The wrong lesson from the Boy Who Cried Wolf

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Mrs. Malik was 71 when she learned how to recognise the signs and symptoms of a stroke. She learned this from a series of pictures on a local hospital’s information leaflet. On the top banner, in blazing red ink, was the hospital’s emergency number that could be called if one were convinced that they were having a stroke. “Don’t hesitate,” it said. “Just call. We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”

Mrs. Malik carefully folded the paper till it showed just the emergency number and taped this to the landline phone set she used. She further wrote the number down in her personal phone diary, and made a mental note to ask someone to save the number in her cell phone.

Two days later, the ambulance was at her doorstep.

Continue reading

The Silence of Our Actions


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I bought a copy of  The Silence of Our Friends yesterday at Comic Con, Bangalore. It took me two pages of browsing through at the counter to know that this is a graphic novel I will enjoy reading and will cherish for a long time. And that is exactly how things seem to be turning out. I read the book today, all in one sitting, and kept going back to several of the conversations between the important characters and the oh-so-subtle imageries in the backdrop of the artwork. And it was in these revisits that I had the Aha! moment about this book. Continue reading

Happy Independence Day

Before 1947, if one had a distinctly Indian name, which 99% Indians did, one could literally die of a name.

In 1943, a British Naval Officer, who was from Indian roots but had been born and brought up as a pure Brit in Sussex, was assigned to a mission at the Bombay port. He had never sympathised with the Indian cause and had taken every step he could to make it known to people that despite his roots, he was very thoroughly a Brit.

But Bombay was a new place and new places come with their new prejudices. When the Master-of-Port at Bombay saw that someone by the name of Rustomji Jahajwalah was asking permission to dock his rowing boat, he assumed almost immediately that the line saying “Boatswain in His Highness’s Royal British Navy” must have been clearly a mistake. Continue reading

Being an Authorpreneur: why writing feels so much like starting up

People like Eric Schmidt scare the daylight out of me when they say we are, presently, producing as much content in 48 hours as we did from the beginning of time till 2003. Just take a minute and imagine: every single day we are producing as much text as there is in half the libraries of the world. What Schmidt is basically telling us is that we can be great writers, but if we can’t figure out a way to stand out in today’s crowded world of content, we are just hobbyists and little else. Continue reading

Book Review – Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North by Alex Rutherford

The Book at Hand:

One cannot judge a book by its cover, but one sure can get fascinated enough to buy it from the stores. That’s how I came across Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North. The royal battle-axe with intricate design on a dark bloody crimson cover was just the kind of thing I was looking for. A quick skim through the first chapter at the store was enough to promise a good reading experience, tempting me to put the softcover edition into my cart. To be completely frank, I had started to expect something from the book that my school textbooks did not provide; the book did not disappoint. The first in the quintet, this book did leave me with a craving for the rest of the series.

The Story in Essence:

Beginning in 1494 when 12-year-old Prince Babur was unceremoniously rendered fatherless due a tragic accident in the royal dovecote, the story takes us through the troubled times in Babur’s life. With a court full of treacherous councilors, Babur had only the women of his family, his mother Kutlugh Nigar, the strong and astute grandmother Esan Dawlat and sister Khanzada, for support. The only other truly loyal friend was his mentor and the late king’s chief of bodyguard and milk-brother Wazir Khan. Quickly and secretly, following a public attempt at his life, the young prince was read the khutba in the mosque to pronounce him Lord of Ferghana. The new King began his reign by personally beheading his ambitiously treacherous vizier and sending the message that young as he is, he will fulfill his destiny as the descendant of Timur-i-Lang and Genghis Khan.

The story then reels through his occasional strokes of fortune by which he comes in possession of the grand capital of Timur’s kingdom, Samarkand, following the death of its king, his paternal uncle.With Timur’s capital came his most sought after insignia, his ruling ring. The ring on his finger, Babur begins one of the most thrilling journeys in the history of man, with ebbs and flows, gain and loss of kingdoms, fortunate victories and humiliating defeats. Captured in four parts and twenty-seven chapters, the story of Babur in Ferghana and Samarkand, in his throneless days, in his hardships across the Hindu Kush to take charge of Kabul, and finally in his capture of Hindustan, is one story that is truly of historic proportions.

