Thursday, January 30, 2020

Rubaai 15

Something very personal, in form of a "rubaai", of course with a translation for my non-Marathi friends. If you're easily offended by someone's view on politics and religion, please don't read any further 


रुबाई क्रमांक १५
हिंदूंच्या नजरेत, मुसलमानच जरा आहे मी
आरोप मुसलमानांचा, काफिर खरा आहे मी
मान्य तर नाहीत, मला देखील त्यांच्या व्याख्या
बाहेरच भिंतींच्या, निच्शृंखल, बरा आहे मी

Rough Translation
“You are like a Muslim”, the Hindus taunt me
“You are a real kaafir”, the Muslims accuse me
And I have no regard for their definitions anyway
Outside the walls, unchained, I am fine being me

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Sapiens

Book Review : Sapiens
Author : Yual Noah Harari
My Rating : 5 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “Sapiens : A Brief History Of Humankind”.

Only once in a while a book gets written that is immensely vast in scope, challenges your worldview at a very fundamental level and tackles extremely difficult topics in such an accessible manner that everyone can enjoy it. Sapiens, is such a book.

Ever since Dr Stephen Hawkings wrote “A Brief History Of Time”, there have been way too many books that announce themselves as “Brief history of …”. This book by Dr Yual Noah Harari deserves to be in the same league of the trailblazing book by Dr Hawkings. 

It’s impossible to put Sapiens in one simple category. The twenty odd amazing chapters cover everything from evolution, history, economics, politics, religion, spirituality, science, anthropology, psychology, philosophy and so on. It would have been a great feat just to weave these disparate threads into one cohesive book, but to do it in such an easy to read manner is an astounding achievement.

The book starts at the evolutionary beginnings of Homo Sapiens and ends at a chapter that speculates what might be in store for us as a species. Along the way almost every branch of knowledge gets covered in surprising detail. Now, this book is not an overview or a survey of these fields. Neither is it an introduction to all fields of human knowledge. It travels through these vistas with a singular destination in mind - to explain how we Homo Sapiens have evolved differently than any other lifeform.

What makes the book impossible to put down, is the spicy mix of opinionated commentary with generally accepted scientific theories. The range of topics and author’s fearless discourse almost ensure that everyone is going to be at least somewhat angered and/or offended. True, it will most likely offend religious and conservative readers more, but the liberals and free market capitalists are also likely to find many arguments difficult to digest. And a friendly warning to readers from India, you in particular may not like many discussions, especially if you have a defensive conjecture about how casteism took roots in Indian society. 

I am not saying that the author is deliberately trying to offend. No, not at all. And leaving aside the topics such as religion and social customs, that raise the heat rather quickly, that’s not the primary focus of the debate either. Most of the topics are morally ambiguous to say the least. A simple binary good or bad evaluation misses the really important nuances. For example, are we really happier than our hunter gatherer ancestors? Was the nexus between imperial colonialism and science good or bad? Is industrial animal farming the largest cruelty in the history of mankind? Are our cherished ideals of democracy and human rights, just a myth that exists and works only in our collective minds? The book is full of debates on such thorny issues.

So, before you embark on reading this, and it does get my “must read” recommendation, ask yourself. Do you like to be challenged on your most fundamental beliefs? Do you like to read intelligent arguments even when you don’t agree with them? Do you like to be intellectually stimulated with subtleties of historical analysis? For liking such a book, you have to be welcoming to opinions that make you uncomfortable.  That’s my view. I did agree with most of what the author had to say. But I also appreciated the views that I did not agree with. In the end, I came out with a far deeper understanding of Home Sapiens. And for that, I absolutely loved this book, and cannot recommend this highly enough. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Here’s Looking at Euclid

Book Review : Here’s Looking at Euclid
Author : Alex Bellos
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “Here’s Looking at Euclid : A surprising excursion through the astonishing world of math”.

On the back cover of the book, there is a large paragraph praising this book, written by none other than Martin Gardner. That caught my attention. There is also a chapter in the book related to toys and puzzles based on mathematics, in which the author describes his meeting with Martin Gardner, and about his influence on recreational mathematics. This book seems to be in the same tradition that Gardener was instrumental in popularizing. Blending Math, History, Mind bending puzzles, and much more in an entertaining package.

This book too is fun to read, although it starts slow. The initial chapters were a bit of a drag for me. I was also irritated by the constant reference of Amazonian native tribes as “Indians”. This is not about political correctness, it’s just flat out wrong. Especially for someone who has taken the trouble to travel to India to personally research about ancient Hindu mathematics. Even setting that aside, it took a few chapters for the book to pick up speed for me.

Luckily, as the book progressed, it became a lot more entertaining and informative. Each chapter has a theme. Although sometimes there are references to earlier chapters, I don’t think it needs to be run sequentially. It can be thought of as a collection of essays, and can be read in any order.

Each chapter is about a different area of mathematics. Of course, there is no hope to even touch upon all the areas. These topics are what the author has chosen to show that Mathematics is accessible, fun and inspiring. Some of the topics of the chapters are so extensive that entire books of recreational math have been written about them. For example, see my previous reviews about books on topics such as the “non-Euclidean geometry” or “probability”. In spite of the limitation of condensing the material to one chapter, the author has succeeded in giving a thorough introduction to the history and ideas involved, and kept in a fun to read.

