Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cutting the fat

I first started looking at my spending habits when our son came along in 2009. With my wife deciding to take time off from work for a while, we went from dual to single income. Plus we had heard the general horror stories of the increased monthly expenditures involved with an infant around. The need to put more funds away for the future (to cater to the child's future needs) could also not be overemphasized. Clearly the savings ratio needed to be cranked up. But I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to cut out some of the fat without trying too hard at all. Here's three minor behavioral changes I made in 2010, which have helped save me a neat pile of cash.

1. Re-negotiating the phone contract : This one's cute. My employer has an agreement with my phone service provider for staff rates. And I was oblivious to this all the while. Our average monthly mobile phone bill in 2009 was approximately $200 (including mobile internet usage on a pay-per-use basis). After the re-negotiation, our combined monthly phone bill is now $97 and is inclusive of a data plan, which allows me more mobile internet use than I need. Money for nothing? You bet.
Annual savings: $1,236

2. Cutting out Starbucks : The route I took to work required me to walk past a Starbucks outlet. Thrice a week on average, I'd give into temptation and pick up a latte on my way to work. Soon this became routine. And I don't even dig coffee that much. It was all about the routine and not the coffee. I would be just as happy with a 3-in-1 Nescafe concoction as with a caramel macchiato. So I changed my route to work this year; a route which required me to walk a minute extra, but helped avoid the the coffee shop. And that was it. It was difficult at first and I struggled with it but slowly and surely my Starbucks morning coffee purchase was a thing of the past. I still do buy coffee at Starbucks once in while. But only when I really want to.
Annual savings: $936

3. Taxi, taxi, taxi : Again, a habit that carried on from my early working years. I'd take a cab to work twice a week, mostly on Mondays (because I felt I needed to get to work quickly on the first day of the week) and on Fridays (because I thought I was too knackered by end-week to bother with trains and buses). Financially not very smart at $35 a pop, but who was really thinking about cost control? And given that I ran into peak hour traffic most times, I didn't even save a huge amount of time taking the cab, which sort of defeated the purpose. It wasn't much fun sitting in a taxi stuck in traffic watching trains whizz by! So 2010 has been mostly cab-free, work wise. I still manage to get to work on time on Monday!
Annual savings: $3,640

These small steps have helped us put more away for the proverbial rainy day (read emergency fund) as well as invest for the little one's future. And it hasn't been particularly tough at all. I see lots more fat in our monthly budget and I look forward to getting rid of it in the coming year. Lets see how that goes.


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Action Replay

Akshay Kumar at GarsimImage via WikipediaPerhaps the only redeeming aspect of this shambolic remake of 1985's thoroughly enjoyable 'Back to the Future', is Pritam's peppy music. Budding film-makers can maybe learn how not rip-off a Hollywood film.
A young lad goes back in time to ensure his parents have a love marriage, for, in the present, presumably thanks to their being hastily manacled together by their families, they behave like a couple of snappy hyenas, constantly at each other's throats. He hijacks a time machine, which lands him smack bang onto the sets of 'Om Shanti Om', or 1970s Bombay, and he does the needful with a minimal of fuss. Its all too easy for our time travelling hero and for the viewer, all too boring.
The lead pair of Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai Bacchan try hard, but fail to ignite any interest. Kumar repeats himself yet again as the lovable buffoon and Aishwarya doesn't manage much apart from looking stunning in a few frames. The support cast of Rajpal Yadav, Randhir Kapoor, Neha Dhupia and Rannvijay Singh are largely inept and make no impact whatsoever. Quite obviously, veterans like Om Puri and Kirron Kher have been offered sack loads of cash for their walk on parts in this monstrosity - there can be no other explanation to their appearance. Newbie Aditya Roy Kapur sports a cool Afro, but nothing much else. The film is a glossy black hole. No content, no laughs and no joy. Steer very clear of the 'Replay' button.


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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Third time lucky, Mr. Khan?

