Why travel?

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Why read a book if the person who read all the words in it is the same person who first saw the cover?

Why watch a film if the person who reads the end credits is the same person who bought the ticket?

Why draw anything if the person who signs it is the same person who saw the empty sheet?

Why paint a picture if the person who washes the brushes is the same person who first drew out the colours?

Why write an essay if the person who puts the last full stop is the same person who wrote the title?

Why travel when you are the same person when you return home as the person who locked the door when you left?

Review: The Remains of the Day

The Remains of the Day
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was highly recommended by a lot of people who’s recommendations I trust. It was more to do with how impressive they thought the book was and how well the story was told. So, a shot at it I had to give.

It truly is a very well written book. The story however, is not really impressive. The book describes a holiday a butler takes to the countryside. Nothing charming about it, right? Well, Ishiguro pulls out all stops in his literary arsenal to charm you, and he succeeds. Simplistic as the story might be, the writing is far from being simple. Written in the first-person, it reads like a memoir of a butler. Ishiguro manages to wring out every bit of charm the butler Stevens can exude, even though he is a no-nonsense, professional, dignified and ‘proper’ English butler who prides himself for possessing these very qualities. It is a lot of fun to read about the idiosyncrasies of a butler and how the littlest of change bothers him. It is lovely to see the amount of pride he takes in his work and the lengths he will go to do it well. And it is charming to see the loyalty he displays towards all his masters and above all, his profession.

Beneath the stiff upper lip of Stevens, there are shades of hopeful love. Ishiguro does a marvelous job of conveying how hopeful the hope of lost love is, while at the same time how it seems to be – unimportant. There could a be a lot of subtle clues and life lessons here, which you can deduce yourself.

The book does drag along at times and you feel like skipping a few pages of Stevens describing a bush or a lake or a field. And you wouldn’t miss much if you do skip these pages. As I mentioned earlier, this book is not about the story. It is about how a story should be told. And I love nothing more than a story told well.

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Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

It has been a really long time since I have posted content from third party sites on my blog, but this one deserves a watch.

I have been a big fan of John Oliver for some time now thanks to the Bugle podcast he hosts with Andy Zaltzman. John’s show Last Week Tonight is one of the best shows on air today, globally. And the below clip is all you need to see to know why.

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Time Machine

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Every time I travel by train, the ones that go beyond your state. I mean the states which make up our country and not the state of ones mind or the state of a substance. I can see how one could get confused here. Quite forgivable. Talking of states that make up a country, I wonder what is the right number of states. We seem to keep adding them by separating some, for reasons which are I am sure are noble and good. But I wonder, as I usually invariably do, is there a right number?

I digress. Returning to the train of my thought, pun unintended, these long distance trains are the best to give one a healthy shot of nostalgia. I remember all our holiday travels being in trains. There weren’t enough flights as yet then. And one traveled in the normal sleeper class, none of the air conditioned travels that we can’t seem to do without now. It just all seems to an extent vain to me these days. Back then one had the wind hitting you on your face, and one could see the country side with all its glorious fields rolling by. There were rivers flowing below you, which don’t as much as flow anymore, on account of having become drier over the years.

I tend to spend a sizeable period of time near the door of the train compartment or on the railway platform of every station we stop at. Feels nice to have the wind hit you and stand with the morning sun on your face as you breathe in the relatively clear air which one doesn’t find in the cities. It feels like one is traveling. Across states. How many states do we actually have these days? One keeps forgetting.

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Review: Think Like a Freak

Think Like a Freak
Think Like a Freak by Steven D. Levitt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

‘Think Like a Freak’ is a book you would quite naturally pick up if you have already read the brilliant Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and the not as brilliant SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes And Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. However, one would do well to note that the earlier two books were written by both Levitt and Dubner (only of whom is a qualified economist teaching at a University), this one is written by Levitt, the writer.

