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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Book Review – ‘The Silkworm’ by Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling)

Hard to remember these days that there was a time you had to wait for the ink and paper reviews to see your work excoriated. With the invention of the internet, any subliterate cretin can be Michiko Kakutani.

-- Robert Galbraith, The Silkworm.

Cormoran Strikes Again!

Despite her pseudonym cover having been blown after her very first novel as Robert Galbraith, JK Rowling has returned as Robert Galbraith with another amazing whodunit, The Silkworm. It is the second novel (in what is now rumoured to be a seven novel series like Harry Potter) featuring the private investigator duo of Cormoran Strike and his assistant Robin Ellacott who first appeared in The Cuckoo’s Calling published in April 2013. The Silkworm has unfortunately received slightly less press and publicity than The Cuckoo’s Calling partly because of the surprise of the pseudonym having worn off and partly because the book’s sales and publicity have been hampered by the ongoing Amazon-Hachette dispute.

the_silkworm__spanThe novel opens with Strike unexpectedly entertaining Leonora Quine’s request to help look for her husband, the arrogant and eccentric author Owen Quine who is missing for several days and later turns up dead, turning it into a murder mystery. We slowly learn how the death has occured closely on the heels of the leak of his latest manuscript, Bombyx Mori which is a revengeful masterpiece. Bombyx Mori (Latin for The Silkworm) is a book full of thinly veiled references to almost all the people in his life, portraying his lovers, agent, publishers and editor is an extremely negative light. This book which has potential to libel almost everyone in Quine’s world thus opens up an extremely wide field of suspects who have a motive for murdering Quine. We are presented with a cast of several memorable characters, all complete with their own interesting idiosyncrasies. With most of the characters in the novel shown to be associated in one way or the other with the publishing industry, it is impossible to not wonder if Rowling has based some of them on persons she herself has dealt with in the publishing world.

While, Cormoran Strike the one-legged, gruff former military police (also son of a famous rockstar) who is described as a 6-feet 3-inches tall Cornish bloke with boxer's broad nose and thick, surly brows was already introduced in The Cuckoo’s Calling, in The Silkworm we learn more about his friends and family, many of whom he has to call upon to ease his way with the investigation. We also see him continuing to deal with the agony of having finally ended the matters with his extraordinarily beautiful, high society fiancé with whom he has been in a relationship off and on for sixteen long years. Showing the continuity from the previous book we also see him having to deal with the consequences of his unexpected fame following his success in unravelling the mystery of a super model’s death in the previous novel.

Strike continues to be aided by his assistant Robin, a pretty girl, tall and curvaceous, with long strawberry-blonde hair. In The Silkworm, now being a regular employee rather than a temp, Robin’s struggle between her relationship and work comes to the fore. Throughout the tale she has to work around the issue of both the important men in her life being dismissive of her career aspirations. Rowling has continued to use Robin to subtly highlight the problems faced by the working women while at the same time she also tantalises us with some moments of sexual tension between the two leads. Robin’s issues with her largely unsupportive fiancé and Strike’s misery over his ex-fiancé leaves the reader pining for a romantic angle between the two leads.

Strike’s approach to investigation is disciplined and consists of interviews with the suspects coupled with collection of clues and logical deductions. When the long series of interviews slowly begins to feel repetitive, we come across several red herrings strategically embedded in the narrative, to keep the reader guessing. The narrative moves much slower than many other popular crime novels or mysteries but the deft plotting ensures that the reader keeps flipping the pages. At 453 pages the novel does seem a tad bit too long for the limited story that it encompasses and might have felt better had it been slightly faster paced. The ending is beautifully crafted with a clever twist in the tale that I did not manage to anticipate. Only after reading the end do you see the clues scattered strategically through the narrative. However, Rowling reveals that the protagonists have cracked the mystery while the reader has to follow them through almost another 75 pages to discover how they deduced the identity of the killer. I find this style very annoying but with web of clues and leads unfolding, it is impossible not to continue reading.

