November 07, 2011

Book Review : Player One by Douglas Coupland

The book claims to be a five-hour real-time story set in an airport cocktail lounge. Five(technically speaking, its four) 'different' characters end up stumbling on each other in the lounge in what happens to be a global disaster in the 'outside world'. Coupland introduces his characters in the beginning of the book; the story is spread across 5 chapters with each chapter happening over a span of an hour. You do not feel each of the hours passing by as you read the book, but the characters do change with the course of events and exhibit their unique traits.

I had started with MicroSerfs a few days back and simply loved the plot and Doug's style of humour and storytelling. He makes the reader think from different angles towards his subject and imagine or role play his characters and leaves the final summary to be deciphered - and this is exactly how he does in this book wherein he makes his characters travel through time(over a span of 5 odd hours) in an airport lounge.

The single biggest thing about Coupland is his witticisms and the way they are spewed all around, even during times of a disaster. The characters emerges from its shell and presents interesting(and the usual) questions about life and time, albeit in a slightly different fashion.

A few of them:
..a plane trip exposes you to situations and landscapes unthinkable until recent history, moments of magnificence and banality that dissolve what few itty-bitty molecules of individuality you possess. After a plane trip, you need to rebuild your ego, to shore up your sense of being unique. Thats why religions target airports to find new recruits...
History only remembers people who invent new hairdos : Julius Caesar, Einstein, Hitler, Marilyn Monroe. Why bother with conquering Europe or discovering nuclear science when all you need is a bit of style innovation? If Marie Curie had given a bit more attention to her appearance she'd have been on the ten dollar bill.
When Donald Duck traded his wings for arms, do you think he was trading up or trading down?
The last 20-30 pages of the book contain Doug'sims which are nothing but definitions of some sesquipedallion syndromes and characteristics of the present society and way of life - these are interesting and worthy of a read(very Tyler-Durden-like).

It is not a "great" read, but does ask some of the most often asked questions on society, religion, after-life, existentialism, human-identity etc. In my honest opinion the plot was not a great read, and neither was the character-play; it was the wittiness of the author and the way he presents the questions(and some of them unanswered)  to the readers that makes this book a buy.

Book Review : Salmonella Men on Planet Porno By Yasutaka Tsutsui

What happens when Murakami meets Salvador Dali in a cafe with Kafka?

I stumbled on this collection of stories by Yatusaka Tsutsui and picked it up with an earnest interest after i sampled through a few pages in the bookstore. The book contains 13 short stories, each of which exemplifies certain mundane-ness to absurd proportions without trying to be politically correct and polite at certain instances; it also makes you laugh sometimes, if not always. During the course of reading this book, my expectation increased with every page, as Tsutsui builds up on the tempo and underscores the idiocy in the everyday life and the traits of certain people(if not all) in the society. The cultural awkwardness at some places may rejig you, but you are all the more engrossed in the story and are waiting to know the end. The climax though might seem uneventful, is what sets the style different from others. Without being too abstract, and constructing a parallel universe to juxtapose the events from Planet earth onto an equivalent set of highly extrapolated stupidity, the author takes the reader to a completely different realm.

Each of the stories is a thoroughly imagined classic in which the protagonist leads the life in another fictional world.  Be it "The Dabba Dabba Tree", in which the society's bent for eroticism is suitably characterized by the introduction of a tree in the bedroom which makes you dream, and makes the dreams and reality coexist or in the "Rumours about Me" in which he(protagonist) is constantly disdainful of all the attention that he 'might' be getting or "Dont Laugh" in which the construction of time machine is in the center of all the giggling and laughing, Tsutsui does construct a different kingdom of thoughts. The 'tourist' syndrome is aptly presented in "Farmer Airlines" and "Bear's Wood Main Line". The humour becomes pretty dark in "The Very Edge of Happiness"; and rigmarole of the everyday office life is again magnified with the help of a fictional war life situation. In the story "The World is Tilting", the author again portrays a region of land which keeps tilting and simultaneously showcases the dynamics of the people in the region. "The Last Smoker" is the story about a person who does not want to give up smoking in a land which has banned smoking, and how he has to hide and run and finally becomes 'the last smoker' and hence becomes an 'endangered specie'. "Bad for the heart" is about a person who needs pills for his life to proceed onto the next day, and how he has to face the brunt of his wife and the incompetency of the courier service which has to deliver the packet to him.

"Salmonella Men on Planet Porno" is the highlight of this book, and is the biggest story. Tsutsui is one of the masters of imagination and he constructs a parallel universe in this story, wherein things are again extremely erotic with their associated 'obscenity' according to Dr.Mogamigawa(one of the characters of this story). But towards the end it does get transformed to a planet of love, where things happen for a reason. The author gets full points in the way he introduces animals and insects on the Planet Porno - fondleweed, flatback hippos, eleventh-hour crocodiles, gugling alligators,matchbox jellyfish, forget-me-grass, itchy scratchy tree. Animals like panting hart, false-eared rabbit, grindhog, gaping hooter, collapsible cow or birds like the penisparrow or insects like the screeching cicada are there for a reason. Also, the way relic pods are introduced lends a new dimension to this paradise of love and care. Newdopia - wherein, the humanoid natives look completely like humans, but wander around nude, does introduce the weirdness in the psyche to a different level altogether; but the author does it on purpose.

The characters remain in the stories and do not attempt to break out; and i am sure,even if they try to do, they cannot, as Tsutsui has sufficiently handcuffed them in their own realities. There is a sense of claustrophobia in all his characters. All the weirdness in his tales, though at the time of reading does feel very funny, but the associated epiphany is worth notable. Would calling Tsutsui the "Master of Surrealism" in the literary world be a hyperbole? I am not sure as i have to sample a lot many more.

November 04, 2011

Chocolate Review : The Three Musketeers


Oh Life! What will I do if you(Chocolates) were not around?

There are times when you make a resolution to give a break to eating to chocolates, lose a few pounds and then re-start the adventure; but most (or all) of the times the resolutions are to be broken. And thats exactly what happened this time, which led me to stumble on 3 nice chocolates which i am going to review in this post.




Lindt Lindor White - A beautiful Milk chocolate that just melts in your mouth!
The first of the chocolates was the Lindt Milk. Needless to say this is/was one of the best smooth chocolates out there. Though not creamy(i will be reviewing Lindt's Creamy Milk Chocolate in the next post), this chocolate is so smooth that it almost immediately dissolves in your mouth. The texture reminded me of Butler's Rasberry with Milk, though the taste is pure milk in this case. It smells a little bit of the milk powder, but you are too lost in the smoothness to find it obstructing your palate. The package is neat and Lindt-like(nothing extra-ordinary) and once you break it, the next thing that comes to your mind is to break and pop it into your mouth and let the adventure start from the tip of your tongue :)

Frey's Dark Lemon and Pepper - Dark Tangy Fantasy
Though the last Frey bar that i had was a disaster, i took that as a one of case and bravely bought this. Having never tasted a chocolate with a lemon taste(closest was the Lindt-Chilly), i decided to give this a try. And the gamble was well worth it. The dark chocolate is not very sweet and the cocoa jells in very well with the lemon. You do not feel the pepper until you almost swallow the stuff. The tangy taste lends an extra dimension to the overall taste bud. Its again a smooth chocolate packaged in an unassuming cover. I will try variants of lemon chocolates for sure in the near future; the slight sourness in the chocolate is a totally different ball game if you are are always used to the caramel.

