The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

17 Feb
    “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fondly known as H2G2, initially began as a BBC radio comedy in 1978 then turned into a book: “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, which is the first book in the “trilogy” of five books (nope.. Its not a typing error. you read right! It is a trilogy of 5 books!! :P) by comedy/science-fiction novelist Douglas Adams.
    Arthur Dent, the protagonist, wakes up one fine Thursday morning to find a bulldozer ready to mow down his beloved home of 3 years, to create a by-pass expressway. He protests severely and lies in front of the bulldozer to prevent the destruction. Little does he know that none of these things mattered and in about 2 hours, planet Earth was going to be destroyed to make way for a hyper-spatial express route through our star system! Talk about coincidence πŸ˜› Arthur is not even aware that his best friend Ford Prefect, a small time actor, is in fact from a planet in the Betelgeuse star system. While hitchhiking across the galaxy to edit the ultimate guide book for space travelers – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Ford (whose alien name is hard enough to be pronounced by many) gets stranded and has been stuck on earth from the past 15 years. Ford drags Arthur to a bar, gets him drunk and reveals his true identity and informs him that the Earth is about to be destroyed by the fierce-some Vogons.
    The Vogons arrive and announce their intentions to every citizen of planet about their intentions while reasoning that the plan to destroy earth has been put up on the notice boards of Alpha Centauri. Humans obvious response to that is – “But we have never been to Alpha centauri!” To which, the Vogons respond: “What do you mean you’ve never been to Alpha Centauri? For heaven’s sake mankind, it’s only four light years away you know. I’m sorry, but if you can’t be bothered to take an interest in local affairs that’s your own lookout.” and destroy the planet with their demolition beams. πŸ˜› The ever ready to hitch-a-ride Ford explains the importance of a towel in space travel to Arthur through a description in the guide and hitches a ride through one of the Vogon crafts along with an unconscious Arthur. Having been saved, Ford and Arthur find themselves in mortal danger for the second time on the same day, when the Vogans discover about the hitchhikers on their space ship. A punishment is meted out to both which requires listening to the Vogon poetry (the third most terrible poetry in the world). Ultimately, they are thrown out of the Vogon spaceship.
    Meanwhile parallely, about 500,000 light years from the star Sol, the eccentric, publicity-seeking, worst dressed, tow-headed genius, the President of the Imperial Galactic Government and semi-cousin of Ford -> Zaphod Beeblebrox, steals “The Heart of Gold” – the most technically advanced spaceship ever built. During his unveiling ceremony, describing The Heart of Gold he says, “That is so amazingly amazing I think I’d like to steal it”. This one line sums up all the characteristics of Zaphod! πŸ˜›
    The chances of picking up a person alive in a capsule at some point in space by a random spaceship has a probability of two to the power of two hundred and seventy-six thousand to one against, which is the exact phone number of Arthur. Again talk about coincidence!! And they are picked up by the Heart of Gold which has the Improbability drive which means that the space craft at any one moment, can be at any point and every point of the universe at the same time. In the spaceship, Arthur meets Marvin – the robot with a depressed attitude towards everything. Marvin leads them to Zaphod and Trillian – the only other earthling who survived the destruction and accomplice of Zaphod. From here on, it is a wonderful, unexpected, sometimes hilarious, sometimes dry-humorous journey where the four (Zaphod, Trillian, Ford and Arthur) along with Marvin travel to Magrathea, the ancient planet which till then was assumed to be a fantasy/bedtime story planet. Here they discover the secrets of the universe and how everything in the universe that has been going on from the past 10 million years is now connected and dependent on one man – Arthur.
    There have been several quotes and statements in the book which are very famous and some of them might be recognized very easily. A few famous ones:
  • Have you any idea how much damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?
  • Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.”
  • So long and thanks for all the fish.” — All time hit quote among hitchhiker fans. πŸ™‚
  • DON’T PANIC” – The words inscribed on the cover of H2G2.
  • H2G2’s description of Earth: “HARMLESS“. — πŸ˜›
  • Ford on editing the H2G2 changes it to: “MOSTLY HARMLESS” — hehehe… absolutely brilliant!! πŸ˜€
    One word for the book – HILARIOUS!! This comic style of writing is sufficient for the reader to hold onto the book more dearly, hoping for more gems and the author delivers them aplenty, during the course of the novel. Unlike any other book, the author dishes out one surprise after another, from improbable and in many cases impossible scenarios. The answers to the eternal mind-boggling questions such as, “what are the purposes of life/universe and everything in it?” are answered in this book… πŸ˜€ His style of writing lets us grin all the way from the beginning to the end while his imagination of all things in the universe in-turn, lets our imagination run wild. A 9/10 for this one!! πŸ™‚

