Ramayana – game of life – book review

There are books you read for what they give you. And there are those you read for what you can take from them. “Ramayana-the Game of Life” falls squarely into the second category. The Ramayan is not a new tale; it has been told and retold, cast and recast innumerable times. “Game of Life” is, however, not a retelling, it is not a subaltern version either, from a different vanage point. Then what is it? What does it bring to the table? Why should you read Shubh Vilas’ serialised Ramayan?

The answer is simple enough, and yet esoteric if you merely skim the surface. Shubh Vilas provides you not a re-telling of the events, but a re-interpretation of the same. The beauty of religious and mythological literature lies in their malleability, their openness to new ways of understanding them, the myriad lessons that can be afforded by one story. And Shubh Vilas provides a unique interpretation. He is known for his motivational talks and for providing modern lessons from age-old tales; this is the angle, the meaning, the relevance of his interpretation, his lessons from the Ramayan. It’s a unique view indeed, and a testament to both the author and his muse. Shubh Vilas doesn’t twist the story around to suit his ends, to prove his lessons are valid gleanings from the Ramayan, and he doesn’t need to.

You will be surprised by how he conceptualizes a modern moral framework and life-guide from such ancient timber. It may seem forced at times, but for the most part you will find yourself agreeing with the derivations.

Do read this book, especially if you are or want to be a spiritual person and often find yourself adrift. You will not read anything new, but will find something new at each step.


A Universe From Nothing – book review

The author fails to explain his central thesis, which is how he perhaps succeeds. Once you read this book you might appreciate the quirky wit in the opening sentence, and see how inevitable it truly is.
If you can wrap your head around that preamble, go ahead and read this book.
Be warned, this is not a book for the lay reader; it demands an understanding of basic Physics quite beyond what we generally assume is a High School level of understanding. It’s a dense book, and try as he might Prof Krauss cannot make it simpler beyond a point.
The central thesis of the work, how matter came into existence, why it is this way, from the questionably “stringy” quarks and muons and gravitons to meta-clusters of galaxies; why the universe is as it is – that is a question humankind (thank Richard Dawkins) has barely begun to answer.
What we do know about the process however, is remarkable in the extreme. From Dark Matter to Dark Energy (which makes empty space not so empty) to a flat universe to a long distant future where any intelligent species could not figure out these secrets that we are working on, no matter how hard they tried (possibly), to variations on the multiverse theory, the topics Prof Krauss has attempted to explain have baffled our best minds for a century now and they are still as hard to grasp.
Some of it is pure theory, some just mathematical equations (I can hear math/physics geeks wince at that), but some is experimentally proven, some provable, and some empirically verifiable. We know how it should be and we can, at times, see brief glimpses that show us that it is as it should be.
I know I should write a review that clarifies a book so someone reading this can decide whether it’s worth his/her time to read it on their own. But this book defies such expostulations. What I will say, however, is that if you read it and spend time understanding it, you will come away with a completely changed outlook on what constitutes our universe and why Physics says with a great level of certainty that creation did not require a creator.
This is not a QED book, but it offers a brilliant glimpse into the world around us that we are only beginning to grasp at its most basic level. It’s a tour de force for someone who has the time and patience to read and re-read sundry paragraphs and gain an unimaginable insight into our very existence. And that for certain, is not nothing.

Perpetual city – book review

It’s a small book, not a scholarly tome on the origins and development of India’s capital. That is not what Malvika’s book is about.

What it does instead, is act as a time capsule. It brings to life a Delhi nestled between the powerless masses and the powerful classes. A genteel, upper middle class life that existed before the city was overrun by supercars and their loud, horn blaring steroid-jacked “mimbos” (male bimbos. :P)

This was a Delhi of elegance and sophistication, of evening ghazal parties and home-made curries. Sprinkled in between these memories are little nuggets about the history of the city that has been the capital of this, our vast nation for the better part of the last millennium. It isn’t a textual history, but a contextual one, a personal one. And that is why you can, at times, almost feel the hot Delhi night air redolent with the heavy perfume of “raat ki rani” as you read the author’s accounts of her life in a Delhi that has all but disappeared. It’s a rather personal nostalgia, and Malvika shares it with us with style and warmth.

It’s a sweet day-read and a nice remembrance of the days that were. I’d recommend it to anyone with any memory of how the 80s went, or anyone who’d like to know how they went. 🙂

My childhood world

Since to words my eyes were wise

Tales of England met my eyes

From Georgie Porgie, Jack and Jill

To Enid  Blyton had my fill.

What all of Indian heroes I read,

That too in English words was said

But Blyton’s England wooed me more

Than all come since or gone before

How oft I sat on my “Wishing Chair”

Ans flew off to lands afar or near

How oft I wished that I could be

In the hamlet by the “Faraway tree”

In those surroundings I could find,

A home and rest for heart and mind

So “Willow Farm” was my journey’s end

And “Brer Rabbit” a bosom friend

On wings of fancy did I fly

On the rural banks of Thames did lie

with a shaded patch of grass for a pillow

and felt the charm of the “Wind in the Willows”

With Badger, Ratty, Toad and Mole

Spent many warm evenings in Toad Hall

Of jousts and tournaments I dreamed

Where armour, shields, swords, lances gleamed

At time I sat at Arthur’s Round Table

That legendary setting of many a fable

I admired Sir Lancelot of the Lake

Who’d stake his life for honour’s sake

The beloved, most honoured knight of all

That graced Camelot’s hoary hall

These and their other fabled kin

Did serve my childhood heart to win.

