Days of our Lives!

July 7, 2012

Book Review: Bangkok Eight – John Burdett

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 11:59 PM

Book: Bangkok Eight (Sonchai Jitpleecheep #1)
Author: John Burdett
Genre: Fiction –> Crime

Now let’s say the setting of a murder mystery is the local park. In a typical whodunnit, the protagonist is on the jogging track, a little behind the antagonist. He jogs along at a good clip trying to identify the antagonist, he suddenly dashes in to the grassy area to speak to someone sitting on a bench, the ice cream vendor gives a mysterious tip, the antagonist’s goons rush on to the track to try and trip him up but he outwits them, he catches a faint glimpse of the antagonist just ahead, he speeds up, his family calls on his mobile but he ignores it, he’s catching up, the gap is closing faster, both are sprinting flat out now, he flings himself forward and tackles the antagonist and brings him to the ground. Everyone who watches this unfold talk about how “breathless” it was and “adrenaline rush” it gave them.

In this novel, Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep is the protagonist. He does get onto the jogging track. But he also spends time on the grass (both varieties), sits to meditate, comments on the other people in the park, chats with old friends, and the whole experience is more intimate. As in life, things are also happening elsewhere in the park which may or may not have a bearing, he even meets the antagonist a few times, his mom who’s a former rent-wife gives him advise, the FBI female interest who wants to tear after the antagonist slowly accepts this way of life, everyone talks and thinks things through, revelations come in spurts, and at the end of it nobody gets arrested but everyone gets what they deserve. Everyone who watches this unfold talk about what’s for dessert.

A philosophy spewing, Buddhism mediating, farang addressed, yaa baa fueled, spiritual and cultural lesson of a murder mystery.

My Rating: 4/5

July 3, 2012

Book Review: The Average Indian Male – Cyrus Broacha

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 7:17 PM
Book: The Average Indian Male
Author: Cyrus Broacha
Genre: Humour

Tired, drawn out, cliched, rambling satire about the paan-spitting, urinating, farting, skinny-legged, short, mama’s boy. The only redeemable thing about it are the large fonts and less pages.

My Rating: 0.5/5

July 1, 2012

Book Review: The Art of Writing Advertising – Denis Higgins

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 10:37 PM
Book: The Art of Writing Advertising: Conversations with Masters of the Craft
Author: Denis Higgins (the interviewer)
Genre: Biographies, Interviews

Nice and breezy read. Short interviews with 5 of the best known names in the copywriting business by Denis Higgins of Advertising Age. About the industry, their personal styles, their views on what makes good copy, how to write good copy, the lack of any fixed formula, etc. As the book cover states, these are conversations, meaning the interviews are unedited, and thus provide a further compelling portrait of their characters with the book also narrating what happens between questions, how the interviewees initially understood a particular question, their comebacks, how they dismissively get to the point, etc.

The five are:

  • William Bernbach
  • Leo Burnett
  • George Gribbin
  • David Ogilvy
  • Rosser Reeve

My Rating: 4/5

Book Review: A.R. Rahman: The Musical Storm – Kamini Mathai

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 4:46 AM
Book Name: A.R. Rahman: The Musical Storm
Author: Kamini Mathai
Genre: Biography

It actually took me some time before I connected what I thought was a cheesy little tagline, “The Musical Storm“, with the “Isai Puyal A.R.Rahman” that we’ve grown up with. While the music has quite obviously been a pretty significant part of my growing up, I should confess that I’ve never really known much about the man behind it. To that end, this book was excellent in throwing light on Allah Rakha Rahman.

There is sufficient content on the family background, the childhood, and the context and setting of Rahman’s life and music. The section on his early professional life, starting as a sessions player for Rs.50, moving on to an in-demand keyboard player, his budding love of technology, his acquaintances and first forays in composing was especially fascinating. For example, I never knew that he was preparing to move to USA to study music at Berkeley before Roja came calling. While I’ve listened to his early pre-Roja works hundreds of times, I’d never known the setting or the people behind them, which this book helped illuminate.