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 24: Producer Mahmood F...Image by Getty Images via @daylife

There’s something about Aamir Khan, isn’t there? Whatever he’s touched in the last few years has turned to gold. And given where gold prices are at these days, that’s a rich haul, at least metaphorically. Be it ‘Lagaan’s’ dream run at the Oscars in 2001, the massive critical and commercial successes of ‘Taare Zameen Par’, ‘Ghajini’ and ‘3 Idiots’, or the backing of first time director Anusha Razvi’s indie vehicle ‘Peepli Live’. Most observers are convinced he’s mastered the balance between content and commerce. It is perhaps no coincidence that his latest production, the dark yet enjoyable ‘Peepli Live’ is India’s official entry to the 83rd Academy Awards to be held in 2011, the fourth Aamir Khan film to represent India in the last nine years (including ‘Rang De Basanti’ where his contribution was only in the capacity of actor. Speaking of actors, this is Raghubir Yadav’s sixth film to be sent to the Oscars, second only to Kamal Hassan’s seven. Yadav, however has had two of his films ‘Lagaan’ and ‘Water’, make the final five). But is it a convenient choice? Or one simply made given Khan’s prior Oscar experience? India’s entry to the Oscars cannot be about pandering to certain egos or Bollywood cliques and cabals. The best film must represent the country and all other criteria must be cast aside. But given India’s failure to bag a single statuette thus far might prompt a thinking based not entirely on merit alone.

With these questions being raised, the film’s selection as India’s entry in the Best Foreign Film category has not been beyond controversy. This has once again been seen by some quarters as an attempt to play the poverty card, to showcase the worst of India to a gloating western audience. BJP’s LK Advani, no less, has expressed regret at this tendency of filmmakers to repeatedly serve up the worst kind of poverty porn for commercial and critical benefit. As if ‘Slumdog Millionaire’s insensitive dignity-denying portrayals of the poor weren’t enough, we now have a homegrown version to pander to the same exploitative and voyeuristic urban nouveau riche, who have no connect whatsoever with the devastatingly deprived and unfortunate heartlands. Perhaps a mockery was being made of the farmers’ genuine plight. Cinema is a powerful representative of country’s image and questions are being asked if a resurgent and growing India needs to continue to be represented by films such as these. Other allegations include favoritism shown to the film’s powerful and savvy producers and the consistent overlooking of regional cinema, come Oscar time.

While it is indeed true that the three Indian films that ever made the final nominations in the Best Foreign Film category (‘Mother India’, ‘Salaam Bombay!’ and ‘Lagaan’) were films that were decidedly set amongst poverty (rural and urban) and deprivation, but pronouncing judgment that similarly themed films have the best bet at getting noticed at the Oscars is perhaps too simplistic a conclusion. One must understand that the Oscars are an embodiment of an essentially a western perspective on cinema. To win there, you have to play it by their rules. One has to present cinema with universal appeal, with real stories – make believe is one thing, but singing and dancing, melodramatic monstrosities such as ‘Henna’, ‘Saagar’, ‘Jeans’ and ‘Devdas’ as entries have been a waste of time and energy. A western audience finds no connect whatsoever with this particular brand of cinema and our collective rancour at a trophy-less cabinet only finds likeness to the forlorn countenance of the sourpuss at the birthday party, stubbornly spoiling it for everyone.

‘Peepli’ is in this regard a smart and confident film, a story succinctly and poignantly told to devastating impact. It has an appeal which transcends boundaries and lack of typical Bollywood treatment will only enhance its chances. ‘Lagaan’ probably lost out due to it being at its core, a big Bollywood musical. Rizvi’s film has no such trappings. Many point to ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ as an example of the westerner’s love for all things poor in India. Indeed, while the film reaped a huge haul of statuettes, it was more because of the quirky and gimmicky screenplay and the freshness of the story rather than the supposed interest it generated on account of it laying bare Mumbai’s dark and deprived underbelly. The film also offered hope in a difficult time, and with the world reeling from the aftershocks of a depressing economic crisis, this small film’s roaring success mirroring its rags-to riches plot captured the popular imagination. It all came together nicely. As far as Mr. Advani is concerned, it is perhaps pertinent to remind him that ‘Peepli Live’ does nothing to mock the farmers' pitiable conditions; it mocks our indifferent and voyeuristic response to it. Perhaps the purpose of satire is a concept lost on him. Cinema and other forms of art, as a medium of comment, are possibly at their most penetrating when the reality is so pitiable that it defies belief. Years ago, Satyajit Ray's ‘Apu’ trilogy was widely criticised in several quarters for exploiting poverty. Nonetheless posterity has shown why his films have outlived him. They are timeless because of a certain enduring and rich human quality which is beyond an immediate setting of destitution and paucity. For if impecunity and deprivation were the only criteria then ‘Bandit Queen’ had no business losing out in 1994.