Writing as Robert Galbraith, Rowling sheds her sanitized language of the Harry Potter series and the characters use expletives rather liberally. She has also not held back on any of the gory details and descriptions of death, making the scene where the dead body is discovered especially gut wrenching. Characters’ dialogue is also peppered with her views on various matters of contemporary interest. Strike and his lawyer friend mention the phone hacking scandal and the status of legal aid respectively while many of the other characters also reflect on the publishing industry. Some of the more memorable lines are -

If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels.

 You can’t plot murder like a novel. There are always loose ends in real life.

Like most writers, I tend to find out what I feel on a subject by writing about it. It is how we interpret the world, how we make sense of it.

Fancourt can't write women,' said Nina dismissively. 'He tries but he can't do it. His women are all temper, tits and tampons.

Though the book is slower than most novels that I love to read, it is an absolute joy and pleasure to read The Silkworm. Rowling is a master of character development and at the end I not only felt like I knew rhr protagonists for ages but also remembered the quirky details of all the minor characters whom she has so expertly fleshed out. Rowling's amazingly detailed descriptions coupled with her deft plotting which keeps you curious throughout ensured that the book was unputdownable.

All in all, it was a great read and I cannot wait to read about Strike and Robin's next case!

Rating : 8/10

You can buy The Silkworm & The Cuckoo's Calling for a discounted price at Flipkart!

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

 


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Best Twitter reactions to Suárez biting Chiellini!


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Suárez having decided to prove that the proverb “Once bitten, twice shy” applies only to the victim and not the perpetrator, bit Italy’s Chiellini, making him the third opponent to be bitten by Suárez in his playing career.
 
Predictably enough twitter exploded and how…

Monday, June 9, 2014

Mumbai Metro – Day 1 Ride

Extremely overbudget, extremely delayed but the much awaited and much controversial, first phase of the Mumbai Metro (built by Anil Ambani’s Reliance Infrastructure) is finally open to the public!

Not only did I ride it on the very first day, I also managed to board the exact same one which the Chief Minister boarded when he declared the line open, earlier in the morning today! It was the one decorated with flowers!DSC01070DSC01027-001

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a video of it pulling into the station!

One of the best things about the metro is the creativity of the posters and signage! Check it out -

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8th June being the day the metro was inaugurated, it was extremely crowded!

Mumbai Metro 

 

Also interestingly enough, though in response to the earlier controversies, the name has been settled as ‘Mumbai Metro’ some evidences of the old ‘Reliance Metro’ nomenclature still persist!

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However, new controversies regarding pricing are still looming. While I could avail of the introductory Rs. 10 fare, Reliance Infrastructure is hell bent on implementing Rs. 10 – 40 fares while MMRDA wants the fares to be between Rs. 10 – 13! Reliance’s proposed fare chart has already been put up -

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All in all, it was a fun ride exploring, Mumbai’s newest mass transit system!

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The first phase of te Mumbai Metro is a very welcome development but a lot more transport infrastructure is going to be needed to satisfy all of this ever growing city's infrastruture needs... 



Thursday, May 22, 2014

Highway Gomantak - A Quick Review


On 16th May, after several hours of simultasking between internship work and frenzied election result tracking and discussions across WhatsApp and Twitter, a hasty plan was put together to meet and have seafood. After a lot of confusion about which restaurant to patronise, I finally suggested Highway Gomantak, which I had often heard, dishes out the best maharashtrian seafood. Since I started eating seafood when I used to live in Singapore, I myself hardly know much of the local Maharashtrian delicasies and was eager to try out the place myself. 

 Decor & Service

Image Source : http://bandra.info/
The place derives its name from the fact that it is located right off the Western Express Highway in Bandra East. A simple board in Devnagri above a small door as pictured, welcomes you to the restaurant. Though I liked the simple setting, I was quite surprised by the lack of air conditioning.

