Yearly Archives: 2017

Land of the Seven Rivers

Sanjeev Sanyal

Geography through the lens of history, the other way, or both! Whichever way one interprets it, the perspective it offers simply by traversing the length of time from “Gondwana to Gurgaon” is quite amazing.

In trying to unravel the broad contours as well as nuances of an ancient civilisation that continues to thrive, the author covers varying domains – beginning with genetics and tectonics and continuing on to trade, politics, cartography and so on. As the title suggests, the specific area around the seven rivers gets most of the focus. One reason is probably that, the events and transformation that this region has witnessed is relatively much higher than the rest of the country. But in many contexts, the author has given hat tips to other relevant regions/kingdoms. e.g. Vijayanagara, Chola, Muziris. He has also covered population influx and exodus at different points in history, and the influences of both, in India as well as in other geographies.

In terms of history, while it might be arguably selective, the author does cover the Harappa civilisation, the movement of civilisation from the Indus to the Gangetic plains, the Mauryas, Guptas, the dynasties preceding the Mughals, different emperors of the Mughal empire, the British and even the politics and policies of contemporary India that continues to create new contours. It is fascinating to see the change in GDP (global share) and population growth through history, and understand the reasons behind them. More

Sly Granny

With a 4.0 rating at Zomato, and the “oohs and ahhs” I heard from folks, Indian culture demanded that we visit the elderly lady in Indiranagar and pay our respects. That’s how, helped by the relatively peaceful Bangalore roads on the Easter long weekend, we ended up at Sly Granny on the more peaceful side of 12th Main. (map) Either Granny was in a cantankerous mood or snootiness runs in the locality (Bombay Brasserie also turned up its nose recently), I couldn’t reserve a table. Our way around is to arrive early enough, so at 7 PM we walked up to the 3rd floor, eyeing Claridges’ Dhaba (2nd Floor) on the way.

Granny lives on two floors – the lower one is divided into a Lobby Bar (where you can wait if you can’t find seats) and a Dining Room, while the upper area is the Living Room and Terrace. The Dining Room is where she’ll likely entertain people of her age (and ours) since despite the risque art, the seating is more conservative and ‘proper’. The terrace and the stairs leading up to it are much more livelier and prettier, I’d say. The seating as well as the alfresco setting gives it a more relaxed feel. Sitting there though, was unfortunately not an option for us since there was some private party starting there soon. In fact, one suited gentleman rewarded us with a delightfully funny scowl for disturbing the peace (uncharacteristically, since the staff is otherwise polite and friendly) as we took a little tour before we went down and meekly took our corner table.

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A working theory of Karma

Karma is one of two aspects of Buddhism that I have not been able to reconcile with my thinking, the other being a related phenomenon – reincarnation/rebirth. My understanding was only based on the limited reading I had done on the subject, this was something I hoped to correct in the medium term. But recently, a post on awareness by Umair Haque put Karma in a nuanced new light.

More searching (google, not within 😉 ) took me to Two Meanings of Karma. The author distinguishes between universal and psychological karma. The former is the cosmos driven moral justice model, probably influenced by the Hinduism version of karma, which I was finding difficult to reconcile. The latter is in line with the one Umair Haque has written about. Our innate sense of morality.  More

Mumbai Fables

Gyan Prakash

I have a bit of a strange relationship with Bombay. On the one hand, I am not really fond of the pace of life there, or the sense of collective superiority its citizens (sometimes) seem to exude. On the other hand, I am fascinated by the very idea of the city, and its uniqueness. That is the reason why a lot of Bombay-based books exist on my bookshelf. On hindsight, it does seem strange that Mumbai Fables took this long to find its way there.
This idea of Bombay and the possibilities and promise is what led people from many parts of the country to make the city their home. This, I think, is what fascinates the author too, and this book attempts to understand what makes the city special. It is a historic journey of the city across various domains – geography, art and literature, culture, politics, journalism and business. The narrative is largely linear, with some overlap to cover ground when a new aspect is brought to the discussion.