Sure there will always be talk of other contenders. Makers of the edgy ‘LSD’, the inspiring ‘Udaan’ and the heart wrenching ‘Angadi Theru’ might feel shortchanged. But in the end it is the incredibly smart ‘Peepli Live’ that will perhaps connect best with a universal audience for its intelligence and incisiveness, for it being simultaneously entertaining and serving as a powerful human document. Poverty has nothing to do with it. India is country where extremes of wealth and deprivation coexist. Our cinema has reflected both these realities. And both kinds of films have been sent to the Oscars. For those of you who are overly sensitive about India’s image, the film does not reinforce the ‘poverty’ stereotype. It just tells a novel story well. So let’s wish Mr. Khan well; one never knows, it could well be a case of being third time lucky.



This article first appeared in the November issue of 'KINDLE'

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Saturday, October 02, 2010

Grappling with hope

Vijender Singh with Amrita RaoImage via Wikipedia
You would be hard pressed to point out Baraut on the map of India. Chances are you've never been there. Or even heard of it. Regardless, the residents of this small town in Uttar Pradesh, around 60 km askew of New Delhi, would have forgiven you your ignorance till a few weeks ago, as their favorite son, wrestler Rajiv Tomar, was well on track to realizing his medal dreams at the upcoming Commonwealth Games (CWG). But that dream has since turned spectacularly sour, thanks largely to the combined incompetence and general apathy of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the country’s Wrestling Federation (WFI), both set up to nurture sporting talent, but whose general carelessness and lack of any foresight have put paid to many a sporting dream, a result sharply in contrast to their purpose.
Tomar’s story is not only a shocking indictment of the state of general disrepair of our sports governance, but also one of hopelessness that comes from being associated with a sport other than cricket in this country. The incident was widely covered by the media, and this sporadic
coverage will eventually do irreparable damage to Tomar. Where tomes are written about our underachieving and often bratty cricketers and where Yuvraj Singh’s many romantic dalliances generate as much front page copy as food inflation or political machinations, what hope can there be for a poor wrestler? He finds mention only when he fails a dope test in the wake of a much publicized (for all the wrong reasons) international event. Tomar’s only error appears to have been to consult a doctor when he came down with flu. The medication he took for his ailment turned up a banned substance, and as per the prevailing guidelines, he stands suspended. Here is an ‘Arjuna’ awardee wrestler who is perhaps the country’s best medal hope in the 120-kg freestyle category, and what fate befalls him? He falls victim to complete negligence from a wretched administrative body set up precisely to nurture and develop him. The WFI claims innocence as does the SAI. Neither perhaps found a break from the constant bickering and internal politics that seem to run deep in any sort of administration in India, to actually have the time and inclination to guide and monitor the athlete. It is quite possible that the unfortunate wrestler did not even have an updated list of banned substances as issued by WADA, and was quite possibly met with ignorance from the sports authorities as well. The doping malaise is easily avoidable if the athlete wishes to stay clean and country’s foremost athletes have been failed by their very own. Fellow wrestlers Sumit and Mausam Khatri, also banned, are distraught as well. It is not always that they get to compete in international events of the scale of the CWG, and now they will watch from the sidelines. Worse still, history might end up remembering them for this alleged misdemeanor.
Does the name Monika Devi ring a bell? This weightlifter was declared to have failed a doping test just before departing for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, only to be cleared a few days later, but not before her dream of participating in the Olympics was scuttled. She almost gave up
the sport as a result. The media went to town with her dope test failure, but weren’t as vocal in following up with the story of her innocence. These are sportspersons who are time and time again expected only to participate and not win. These are sportspersons who walk miles to any sort of sporting infrastructure to practice, on a daily basis. These are sportspersons who brave a complete lack of opportunity during their growth phases and still win medals for the country. These are sportspersons who take up athletics and persevere, knowing full well, that the best that they can hope for is a passing mention in the back pages of a newspaper, should they win anything on an international level. These are sportspersons who have achieved success in their chosen spheres in spite of the system and not because of it. These are sportspersons who know they will disappear into thankless history, and these are also men and women who also deal with complete ignorance and indifference from the general sport enthusiast in the country. But they
continue to find the immense strength to carry on regardless. This needs to be respected. This needs to be celebrated. This exemplary courage must resonate with the rest of the country. But India seems to have moved on. The values of the post ‘91 generation seem to have been irrevocably altered. As long as we remain besotted with IPL parties, inconsequential ODIs and more burnout-inducing T20 tourneys with all their trappings of glamour, we will never stop to
notice how Monika Devi has fought her way back from the abyss of despair and depression to rise again to be regarded as India’s best bet for a medal in the upcoming CWG. The fact that no one pays any attention is the root cause of this pathetic situation our athletes find themselves in. And for the sake of sport in India, the media must also start to care more. It is time to stop
remembering Rajiv Tomar for failing a dope test; rather it is time for him to be remembered for being the holder of a record 35 Bharat and Hind Kesari titles.
It is perhaps encouraging that athletes such as Saina Nehwal and Vijender Kumar have seen some mainstream recognition in the wake of their successes. But they are exceptions to the rule. The track and field and ‘akhara’ types continue to be mainstream pariahs, forgotten and ignored by most. It is time this changed and we cleaned up our act, not only in terms of administration and governance of sports in this country, but also in terms of more positive media coverage. Talent, blood, guts, and courage are aplenty, but it needs to be given a chance. One need not reiterate that there are indeed many Indias. Indias divided by rupees in the wallet, Indias divided by language, caste, creed and community. Indias divided by religion. We don’t need an India divided by sport.