Babur as Protagonist:

We see Babur grow from a young and naive king to a powerful emperor of Kabul and Hindustan. What truly changed his fate was the unconditional loyalty of his comrades, Wazir Khan, Baisanghar and Baburi, and his undying will to be worthy of Timur’s blood. We see him showing great courage during his throneless days, when “even a bowl of soup brought a smile to [his] face.” His leadership abilities are commendable as he was able to muster enough men to his cause even when he had nothing much to offer to them in return, except for promises of glory and uncertain booty. He is also one with several flaws. He is usually rash and naive when it comes to holding Samarkand. As a result he loses it every time within weeks. In his youth, he is scolded by his grandmother for reveling in brothels around Ferghana, foregoing his duties towards his men. Through merciful in general, he is prone to playing polo with the heads of his recently vanquished enemies or constructing towers of them to strike fear in the hearts of anyone else who plans to rally against him.

Yet he is one who leads his men like a Timurid. His skills at battle struck fear in his enemies hearts; his tactics and battle plans reflect his understanding of human nature, laying traps for the susceptible traits of his enemies mind. He rewards the loyalties of his men amply and punishes their treachery with death. His love for his citizens and his desire for their prosperity is depicted in his generous distributions of grains and royal coffers. He is merciful to the women and children, which is a virtue hard to come by in those times; the men, mostly his enemies, are shown to treat women as no more than sexual toys and children as a profitable exchange at the slave market. He proves himself a dutiful son, a loving brother and a proud father.


The author uses a variety of characters, some true, some fictitious and many loosely drawn from history, to bring life to the story. The women of Babur’s family are drawn directly from history and depicted in quite the same light as Babur shows them in his memoirs, Baburnama. Kutlugh Nigar’s patience and moral strength gave Babur the psychological support to launch himself to the world. Much praise is attributed to the shrewd grandmother Esan Dawlat, who understood men and their loyalties like the back of her hand, and ably guided her grandson through thick and thin, often pulling by the ear. She was a proud and astute Khanim (Descendant of Ghenghis Khan) and always reminded Babur of his Mongol ancestor. Khanzada, Babur’s sister is shown to grow to be a Khanim, wise and shrewd as her grandmother. Babur regards her support above all else and entrusts her the task of advising his sons after him.

Through the characters of Wazir Khan, Baisanghar and Baburi, the author lets us judge Babur’s role as an apprentice, a commander and a friend respectively. Wazir Khan, mentor and chief of Babur’s bodyguard was his father’s milk-brother and hence his loyalty to Babur was above question. He mentored Babur right from the age of six and was always by his side till he fell in war, saving Babur even in his last breath. It was primarily due to his support that Babur ever became king and lived beyond his twelfth birthday. Baisanghar was a noble warrior, loyal to the Timurid bloodline. Immediately following the death of Samarkand’s king, he supported Babur to keep the final request of his late king. Through the years, he served as Babur’s commander-in-chief to later become his grand vizier and also father-in-law. The most fictitious of all characters, Baburi, is introduced as a market boy who risks his life to save a baby girl from being trampled by one of Babur’s soldiers. Babur takes great liking in this youth and employs him in his cavalry. As they grow older together, the two come very close. Babur even considered him his brother. Baburi’s common sense and his direct, blunt way of dealing with Babur, made him the king’s favorite. The two are shown to exchange fists and draw each others blood, all in brotherly stubbornness. It is Baburi, who is given credit for changing Babur’s fate by introducing the Turkish cannon and muskets in Babur’s Army.

