told by Henry Blofeld
A lovely story is told about Brian Close. He was the youngest person ever to represent England – eighteen in 1949 – and then he went out to Australia with Freddie Brown as the junior member of the side in 1950/51. He made a hundred in the first match and hardly any runs after that – not a great tour for him.
      They were going up by train from Sydney to Newcastle, as they did in those days; it was in the evening and there was a girl sitting in the carriage, nursing a baby. The chap opposite her kept looking at the baby and she said, ‘What are you looking at my baby for?’
      ‘I’d rather not say.’
      ‘What are you looking for?’ she went on, and in the end he said, ‘All right, I’ll tell you. It’s the ugliest looking baby I’ve ever seen in my life!’
      Well, she arose and burst into tears. She was standing out in the corridor, weeping her eyes out and holding her baby, when the MCC team came along on the way to supper. Bringing up the rear was the junior man, Brian Close, who saw this girl and said, ‘What’s wrong, dear. Can I help?’
      ‘Yes. I’ve been insulted by that man in the carriage,’ she said and burst into tears again.
      ‘I’ll tell you what,’ Brian said. ‘Before I have supper, I’ll go along to the restaurant car and bring you back a cup of tea to cheer you up.’
      She said, ‘Oh, please,’ and burst into tears again.
      He came back two minutes later and she was still crying. ‘There you are, dear,’ he said, ‘a cup of tea to cheer you up. And what’s more, I’ve also brought a banana for the monkey!’  

                                                           – told by Brian Johnston

Hope you enjoyed reading the above anecdotes 🙂

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I discovered a YouTube channel recently on the origin of English words. It features a beautiful and attractive Russian girl, called Marina Orlova, who takes a word each time and describes its origin and how it has evolved. (For example to know more about the the word ‘pampered’ you can check out this video. You can also check out Orlova’s site here).

When I was looking at some of Orlova’s explanations, I also remembered that I had got a book sometime back on word origins, which had unfortunately gone into the bottom of one of my book piles. So I searched for it in my book piles and fished it out. It is called ‘Kick the Bucket and Swing the Cat : English Words and Phrases, and their Curious Origins’ by Alex Games and Victoria Coren. It seems to be based on a BBC TV series called ‘Balderdash & Piffle’. I read a bit of the foreword and browsed through the book here and there. The foreword was quite interesting and so I am giving part of it here.

When I was a child, I made a list of my favourite words. Ferret. Tinsel. Quagmire. They were my top three.
      I made the more traditional lists too : boys I liked, Barbie outfits, revenges to be exacted on horrible schoolteachers. But, while teachers and Barbies dominate our lives for a limited period of time, and boys become far less enigmatic with exposure, words remain mysteriously fascinating for ever. I still think I picked a good three. Ferret, tinsel, quagmire, all of them strange and perfect in their various ways. ‘Ferret’ squirms slightly as you say it : a mischievous, wriggly little word. ‘Tinsel’ is sharp and silvery against the teeth. You can get bogged down in ‘quagmire’, with its juicy start and claggy centre.
      This is why there is no such thing as a perfect translation. The precise relationship between a word or phrase and its meaning is peculiar to every language.
      You might say to a friend, ‘I’ll see you at teatime’, meaning only an approximation of four o’clock. But tucked away inside the word ‘teatime’, to a British ear, is a chill winter afternoon : darkness outside, a little orange glow around the streetlamps, and a pile of hot buttered crumpets on a table by the hearth. (And tucked away inside the word ‘crumpets’ is a little parade of Victorian prostitutes, from the time when the word came to mean an attractive woman, for reasons which I can’t possibly spell out here.)
      Your plan, when you meet this friend at teatime, may involve neither chill winds nor tea, and I certainly hope it doesn’t involve prostitutes. But every time you use an English word, it whispers a little story. Words are like the best sort of grandparents : still engaged and busy in the modern world, but full of colourful tales about the place they were born, the years of their youth, and the job they used to do. The question is, are we always listening?

Hope you enjoyed reading the above extract. Will write more about the book, when I get around to reading it.

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Two weeks back, I was chatting with one of my friends, online, when he mentioned that he read a book called God’s Debris and liked it very much. A few hours later, another friend of mine, came online and mentioned the same book! It is extremely rare that I get a book recommendation of the same book, by two different people (who don’t know each other) within a few hours! It has never happened to me before! When I mentioned this to my second friend, he gave a philosophical twist to it by asking me whether I believed in coincidences and suggesting that probably this coincidence had a deeper meaning.
‘God’s Debris’ was lying unread on my ‘To Be Read’ pile till yesterday evening, when I thought I will give it the attention it deserved. It was a short book (around 144 pages), it had big fonts and it was a digital copy. I haven’t read a whole book on a computer before and so I thought it will be interesting to find out how the experience was. I was also intrigued to find out what was there in the book to appeal to two young people. I finished reading the book today and here is my review.
Summary of the book
Here is a description of the book from Amazon.com.