This article first appeared in the October issue of 'KINDLE'.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Wall Street 2: Money never sleeps

Wall Street - Michael Douglas & Shia LaBeouf C...Image by jamiejohndavies via FlickrGordon Gekko does make a triumphant return to Wall Street and indeed to true capitalist form, but nothing much else works in Oliver Stone's sequal to his iconic 'Wall Street'. In this convoluted mess of a plot, the only saving grace is a smooth and assured performance from veteran Michael Douglas. The film, which uses the sub-prime meltdown as a backdrop to much of its drama, is found wanting as it works neither as a thriller nor as a document of the worst financial crisis in recent memory.
While the original film leant heavily on Faustian dilemma to make for engaging viewing, part deux precariously plays the balancing act between family drama, corporate vendetta and financial thrill-a-thon. Neither of these stilts provide any genuine support to what is in the end a film that only bankers may find remotely watchable.

2 / 5


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Saturday, September 04, 2010

India's 'Commonwealth' woes

In an article in February, yours truly had predicted that India’s preparedness for the Commonwealth Games (CWG) scheduled for October this year would be well behind schedule, but the famous Indian tradition of ‘jugaad’ would most likely see us through in the nick of time. While this may still prove to be an astute prophecy, one is not so sure anymore. As the games inch closer, the pandemonium exponentially increases. As charges of corruption, organizational inefficiency, delayed and shoddy construction and political muckraking savage India’s attempt to showcase her ‘arrival’ on the world stage, one can only hope and pray that an embarrassment of epic proportions is somehow circumvented.

INR 28,054 crore. That’s USD6.2 billion. That’s what’s been doled out to New Delhi and to sundry agencies to make the games a success. But apparently much of this sum seems to be just governmental largesse. Per the reports from the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), several prima facie irregularities are evident. Completion certificates from various stadia are allegedly falsified with quality of work of the games venues being sub standard. It has inquired into more than ten infrastructure projects related to the games and has alluded to inflated prices, poor execution, bribery and manipulated tenders. In a bid to keep the ‘sarkari babus’ happy, many of the stadia have been inaugurated in advance, only to fall apart almost immediately. Part of the roof of the JLN Stadium started leaking soon after its grand opening. The story of the S.P Mukherjee Swimming Complex was also no different. In addition to following the JLN Stadium’s example, it also managed to injure a young swimmer, when loose drainage covers put paid to her test dives. Theres more. Treasurer Anil Khanna announced his resignation after reports that a firm fronted by his son had won the contract to lay the tennis court turfs at the R.K. Khanna Tennis Stadium. In addition, sponsorship deals with Australian and Swiss firms have also come under the scanner and have since been cancelled. Since the political brouhaha started, Suresh Kalmadi has stayed firm, pledging his steadfast loyalty and singing paeans about transparency. However, some of his colleagues have not been so lucky. Organizing committee (OC) members T.S. Darbari, M. Jayachandran and Sanjay Mohindroo stand suspended, accused of corruption. It is therefore no surprise, given the negativity associated with the CWG that let alone tight-fisted private corporate houses, even PSUs are unsure about providing sponsorships.