Inside the restaurant, there is not much decor to speak of. The food is served in steel plates and bowls on a wooden table. While our group of four could comfortable manage on their table meant for six, the seating is rather cramped and we would have been uncomfortable had we been a larger party. The service also wasnt much impressive as we had to wait for a considerable amount of time before anyone bothered to come to take our orders and even then, the server wasnt very interested in helping us to make a choice.

 The Food

The food is where Highway Gomantak makes up for all its other (slight) lackings. When we went there, the system seemed to be that everyone orders a la carte starters i.e. fried fish and one of their many thalis as the main course. Though everyone around us seemed to be having fried bombil (bombay duck), we opted for a couple of plates of surmai fry (kingfish fry) which turned out to be fried with a deliciously crispy coating.

Mr. AA having surmai!
Each thali at Highway Gomantak comprises of rice, solkadi (a pinkish maharashtrian appetiser made from coconut milk), bits of onion, green chutney and chapati (or tandlachi (rice flour) bhakri) along with whichever seafood or chicken gravy you choose. While Mr. AA, was afraid of fishbones getting stuck in his throat and ordered surmai again, the rest of us opted for a different taste.

Ms. AM was surprised to find that the prawns in her prawn curry though plentiful, were tiny in comparison to what she was used to back home. However, even the Calcutta native admitted that the rich brown gravy was lipsmacking good.

Mr. AD ordered the Mori Masala thali, not because he knew what it entailed or had any idea of what it would taste like, but simply because he was excited seeing the dish described on the menu as Mori (SHARK) Masala. The idea of eating a sea monster enraptured him. 

I ordered teesrya (clams) masala thali which turned out to be a drier dish without much gravy compared to the rest. However, Highway Gomantak thoughtfully adds a small bowl of tangy orange gravy to have with the rice. I had to specifically ask for tandlachi bhakri because if you do not, the service staff simply presumes that you shall have the chapati. 

Highway Gomantak also offers the authentic maharashtrian dessert called kharvas which is a rare delicasy which not many restaurants carry on their menu. So we ended our meal at Highway Gomantak by sharing a plate of kharvas between us. 

Though all the main dishes in our thalis shared the masala nomenclature, each tasted disntinct and complemented the meat it accompanied. Everything that we ordered was delicious in its own way. So Highway Gomantak is not the sort of place where they have the same base gravy for any and every dish that you order.

Our meal which left us reasobnably fell set us back by only about Rs. 360 each which reflects very good and affordable pricing. Considering the rates, the slight lack of decor and service can be easily excused and this place is definitely the most value for money sea food restaurant that I have been to in Mumbai.

For anyone visiting Mumbai, and wanting to have good local seafood, I would definitely recommend this restaurant over its more famous (and much more costlier) counterparts such as Mahesh Lunch Home or Gajalee. 
Though after 8pm the heat did not bother us much, I might be much more apprehensive about visiting this place for lunch during the summer.

Overall I would rate this place : 8/10

P.S. - Despite my best efforts and photography overenthusiasm I often fail to capture the best moments. On the road to the rear of this building is an amazing icecream place where we polished off a few scoop of amazing tasting Litchee and Berry flavoured ice-creams while loudly debating and placing friendly wagers about who shall get what ministerial berths. Making several loud snide comments about several possible ministeral candidates, we were blissfully unaware about the surroundings and the fact that the others in the parlour could have been amongst the171,459,286 BJP voters. I do not even remember the name of the place. I hope I shall be able to find it again. :(

UPDATE (30/05/2014) : Anonymous commentor and Ms. AM have kindly let me know that the name of that really nice Ice Cream place is Kamath Icecream! Thanks folks!



For my previous food and restaurant review posts see-

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I was wrong… The Modi wave was a Tsunami! Reflections on the election result.

Just a few days ago, I blogged about my predictions regarding the general election result. I predicted about 240-250 seats for the NDA and that turned out to be absolutely wrong. I underestimated the Modi wave completely. Here are my few quick reflections. Better late than never.

