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Category Archives: Books

When Broken Glass floats and The man who knew Infinity

Finished reading two books last week,both life stories, one heart wrenching and the other heart warming and exciting.

The first one, “When Broken Glass floats” by “Chanrithy Him” takes us through the Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia and how her family suffers. There are lot of books about various horrors during different wars, but what makes this one different is the matter-of-fact way of narration by an adolescent child. Fascinating, well written in simple english. Tugs at your heart.

My heart broke and couldn’t comprehend their sufferings, where starvation becomes the norm, where one is forced to catch rodents and eat,where sick people are a burden and left to die,where kids are forced to work day and night, where hunger rules. Brought tears to my eyes.

Puts life in a totally new perspective. When the author’s family, rather the surviving members, enter the refuge camp, she says “It has been a long time since I felt a sense of inner peace. Being in this camp has made that possible, for we’ve been given enough food to eat. We have running water. Electricity. School. We have clean, pretty apartments to live in.” All this in late 20th century.

The second one, “The Man who knew infinity” by Robert Kanigel ,is a biography. I am not that much into biographies , but started reading this book just because Suresh had bought it and also because it is about Srinivasa Ramanujan Iyengar, a self-taught mathematical prodigy.

For someone who lived in Kumbakonam, a small city in South India, and one who was a victim of Indian education system which doesn’t let real intellectuals shine, I think Ramanujan was incredibly lucky to have been found by Hardy of Trinity college and other mathematicians of India. The book covers all aspects of his life, a controlling mom, an early marriage,failure in school life which was his curse and boon. Curse because it didn’t let him grow, but boon as it helped him to immerse himself in Mathematics.

Robert Kanigel talks about Hardy in detail as well. Hardy, who claims to have discovered Ramanujan , when asked about the intuitive skills of mathematicians, says that in his life, he would give 100% only to Ramanujan, whose answer was “I just knew it” when asked how he solved any problem. A very rare, self-taught, highly intuitive mathematician, who also lost his life early because of his eating habits and limited by the medical care in the 19th century.
A very well written, well researched, analyzed, biography with tid bits about basic Maths here and there. A good read any day.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2011 in Books

 

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Maus

What happens when one does yoga after a long time? The whole body revolts to stretch and fights by making itself sore at places one never realized existed. And so, self decided to take a break from work yesterday, with the revolting body as the excuse. How best to spend a day than watching TV and reading books? There was this book, “Maus” lying around the house for the past couple of months. Knowing it to be about WWII , I was avoiding it till yesterday.


To start with, the book is not just about WWII, though the war is chronicled by the author as dictated by his dad (a Jew). The book is about a father-son relationship, the guilt carried by the son on living in a fairer and nicer world, the parsimonious father who saves every single penny and preserves all junk having struggled through the holocaust. Brought tears at various phases.


There are lot of books about WWII. I think what characterizes this as different is that it is graphic. ( no , not in details, but in pictures) Having read “Winds of War”, this one is less affecting on learning about the ghettos and Auschwitz. But, still tugs at your heart as it is beyond one’s comprehension . The real heroes. The father dictates his story to the son in a very matter of fact way,with no sentiments except during one phase where he starts crying. That clearly shows human nature. After couple of decades, the emotions are far subdued.


In the second phase, when the book dwells more on the current, with the son staying in NY, the author has beautifully shown the father-son love-hate relationship, which one gets to see in many households. The son feels guilty that he is born after the war when the parents have already lost one during the war. There is a page where he says how he feels inferior to the photo of the dead son.


The one that made me cry was the father’s frugality. Having seen the war from the ghettos, fighting for food, starving for days, struggling to live and finally coming out of the inferno alive, morphs him into a human being who doesn’t want to let go of anything and who suspects almost everyone. I guess I saw a lot of fathers in him. My dad bargains for every rupee even now, whether it matters or not. Times have changed, we all have money , but having seen a lot in his 76 years, he just cannot let go of somethings. And, I am sure every family has a similar parent in some aspect or other.


Coming to the name, the book is called “Maus”, mouse in German as all the characters are portrayed as animals . Mouse for jews, Cats for Germans, Pigs for Poles, Dogs for Americans etc… This made me wonder what would suit Indians? ( Tigers, maybe ? ..no, that looks too royal, don’t u think?)