Jack Daniel's Jennesse Whiskey - The Dark Beauty with the Kicks
This Dark Beauty was a mammoth beast. It was quite sometime since i had a liquor chocolate and this time, I had to decide between the Whisky/Vodka/Gin variants. I went for the 'JD'. Each block of  this chocolate is quiet a mouthful with its core filled with the Whisky. The core breaks and the liquid fills your mouth and dissolves the chocolate and you feel the 'smell' at the top of your mouth (do NOT break chocolate outside of your mouth with a liquor based chocolate!!). The feeling is that of sitting in a small coracle and let the river take its course. A smooth chocolate with good mix of sweetness(is not too sweet though) and the cocoa, this will probably be a winner in its category. You feel the 'Thor' inside the chocolate wake up and wage a war inside you in no time ;)

November 03, 2011

iPostBox - Stamps from India and Rest of the World

I used to collect stamps and first day covers(FDC) when i was in school; though the interest in FDC soon waned, i continued to collect Stamps(usually those from India). One of my cousins also helped me increase my 'portfolio' and gave a few doubles. But with the due course of time, this hobby waned and finally became totally dormant. Though i kept my stamp collection intact, i am not sure what happened to the FDC collection. During one of my recent 'visits' to my book-shelves, i stumbled on my old stamp album and thought of giving it a nudge and developing this interest. Also, the recent visit to SriLanka helped me fuel this fire, as i got a good collection of stamps from there.

With this interest in mind, i am thinking of posting my entire portfolio online in a 'different' blog purely dedicated to Stamps and share the knowledge with others. Hence, (and thanks to a free blogger domain), i am launching iPostBox : http://ipostbox.blogspot.com/

I will be positing a blog atleast once a week and hope to attach some nice trivia associated with the Stamp. Also, in the due course make pen-pals from different countries and exchange stamps and covers from the rest of the world. So if you are reading this post, do drop me an email so that i can share my address.

I also hope to further this interest and make a pretty reasonable collection and use it as an educational medium to teach the kids. I am not sure successful i would be, but i will definitely give this a try.

Philately or stamp collection is dying and not many are into this. With the widespread usage of emails, the days of snailmails are fast getting over. I hope to have this collection atleast as a reminder of our beautiful 'heritage' as we enter the 'complete cyber age' :)

On a side note, i find cultivating a hobby to be emotionally and mentally very peaceful. You are not *always* attached just to your work, and are on the lookout of something interesting which need not essentially have monetary benefits. Hope you too have an interesting hobby :)

October 21, 2011

Stamps from SriLanka


During our recent visit to SriLanka, i was surprised to see that people use the postal system(snailmail) quiet often; atleast i could see quiet a bit of crowd in most post-offices that i could spot from the buses. I happened to see a pretty big Post Office in Kandy, and wanted to get some stamps and first day envelopes(if at all SriLanka had it) for my collection. We had a terrible time crunch, and i never stepped into any of the post-offices, Alas!

But what came as an even bigger surprise was the small outlet of the SriLankan Post Office in the airport which I stumbled upon by chance. They had a pretty good collection of stamps(both used and not-used) and were selling it at the same rate - i.e, 5LKR per stamp. I picked up a few, and the following is an honest attempt in publishing them in the public domain and sharing the knowledge with others.

When i was browsing through their collection, i saw a large quantity of stamps depicting birds; the person also was selling a set of 20-40 bird-stamps for around 400-500LKR; i preferred buying in the loose and 'form my own collection' than buying it as a set. I do not like the idea of buying a 'set' of stamps - it looks very 'pre-configured' to me.


From top -left to bottom(go along the reading direction) : Coucal, Arenga, Blue Flycatcher, Hill Mynah, Oriole, Rufous Babbler, Head Laughing Thrush, Blue Magpie, Layard's Parakeet, Yellow Fronted Barbet, Yellow Eared Bulbul, Lorikeet, Slender Loris, Leopard, Lyre Head Lizard

Two main tourist attractions in SriLanka are their nature and ruins; and this has been adequetly presented in their philatelic collections. The coins and statues unearthed from the ruins in Anuradhapura and Pollanurawa have been suitably captured and presented. Also, you can see the beautiful natural reserves of Hortan plains and Knuckles.

The rectangular photo in the third row in the following picture is probably the longest stamp that i have in my whole collection.


I was presently surprised to find the following 2 stamps : on Tsunami disaster in 2004 and the other on Corruption. I am not sure whether India has a stamp on Corruption, but this was a welcome surprise to me. Also, another trivia : Dec-9 is the International Anti-Corruption Day(nice!).


SriLanka also has some interesting stamps of different patterns; though i do have triangular and diamond shapes of a few countries, am stumbling on a trapezoidal shape(the middle one) for the first time. Sports and Cricket are the themes in many stamps.

In fact, the person in the booth wanted to sell a commemorative collection of stamps on Muthaiah Muralitharan's (collector's edition) for 220LKR, but i somehow, i did not buy it.


I hope to take pictures of my stamp collection and post some interesting stamps in here. I guess, i would learn lots of aspects of philately during the due course and also meet interesting people in this community and exchange , which is the most crucial aspect to this hobby.

October 19, 2011

3 GOOD Travel Books Worth A Read


Well, post our visit to SriLanka early this September, i have been quiet voraciously reading both on and off the Internet. Holding a 'book' in your hand and reading it, and if it happens to be an old book with yellow papers, then its an icing on a cake(in Hindi, we call it as 'sone pe suhaga'). Nevertheless, with the festive season in the air, and with not much travel around, it was a perfect time to deep dive into the amazing world of books(with papers :) ); and i was fortunate enough to stumble on some *really* good reads.

1. Danziger's travels : Beyond Forbidden Frontiers"
This was given to me by a colleague, and i must say that this probably is one single book which i will remember for quiet sometime. The book was a first edition print, and also the papers were a tad old. Danziger starts from London, and travels across Europe to reach the highly volatile Iran-Iraq border and then crosses it(with the heart still beating :) ) and then via Afghanistan reaches Western China province. Not many know that Western China is a religious minority - that of muslims, and is not very open to tourists/travellers; our protagonist travels some uncharted waters and narrates his experiences in amazing detail. It is an adventure ride all throughout, with every page filled with many details and amazing experiences.

And did i tell you that Danziger does this 30 years back, during the 70's. Aye.

I did not find this book in Landmark, and i think its pretty tough to get it; nevertheless, try it in any online store, and am sure that you will praise me for this recommendation. The English is very simple and the flow just keeps going on and on. I do not want to divulge much about this book, except for mentioning (again!) that this is a MUST read for any adventure travel enthusiast or a budget traveller.

2. Paul Theroux's - "The Ghost Train to Eastern Star"
I picked up this one at the ongoing Landmark sale. I have planning to read this book for quiet sometime, and this also happens to be my First book of Paul Theroux. The book is like a sequel to the Great Railway Bazaar(which I haven't read yet). Paul Theroux does a train journey from London to India and then onto SL, Thai etc(in 1970s); and in The Ghost Train to Eastern Star, he revisits the same route 30 years later(in the late 2000s). Paul Theroux starts off with some real world truth about travel and how travellers/tourists escape the 'real' world and talks a bit about it in the philosophical context; and then once he starts off in his ride, he intersperses his experience(s) in every country with what happened 30 years back. He manages to meet atleast one famous author in every country and narrates the rendezvous. I *really* liked his encounter with Haruki Murakami. I never knew so much about Murakami, except for having read a handful of his books.