The Meaning of It All

4 Feb
    Summary of the three lectures given by Richard P Feynman in April 1963, which were later published as a book “The Meaning of It All”. The book is a verbatim transcription from an audio recording of the lectures. Feynman has tried to bring three important topics for this oration.
  1. The Uncertainty of Science 
  2. The Uncertainty of Values
  3. This Unscientific Age
      In each of these topics, he tries to bring about the understanding of science, its purpose, its values in the present world and also how this age cannot be termed as a scientific age. For people interested in how science or scientists see topics such as freedom, religion and the politics and, how closely these topics are entwined — This is a good read. Though there are some negatives to this book. Since it is a verbatim transcription from an audio recording, the quality of statements and their constructions are awkward at many places. Also people who picked this book up for its science content are in for a disappointment too, as the lectures deals more with the sub-aspects of science rather than the science in itself. But what the book lacks in those, it brings out positives in the wide range of topics and more importantly Feynman’s thinking brought into those topics to explore and understand them in a logical way.
    For its logical analysis on non-science topics, I will push the rating of this book to 6.5/10. I would suggest the readers of “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” who enjoyed it, to read this book too.
Spoiler alert: If people are not reading this book but want to know a summary then read ahead as I will try to summarize the major topics in the book.
Lecture I: The Uncertainty of Science:
    Feynman begins the topic by a simple question “What is science?” which can be understood even by a common man. Mentioning that we don’t have to be precise all the time in defining things, he goes on to define science as “The word is usually used to mean one of three things, or a mixture of them. Science means, sometimes, a special method of finding things out. Sometimes it means the body of knowledge arising from the things found out. It may also mean the new things you can do when you have found something out, or the actual doing of new things. This last field is usually called technology”.
Then moves on to the next bigger question: Is science of any value?
    Quoting from a discussion with a man in a Buddhist temple in Hawaii who said to him, “I am going to tell you something that you will never forget.” And then he said, “To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.” So science is of value but is it good or bad value depends on the power of the value. How to get the power is very clear but how to control it is not something under the control of science.
In talking about the uncertainty of science he splits the topic further into three aspects:
1. The first being the practical aspects of science – The new things that one can do.
    Consider the example of a poor community in Brazil living on a hill. Each day they carry the water in cans all the way from the bottom of the hill. But a neighbouring apartment has all the modern facilities including escalators. Can’t there be pumps and pipes used to make life easier for the people? But that depends on the technical-know-how and the economic assistance where we fail.
2. The second aspect of science is its contents – The things that have been found out (The real reason for science).
    Without understanding this we miss the whole point of science and the fun that follows. Quoting examples right from the formation of the universe to the physiology of a girl jumping a jump-rope, Feynman explains why understanding what has been found and known is important. Trying to understand nature is the toughest test of human reasoning and logical thinking capabilities.
3. The third aspect of science – A method of finding things out.
    This is based on the principles of observation. All aspects and characteristics of science can be understood if we understand that observation is the ultimate and final judge to any idea. Hence observations have to be checked and rechecked to confirm if they are valid. Now one can question how can an observation be wrong? And how can the law that was based on the observation be correct? Feynman gives a simple example to clear the doubt. It was discovered that a object in spin weighs the same as an object at rest. But the later observations taking the speed of the object to spin at almost speed of light proved that the weight was in-fact higher for that object than during the object when it was at rest. Does this mean researcher was unscientific about it?? No. The theory was uncertain and not unscientific. It would have been unscientific not to guess that the mass was the same based on the initial observations. The freedom to doubt is an important matter in the sciences.
Lecture II: The Uncertainty of Values
    Feynman brings out a wide range of topics and their relation with science including religion and politics. The sciences does not directly teach what is good and bad. Feynman quotes an example of a young religious man studying science and they begins to doubt and then eventually questions his belief in “God”. Does this mean that the scientists who taught him to do so? Or was the young man learning a little science thinks he knows it all? Or the third possibility that the young man did not understand science correctly, that science cannot disprove God?
He defines 3 major aspects of religion:
  1. Metaphysical aspect – what God is and what properties God has and so on.
  2. Ethical aspect – How to behave in a moral way
  3. Inspirational aspect – People are weak. Religion gives inspiration to act well.