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2010 in Books, General

 

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Travelogue – 1

The only church I had ever visited during my teen years was Velankanni , in TamilNadu and another Infant Jesus Church in Banglore, to which my Dad had taken me once before my marriage. And there stops my brush with Christianity and churches.With my recent visit to Italy, I can guarantee I had my fulfillment of visiting a lot of cathedrals and churches. An Amazing Experience.

I spent Christmas at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, waiting to see the big man, the Pope. Just the energy of the crowd was amazing , though most were tourists with cameras which made us easier to blend.




Last Christmas, I spent the whole day reading the book “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follet. A historical fiction novel. A must read for everyone. One gets absorbed into the building of cathedrals at Kingsbridge. In the fictional town of Kingsbridge, the cathedral is finally completed, in the “French Style”, and becomes famous around England for its beauty: it is the first Gothic cathedral in England. While reading the book, I regretted the fact that I had not paid attention to the cathedral structure while visiting the West Minster Abbey in London , two Christmas ago. Another church devoted to St.Peter.I was more interested in the people buried there, William Blake, Wordsworth, Charles Dickens,Elliot to name a few and of course all the kings and queens who ruled. Never paid much attention to the structure. It is a classic Gothic style Cathedral. While reading Pillars of the Earth, the mega saver, Wikipedia helped me understand the book.


This Christmas, when we visited the St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican,apparently the burial place of St. Peter, I absorbed the whole structure of the church with the dome and all the different naves, chapels ,frescos and paintings. A WOW MOMENT! Building such a huge church( it can accomodate 60,000 people) is not a joke and it took a better half of 16th and 17th centuries with numerous architects, ideas, change of plans to build the biggest church in the world. The dome of St. Peter’s rises to a total height of 136.57 metres (448.1 ft) from the floor of the basilica to the top of the external cross. It is the tallest dome in the world.I think the final dome structure is credited to Michelangelo.




And to be blessed by the man of the hour, though not understanding a single word of what he was saying, gave me goose bumps. OK,the goose bumps were because of the cold wind..Let me have my moment.


After visiting all the churches in Italy, with their classical domes, I could appreciate the Gothic Style of Notre Dame in Paris, another cathedral that’s construction span two centuries.

I tried to focus and capture every nook and corner with all the windows, engrave it in my mind and get geared for another session of “Pillars of the Earth” . Oh! Yes, this defintely calls for a re-read before I forget my dream vacation.

The Chapel at Notre Dame..

Just wish we had bought even a wider angle lens. Well, next time. Yes, there were signs showing a camera with a slash on it, implying no photos. There were some places that we visited, where they did not allow video cameras but photography was allowed. Seeing numerous others clicking to glory, almost blinding you, we decided that the Arch Bishop of Notre Dame will forgive us this sin. Just to explain it better to Anand, who asked us not to do that.. 😉 😉

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2010 in Books, Informative

 

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Piccadilly Jim

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Not one of the best books of P.G.Wodehouse but still a laugh riot. There are two types of people in this world, those who adore P.G W and those who don’t. I belong to the former set. I admire, adore, love,revere,worship P.G.W. P.G W is Pelham Grenvile Wodehouse, but to me, he is Pure Genius Wodehouse.

Ironically, my first PGW novel, during my X Grade, was a huge flop. I tried my hand at one due to constant persuasion from my sister. Couldn’t make heads or tails of it , tried reading it backwards, closed it, started from the beginning, still not understanding,all the time wondering what my sister was laughing about…. Not a pleasant experience, if I may say so. I chucked it with a frown, deciding not to do PG anymore. When I was 23, after my transplant, I was asked to stay home for 2 months with a mask on my face when meeting anyone (Yep !! The one you see people wearing for the Swine flu scare). One of my friends N, lent me his whole collection of PGW to read,saying that might cheer me up. My Oh My !! Thats when I found the real PGW. Brought a smile to my face everyday, made those two months fly away. Even now, whenever I feel depressed and want to lighten up my mood, I go for a PGW. He is the only author who can write a sentence for a full page and God!! the vocabulary !! Just love it.When I sighted this book at Banglore Airport, I bought it in a blink of an eye to add to my collection. It may not have Jeeves, Lord Elmsworth or Psmith ( some of my favourites) , but it is still a PGW.It has all the usual flavours of love,eccentricity and confusion at various thresholds. Regarding this particular novel, it is definitely not his best and you might end up forgetting it.
Browsing the net, I found that Piccadilly Jim has been released as a movie..Cool,huh