The last chapter, unconvincingly bundles non-Euclidean Geometry and Cantor’s theory of infinity together. It’s still a good chapter, but I would have preferred more detailed chapter on each. Some of the middle chapters are a breeze to read. The information about Sudoku, or the Bell Curve was brilliantly presented.

Most people who like reading books on Math will like this book as well. If you haven’t read a lot of books on Math, this is a nice place to start. Especially if you have been intimidated by high school math, you should definitely try this one, as there are many facets of Math that are just delightful and everyone deserves to be delighted by Math.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

हरकत - अरबीतुन मराठीमध्ये

मराठी भाषेत भरपूर वापरात असणाऱ्या अनेक शब्दांची व्युत्पत्ती अरबी आणि फारसी भाषेत आढळते. त्यातलाच एक शब्द, हरकत.

अरबी भाषेत बहुतेक शब्द अगदी शास्त्रसोक्त नियमानुसार बनवले जातात. ह्या सर्व शब्दांचा जो पाया असतो, तो मूल शब्द (root word) हा बहुतांशी तीन व्यंजनांनी बनलेला असतो. इथे ही तीन व्यंजने आहेत ‘ह र क. ह्यात जे पहिले व्यंजन आहे, ते मराठी “ह” सारखेच आहे पण त्याचा उच्चार खूपच जास्त कंठीय आहे. इतका की त्याचा अचूक उच्चार मराठी भाषिकांसाठी अशक्यच म्हणावा.

ह्या तीन व्यंजनांना (‘ह र क) वापरून जे शब्द बनतात त्याचा संबंध असतो “हालचाल, गती, ढवळणे” (movement, motion, stir) अशा अर्थांशी निगडित. त्या सर्व शब्दांमधून माझ्या माहितीत तरी दोनच शब्द उर्दूत आले, आणि त्यातला एकच शब्द मराठीत आला.

अरबीमध्ये ह्या व्यंजनापासून बनणारा एक शब्द आहे ‘हरका (حَرَكَة), आणि त्याचे बरेच अर्थ आहेत - movement, motion, stirring वगैरे. अरबीमध्ये त्या शब्दाचे अनेकवचन आहे ‘हरकात (حَرَكَات‎). ह्याच दोन शब्दावरून फारसी मध्ये शब्द आला ‘हरकत, आणि त्याला अजून एक अर्थ मिळाला - कार्य (act, action).

हिंदी आणि उर्दू मध्ये, ‘हरकत हा शब्द सहसा त्याच अर्थाने वापरला जातो, आणि तोही जरा वाईट अर्थाने. उदाहरणार्थ, “ऐसी हरकते सिर्फ तुम कर सकते हो”. उर्दू शब्दकोशामध्ये जरी “अडथळा” हाही अर्थ दिला असला, तरी तो तितक्या प्रचारात आढळत नाही.
जो दुसरा शब्द उर्दूत आला तो आहे, ते’हरीक (تحریک). हा शब्द बहुतांशी राजकीय आणि सामाजिक संदर्भात वापरला जातो. त्याचा अर्थ आहे - चळवळ (movement), अगदी मूळ अरबी अर्थानुसार.

आपण मराठी मध्ये, मराठमोळ्या उच्चाराने शब्द घेतला - हरकत. आणि त्याच्या अर्थात वृद्धी केली. जेंव्हा आपण गायनातल्या हरकतींबद्दल बोलतो, तेंव्हा अरबी भाषेतील मूळ अर्थापासून तसे आपण दूर नसतो. पण जेंव्हा आपण एखाद्या गोष्टीला हरकत घेतो, तेंव्हा आपण त्याला आक्षेप असा एक नवीनच अर्थ देतो!!

जेंव्हा एखादी भाषा इतर भाषेतील शब्द सहजरित्या आपलेसे करून घेते, तेंव्हा त्या भाषेची समृद्धी वृधिंगतच होते.
आशा आहे, माझ्या ह्या वक्तव्याला तुमची हरकत नसावी! 

Sunday, September 29, 2019

The Silent Wife

Book Review : The Silent Wife
Author : A.S.A Harrison
My Rating : 4 out of 5

I have always liked mystery/thriller genre and for a long time I have been trying to find a satisfying read in vain. Many months ago, while reading reviews of “Gone Girl”, I stumbled across lofty praise for “The Silent Wife”, and added it to my “to be read” list. 

Right in the beginning, the book tells us that very soon the wife Jodi is going to murder her husband Todd. Why and how is not mentioned. Right now, she thinks she is in a stable marriage. Far from perfect, and not completely happy, as Todd is an unfaithful husband. Jodi knows that, but she has made peace with it, assuming that these are temporary occasional indulgences. They are affluent. Todd is a successful small business owner. Jodi is a psychologist, although her practice does not generate much income. It’s more of a hobby. She really enjoys her role of a home maker, making dinners and keeping everything neat and perfect.

The story of the slow disintegration of their marriage is told in alternating viewpoints of Jodi and Todd. One chapter for her, and one chapter for him. It’s told using sentences that are in present tense, a style that I dislike. But the viewpoint idea works. The author uses it very intelligently to give a close up look at what’s going on in their minds. As the story unfolds, we learn more about them and their flaws. How Todd rationalizes his behavior and how Jodi’s past is shaping her present. This is a well written novel in terms of getting to know the characters.

