Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The (Pulitzer-Prize-winning) Goldfinch

Usually I wait to review a book till after I have read it. But here I would like to capture what I feel before finishing the book because somehow apparently the ending is so awesome it is worth the drudgery.

Actually even if the ending wasn't supposed to be awesome. I'm going to finish the book. Because I'm so close. 90% complete.

I read the first 100 pages trying hard to get involved with the characters and the story but could not. It took me about 200 to 300 pages to get into the story even though there isn't any story to be honest. It's just our lady wanting to write a remarkable piece of literature that some told her, is about descriptions and on and on she goes describing. She describes a scene for some 30 pages and some 100 pages later our protagonist will remember that incident and yet again our writer describes it for 5-10 pages more like as though she has set her mind on using a thesaurus exhaustively such that there are no more adjectives, descriptive nouns and similes left to use for the scene. I think she doesn't know much about metaphors, else she might have used those too.

So bored and lost I was in the adjectives that the one important fact of the story was lost on me. In one very very very very long scene right at the beginning, our protagonist, Theo Decker takes away with him (some may say steals) a masterpiece of a painting from the Dutch Renaissance era, The Goldfinch. As you can imagine from the title of the book, this fact is extremely important to the plot. However I don't know whether I dozed off while reading and then resumed skipping a few pages by mistake not realising I haven't read them (unlikely but awful if true) or if I kept reading the words but my mind wandered away through the various more important and interest topics in this world (more likely) but I know this that I didn't realise Theo Decker took away a painting with him till much later when he kept wondering what to do with it or if he should tell someone about it. (Am I going to stop already?) And any how the plot goes round and round with Theo Decker and his lack of a parent to take care of him and his substance abuse and his mad obsessive love for a girl and all that stuff that as a reader I'm aware I'm supposed to follow him around but I can't get myself to do that. I'm only dragging my feet along and feeling slightly and then more vigorously annoyed.

The entire book screams "I want to be an epic". And off she goes trajectory after trajectory for the poor protagonist that you neither relate to or sympathise with much. And many characters have dead loved ones or they keep dying and not in the George RR Martin way (whose A Song of Ice and Fire, I think, is an epic). And the way the stories go that are sort of epics is that it's a long meandering story where the story itself is important and the climax is immaterial and the story can practically end anywhere in between too and it won't matter. Like Khaleed Hussaini's A Thousand Splendid Suns which I didn't like much (because of the story itself seemingly written for the western audiences) and Amitav Ghosh's Circle of Reason which I absolutely adore for his descriptions (which is the kind that our Tartt is trying to achieve but personally felt poorly done). 

Now let me complete reading...

Here, I'm done. I have no idea why the ending is supposedly awesome. When I got to where my kindle said 99% I kept thinking I'm almost done but it kept going on. You see 1% of the book is about 8/9 pages, 8 boring absolutely incredibility pointless string of words that it was hard to go on but I kept trying. So much 'gyaan' she was trying to give you. You see I had already read the Bhagavad Gita in my life and that is an epic, a part of a much larger piece of literature which defines what the word epic means. So when an orphaned swindler with drug problems and obsessive issues with a painting he stole and hurts and dissapoints everyone who cared for him, tries to tell me the point of life, universe and everything else, it sounds annoyingly stupid.

Psst, it may be that it's an epic of a book worth the Pulitzer Prize (now I'm seriously considering the worth of the prize itself though I look back to find remarkable ones like The Interpreter of Maladies, To Kill a Mocking Bird and The Old Man and the Sea) and it may be that I'm a horribly useless reader whose mind is so narrow and cannot understand the greatness of this 'Dickensian' book that took 11 years to complete, but I'm a reader nevertheless and I think it's a complete waste of my precious time. The writer wasted 11 years but she got her time's worth with the award. Can someone give me an award for reading it?

Sigh! I need to read something written by Amitav Ghosh urgently.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sheroes in Hyderabad 2014

I happened upon an event this Saturday and it turned out to be a great one! BlogAdda has some passes to Sheroes in Your City events across the country for members. I registered for the event in Hyderabad at Radisson last Saturday. And to be honest, I wanted to go just because I had not been to a conference as such. I am not an entrepreneur and didn't really consider it an option for myself. But the event was thoroughly inspiring for me! So I can only imagine how anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit would have felt! For all those of you interested, there are some more coming up, check here.