     Science occasionally conflicts with the first two aspects of religion. Religion requires “Certainty in faith” but “Uncertainty” is necessary to appreciate nature and this is the conflict. He states that “The ethical values lie outside the scientific realm and Science makes an impact on many ideas associated with religion, but it does not affect the moral conduct and ethical views that a religion stands for”. The western civilization grew to its current state because of two heritages. One being the Scientific spirit of adventure and the other being the Religious ethical values on which it stands.
    Feynman also brings out the sensitive topic of US and USSR cold-war which was raging during his period. He states that freedom to question and to explore is of prime importance to advancement of any nation and gives an example of USSR blocking the development of science which the government deemed unfit. This can be summarized through his quote “No government has the right to decide on the truth of scientific principles, nor to prescribe in any way the character of the questions investigated. Neither may a government determine the aesthetic value of artistic creations, nor limit the forms of literary or artistic expression. Nor should it pronounce on the validity of economic, historic, religious, or philosophical doctrines. Instead it has a duty to its citizens to maintain the freedom, to let those citizens contribute to the further adventure and the development of the human race.”.
Lecture III: This Unscientific Age
    As Feynman begins the lecture on this topic, he states that he is dumping a “potpourri of uncomfortable feelings” about a lot of things on us… πŸ™‚ So, when Feynman uses the word “potpourri”, we can very well assume the topics covered are huge and as expected, this part of the lecture is the biggest of them all. As Feynman states “I dedicate this lecture to showing what ridiculous conclusions and rare statements such a man as myself can make.” which again proves his humility and only interest in logical analysis hence Science.. πŸ™‚
    He explains why he named the topic as “The Unscientific Age”. Firstly, he firmly points out that this is the scientific age when it comes to the application of science. He also accepts that there has been more development in science in the past two centuries than ever before. Secondly, he is also blaming or worrying about the “unscientific” things that are present. But then why the title “unscientific age”?? He gives a simple yet undeniable explanation: “You see, if you take, the heroic age of the Greeks, say, there were poems about the military heroes. In the religious period of the Middle Ages, art was related directly to religion, and people’s attitudes toward life were definitely closely knit to the religious viewpoints. It was a religious age. This is not a scientific age from that point of view.”
    Then he moves on to the topic “How to judge an idea?“. He reveals the tricks that he uses and provides and apt example. Consider the following scenario:
    A mind reader in Las Vegas challenges him to a guessing game at the the roulette wheel in Las Vegas. In Feynman’s mind, the odds of his belief in mind reading is lets say, a million to 1. Lets suppose that the mind-reader guesses the first 10 correctly. So the possibility of that occurring is a thousand to 1. So this means the odds of Feynman’s belief has changed from a million to one to now a thousand to one. Based on this method, if the mind-reader gets the next 10 right then Feynman has to believe that mind-reading is possible?? Not quite.. πŸ™‚ One must follow alternative theories. For example, the possibility that there is collusion between the so-called mind reader and the people at the table. Lets say the odds of that happening are 10:1 this means the odds of the belief in mind reading changes to 10000:1. Now, one might call Feynman prejudiced and he will never accept mind-reading to be true. But, he doesn’t stop there. He continues this method by making other tests like: Changing the dice, sitting in a separate room or going to other clubs. By this process, if mind reading is true then one can slowly but clearly remove all the alternative theories and finally prove that mind-reader is in-fact correct. When this is proven, Feynman as a scientist would have learned something new. Then he would continue the ponder how it works. How far from the ball should the mind reader be to make a correct prediction? What would happen if there was a change in medium for Eg: paper or glass. This is how the concept of electricity and magnetism and in-fact science have been worked out. The only way a person can be called prejudiced if either of the following is true: One limits to a finite number of experiments Or if one is infinitely prejudiced at the beginning that mind reading is absolutely impossible.
    The next topic he moves onto was the rage of the time, the flying saucers which were reported all across the western world. He argues that it is highly unlikely that suddenly there were so many sightings and goes on to logically reason how unlikely such events were. Then he questions several of the happenings of the time including topics ranging from the beatification of nuns and fathers based on miracles, the logic of advertisement industry based on statistical sampling, on astrology and even giving an example of a desert real estate.
    In the end he brings on the BIG issues on moral standings of all the people including scientists to let people (ordinary people) to know the truth in all the affairs instead of giving half information suitable to their needs alone. And finally concludes the lecture with religion saying that, “I don’t agree, and I will not ridicule it, and I won’t argue it. I agree with the responsibilities and with the duties that the Religion(pope) represents as the responsibilities and the duties of people.”

Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

27 Jan
    “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!” is a collection of anecdotes and reminiscences of the Nobel prize winning Physicist Mr.Richard Feynman, recorded by Ralph Leighton through a tape and then edited to be released in 1985. It can be termed neither an autobiography or a biography, as it is unusual in the sense that firstly, it is not written by Mr.Feynman or written by Ralph. Secondly, the book deals much more with the likings and interests of Mr.Feynman (which is basically science, art, music and everything under the sun!!) than being a monotonous summary of his personal life or his teachings at the university. Reading this book gives a feeling as if Mr.Feynman is telling you all the interesting stories in his life to you in person. There are fascinating stories that occur all through his life right from his learning to repair the radios during the peak depression in US, to his work in the Manhattan Project, to the Nobel prize and his work in Physics. It also deals with his interests in learning art, playing musical instruments along with his brush with authority for his forthright answers and behavior.
    The book begins from Mr.Feynman’s childhood during the depression in US, where he becomes famous for repairing radios by “thinking”!!. He takes us through several learning and also several amusing experiences during his undergraduate study at MIT and then as a graduate at Princeton. During the Manhattan project, working on the “atomic bomb”, he developed an interest to pick locks which leads to picking a locker of his friend holding nuclear secrets and unlocking a General’s safe which ultimately leads to him being called a “Safe Cracker”. The book also gives a overview of his work as a teacher in Caltech, learning to sketch, work as a visiting professor in Brazil and participating in the carnival, learning to play several musical instruments in an adventurous and fascinating way. His hatred for pompous fools is shared by many of us including me.. πŸ˜› – he differentiates fools into two categories as a simple fool and a pompous one which is brilliant!.
    Apart from being one the most brilliant Physicists of the 20th century, the one thing that separated him from the rest is that he was a funny man, a trickster and a good story teller. His quest for knowledge is unmatchable and his love for teaching is shown all across the book. His self-confidence and forthrightness to say it to the face when something isn’t right in the pure logical sense is even appreciated by Neils Bohr. As Mr.Feynman states, “I was always dumb in that way. I never knew who I was talking to. I was always worried about the physics. If the idea looked lousy, I said it looked lousy. If it looked good, I said it looked good. Simple proposition.”. His disinterest in getting the Nobel price for his work in “Quantum electrodynamics” in 1965 shows that his absolute interest lies only with science and not the rewards that follow. This can be seen in multiple other instances and scenarios in the book which shows he is modest not to for the sake of it but he is purely a person of Science and nothing else.
    One might ask what’s so special about this book?? It is just as any other autobiography!! But what the book does to a person on reading is to ask them to question that which is already defined and taken for granted. Only by questioning do we learn and start to understand the nature of “everything”. Again one might suggest that one can find such philosophy from any of the hundreds of books lying around. But Mr.Feynman not only tells us great stories and teach us his method of thinking, he never once during the read let the reader feel that he was preaching. He was just putting forth his point across all the way from the beginning of the book to the end. It is in our hands to analyse, amuse, cringe and understand the underpinnings of what science is. The book is just about how a great logical mind leads us to the point where we can analyse what we read and begin to understand how things work. The word genius is misued so often in the real world that for once I find it my absolute privelege to use the word on him. Truly you were a “genius” in the absolute sense Mr.Feynman. I bow to thee!! πŸ™‚
   I recommend you to just watch the following video once to see what a great mind, thinker, scientist and story teller he was even when explaining the simple concept of hot and cold. If you find the video interesting, one can find a whole treasure trove of such videos in youtube.
The link to a series of 12 videos  from Mr.Feyman’s lecture series “Fun to imagine“:
     I am an absolute “nobody” to rate Mr.Feynman and do not even have 0.01% of his capability. But I am rating the book and not the person in it or the deeds he has done. For the sheer inspiration that the book is, a 8/10 would do.