An all too familiar tale in India, this. Remember the IPL? Power concentrated in the hands of few, with practically no accountability, has led to a long list of disasters. Did we think this time was going to be any different? Add to that the miles of red tape associated with organizing an international event, and you have a potential disaster on hand. At least the IPL delivered an enjoyable product, before things went downhill for the nepotistic Lalit Modi and his coterie. But what has transpired here is just not cricket and Kalmadi may need to do more than just allow independent inquiries to prove he is aboveboard. But apportioning the entire blame at the OC chairman’s door will be folly. A variety of factors are at play here. India has limited experience in handling events of such magnitude, the last being the 1982 Asian Games. The story then was eerily similar; with the then prime minister Indira Gandhi calling on the services of Jagmohan Malhotra for some serious last minute trouble-shooting. One would have hoped for a better performance this time around. Another factor at play is the lack of any interdepartmental connectivity. With multiple government agencies roped in to organize the games, it was imperative that there be a detailed and well-integrated plan for getting New Delhi games ready, both in terms of the sporting stadia as well as the city’s general infrastructure itself, with each government agency clear about its role and involvement. The PWD and CPWD cannot seem to agree on who is responsible for clearing construction garbage, or who is to construct the pavements outside the various stadia. Therefore, equal blame should there be borne by the Delhi Development Authority. While Shanghai has appeared to have gotten a spanking new facelift with the hosting of the Expo this year, New Delhi’s light cosmetic changes leaves many unsure about the positive effects the games have had on the capital. While the new airport and the tube system are fine instances of progress, there are many examples of the glass being half empty. For example, drainage systems, which were to be upgraded, are still in a mess, with less than 20mm of rain enough to wreak havoc in and around the games village and other infrastructures, causing widespread water logging and traffic snarls. The urban poor have been hurriedly cleared away lest the city pander to the western stereotype of being infested with ‘beggars’. Genuine rehabilitation efforts have sadly, not been made. Furthermore, unclear and vague zoning of the city, coupled with the abovementioned abysmal coordination between different government agencies has also led to inordinate delays.

Amid the upheaval in Parliament, with the UPA weakly responding to the opposition’s bay for blood with the argument that much of the CWG planning had been completed in the tenure of the previous NDA government, the Prime Minister’s office has rightly taken charge and things should only improve from here. Time is short and there remains much to be done. The hosting of the CWG in New Delhi is India’s opportunity to announce herself to the world and to showcase the recent positive buzz associated with the country. The event could well end up doing just the opposite. The upwardly spiraling ‘chakra’ logo of the games supposedly depicts the growth of India into a proud, vibrant nation, with her billion people coming together to fulfill their true destinies. In its worst form, it looks like a lot of common wealth fulfilling only chosen destinies. For the rest of us, the CWG will remain a USD6.2 billion question.



A version of this article first appeared in the September issue of 'KINDLE'