This is the first novel of Canadian author A.S.A. Harrison. Unfortunately she died before her book was published. It’s sad that she did not get to see the success of her book. She has used her knowledge of psychology well. It’s less of a mystery book than what the marketing blurb would suggest. Make no mistake, the mystery part works, as the author slowly reveals how things lead to the murder. Since we already know that there is a murder, this build up keeps us turning the pages to figure out the why and how. As far as the suspense goes, it depends on how many mystery books you have read. It’s not impossible to guess the outcome. The real focus of the book is two human beings, their shortcomings, their self serving minds and their complicated relationship. It’s fascinating, and dark at the same time.

It’s an interesting book, but definitely not great. So I am hesitatingly giving it a 4 star rating. I think there isn’t enough material here even for the approximately 300 pages. There are only two main characters, and the plot is not that complex. I can go only so much into someone else’s life details. Afterwards, it seems like a drag to me. The memories of Jodi’s session with her psychology professor were definitely overwritten.

With those caveats, I can recommend the book.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Rubaai 12, 13 and 14


रुबाई क्रमांक १२


रुबाई साठी कुठचाही विषय वर्जित नाही. 
प्रार्थना सुद्धा ह्या बांधणीत लिहिता येते. 


रे बघ ना मी किती सोसल्या झळा 
दे छोटासा तरी मेघ सावळा 
तव करुणेचे, पुरे दोन थेंबही 
करण्यासी आतला गंध मोकळा


कधी कधी मला व्याकरणा बद्दल प्रश्न विचारले जातात, म्हणून ही थोडी तांत्रिक माहिती. 
ह्या रुबाईत, प्रत्येक ओळीत १९ मात्रा आहेत.
गट ८ + ८ + ३. 
लगावली :  (गा गा गा गा) (ल गा गा ल गा) (ल गा)
असे वृत्त आहे कि नाही, ते मला माहीत नाही :-)    
मला जे सुचलं आणि जमलं ते मी लिहिलं. 


नोव्हेंबर ४, २०१८

Loose translation :
Haven’t I suffered enough scorching heat, take a look at me
At least now, even if it’s tiny, please send a gray cloud for me, 
Just a few droplets of your kindness are more than enough
To unlock the fragrance that’s waiting inside me



रुबाई क्रमांक १३

किस्सा तो रांझाचा, मजनूचा अन फरहादचा 
हा जीवनत्यागाचा कसला रे आदर्श तुमचा
सोशित अखंड विरह कसा जीवित मी आहे पहा
विसरा त्यांना, आता गझला, माझ्यावरती रचा 
Loose translation
All these stories of Raanjha, Majanu and Farhad Why do you idolize the idea of giving up on life See how I live through the endless suffering of seperation So forget them and start composing Ghazals on me

२ डिसेंबर २०१८



रुबाई क्रमांक १४

The anti-Valentine ;-)

नको बाळगू मिजास वृथा, गर्व अथवा सौंदर्याचा
दोष होता नक्कीच सगळा, त्या कोवळ्या माझ्या वयाचा
होते सहज शक्य राहणे, पाषाणासम स्तब्ध निर्मम
तरी मेणापरी वितळण्याचा, गं हट्टच होता कविमनाचा 

Loose translation
No need to get too smug, or too proud of your beauty The blame surely lies all with my immature adolescence It was easily possible to stay unaffected like a statue But to melt like a candle was the command from the poet’s heart

१४ फेब्रुवारी २०१९

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Undoing Project

Book Review : The Undoing Project
Author : Michael Lewis
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed Our Minds”.

Michael Lewis is one of the most famous authors of our time. He has written many best sellers, and a few of his books have been made into successful movies. His latest book tackles a subject that is perhaps far more fundamental than his other books.

The scientific advancements that have happened in last few decades have had a huge impact on our understanding of the world. That includes not just about the universe and subatomic particles, but also about the evolution and our own mind. How our mind thinks, and how it comes to conclusion is a topic that interests me greatly. I am not talking about the anatomy of brain, but the thought process and its implications.

A big contribution to the very foundation of what we know today, was laid in 70s and 80s by two scientists in Israel - Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. Their work on coming up with a model of decision making  - “Prospect Theory” as they called it - is one of the cornerstones of a new field that emerged from it - “Behavioral Economics”. Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002 (Tversky had passed away then, and Nobel prizes are not awarded posthumously). Later other economists have also won the Nobel Prize due to their contribution to Behavioral Economics. This is field that intersects both Economics and Psychology.

This book tells the story of how these two very different personalities came to collaborate together in Israel. It starts at their childhood, their early careers in Israel of the 60s, how the wars impacted them and how they came to be collaborators. The author also goes into many details to explain their personalities and their friendship. A lot of research must have been done to gather this information, and kudos to the author.

The book tries to be both a biographical account and a primer on their work. It works very well, although the focus in mainly on the human story. The scientific work and the explanation is interspersed with the life stories. I think it’s very well done. This way the reader is not overwhelmed with the technical details, and the biography doesn’t remain just a story of two extraordinarily talented people. The aim is to also convey how their work came into existence and how seminal it it was, and the book succeeds.