The Brew & Barbeque

First published in Bangalore Mirror under my more famous pseudonym 😉

In the steel and concrete drabness that goes by the name of Outer Ring Road, it takes a sense of irony to name a mall Soul Space Arena! But maybe there’s hop, my Malayali mind thought, when I heard that a microbrewery had begun operating there. That’s how we landed at The Brew and Barbeque. To be honest, I didn’t really have a good feeling about this- the last time we visited a microbrewery operating in a mall on Old Madras Road, we had a very bitter experience! But to be fair, once you step inside, it’s easy to forget the mall environment. Part of it is to do with the spaciousness, the place is huge. The simplistic furniture – mostly bare wooden tables and functional chairs – allows efficient usage of space, making it seem even more roomy. A DJ and a giant screen to complete the pitcher!

In what is a departure from menus I’ve seen recently, the place has a fairly simple, small and what one might call an unambitious menu. What it smartly does is focus on dishes that go well with a mug of beer. Speaking of that liquid, there were three kinds available, and we asked for samplers. The wheat was what you’d call barley passable! The lager was much better in terms of flavour and feel. The red ale was milder than what I expected but likeable enough. The other kind of drink we tried was a mango lassi, and while it tasted fine, the flavour was packaged mango and not any real fruit.

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A devious self

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These days when I think of the self, I am regularly reminded of this. I use ‘ego’ interchangeably with ‘self’. Ego as in egotism, not the Freud definition. The inflated view of the self that most of us refer to when we say ‘ego’. While the scientific-philosophical perspective is something I am very interested in, it is more the day-to-day reveals that are more frequent.  More

Yuganta

Irawati Karve

Yuganta is not a linear retelling of the Mahabharata, instead it uses a few characters to do a critical analysis of the epic. At a simplistic level, the basic story thread is indeed communicated, while delving into these characters and placing them in the context of the story. But more importantly, the examination of various characters, their motivations and actions, belief systems and relationships with each other, as well as the societal frameworks of class, makes up most of the book.
Irawati Karve begins with Bhishma and I almost laughed out loud at her systematic takedown of one of the epic’s revered characters. An observation that I really loved – “When a man does something for himself, his actions are performed within certain limits – limits that are set by the jealous scrutiny of others. But let a man set out to sacrifice himself and do good to others, and the normal limits vanish.” The portion on Vidura is also a look into the prevailing caste system, roles in society, and the strict adherence to these rules. This is extended in the chapter on Drona and Ashwathama.
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Nasi and Mee (Whitefield)

Our visits to the black box VR mall have been predominantly for the happy hours at Irish House. On one such visit, we were super thrilled to see a Nasi and Mee ‘coming soon’ sign right next door. We’d been really happy with its Koramangala version. But for the longest while, the sign was all there was, and we had given up! On the 1st of April, we decided that it was as good a day as any to check if we’d continue to get fooled. But voila, it was open, with the familiar Edison lamps (though every restaurant now sees it as the passport to coolth!) no-nonsense seating, and those shutters that remind me of a place from long, long ago.

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Since we were early, we easily found a seat, especially since we chose to sit in the alfresco section. I don’t think they’ve publicised the place much, since it wasn’t really fully occupied even when we left around 9. A far cry from the Koramangala version, which would’ve had a crowd waiting outside for a table!  More

Empathy & Extinction

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari explains how we’re the most dominant species on the planet because we’re the only ones able to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. The ‘funny’ part is that the things we cooperate on usually exist only in our collective imagination – religion, nation, money. Intersubjective realities.

But it gets funnier. When I look around now, I see these intersubjective realities actually causing more divisiveness between groups than unity. Offended because Spiegel allegedly called it a poor nation. Offended because Katy Perry used a Hindu goddess to describe her mood. New day, new reason to be offended.  More

Sapiens : A Brief History of Humankind

Yuval Noah Harari

“Just six million years ago, a single female ape had two daughters. One became the ancestor of all chimpanzees, the other is our own grandmother.” That appears on page 5, and somehow it convinced me that I was going to enjoy this book. Actually, even before that, the framing of the massive exercise of universe creation, and evolution, neatly into physics, then chemistry, and biology is itself a fantastic beginning. This elegance in framing, which extends to the analogies used as well, played a huge role in me recommending this book to pretty much everyone I met, even while I was still reading it.

To continue, after biology, which is the study of organisms, we come to the study of something developed by humans – culture, and that study is history. From as many as six other human species that existed until 100,000 years ago, we were the chosen ones. How did that happen, and how did we get here, that is what the book explores. More