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Working class heroes

Noel (right) performing with Liam Gallagher at...Image via Wikipedia

I was truly gutted when the last tickets for their concert in early 2009 (in Singapore) were sold out only five days after the being available for purchase. Needless to say, I had been late. But the evisceration was complete a few months later, when Oasis decided to split up, for good. Brothers in arms no more, the Gallaghers had decided that they had had enough of each other, on stage and off it. And that was the end of close to two decades of sibling rivalry, endless swagger, Britpop hysteria, a devil-may-care attitude, gigs the size of small cities, revisionist ‘Beatle’-esque riffs, trashed hotel rooms and mostly great rock ‘n’ roll music.
I, for one, was hooked right from that sunny winter morning in 1994 when I picked up a copy of 'Definitely Maybe' at a store in Lucknow's quaint Aminabad market. This was ironic, because the music on the cassette was sharply in contrast with the characteristics of the place of its purchase – all refinement and sophistication. None of that on the record, though. From the first loud, unapologetic, brazen and screeching riff of the album opener ‘Rock ‘n’ roll star’, you knew that these lads were made to put the rough edges back in British rock. Not since the Stone Roses’ 1989 self titled masterpiece, had eleven songs so perfect been assembled on one debut album. And it didn’t end there; the follow up - the marginally more introspective ‘What’s the story (Morning glory)’ – was an even better record in many respects. It sounded like the morning after to their debut album’s exuberant night out in town. I never got down to actually understanding what a ‘Wonderwall’ meant (a question also posed by Travis in their single ‘Writing to reach you’), but it was bloody awesome. Again, there wasn’t a single weak song on the album and both these albums continue to make it to any and every list of the ‘Top 10 British Rock Albums of All Time’ kind. The brothers’ Noel and Liam shared a fractious relationship at best, but when they came together in a recording studio, it was mostly magic. Noel’s lyrics could be infuriatingly vague, but delivered through Liam’s powerful nasal drawl, they sounded worthy, somehow. ‘Some might say’ and ‘Champagne Supernova’ are prime examples. What followed ‘Morning Glory’ were superstar status and the distractions that came with it. Cancelled concerts, drug abuse and microscopic media scrutiny – all of which eventually derailed the band’s proposed conquest of America. Here was a chance to be the single most relevant British act across the Atlantic since U2, and the band had promptly hit the self destruct button. But the lads had taught me well – I didn’t look back in anger.
Instead I looked ahead to their upcoming offering ‘Be Here Now’, which many say was the beginning of the end for them. While it was commercially successful, the overproduced and overblown album saw the band wilting under the pressure of their own self belief (now bordering on mild narcissism) and feverish public expectation. Suddenly, the hysteria was over. Their arch rivals, Blur, had moved on stylistically and sonically, in a bid to reinvest themselves. The great Britpop movement was done and dusted and Oasis didn’t seem to stand for anything anymore. Two mediocre albums followed in the shape of ‘Standing On the Shoulder of Giants’ and ‘Heathen Chemistry’ and by then, clearly, no one was paying any attention except the dedicated and faithful. I stayed faithful despite the band’s declining fortunes. Foremost of the reasons for doing so was the fact that they still made music for the same reason I listened to it. To enjoy myself and have a good time. Simple concept, but one lost on a lot of recent material from today’s more ‘cerebral’ bands. Oasis helped a whole new generation wake up and enjoy rock ‘n’ roll music, for the reason rock ‘n’ roll music was invented - to sing loudly with eyes closed. No tr

Cover of "Be Here Now"Cover of Be Here Now

ying to be clever and no trying to save the world. While their contemporaries like Pulp and Suede were going glam and posturing themselves as avant-garde sophisticates, Oasis were happy to be working class, a people’s band if you will, honest and direct. I wasn’t there in 1996 when they played to 250,000 screaming fans over two nights at Knebworth, but friends who were said it was like turning up to support your favorite football club - your loyalties completely firm and unyielding, in spite of the looming threat of relegation. Countless bands have been inspired by their ‘lads next door’ attitude to music – Keane, Travis, Embrace, Twisted Wheel, Jet and The Enemy have all sighted Oasis as a huge influence and that is testimony enough to the band’s lasting legacy, despite remaining more or less static in sonic approach coupled with the unwillingness to experiment. The band, contrarily, believed that experiments were best left to dedicated scientists. Frankly, I wouldn’t bother with them either, if I could churn up an album of B-sides that most bands of standing would kill to put on an album. One only needs to listen to gems like ‘Half the world away’, ‘Rocking Chair’, ‘Stay young’ and ‘Acquiesce’ off 1998’s B-sides compilation, ‘The Masterplan’, for confirmation of the band’s melody-making credentials. Following Oasis had another, more entertaining benefit. The sound bites. Never shy of having a word, the band always stayed in the media glare, thanks to the famous Oasis-speak. When the brothers weren’t bad mouthing each other, they were busy laying into other bands. And when there were no bands around to lay into, they were talking about themselves, always crossing the line separating self-confidence from arrogance. If the music was great, the talk was even better. Like the time in 1996, when their record company gifted Noel a Rolls-Royce and Liam a Rolex watch. When asked about it, Noel replied, ‘It’s true, but odd choices for gifts, coz I can’t drive a car and Liam can’t tell the time.’ Their comment about Blur’s ‘Damon (Albarn) and Alex (James) getting AIDs and dying’, at the height of their rivalry in the mid 90s is stuff of legend. Or the oft quoted, ‘We’re not arrogant; we’re just the best band in the world’, variations of which found their way onto the backs of thousands of T-shirts and bumper stickers.
I once thought that the band would ‘Live forever’, and the classic retro melodies would keep coming, but their split is probably a good thing in the end. For demise leads to eventual regeneration. Liam and the rest of the band members are to apparently carry on as ‘Beady Eye’ and Noel will mostly go the solo route. So, twice the music. Bring it on, chaps. For now, a huge thanks for the music. A line off the band’s last (and most assured) album ‘Dig out your Soul’ comes to mind at this juncture. In the soulful ‘I’m outta time’, Liam poignantly asks, ‘If I’m to fall, would you be there to applaud, or would you hide behind the mob?’ I know where I’ll be.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

So you want to be environment-friendly?