The characters shown in the negative light are just as important to the story as are Babur’s aides. His primary enemy in Central Asia, the Uzbek Lord Shaibani Khan, troubled Babur until the former fell to the Shah of Persia. Bent on relieving the earth of the Timurid bloodline, Shaibani Khan steadily crushed all opposition, leaving Babur as the last standing Timurid. He caused Babur much anguish by snatching away Samarkand from his hands and forcing him to submit Khanzada to him as a wife, in replacement for the lives of his family and men. With his fall, Babur soon came in conflict with the Shah of Persia over the issues of vassalship and converting to the Shiite faith. The people of Samarkand rejected Babur as one who had tried to strike an alliance with the Kizil-Bashi, the red-hat Shiites. Other men in the way of Babur’s rise were Ibrahim Lodi, the Sultan of Hindustan and Rana Sanga of Mewar, both of whom were no match for Babur’s Turkish artillery despite the huge armies they commanded.

The Final Word:

Author Alex Rutherford has put in much effort to bring the historic figure of Babur to life. Using all the necessary elements of a successful drama, the author has put in a strong foot in the world of historical fiction. Keeping the sanctity of history, he hasn’t tampered with the facts that are available to the historian today and has utilised fiction only to build on those facts with a stronger hold on the readers. Beautifully describing the environment and elaborately picturing the battle scenes, the author paints a a very lively portrait of Central Asian history. Though there is always the clinch about the use of the word Moghul instead of Mughal, one has to agree that Moghul, the Persian corruption of the word Mongol, is the word the Shah of Persia could have used in an attempt to humiliate Babur’s ancestry. Moghul got corrupted in Hindustan as Mughal. Here again, we see the author’s insistence on sticking to history as closely as possible.

The first part of the quintet, this books comes about as a cool getaway from the historically accurate and awfully boring paragraphs in NCERT textbooks. The amount of effort put into learning the various documents and traveling along the paths of Babur through the physically challenging terrains of Central Asia calls for strong appreciation for the author. Though he has revealed very little about himself in the book, much has already been discussed about Alex Rutherford in the various forums spread across the internet. I will not reveal the true identity of the author here, respecting his own choice to keep it a secret, but anyone who wishes to know has only to search “alex rutherford” on any search engine.

I will say that this book is far better than the average page-turner and is meant for anyone who seeks the knowledge of medieval history of Central Asia and India or is just looking for a book to spend the weekend purposefully. On a scale of 5, I rate this book at a 4.0 and eagerly wait for the upcoming books in this series. One thing is certain: the author has set the bar high for the following parts.

Originally published on an earlier blog of mine on 23 July, 2010

Toy Story 3: Movie Review

Although my brother feels that the movie was a yawn-a-rooney, I will differ significantly, naming Toy Story 3 one of the best pieces of animation to come out of Pixar Studios. A suiting third part to a great series, Toy Story 3 does not disappoint the viewer, as has been the case with other movie series, wherein the third part loses the charm that the previous two movies have built. This movie which was dubbed Pixar’s great gamble, has paid off big time in the Box Office, beating the last record holder, Shrek 3, with a total income of $41,148,961 on its opening day at the box office from 4,028 theaters.

So, what makes this movie such a success?

1. Gripping Plot:

Skipping years ahead of the time frame in Toy Story 2the movie is set when Andy is seventeen and ready to go to college. This means that the toys will no longer be played withbest case scenario being a life in the attic for ‘infinity and beyond’. The bowl of emotion in the toys ranges from fear of being thrown out as trash to a feeling of betrayal. Only Woody seems to be positive, having full faith in Andy. He emphasizes that the toys should ‘be there for Andy’ no matter what they had to do for that.

With the familiar twists and turns that are idiosyncratic of Toy Story series, the toys find themselves in different places, a day care center, a Junk yard and finally, their safe haven at Bonnie’s house. Throughout the transitions, the story proceeds through top quality scenes, filled with an assortment of many emotions. The story grows from being sad to heart warming, happy, intense, scary, melancholic, and finally to tear-breaking satisfaction. Scenes are engineered to induce from the audience a perfect blend of smiles, laughs, grins, blushes, frowns of anticipation, awes and tears, be it from an eight year old enthusiast or an eighty year old timer.

