I have always loved Ruskin Bond’s stories ever since I read his very first one that had appeared in one of my school books. His love for nature always came through. At the same time I was always intrigued about what he was as person. The magic of Ruskin’s writing for me was always its simplicity, charm and ability to transport you to the very time and place he is talking about. A British man who gave up his easy chance of settling down in a first world country yet choosing to come back to India intentionally is a real revelation. Reading his autobiography felt like I was sitting across from him while he regaled me with tales of his entire life. As an added bonus I happen to have an autographed version of the book.
I’m returning from a weekend trip out of the city. The air has begun to lose it’s freshness. I begin to wonder. When we think of heading out of the city, what we are looking to do is escape the limits of the city. As the years have gone on however, I realize that we need to travel farther and farther to escape the city. As even more years pass us by I wonder if the limits of city will ever end. Will we ever be able to escape it’s confines.
What is the reason for this? Am I the only one who feels this way?
Is our burgeoning population finding it harder to secure a place to live within the city. Is there truly no place left in our city? The vast number of homes lying vacant in the city would indicate otherwise. Is the average family being priced out of the city?
Or is it the desire to have a house to call your own, no matter how much it burdens us for the rest of our lives. Is this collective fever dream actually turning the city into a nightmare?
I’m a self-confessed dinosaur nerd so any movie with dinosaurs in them is essentially review proof. It’s been 25 years since the first Jurassic Park was released and one thing we can agree upon is that there will never be a dinosaur movie as spectacular, wondrous and unforgettable as that one. Not even Steven Spielberg could top that one if he tried.
When the first Jurassic World was released in 2015 no one expected that it would break the all-time box office record. It showed us how much pent up demand there was for a Jurassic movie. It also meant fun dinosaur movies could still attracted a sizeable audience other than dinosaur fans like me.
The one time, I was looking forward to watching a movie in 3D, I couldn’t because only the 2D version was released here in India, owing to some issues between the distributors and the multiplex owners. Curse them.
That aside the movie has some decently mounted set pieces. The dinosaurs are awesome as ever with the humans taking away their screen time for not very interesting reasons. The most disappointing aspect of the movie was the ratio of dinosaur deaths to human deaths. Far too many of these magnificent creatures were lost. That aside it also surprised me with the ending and the direction that the trilogy was going to take for its final movie. I thought it was a great setup and I am very much looking forward where they go from here.
While this post is written from an Indian perspective some of it applies irrespective of where in the world you are. I was recently in a conversation with someone, let’s call him Mr M who asked me “So, from where do you download music?” “I subscribe to a music streaming service” I said. He looked at me with an incredulous expression on his face. He also proceeded to admonish me, for paying for it, because I could have easily got a hacked APK of the service, that would let me use it for free.
What he was actually asking me was, which site do you download your free music from. Now, I am no saint or rich man who subscribes to a music streaming service because I feel entitled to do so. I do it because it’s simple, convenient and incredible value for money. In India subscribing to a music streaming service costs Rs 100 or for global reference ($1.56) a month. For less than what a coffee costs at Starbucks, I have access to 40 million songs. Even if we put the coffee aside for a second, I know people who drop upwards of Rs 50000 ($800) for a phone almost every year but will refuse to spend even Rs 10 or 1/5000th of that on an app.
Now the thing about the Starbucks or phone analogy is, drinking that coffee with that fancy phone in the other hand maybe a matter of pride. Most importantly however the coffee is a physical object. Unless you managed to somehow steal a Starbucks coffee, your not getting one without paying for it. You can’t watch a movie in the theater without paying for a ticket. Some of you may have managed to accomplish that in the nineties, but I’m pretty sure it’s next to impossible these days. So a physical object like a coffee or a physical experience like a theater movie that requires you to be present in a physical location will inherently have some value associated with it. Try as hard as you can. If you want it, you, or somebody else is paying for it.
