Shades Of Words


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Black Swan Green

blackswangreenI immensely enjoyed reading ‘The Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell and was on the constant look out for another book by him. I spotted it at an airport bookstore on my way to Chennai. The title ‘Black Swan Green’ does not tell you anything, and I did not even bother with burb. If it’s David Mitchell it will be at the least good writing and I was not wrong.

The coming of age story of a British teenager with the Falklands war in the backdrop is one of the main themes in the book. You are initially disappointed because you wonder that why someone with so much command on  narrative would opt for the cliché ‘coming of age’ genre, but the book slowly reveals itself.

The story is about Jason Taylor who has the usual run-of-the-mill teen angst to deal with – a secret crush, being on the good side of school bullies, tiffs with older siblings and image management. Isn’t image everything when you are a kid – what people think of you, what is acceptable, what makes you a pansy..and so on. Jason sincerely believes that he will seriously be dead if his classmates found out that he writes poetry and has a speech defect. He would definitely be pronounced gay and that is probably worse than dying. And only if the adult world of his parents and relatives understood that. But Jason is special in probably being  a better person than his classmates, with maturity beyond his years, that finally helps him rise above these social inhibitions and become a whole person.

What makes the book special is that in every chapter you are introduced to a new theme  that makes the book for more adult reading. Themes deal with self-esteem , family foundations, social structures, the price of war, the price of  love and letting go. It’s a book that needs to absorbed slowly

Verdict : A good read


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Babel

Babel-full;init_I have tried twice to watch Babel, a film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. In my first attempt I could not understand the movie because the Subtitles were not working for some weird reason. In my second attempt I could not understand the movie even though the subtitles were working! With a fear of being called dense I must confess that I just didn’t get what the director wanted to convey. Moreover the movie was painfully slow. My immediate verdict is that not much will be lost if this movie is skipped.

However, the movie has been nominated for Oscar awards in 7 categories with 1 win. It has won other awards too. So there has to be something about the movie. Moving ahead with this analogy, I am trying to point out what I could understand after much thought.

The movie depicts different cultures and people stuck in difficult situations. Babel picks different stories to depict – helplessness, sexual frustration, subdued anger, politicization of events and more. Babel won an Oscar for ‘Best Original Score’ (BTW why Best Original Score? Will they give an Oscar for Best Copied Score?) and it is definitely good.

Beyond this I have nothing more to say about Babel.


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The Play Room by Olivia Manning

n134379-full;init_I picked up this book solely because it was a Virago Modern classics. I had read a lot of good things about them on various blogs and I was eager to read one. I had never heard of the book or the author. I am not sure when or why a book becomes a classic but I am guessing two important components are rich language and a compelling storyline that sustains itself generation after generation.

With that in mind I am not entirely sure whether ‘The Play Room’ qualifies to be a modern classic. But I guess, 50 years down the line, it may be a reflection of teenage youth in England during the Swinging 60s.

The Play Room is centered around Laura, a 15 year intelligent girl from a lower middle class family, residing in the town of Camperlea. Laura suffers from low self-esteem issues that is in a way heightened by the no-nonsense environment at home. Laura thinks she is unattractive and pines for the acceptance and attention from her classmates. In particular, Laura admires Vicky to whom she feels forever indebted for having saved her from the class room bully.  Vicky is beautiful and well-off and has certain enigma attached to her due to the early death of her older brother and a mentally vulnerable mother. Gilda, another student in Laura’s class, has claimed Vicky’s best friend position and their relationship is depicted with some sexual undertones though nothing definite is stated. Laura believes that only thing that could make her popular and add some excitement to her existence would be a friendship with Vicky.

 During their summer break, Laura and her brother Tom, go off to visit an old but not –so-close family friend at Isle of Wight. One day they stumble across the private property of Mrs Toplady who keeps a Play Room which contains life- sized models of nude dolls .

 As with Gilda’s & Vicky’s relationship , Manning does not state anything clearly , but it is implied that Mrs. Toplady is a transvestite and may particularly have some sexual fetishes. However , all this strangeness is lost on  Laura who is very flattered by Mrs. Toplady’s comments on her beauty. When Laura heads back to school she decides to share this incident with Gilda & Vicky  to win their interest. This scheme works and slowly but reluctantly she is accepted into Vicky’s life and house.

Laura’s social life takes off as she starts attending dances with Vicky. Vicky’s disturbing childhood is clearly taking a toll on her as her behavior and company get reckless. Though Laura’s loyalty and better sense want to protect Vicky, especially when she gets involved in a self-destructive relationship with Salthous factory worker, Clarie, the fear of losing her new-found friend prevents Laura from doing so. The book takes a  darker and sinister tone and ends on a tragic note.

 Manning addresses several issues pertaining to adolescence – the need to fit in, sexual curiosity, teenage rebellion,  parental neglect . The main shortcoming of the book  is that none of the characters are very well etched out. You want to know why Gilda and Vicky are friends? Why does Laura feel like an outcast?  Who was Mrs Toplady ? Did she have a larger role to play?