I will not go through the details of the plot as that will be a breach of the overall warmth of the movie that has to be seen in person to capture the whole spectrum.

2. Character Depth:

Toy Story 3 makes the toys look more human than ever. Not to mention, the great voice modulations by Tom Hanks(Woody) and Tim Allen(Buzz LightYear) just keeps the audience gripped to the seats. The manner in which each character is given ample screen space and unique nature is appreciable. Woody’s confidence and faith, Mr. Potato Head’s cynicism, Buzz’s insistence on sticking together are all brought about in great style. Buzz’s Spanish mode particularly sends waves of laughter through the theatre. Ken, the new introduction, looks great in his self-proclaimed style icon image and Lotso (Lots’-O’-Huggin’-Bear), the main character in a negative role, is just the perfect mix of jealousy and anger. All in all, the movie does a great job in making the toys real.

3. Maturity:

On a personal platform, I would say that this movie is far more mature than Avatar. The manner in which important values like, not abandoning your friend no matter what, and sticking together through thick and thin, is brought out with minimum effort and in a way that appeals to even the youngsters. It does not have scenes of great sacrifice, but it brings out the idea all the same. Conquering great odds with cooperation from everyone, using each others’ abilities and believing in oneself is corner stone of the great adventures of the toys.

4. A Story Everyone can Connect with:

 To top it all, it is a story that everyone can connect with.There is not one of us who cannot relate to love, loyalty, loss, and fear of rejection, abandonment, replacement and so on.There are a lot of times when we feel the need of attention from our loved ones, feel abandonment when we don’t get the attention and look for other friends.We feel the tension of fitting into the new place, gaining everyone’s trust, hoping beyond hope that we find more affection here. And almost every time we find that the ones we were about to leave were the best friends we ever had. The same story that we call Life is depicted in this excellent movie.

Having said all this, there were certain things that disappointed me.

1. 3D 

The 3D was not much of an experience. There were hardly any scenes that would take us by surprise with things or people popping out of the screen. Most of the scenes had very little 3D effect and in the end it just became a pain to continuously focus on different parts of the screen.

2. No redemption for Lotso.

Although I understand Pixar’s intention of making a mature movie, in the end we must accept that it is meant for the kids. I would, personally, not like a movie which does not let the Negative character a scene of redemption. The message ‘Some things never change’  is important but ‘Love conquers all Evil’ is a message with far more gravity.

The Final Word:

If you are looking for a movie which you can enjoy with your family, or even your girlfriend/boyfriend, Toy Story 3 just fits the requirements. With a great beginning and a tear-breaking ending, the movie leaves you with a sense of satisfaction and a renewed sense of admiration for animated movies. On a scale on 5, I will rate it at a 4.75.

Originally published on an earlier blog of mine on July 15, 2010

The Story Behind the Coke

Most food we relish today is result of accidents and without exception they are real strokes of genius. Frank Epperson leaves a drink outside in the cold overnight and the world gets its first Popsicle, while ice-cream cones get invented in the 1904 World’s Fair at St. Louis and the classic story of the Potato Chip still amuses the world. Cook George Crum invented them to silence a particular fastidious customer of his, who kept returning the French Fries on account that they were ‘soggy’. Still, the best story so far is none other than the Coke’s.

Dr John Stith Pemberton, a pharmacist at Jacob’s Pharmacy in Atlanta, was working on a cure for headaches. On May 8, 1886 he mixed carbonated water with some special syrup he had invented. This was world’s very first glass of Coca Cola. He started selling them at a drug store at five cents per glass as a health tonic. It soon gathered public opinion. The genius behind the phenomenal success of Coca Cola lies in method used: the Coca Cola Company claims to be the first to distribute coupons for free samples, in order to attract customers. Within eight years, it became popular enough to be bottled. In 1894, candy maker Joseph Biedenharn became the first person to bottle Coca Cola opening the doors to the common public.