I could have given this 5 stars, and some readers may very well do so. There are two reasons for my not giving 5 stars to this book. The biography part, on a few occasions, felt repetitive. Especially, about how like Amos Tversky was. After a few times, I was saying, yes, yes, yes, we get it - He was a popular figure. Second reason is, the explanation of the ideas in Prospect Theory is good, not great. I won’t recommend this as a popular science book. If you want to read how we handle uncertainty then I can recommend to you The Drunkard’s Walk, or The Improbability Principle. If you want to read about how we think, then I can recommend to you, The Righteous Mind and Some We Love, Some We Hate and Some We Eat. None of these are on Behavioral Economics, but they do a great job of explaining their respective ideas.

With that said, I can definitely recommend this book. It’s very readable, has great story-telling and has enough educational material. It’s a story of two great minds, whose work is profoundly impacting Economics and something worth knowing about.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Made In Heaven

Series Review : Made In Heaven
Aired on : Amazon Prime (2019-)
My Rating : 9 out of 10

Amazon Prime may have had long duration TV series from India for some time now, but I guess this series was much more heavily promoted with ads on Facebook etc. It caught my attention, and I am glad it did. This is a brilliantly made series, except … well, more about that later.

From what I can tell from a distance, Indian Weddings are getting more and more lavish, extravagant and expensive. The ceremonies are getting very elaborate, and with that comes the need for the wedding planners and the entire cottage industry it spawns. The two main protagonists of this series, Tara Khanna (Sobhita Dhulipala) and Karan Mehra (Arjun Mathur) run a wedding planning agency. Each of the 9 episodes, tells a story of a wedding they help plan, each time with new characters. There are a handful of recurring characters, some employees of their agency, some their relatives and friends. Since each episode brings a new mini-story, it’s hard to give a short synopsis of the entire series. But that’s exactly where the series starts showing its brilliance right from the first episode.

Superficially, each episode is about a new wedding. And yes, each wedding poses different planning challenges. These are interesting, entertaining and to some extent informative. The production quality is exquisite. This must have been an expensive series to produce. Even the music is good, which generally I don’t expect from a TV series. As good as these wedding stories are, the real focus is not on the show-off of costumes and jewelry.  Social commentary, (which I must stress is not just marriage related) is smoothly and unobtrusively sprinkled, all throughout the series. At times it’s poignant, at times it induces chuckles and at times it’s saddening. The blending is top class, and the reasons for it are - the acting and the script.

The casting is fabulous, and that’s where I guess half the job is done. They have picked the perfect actors to cast in the respective roles. Arjun Mathur and Sobhita Dhulipala get the most screen time, and adeptly carry their difficult roles. Of other prominent characters, I was impressed by the understated performance of Shashank Arora (as Kabir). Every other recurring character, such as Jim Sarbh (as Adil Khanna) and Shivani Raghuvanshi (as Jazz) has given a very natural, believable performance. The series also scores big when it comes to casting new characters every episode - Neena Gupta, Deepti Nawal, Vinay Pathak, Vijay Razz are some of the most able actors to grace different episodes.

Weaving all these characters together is the script - and in my opinion the single most brilliant aspect of this series. I say that because of the structure and the screenplay. The credit, it seems, is jointly shared by Zoya Akhtar, Reema Kagti and Alankrita Shrivastava. First, each episode, in addition to the wedding story, also advances the story of the characters, especially of the two main protagonists, Tara and Karan. This advancement comes from events happening in the current timeline, as well as relevant flashbacks from their respective past. The sequencing and arrangement of these 3 strands take the series from a “very good” to “great” on the artistic scale. Add to that the nuanced screenplay. For example, often, the camera moves horizontally to a character, whose facial expressions say a lot more about the situation than what dialogues can ever convey. This subtle approach is what makes me say that this is a brilliantly made series. Well … almost.

Now to address the elephant in the room. For all the subtleties that the writers have shown to be greatly capable at, those are thrown out of the window when it comes to showing sex, and specifically gay sex. This must have been a conscious decision and as a viewer, I completely disagree with. This much explicitness, and in this copious quantity can never be necessary for pure artistic reasons. I am sure, the prospect of controversy, couldn’t have escaped such a smart team of people. If it was done to show how bold they are, I must say, yes, I got that the first time, the second time, and definitely the third time, and I was disgusted to get so many more reminders. Yes, you all are very bold and provocative, we all agree, here is your certificate, but can you please put less emphasis on the soft-porn material next time? You do not need to open the doors of every bedroom to shine justifiable light on what happens behind them. Hints often are far more effective. The series is totally on the right side of social history, but on the completely wrong side of the presentation style.

So yes, I recommend this series with that big caveat of a paragraph above. I fast forwarded those scenes, and watched the rest of it because the rest was cinema (or TV) at its finest. Needless to say, this is not for kids, and I think, not even for many adults. For others who can stomach the crudeness, or can ignore it, this is a must watch.



Saturday, March 16, 2019

Westworld Season 2

Review : Westworld (Season 2)
Aired On : HBO (2016-)
My Rating : 6 out of 10

NOTE : This is a review of Season 2 of Westworld. If you have not watched Season 1, this review may contain spoilers for Season 1. You can read the Season 1 review here.