@P2: I would have not read this book if not for your suggestion. A big thank you.

Downtown Chicago – Willis tower and Millenium Park

19 Jan

    Ducking the onsite travel from my company had been a success for three years. But finally, it was time to give-in and finally did agree to go. My trip was scheduled by 4:25am(IST) Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi and then to Chicago. By the time we landed in Chicago, there was a snow blizzard and after waiting for 6 hours, found my flight to Madison cancelled. The American Airlines booked a hotel for the passengers and even that hotel dumped me after waiting for 2 hours at the airport entrance for the taxi and finally when I call the hotel for the umpteenth time, they confirm that I cannot be taken in as the driver who was supposed to pick me up did not turn-up. I waited for another 10 hours at the Chicago airport, finally totaling to 18.5 hours for the flight to Madison to take off. What a bad start to the trip. I of all people agree for travel!! and its not going according to expectation… πŸ˜› Finally, arrived fully tired at 11am at Madison. But this tiredness did not crop up to hold me back, when four of us (me and my three colleagues -Chandru – Madison Green card holder.. :P, Rohit and Seshu) decided to visit downtown Chicago the very next day.. πŸ˜›

    We started at 2:30pm on 14th Jan 2012, in the afternoon after the snowfall had subsided. A 2.5 hour  drive, traveling 238kms took us to Chicago (yes you read it right!! average speed of 95kmph and there was never rash driving!!! i couldn’t believe it). The difference in drive in Bangalore and Chicago is very simple. Chicago – Organized and Bangalore – Organized Chaos. πŸ˜› The drive through 8-laned highway with views of snow filled fields, snow covered roof tops, barren trees on either side of the road and mild sun beating down is beautiful. My first tryst with such a ride and I loved it. πŸ™‚

    Our first destination was the 108 story, 1,451 foot tall Willis tower, famously known as the Sears tower. With $17 ticket and an hours wait in the queue, you get to ride a big elevator all the way to the 103rd floor and move into the the Sears Tower observation deck, called the Skydeck. The night view of Chicago is beautiful with the street lights, High rises and teeni-tiny car lights visible from so high above. I especially liked the retractable glass balconies which are basically glass extensions which supports 5 tonnes of weight protruding out of the 103rd floor. The only thing that separates us and a 103 floor fall is the 2 inch super reinforced glass sheet. It scared the shit out of some people. I saw so many people scared to move onto the balcony and even if they did, were looking upwards and Rohit was one of them. Each person will have their fears. Now we know which one is Rohit’s… πŸ™‚

View of Chicago city from 103rd floor (skydeck) of Willis tower
View from reinforced glass balcony of the skydeck