Bottling of Coke became the Company’s most important achievement as it put Coca Cola on the world map. The late 19th century witnessed Coca Cola sales rise a phenomenal 4000 per cent. In the first quarter of the 20th century, Coca Cola bottling plants were spread over Europe, Asia and the entire United States. Today, Coca Cola is one of the most prevalent brands in the world, selling more than 1.3 billion drinks every day in 200 countries worldwide.
Though the chemistry and marketing behind the Coke is, definitely, Pemberton’s, the real branding of the product is attributed to his bookkeeper, Frank Robinson. He wrote the product’s name in a sweeping, cursive hand. Today, this is one of world’s most recognised logo. You can find it on bottles, cans, trucks and signs all across the globe. In the past 120 years, the Coca Cola Company has used many marketing slogans and introduced many new products. What has not changed is the flowing letters of Frank Robinson. The logo has stood for over a century, growing each year in prominence.

The syrup that started this soft drinks revolution was indeed a product of an accident, but its constitution remains one of the best kept secrets till date.

Originally published on an earlier blog of mine on July 7, 2010

Me and Anime

“I will never give up. Believe it.”

When Naruto Uzumaki, lead character in the Anime series Naruto, utters these words with a really inspiring music playing in the background, something similar to a current of confidence runs down my spine, my eyes light up, the hair on the back of my neck stand up in excitement and my heart beats against my chest in full vigour. And this feeling of confidence lingers within me even after the half hour episode gets over. Such is the influence anime has on me. Whenever I feel down and out, I seek shelter, direction even, from these fictitious characters with pointed noses and spiked hair. What power they hold over me I cannot express, mostly because I, myself, have not been able to understand it fully. Maybe you can help me out. Let me guide you through a journey down my memory lane so that you can tell me when and how I fell in love with cartoons and anime.

If my memory serves me right, the first ever animated series I ever saw was an anime. Here, I must properly differentiate between anime and other forms of animation. Anime is the name given to a special class of animated series developed in Japan. They are usually inspired from a Manga (comic book) series or from some book, though some anime exist which have no such roots in literature. Back to where we left, I had told you that the very first animated series I ever saw was an anime. Most people do not realise that the cartoon series Jungle Book which used to be aired on Doordarshan in Hindi was actually dubbed from the Japanese anime Shonen Mowgli. I didn’t know either, when I was a kid. All that mattered to me then, was the beautifully simple opening song “jungle jungle baat chali hai…” and the episode that followed. I remember watching the episodes, getting lost in them and never coming out. After the half hour show, I would run about acting as Mowgli (the child lost in the jungle and brought up by a pack of wolves) and treating my house as the jungle. I remember having tried many a time to carve out a boomerang from cardboard, so that I may hunt like Mowgli did. Obviously, none of my boomerangs were effective; they would not stay up in air for more than three seconds. But I did not lose hope; I knew that would go against the teachings of Baloo (the bear) and Baghira (the Black Panther). I particularly enjoyed Shere Khan’s (the wounded Tiger) entry music; it was simply captivating. And who can forget how Nana Patekar’s voice made Shere Khan look so familiarly villainous!

In the evenings, I would again get glued to Sony Entertainment Channel’s Disney Hour. Right from Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy to the various other Disney characters, all of them would take me into their world. The effect wasn’t as captivating as the Jungle Book’s, but was pretty close. I can say I never pictured myself as Mickey or Donald or Goofy, though I occasionally turned into Scrooge McDuck (the miserly millionaire duck) from Duck Tales, and Kit (the orphan young bear, who was navigator to the pilot Baloo) from Talespin. Around the same time came many Disney series like the Goof Troop, Aladdin, Rescue Rangers, etc. but none would leave me mystified. I must mention, it was a time in my life when I was unaware of the Cartoon Network. My parents had meticulously kept the channel out of the bandwidth of the cable antenna. Not until I was ten years old till I got the first glimpse of this sea of cartoons.