 The book is titled ‘Play Room’ and hence as a reader you attempt to make a connection between the dolls and the characters even though none is apparent. At the end Manning is probably trying to leave a very chilling but possible relevant message – that  humans are like life-sized dolls stuck in situations and environments they can’t control for the entertainment of bigger beings.


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Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

‘Twilight’ is a book for the young adult segment and being on the wrong side of 25 I am not sure I am qualified to review it. However, I have read it, I have an opinion and I want to say it out loud.

‘Twilight’ is one of those rTwlight-full;init_are books that appear to much better than they actually are. The plot is basically this –  ‘the love story of Isabella, a young  teenage girl and Edward,  a vegetarian vampire ‘. Quite enticing, right? Well, don’t be fooled.  The book is nothing more than a high-class Mills & Boons.

This is it how it goes – Boy  meets girl. Instant repulsion and attraction. Boy larger than life, perfect, knows everything plus vampire. Girl feisty, short-tempered and intelligent but forever the damsel in distress. Boy saves girl. Girl a melting candle in the arms of boy.  Blah blah blah..you know how the rest goes.

Well, it’s not that bad. It starts of brilliantly and you are hooked. You admire Bella for being more than the average teenager, you relate to her clumsiness and her inexplicable crush on a guy in her class. But that’s about it.

Yes, Edwards is a vampire and yes, he is drop-dread gorgeous and yes, he is always saving her life but is that an excuse for Bella to become a pushover? The minute he enters her life she loses her essence. Her whole world is centered around him. She loses the spunk that she had. Even the final face-off with the enemy (a bad vampire who wants to eat her, seriously !!!) is clichéd and unimaginative.

I think Bella and Edwards are really bad teen models but not every book has to  be about values so that is not really one of Twilight’s major faults.  The story line is flimsy, the characters not developed. I could not muster any empathy for any character. Somehow I can’t believe in ‘tell death do us part’ story for a bunch of 17 years old. It might make for good TV but not for reading.

This book had the potential to be really dark and concrete. It could have been so much more intense and mature.

Verdict: Skip it


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Shimla

Shimla ChurchEvery once in a while our hearts overtake the thought process and we start questioning what we are doing. Such are the times when a vacation comes in handy to calm the heart and ensure a steady flow of income continuing in the drudgery of daily work life. We were planning a break for ourselves for past few months and time of the year suggested an escape into the hills of North India. (South India being under the grace of rain gods was not a great option). We looked at many options between Himachal Pradesh and Uttaranchal but owing to the habit of last minute plans we could only get confirmations for travel tickets and hotels for ‘Shimla’.

My heart immediately sank on the thought of Punju crowds sipping Barrissttaa Kofi (Barista Coffee) and enjoying Mak Donaalds (McDonalds) burgers at Shimla (Disclaimer: I am a Punju myself). But then it was like God’s will and we decided to bow.

Shimla was established by Britishers as a summer capital. No wonder they were pissed off with India’s hot climate and needed an escape themselves. Thanks to them, Shimla is now approached by a beautiful ‘Toy Train’ journey that takes about 4-5 hours from Kalka. It is another matter though that tickets are hardly ever available.

Shimla at nightOn my way to Shimla, I was confronted boldly by all that I was trying to escape. I saw Dollar Stores proudly selling stuff for more than a dollar, Famous Coffee shops like CCD and Barista at even the smallest of towns on the way and of course eateries like McDonalds and Subway. Good for foreigners whose stomachs do not share the enthusiasm of traveling in India. But it made me wonder if Shimla had retained any of its original old world charm or had just let the new world take over.

After a 3 hour car drive, we reached our hotel and settled down. After much research we had booked Baljees Regency hotel and it turned out to be a good choice. Room was good and offered a nice view of the valley. Not wasting a moment further we freshened up and landed at the happening Mall-Ridge road. As I had feared, it was full of people and there was some shopping fair going on. Being a woman, Vipula obviously ignored why a shopping fair was not a good thing and jumped into the crowds to shop. We came out buying socks!Viceroyalty Building - Center of Advanced Studies

Having said so, I was surprised to see the old world charm in the British buildings and was busy imagining life in the days of Raj. If you can ignore the crowds (very important) then you can actually enjoy Shimla and see an old world still surviving between the new globalized world. Most of the British buildings are being used by government offices and so we can’t go inside but from outside you can enjoy the architecture. The best was Viceroyalty Building that is converted into centre for advanced studies.  

Also, most important thing to do to enjoy Shimla is to avoid taxis. These taxis will show you some fixed touristy points which I find to be complete waste of time.  I personally do not see a point in seeing suicide point unless I am serious about committing suicide. Walking through the roads of Shimla is tiring but gives a great chance to enjoy the beauty and some breathtaking views. Hike to Jakhu temple is an excellent way to know how healthy you are. Apparently there is a board on the way that tells you your health status based on time you take to climb. I was fit. We pretty much walked everywhere and really enjoyed it too.

