Tuesday, June 14, 2016

European Oddity

What unit do you use to measure liquids? Ask any person in India and you shall get a single answer. “Litre” Be it any quantity, from small to ultra huge, liquids are invariably measured in litres and litres alone. From soft drink cans to huge tankers carrying water or fuel on the roads, however big or small the quantity, the only unit used is litre.
In school we have seen this chart -

Image from: http://hinkhousescience.weebly.com/metric-mini-unit1.html 

But in real life we never really use decilitres or centilitres. Even in Singapore where metric system is used more than in India, for example centimetres are used to measure human height while most Indian stick to feet and inches, with regard to volume I never saw anybody use any unit other than litres.

In Europe however, dl or decilitres were just everywhere. The volume of all small beverages on offer was quoted either in decilitres or centilitres for really small quantities. Check out these pictures from Hungary.



This is a european oddity indeed!

Saturday, April 23, 2016


Last summer I went to Lansdowne, the beautiful hill station in Uttarakhand and absolutely loved it. I have written a travelogue of this visit for the GNLU magazine, Jury’s Out. Check it out here - https://jurysoutblog.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/lansdowne-an-eco-friendly-military-town/

It was very pleasant even in the summer. I strongly recommend it to anyone planning a summer trip!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Review: The Bestseller She Wrote by Ravi Subramanian

“He stopped his lecture soon thereafter and they broke into Q&A.” That was how the first chapter ended and it had me frowning. First chapter over, eight pages done and yet no murder! It had me scratching my head, was this a Ravi Subramanian novel at all?

Sure, the cover and the back says “Love. Betrayal. Redemption.” But then who takes the blurbs seriously? Bankerupt mentioned emu farming on the cover, but it was an out and out banking thriller i.e. exactly the fare we have come to expect from Ravi Subramanian.

So first things first, if you are a die hard Ravi Subramanian fan hoping for a traditional thriller, you are in for a shock. This book for most part is a romance novel with some elements of a thriller dropped in right at the end. After doing some digging on the internet, I found out this article where he has made it clear that with this novel he is targeting a new audience. However, I am sure that like me, many others are going to pick this up expecting something else because, by the virtue of his creative marketing efforts for his previous novels and having often been described as the John Grisham of Indian banking, as of now atleast, he has definitely been type cast as a thriller writer in the eyes of the ordinary reader.

The Bestseller She Wrote begins with the lead protagonist, Mr. Aditya Kapoor, the author of five bestsellers meeting Shreya, an aspiring author at an IIM-B campus event. The middle aged author loves the attention he gets from the young MBA grad while Shreya enjoys her access to his inputs on writing. Aditya gets her on his team at the National Bank and soon it is inevitable that the mentor-mentees shall be lovers, nevermind the fact that he is married. Though Aditya keeps getting enmeshed further and further in his lies, we are kept guessing about the genuineness of Shreya’s feelings as she alternates between expressing her love for Aditya and milking him for his publishing industry contacts. As all affairs play out, the deception is uncovered and Aditya tries to call off the affair while his wife goes through a crisis, only to find that Shreya has left him no way out. Backed into a corner, Aditya uncovers some secrets about Shreya which help him ultimately reconcile with his wife. It is towards this masala ending that Ravi Subramanian tries to make the love story seem like a thriller. But at the end, the explanations seem barely satisfactory and I was also annoyed (as I often am) by the few pages where the protagonist has found a way out of the predicament and is acting upon it but the author/narration doesn’t reveal it to us for many more pages.

All in all the story by itself is rather predictable and the ending seemed barely satisfactory. If I had to nitpick, I would also point out that some of the relationship stuff is wayyy unlikely. For example, they flirt and sext on SMS! Yes SMS in the world of WhatsApp and Snapchat. And the girl’s bestfriend is particularly pally with the girl’s boyfriend whom she doesn’t even approve of much. Like seriously? I am sure many guys wish that girl gang loyalty was so easy to breach and be able to turn one girl against the other but I have never heard of this actually happening. The more intimate scenes could also have been a little more imaginative.

That said, despite the not-so-great plot, the book does have a super redeeming quality, that kept me turning the pages. The book is flooded with references to real life events and publishing industry inside info. The protagonist Aditya Kapoor who is a superstar author keeps giving gyan about how to become a super-star author. What makes it even more interesting is that Aditya Kapoor has several traits of the current super stars of the publishing industry. He is a banker like Ravi Subramanian himself, he is from IIM and gets an offer to judge a reality show like Chetan Bhagat and is heavily involved in promoting his book like almost every author these days. I once even heard Amish promoting his book on the radio. There is so much speculation about who the protagonist is based on that some authors have put out statements to deny that they are him. (Unless that is also merely another marketing tactic from Ravi Subramanian’s team.)