    Our next stop was the the 24.5-acre Millennium Park at Michigan avenue between Randolph and Monroe Streets. It is renowned for its Big Jelly bean model and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion where musical concerts are held. When we exited the Willis tower, it was 8:30pm and with clothing as if we were roaming around Bangalore or any tropical city, it was turning out to be pretty difficult. Our worst fear was that we will lose our senses… πŸ˜› We joked about it and covered the major parts of the Park in a couple of hours. Had french fries for dinner (no veg food in McD’s).. πŸ˜€ and returned back to Madison at 1am in the morning.

Jelly bean at Millennium park

But one simple conclusion: No matter where you visit and how good the place is… You always wish you were back home… Organized chaos of Bangalore is better than the Organized loneliness elsewhere…. πŸ˜›

Link to pics:

MakaLidurga trek – Ending 2011 with a trek.

5 Jan

    After a 3 month sabbatical, it was time to restart the trekking experience. Almost everybody have plans for partying or trips to start a new year. But our gang is unique. We welcome the new year by lying around in the home lazily  as usual.. πŸ˜› We wanted to finish 2011 with a small trek and zeroed in on MakaLidurga, a small hill near Doddaballapur close to Ghati Subramanya. Standing at 1350m, MakaLidurga is a small trekking spot and has a Shiva temple at the top along with a dilapidated fort.
MakaLidurga hill – our trekking destination for the day
    Seven of us Manja, Skm, Ummi, Monks, Blank, Manish and me (ppr) were supposed to meet at my home in Yelahanka at 7:30am. Thanks to monks, who arrived 2 hours late, we were only able to leave by 10am.. πŸ˜€ We travelled for an hour along the Yelahanka-Doddaballapur road (SH9) with the initial 20minutes being four-lane and then changing to two-lane road and then found ourselves at the MakaLidurga railway station. We parked our bikes at the employee quarters and walked along the railway track to the base of the hill. This took about an hours walk. One suggestion here is that if you don’t want to trek along the railway line, you move ahead along the SH9 for another 1km and there is a small mud road leading to the base of the hill. One can park their vehicles there and then begin the trek.
At makalidurga station. L to R: blank, monks, manja, skm, ummi and manish

Trek along the railway line to the base of MakaLidurga

    We began the ascent at 11am. The trek is amidst a heap of boulders thrown about with an easy path to climb. The view of the hill-range is beautiful and the weather was ultimate for trekking – No searing sun and mild cool breeze blowing across the hills. The path we took initially gave a view of the railway line and SH9. After the initial climb of 15minutes, we cross over to the other side of the hill which gives a view of the lake at the bottom of the hill and finished the climb all the way to the top. This way, we got to view two different sides of the hill during the trek which is not the case in most of the small treks. Took a couple of breaks and reached the fort at the top in an hour. The top most point of the fort had a small mound with soft dried grass. We spent half an hour time there having the 360 degree view around us. We explored the small but sturdy fort, visited the Shiva temple and gobbled up the snacks. 
View from the top
SH9 and MakaLidurga station visible from this side of the hill

    By 2pm, we were ready to leave and the climb down was a lot easier. On reaching the base of the hill, we found a pathway leading to the railway station parallel to the existing railway line (this path is for the new railway line). I suggest people trekking the track route to use this path, as the majority of the walk is on the single railway line and its quite risky to use, with so many trains running around. 
Framed monks πŸ˜›

    At 4pm, we took our bikes and headed to Ghati Subramanya temple. We travelled about 500m from the railway station back towards Yelahanka where there is a deviation towards Ghati. A 3km ride took us to the parking lot near the temple. We had a good darshan and had lots of snacks including “special” Bhel puri.. (Please don’t ask me what was so special about that.. πŸ˜› ). The ride back had a lot of traffic probably due to many people heading towards the city for new year and reached home by 6pm. A smooth ride, beautiful weather and a mini trek to finish of 2011  – the year of good treks and trips. It was really a wonderful year for trips.. πŸ™‚
the 7 trekkers – Monks, manja, me, blank, Ummi, skm and Manish (L to R)
Points to be noted:
1. Route: Yelahanka-Doddaballapur-MakaLidurga-Ghati Subramanya temple- and back.
2. Bike distance: 90kms
3. Time taken for trek: 1 hour climb and 1 hour climb down and two hours trek along the track.
4. Difficulty: Easy.
Pics links:

The Kite Runner

24 Dec
    “The Kite runner”, is a fictional work by Afghanistani-American debutant writer Kahled Hussaini. The story is brought out to us through the eyes of the protagonist, 11year old Amir, son of a wealthy business-man of Pashtun tribe and a motherless boy in the Wazir Akbar Khan district in Kabul, Afghanistan. He grows up with Hassan, a boy from Hazara tribe, who is also the son of the servant Ali to the household. 

    The two boys grow up to being the best of friends until an event in the winter of 1975 triggers a chain reaction which alters the life and world of all that Amir knew of. After winning the kite flying competition, Amir finds what he was looking for, the affection of his father. The best kite runner in all of Kabul, the loyal, instinctive and protective Hassan runs to catch the winning kite as a gift to Amir only to be trapped by three bullies. Amir witnesses an event where he could have chosen a path to be brave and stand-up to his friend or flee. Amir chooses the latter. This decision proves to be the crack in the wall. Slowly but surely the friendship between the boys is broken as Amir is tormented by the events that he witnesses and Hassan’s guilt in undergoing such a shame.
    The invasion by the Russians leads to Amir and Baba (Amir’s father) fleeing Afghanistan into US where they are forced to start their lives afresh with no money. Amir marries Soraya and decides to follow his childhood dream and become a writer. But he is still guilt ridden by his betrayal and no amount of remorse is able to overcome his eventual split from Hassan. A letter and phone call from Rahim Khan, a close friend of Baba living in Pakistan and his favorite person in the world as a kid, shakes up Amir with the words “Come. There is a way to be good again”. Why did uncle Rahim contact him after all these years? And most importantly what can Amir do to rid his guilt and find redemption? The visit to Peshawar in Pakistan turns out to be much more than just a courtesy call. Amir has to face not just the demons of the new world that Afghanistan has become; he has to also face the repercussions of what he had done.
    There are quite a few statements from the book which got etched in my mind. These might not be the first times they are being used. But this is definitely the first time I have noticed them so profoundly stand out once I finished reading a book.
  • β€œSometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime…” 
  • β€œChildren aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors.” 
  • “Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the volume knob on life. Silence is pushing the off button. Shutting it down. All of it.” — I am truly moved by this statement.
  • β€œIt always hurts more to have and lose than to not have in the first place.” 
  • “There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.”
  •  “For you, a thousand times over.”
    The book brings to picture the culture and state of affairs of Afghanistan to the world through the decades of tumultuous upheaval of a nation and ultimately the life of Amir. Right from the ousting of the king, to the invasion by the Roussi, the take over by the Taliban, the fleeing to refugee camps and finally to the Twin tower bombings which result in the invasion and ultimately leading to democracy (which might or might not work…). Though some readers might not like the graphic details brought out in the scenes depicting the treatment of Harazas, the book just portrays one of the worst of things happening in Afghanistan. The characters are complex and brought out subtle yet magnificently. Love, friendship, loyalty, humanity, inspiration, compassion, betrayal, remorse and redemption are brought out in a heart-wrenching manner. You laugh, cry, smile, become angry, fear and even go to shock with Amir as the events unfold. The most important part of the book is how flawed the hero is just like most of us. A must read. I would rate this 9/10.

