Gods Without Men

Hari Kunzru

Fantastic! It’s one of those books which you either immediately connect to or switch off from. I wasn’t sure whether I’d like it because a few reviews said that the book leaves the reader hanging, and does not have a conclusive end. From a conventional perspective that’s probably true, but I felt that was precisely the point of the book – there are some things that will remain unknown. We need to acknowledge that in our lives and continue seeking or come to terms with it. It is that very human search for connection and meaning that made this book work for me. The other reason I was skeptical was because it was also described as an ‘American novel’, insinuating a deep cultural connect I feared I would miss out on. That fear proved unfounded since the work is nothing if not universal in its roots.

The action is mostly centred around the Pinnacles, a rock formation in the Californian desert, and the various intriguing happenings around it. Hari Kunzru has created a vast spectrum of characters, across several centuries. A British rock star, an Iraqi teenager, a family consisting of an Indian, an American and their son, believers of an alien worshiping cult, and so on. There is some immense imagination that is evident in the way the characters have been crafted – we can sense their back stories even when it’s not overtly mentioned. The narrative does not flow linearly, but I didn’t find it difficult to pick up the pieces of specific character plots or to identify their presence in others’ plots. More

A responsible meritocracy

Every story needs a hero, the one who stands up against injustice and wins. In the story of inequality, meritocracy has long been a hero. To be fair, it did quite a job, dislodging inequalities that had become systemic. But then again, to twist Ra’s al Ghul’s words “..if you devote yourself to an ideal, you become something else entirely.

One entity that has been at the centre of the debate around meritocracy is Silicon Valley given its influence on the immediate environment and clones developing across the globe. A popular line of thought among those who have made it there is that they earned it all on their own and are not obliged to give anything back to society. (read) More

Malabar Bay

On one of those evenings when we were in the mood for our very own Mallu food, we decided to check out a place that had been on my list for a while now – Malabar Bay. This is on the Dairy Circle side of The Forum and off Taverkere Road. (map) There used to be a Kairali here if I’m not mistaken. We reached there by 7.30 and could choose a seat, but it did get crowded later. The place is quite large and portions of it have quite the Kerala touch when it comes to decor. We chose to sit in the AC section upstairs but you better be prepared for Siberia-like temperatures if you plan to do this. I wasn’t!

From the menu, we ordered a Koondal (squid) Roast. This was our second choice since mussels weren’t available, but turned out to be a good one. It was spicy and the squid was cooked just right. We also ordered a Podhi Chicken, since this wasn’t something we found on the standard Mallu menus. Wrapped in banana leaves and moderately spicy, this was quite fantastic too. It isn’t boneless though.

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Ego message

I’ve been watching myself for a while now. I’ve not been really good at it, and my desire to move up to observing seems a laugh now, but it’s a work in progress. A recent experience gave me quite a lot of perspective on this. My words, humour and actions, as perceived by others, were far away from my intent. Words and humour. Somewhere in my passage through life, I picked up this armour, a defense mechanism so that I wouldn’t have to become invisible. In fact, the experience gave me a sense of deja vu, and made me think of self perception.

I recently read a fantastic post on Ribbonfarm titled ‘Ritual & the consciousness‘ that, among other things, explores the self and the ‘watcher at the gates of the mind’. Not quite along the lines in the post, but I think I have two watchers – one that represents others’ perception of me and another that represents self perception. The universe in a larger context might be indifferent, but in many environments, I realise, it is dangerous to ignore the first. I also realise that the second is, though difficult, where I can make a serious attempt to shake free.  More

The Accidental Apprentice

Vikas Swarup

If you’ve read Q&A (or seen its more famous screen adaptation) and Six Suspects, you’d recognise the narrative style in this as well – a series of sub plots driven by a connecting thread. In this case, an eccentric businessman sets a series of 7 tests for an initially reluctant young woman in order to prove herself capable of being the CEO of his conglomerate.

An ordinary person and her responses to circumstances that one would find familiar if one lived in India, that’s pretty much what the tale is. I finished the book in 2 days, would have finished it in one if not for a splitting headache. (not because of the book) That’s a testament to the pace of the narrative. Except for a slight lag towards the end, the plot is an edge-of-the-seat roller coaster. It also manages to showcase the various problems we face as a nation – from relatively small scale ones like khap diktats to large scale corruption. It also has characters whom one can easily map to real life popular personalities. That’s the good part. More

In an ambient future…

Digi-Capital claims that by 2020, Virtual and Augmented Reality combined would have hit $150 bn, eclipsing mobile. What is interesting is that a recent Juniper report predicts an $80 bn market for wearables by 2020. (via) If I read that together, by 2020 we would have witnessed three interface cycles – mobile, wearables and AR+VR. The shelf life of interfaces is shrinking, much like other business cycles. In fact, in Trendwatching’s No Interface trend brief, you can get a preview of this. I’d think that by 2020 web access would be much better than what we have now, and with other technology like IoT advancing sufficiently, we would be poised for ambient interfaces to consume and create what we do on the web and mobile now.