Anyway, there is one minor crib about this book : Paul Theorux keeps on denigrating India almost everywhere, and I did not quiet like it. Lets face it(and ignore the fact that I am an Indian); but given that India is a true multi-cultural society with a billion odd people, you ought to find 'different' things. If you are crib about the population density, then visit Kazakhistan wherein you might find one family in a 11sq.km radius. There are so many good things about India, and the associated people and tourism, always cringing about 'tonnes of people everywhere' just makes it sound boring; probably, Paul Theroux had a Naipaul Syndrome!

Overall, the book is an enjoyable read, and it will remain in my library forever. I will also be reading his Great Railway Bazaar soon to understand/appreciate his experience when he was much younger :) By the way, i do not think that Paul Theroux is a budget traveller; and at many times during the book, it looked as if, he writing/creating stuff just to write a book and sell it!

3. M.J. Akbar's - "Have Pen, will Travel"
Firstly, you will *NOT* find such a travel book anywhere; what i mean is, the style in which M.J.Akbar narrates his experiences are AMAZING. I have always been fascinated by his writing style, and have always been an ardent reader of his editorials.  If you haven't read him earlier, you can read his blog to see his clarity in the thought process and how he presents nothing but the facts - a true characteristic of a journalist.

The book is divided into multiple chapters, each spanning a handful of pages, wherein the author narrates his experience in a particular country. Since, M.J.Akbar had to travel a lot in his work, i guess, bulk of the experiences are during his visit to various countries for the conferences or talks or some story. Nevertheless, he does not make the chapters as a newspaper story, but talks about the unique aspects of the region, along with its history(wherever applicable) along with some really interesting and intelligent quips. I just could not keep the book down once i started reading it.

Let me caution you that this book is 'intelligent'(again!), and you really need to read-between-lines to entertain yourselves with some witty remarks by the author. Enjoyable and highly recommended!

In addition to the above, i also ended up reading "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" by Richard Bach and also, a part of Nicholas Fearn's "Philosophy:The Latest Answer To The Oldest Questions" .

Five books in a month is not bad :)

September 11, 2011

What I have been eating - Chocolates

The origins of the word "chocolate" probably comes from the Classical Nahuatl word xocolatl (meaning "bitter water"), and entered the English language from Spanish.
And for more of that head straight to wikipedia on Chocolate and the History of Chocolates. This post is mainly to review a few chocolates that I have tried over the last couple of years. So plunging right into the 'dark-brown' world.....


Lindt Excellence : Chilli
Tagline: "Fine Dark chocolate with extract of chilli pepper"
Weight:100g
Cost: 235INR
This 100g beast is probably the best chocolate that i have had till date. What i expect from a chocolate is a different salubriuous taste and flavour which blows my head off without me knowing it ;) And this is exaclty what this chocolate had to offer me.

This is a dark bitter chocolate with very nice chilli after taste; which adds a more powerful signature taste to it without being too excessive. This chocolate along with a cup of milk would be an ideal evening drink or can be consumed straight, if you do not mind the slight bitterness. There is a slight heat at the very begining that might go unnoticed but heat in the aftertaste is the winner here. Texture wise, this is a smooth chocolate.

Coming out of the Lindt Excellence stables, this was defintiely a tad appart from the series. I am surprised that despite the unique flavour that his bar had to offer, very few stores sell this - probably, people are not very keen on the chilli flavour and prefer the 'caramel' of the chocolate which is a totally different ball game.


Lindt Excellence : 85% cocoa
Tagline: "Luxuriously smooth : deliciusly intense"
Weight: 100g
Cost  : 235INR
There are three words to describe this one : "DARK" , "SMOOTH" and "BITTER". Am sure most people would not like such an intense bitterness in chocolates, but what they miss is the pure cacoa which comes along with this, and the pure genuineness of the chocolate that would otherwise be never be felt. I agree that this chocolate would probably be the most bitter of all the ones stocked out there, but i think this chocolate is best to be consumed with a glass milk either in the morning(along with your paper) or in the evening(after a heavy day's work). The smoothness does stick to your tongue for sometime and hence the bitterness is felt for an extended period of time, unlike the others from Lindt.

I have been hearing that chocolate with the same percentage of cacoa, that is 85%, can indeed taste different and is dependant on various factors during manufacturing. I am yet to sample other varieties with 85% cacoa.(I also hear that there is a 99% cacoa from Lindt!)
 


STORCK's Riesin : Dark chocolate - chewy toffee (with original gavoa: cacao blend)
Weight: 270g
Cost: 5USD
This was a surprise to me. I stumbled on this chocolate and found that it was a German brand and immediately picked it up. I had never sampled a German chocolate before.  The caramel is sweet but what makes this stand apart is that its not 'sugary-sweet' and the dark chocolate in it blends amazingly well and spreads a beautiful aroma in your mouth. The chocolate sticks to your teeth, but i think thats what it was meant to be - "a chewy tofee" and am sure kids would love this. I bought this at the Cairo Airport and again stumbled on this recently in Duty Free at SriLanka, but i am not sure what happened during the latter, and i totally missed buying this again(loser!).
  
Godiva : Chocolatier Gems : Assorted dark chocolates - caramels, truffles, solids
Weight: 284g
This bag of individually wrapped dark chocolates would be a probable winner, even with those who do not like dark chocolates much.  The caramels taste a lot like Reisin Dark Chocolate(toffee), but are slightly less sweet.The texture is smooth and the caramel lingers around for sometime. The truffles are equally good and are not intense. Overall, though this package is labelled 'Dark', the intensity is medium. The packaging is nice and appealing and individual wrappers are equally well done.


Daim - Smooth Milk Chocolate Bars with a surprisingly crunchy butter almond caramel centre (42% milk choc)
 Weight: 336g [12 bars]
A Swedish chocolate from Kraft, this was so different from what i had expected. The package consists of 12 bars(all are same).   I wanted to eat a good milk chocolate bar and the bar was just right. The bar can be consumed either after refrigeration when the caramel inside it hardens or can be kept out in the open for sometime, so that the chocolate melts a bit. I would like to buy this again for it is simple and crunchy as its advertises itself and probably even exceeds expectations. I hardly felts the almonds, but the smoothness in it and the texture of the caramel when bitten was perfect. Take a bite, and leave it float in your mouth for sometime to 'feel' it. Swiss definitely are pioneers in the field of chocolates.

By the way, this is a 42% milk chocolate(unlike the Americans who call even a 10% to be a milk chocolate).

Munz : Swiss Premium Chocolate
Weight: 300g
I had never stumbled on Munz before and picked this up along with a Lindt to compare the two and i must say that this tastes better than the Lindt Milk. The packaging is very much similar to that of Lindt and so is the texture. I could feel the milk more in here than in the Lindt. The chocolate just dissolves in your mouth and you just do not want to gulp it down fast :)



Lindt Swiss Premium Chocolate (Milk Extra)
Weight: 300g
Cost: 9USD
Like a typical Lindt, this has the almost similar packaging and as i mentioned above for Munz tastes almost similar but Munz takes over this in the sweetness department. Both Munz and Lindt are definite buys.