To be honest, I wasn’t eagerly looking forward to the Season 2 of Westworld at all. In Season 1, all the discussions about the true nature of consciousness, followed by the bloodbath at the end,  gave a clear indication of where things will lead up in the second season. Yes, I was a bit curious as to how the writers would take it there, and I was worried that they will mess it up like Matrix did.

I was right about worrying, but wrong about the reasons. If I have to characterize what went wrong, I would say this. The writers forgot a simple and eternal adage - Everything is good in moderation.

Now, you can say that about Season 1 as well, where the mayhem, the degenerate behavior and the technical mumbo jumbo, all were definitely overdone. But there were many other pluses. The visuals were stunning. There was a neat trick that eventually got revealed - the multiple timelines. There was a payoff - how these timelines came together. There were interesting twists - as to who is human and who is the robot. And you could root for someone - in my case - the robots.

Season 1 was definitely smart. In spite of the minuses, we can all agree that it was a well made series that challenged your gray cells. 

Now take all those tricks and multiply them by some large number, and all of a sudden the positives become negatives. This season in its attempt to multiply the smartness, just ends being a confusing mess. I have no problem admitting it that I couldn’t keep track of the many timelines and how the presentation interweaves them. Honestly, I just gave up and didn’t care. I am sure I am not alone, and I can wager a bet that I am in the majority.

Many movies are structurally difficult to follow by design. The right amount of difficulty keeps the interest high. Long long time ago, I remember being awed by Memento. I had to watch it again to make sure that I understood it. It was worth the effort. But, there is no way I am going to watch a ten hour series all over again to make sure I got it. No, I will just give up. I don’t have that much time.

The overwhelming and confusing mixing of multiple stories in multiple timelines is not the only problem here. Some of the twists - like who is human, and who created whom - are so outlandish, that they feel forced, just to shock you. I am not sure if these make sense in the big picture, maybe they do. But I really don’t care. Some of the storylines are long and boring. They add little value. There is a setting in the style of Japanese Samurai era. In the beginning the visuals and the parallels with another prominent storyline are very interesting. But it overstays its welcome, and drags to a point where I was seriously considering fast forwarding the whole thing.

As you can imagine, I was very frustrated with this season. I most likely will give Season 3 a try, but if the writers oversaturate the script with the same techniques, I may give up on this series forever. Stunning visuals and good acting is not enough to justify spending so much time.

So my recommendation is to watch this season, with the hope that season 3 would not repeat these same mistakes. This is absolutely correctly rated as TV-MA and not for kids. 


Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Great Unknown



Book Review : The Great Unknown
Author : Marcus du Sautoy
My Rating : 4 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is “The Great Unknown: Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science”.

Author Marcus du Sautoy has chosen to take a “one pot meal” approach in this book and has greatly succeeded. It’s a tour of the areas of scientific knowledge that we struggle to find answers, and which have a strong possibility that the questions there may remain forever unanswered.

This is a challenging task. You can easily find full length books on each of the seven topics covered here. Condensing them to just one section of a book comes with a two pronged risk. Either it can become a shallow overview that’s too simplified, or it can become too narrow, focused only on certain aspects. To his immense credit, the author has managed that balance extremely well in first five sections. The final two sections were good too, but did not impress me as much as the previous sections.

The first section explains the recent branch of mathematics “Chaos Theory”, famous for the commonly referred, and commonly misunderstood “Butterfly Effect”. This section explains how a small gap in initial conditions of certain systems can lead to very large differences in eventual outcomes. The next section is about matter. Currently our experimentally verified understanding stops at quarks, the smallest building blocks of matter. Will we ever know if this is really the limit? There is a lot of “stuff” that we don’t know much about, like dark matter and dark energy. As you can expect the next two sections are about Quantum Physics and Universe, respectively. Quantum Physics literally puts a limit on our knowledge. At the largest scale, Black Holes and Multiverses may limit what we can know. The next section, and the last one about Physics is on “Time”. 

All those sections are well written, well explained and fun to read. The next section is first to veer directly into philosophy - Consciousness. The author prefers to look at using his mathematical lens to examine what it means to have consciousness. It’s an interesting approach, and I learned about advances in this field that of course are not covered by books on physics. Still, I felt this section wasn’t as deep as previous sections. The last section, at least to me, should have been the most exciting. It tackles the limits of mathematics, using Godel’s theorems and Cantor’s theorems about infinity. Godel’s theorems are simple to state, but trying to understand them is dizzying. Their importance for axiomatic systems (such as Mathematics) is monumental. I don’t think this section does justice to the beauty and creativity involved in these theorems. I learned something new about the theory of infinity (specifically the continuum) and it felt great.

Each section has a very personal touch. The author is not shy in admitting his preferences, biases and his struggles to understand many of these concepts. Each section also has dialogues with one or more prominent intellectual forces of that field. All this makes the book easier to read.