It is widely believed that Google is only a challenger in the  mobile and wearable domains – to Facebook and Apple, despite Android. With Facebook’s Oculus move and Glass’ demise, it would seem that the interface that follows the two above would also see a fight. In an insightful post, Ben Evans asks “What does Google need on mobile?” He notes that all of Google’s play is about reach – to collect and surface data. Mobile, and specifically apps, challenge this and create a world of perfect complexity. He ends with saying that Google needs to win at search,  whatever that means and wherever and however far from PageRank that leads you. Christian Hernandez goes further in his post ‘Into the Age of Context‘. He points out that the glue that connects mobile, social and sensor trends is data, but to take it to the next level, it needs machine learning and AI. He sees Google Now as the perfect example of The Age of Context. More

The Warehouse

First published in Bangalore Mirror.

The Island has turned into a Warehouse, (map) and the refurbished outlet now sports a casual bar look and feel. An open bar and extra seating that takes complete advantage of Bangalore weather, a basement area that aims to give an underground tone, a stage on a higher level to host special events, and a basketball court (!) all contribute to a very energetic vibe. Apparently the place turns into one massive club on weekend evenings. The seating is a bit skewed towards larger groups but that’s probably because the audience they want to cater to typically hang out in herds. The walls have an industrial look, complete with exposed bricks and warning signs, which accentuates the name of the place and its underlying theme. The music is upbeat and I got quite a few dirty looks from the rest of the group for using the spring seat to good effect!

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The bar was well stocked on paper, including a few standard cocktails.  A few beers though, were unavailable. I tried a Pain Killer, usually a rum based drink, but this one was Whiskey and one of the best I’ve had. It wasn’t stingy on the alcohol but managed to balance it out really well. The LIT was also quite heady. The Spicy Margarita used chilli powder for spice and the drink in itself was just about fine.

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Turkish Baat 10 : Istanbul and The End

Continued from Days 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9

Day 10

We were supposed to leave only at 11 from the hotel, but we woke up early because…shopping! In addition to the more famous Grand and Spice markets, there is also one near the Blue Mosque called Arasta Bazaar. The internet had some good things to say about it. It was very close to the hotel, and we reached by 9. The shops were just beginning to open. It is smaller than the other two. We found some super cushion covers, but otherwise, it actually seemed pricier than the other markets.

We bid goodbye to the hotel by 11, and this time, reached the airport in just an hour! After doner kababs for lunch, we did some duty free shopping and boarded the flight. The flight to Doha had no in-flight entertainment and I had to restrain myself from finishing the book I had brought! The flight was a bit delayed and we had to make a run for the connecting flight! We were warned by the Istanbul duty-free salesman that they might not let the liquor through, thankfully spirits dampening didn’t happen. More

Turkish Baat 9 : Back in Istanbul

Continued from Days 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8

Day 9

Since it was going to be our last night in Turkey, we began searching for a restaurant with a view and found Olive. We asked the Sokulla Pasa reception to book a table for dinner. After breakfast, we were picked up, at 8.20 but then spent the next hour roaming around the hotel picking up and dropping people! Finally, at around 10, we landed up at the first palace in our itinerary – Dolmabahçe Palace. This was the residence of the Ottoman Sultans after Topkapi Palace. We were told that after the then Sultan visited Europe and saw the residences of his counterparts, he felt that his current residence lacked style. Despite not really having the money, he took loans, taxed his subjects and got this built. Now, this ‘little’ home built on EMI is valued at $1.5 bn.  I wondered if a Gates or Zuck could pick it up!

No photos are allowed inside the palace, but you know… :D The place is insanely garish and really looks rich! After the Ottoman sultans were exiled, this was used as a presidential guesthouse for visiting dignitaries and Ataturk, when he dropped in from Ankara. To be noted that this was where he died. I wondered whether the sultans had put a hex on him.  More

Turkish Baat 8 : More Cappadocia

Continued from Days 1,2,3,4,5,6,7

Day 8

One of the few days on which we could afford to wake up slightly late. The breakfast view from the Dedeli Konak terrace was quite awesome. This hotel was owned by our tour operator, and he visited every morning. We had seen him the previous day, but since we were in a hurry, we couldn’t chat. He joined us for breakfast, and promised to ensure we got time in the evening for shopping, have a driver ready to take us around and find good restaurants for us in Istanbul.

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