Butlers - A selection of chocolate caramels and pralines
Weight: 125g
Butlers! Oh Butlers! I think this selection of caramels and Pralines is probably the best amongst its peers. The pralines are so darn nice and smooth. Am at loss of words when it comes to Butler's as almost all their chocolates are so nice and wakes up the kid inside you. The caramels in this box are equally great and the sweetness is just right. Simply "Go For It" when you see it in the stores.


Ghirardelli - Masterpieces collection
Ghirardelli is from USA.This was an assortment of chocolates, primarily of truffles and caramels.
It consists of Milk Caramel Chew,  White Gourmet Truffle, Milk Pecan Caramel Classic, Dark Raspberry Gem, Milk creamy white heart,  Dark ORange Gourmet Truffle and Milk Gourmet Truffle. The Dark Raspberry Gem was the best among this collection of chocolates. It had a sharp distinctive flavour and the raspberry filled core when pinched/pierced fills the mouth with this taste. The last time when i had a Raspberry chocolate was the Butler's Raspberry Milk chocolate which was and is still the best milk chocolate that i had till date.




 



Absolutely Divine - Creamy Milk Chocolate Squares (30% cacoa)
Weight:128g
This set of individually wrapped milk chocolates is definitely one of the most simple milk chocolates. Its pretty smooth and sticks around for sometime, and i feel that just one square would not be enough to actually 'taste' the chocolate in it. The cacoa does not stand out and the chocolate is pretty much a minimalist. Having said this, i would definitely like to try out the "Intense Dark Chocolate" from their stables and see how it ranks when compared with its peers.





Hershey's Pot of Gold : Fine confections
Tagline : "Premium collection of truffles,nut clusters, caramels, and other fine confections"
Weight: 283g
This would probably be a good cheap collection of confections which introduces one to different varieties of 'collection' chocolates. Most of that in this collection are very simple and nothing stands out. My complaint with Hershey's is that i find an increasing amount of peanut and hazelnut aftertaste in most of their chocolates which destroys the very aspect of cocoa. Nevertheless, i guess this would be a very good gift for the entire family especially pleasing younger ones during any celebration.


Frey : Chocolate Noir
Tagline: "Fine Dark Chocolate with almond-honey-nougat"
Weight: 100g
Cost: 2.5 USD
Frey claims that they are the "Swiss Premium Chocolate maker since 1887", but i am not sure why the word "premium" is attached in here. The chocolate is simple and nutty. Dark is probably a misnomer here, as it tastes more like a milk-chocolate. The outward texture is simple and smooth but a bite shows the chunks of almonds. The packaging is simple and this would be a good snack. This chocolate is more fudge-like than a simple dark chocolate which leaves the cacoa after taste. I havent sampled much from Frey's but am sure that they must have some other confections which are definitely a winner.

ION Milk chocolate
Weight:85g
Cost: 1.5USD
I never knew Greeks made chocolates; atleast i never knew that they had an International brand and this curiosity made me buy a bar in the Cairo Duty Free shop. The chocolate was somehow just not upto the mark. I mean, if you are looking for gourmet taste, then this definitely does not rank anywhere close to it or aspiring to be of one the best. It is an ordinary looking no-brainer with a very sweet taste and with no chunks. This is just a simple milk chocolate which you might even forget after the bite.


Maestro : Vochelle Hazelnuts in Dairy Milk Chocolate
Weight: 50g
Avoid is the best word that would come to your mind if you see this in the store. I did not find anything unique or tasty about this piece. I probably survived as the bar was small and did not cost me much. I think this chocolate is pretty famous in Malaysia, as i stumbled on mainly Malaysian stores when i wanted to Google and try to find more about this company and the product. Nevertheless, you can always try any other brand like Dairy Milk or 5Star for a better taste. I think this is one of those chocolates which is popular because it might be a fast seller because of the price, but definitely i wouldnt even buy then.



Kravour : Sinfull Chocolates
Weight:35g
Cost:30INR
This chocolate had bloomed(and i hate it). The package was bad(probably that explains the blooming?) and i am not sure why i actually picked it up.

 
Remember, choosing a "Chocolate" that suits your tastebuds is very much dependant on you. The choice varies from person to person, and is not like 'masala dosa' which is liked by all. Since there are so many variants to chocolates, one has to sample the various different varieties (which itself would take a lifetime) and then if time-permits, form an allegience with a brand or make. I always think that the journey is more important than the destination and in the World of Chocolates, i am sure that this is all the more valid.

(I collect the wrappers of the chocolates that i eat; i think its a nice hobby and it feels great when you browse through it on a lazy Sunday afternoon :) )

September 07, 2011

9D/8N Trip to SriLanka

Prelude:
After our recent trips to Andamans and all along the West Coast of Karnataka(India), I personally wanted to visit some ruins and also check out some new country in a week's span. Since there was a timelimit and also a budget in place, I had to prefer any of the neighbouring countries, as I did not want to spend much time in the flight/commute and also not take the burden of VISA processing. SriLanka has a Visa On Arrival(VoA) for Indians and this was a welcome one; and also was a much cheaper place. After doing some initial checks on the Internet we booked the tickets and started doing our preliminary research. The research efforts soon waned off as we were busy with the day to day work. During the due course, SriLanka announced removal of VoA and this caused some jitters in the plan; but a few calls to the consulate affirmed that nothing was going to change till end of August(a sigh of relief). A wakeup call just a week before we took off put us into motion, but even that wasnt much useful. We decided that we would not book hotels or any tour guides and do the trip pretty much on our own. The die had been cast and we were set.

Itinerary:
Day 1 - Aug 27 (Saturday) : Chennai - Colombo - Dambulla

The flight from Chennai to Colombo is a little over an hour. The uneventful journey flies away quickly; the view of the Gulf of Mannar(near Rameshwaram) is beautiful. The land getting tapered off and the outlines of the Ram Sethu bridge are beautiful to look at from the skies. The Bandaranayake Airport at Colombo is neat and swanky. Its not very big, but the layout is neat and compact; there is a small lounge for every flight departure, unlike one single big lounge in other airports(though there is also a big lounge lined up with duty free shops). There is a shuttle from the Airport which drops you off at the nearest bus stand(called Katunayake) , which is around 500m away, from where you get buses to Colombo Fort(reaches in 45mins). I was impressed with the first glimpses of the road, as they were neat and well laid; but had my questions as most roads near airport are generally nice.

Reached the Fort Bus stand
and enquired around and then caught a bus to Dambulla. The bus was a normal one, without air conditioning, and the seats would not recline. We reached Dambulla at around 7:30pm. As we did not have reservations made for the stay we had to lookup a few hotels in the LP guide, and called up Healy, as they seem to be the least expensive of all. LP guide that we had was of 2005, and the rates have almost doubled since then. A small shopkeeper by the road helped us by giving his phone to call up Healy and we then took a tuk-tuk(to be ripped off) to Healy which was near the Post Office.

I did not like the room at Healy and would definitely NOT recommend it, but it was pretty late for us and I was in no mood to check around. We retired early after having dinner at an adjoining hotel.

Day 2 - Aug 28 (Sunday) : Sigriya - Dambulla - Pollonurawa
We woke up early and walked all the way(1.5kms?) to the bus stand to catch a bus to Sigriya. The ride is for 30-40mins. We had a heavy breakfast at the Ceylon Hotel Corp's Sigiriya Rest House hotel there and then started the climb at around 8:45am. Sigirya is famous for its monolithic structure; and also the various frescoes and paintings that adorn some of its caves. 
Sigriya Rock

This was supposed to be a palace, but recent findings connote that this would as well have been the meditating place for the monks. The paintings are beautiful; and most of them are that of the goddess Tara Devi(tantrik/buddhist). 