It’s a long book, and needs some investment of time from the reader. I think it’s worth it. You don’t have to read it in one go, and can take a pause between sections. It’s a nice tour of many prominent fields of knowledge where we are trying hard to push the limits of knowability. It’s especially useful to those who read only a few books on science if at all, because a lot is covered in one single book. So take your time, and read this one.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Bhai - Vyakti Ki Valli

Movie Review : Bhai - Vyakti Ki Valli - Poorvardh
Director : Mahesh Manjrekar 
Genre : Biopic
Language : Marathi
Starring : Sagar Deshmukh, Iravati Harshe, Sachin Khedekar
Released : 2018
My Rating : 7 out of 10

As the movie opens, there is a very short voiceover by Sunitabai Deshpande. She mentions, in a companionship of 54 years, there would naturally be ups and downs. As beautiful as that voiceover is, that is also true about this movie. There are ups and downs. 

This is the first installment of the biopic on the life of the greatest Marathi cultural icon ever, Pu. La. Deshpande. There is absolutely no need for me to write anything about his greatness. Every Marathi speaking person knows everything (or should know), and if you are not a Maharashtrian, it is very hard to convey the full scope of his enormous impact on Marathi ethos. So let’s just look at this purely as a movie.

This installment covers the life of Pu.La., as we all call him, (or Bhai as he was referred to in his social circle) from his childhood in Mumbai to his stint as a professor in Belgaum. The movie is at its strongest, when it depicts the family interactions. The main characters, Pu. La (Sagar Deshmukh), and his wife Sunitabai (Iravati Harshe) have been developed fairly well. Even with limited screen time, the characters of his parents have been reasonably sketched out. Throughout their interactions, it’s clear that the movie does not want to put Pu.La. on a pedestal like God, which is a correct decision. There are many memorable scenes in this part, be it the hilarious marriage scene, or the emotional scene of a difficult decision by Sunitabai. Such parts of the movie will remain in our memories.

That was the up part. Unfortunately there is very little depth in the scenes covering Pu.La.’s artistic achievements. These parts of the movie seem more like a nostalgic documentary rather than a powerful drama. To some, the nostalgia it generates is perhaps strong enough to overlook the flatness. But so many personalities have been hemmed in such a way, that it feels, it’s done just for the sake of it. Now, the addition of the famous characters on which many essays in “Vyakti aani Valli” are based on, is indeed a nice touch, and a small positive in this. The big exception to the flatness, is the song on which the movie ends. A pure treat to ears, and the picturization of that whole scene is memorable. 

The pleasant surprise to me was the casting. Not only is the acting really good, but the actors also resemble the real life characters. Even if they hadn’t announced the names, it would have been very easy to guess. Sagar Deshmukh has a very difficult role to play here. Everyone in Maharashtra is going to critically evaluate every nuance of his performance. I was happy with his portrayal. 

The best thing about the movie is of course Iravati Harshe. She was able to bring forth the personality of Sunitabai exactly as I had expected. Many details must have been picked from her book “Aahe Manohar Tari …”, especially the detail about the pomegranate. If you haven’t read that book, you need to correct that mistake real fast. Every scene that has Iravati Harshe in it has a spark that’s often missing from other scenes.

Mahesh Manjrekar is perhaps the most capable director in Marathi movies today. After movies like Kaksparsh and Natsamrat, I had high expectations from this movie. It’s a good movie, just not a great movie. I definitely recommend it. The decision to release it in two parts could have been made with an eye towards box office revenue, but it’s also true that Pu.La.’s achievements are too numerous to cover. Even if they had released it in three parts, I would have still paid to watch all the parts.  


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Gifted

Movie Review : Gifted
Director : Marc Webb
Genre : Drama
Starring : Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Lindsay Duncan, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate
Released : 2017
My Rating : 8 out of 10

The economics of movies that fall under the “Drama” genre is quite different than a big budget action blockbuster. That sometimes results in a good drama flying under the radar, which happened with “Gifted” for me. Well, it turned out to be a pleasant surprise when I watched it at home.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man living in Florida. His primary job involves repairing boats, but his goal in life is to give a “normal” childhood to his niece Mary (Mckenna Grace). As the movie progresses, his reasons for this desire become clearer and clearer to us. One reason is established right at the beginning of the movie, that Mary is exceptionally gifted at Math. Frank resists attempts by the local school to send Mary to a special school. It seems that he wants to keep a low profile, but his fears come true. His mother, and Mary’s grandmother, Evelyn Adler (Lindsay Duncan) learns about Mary being a prodigy and wants to take control of her upbringing. When Frank refuses, she takes the matter to the court.

Through the court proceedings and in the interactions between the characters, we start learning about the past. This slow unpeeling is one of the major strengths of the movie. The other is the interactions between the characters. These interactions are realistic and never over-the-top, and each has a unique shade. Frank and Mary, is not just a parent-child relationship, they are close friends too. Frank refers to his mom with her first name, and their interactions have an edge of bitterness, but they are not hostile. Frank and Mary have a great neighbor, Roberta (Octavia Spencer), and her love for Mary is genuine. Frank’s interactions with Mary’s teacher Bonnie (Jenny Slate) are more of a side story, but they add a nice warm hue to the picture.

Stories such as this, can drown into melodrama. Not here. Everyone, the director, writer and all the actors keep everything on realistic grounds. Director Marc Webb has a lot to his credit than the Spiderman movies, but for Chris Evans this is a different ball game than Captain America. They have teamed up well. Overall, the writing and direction is such that, in just a few strokes, each character comes out as a complete person rather than a caricature. It would have been easy to show Evelyn as a all controlling witch of a person, but then that would have been a cliche. I really like it when movies strike a balance between emotional impact and reality.