  • Local candidates hardly mattered

My prediction regarding Congress holding on to its Mumbai seats went completely out of the window as a BJP new comer such as Poonam Mahajan manages to unseat Congress veteran Priya Dutt. While many of the Congress ministers who lost totally had it coming because of anti incumbency (the negative image of the government), I was really surprised that veteran and well qualified Congress leaders such as Nandan Nilekani, Naveen Jindal, Priya Dutt and Milind Deora also lost their seats. This is seen most clearly from the fact that Jaswant Singh, the former BJP stalwart who contested his old seat of Barmer in Rajasthan as an independent, also lost to the BJP candidate there. People voted for parties rather than the candidates and this maybe the reason why despite the renewed and intense focus on criminalisation of politics during the last couple of years, the people voted into office a Lok Sabha with the most number of “criminal MPs” till date.

 

  • Presidential style election / Rahul Gandhi disaster 

Though he was not a part (not a minister) of the corruption ridden UPA government which the electorate rejected, many people can be seen attributing much of the failure of the Congress Party to his leadership. The latest viral internet sensation is whycongresslost.in, a website with Rahul Gandhi’s campaign gaffes called created by Ashish Virmani, (@virmani ) an engineer at twitter.

The reason why Rahul Gandhi’s shortcomings were highlighted and UPA’s achievements (modest or vast) were largely ignored was because, the BJP by its very early selection of a PM candidate, managed to turn the election into a presidential style one. Votes were asked in the name of Narendra Modi rather than the BJP and the people were shown the dreams of a “Modi Sarkar” rather than a “BJP government”. Rahul Gandhi absolutely paled in comparison to Modi when promoted as a visionary leader. Not only were his speeches seen to be boring, but also his television interviews might have worsened his support rather than galvanising it. It is an ominous sign that even in his super safe seat of Amethi, Rahul Gandhi did trail his BJP opponent Smriti Irani for a significant duration on the morning of the counting day (the 16th) before finally edging over her when all the votes were counted.

I think that by now Rahul Gandhi’s reputation is so battered that it may never recover and that a change of leadership might be the most appropriate path for the INC if it has any hopes at all of reviving itself.

 

  • AAP disaster 

On result day, AAP seemed to be Aam Aadmi Punjab, for Punjab alone elected into office 4 AAP MPs while all AAP failed to open its account in all the other states including its home turf, Delhi. Though in late 2013 and early 2014 AAP dominated the headlines and focused the spotlight on issues relating to corruption, their resignation from the Delhi Council of Ministers not only almost irretrievable damage their own reputation but also seems to have allowed BJP’s media team to set the agenda and bring the focus away from corruption as a whole to  Modi and his own model of development.

I personally believe that though Modi managed to capture the imagination of the nation in 2014, the malaise of corruption is still an issue that is important to the voters. With Modi in Delhi already, corruption might again become important when states go to polls and BJP will find it hard to win Assembly elections simply on Modi’s name. Though AAP is down, it may not yet be out and there is surely a good scope for revival.

 

  • An end (atleast temporarily) of the coalition era

With 282 seats in its kitty, the BJP has won an absolute majority on its own strength! Something, that I had thought will not ever happen in my lifetime. With the rapid proliferation of small and regional parties, it seemed in the recent years that coalition politics was here to stay in India for a really long time.

A stable government is probably the best thing that shall come out of this election. Much too often, the UPA either had to backtrack on its decisions or not take decisions at all because of the threats of withdrawal of support by the allied parties. Also, many of the scams that tarred the UPA, were perpetrated by ministers from the allied parties, rather than Congress itself.

With a majority of its own, the BJP can credibly promise an end to the policy paralysis and the new government will not have excuses or scapegoats to blame if they fail to lead and deliver on their promises.

 

Just as my election result predictions were totally wrong, I hope my apprehensions regarding the Modi/BJP government are proved wrong as well. The country has reposed its faith in Mr. Modi and in the form of a single party majority, handed a massive opportunity for the BJP to prove itself and give the country the good governance it deserves. I hope the Modi govt manages to take up the mantle to give the country the good governence it deserves. Bring on the achhe din!


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