2011 – The year I resumed reading

I had been a voracious reader since school, reading about a book a week on average. Sometime into college, my attention went to mostly technical books, and I lost touch with fiction for a few years. I resumed the habit late last year, and read around 30 books this year. These were the picks:

Books I enjoyed in 2011:

Enigma, Robert Harris:

I must confess that I revere Alan Turing, and it was with great hope that I started to read this book. There were several scattered mentions of Turing, however the plot was first rate, and the description of war-time England realistic. I particularly enjoyed the author’s narration about Bletchley Park, and I did not miss Turing’s absence much. This was easily the best read of the year.

Malgudi Days, R.K.Narayan:

I read this book on two summer days after having a hearty breakfast at home. I do not know how I missed reading R.K.Narayan during my childhood – maybe my love for Dickens earlier and popular fiction later in my adolescence is to blame. I would compare Malgudi Days with Devan’s writing: they bring to the fore the soul of a town (a city, Chennai in Devan’s case) – and transported me to pre-liberalization India, something I have only read about in The Hindu’s This Day, That Age column and history textbooks. These books make up for all that I lost by being born in a spoilt generation.

More:

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini – moving

Flatland, Edwin Abbott - amusing

The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson – mature, yet comic

Most awaited book of 2011:

The House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz:

It can’t get bigger for a Sherlock Holmes fan, to quote Ravi Shastri and other commentators, than a new official book on the legendary detective. I was over-excited and bought the Kindle edition as the status in India (on Flipkart and Infibeam) was still pre-order. This is the closest any author has got to Sir ACD, among the pastiches I’ve read. I had enjoyed Jamyang Norbu’s The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes last year, but it shared with other pastiches the reincarnation of Professor Moriarty, my favourite criminal. I did not want to see him being vanquished once again and Horowitz fulfills my wish. Horowitz is a better writer than ACD, and I hope he writes more Sherlock Holmes novels. A new novel every year would be very nice, thank you.

Book review: Chanakya’s Chant

Chanakya’s Chant is Ashwin  Sanghi’s second novel after The Rozabal Line. It revolves around the life of a Pandit who emerges as a modern day Chanakya.

The style is similar to his debut, linking modern events to those that occurred two millennia ago. We have seen this style many times, flipping between two parallel events – only here, the parallel events are from long ago.

A Pandit from Kanpur with financial banking from a merchant and manpower from a Muslim strongman manages to unite the people of the city and assume political power. He makes his disciple becomes the most powerful woman in the country, just as Chanakya enthroned Chandragupta Maurya. As he develops the plot, Sanghi touches upon many issues in modern India – religious friction, corruption and the like. He is clearly inspired by real world events such as the tussle between the Ambani brothers, cash for votes, the fodder scam and the 2G scam(yes, that one too!). There are several instances where the media is cleverly used by devious politicians – #MediaMafia, anyone?

The description of Uttar Pradesh, I cannot comment upon for  I have confined myself to Tamil Nadu most of my life. However, the unhygienic conditions and the slum might very well fit into any large town in India. One could draw parallels between the two central characters and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh too. A minor quibble I see is that Sanghi has portrayed the Keralite as talking English with a funny accent. He cannot be further from the truth here – I know many Keralites who have a neutral accent; I haven’t seen a person speak with the accent he writes. There are several quotes that are wrongly attributed to Chanakya, but the Acknowledgements & References section makes this clear.

I do not have a large appetite for historical thrillers, and so I cannot compare this work with many others. It might seem at the outset that Sanghi is developing into a desi Dan Brown, given his penchant for history. I hope we can expect a deviation from this genre in his future work.

There is a lot of gore – and not all of it is blood. There are several descriptions of coitus and mutilations that are not really necessary – just page filling material. There is too much profanity on show too. The book could have been shorter by a fifth, and even then I doubt it’d have been a gripping read. However, it is a pleasing way to pass a lazy Saturday afternoon. It is quite entertaining and the history is not as wrong as in many other in its genre. I was expecting better, especially after The Rozabal Line, but Sanghi has not disappointed either.

Plus: A decent plot, Nice real-life parallels, Enjoyable

Minus: Too much narrative  (which sometimes gets boring), Stereotyping

Rating: 7/10

Final Word: Good to read on a  Sunday after lunch

The Kogul Phenomenon

“Kogul” is one of the hashtags that was pretty popular in India, specifically down South. Here’s the reason behind this hashtag frenzy. Tamil is a phonetically limited language.  There are 18 consonant sounds, however if you look closely there are only ten major consonant sounds. There are three ‘na’ sounds, two for ‘la’ and the sounds ‘zha’, ‘gna’ and ‘nga’ are rarely used. Even if they are used, very few people properly pronounce them. The majority of the Tamil speaking population cannot distinguish between most of these consonant groups. This might have been the rationale behind our state being named ‘Tamil Nadu’ instead of the phonetically proper ‘Thamizh Nadu’. (Even some politicians who extoll the virtues of Tamil do not say ‘zha’ properly.)