Ravi Subramanian knows a fair deal about marketing his books. I got the first email about The Bestseller She Wrote from the ‘Think WhyNot’ Ad Agency, almost a month before its launch and this book has animated trailers as well! So through his protagonist, Ravi Subramanian gives us a lot of information about how books are marketed today and how celebrity authors obsess over their portrayal by the media. He even mentions book reviews from bloggers as a marketing technique! Furthermore, the book is also full of references to real life events and personalities and many of these references also seem to reflect the author’s attitude. We find reporters being called ‘presstitutes’ while Amish Tripathi and Ravi Subramanian himself are named as Grishams of Indian Banking. Nirav Singhvi also finds a mention and Anurag Kashyap is a minor character in the story. The best digs though are all aimed at Chetan Bhagat.
I don’t want a Chetan Bhagat quote. He might have seen today’s newspaper article and jumped onto the bandwagon for some quick publicity.
So finally, do pick this book if you want a time pass one time read infidelity story with an opportunity to laugh at the famous celebrity authors but if you are actually looking for an unputdownable Ravi Subramanian novel, you would be better off picking God is a Gamer or Bankerupt!

You can buy The Bestseller She Wrote from flipkart here - 

I am reviewing ‘The Bestseller She Wrote’ by Ravi Subramanian as a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers.

Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Blogadda.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Review: ‘Career of Evil’ by Robert Galbraith

CoEThe job of a detective, in my opinion is to investigate a crime that has occurred. I don’t usually like it when he himself becomes enmeshed in a crime be it as a victim, a framed suspect or in any other way. Thus though I had enjoyed reading the first two outings of Cormoran Strike, I was wary of the third novel in which Strike has a case forced upon him when his young assistant Robin Ellacott receives an amputed leg in the mail. Our protagonists are forced to crack the crime as soon as possible since the negative publicity surrounding the event threatens to destroy their budding detective practice which now includes colourful clients like a man hoping to catch his stripper girlfriend cheating and a lady gather evidence of her ex-husband’s interference with their children’s lives.

The basic plotline in relation to the ‘crime’ unfolds in a rather simple manner. The sender of the amputed leg is a serial killer who likes chopping of bits of his victims and hates Strike. So in order to track him down Strike and his assistant focus their efforts on four primary suspects who have reasons to wish revenge upon Strike.

The key thing that sets this novel apart from the earlier two in the series is that (thankfully) the book is hardly about catching the murder alone. While Robin’s engagement with her boring accountant fiancĂ©, Matthew and its contrast with the sexual tension between her and her boss was just occasionally mentioned in the first two books, it becomes an almost equally important side story in this one with enough twists and turns to rival the hunt for the serial killer. This also sets the stage for revealing to us, Robin’s past which offers some explanations for her behaviour and elements of her unique personality. Since two of the suspects crossed Strike’s path in his former career as a Military Police Officer and one is his step-dad, we learn a great deal about Strike’s past as well, thus leaving us with a much enhanced understanding of the two protagonists of the series.

This novel is also clearly the darkest of the three so far with themes ranging from paedophilia, Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID), and detailed descriptions of violence as also of Strike’s mother’s sordid sexual liaisons. The various side stories of Strike’s relationship with each of the suspects adds colour to an otherwise straight forward tracking down of four suspects and attempting to link them to the killings.

What made the straightforward storyline of this book into a great novel that I enjoyed reading was the tremendous evolution of Robin’s character and her storyline in this novel. She is the real star of this show and makes the book a great read!

You can buy it on Amazon or Flipkart!


Disclosure : I was supplied with a review copy by Hachette India.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

#GE2015 - Why can’t Singapore trust its youngsters?

It’s election time in Singapore! Most of my friends in Singapore (1992 born) shall be getting only their first opportunity ever to vote in a General Election unlike my Indian buddies who have already voted in a General Election as well as several state elections.

Though in the words of Singapore’s first Prime Minister, (Harry) Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore has moved ‘From third world to the first’, Singapore still maintains its colonial hangover of having a minimum voting age of 21 though Britain and most of the rest of the world has already reduced the voting age to 18 if not lower.