It would have also been a cliche, and an irritating one, if the portrait of Mary had come across as precocious. The script keeps her a normal child for the most part, and as an actress, the young Mckenna Grace is extra-ordinary. Even on the rare occasions where she gets dialogues that are beyond the age of the character, she makes it completely believable. She is indeed a gifted child.

This is a simple and heart warming movie. The story may feel generic based on reviews, and trailers, but the movie is definitely not. It may evoke memories of “Rainman” or “Kramer vs Kramer” or “Proof”, but it has an independent place of existence on its own. It’s correctly rated PG-13, and would be safe for most teenagers. I highly recommend it as a satisfying movie experience.



Sunday, November 18, 2018

Golden



Book Review : Golden
Author : Marcus Thompson
My Rating : 3 out of 5

The complete title of the book is “Golden : The Miraculous Rise of Steph Curry”.

Even though I am addicted to watching sports, reading about personal life of sports personalities, is something that I have absolutely no interest in. So I am not sure why I picked up this book. Perhaps I thought it will improve my understanding of the sport, that I have fallen in love with for last 10 years or so.

I didn’t grow up with Basketball around me, and I have never played the sport. Even after I moved to USA, I didn’t watch Basketball for many years. My interest grew when I started understanding the game a bit, started appreciating the fadeaway jump shots of Kobe, then the completeness of LeBron and now this jaw dropping shooting by Steph Curry. So when I read the title, I was intrigued.

Author Marcus Thompson is a sports columnist, which turns out to be a big plus as well as a big minus for this book. The entire book feels like a big newspaper column, and not in the best possible way. There is very detailed play-by-play description of many games. So many that I started just skipping these multi-page replays. I think this book would have been greatly benefited by a good editor who would have ruthlessly chopped down the running commentary of so many games.

In between these lengthy game recaps, there is good information and insight sprinkled in. You will learn about Steph’s childhood, his family, his values, his hard work and his determination. I would have preferred a better structure to this information, as it feels arranged a bit randomly in different chapters. You will also find some new information here that was never mentioned in sports columns before.

One thing that I would highlight is the candid discussion about race and privilege. Curry, unlike many other basketball players, did not have to battle financial adversity in his childhood. As a son of an NBA player, his childhood was comparatively comfortable. The adversity he has faced is due to his smaller relative size on the court, and he has overcome it with spades. Still, he is not “black enough” for many. This particular discussion was very illuminating me. I applaud the author for being very forthright and open about this issue.

The book is written from the point of view of a fan, so expect little criticism of Steph here. I am ok with it, as I was not looking for a bland balanced approach anyways. 

I can only offer a lukewarm recommendation. I have no idea how a die-hard Basketball fan, already with a lot of insight, will feel about this book. How much new would he or she find in this book, is something I cannot say. For a casual fan, this can be an interesting book to read.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Rubaai 11

रुबाई क्रमांक ११

मी कसे म्हणू की जग हे सारे स्वार्थी होते
वेळप्रसंगी आप्तही आले नाही होते
नियम हा विश्वाचा, येता सूर्य माथ्यावरती
गायब ती सावली देखील स्वतःची होते

Loose translation :
How can I say that the rest of the world is just selfish
When even my own friends didn’t offer help in time of need
When the scorching sun is at the highest in the sky

It’s a universal fact that even your own shadow deserts you

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Hand Of God

Series Review : Hand Of God
Aired on : Amazon Prime
My Rating : 6 out of 10

If you like watching TV Series, this is a great time to indulge. Everyone is trying to produce longer content hoping to jump on the viewers’ binge train. I have started trying out Amazon series only recently, even though I have been a Prime member for a long time now.

Amazon’s original “Hand Of God” is based on an interesting premise. The lead protagonist believes that God is directing him to deliver justice. Pernell Harris (Ron Perlman) is a morally corrupt judge in a fictional California town of San Vicente. He comes from a rich powerful family that has lot of influence on this town.  His son PJ (Johnny Ferro) has been in coma for many months, inflicted by a suicide attempt after being forced to watch his wife getting raped. Police have not been able to make any progress, and the case appears to becoming an unsolved mystery. PJ’s wife Jocelyn (Alona Tal) decides to end her husband’s agony by taking him off life support. In complete despair, Pernell suffers a breakdown and starts hearing God talking to him via PJ. This is the synopsis of just the pilot episode!

Pernell starts following the clues which he believes are being sent to him by God. These clues surprisingly help him in solving the mystery one step at a time. He enlists KD (Garret Dillahunt) a believer and a criminal, to do his dirty work. Helping Pernell along the way of faith, is a couple with dubious past, Preacher Paul Curtis (Julian Morris) and Alicia Hopkins (Elizabeth McLaughlin). Pernell’s wife Crystal (Dana Delany) is a pragmatist, but not less corrupt. She tries to keep things in control with the help of Bobo Boston (Andre Royo) - who is a family friend, and the sly mayor of the city.