One cannot be blamed for comparing ‘Think Like a Freak’ with its predecessors, as the target market for the book are the people who have read the first two. The book promises you to teach you to think like the authors have all their lives, like freaks. There aren’t any economic theories in this book. This book in fact has very little to do with economics. It intends to encourage you to think ‘out of the box’.

The author has tracked down stories from around the world, using them as examples/case studies to outline how thinking like freaks can lead to success. The stories are interesting, however, the stories might sound repetitive if you follow Levitt’s weekly podcast Freakonomics Radio, like I do, and then delayed reading the book till he discussed the book and the stories on the podcast. The book is quite easy to read like its predecessors, which shows that Levitt, former journalist, is genuinely a good writer. One does however feel that the book isn’t substantial enough, being only 210 pages long. Somehow, once through, you end up feeling you still don’t have enough knowledge to start thinking like a freak.

I do feel that people who have read and understood books like the Freakonomics series or The Undercover Economist or other such books, are smart enough to understand how the authors have gone about applying economic theories to find fascinating correlations in seemingly random occurrences. I feel a new book which does not do a great job at delivering its promise is quite unnecessary.

I did like reading it, more because it kind of rounded off the Freakonomics series for me, but I think one can give this a miss if you have already read the other books.

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Review: More Than This

More Than This
More Than This by Patrick Ness
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review is about three months after I had read the book. I had written a short review but realised I must elaborate.

This book introduced me to Patrick Ness and he shows all signs of being a remarkable author. When I read a book, what I look for isn’t just the story or the plot itself. I look for the way a story is told and the way it unfolds; the words the author uses to tell the story.

This being a young adult book, I didn’t expect it to have fancy words that you might see in bigger tomes. However, I did expect a certain level of profoundness and forceful reading between the lines, and it did mark its attendance.

Ness takes you in a fantasy world, bordering on noir-fantasy genre, confusing you and forcing you to figure out things with the characters themselves. They are as clueless as you are about the world they find themselves in. This isn’t a fun or romantic read, far from it. It is quite dark. And maybe at some level, depressing. There aren’t a lot of characters to speak of, but you do get attached to those that are present. Well fleshed out and adorable. Even though the story does have a protagonist, honestly, I felt more attached to the other characters. Maybe that was how Ness meant it to be.

I would recommend this book though. It is quite quick to read and finish. Give it a read if you don’t mind noir.

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The Curiosity Project

As humans, we are wired to be curious. All of us.

We are supposed to ask questions like why and how when we see something that we don’t understand. All of us wonder about these questions. The difference lies in what extent one would go to find answers to these questions.

Today with so much data relatively easily available, we somehow don’t want to spend time to satisfy our curiosity. Which is not really a problem. However, trying to find answers to such questions helps us spend more time with ourselves and thinking about something unrelated to our jobs, hopefully.

I read quite a bit, as most of you would probably know. I also love knowing about things, as most of you are probably annoyed with. I propose we combine your questions with our need to find answers. Give me your questions about ‘why does it exist’ or ‘how does this work’ or ‘why this way’ and I will try my best to find answers to those whys and hows.

The questions can be about sociology, culture, history, technology or economics. Invariably all questions come down to a few of these basic concepts in any case. All I ask is that it be interesting.

Questions like,

What is the deal with fondue and how did it start? Hint: It’s a Swiss post world-war conspiracy.

Why are the buttons on a woman’s shirt on the left hand side? Hint: There was a time when maids used to dress up women.

Why are the number pads on your phone and your keyboard different? Hint:  Twist-dial phones and Calculators.

Is there an underground sneakers market that behaves like the commodities market? Hint: Yes. In the US.

In Burma, why do they drive on the right of the road but the bus doors are on the left? Hint: History.

See? Fascinating!

I will try as much as I can to find a complete and all-encompassing answer or explanation to your question. I will read books, read journals, listen to podcasts, watch videos, talk to people who know better (I know a LOT of people, and they know a LOT of people) and if need be visit libraries as well (yes, they still exist and are quite lovely places).

The idea is not to make you lazy, but to push you to be more curious and eventually, curious enough for you to find out the answer yourself and not bother waiting for me to find out.