Along with Singapore, the other members of the group of countries with a high voting age are, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Tonga and Tokelau! Is this really the group of countries that Singapore wants to identify with? (Yes, neighbouring Malaysia also retains a high voting age of 21 but just because they have a colonial hangover doesn’t mean that Singapore should too. And this applies to not just the voting age but other issues such as 377A, preventive detention and judicial caning too.)

Most Commonwealth countries, and western democracies have reduced the voting age to 18 during the 1960s and 1970s. Even in Singapore’s own backyard, all ASEAN countries apart from Singapore and Malaysia allow their citizens to vote at atleast 18 years of age. Japan, one of the last developed countries also holding on to a high voting age, just recently amended its law and has reduced the voting age to 18 this year. 

“Old enough to fight, old enough to vote”

In the United States and Great Britain, one of the most prominent arguments for lowering of the age of voting was that anyone who was considered old enough to fight and die for the nation, should be considered old enough to take part in the nation’s decision making processes. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who led the American forces in Europe during the Second World War and then became the President of the United States himself stated that he believed that those who were old enough to be conscripted should be considered old enough to vote. The logic behind this argument is a fairly straightforward one, if someone is going to be sent to war, he should have a say in choosing the leaders who make those decisions regarding going to war (or not). More simplistically, if you can trust someone with handling lethal weapons (and multimillion dollars worth military technology and platforms such as fighter planes, radars and submarines), you should be able to trust them to make a simple choice for their leaders at the polling booth.

Even at the worst of times, United States has only had a ‘draft’ or ‘lottery’ system of conscription while Singapore has universal conscription for all men. Thus, the “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” argument applies just as much, if not more, to Singapore as it did to the United States. It is imperative that the Singaporeans conscripted into the SAF have the opportunity to vote for the leaders who make the decisions about their deployment.

Clumsy Justifications of the Ministry of Law, Singapore

At present the Singapore Ministry of Law justifies the high voting age by simply stating that Singapore does not have a single threshold age of majority for all purposes. Adulthood is attained through a gradual process, with a progressive increase in rights and responsibilities. The example given is that the right to drive is attained at 18 while voting and making a will is allowed only at 21. This is at best a description of the situation at hand and by no means is it an explanation or justification regarding why the voting age is 21.

Why does Singapore believe in a system where some rights are given at each threshold rather than all at 18? Even if it has to be a progressive system why the right to vote only at 21? Why cant it come before the right to drive? 

The letter by Ministry of Law representative (reproduced above) provides no answer to these questions, nor does it give any logical connection or showing how acquisition of certain rights makes citizens better enabled to choose their representatives at a later point in time. Did learning to drive or rather having the right to drive really make anybody better qualified to vote or choose a representative? I don’t think so. 

The letter also makes a reference to citizens having had work experience and NS experience by the age of 21 without demonstrating how exactly that makes one better able to gauge electoral candidates. The laws made by the Parliament affect all the citizens equally rather than just those who are employed, so there is hardly any natural link between employment and assessing candidates for parliamentary elections or their policies.

Just trust the teenagers

Unlike what the Ministry of Law believes, voting is simple matter. It is not some complex level of decision making requiring hyper maturity which young Singaporeans don’t have. All you have to do during an election is to choose a candidate who you think could represent you and your area (constituency) the best. You have to look out for your self interest. Looking for one’s self interest is such a basic human attribute that even children do not need to be taught. With one of the highest literacy rates in the world, Singaporean teens are definitely educated and mature enough to understand national policies and to evaluate candidates. Many of the polices are even discussed in the Social Studies (Combined Humanities) classes in Secondary Schools and General Paper Classes in the Junior Colleges. Similarly, teens are also exposed to the electoral process on a smaller level in the elections for students council / prefects et al in their schools.

Lastly, there is no right way to make a choice about whom to vote for that needs to be learnt. In a vibrant democracy, people choose whom to cast their votes for, for various different reasons. Some people cast their based on the party, some look at the candidates, policies are important for some while the manner of speaking / persona or charm maybe the key for others. None of this is wrong or right, it is just one of many ways in which to make a choice. As long as someone has basic education and ability to make simple decisions in self interest, it is enough. Some countries are now even moving to a 16 years voting age so the least Singapore can do is to trust its young men and women to vote at 18 like the rest of the world.

Note: One of the images used in the blogpost is a screenshot of the following webpage. The copyright over the content in the image vests with AsiaOne. Webpage -