Paintings inside the caves of Sigirya

The sun was bright and we had very minimal supply of water. I had anticipated it to be a tough climb, but we were at the top in 45mins with ease. The view from the top was very nice; it was quiet windy. A rain could have played spoilt sport, but it all went fine. Descent was quick, and then we caught a tuk-tuk back to Dambulla. (Plan to start the climb as early as possible, before the Sun gets too active).

We then checked out of Healy and went to the Dambulla cave temples, which was just a 10 minute walk. I missed buying the ticket at the entrance and was informed after reaching the top that the Cultural triangle ticket is not valid here. I had no plans of walking back and climbing again and let this pass. It was very sunny a
nd we were getting baked. We then came down and checked out a museum by the side of the Golden Temple.
Golden Temple at Dambulla

After having a heavy lunch in the hotel(forgot its name) opposite to the bus stand, got a bus to Pollonurawa. Pollonurawa happened to be a much smaller town than I had expected. It had just one main road and many small houses and shops around. Got a room at Darshini hotel which was near the Junction and just a stone's throw away from the bus stand. The room was no better, and there was hardly anyone else except for us in the hotel which seemed to have around 10odd rooms. At 700LKR it was a good deal, for its proximity to the ruins and the bus stand. There are no great places to eat in Pollonoruwa(atleast not something that you can boast about). Most of the them are located on the Main road and serve the usual rice+curry.

After a good nap, we went for a walk in the evening and also stumbled on Suchira Communications(a cycber cafe on the Main road) which rents out bikes for exploring the ruins. We struck a deal at 200LKR per bike/cycle for the next day and after a test ride on the roads retired for the day.
Day 3 - Aug 29 (Monday) : Pollonurawa - Anuradhapura
We started our day at around 6:30am and then reached the entrance to the ruins. The morning was beautiful, with mild breeze and clear skies. I hoped for the best. We cycled around the ruins, stopping at various important sites marked in the LP map. 

Ruins at Pollanoruwa

Biking along the ruins
Also, the place has numerous placards for the important sites. The clear blue skies greeted us everywhere and the dagobas with their spires and the blue background was just apt.

Dagoba

Humidity was perfect. Saw some really huge dagobas and some ruins. A note about ruins here is that instead of structures i.e, with walls etc, most ruins just have the basic foundation which is not very interesting to watch. Though,the dagobas and the sacred quadrangle are nice.(I still vote Hampi high). We biked till 10:30am visiting Gal Vihara(the last in the ruins) and then the lake(Samudra) and then the archeological museum.


Gal Vihara
 Gave back the bike and after an early lunch(rice+curry) we caught a bus to Kekirawa. The bus was pretty crowded but we managed to find a seat after standing for sometime. Caught another crowded bus from Kekirawa to Anuradhapura and reached Anuradhapura by around 3pm. The bus dropped us near the railway station and we enquired there for a possible room. After asking around with the Station Master we got a spacious room for 700LKR. The room was huge and well ventilated. This proved to be a good decision as we had to catch a train to Kandy in the morning at 5am. 

Since we were tired, we preferred to hire an autorickshaw(tuk-tuk) to go around Anuradhapura; also, the sites in A'pura are quite spread out and I dont think biking for few hours without asking around was a good option. Also,1000LKR for around 3.5 hours of sight seeing was a good bet to spend the evening. We finished almost all the important sights in A'pura namely:
Ruvanelisaya Dagoba
Sri Maha Bodhi
Lankarama
Thuparama Dagoba
Isurumuniya Vihara
Mirisavitaya Dagoba
Jetvanarama Dagoba
Kuttam Pokuna(Twin Ponds)
Ratnaprasada
Abhayagiri dagoba (the museum was closed).
Abhayagiri
Luckily found a small hotel serving rice+curry and appam near the railway station. A heavy dinner it was! And a nice sleep ensued.
 
Day 4 - Aug 30 (Tuesday) : Anuradhapura - Kurunegala - Rambukana - Pinnawala - Kandy 
We did not do the much hyped Kandy-Nuwara Elaya route, but instead thought of spending some time in Kandy and then deciding the course of action from there. Enroute to Kandy we also wanted to visit the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawala. We caught the early morning train to Colombo and got down at Kurunagela. Another option was to go to Polgahwela and then catch a connecting train to Kandy from there(but due to the Pinnawala factor we dropped this); also, Kurunagela has better bus options than Polgahwela. We bought 2nd class tickets to Kudunagela and were surprised to see that almost all seats were full by the time we boarded the train. We settled for a seat in 3rd class.

There are many buses from Kurunagela to Pinnawala via Rambukana. So from Kurunagela you have to go to the Rambukana bus stand and catch another bus to Pinnawala.  The ride to Rambukana to Pinnawala is hardly around 10minutes and the bus drops you right in front of the orphanage. The Elephant Orphanage boasts of sheltering around 55-60 elephants and taking care of them
.


For 500LKR (for SAARC countries only; other countries 1000LKR) you get a ticket to watch the bathing and feeding of the elephants. I guess, they have 3 cycles in a day wherein the elephants are taken from the Orphanage to the river closeby(called Oya) and then after an hour or so taken back and then fed. There is a separate ticket(more dough) to be bought if you want to feed the elephants personally(and take pictures during the act). If you want a picture taken next to the elephants, then pay a few hundreds to the mahouts.


From Pinnawala, you can go to Kegalle and catch a bus to Kandy; but someone advised us to get down at the Colombo-Kandy junction and then catch a bus from there. This was a wise decision as we saved sometime by not going to Kegalle. The ride is beautiful and it meanders via some lush green foliage and many 'hotels' which seem to offer elephant rides. We reached Kandy around 4:30pm and then again went to the Railway Station for a possible room. The Station Master acknowledged and we got another cheap room in a good location for a very good rate(again 700LKR!). After a quick shower, we decided to go around. It was a long walk around the Kandy lake and the weather was just beautiful. The heat from the ruins had waned and it was mildly chill at Kandy.
Kandy Lake

Visited the Tooth relic temple and then an insipid dinner at the Pizza Hut. Also, bought some cakes and fruits for the next morning's breakfast. Since it was Eid's eve, most shops had closed early.
Tooth Temple, Kandy

Day 5 - Aug 31 (Wednesday) : Galle - Unawatuna
We had the early morning(5am) direct train to Galle from Kandy. Having already witnessed the rush in the trains here, we decided to travel in 3rd class. 3rd class is a variant of the 2nd class wherein the seats are just a tad wider (i,e 2 seats are clubbed into one single seat). The rates in 3rd class are half of that in 2nd class. I was very much excited about this train journey. The train started bang on time, and as expected it got full very soon. It was nice to watch the paddy fields and the dagobas which were spewed across. Uneventful ride to Galle culminated at 11:20am after passing via Colombo.
Ticket Counter at Railway Station
 

As we decided to stay at Unawatuna, we did not enquire about rooms in the railway station. We were surprised to find that there was a cricket match under progress in the famous Cricket stadium at Galle. We found out that Australia was playing a test match against SriLanka; we found many Australians on the road replenishing their stock(water!) to watch the match.