This is how it starts…

Chapter 1:

The residence of Mr. Peter Pett, on Riverside Drive, NY,is one of the leading eyesores of that breezy and expensive boulevard. As you pass by in your limousine, or while enjoying ten cents’ worth of fresh air on top of a green omnibus, it jumps out and bites at you. Architects confronted with it reel and throw up their hands defensively , and even the lay observer has a sense of shock. The place resembles in almost equal proportions a cathedral, a suburban villa, a hotel and a Chinese pagoda.

An excerpt :

Mr. Crocker was swallowing convulsively, as if testing his larynx with a view to speech. Like Saul of Tarsus,he had been stricken dumb by the sudden bright light which his wife’s words had caused to flash upon him.

I rest my case.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2009 in Books, General

 

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Outliers

My takeout after reading the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is that no one is born a genius. Hardwork & training , from an young age is the key factor , added with a dose of luck by being at the right place at the right time. The magic number is 10,000 hours of practice at whatever one is good at, which makes them an outlier. I liked that concept as now I have an excuse of not being at the right place, not being born in a different household, not being in very conducive environment to further my talents etc..Well, you get the gist …

Last night, I was watching Chopped, followed by American Idol as they cater to my interests in cooking and music. And, obviously I was judging the contestants and my thoughts were echoed by the Idol and Chopped judges. That’s when I had an epiphany and I knew what I was an outlier at. Eureka!! I was very good at Judging. What contributed to my success at judging? As the book says, it involved lot of hard work and training, right from when I was a kid. I started judging my peers and made friends with a selected few. Being a virgo helped me to be a good/bad critic, depending on the perspective.Born into a society where every Tom, Dick and Harry judges others irrespective of his stature and skills, my judging skills have been refined over the years. My ethnicity of being an Indian, a culture imbibed with competitiveness and loose talk has honed it even further. 10,000 hours…Pphhtt..I am sure I have put more than that in judging/misjudging people.

I participated in Galaata Idol last weekend. I should have known better. No, I didn’t make it to the next round, in case you are wondering. To my friends’ amusement, who had judged me right as not being a good participant, I decided to test my singing skills in front of a limited audience and three judges. The first judge was an upcoming singer (according to reliable sources) and so was enthusiastic about being a judge. It was obvious that she wanted to contribute for the betterment of the singing society in the bay area and so was very liberal with her comments. We can call her the Paula Abdul of Galaata Idol. The second judge was another lady who had an amused expression on her face which said, “Whatever!! You guys are not that great, but I will anyway give my comments. I am here just because these fans asked me to”. The third judge, apparently has Sangeetham Gnyanam , though not a great singer himself. ( Again, the reliable source at task). He had a bored expression of “Been there, done that. Lets get it over with and select a few.” As you can see, I was sitting in a corner, too busy judging the judges’ comments as well as the participants. Here are some snippets for you..”Shruti konjam missing here and there…otherwise its OK.”, “ You got all the notes right, but you emoted a bit too much” resulting in a puzzled expression from a participant and a firm head shake from me. For the question ” In all the years that you have judged so far, have you met the ideal Idol yet?” Pat came the reply from the Gnyani, “No.” As I said, me being the outlier judge and all, I was thinking, “That’s not the right answer. If some one is that good, why would he or she be participating in Galaata idol”. Following the book, if some one is very good, talented and had the right opportunities, he/she would have made it big in India by now.
Now, start thinking and find out your talent in which you have put atleast 10,000 hours…I am sure we can all be outliers…Just need to bring it out..:-)

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2009 in Books, From AM-KICKING blog

 

Is it just Meat?

I have always been a believer in mind over matter. But, when people suggest that you can control your body, where do you draw the line? How do you define “you” and “your body” ? I am not talking about souls etc…which is more spiritual.

