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


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.

More mokkais

Exam cum Maargazhi season:

A: மச்சி, இன்னிக்கு சாயங்காலம் ஒரு கச்சேரி போறேன், கூட வாடா.
B: என்னடா ஆச்சு உனக்கு, திடீர்னு கர்நாடக சங்கீதம் மேல பற்று?
A: நாளைக்கு OS exam டா. அதனால் தான் O.S.அருண் பாட்டு கேட்டா பாஸ் ஆயிடலாம்னு..
B: அப்போ சரி, நான் மன்மதன் அம்பு பாட்டு கேக்க போறேன்..
A: ஏன் டா?
B: நாளைக்கு எனக்கு DSP exam டா!

Now this was during our training a few months back:
Someone had got a big bar of chocolate, and all of had a piece of it. Turned out, the flavour was rum raisin (Temptation) and the moment she heard of it, a girl was pretending to swoon. Everyone wanted to see the ingredients, and the chocolate wrapper was passed all over the class. I then said aloud: “Oh, is this what we call wrapper class?”. Pin drop silence. Note that our training was in Java back then.

Another one from training:
Me: Dude, none of us will be sent to MEPZ campus da.
Friend: Why do you say that?
Me: Well, we are all Java developers, aren’t we? We cannot write anything more than basic Java code there.
Friend: What do you mean?
Me: MEPZ stands for Madras Export Processing Zone. And you must import packages and classes to write most Java code. Therefore, it is illegal to develop in Java at MEPZ.
Friend: மச்சி, இங்க ஒருத்தன் சிக்கிருக்கான்..

Nandalala – Another proof of Raja’s greatness

I caught the movie this weekend and it is among the best to have come out of Kollywood. Where most movies focus on the actions of the characters, Mysskin delves into the characters themselves, analysing the psyche – their ability to love and their vulnerabilities. But the heart of the movie is in the music, which was pretty clear seeing the promos featuring Ilayaraja.
The use of music and silence to express emotions stands out in Nandalala. I’ve always preferred Raja’s music to others’, and was delighted to see a movie where his music communicates to the viewers in a fashion rarely seen in the past decade. Bala’s movies have always had soothing scores but somehow the raw emotions that signify vintage Raja’s music didn’t shine through, partly due to the themes of his movies.

Nandalala gives the maestro a theme where emotions play a major part, and he treats the viewers to an aural treat that strings at our souls. For me, music means expressing emotions, and Raja stands non-pareil here. The ability to portray raw emotions via music is his own domain. Although several of Rahman’s songs portray powerfully the emotions of the characters – En kaadhalae comes to mind immediately – his use of technology has, while giving us many peppy and memorable numbers, denied him this ability. I do not criticize him, our movie makers have become too dumb. Fast paced action, racy numbers and plotless movies are the order of the day, and that is not Rahman’s fault.

Ilayaraja’s music shines through the movie and his use of silence to emphasise it makes for pleasant listening. I wish more movies like this are made, if only to let us rejoice, fear, cry, laugh and feel the emotions of the characters.

If you have not seen the movie yet, watch it. It is a good movie on its own, but Raja’s music elevates it to its own level.

Android Apps for my Galaxy 3

I bought a Galaxy 3 over a month back. It is a really good phone for its price and fun to use too. I have quite a few apps installed and found some really nice ones.


The phone comes with a pre-installed copy of  ThinkFree Office, which is fine for editing and viewing office documents. It also lets you view PDF files.

The Daily Briefing app is useful, showing your calendar tasks and weather updates, apart from Yahoo Finance and AP News (both of which I don’t use).

I use Daily Expense Manager to keep a tab on my spendings, it’s a really useful app apart from the fact that you can only enter expenses, not income.

The Evernote and Dropbox apps are pretty usable and are actually useful, even on the slightly cramped screen.

Internet and Social:

Opera Mini is the browser of my choice, for I can get Indic fonts to work with it. Dolphin Browser is good for viewing full websites (not mobile-optimized) if you are on 3G, but Opera Mini is far more useful for those stuck with GPRS and EDGE.

There are apps for Twitter, Facebook, etc but I prefer to use TweetDeck.

The GMail app is good, and there is an app for Yahoo! Mail too. But the default mail client doesn’t work with my work mail which uses Exchange.

There is a Google Talk client, but I prefer Meebo as it lets me connect to multiple IM services.

I have the WordPress app installed, which I am using to publish this post. The Youtube app is the only place where Flash works, and the app is good enough to view a short video. The small screen doesn’t actually let you enjoy longer videos, such as movies.

Games and Entertainment:

I am not much of a gamer, but I tend to play a few games when I feel like it. I particularly love Slice It, which is a lovely game that tests your touchscreen skills and also  a bit of geometry.

I have quite a few Sudoku games installed, however I’ll be uninstalling almost all of them soon. This is a situation where I might as well create an apk for my own use.

Jewels is similar to Gweled ( a.k.a Bejeweled) and I like it enough to let it stay on my phone.

I use FBReader to read books. I tried out Aldiko and a few other apps, but not fit the bill apart from FBReader.

The Google Scoreboard app is fine, but seriously seeing cricket scores like Australia 245 – 620 England is not what I wanted, so I use ESPN ScoreCenter.

The default media player works fine, but it doesn’t remember the last played song, so I use Winamp. It lacks an equaliser, but it is a decent audio player with a touch of nostalgia.


Lookout is a security app that scans applications when you install them. You can also back up your contacts online using a free account. AppBrain is useful for installing apps, and is a good replacement for the default Market app.  AppMonster lets you manage your installed apps effectively and also back up the APKs to SD card. APNDroid lets you switch off and on data services easily. Google Reader, Sky Map and Maps work well too. NetCounter lets you keep track of data usage for different networks (EDGE, Wi-fi). NeoReader is the best barcode reader app I’ve seen for this phone. RealCalc is an advanced calculator and I love it.

If you have any apps that you love, do share it in the comments. Cheers!