After lunch(a heavy rice+curry+noodles) we caught a bus to Unwatauna. The sun was bright and it was getting a little hot. We roamed around the streets of Unawatuna for possible places to stay. I had budgeted for a 3 to 4star accomodation, but most of them were full, or were not value for money. As I was standing next to a small shop, a lady inside told me of a room available. We went and checked this Amma's Guest House; I liked the room and for 900LKR per night, this was a steal. The room had a big lounge/balcony outside it from where we could view the ocean.
View from the room; sunny and rainy days

After a quick nap, we spent some time along the beach. The water was clear turquoise blue, but the shoreline was threatening, as it formed a gradient and also the waves were a tad tough. We wanted to scuba dive, and checked with some diving schools there; none of them gave us clear indications of visibility and the depth till which we would dive. Also, it had been raining for the past few days in this region, so I was a little skeptical about the visibility. I did not want to waste the dough, and hence we cancelled the dive for the time being and instead roamed around the streets.


Day 6 - Sept 1 (Thursday) : Unawatauna - eve Galle
A good night's sleep and I was all charged up. We went to Galle for lunch and then watched the Cricket Match from the top of the Fort. Though it was sunny, the view was amazing. We then roamed around the Fort for sometime. It started to rain and we decided to retreat; the match was called off for the day with the covers put on the pitch.



While coming back, I saw Sanath Jayasuriya coming out of the stadium and I was all excited. I asked the guard whether we could go in and get some autographs from the players and were welcomed without any questions or checks(!!). We waited for sometime, and then saw the Australian cricket team coming out. We did not know the team compositions in both the quarters, and were at loss of names even when we spotted some - for eg. though I could recognize Michel Clarke and Hussey, I just couldnt place their names. Nevertheless, we saw Mitchell Johnson, Ricky Ponting and Shane Watson; got autographs from the former 2 and clicked pictures with many. Then the Sri Lankan team came out; and we spotted Sangakara, Mahela , Mendis, Atapattu etc. 

It was funny to see that the security for the SriLankan team was more than that of the Australians. Also, the ease with which we could get in made me ask questions about the security in place - for it was due to security concerns that Australia did not visit SL earlier. Anyhow, it was a nice evening and for the first time I was 'actually' standing next to some cricketers and getting photos clicked ;)

Day 7 - Sept 2 (Friday) : Koggala, Habaraduwa, Galle
After a nice sleep and sweet tea prepared by Peiamma(owner of Amma's), we left for Koggala to visit the Turtle Farms. Apparently, Koggala does not have any hatcheries but was THE place for clicking the Stilt fishermen. The stilts are passed on from father to son for generations and is very valuable. The fishermen supposedly sit on these and catch the fish when there is the right tide.


Stilt Fishing, Koggala
For tourists, if you pay these fishermen some money, you can make them sit on the stilts and take photographs(not my cuppa tea!). We just took photographs of the empty stilts instead ;) . Asked around only to be told for sure that Koggala does not have any turtle farms and we had to Habbaraduwa(which was around 3kms away - towards Unawatuna). The bus dropped us some 1.5km away from the hatchery; we decided to have lunch in one hotel which was along the road. Lunch was good with the usual Rice+Curry but this time, we had some hot parottas(Parottas are cousins of Indian Roti). The walk to hatchery was much needed, as I was totally stuffed.

The hatchery charges around 400LKR(!!) for seeing the different stages of breeding the turtles. We werent very keen and instead preferred to watch the match at Galle. Caught a bus to Galle and this time we preferred to watch the match from inside the stadium. The tickets were priced at just 30LKR ; the weather was beautiful and it was a nice experience to watch the match.





We decided to walk around the Fort and checked out the Dutch Church and also the Maritime museum. Preferred to come back to Unawatuna and retire early.  
Amangalla
Dinner was at Jina's which claims to serve good vegetarian food , but I did not find it any interesting. The humus and the tomoto soup we ordered were below par; though the home-made multigrain bread was good.

Day 8 - Sept 3 (Saturday): Colombo
Our tour was almost coming to an end and today was the today to go back to Colombo. Caught a bus from Unawatuna to Galle and then after breakfast at one of the hotels, boarded a bus to Colombo. What was to be a 3hr ride ended up being a 4.5 hour tiring ride with some heavy rains in the middle. By the time we reached Colombo Fort station the rains had stopped (thats the best thing about SriLanka - it does not rain incessantly!).

Colombo does not have many budget hotels; most of that which exist are 5stars which are spewed next to the beach. Finding a hotel was a toughie; we roamed around the Fort station for sometime, but to no avail. Later we enquired at the Tourist Information Office outside the Fort Station to be informed of YMCA. The YMCA building is around 150 years old and the rooms are not so great. Most of them are high ceiling ones and smell dampness. Since, we were out of options and also this was a cheap one, we preferred to stay, and also the stay was only for a night. After a quick nap, we again roamed around the markets of Pettah. Bought some more Rambutans :)


Day 9 - Sept 4 (Sunday) Colombo - Chennai
Night was dreadful - I hardly got any sleep as was disturbed by the noise from traffic and also the mosquitos(the place does not have nets). 

View from the loo at YMCA, Colombo Skyline

Checked out pretty early from YMCA(better to sleep in airport!) and after a quick breakfast in one of the hotels near the Fort bus stand boarded a bus to Airport. Thanks to the driver who drove meticulously slow inspite of the low traffic, we reached Katunayake junction in 1.5hours(sigh!). The next few hours were spent in window shopping at the Airport. The Bandarnayake Airport at Colombo feels very compact, but is very clean and lots of shops. A surprise was a small super market(Cargill's Food City) in the airport which sells stuffs at marked price(I wish all airports had this, instead of the outlets which sell at exorbitant prices!). Also, I happened to stumble on the outlet setup by the Postal department -- bought a few nice stamps after very long time for my collection. Boarded the flight and reached chennai by 2:30pm.

Summary:
Accomodation:
.
.The rooms in Railway/Train stations are nice. They are huge and pretty much clean, and are an excellant value for money. If you are on a budget, then definitely prefer them.
. Avoid Colombo. Prefer to stay in Galle/Unwatana or other options like Chillaw or Hikkudawa or Bentota which are just a few hours away from Colombo.
.Use LP guide for reference alone, and do checkout other hotels. Some of them are cheaper than those listed in LP. 

Commute:
. Train journey is a MUST(probably i am biased as i love trains).
. Buses are plenty and you dont have to worry about them at all. But, try to avoid travelling in the evening, the place shuts down pretty early and you do not want to be roaming around empty streets in search of a room in the night.
. Buses in some less frequented routes like pollonurawa-anuradhapura are less; but still you can break your journey and go along.
. Do not travel for more than 3-4 hours in a bus. The seats do not recline and you dont want to freeze your knees.
. The airconditioned buses should be comfortable to tackle the heat, but i did not travel in them, as i saw the leg space to be very less.
. We hardly took any tuk-tuks. Bulk of it was in Dambulla wherein we had to move from Post Office to Bus Stand and one instance wherein we took tuk-tuk for sigh seeing in Anuradhapura.