Since the advent of the internet and the mp3 format a whole new generation of listeners at least here in India grew up believing that music is free. To even think of paying for it is considered foolish. The generation I grew up in is sort of a bridge between the two. We experienced the joys and sorrows of cassettes, CDs, Napster and dial up internet. What also happened is that I got into the creative field of video games. Also a form of digital entertainment. Equally hard to put to a price on.
When your livelihood depends on people paying for something digital that you create, it also makes you conscious of what you consume. When I go out to eat I could easily spend Rs 500 for a single person’s meal. So to spend Rs 500 for a game that I will easily enjoy for at least 10 hrs seems like a bargain in comparison. Just as a cook worked hard to prepare that meal for you, a bunch of hard working folks toiled away for years to make the game that you enjoy.
People assume sometimes that when it comes to the entertainment industry, most of them, whether singers, musicians, movie actors or video game developers lead an exotic lifestyle as visualized on TV or in magazines. The truth is very few earn the kind of money to support that kind of lifestyle. Even a media conglomerate like Disney earns a substantial amount of it’s revenues from it’s theme parks and resorts.
Sometimes people ask me how we earn money from the games that we release for free. I smile and say nothing. It wouldn’t be worthwhile to explain to every person who asked me that, the concepts of Free to Play game design. If I feel like the person deserves an answer I simply say “For every 100 people who play our game, there are 99 who believe that they deserve the game for free, there is that 100th person who gives us enough to compensate for the first 99”
It truly saddens me that we don’t do enough to support the creators of this world. Unlike food maybe, we can live without arts and entertainment. The question is would we want to live like that? So the next time you hesitate to spend money on something digital take a pause. Try to put it in perspective. Whether it lasted for a few minutes or hours, for those brief moments made your life a little bit better. Give a little back to the creators. All they really want to do is create something more for you.
I don’t read any particular comics regularly, aside from a very special one called Dilbert. Creator Scott Adams insight into the workplace culture and all of his characters biting social commentary on everything is incredible. How he has managed to come up with something unique and fresh every single day for the past so many years is astonishing.
Though it does require some familiarity with tech company culture it’s still enjoyable by others too. While the comic is often laugh out loud funny what sticks with you it’s scathing commentary about what are often ridiculous but true workplace practices.
It’s not always easy to say something meaningful in a single strip but besides a few rare occasions most of the daily comics are self contained.
This one is one of my favourites.
Despite what many people feel about The Big Bang Theory, it still has the highest viewership among sitcoms even today. Young Sheldon is a spin off series that I had heard about sometime back. I initially assumed that it was simply a series that was trying to bank off the popularity of it’s parent show.
I came across an article talking about the most watched shows of 2017 and I wasn’t surprised to see Young Sheldon ranking high. I decided give it a shot when I saw that it was available on Amazon Prime Video.
The show is about the life of Sheldon from the original show when he was a child living in Texas with his parents and siblings. Meemaw his grandmother who gets mentioned often in the Big Bang Theory is a primary cast member here. Jim Parsons the adult Sheldon serves as the narrator for the show.
I expected the show to be very much like The Big Bang Theory with Sheldon being a snarky, sarcastic and obsessive compulsive child as well. While some aspects of his adult personality are present here, overall Young Sheldon is a show that feels very different from The Big Bang Theory.
9 year old Sheldon is still a genius and he can be sarcastic but he is also rather sweet and innocent at the same time. Every facet of his behavior whether a portrayal of his intelligence or his sarcasm is encompassed by the innocence with which he speaks his words. That is why the show feels so different from The Big Bang Theory. At the heart of it, its a show about family and the trials and tribulations of growing up as a boy genius in a very traditional family. Every other member of his family is equally well cast. Especially his mother who feels very different from the character she plays as his adult mother. The only common thread is their deep religious beliefs. Meemaw the grandmother is one of the best characters of the show. She is very different from the rest of the family and turned out very different from the overly sweet sounding Meemaw that the adult Sheldon always mentions.
The biggest change fans might notice going in though is that unlike The Big Bang Theory , Young Sheldon does not have a laugh track accompanying it. It’s hard to describe what kind of show it really is. To put it a bit obliquely it’s a relaxing, family friendly show for everyone. If you have grown to hate the adult Sheldon you just might ending feeling the complete opposite about him in this one.