Scott Adams, creator of the popular comic strip “Dilbert,” has written a modern-day parable about a young man and an unlikely mentor. God’s Debris starts with a young deliveryman trying to hand over a package to a man with a San Francisco address. But delivering the package to this old man proves to be as difficult as trying to understand the meaning of God.

“It’s for you,” the old man tells the narrator, gesturing to the package.
“What’s in the package?” the narrator asks.
“It’s the answer to your question.”
“I wasn’t expecting any answers,” the deliveryman admits.

About this time, the narrator begins to realize that he’s not dealing with a feeble-minded old man; he’s dealing with a situation that could alter his life. The sincerity and metaphysical complexity of this fable will surprise those who expect comedy, but Adams is following a tradition set by such writers as Dan Millman (‘Way of the Peaceful Warrior’) and Richard Bach (‘Illusions’). As in many parables that have come before, the deliveryman learns the meaning of life from an illusive mentor who seems to arise from a wrinkle in time. The cleverness of the God’s Debris concept is original and bound to leave readers pondering some altered definitions of God, the universe, and just about everything else. (more…)

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One of my Russian friends told me recently that she played a part in a performance of the Anton Chekhov play ‘Three Sisters’. I haven’t read any of Chekhov’s plays before, though I have read some of his short stories. I got inspired by our conversation and thought I will read ‘Three Sisters’. I finished reading it yesterday. Here is the review.        
Summary of the play
The play is about three sisters – Olga, Masha and Irina, who live in a small Russian town, which has an army garrison. The sisters befriend some of the army officers. Their brother Andrey also lives with them. The story follows the life of the three sisters and their brother and their relationships with different people across a few years. The play also touches on the contrast between the dream life that the sisters and their brother want to live and their dreary everyday existence, and their yearning for Moscow where they had spent their childhood and to which they want to return back.  
What I think
I found the play quite interesting. One could identify with the yearning of the sisters to move to a place where they had lived during their childhood, and which is also a cultural centre which has sophisticated people. It is a romantic yearning which a lot of people have. I remember one of my friends who left Delhi to live in a smaller city, yearning for the life she had left behind. I also remember other friends who went to work abroad yearning to come back to their homecountry (and paradoxically, if they come back to their homecountry, yearning to go back abroad!). I, myself, have missed every city that I have lived in, since childhood, and have yearned to go back. I know that life there would have changed in the intervening years, but I would like to atleast go back and visit my favourite haunts (if, fortunately, they are still there), and find out what the people I knew then are doing now.   (more…)

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I read an interesting article on British pubs by a columnist called Bill Kirkman recently. You can read it here.

Bill Kirkman normally writes about education, culture and politics and so it was interesting to read his article on  pubs. He has positioned it as an article on culture, which is quite smart on his part 🙂 
The article reminded me of my own favourite pubs and bars, across the years.
There was the ‘House of Jazz and Blues’, in Shanghai, where Sam Hooper played his jazz guitar wonderfully, like a master. When I was in Shanghai, I never missed Sam Hooper’s  performance, whenever he was in town. Sam Hooper was a genius in jazz – in both singing and playing the jazz guitar – and the crowd on Friday and Saturday nights always asked for an encore, when he finished his performance. ‘House of Jazz and Blues’ was the only place that I know that had James Bond’s favourite drink ‘Vodka Martinishaken not stirred’ 🙂 It is good, but I think it is an acquired taste 🙂  Another interesting memory for me, about ‘House of Jazz and Blues’ was that once I met an English airline pilot there, who spoke in Tamil and who said that he knew how to make idli and dosa! We had quite a fascinating conversation! There was the ‘Cotton Club’ which my dear friend Jai introduced to me. It was also a jazz bar, where the  lead guitarist wore a long pony tail, and who strummed the jazz guitar to melodious music. I love jazz bars, but for some reason I haven’t been to the jazz bar in the ‘Peace Hotel’. Then there was ‘Woodstock’ which was my favourite bar for a long time – for its lighting, the right kind of crowd, and the classic rock music that was played there. It was also a place where I met many interesting people. One of the people I met here called herself ‘Lemon’! I have never known anyone with a first name of ‘Lemon’ before! Another person I met was an artist, who liked painting David Beckham! Then there was ‘Little Cayman’ which at some point of time, was a home away from home, for me. The manager, bartender and waitresses were warm and friendly and the waitresses sometimes used to sit with customers and play board games or tile games (like ‘Jenga’ or a version of ‘Andantino’) and beat the hell out of them 🙂 When I asked the manager once, is despair, when I was going to win my first board / tile game, she used to encourage me by saying that I will become better with practice. When the manager was not smiling, I knew that business was not good that day. (more…)

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