Food:
. This was a definite let down for me; i expected much spicy and tasty food , but i did not find many. The usual for a vegan like me is Rice with Curry. I guess, the non-vegetarians have a much better spread.
. SriLanka has some nice fruits: Rambutan was a definite good find for me. We both loved it. There are also avocados and some other native fruits. (I wish we had rambutans in India!)
. Tiara cakes are nice and good for breakfasts. If you have an early train or bus to catch, buy one of these and it will keep your stomach full. For less than 200LKR, a cake usually serves 2 with ease.
. Tea - the local shops serve tea loaded with sugar - so let the person know to put minimal or no sugar based on your consumption pattern. Also, most of them use milkpowder instead of milk.
. A meal would cost between 600-1500 LKR per person if you are having in a good restaurant. Otherwise, a rice+veg.curry would cost somewhere around 130-150LKR and fills the stomach.

Shopping:
. Clothes are plenty and cotton is good. The prices are very much like those in India; and if you can bargain well, you might sometimes end up getting some good deals in the shops.
. Souveneirs - At Unawatuna, there are lots of wood carving shops selling masks and other works. Bargain hard. A recommended shop from where we bought some stuff is the one just outside Amma's Guest house and the owner is VERY nice and gentle person.
. Avoid buying at the airport; the prices are exorbitant. The only value buy in the airport is the Postal department which sells cheap stamps.

Overall:
. If you are visiting SriLanka for the beaches, then I would recommend Andamans instead of it. The beaches at Andamans are much-much-much beautiful and virgin, and they have some great sunrise and sunsets. Also, the sand is much more whiter and waves are much less daunting.
. A very cheap country; Excellant roads and amazing bus connectivity to almost all places.
. Biking in the ruins of Pollonoruwa is a MUST.
. Kandy is a nice city to stroll around; especially around the lake. It resembles very much like Nainital at Uttarakhand. Try to spend a day or two. Avoid Colombo.
. The cricket stadium at Galle is just too darn beautiful. The view from the Fort is awesome; plan your travel suitably so that can watch a match here.

Expenses:
Entry Tickets (for one in LKR)
  • Cultural Triangle : 2750
  • Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage : 500
  • Tooth Temple at Kandy : 500
  • Galle Cricket Stadium : 30
Sundries(all in LKR):
  • Bike/Cycle rentals at Pollonurawa(for one): 200
  • Anuradhapura Sight seeing in tuk-tuk : 1000
  • Shopping : 1700
Stays/Accomodation(double bed; all in LKR):
  • 1N @ Healy Guest House, Dambulla : 1300
  • 1N @ Darshini Guest House, Pollonurawa : 700
  • 1N @ Room in Anuradhapura Train station: 700
  • 1N @ Room in Kandy Train station: 700
  • 3N @ Room in Amma's Guest House at Unawatuna: 900*3 = 2700

Commute Expenses (For one person):
Chennai - Colombo - Chennai (Spicejet) (Air) - 5250 INR
      @SriLanka (All in LKR)
  • Katunayake Junction to Fort (Bus) : 41
  • Fort to Dambulla (Bus) : 150
  • Dambulla to Sigriya (Bus) : 35
  • Sigriya to Dambulla (Auto) : 200
  • Dambulla to Pollonurawa (Bus) : 76
  • Pollonurawa to Kekirawa (Bus) : 78
  • Kekirawa to Anuradhapura (Bus): 55
  • Anuradhapura to Kurunagela (Train) : 180
  • Kurunagela to Rambukanna (Bus) : 78
  • Rambukanna to Pinnawala (Bus) : 10
  • Pinnawala to Colombo-Kandy road junction (Bus) : 13
  • Colombo-Kandy road junction to Kandy (Bus) : 75
  • Kandy to Galle (Train) : 175
  • Galle to Unawatuna (Bus) : 16
  • Unawatuna to Koggala (Bus) : 10
  • Habaraduwa to Galle (Bus) : 20
  • Galle to Colombo (Bus) : 115

All inclusive total expenses for two: 24,000 INR (approx 57,600 LKR or 533 USD)

June 23, 2011

The One Way Street

How many times you have ever felt that you are walking up a one way street...just walking , walking and walking a little more. The feeling of the same monotonicity, the grind with the hope of finding something different down the alley; the hope that this one way would go and meet some new street or bend to a new boulevard filled with roses and tulips, the hope of finding a new puppy left alone, without a collar, to be picked up and to be cared for, the hope of finding and meeting someone new who brings in a new hope of life, the hope of getting a basket filled with trinkets and chocolates, the hope of reaching the end of this world and then starting again. Where does this one way street lead to?

Don't you want to turn around and ask yourself whether you want to just trudge along the same direction where this street leads you to, or do you want to take a detour and enter a new arena that you haven't entered or experienced before, try out the other challenges in life and see where it leads you to.

Today has been one of those days, again, where the mind seeks to get past the oblivion and prefers a direct route than circumnavigate, but the thoughts of extrapolating things in life, taking into effect the sacrifices of your fellow men , the red daffodil that always lies on your way, ready to be picked up and then placed right back on the road where it was lying, the things of the past wherein you had committed a mistake but fought hard to correct it and then brings things back in shape - all these and more always affect our life in more than one way.

June 20, 2011

iWoz

So, after almost 4 years i got a copy of iWoz during a casual visit to Blossoms book store. The visit was preceded by super sumptuous lunch at On the Edge, which is on the 13th floor of Barton Center. The visit to Blossoms is always nice. You are surrounded with ceiling high stack of awesome books; and you gape at them always wanting to read the entire stack but at the same time, prefer to preserve the neatness of the stack and also think about how time is always running out before one can read all the great stuff there. Anywayz, i picked up a copy of iWoz; and after a quick nap in the eve, started reading it. After having read iCon, i wanted to read more about the other Steve - Steve Wozniak, with whom Job had started Apple.

I had read iCon in early 2006 and loved it. It was a page turner and if i remember it right, i started it on a Friday night and had finished the entire book by Sunday evening. iCon is filled with many important events in Jobs's life - both personal and professional; reflecting on various traits of his. The author had done a commendable job, though it was not a biography but looked at some of the very personal events in Jobs's life.

I started reading iWoz, and almost finished one-third of the book in an hour and the first thing that i did Sunday morning after breakfast was to continue reading it and finished it post-lunch. The book written by Woz himself is another page turner.

Having read so many news articles about Jobs and Apple,i never knew much about Woz and this book was the much needed reading material on what it was to be the "Woz of the Silicon Valley". Woz explains in much detail about his engineering aptitude(s) and creations with the childish curiosity -- something that is much lacking in today's engineers. Right from phone phreaking to founding Apple, interspersed with couple of marriages and divorces, and the eventual CL9 to the engagements with the schools in his neighborhood -- Woz has always wanted to be the best of his class, and also the first. The perfectionism in his creations along with the minimalism is a characteristic brand value of Apple. Also, Woz clears some of the misconceptions that surrounds his (and also Jobs's) exit with Apple etc which was an eye opener for me. The childlike curiosity, with a keen inclination towards playing pranks(and getting away with it) with the mental acumen and stability of an grandpa would be virtues of Woz.

This book is a must read for every Engineer on the planet, for it gives some of the best insights into the life of probably The Greatest Engineer of Our Generation - Woz, himself.

May 20, 2011

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

There are some books which are light and heavy and the same time; the grammar is simple and words and the sentences are easy to read but the thoughts are prolix and pertinent. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse is one such book. Rating this book would be a sin, and i would instead recommend it to all; especially to those who are confused - confused about spiritualism. And even if you do not believe in spiritualism, read this book, for it explains some of the most beautiful things which are fundamental to many relationships in our life.