The book also throws sufficient light on his faith, conversion to Islam, his style of working, his character and modus operandi, etc. I’d known that his mother had a major part in his life, but this book also showed the context and relationship over the entire period of his life, in a comprehensive and in-depth perspective. There is even a cute anecdote about how an expectedly very shy Rahman was taken to meet Saira, the girl he would marry, and when Saira started off by telling him she loved all his songs, he was very relieved to be talking about music rather than anything else.

More than anything, I loved the sections that speak about how Rahman works, how he starts, the rituals he performs, the perfection he chases, the childlike enthusiasm, the childish unprofessionalism, how he encourages and develops the new singers and new sounds, his love of experimenting, etc. There are also anecdotes and background stories about how the music was developed and composed for a few movies.

There really isn’t much first-hand information though, because getting to meet and then making Rahman speak really isn’t easy. So the effort in collating all this content from older articles and interviews, speaking to those who’ve worked with him, and his other acquaintances, is commendable. However, I also felt that quotes from everyone who’s had something interesting to say – fact or fiction, observation or perception – had been extrapolated and exploited. The way Ilaiyaraja has been portrayed, I wonder if the first half of this book couldn’t have been titled “The Boy Who Composed”. Ilaiyaraja is depicted almost as the Voldemort-like tyrant who never allowed any musicians, singers or technicians to express themselves. At more than a couple of places, the book even talks of how the industry was hoping for someone to “overthrow” Ilaiyaraja. Also, director Kathir should seriously be considering suing, SPB comes across as a bitter old-timer, and the Tamil film industry has wrongly been shown as having been overshadowed by A.R.Rahman.

Where the book let me down very badly was in the writing and the even worse editing, especially considering the brand of the publisher. In the rush to cash in on the Oscars fame and the suddenly open international market, the overall quality takes a back-seat. While the chapters are well conceived as an overall structure, there just isn’t any sensible organising done within and between them. There are ridiculous repetitions where the author talks about something like it’s the first time she’s mentioning it, and the overall feeling is that each chapter has no idea what’s in the other chapters, and in some cases even an individual page doesn’t know what’s in it. It’s almost as if different editors worked independently on each chapter based on a common source material, never coordinated, and were also sufficiently absent-minded themselves.

Something else that grated quite a lot was the entire feel of the book. While I do understand that Penguin was looking at an international market to the sell the book, the entire feel was like reading an article on the New York Times India blog, where things are stressed that little bit more, native idiosyncrasies are explained in a patronizing voice, and needless explanations are given repeatedly regarding anything India. It’s like if the Steve Jobs biography had “the western American state of California“, “the IPod, which is a device to listen songs on“, “Bill Gates, who is the founder-chariman of Microsoft“, etc., every single time the words were required to be used. Frankly, I thought it was ridiculous when I read “the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu“. In fact, until I came to know when writing this review, I honestly thought the author was actually a North Indian who’s visited Tamil Nadu just for this book, given her choice of words, knowledge and inclination.

My Rating: 3/5. Overall, the information presented is commendable, while the presentation is shoddy. The book comes across as a business decision and not as the definitive, passionate one that is waiting to be written.

June 28, 2012

Book Review: The Game Changers – Rahul Kumar, Yuvnesh Modi, Alok Kothari

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 1:44 AM
Book Name: The Game Changers: 20 extraordinary success stories of entrepreneurs from IIT Kharagpur
Authors: Rahul Kumar, Yuvnesh Modi, Alok Kothari
Genre: Biography

After the wave of campus novels, we now have the era of the famous-alumni bios. The authors of this book about 20 of IIT Kharagpur’s more illustrious alumni have very recent connections with their alma mater, with two of them in fact still in their 4th year. Perhaps, that’s the reason why there’s an undertone of the fanboy throughout the book. There are also generous doses, as stated by the various subjects of the book, of stuff you’d prepare for a hypothetical “why IIT Kharagpur” question: the best college in the country, the most stimulating environment, the smartest peers, learn from the best, etc.