Municipal Office

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now some helpful things for planning a trip to Shimla:

Reaching Shimla

You can take a train to Kalka from where you can continue journey in toy train or take a taxi to Shimla. Toy trainOne of the hidden treasures tickets are difficult to get so you need to book them in at least a month advance. Taxis would cost you Rs 1200/- one way in peak season. In off season you can get it for less. We travelled from Delhi to Kalka in the Kalka Shatabdi that takes 4 hours and was quite comfortable. Else you can take overnight trains too. There are many Volvo bus services that operate to Shimla. You can check about them at HP tourism website. Jagson Airlines operates flights to Shimla as well.

Staying at Shimla

I would suggest staying at a hotel that is close to Mall road. Far off hotels also offer free rides to and fro to Mall road so you can try that as well. We stayed at Baljees Regency which we found to be comfortable. Do your research before booking a hotel. You will find hotels in all budget ranges so there is not much problem.

Enjoying Shimla

Take walks. Must see are viceroyalty Building and other heritage buildings. Climb to Jakhu Temple but take a stick to keep monkeys away. Don’t carry any food. Shimla is good for a 2 day trip.


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Rock On!! – Directed by Abhishek Kapoor

normal_Rock20On20First20look-full;init_I am a big sucker for those ‘coming of age-breaking free-follow your dreams’ kinds of movie. That’s precisely the reason that I enjoyed ‘Rock On’ so much. And of course the great music helped. The story of four twenty somethings’ tryst with their own ambitions is inspiring and heart-warming.
The movie starts off in an abandoned basement with Rob (Luke Kenny), Aditya (Farhan Akhtar), KD ( Purab Kohli) and Joe (Arjun Rampal) setting up their music equipment.  There is trivial banter, a bit of leg-pulling and some awesome music. You are drawn in from the first take.  It’s not difficult to relate to a bunch of goofy guys sprouting smart one liners, making music on the go, living for a dream. You see faces of your friends in them. You feel young  and inspired.

The narrative goes forward to the present, ten years have passed, the band and the friendships broken.  The four are living clichéd lives that are far from what they had dreamed, their ambitions frustrated, their frustrations vented out on to the family. Aditya’s wife’s despearate attempts to bring happiness into her husband’s life makes for a chance reunion for the foursome. They find some more reasons to perform together. The movie goes back and forth , unraveling the reasons for the band’s split up. The story is simple, un-original and yet it makes you feel for the characters.

The main appeal of the movie is that it appears to be real, the characters are not over the top and you can empathize with them.‘Rock on’ is Farhan Khan’s acting and singing debut and he is brilliant. Arjun Rampal perfectly plays the part of the talented loser and his performance is very well supported by Shobhana Goswami. You instantly empathize with a wife who is caught between the practical realities of life and has no time or patience for her husband’s dreams. Prachi Desai is convincing in the role of a rich socialite though the acting is a little rough around the edges. Purab & Rob also fit their roles well.

Verdict: Must Watch


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Design your own furniture – stool

StoolPics-fullThis article will be of interest to those who have time on their hand, some hidden artistic desire, urge to design their own furniture and an understanding girlfriend/wife. Any of the above will be good motivating factors for this project. Also, the last one if not present can cause problems.

Anyways…So on a day when the rains were hitting Hyderabad I bumped into roadside vendors selling some ‘not so fine’ furniture. Though the furniture was not great but I needed a small stool and so I bought one. Later I got this idea to paint it and give it a bit of design. So I decided to go ahead with a chess board design. The how-to for this project is as follows:

 

Material Required

1.Unfinished wooden stool

2.Wood Primer

3.Paint (Colors of your choice)

4.Brushes

5.Sandpaper (medium and fine)

6.Wood Putty and Putty Knife

7.Turpentine

8.Some cloth

 Now you can start. Choose a sunny day when you are feeling full of energy (It will be tiring!)…

  1. First, fill in all the holes/gaps in the stool with the Wood Putty and leave the stool for drying. When the stool is dry, all the rough surfaces need to be smoothened with the Sandpaper. Use the medium Sandpaper first and then the Fine Sandpaper for finishing. Figure A shows the final result.
  2. Now you need to apply one coat of wood primer. You can make the Primer thinner by adding some turpentine, very little that is. Let the stool dry. Once dry, apply a second coat of primer and again let it dry. Figure B shows the final result.
  3. Now you are ready to paint the stool. Start painting the legs and the area under the stool first. Remember that the color’s and design is your choice. Once painted, let it dry and then apply another coat of color and let it dry. Figure C and D shows the final result.

Now you can turn to the interesting and creative part of the painting of stool i.e. the top base. Choose your design. I chose Chessboard look. To draw a chessboard, use a ruler and pencil to draw squares. (Getting all 64 squares is not the key; design is). Having traced the design, start painting the squares with alternate colors and let it dry. Apply a second coat and let it dry.

Enjoy the stool, take pictures!

 This entire project costed me between Rs. 300-350. So with some creativity and color I turned around a Rs. 50 stool into what you see below.

stool