This book tries to reflect on certain facets of life and spiritualism, without directly providing solutions to them, it does not sound very pedantic or didactic at the same time; and hence is one of the MUST reads. The story is NOT about BUDDHA; dont be mistaken by the title. The plot is that of a young boy who tries to discover himself and things around him and in the due course, like a snake shedding its skin, keeps transforming and experiencing different phases in his life.

Born in a brahman family, he leaves his parents searching for the 'TRUTH' in his life:
A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, empty of thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow. Dead to himself, not to be a self any more, to find tranquility with an emptied heard, to be open to miracles in unselfish thoughts, that was his goal. Once all of my self was overcome and had died, once every desire and every urge was silent in the heart, then the ultimate part of me had to awake, the innermost of my being, which is no longer my self, the great secret.
His pal Govinda joins him in his journey and they leave together. He spends his adolescence with the samanas in the forests. The curious and restless mind of Siddhartha questions everything and they also question the life of the samanas and their path towards achieving the TRUTH.
He has lived for sixty years and has not reached the nirvana. He'll turn seventy and eighty, and you and me, we will grow just as old and will do our exercises, and will fast, and will meditate. But we will not reach the nirvana, he won't and we won't. Oh Govinda, I believe out of all the Samanas out there, perhaps not a single one, not a single one, will reach the nirvana. We find comfort, we find numbness, we learn feats, to deceive others. But the most important thing, the path of paths, we will not find.
Siddharta meets Gotama(Buddha) during his journey and questions him on his teachings with utmost respect:
but the uniformity of the world, that everything which happens is connected, that the great and the small things are all encompassed by the same forces of time, by the same law of causes, of coming into being and of dying, this is what shines brightly out of your exalted teachings, oh perfected one. But according to your very own teachings, this unity and necessary sequence of all things is nevertheless broken in one place, through a small gap, this world of unity is invaded by something alien, something new, something which had not been there before, and which cannot be demonstrated and cannot be proven: these are your teachings of overcoming the world, of salvation. But with this small gap, with this small breach, the entire eternal and uniform law of the world is breaking apart again and becomes void. Please forgive me for expressing this objection.
Gotama does reply to him as a true teacher and informs him of true intentions of his teachings and their goal.
But be warned, oh seeker of knowledge, of the thicket of opinions and of arguing about words. There is nothing to opinions, they may be beautiful or ugly, smart or foolish, everyone can support them or discard them. But the teachings, you've heard from me, are no opinion, and their goal is not to explain the world to those who seek knowledge. They have a different goal; their goal is salvation from suffering. This is what Gotama teaches, nothing else.
Siddhartha and Govinda part ways ; Govida decides to stay with Gotama whereas Siddhartha proceeds to discover more. Here comes the crucial phase in Siddhartha's life wherein he meets Kamala, a courtesan in a city with whom he spends a few years in the riches and also has a son.  Siddhartha leaves Kamala again and spends the rest of the years with the ferryman in the river. The ferryman is the second most important character in this story, who teaches many aspects to Siddhartha by adopting the River as the source of inspiration; the river manifesting itself as a teacher and guide from time to time. 

The Last chapter of the book, aptly titled Govida, who is the protaganist's pal, is probably the crescendo of the entire performance. Siddharta meets his pal and the dialogue is very intense sprouting different thought processes in the reader's mind. Every paragraph in this chapter is a box of gems; and i would like to quote a few of them here.
"When someone is searching," said Siddhartha, "then it might easily happen that the only thing his eyes still see is that what he searches for, that he is unable to find anything, to let anything enter his mind, because he always thinks of nothing but the object of his search, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed by the goal. Searching means: having a goal. But finding means: being free, being open, having no goal. You, oh venerable one, are perhaps indeed a searcher, because, striving for your goal, there are many things you don't see, which are directly in front of your eyes."
Siddharta goes onto explain about the 'Truth' in the life to Govinda:
he opposite of every truth is just as true! That's like this: any truth can only be expressed and put into words when it is one-sided. Everything is one-sided which can be thought with thoughts and said with words, it's all one-sided, all just one half, all lacks completeness, roundness, oneness.

When the exalted Gotama spoke in his teachings of the world, he had to divide it into Sansara and Nirvana, into deception and truth, into suffering and salvation. It cannot be done differently, there is no other way for him who wants to teach. But the world itself, what exists around us and inside of us, is never one-sided. A person or an act is never entirely Sansara or entirely Nirvana, a person is never entirely holy or entirely sinful. It does really seem like this, because we are subject to deception, as if time was something real.
And here comes the 'Anbe Sivam'(Love is God) moment, wherein Siddhartha hints at Buddha(God) in each one of us:
The world, my friend Govinda, is not imperfect, or on a slow path towards perfection: no, it is perfect in every moment, all sin already carries the divine forgiveness in itself, all small children already have the old person in themselves, all infants already have death, all dying people the eternal life. It is not possible for any person to see how far another one has already progressed on his path; in the robber and dice-gambler, the Buddha is waiting; in the Brahman, the robber is waiting. In deep meditation, there is the possibility to put time out of existence, to see all life which was, is, and will be as if it was simultaneous, and there everything is good, everything is perfect, everything is Brahman.
I have always believed in symbolism and Siddhartha uses the same instrument to teach Govinda on the essence of the different spiritual paths and goals.
I did it without any specific intention. Or perhaps what I meant was, that love this very stone, and the river, and all these things we are looking at and from which we can learn. I can love a stone, Govinda, and also a tree or a piece of bark. This are things, and things can be loved. But I cannot love words. Therefore, teachings are no good for me, they have no hardness, no softness, no colours, no edges, no smell, no taste, they have nothing but words. Perhaps it are these which keep you from finding peace, perhaps it are the many words. Because salvation and virtue as well, Sansara and Nirvana as well, are mere words, Govinda. There is no thing which would be Nirvana; there is just the word Nirvana.

Quoth Govinda: "Not just a word, my friend, is Nirvana. It is a thought."
Siddhartha continued: "A thought, it might be so. I must confess to you, my dear: I don't differentiate much between thoughts and words. To be honest, I also have no high opinion of thoughts. I have a better opinion of things.
To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I'm only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings with love and admiration and great respect.
Do read this amazing book and let me know of your comments. The book is also available in Gutenberg.

April 28, 2011

Reading List for the next year (or two)


I would ideally like to read all of these books in the next one year or two, in no specific order; there are more to the list, but i would be happy if I am able to finish these first :)
  1. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions - Edwin A. Abbott
  2. Tertium Organum - P. D. Ouspensky
  3. Sidhartha - Herman Hesse
  4. I know why the caged bird sings - Maya Angelou
  5. The Color Purple  - Alice Walker
  6. Illusions - Richard Bach
  7. The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli
  8. The Republic - Plato
  9. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez
  10. Blood Brothers - M.J.Akbar
  11. Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
  12. Full Moon - PG Woodhouse
  13. Barbarians at the Gate -  Bryan Burrough and John Helyar 
  14. How the Mind Works    - Steven Pinker
  15. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain - Oliver Sacks
  16. The Family That Couldn't Sleep: A Medical Mystery - D.T. Max
  17. Man and His Symbols - Carl Gustav Jung
  18. The Diaries of Franz Kafka
  19. Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia - John Dickie
  20. Yakuza: Japan's Criminal Underworld - David E. Kaplan, Alec Dubro
(I have the ones in bold, and need to buy the rest! And yes, i do accept gifts :) )
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