It’s a decent attempt and the authors have done their best to standardise the format, which makes it easy to read, structure and compare. The selection of subjects is excellent and covers a good range of fields and accomplishments. The trouble with the book, though, is that for most of these bios, with a few notable exceptions, there is not much original or incisive research on the subject’s inside story, the 360 degree perspective from associates and peers, the context, the background, the struggle, the lessons, and above all, the subject’s thought process. The biographies are thus extremely sketchy with “It was very challenging, but being young, they didn’t take the general scepticism too seriously, and took risks and decisions without much worry” and “Suhas got married and in no time his first child was ready for school.” The subjects were all “highly motivated”, “worked round the clock” with “utmost dedication”, and “achieved their dreams”. I wonder what the editors were doing.

I personally see three reasons behind this new wave of alumni bios:

  • quick fix to become a published writer
  • a bit of chest-thumping pride in their alma mater
  • if the campus novels were meant for entertainment, then these could be for inspiration.

Now, for me to be inspired though, or at the least made curious, I’d want to read the thought, intent and context behind a particular decision, and not just the decision as a statement of fact. Reading just that World War II happened is completely different from also reading about why and how WWII took place. I wonder if any constraints on the number of pages (dictated by price?) played a part in the rushed, sketchy outline of a biographies book this (and others in the genre)  turns out to be; because, duh, you cannot skip the basics in a biography, and damn!, you’re out of pages.

During my third year in Engineering, to commemorate some now-forgotten event, a bunch of us from the Lit club made a scrapbook of sorts – “Mad About Madurai” – with bios of the most illustrious in Madurai’s history, and presented it to our correspondent and mayor. I think it’s time I dug it out from my old desktop.

My Rating: 2/5, and the second star is only because the attempt’s still better than Rashmi Bansal’s “desi style” mix of motivational one-liners, verbatim quotes from the subject in the vernacular, and a steady dosage of random idioms and phrases.

June 26, 2012

Book Review: Harry Potter: The Prequel – J.K.Rowling

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 1:59 PM

Book Name: Harry Potter: The Prequel
Author: J.K.Rowling
Genre: Fantasy
Link: Read the piece here.

Handwritten on a card, this is an 800-word story written by J. K. Rowling, which was auctioned off alongside thirteen similar cards from other authors on 11 June 2008 in the “What’s Your Story?” auction at Waterstone’s in Piccadilly. Bought for £25,000 the proceeds went for charity. Set about three years before the birth of Harry Potter, the story recounts an adventure experienced by Sirius Black and James Potter.

Comment: More like a short scene than a short story. The writing’s more fan-fiction than JKR. Poor writing even for a napkin/card, heroes giving the weak a hard time, intentional display of magic before muggles, wands breaking on impact, and if I read it correctly, tees emblazoned with the Order’s logo (so much for a secret society fighting against all-powerful evil who in turn provide comic relief by smashing into cars and falling senseless).

My Rating: 2/5. Rated 2 stars purely for the thrill of discovery and the intent behind this piece.

June 11, 2012

Book Review: Shakespeare: The World as a Stage – Bill Bryson

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 8:17 PM
Book Name: Shakespeare: The World as a Stage
Author: Bill Bryson
Genre: Biography

Shakespeare: The World as a Stage has GOT to be the liberal arts equivalent of the thesis reports on “strategic realignment of organization to external exigencies using a process driven approach and scalable, replicable models that offer long-term sustainability” that we wrote during my MBA days. I mean, seriously! An entire book that basically talks about how little there is to talk about what the book is supposed to talk about!

The fact is, and this is something that was an eye-opener for me, we hardly know anything about Shakespeare the person. The master of irony does indeed have the last laugh because we know naught about the most well known playwright in history, whose works have been the best preserved and the most researched. There are Shakespeare scholars who have dedicated careers to poring over the number of times the word “dunghill” appears in his works (it appears 10 times), but nobody knows for certain how “Shakespeare” is spelt (Shakespeare himself signed it 6 different ways, but never as “Shakespeare”).