But years have piled on that sweet time

And undermined that joy sublime

When the world weighed heavy on my heart

My childhood friends and I did part

The cynic, sarcastic reigned on all

Of disillusionment built a wall

that cut me off from my own past

Alas! Those days were not to last

The busy hours did wear me down

My smiling lips were taught to frown

and I was exiled from my ken

into the realm of greedy men

But still, sometimes, I find among

This pushing, striving, grabbing throng

A little space to rest my mind

In those short, sweet moments I find

a narrow crack in the self-made wall

I squeeze through slowly, lest it fall

Rewind my past, unwind my soul

then hurry on to my worldly goal.

(15th-16th Feb, 1998)

The mirrored view

I walked by many a window pane

But what I searched, I sought in vain

I looked ahead, I looked behind

I looked within my teeming mind

I looked without with tireless eyes

I looked despite my tired sighs

Was that the window that contained?

Is this the one that shows unstained?

That child, the image of the past

That man, of moments next to last

I ask of every pane I see

Are you the one? Mirror to me?

IMG_4463-mirror 9-7

0W5A0771-mirror 9-7


It’s really not.

If you can’t rhyme a rose

Then why not call it prose?

If words do not obey

And meters slip away

Then why not call it prose?

A lovely thought arose

It was perfect, or close

You grabbed a pen and wrote

But it struck false a note

Why can’t you call it prose?

You hear anything goes

Read jumbled, versèd rows

But poems ought to rhyme

Do try another time

And just call this one prose!

What advertisements tell us about us

They say a lot can be told about a culture by the television content it watches. Being such a popular and widespread medium, it necessarily reflects the people and their views and outlook on life. The same can be said about the advertisements running on TV too. Being created by professionals for the sole purpose of enticing consumers to buy a product, the ads, I’m sure, go through a rigorous vetting process and are fine tuned to achieve their purpose. The target audience is clearly demarcated and the ad is tailor-made to appeal to the group it’s aimed at. A lot of research goes into it and a lot of time and money are spent on it. Keeping that in mind if we look at some of the ads running on TV today, you would get the feeling that the Indian masses are basically dumb and have no critical ability whatsoever. The idea seems to be to make the ad alluring enough so that people watching it don’t even think of questioning the claims made by the ad. There’s one for Nivea deodorant with “ocean extracts”. What, pray, are these extracts? What exactly do you even mean by that term? Nothing, of course. It is just meant to invoke the image of the blue ocean with its bracing breeze and get the consumer in a mood to buy the product. Logic goes quietly out the window. There is a plethora of ads with extra cute kids selling everything from dog food (Pedigree) to phone connections (Reliance 3G), with their perfectly lisped sentences and dimply smiles, ready to tug at our hearts and loosen our purse-strings. You have ads selling perfumes and after shaves and deodorants that purport to convey the idea that women are olfactory sense induced, sex hormone pumped, brainless animals who’ll claw your clothes off if you wear the right scent. I know there’s hyperbole involved in advertising, but this has gone way out of hand. A frail twig of a girl can pull a truck using her hair as rope since she uses a particular brand of shampoo. Apparently un-split hair ends are all that stand between you and super-human strength! You have sunscreen ads which throw about the term SPF without any explanation of what it even means and how it is to be interpreted. All ads quote all kinds of scientific sounding figures without any justification, explanation or reason. Or truth, for that matter. 46% better, 55% more effective and so on. “In house data” is the common refrain when pressed for evidence, and we all can guess what that means. All such adverts point towards one thing. The Indian public is becoming more and more uncritical. It doesn’t examine the claims made in the ads nor does it seek proof for the same. I don’t meant to say that there are girls out there grunting as they attempt to pull trucks after using Garnier Fructis for a couple of weeks, but there are boys out there buying up fairness creams by the dozen. There are mothers out there thinking normal food just isn’t enough for kids and sugar coated cereals and powdered additives are necessary if their kids are not to end up stunted. There are ads that claim cold weather causes the common cold and others that now claim to have found the perfect nutrient combinations for adults, since apparently we are all mal-nourished (spend an hour in T3 at IGI in Delhi and you won’t ever claim that again). I could go on and on but my gripe is simply this. Bring back some sanity to advertisements. The admen certainly won’t lead the way. It is up to us as the general public to make sure that only products publicised cleanly with minimal exaggeration and no falsehoods are successful. Concocted ads with unproven and implausible claims and extraneous content should be ignored. That is the only way we can bring back some semblance of normalcy in advertising. Otherwise, these kind of advertisements that consider us stupid will only go on multiplying. In the end, we get what we want, we just have to be sure what exactly that is

Pangong Lake

I had never known complete silence till then. The sheer weight of that noiselessness. It was so sudden, so unexpected, that I had been enveloped in it a good ten minutes before I even realized what it was. I was at Pangong lake, Leh. We had gone there on a vacation. We were almost the first to reach there and had the lake pretty much to ourselves. After the first half an hour or so of doing the touristy things, I went for a walk along the shore. Admiring the beautiful painted hills surrounding me, I walked on, far away from the site of all the temporary shelters and growing crowds. Twenty minutes or so into my walk I realized how far I had come. The crowds were distant specks and I was all alone. It struck me with a force that it was suddenly so quiet. It was is if I had been struck deaf.

Then slowly, gently, quietly, I could hear. The sweet rhythmic lapping of waves on the shale by the lakeside. The tiniest, quietest patter, a softer sound I could not imagine at the moment. Then the breeze picked up a bit and I could hear it whistle as it blew past my ears. A soft whisper that seemed to say, “You come unannounced, but welcome stranger!” I stood there for a long time. To move a foot and scrunch the gravel with my boot seemed a travesty at that moment. There was nothing else in that instant, no holiday, no work, no tensions, not a part of that clawing mass that eats at me like so many harpies, nothing. The world did not exist outside that sphere. All that existed were the lapping waves and the sighing breeze, and me, afloat betwixt the two