Specimen of the typeface Century Gothic.Image via Wikipedia

Here's something particularly interesting courtesy

A study mentions that you can save money just by using the correct font on your computer. The researchers here claim that you can save 31% on ink cartridge costs if you use the "right" font over the standard font. The details:

Arial, reigning as the most popular font, was used as the “zero” measurement, against which nine other fonts were tested. The clear winner was Century Gothic, which returned 31% savings in both printers. For the average private user, printing approximately 25 pages per week, this will easily generate a net reduction of $20 in a year. A business-user, printing approximately 250 pages per week, could save $80. If your organization uses multiple printers, you can save hundreds of dollars per year doing nothing more than picking a more economical font.

Century Gothic is a modern font that comes standard with MS Windows. Surprisingly, it even beat Ecofont which was specifically designed with efficiency and cost in mind. For those who require a more “traditional” look, Times New Roman provides a good balance between style and savings.

The fonts in order, starting with most economical, are:

  • Century Gothic
  • Ecofont
  • Times Roman
  • Calibri
  • Verdana
  • Arial
  • Sans Serif
  • Trebuchet
  • Tahoma
  • Franklin Gothic Medium
So there's something new to try at work.

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Robin Hood

Robin Hood 2010 posterImage via Wikipedia

Ridley Scott and his preferred partner in crime Russell Crowe team up again to bring another popular hero back from the woods, literally in this case, but intelligently, they chose not go down the 'rob from the rich and give to the poor' route. Instead they bring to life a fictional account of how the legend of Robin Hood came to being.
And it works only in bits and pieces, to be honest. Our hero comes across more as Robinus Maximus, an indestructible leftover from you-know-where, rather than an emotionally vulnerable yet supposedly roguishly charming Robin Longstride (who becomes Robin of Loxley and eventually the outlaw Robin of the Hood). The story line is a predictable David v Goliath meets Walk in the Clouds, and perhaps would have even worked if it didn't aim for the high human drama quotient and in turn try to take itself so seriously. And it is here that the film sadly fails. It ends up as lumbering and overdone. The cast does fine, and the battle scenes are to Scott's usual high standard, but the love affair between Marian and Robin is quite 'thanda', evoking almost no emotional connect, while we wait for the film to drag on to its inevitable good vs evil battle royale.
In the end it is a brave attempt, trying to do something new with the Robin Hood story, but the screen play is clunky and overdone and the execution is entirely run-of-the-mill. See this if you must.


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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Travel India

Travelling through India can be both fearfully tiresome and incredibly rewarding at the same time. However, very few countries present such diverse topography for the willing traveler. Add to that the cultural angle, with
so many religions, languages, traditions and ethnic groups all existing side by side, and one wonders how the nation has survived more than the sixty years it has. Which is why its a pity that more isn't done to showcase the country as one of the world's premier travel destinations. With the proper infrastructure, maintenance and marketing, India's potential as a travel destination of choice is sure to be realized.
While surfing, I recently came across assorted lists of some must-see places in India. I reproduce an amalgam of a couple of such lists in alphabetical order. Hope this helps. Maybe, the next time you draw up your travel plans, you can look within the country for a perfectly wonderful, memorable and fulfilling trip...

1. Abbey and Iruppu falls
2. Agumbe
3. Ajanta and Ellora caves
4. Alappuzha - Nehru Trophy boat race, Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha, Kerala
5. Amritsar - Early morning at the Golden Temple, Amritsar
6. Andaman