Ten years old, I unearthed the forbidden knowledge of tuning the frequencies of various channels to the cable antenna of the television. I had heard of the famed Cartoon Network from my friends and was determined to tune the channel in. With great difficulty was I able to find the particular frequency, but the joy was inexpressible. For days I kept the channel a secret from my parents; my elder brother knew, of course. I would only switch onto this channel when my parents were out to work at the University. Right before they came back, I would carefully change to the Discovery Channel. Now that I think of it, I feel that they knew about all this, but they chose to play along. In any case, now, my exposure to the world of cartoons had increased many folds. From the two hours per day it had increased to over six hours. I was now acting like the Sky Commanders, the Centurions and the Swat Kats. My brother and I particularly loved the Ninja Robots, an anime.

The following year Cartoon Network aired one of my all-time favourite anime, Dragonball Z. This anime was like none other I had come across. Now, I became Goku (the Saiyan from planet Vegeta who was brought up on earth to be Earth’s saviour), meditating as he used to, running around and shooting imaginary power waves from my palms. I even tried to do push-ups; it was an utter failure owing to the disproportionate size of my hands compared to the belly. Even today, I face the same problem. But let’s not stray from our path. For over five years, I was a Saiyan, though for some time in between, I assumed the role of lead characters from Cardcaptor Sakura, Beyblade, Yu Gi Oh, Detective School Q, Inu Yasha, Pokemon etc. By the time I was sixteen, I had been many people, had possessed many supernatural powers, saved a million lives a million times over, but I had not lost the enthusiasm. I was still as receptive to anime as I was when just ten years old. At this point, Naruto came to my life.

Naruto Uzumaki has been my alter ego for the past three years. Today, even at the age of nineteen, I act just like a child, trying to be like Naruto. For the first time, I fell so deeply in love with an anime that I do not know if I would, ever, rank any other anime higher than Naruto. Yet this time round, I was not just fascinated by the concept of Chakra and Jutsus but also how beautifully they depicted human values of friendship and comradeship. They so effortlessly brought out the most complex of emotions and made me aware of the many wrongs that I have committed in the past, ranging from mistrust to hurting my best friends. Best of all, it continuously emphasises on the ideal: never quit, never give up, no matter what. I remember a line from Kakashi Hatake (Naruto’s teacher and himself one of the highest ranking ninjas) which goes like this, “Those who do not follow rules are scum, but those who forget about their friends are worse than scum.” This line is so close to my heart, today, that it is easily one of the ideals I cherish and follow.

As Naruto continues to be aired every Thursday in Japan, I sit down and download it from one of the various sites which indulge in video piracy. The same goes for many other anime series like Full Metal Alchemist, One Piece, Death Note, etc. Thus, my tryst with anime has continued for more than fifteen years now and I think it will continue for ten more years. As the years progress, the quality of anime increases in two different fields: one, in the level of sophistication of the animation and two, in the simplicity with which they bring out all that is good. These characteristics make anime one of the most desirable media of instilling in children the values that will guide them through their lives. With the charm of television series like the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Arabian Nights fading, children are continuously attracted to this new medium of entertainment, which sugar-coats ideals with the supernatural attractions of power waves and super-strength.

For my part, I am a little apprehensive, though. As the anime market grows, many new series spring up which are far inferior in quality compared to Naruto, Fullmetal Alchemist and for that matter Jungle Book. Such non-productive shows dilute the overall richness that the true anime strive to maintain. They act as nothing more than invisible handcuffs on the minds of the growing children. Instead of opening new dimensions of imagination and creativity, these tend to close down the existing ones. Under such conditions, I can only hope that channels like Cartoon Network, Pogo, Animax choose responsibly which shows to air.

Originally published in an earlier blog of mine on July 7, 2010