What Shakespeare: The World as a Stage does provide is

  • a context for Shakespeare’s works
  • Bryson’s love of quirky facts
  • Shakespeare’s works and his contribution to literature
  • words and phrases that he coined that are very much part of daily English, and the even more interesting list of words that couldn’t catch on to common usage
  • contemporaries and luminaries who contributed to, derived from, patronised, and built Shakespeare
  • common life during Elizabethan London
  • anecdotes about researchers who’ve spent careers trying to get to the man behind the name
  • debunking of quite a few Shakespearean myths and conspiracy theories with their often hilarious lack of proof and logic
A quick read, even if I’m now not too sure about listing this under Biographies. 
My Rating: 3.5/5

October 17, 2011

Book Review: Why We Buy, The Science of Shopping – Paco Underhill

Filed under: Books — Santhosh @ 9:11 PM

Book Name: Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping
Author: Paco Underhill, environmental psychologist and founder of Envirosell
Year: 2008
Genre: Management, Psychology

This was part of my recommended reading for my Retail Management course at IIM I. Though intrigued by a couple of essays by Underhill, I never got around to actually reading the book until last week. Firstly, Why We Buy should have been How They Buy, because 1) the book is about insights on shopping (and not shoppers), based on elaborate observations of shoppers when they’re shopping and, 2) it’s addressed from the retailer’s point of view.

The structure of the book goes something like this:

  • Opening scene: the retailers were basically village simpletons who happened to have stores that were being visited by cattle masquerading as customers. Oh, and the world as we know it is about to end!
  • And then I, in my magnificent self, and Envirosell (insert trumpet blowing), happened on the scene.
  • Sarcastic commentary with two examples of how ridiculous the current practices were.
  • Trumpet Envirosell’s modus operandi of spending hours collecting data.
  • Voila! Insert insight such as old ladies products being sold on the bottom shelf.
  • Sales went up by 88000%, the retailer has a better looking wife, won Big Boss, and is currently building a temple on the moon to honour me.
  • Deride 2 companies that didn’t take my advice.
  • Trumpet Envirosell’s Science of Shopping.
  • End credits.
  • Repeat.

Okay, it’s not that bad. Mostly.

If you manage to plough through all the noise, there are some nuggets in there. But it’s just that it takes so much persistence and teeth-grinding to actually do so. Where the book does leave a mark is when Underhill talks about facts of consumer behaviour, with empirical evidence arrived at with truckloads of detailed observation of shoppers, data analysis and mining. Such points do provide for some fascinating moments in terms of an anthropological perspective, but Underhill’s writing style and personal opinions mean that it becomes a grind. At places the book is just plain sexist, generalised, and archaic with statements like “We always advise our bookstore clients to group sections by gender, acknowledging the tendency of men to cluster in sports, business, do-it-yourself and computers while women troll psychology, self-help, health, food, diet, home and garden“.

This could have been a truly great book. Or atleast a great read, if he had structured this along the lines of David Ogilvy’s Ogilvy on Advertising, which was on a similar theme and genre. Where Ogilvy was elegant, simple and prescriptive, Underhill is verbose, tacky and in-your-face.

My Rating: 2/5

December 4, 2010

150 Things To Do Before You Turn Thirty

Filed under: Tagged — Santhosh @ 2:00 PM

The rules of the tag are,

  • Bold for things you have already done.
  • Italics for things that you are dying to do!

    An American list though it is, here I go!!