The Secret of the Nagas

13 Oct

    The much awaited sequel to “The Immortals of Meluha“, “The Secret of the Nagas” – the second book by Amish Tripathi in the Shiva Trilogy –  begins exactly where it left off in the first book. The strong Naga warrior, continues to trail Sati like a shadow. Shiva wants to avenge the death of his dear friend Brihaspathi by eradicating the “evil” Nagas from the face of the earth. The Branga gold found with the Naga warrior also called “The Lord of the People” leads them to Kashi – (like the secular cosmopolitan city of the 20th century). Parvateshwar gets injured in a riot in the Branga community within Kashi and is cured by the medicine provided by Divodas, the Chieftain of Branga community in Kashi. When Shiva learns that medicine can be only found in Naga territory, Divodas is summoned and he tells the story of how the wealthy Branga’s are suffering and slowly dying due to a plague and held to ransom by the Naga’s, who are the only source of medicine to the Plague. 

    While waiting for special ships to be built to reach Branga, Sati gives birth to her second child Kartik (named after her loyal friend Krittika). The crown prince to Ayodhya is assassinated and there is an attempt to assassinate Bhagirath, the second in line to the throne. Shiva leads his ever-faithful band of followers including Parvateshwar, Veerbhadhra, Bhagirath and Nandi to Branga to solve the problem of plague, only to find that the Naga medicine can be found from another source too  – A Bandit, by the name of Parashuram, famed for his chopping-off the head of his mother and who lives a secluded life in the forests close to Branga with his faithful band of followers. Shiva and his troops defeat Parashuram and on becoming aware that Shiva is the Neelkanth, Parashuram severs his left hand in remorse and joins Shiva in the return journey to Kashi. Shiva is shocked to find that Parashuram is a Vasudev and is moved by the story of why he became a bandit and even confused when he comes to know that the Naga warrior – “Lord of the people” is the person who helped Parashuram overcome his terrible past.

    Meanwhile parallely, Sati leads a group of 20 Kashi policemen to save a remote village from the clutches of a pride of lions headed by a Liger(hybrid of a tiger and lion). When most of her troops are killed in the attack and Sati facing defeat, the naga warrior along with his ferocious aunt (Queen of the Nagas) and his hundred warrior descend upon the pride of Lions and kill a majority of them but the Liger escapes. They reveal to Sati that Kali, the Queen of the Kashi is none other than her twin sister and Ganesh, the Lord of the people, the still born first son of Sati. Sati is overcome with happiness at the turn of events and takes both of them to Kashi.

    After two years, Shiva returns to Kashi to be introduced to Kali and Ganesh by Sati and he immediately recognizes Ganesh as the naga warrior who killed Brihaspathi and leaves Sati to live separately. Daksha who is on a visit to Kashi is confronted by Sati and he reveals the truth about the abandonment of Kali and Ganesh. An angry Sati asks her father to leave Kashi and return back to Meluha. The Liger which escaped the attack from Ganesh and the Nagas, along with a couple of lioness attacks Karthik and Krittika in the garden. They are saved by Ganesh who suffers near-fatal injuries. Shiva is thrown into a predicament, thankful to Ganesh for saving both Sati and Karthik’s life but unable to forget the Brihaspathi’s killing.

    Shiva, his usual friends and thousands of Suryavanshi and Chandravanshi warriors along with Sati, Karthik and led by Ganesh and Kali leave to Panchvati, the capital of the Nagas through Dandakaranya forest, crossing the forbidden Narmada. Kali and Ganesh promise to reveal a secret which would change the perception of the Neelkanth on the whole Naga perspective. The rest of the story is about the travel though the forests and the events that unfold upon reaching Panchavati.

      There are couple of points to be noted here. One, the author has tried to improve the language in his writing and sometimes overwhelms the reader with unnecessary usage of hi-fi words, which is uncalled for in colloquial terms. And secondly, the use of temples as radio towers acting as a communication tool between Vasudevs sounds a bit over the top. To add to all these, the ending of the book was a bit predictable. But what is most important is that the plot continues to boggle us and the revealing of Ganesh as the still born child of Sati or Kali as the twin sister are masterstrokes in the plot. Similar to “The Immortals of Meluha”, the plot scores the maximum points for the review and I would rate it 7/10. The wait continues for the finale part of the trilogy… πŸ™‚