The Luminaries was the most fun I have had reading a book in ages. It’s a sprawling 832 page novel that starts out slow. It uses a very interesting conceit to structure the narrative and it’s characters. It’s also written like a book from another era yet thoroughly appealing to modern sensibilities. After a measured start it picks up the pace and I found myself racing towards it’s incredibly satisfying denouement. Set in 18th century New Zealand during it’s own gold rush The Luminaries is an intricately plotted mystery novel first. Secondly is witty and funny and it’s eclectic cast of characters remain entertaining throughout. If I had to sum it up it was both, the fastest I have managed finish a novel and the longest novel I have read in recent times.
A scripted family drama was not something I thought I would ever find myself watching. I began watching This is Us somewhere towards the end of the year. One episode in and I was hooked. What makes it so special is the incredible writing, the complex characters and the stellar cast who plays them. Add to this the brilliant music score and the selection of songs used throughout the episodes and it all adds up to an extremely well-produced show. That’s not where the superlatives end.
Each character is not just interesting on their own, the chemistry between all of the leads is incredible. There was a point when the lead characters Jack and Rebecca played by fairly well known actors Milo Ventimiglia(Of Heroes and Gilmore Girls fame) and Mandy Moore (the singer) became just the characters of Jack and Rebecca. It began to feel like I was watching real life documentary of a family. Every other cast member that comprises the family in the show is great in their own right. The other part about it is how many surprises it manages to throw your way on a regular basis.
There are times when This is Us will bring you to tears. But it earns those tears through genuine, intense and raw moments that could happen in anyone’s life. The dialogs are also stellar. They leave you hanging onto every word and make you wish you could express your most complex thoughts with such impact and clarity.
This Is Us is currently midway through its second season and it remains as fresh and engaging as it was in its first season. It’s also one of the highest watched dramas on television right now. Which bodes well for its future. As it currently stands I could watch the lives of these characters for a long time to come.
It had been almost a decade since I went to Mumbai for anything other than taking a flight out of the international airport. I probably avoided actively going there because of it’s difficult weather and the overcrowding. My wife however had been wanting to go visit for a while. So an invitation from her friend took us there on a weekend where the summer was just ending and monsoon had not yet begun.
This was the first of Mumbai’s iconic locations we came across. While I didn’t dare descend into the chaos below I stood there for a few moments trying to comprehend the scale of the activity that happened here.
I noticed this beautiful clock tower while walking around called the Jijamata Udyan Clocktower
Driving through this area felt like I was in a secret area of Europe. Only the presence of big Indian brands and some Indian folks gave it away. It was a stunnning place and it being a Sunday let us appreciate it a lot more.
Elphinestone College, Kalaghoda
A stunning mural somewhere near the Kala Ghoda area
Artisan’s Gallery, Kalaghoda
Gateway of India
The Gateway I visited several years ago, was the one untainted by one of India’s worst terrorist attacks. While the place was even more crowded than it was back then it felt a lot more restricted with a security check before entering and a lot more barricades all around.
The Taj Hotel
I’ve always wondered how magnificent the Taj would be on the inside. We weren’t really dressed for it so we thought we would try and make an entry into it and hoping no one would question us once we entered. We quickly went through without lingering too much at one particular place. The swimming pool was stunning with nary an Indian to be seen besides the housekeeping staff. We kept walking through until we reached the Hotel bakery where we had some expensive pastry. It was worth it though, just to be able to see the hotel on the inside. We exited through another gate and I noticed someone else trying to convince the guard to let them go inside. The guard flatly refused them. I guess we got lucky.
Off all the places I remebered from my last visit to Mumbai Victoria Terminus really was the most vivid. The architecture is absolutely stunning and timeless and it continues to to wow me even today.
When you move across Mumbai one notices buildings in progress at a massive scale. However there are several of them that have also stalled progress due to various legal issues. This one was one of them.