    1. Bought everyone in the bar a drink
    2. Swam with dolphins
    3. Climbed a mountain
    4. Taken a Ferrari for a test drive
    5. Been inside the Great Pyramid
    6. Held a tarantula
    7. Taken a candlelit bath with someone
    8. Hugged a tree
    9. Bungee jumped
    10. Visited Paris
    11. Watched a lightning storm at sea
    12. Stayed up all night long and saw the sun rise
    13. Seen the Northern Lights
    14. Gone to a huge sports game
    15. Walked the stairs to the top of the Eiffel
    16. Grown and eaten your own vegetables
    17. Touched an iceberg
    18. Slept under the stars
    19. Changed a baby’s diaper
    20. Taken a trip in a hot air balloon
    21. Watched a meteor shower
    22. 😛
    23. Gotten drunk on champagne
    24. Given more than you can afford to charity
    25. Looked up at the night sky through a telescope
    26. Had an uncontrollable giggling fit at the worst possible moment
    27. Had a food fight
    28. Bet on a winning horse
    29. Asked out a stranger
    30. Had a snowball fight
    31. Screamed as loudly as you possibly can
    32. Held a lamb
    33. Seen a total eclipse
    34. Ridden a roller coaster
    35. Hit a home run six
    36. Danced like a fool and didn’t care who was looking
    37. Adopted an accent for an entire day
    38. Actually felt happy about your life, even for just a moment
    39. Had two six hard drives for your computer
    40. Visited all 29 states
    41. Taken care of someone who was drunk
    42. Had amazing friends
    43. Danced with a stranger in a foreign country
    44. Watched whales
    45. Stolen a sign
    46. Backpacked in Europe
    47. Taken a road-trip
    48. Gone rock climbing
    49. Taken a midnight walk on the beach
    50. Gone sky diving
    51. Visited Ireland
    52. Been heartbroken longer than you were actually in love
    53. In a restaurant, sat at a stranger’s table and had a meal with them
    54. Visited Japan
    55. Milked a cow
    56. Alphabetized your CDs
    57. Pretended to be a superhero
    58. Sung karaoke
    59. Lounged around in bed all day
    60. Played touch football
    61. Gone scuba diving
    62. Kissed in the rain
    63. Played in the mud
    64. Played in the rain
    65. Gone to a drive-in theatre
    66. Visited the Great Wall of China
    67. Started a business
    68. Fallen in love and not had your heart broken
    69. Toured ancient sites
    70. Taken a martial arts class
    71. Played for more than 6 hours straight
    72. Gotten married
    73. Been in a movie
    74. Crashed a party
    75. Enjoyed hostel life
    76. Gone without food for 5 days
    77. Made cookies from scratch
    78. Won first prize in a costume contest
    79. Ridden a gondola in Venice
    80. Gotten a tattoo
    81. Rafted the Snake River
    82. Saved someone’s life
    83. Been on a television news program as an “expert”
    84. Gotten flowers for no reason
    85. Performed on stage
    86. Been to Las Vegas
    87. Recorded music
    88. Eaten shark
    89. Kissed on the first date
    90. Gone to Thailand
    91. Bought a house
    92. Been in a combat zone
    93. Buried Cremated someone close
    94. Been on a cruise ship
    95. Spoken more than one language fluently
    96. Performed in Rocky Horror
    97. Raised children
    98. Followed your favorite band/singer on tour
    99. Passed out cold
    100. Taken an exotic bicycle tour in a foreign country
    101. Picked up and moved to another city to start over
    102. Walked the Golden Gate Bridge
    103. Sang loudly in the car, and didn’t stop when you knew someone was looking with the windows open
    104. Had plastic surgery
    105. Survived an accident that you shouldn’t have survived
    106. Wrote articles for a large publication
    107. Lost over 100 pounds
    108. Held someone while they were having a flashback
    109. Piloted an airplane
    110. Caused a car accident
    111. Touched a stingray
    112. Broken someone’s heart
    113. Helped an animal give birth
    114. Won money on a TV game show
    115. Broken a bone
    116. Gone on an African photo safari
    117. Had a facial part pierced other than your ears
    118. Fired a rifle, shotgun, or pistol
    119. Eaten mushrooms that were gathered in the wild
    120. Ridden a horse
    121. Had major surgery
    122. Had a snake as a pet
    123. Hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon
    124. Slept for 30 hours in a 48 hour period
    125. Visited more foreign countries than Indian States
    126. Visited all 7 continents
    127. Taken a canoe trip that lasted more than 2 days
    128. Eaten kangaroo meat
    129. Eaten sushi
    130. Had your picture in the newspaper
    131. Changed someone’s mind about something you care deeply about
    132. Gone back to school
    133. Parasailed
    134. Touched a cockroach
    135. Eaten fried tomatoes
    136. Read The Iliad and The Odyssey
    137. Selected one “important” author who you missed in school, and read
    138. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
    139. Skipped all your school reunions
    140. Communicated with someone without sharing a common spoken language
    141. Been elected to public office
    142. Written your own computer language
    143. Thought to yourself that you’re living your dream
    144. Had to put someone you love into hospice care
    145. Built your own PC from parts
    146. Sold your own artwork to someone who didn’t know you
    147. Had a booth at a street fair
    148. Dyed your hair
    149. Been a DJ
    150. Shaved your head