Coming back to Kogul, this is a play on the inability of many Tamil speakers to differentiate between the similar sounding consonant groups. Listen closer to conversations in a crowded shop on Ranganathan Street or in a crowded MTC bus, and you’ll know why. Kogul is a corruption of Gokul, however it is only one of the cases of discordant consonants.

G and K; P and B; D and T; G and H; J and Ch; P and F(Fants, anyone?) are among the frequently confused sounds, sometimes giving the word another meaning altogether. This phenomenon can be attributed in part to Tamil’s lack of phonetic equivalents to most common consonants in other languages.

A few samplings:

  • Mound Roat
  • Jeerial Bulp
  • Probational Korier
  • Gangrats
  • Plight (flight)
  • Kaambus
  • Gidnab
  • Log the door
  • Ragul Travit
  • Lady Kaka
  • Eskaladder
  • Plowervaas
  • Darren Cough
  • Pogemian Rasapodi (That’s Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen)
  • “Do you know Gopal?” (He meant COBOL!)
  • And how can we forget the famous “Ek gaam mein ek kisaan raghu thatha” in Indru Poi Naalai Vaa.

There’s a whole world of funny kogulized words out there. Search for #kogul on Twitter and join in the fun.

Update: Corrections made after @oligoplot’s comments on some inaccuracies. The real reason lies not in the language, but the speakers of the language. Of course, English is an alien language, but I do find it funny when people rip it apart with their own pronunciations.

Crossword No. 2

Crossword No. 2
Crossword No. 2

CLUES:

ACROSS DOWN
1 An annoying bug (12) 1  A King’s money noisily spent (11)
3 Changing triangles (8) 2 Do less hard work? (6)
5 The dark one in every two suits (9) 4 Mexican décor has its own faults (12)
8 Varnished oration (7) 6 Grasp your coffee (6)
9 They do stone their homes (10) 7 A beautiful woman can prevent it (7)
10 Teethless to talk (10) 9 Dog’s greed for a pie (8)
13 A South Indian thorny bush (8) 11  Wears a shirt that covers fully (11)
14 Across little water bodies (11) 12 A smelly dog? (9)
17 A French fish at the end? (3,2,6) 15  A hollow fellow with no concern (8)
20 A saint’s tree? (9) 16  A fishy fool (8)
23 Animals at the beginning of autumn? (9) 18  Clean up around the sticks (11)
26 Don’t lie about Hitler (9) 19 Not so fortunate (11)
27 Angry and tearful (8) 21 Measure with grace (11)
28 A quaky giant (12) 22 Complete a large meal (10)
24 Get wet and cosy (7)
25 Enjoys the sea breeze (7)

The Legend of Laxman

Every cricketer is defined by his own unique character. I have been fortunate to have seen in action, the grit of Steve Waugh, the technique of Rahul Dravid, the style of Brian Lara and Saurav Ganguly and the brutality of Matthew Hayden and Sanath Jayasuriya. But what elevates Laxman to another plane altogether is that he has three of those defining characteristics in abundance. Maybe that is why we do not have any word to exalt him, as we do with Master Blaster or The Wall.

The first time I saw him with interest was in the Eden Gardens test against the Aussies in 1998. He was opening with Sidhu, and scored a 95, in an innings where the top 6 scored fifties, with Azharuddin scoring an imperious century. Remember, this was the time before the emergence of new India: they still played with three spinners at home with Ganguly sharing new ball duty with Srinath.

After that, he remained in the shadows until the glorious 167 at Sydney. Scored at breathtaking pace, this is an innings I love to watch, although India surrendered for less than 250. Then came the mother of all monumental innings - that knock at Eden Gardens that gave birth to the legend of Laxman. Here was a man unperturbed by the situation or bowlers, heralding the arrival of a new fearless India.

His 89 at Port Elizabeth during Sehwag’s debut series was a match saving innings, although it was in the first innings – India folded for 201 and Laxman had a 9th wicket partnership of 80 with Kumble. This was the first of many rescue acts involving batsmen of lesser calibre, who were inspired by the calm and panache of the seemingly soft man at the other end.

He is like a prodigious student at the end of his school life – tough exams such as the JEE bring out the best in him, igniting his brilliant mind into overdrive; and lesser school exams are too boring for him to expend his energy. He rarely makes wild guesses, but relies on his intuition at times. Laxman rarely slogs or hits out, and relies on the good judgement of the tailenders batting with him.

There are times when the Twenty-20 loving Indian public question the inclusion of technically sound and more importantly, stubborn batsmen in place of the dashers. They’ll realise their folly if they think of one man: Laxman.