Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I've been tagged!

Just cant resist a tag - especially if it's to do with books. Thanks, 30in2005! :)

1. What is the total number of books you've owned?

I had a collection of about 250 books, lovingly collected from when I was a kid - birthday presents, gifts from my parents, cousins, friends etc - before my grandfather "donated" them to a library despite my objections. Oh well. I now have five boxes of books and one of assorted comics that are stored in the shed because there's no space in the house at the moment. The spare cupboard is getting filled up again as well, so I'm making a guess that I have about 500. But I'll be able to make a proper head count when we move to a bigger place. Watch this space! :)

2. What is the last book you bought?

Jodi Picoult - My Sister's Keeper. She's pretty good, especially when you read her for the first time. Once you get hooked and follow up with the rest of her books, you quickly discover she writes to a formula. But within the confines of that formula, her writing rocks. She's GOOD and has the ability to make you read faster and faster just to see how the damn book ends. That's good writing. Just make sure you dont read all her books one after the other.

3. What is the last book you've read?

Joanna Trollope's "Other People's Children". I've never read her books before, and now that I've read this one, I'm going to rectify the situation lickety split. This book is about ordinary people living ordinary lives (didnt somebody write a song to that effect? heheh...), touching on their troubles and joys and all the normal situations that dont involve rich beautiful jet-setting people and their sweat-soaked purple-prose passion on trite satin sheets!

4. What are you currently reading?

A book of (very) short stories called "Pixel Juice" by a writer called Jeff Moon... he's brilliant, weird, amazing, bewildering - that's four descriptions for the four stories I've read so far. And I have 46 more to go - yay!

5. What are the 5 books that have meant a lot to you or that you particularly enjoyed?

Difficult question... how can a lifelong book lover like me be expected to make a list of just five favourite books? Will try anyway, and this is not in any particular order:

- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I've read this book any number of times and love it afresh with every read. Such gentle humour, such a difficult, touchy subject handled with so much understanding.

- The Guns of Navarone, by Alistair Maclean. I read this first when I was in the 7th standard, I think. I dont remember for sure, but it was probably my first foray into fiction for adults. The character of wise-cracking, world-weary, cynical and yet brilliant Dusty Miller set the standards for my ideal hero for years thereafter, and Alistair Maclean was one of my favourite authors because of a refreshing lack of overt mushy romance in his novels :)

- The Tramp and The Dog, by Christine Harris. My favourite cousin gave me this book on my 12th birthday. I didnt like the book that much on my first reading - it was full of strange Romany gypsy words and I couldnt quite appreciate the storyline or the main protagonist, a good-hearted, gentle tramp. But two years later, I re-read it, and fell totally in love with the book and the tramp AND his dog. I lost this book along with my first collection (thanks, grandpa) but last year I tracked down a copy on the Net and now I'm happy to say I own it again.

- A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry. One of my favourite Indian authors, very readable and not in the least ostentatious or elaborately "Indian-geared-for-a-Western-audience".

- Blackberry Wine, by Joanne Harris (we share this one, 30in2005) - I saw Chocolat the movie before I read the book... then I read Chocolat the book and went on to read Blackberry Wine thereafter. Lovely book, lovely prose.

6. What book(s) would you wish to buy next?

Hmmm... again, I dont know where to start! But here's a quick list:

- The latest Stephen King - Cell. I'm a diehard King fan, despite occasional hiccups like "Gerald's Game" and "Rose Madder" which, frankly, were piss-poor. On the other hand, books like "It", "The Stand", "The Talisman" etc place him fairly and squarely in the list of my all-time favourite authors.

- Any new Terry Pratchett book that gets published.

- Black, White and Gold, by Kelly Holmes, winner of two gold medals in the 2004 Olympics

7. What book(s) caught your attention but you never had a chance to read?

Strictly speaking, I suppose I've had a chance to read this, considering it's been in every library - You're Joking, Mr Feynman... but I havent read it, and I aint joking either.

8. What book(s) that you've owned for so long but never read?

Easy: Tolstoy's War & Peace, Winston Churchill's "The Second World War" in 6 vols. My dad owned the books but I've never really got around to reading them. Maybe I never will.

9. Who are you going to pass this stick to (3 persons) and why

Argh... I'll tag them but since not everybody responds well to being tagged, I wont mind if they dont take it up. I have only one reason for tagging these people - I find them interesting and would LOVE to know more about their reading tastes and experiences.

I tag: MumbaiGirl



Sunday, February 19, 2006

Salman Khan - crime and punishment

So Salman Khan has been sentenced to a year in prison for poaching and given a fine as well. That's the good news. I'm glad he's been found guilty.

The bad news is that I really doubt he'll do the time, and as for the fine - Rs.5,000... it's a joke! A five-thousand rupee fine for a man who's worth millions - what was the court thinking? That pathetic amount wouldnt even BEGIN to register on Mr Khan's conscience, much less his pocket. Why couldnt the court have fined him according to his financial worth? Rs 5 lakhs... that would have been more fitting, although even that amount, I'm sure, would be small change for that so-called "actor".