    Current count: 77

    Update90. Gone to Thailand – check. Count: 78

    March 31, 2010

    IIM Indore, Class of 2010

    Filed under: I at IIM I,Top Draws — Santhosh @ 2:44 AM
    Strange how, when we think back on these two years from the perspective of all that’s happened, it seems like an eternity. Yet, when we look back and remember everything so clearly, everything so recent, everything so close we could stretch out and touch them, it all seems like it really is not that long ago. When we first came, we were hesitant, we weren’t sure of what we were getting into; we weren’t even sure about what we wanted.
    It’s said the beginning is always difficult, and it was especially so for us thanks to jogs at unearthly hours and truly SAD classes. From such physically painful days and the mentally painful ones of Chunauti, MAC classes and our first microeconomics quiz (remember? remember!), over the last two years, we’ve all come a long way. From the wide-eyed Tonty-somethings that we were, we can now fit the world into a 2×2 matrix. We can now walk up to any company and confidently announce in our best Savlon-voice that we can “strategically realign their organization to external exigencies using a process driven approach and scalable, replicable models that offer long-term sustainability.”
    We’ve shared movies, maggi, bikes, cabs, rooms, notes, assignments, wake-up calls, proxies, doodles, after-dinner walks, suits, seats, fights, secrets, time, fun, and love. We’ve scrambled to class with a minute to go, yakked away for hours in the mess corridor, loafed around TI, swapped chapters on exam nights, and let the batch decide. Over our two years together, we’ve all grown close and helped each other grow. There will be some whom we’d like to have known better. And some we shouldn’t have known this well for the sake of our grades. What each one of us has done though, is to leave a mark in each others’ minds and hearts.
    As the answers to “Why MBA” show, the reasons we came to the hillock were various: from the refreshingly truthful “Money” to the very honourable “to impress girls” (I’m still figuring this one out though); from the truly global “in-depth understanding of the market dynamics and to broaden my horizons for a long-term global perspective” to the very philosophical “Because I managed to crack CAT”. Some of us managed to switch careers, got the profiles and jobs we really believe in; some of us are walking out with dollar signs as eye-balls; some of us did wonderful community service, others served the community as office bearers; some of us found love; some found ourselves. Over time, hopefully, we would look back and realize that we managed to get exactly what we came for. Except the part about the girls, that is!
    Finally, now, the bloody joke’s on us for thinking that all this will always be around. Yes, we’ve all hated waking up for 08:45 classes, getting memos from the PGP office and having to sit up all night for projects. Yes, we’ve all whined about the 100% attendance rules, the sex-ratio, the internet speed and our mess food – yes, OUR mess food. However, right now, each of us would gladly take all these for a chance to re-live our two years here. Now. Now when we look back at the mental portraits of all those friends, all those hangouts, all those small incidents that make up life, all those (mis)adventures, all those special people – all so fresh in the eye it seems strange that we have to move on.
    We are not saying goodbye to each other in the real sense of the word, because we aren’t really going anywhere. We’re leaving the most precious part of ourselves here: our memories in these walls on the hillock. And we’re taking the most precious part of us with us: our memories of the two years spent in IIM Indore.
    Where we go, we mind of
    How we be, we know naught;
    But, together we shall stay
    all thro’ this life we’ve sought.
    For ’tis in our Hearts and in our
    Dreams that we together swing away!
    And so, to each other, two hundred and thirty eight times over (see, 100% attendance!), HERE’S TO THE CLASS OF 2010!
    Santhosh Kanna,
    Class of 2010
    ~ Editorial for the Yearbook 2010
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