We all believe that the love of a mother is full of feelings which surpasses most of the other categories of love. For some lizards, where the neocortex is not fully developed, the young ones have to start defending themselves from birth for fear of cannibalism .Yes, their mothers can eat them. For humans, these are very well developed as we are supposedly somewhere in the top of the evolution chain,and so we can feel these emotions. Now, what was mind again? If we did not have a well developed brain, we may not have any emotions after all.

Taking it one step further, there is a region of the brain called the Amygdala , which stores memories of the emotional events occuring in our life. If you think you can never forget what someone did to you, blame it on the amygdala. Sometimes, amygdala can even hijack your neo cortex ( the thinking part)and make you too emotional.

If you think – Brain
If you walk,talk (motor control) – Brain ( neocortex)
If you feel – Brain (amygdala)
If you cry – Brain (amygdala)
If you feel like writing a blog – (amygdala) (For Mindframes, this function is stored as a memory in the amygdala 🙂
If you love – Brain
If you feel paranoid – blame it on a parasite
** Recent research suggests that parasites, in particular toxoplasma, form cysts in the brain, often taking up residence in the amygdala. This may provide clues as to how specific parasites manipulate behavior and may contribute to the development of disorders, including paranoia.**

Coming back to my original question, what am I controlling ? My brain seems to be doing everything….So, do I categorize my brain as “I” or “Part of My Body” . To me, everything finally seems to be just meat. And my mind seems related to how well my brain has developed.!!!!

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2007 in Books, From AM-KICKING blog

 

Blink

I am reading this book called BLINK by Malcolm Gladwell, which was supposedly my gift to Suresh for his birthday…LOL…. It’s a book about rapid cognition, about the kind of thinking that happens in a blink of an eye. It is a National Best Seller, not just “New York Times Best Seller”. I have read a couple of chapters so far and am already impressed. It is a book about instant conclusions that we come to, on meeting someone or while buying a car etc. There was a chapter talking about “Looking at Thin Slices” where the author talks about the conclusions that we come to after reading the thin slices about someone. In a nutshell, it says one does not have to be around a person for a long period to know about him/her. A few hours should be enough. I guess we follow this in arranged marriages in India. A few moments, knowing what interests a person helps us in our decision .The author cites Tom Hanks as an example. I have never come across a person till now who doesn’t like Hanks. Have you? When questioned, people always said that Tom comes out as a decent, trustworthy, down-to-earth, responsible human being, which is also true.

There is a dark side to thin slicing. You might make snap decisions by looking at a person and we all know appearances are deceptive. The book cites car salesmen and how they reacted to white males, white females, black males and black females in a particular experiment. All the participants were portraying as well educated professors and dressed the same. Invariably, the entire salesmen asked 552$ above invoice for white males, $1500 for white females and even higher for black males, with black women leading the pack. Are they racial? No. They are unconsciously associating women with less knowledge about cars and “woman and black” is the worst combination. Wonder what would happen if I walk alone into a car shop. 🙂 If you want to know how you would react to people, there are some cognitive tests at http://www.implicit.harvard.edu which are quite interesting and tell how you associate race, sex etc.

Some more interesting facts – Did you know that most doctors who get sued are not the ones who make lot of mistakes, but rather the ones who spend less time with their patients. Doctors who spent 3 minutes more with the patients and sounding concerned always got out easy in spite of their mistakes , where as those who sounded dominant, not even arrogant, were sued though they might have been good.

There was one more example about how people do things unconsciously. This was about flash dating where men and women get together and talk to each other for 5 minutes . Basically, the women sit in each of the chairs and the men take rotations and talk to each woman. You would have seen this in movies. There was one woman ,lets call her Jen, who liked Ron very much. When asked before, she had said that she was looking for a smart, intelligent guy. Ron was funny and charming, but not exactly intelligent. After those five minutes, when asked, Jen said she likes funny and charming guys. Looks like it continues for may be a month and then reverts back to smart, intelligent guys. All this is done unconsciously. Maybe, when we get married, since we make snap decisions after talking to a person for a few hours or minutes, there must be something that we find attractive and we unconsciously change our likings to make the marriage a success unless there is an overwhelming difference which makes the marriages fail due to the dark side of thin slicing.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2007 in Books, From AM-KICKING blog