Bombay High Court
Monorail Joy Ride
The monorail service in Mumbai covers a very small area currently. We decided to board it anyway for a joy ride from the Wadala station and back. The tickets are very cheap and it’s a fun experience if you’ve never ridden one. The stations were clean, rail compartments were air-conditioned and there were very few people around.
I had heard so much about the Sea Link and was absolutely looking forward to driving on it this time. All I can say is that is certainly a magnificent modern structure the likes of which I have never seeen in India.
Other odds and ends
While driving around our friend also pointed out to the the infamous billion dollar building Antilia that is the home of Mukesh Ambani. It was absolutely horrendous. I have never seen such an ill concieved billion dollar home.
Traffic in Mumbai is bad as any other major city in India in terms of volume. Discipline wise compared to Pune at least it was so much better. It was refreshing to see traffic rules being followed in most places. I’m not really sure if it was a cultural thing or a result of a stricter police force.
We ended the weekend with dinner at the Prithvi Theatre cafe. It was time to go back to Pune the next morning. Our bus was to leave by 6.30 a.m and we were dripping with sweat while walking back to the bus. On the ride back I was talking with my wife if her desire to stay in Mumbai was any greater. She said it’s nice for a weekend but she could never stay here.
My personal take on things were that Mumbai is a fascinating city without doubt. It has incredible architecture and offers a lot for the curious. The weather is one of the most serious considerations for anyone planning to stay there. It was a wonderful weekend trip. There was so much that was left to see and do there. The people of Mumbai are certainly full of verve. To eke out an existence in big city like Mumbai with it’s overcrowded streets and expensive real estate is a miracle. Given everything that I experienced in a couple of days while wondrous, wasn’t enough to convince me to stay. I simply couldn’t get past the weather, crowds and the vast distances one needs to cover. Perhaps a few more trips or an extended stay might finally make me understand what it is that makes Mumbai the city that Mumbaikers can never leave.
The last day of your vacation is always the toughest. After 7 incredible days here and lifetime of memories to take back, our driver said there were a couple more places he wanted to take us to before heading back to the airport.
Zeshat Devi Mandir
The first was a little known temple close by to the The Lalit Grand Palace in Srinagar, the Zeshta Devi Mandir. I am typically averse to most temples because of the huge crowds that throng most temples. This one was something our particular driver liked to take his guests. It was up a few winding roads and there was absoultely no one there besides us. It was a simple structure but nestled between some beautiful mountains.
The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar
As I had mentioned while there are a ton of options for accomodation, for tourists on a budget there are also options for the rich and famous. Our driver very confidently told the security at the hotel gate that we were here for lunch when asked if we were guests going to check in to the hotel.
After getting through with confidence we got off to take a stroll inside the hotel grounds. While I can imagine that the inside of the hotel were suitably lavish being a 5 star hotel the best part of the hotel was it’s spectacular location. With huge open grounds in the front and incredible mountains behind it felt like a place that you would want to one day want to stay at.
We took a small horse buggy ride offered here before heading out.
Don’t miss out on Kashmir
In today’s age of Whatsapp and Twitter news has become more accessible and dangerous. It is as fast to spread misinformation as it is to to benefit from these modern technologies. On the day that we had arrived the internet had been shutdown for 2 days to prevent this very problem. Our driver told us that despite the inconvenience it was a good thing.
Our 7 days spent were some of the best. Media and politics has absolutely destroyed the livelihood of so many locals that rely on tourism. The warmth we felt here from the locals was genuine. They want nothing more than peace for their state. The acts of a few nefarious elements have unfortunately come to represent the nature of all it’s people. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In a tourist driven economy they want nothing more than to make tourists feel safe. That anyone would willingly do something to jeopardise this is unthinkable.
Kashmir was absolutely breathtaking. It’s no wonder everyone fights over it. Despite everything you may hear on TV or the internet it’s a place every Indian must visit once in their lives. I advised everyone who has asked me since about travelling to Kashmir if it was safe. I told them in the 7 days I spent there this is what I felt.
I am more likely to lose my life in a road accident in Pune because of it’s unruly traffic, than I am from anything that could happen in Kashmir