As you can see, this is a rich palette that promises a complex canvass. That promise remains only half fulfilled. The main reason for this is the parallel storylines of the script, because the acting is generally good. On the plus side, the main storyline works really well as a mystery. The viewer gets enough information to figure out the mystery via the visions Pernell get. The resolution of the mystery is satisfying, because it’s not dumbed down in some explanation. The rest of the plotlines suffer from varying degrees of superfluousness. Yes, each of the plotlines has surprises, twists and tries hard to be engaging. That doesn’t help, because these bylines are so obviously irrelevant. On top of that, almost all the characters are un-relatable, and unlikeable. It’s hard to cheer for anyone except the mayor.

The script contains many other elements than mystery. For some reasons, not give enough space has been given to the tragedy element to impact us. The subplot related to the preacher couple, may be controversial and offend some viewers. I am not a religious person, and I found it interesting in the beginning but later it became a distraction. Nevertheless, the novelty of all this, is a big plus. These elements are uncommon.  The political machinations are mildly interesting, but that’s something we have seen before. The plot is indeed multi-dimensional, but the characters are close to being uni-dimensional. The tone of the entire season is a big plus. It’s serious, dark and humor is nearly absent. 

I can only give a mixed recommendation for this series. Sometimes it’s engaging, sometimes it drags. Although I was overall satisfied with the first season, I am unsure if I will watch the second and concluding season. Maybe they should have cut the superfluous material and made this a single season series. It’s correctly rated TV-MA and in my opinion, not for teenagers.


Saturday, October 13, 2018

Rising Out Of Hatred

Book Review : Rising out of Hatred
Author : Eli Saslow
My Rating : 5 out of 5

The complete title of the book is “Rising out of Hatred : The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist”.

Just 3-4 years ago, a well known thought leader of White Nationalism, Derek Black, renounced his cause and turned into a liberal. He wasn’t just some leader, he was looked at as “The” future leader. As a son of a former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, as an eloquent speaker, very polished in debates, with a radio show that was widely popular among the followers, as the main speaker at their conferences, he was the rising star and universally loved by White Nationalists. And all this even before he was in college. In changing his positions, he had to publicly admit that he was wrong, and proclaim that the views he once espoused were dangerous. He had no choice but to go against his father, his family and cause them great emotional stress. He had to accept the danger that he will be labeled as a “traitor to the cause”. But he did the right thing. Because he clearly understood how illogical his ideas were, and how much harm they can cause. And he had to fight against those ideas.

This is an incredible story of transformation, courage and honesty. If I had watched such a story in a Hollywood movie, I would have most likely shaken my head in disbelief. “Such things don’t happen in real life”, is what I would have said. But reality is indeed stranger than fiction. That may be a cliche, but it’s true here.

I learned about this book on “The Daily Show” where both the Pulitzer Prize winning author Eli Saslow and Derek Black appeared together. I got so intrigued by the interview that I had to read this book, and I am glad I did.

The story is incredible, and Eli Saslow’s writing is smooth and gripping. This is not a story that can be written with politically safe language. It’s just not possible. This book tells things as they are. This is a history of last few years. As Derek Black was transforming himself from a White Nationalist into a liberal, at the same time, the Republican Party was transforming itself from a conservative party to Trump’s party. Many of the ideas of the White Nationalists which were considered fringe a few years ago, were becoming mainstream and foundational to the new Trump party. What the White Nationalists were hoping to happen for many many years, was suddenly happening with Trump (and of course his team) taking the charge. They were speaking the same language, expressing the same victimhood and proposing the same talking points. While Derek was giving up these ideas that he once promoted on his radio show, those exact same ideas were actually being taken up by the Presidential candidate of the Republican Party. 

These two separate but opposite transformations have been very superbly captured by the author. I am sure, given the current state of affairs, many people on the right, and especially Trump supporters would not like reading these details. But the author has no qualms in stating the facts and writing with complete candor. As many of us know and argue, he documents how the transformation of the Republican party started with the election of President Barack Obama. It was then aided by Fox News and completed by our current President Trump and his team.

It’s not just ironic, it horrified Derek. His transformation took place over the years when he was in college, with help from his unlikely friends which included one deeply religious Jewish friend and one immigrant from South America. His girlfriend was instrumental in challenging his views with facts after facts very patiently presented over many many months. But it was personal. He did not want to make a public scene out of it. But Donald Trump’s rise was the reason he decided to write editorials in liberal newspapers including The New York Times. He felt a personal responsibility to oppose the direction taken by the new politics of our country.

It is impossible to not feel respect for Derek Black. Very few people like to admit, even to themselves that they were wrong. To do it publicly, and going against their family is extremely rare. To do so at this extent - from a White Nationalist to a Liberal - is unheard of. And remember, all this in his twenties. It’s not just that he did it, but why he did it. As the book demonstrates, Derek changed his views, because of his analytical and highly intelligent mind. When presented with facts, it became clear to him that he was horribly wrong.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Especially if you are leaning on the Republican side of the spectrum and even more so, if you are a Trump supporter. No, I am not naive to think that anyone would change their mind by reading a book. But at least to some people, it will be help understand why many of us think that the politics of Trump is so dangerous to the fabric of our society. Well that’s my hope. Not expecting any agreement, just a bit of understanding.


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