And while we're on the subject of actors, calling Salman Khan's movie performances "acting" is a crime - and to have to sit through any movie starring Mr Shirtless Wooden Face... that's what I'd call cruel and unusual punishment.

But I digress. Not only did Salman Khan kill protected blackbuck, he also drove over and killed people sleeping on the pavement, back in 2002. Although that case is still ongoing (and it will probably drag on because those poor people weren't "protected" by anybody), he should be in prison a lot longer than one year. That man is a disgrace to humankind and his behaviour a slap in the face of humanity.

An orgy of violence thinly disguised as religious fervour

That's what I thought of the movie "The Passion of the Christ", directed by that born-again Christian, Mel Gibson. Yes, I know it's not a recent movie - the fact that it was being shown on TV just proves that.

Talk about gratuitous violence, though... I dont know what Mel Gibson set out to prove, but all he succeeded was in grossing me out with the cruelty he so lovingly showed in glorious technicolour. If I had been a Christian to start with (or at all religiously inclined), the movie would certainly have turned me off God on a permanent basis.

I mean, what sort of God lets His son take such terrible punishment, and for what - just for being His son? What sort of father would let his son suffer like that? I thought there was a telling comment, if I can call it that - something Jesus said in the movie that just about clinched it for me: "No man is greater than his master" (or words to that effect). In other words - and this is my take on it - if the Master, Jesus himself, is fated to undergo that sort of torture and suffering without any intervention from God, there's no hope at all whatsoever for the master's followers, mere mortals that they are. Which, I guess, is why there's so much suffering in the world.

What was the POINT of Jesus' agony and suffering, is my question. What did it prove, and what does that say to religious folks now? I do not believe that suffering makes one a better person. I cant bring myself to accept that suffering and pain are experiences that a loving God gives to his believers deliberately just to see how their faith stands up to it! Why cant religion be synonymous with happiness and joy?

Anyway, to go back to the movie - it was over-the-top and how! Did they really have to show the whipping scene for quite so long? Did the camera have to focus quite so lovingly on the blood and gore? Did the director really enjoy the brutish behaviour of Jesus' tormentors and what passed for funny for them - viz, torturing Jesus? (I can actually answer that myself: Yes! The director must have LOVED visualising it because it takes up a LARGE chunk of the movie, by god). Jesus must have taken about half a dozen spectacular falls while carrying the cross up the hill, of course while being whipped and whacked and kicked all the way. Lots of loving, close-up shots of his blood-stained teeth and bloody face. Mel Gibson must have been in the throes of an ecstatic religious fit, is all I can conclude.

One thing about the movie - and I dont remember this being mentioned anywhere - all the dialogue is in Latin or Hebrew... not in American-accented English. That was a surprise, allright.

Friday, February 10, 2006

What a dad!

We had a client in our office recently, who wanted a survey done on an old nursery school he was going to buy. People with deep pockets sometimes buy old buildings to do up and re-sell as fantastic homes - I guess some of them are property developers, but quite a few of them are private individuals who have the time, inclination and, most important, the money to get themselves a beautiful, characterful home. So there are lots of buildings that have been converted from their former avatars as whatever - railway station, school, farmhouse, barn, etc - into lovely residences. The major clue to their past is usually that they retain the description as the house name... The Old Railway Station, Old Church House, Teacher's Cottage, etc.

So when I heard that this nursery school - with some 20 rooms - was being purchased, I couldnt help wondering why, if only because it would have taken a really huge amount of money and many years' worth of permissions and planning applications to convert it into a mansion. Especially as the gentleman buying it had already bought himself a huge country house just a few months back, which also we had surveyed.

But it turned out that he didnt want to convert it to anything. He had a young son who attended that nursery school. The school building was on auction-sale because it wasnt viable and the nursery itself was going to be closed down. This was something our client did not want - because the school was conveniently close for him to drop his son off every morning, because he thought the teachers were doing a great job and, not the least, because the little lad liked his teacher very much.

So he decided to buy the school building and put in enough funds to keep the school running and its staff in jobs. THAT'S what I call a dedicated dad! I mean, how many men do you know who would buy an entire school for their son? (Or who would have the means to do it?)

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Optical illusion

Fellow vertigo sufferers will probably relate to this much easier than those who can look down from great heights without feeling the compulsion to just tip over the edge...

This was when Pete and I were driving up in Scotland, near Ben Nevis, the highest mountain. The road was extremely hilly, going up and down steeply. Every time the car reached the top of one of the humps, it was facing up at such a steep angle that I couldnt see the road ahead. I KNEW the road didnt end there. And, yet, every single time I had the completely irrational but completely convincing and deeply panicky feeling that we were at the top of a cliff and that's why I couldnt see the road ahead. I kept seeing mental images of Pete blithely driving our car onward and toppling it over the edge. I didnt tell him what I felt in case I came across as a total berk - but... brr... heights do my head in!