7. Araku Valley - Borra caves near Araku valley of Vizag
8. Auli, Uttaranchal
9. Auroville - Enjoying the tranquil, French cuisine at Auroville
10. Backwaters of Kerala
11. Badami, Pattadkal, Aihole - Chalukya style temples
12. Bandhavgarh tiger reserve
13. Belur Halebidu circuit
14. Bhalukpong - Enjoying a lunch with the Meshing tribe right in the midst of the river Jia Bhareli on the Assam Arunachal border.
15. Bhimbetka - Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka, Madhya Pradesh
16. Bird watching at Ranganathittu, Bharatpur
17. Bodh Gaya - Mahabodhi Temple Complex
18. Brindavan - Playing holi in Brindavan
19. Cherrapunji.
20.Barapani near Shillong.
21. Chilka Lake - Trying to see the horizon during a boat ride in Lake Chilka, Orissa
22. Chopta - Tungnath - Chandrashila trek
23. Coorg - The buddhist monastery at Bylakuppe;
24. Darjeeling to Gangtok - hairpin bends with the river Teesta below
25. Delhi
26. Qutub Minar and its monuments, Delhi
27. Devkund - 30 kms from Chandipur Beach, Orissa, forest with 7 waterfalls
28. Digboi
29. Dilwara Temple, Mount Abu
30. Diu
31. Dodital - Trek to Dodital in Uttarkashi. Dodital is also considered the birth place of Lord Ganesha.
32. Dubare, The Elephant Camp
33. Dudhsagar waterfalls - Goa
34. Fatehpur Sikri
35. Goa on bike
36. Hampi - Ruins of Hampi, requires multiple trips
37. Homestay at a coffee plantation;
38. Hyderabad - Salar Jung Museum, Golconda Fort
39. Hyderabad - The breaking of fast during the Holy month of Ramzan in Hyderabad
40. Jaipur - Elephant ride at Amber Fort, Jaipur
41. Jog Falls in Shimoga (during / after the monsoons)
42. Kaziranga National Park - One horn rhino grazing in the secured environment of KNP
43. Khajuraho
44. Kolkata in the pujas - The Indian Museum, Kalighat temple, Eden Gardens and the Howrah Bridge
45. Kumbakonam -

46. Kumbh - Joining the millions to take a dip in Haridwar during the Kumbh
47. Ladakh - Changing colors of water at Lake Pangong Tso in Ladakh
48. Ladakh - Clouds chasing you on the banks of Lake Tso Morori in Ladakh during the monsoon season
49. Lalabgh, Bangalore
50. Lahaul and Spiti valley
51. Lakshwadeep
52. Lansdowne (Near Pauri, Uttaranchal)
53. Leh

54. Lonawala in Monsoon, esp Bushi Dam and drive to Amby Valley
55. Mahabalipuram - Vishnu's penance at Mahabalipuram
56. Manali
57. McLeodgunj - Watch the monks do the Buddhist rituals in the monasteries of Mcleodgunj
58. Mountain passes - Spending some solitary time with nature at any of the high passes. Khardung La, Taglang La, Lachulung La
59. Mumbai
60. Mukhteshwar
61. Mysore - Dushera Festival, Tipu Sultan Palace
62. Nagarhole national park;
63. Peling near Gangtok, Sikkim
64. Pink City - Walking through the old city section (Pink City) of Jaipur
65. Pondicherry - Sunrise in Pondicherry (while sipping coffee), Paradise Island
66. Ranakpur - 1444 unique marble pillars of Ranakpur Jain temple complex near Udaipur
67. Rann of Kutch
68. Renukaji in Himachal Pradesh
69. Rishikesh - White water rafting
70. Road Trip - Manali to Leh and Leh to Srinagar
71. Roopkund, Bedini Bugyal
72. Sand dunes of Jaisalmer
73. Shillong
74. Shravanabelagola - Climbing 500 steps up a hill to get a glimpse of Bahubali at Shravanabelagola
75. Shungaster Lake, Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh
76. Sikkim - another must see
77. Sun Temple, Konark
78. Sunderbans - Boat cruise in the Sunderban delta
79. Taj Mahal - Sun rise in Taj Mahal at Agra

80. Thanjavur - Great living Chola Temples at Thanjavur, Gangikonda Cholapuram and Darasuram, Tamil Nadu
81. Tiger Watch - Corbett, Bandipur, Kanha, Ranthambore, KNP, Sunderban
82. Tirthan Valley, Himachal Pradesh
83. Tranquebar - tiny seaside place... the only Danish settlement in the country...
84. Valley of Flowers in Uttaranchal - go there while the plants are still there
85. Varanasi - Watching the Thursday evening Maha-aarati on the banks of Ganga at Varanasi from a boat

86. Wayanad