A few ground rules though:

  1. Refrain from asking questions on life, love, religion or philosophy. All of these are subjective and I honestly can never have enough knowledge or sense to give a satisfactory answer.
  2. Ask one question at a time and please wait for my answer. I have a full-time job and I intend to keep it. You might have to wait for a few days or maybe a couple of weeks. But, we shall try to get the answer together, as long as it is interesting.
  3. Ask the question via email only. You probably know my email address already, or know someone who knows it. I am honestly not sure of the response to this and hence would like to keep it constrained to begin with.
  4. You are free to ask a question and suggest an answer that you think is the right one. We can weed out and get to the fact together. It will be fun!
  5. At times, I might point you to links where you can read/hear/see stuff for yourself. This is just to save our time and effort from reinventing the wheel.

All of this in no way means to imply I know more than anyone else does. And we always have Wikipedia. I am sure you search and read random things as well. But I also want to know those random things you read. Your questions will give me interesting topics to read about. That is my selfish purpose behind this. If you don’t have questions, mail me the last fascinating thing you read somewhere? Just a snippet, maybe.

None of us can know everything. But we can try. I have friends who are doctors, journalists, bankers and lawyers and I am not afraid to ask them your questions. And we will make more friends to get answers.

I am honestly not sure if I will get even a single question, which is fine as well, or if I will even be able to answer the questions one would ask. So, shall we give this a shot?

What say you?

Review: The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every time you tell someone the name of the last book you read or the one you are currently reading, the logical question asked would be ‘What is it about?’ I can assure you Jonas Jonasson’s ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ (which is quite a mouthful, and to be honest, we love it, don’t we?) will not raise that question.

It is a great book to go to for some stress free reading. Jonasson follows a tone of dark humour throughout and anyone who takes this book seriously is probably reading the wrong book anyway. Having said that, it does follow a parallel story-line which conveniently chronicles the history of the world over the last century along with one of the best characters I have had the pleasure of meeting in a book, Alan.

It might be unfair to compare this book to any other in a similar genre. The writing is simple and straightforward and assumes the reader to be knowledgeable enough to differentiate between facts and fiction. It does quite well at satarising most of the key events that have occurred in the recent history of our species.

The book has a good mix of characters going through a series of fortunate/unfortunate events depending on the perspective you look at it from. It is a story with an astounding number of coincidences that can only occur in a story.

It is a well written book and I would recommend one to read this just so you get to meet Alan.

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Review: The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book about books. It is a book about words. It is a book about writing those words. A book about reading books. A book about the love for all of the above. About our first love. About friendship. About war and destruction. But at the end of it all, about love.

As Zafon says, ‘Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you.’

The book I read before this one was a light hearted, dark humoured, hilariously fictional story about a 100 year old man and his journey. The Shadow of the Wind managed to rip my soul out of that merry world and slam it right onto the civil war ravaged streets of Barcelona. Do not expect a Barcelona of Gaudi and Naruda or of what you see in any movie. This is version of Barcelona is bordering on being Dickensian.

Having said that, Zafon takes you on a journey of a curious teenager, Daniel, who is just one of us; not brave enough, not old enough, completely in love and trying to fit in with grown ups.

It is a story summed up by Zafon himself when he says ‘Few things leave a deeper mark on a reader than the first book that finds its way into his heart.’

The book borders on quiet a few genres and leaves you wondering how you can eventually try and summarise it. But that might be it, not easy to summarise a book which has quotes such as ‘Presents are made for the pleasure of who gives them, not for the merits of who receives them’ and ‘We exist as long as somebody remembers us.’

At a point I was reading the book more to discover such words than to know where Daniel would end up next. The plot might be akin to certain ‘Bollywood’ movies of yore, but you can’t really argue with the way it unravels.

This one is bound to stay with you for days after you finish reading it.

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What I want to do every time it rains.

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No matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing, no matter what I’m wearing; when I see rain falling, there’s only one thing I wish I was doing at that exact moment.

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