(I only have one picture and the light is bad but here it is anyway)

To begin with we had TiE Hyderabad president (one of the sponsors of the event), Murali Bukkapatnam who spoke on entrepreneurship and why people choose it. A very informative and inspiring speech, he quoted Tagore on freedom, a few Sankrit slokas on women empowerment and even a song by an African woman that asks for nothing but the blockade be removed from her path. He called the path of entrepreneurship an enchantress that seduces you while you make excuses (not reasons) to be seduced. But the reason he says, is immortality. True! But it's not for everyone and only for those with the inner passion or Antah Prerna which he argues is the origin of the very word. Once seduced, these people with the inner passion will go for it even though the success rate is so low because everything else is simply unacceptable. While Murali believes some of them are born to be entrepreneurs, many can also be made and that's where TiE comes in to hold your hand and mentor you, even if it is just to know that you have someone on your side. Mentors are meant to bridge the experience gap. Murali also reduced the cost of TiE membership for an female entrepreneurs who would sign up on the day and gave away a free membership to the first question from the audience. The audience questions ranged from funding to profitability of social enterprises to the lack of resources and accessibility for people with disabilities to become entrepreneurs.

Sheroes is an inspiration in itself. The short presentation by Sairee on what they do can wake you up to the possibilities or the lack thereof that your have taken for granted until now (which you should not have). The world has changed a lot even if we don't notice it. As Sairee put it, a few years ago you couldn't even imagine there would be a job called gender communication consultant (Bhavna in the audience). What started as a focus on young mothers to help them back in their jobs with their Fleximom and other Mompreneur programmes, Sheroes is now rebranded to focus on all urban women at all levels. They even have the Big Sister programme for starting a difference conversation at the campus level where students question which direction to take in their career, catching them young before the world can tell them that their career is secondary.
Sheroes worked with Principal Adivisors who now have an entire female sales force with flexible working. What would that be called? Feminisation of Workforce! And Sairee threw some light on redesigning today's workforce for empathy and collaboration. While we grow up in a competitive environment, the true future lies in collaboration with the emergence of a sharing economy. True, very true. All our new companies are aggregators or collaborators! Sheroes has branded itself to help urban women and surprisingly there are abysmally low number of initiatives to help the urban women get back on her feet after a career break. On the other hand, rural self-help groups and government and NGO initiatives for rural women are a dime a dozen!

The event invited and introduced us to some interesting stories and the interestingly extraordinary lives of people.

Tavleen Mehendiratta, once an auto journalist reviewing cars and explaining to us the 0to60 acceleration of the high end cars, has had a reality check that cars are heavy contributors to the slowing traffic and the increasing carbon footprints. So now she is busy deconstructing the new buzzword "Smart City". Smart cities need smart cars and she is working with the automobile industry in creating and re-positioning small and green cars for mobility. But smart cities also need smart citizens who don't need a large car for a large ego,and be happy with a cool new smart little car. So Tavleen is helping build a new era of smart citizens by educating them and introducing them to the world of opportunities in the internet of things revolution. Her institute i-Mobility.org conducts workshops for smart city professional certification and internet of things certification. She also introduced us to some of the latest entrepreneurship opportunities stemming out of the internet of things like Flexeye and Traffline.
Ruchika Kar, a Shero, spoke of her start-up groupshoppy with her husband who during the event was taking care of their infant child so that Ruchika could attend the event. A supporting ecosystem, one we all need. Ruchika's groupshoppy had received support and mentorship from Sheroes.
Priya Badshah, with her never give up attitude talked for a length of time on women having a career for life and how she managed to make a comeback in her career after a break every time. Her first career break came when she met with a serious accident, the second when her daughter was diagnosed with learning disability and needed attention, and the third more recently when she was diagnosed with a non-malignant tumor. She came back with a bang every single time and leads a successful corporate life. To begin with, the multitasking was difficult, but soon she began to love it and adore the diversity in her life solving tiny little problems of motherhood like helping her daughter with homework and then go to work and solve the bigger problems of the world like clean energy.

An afternoon well spent! A two-line summary for the event? Tavleen put it well, borrowing Emma Watson's words: If not me then who. If not now then when. Kudos to Sairee and Srishti and the Sheroes team for a successful event and thanks for all the effort that went into making it!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Lego Art

It's about time someone made things out of Lego, no? When I was growing up I didn't have Lego blocks exactly but a friend had them and they give these infield possibilities to build anything you like. It's extremely interesting and inspiring for young.
Or so I thought. Recently when I was trying to buy something for some kid and thought of Legos, I found out that all the infinite possibilities have been reduced to only one single possibility per box you buy. And it's Lego that retains are the infinite possibilities that it sells as infinite sets of boxes, and deprives the parents of infinite money and children of their imagination which was what in the first place made Lego blocks so fantastic. I digress, but I think it's important to point out.
Anyway, now that I explained how Lego lost its intrinsic brand value let's move on to the originally envisaged infinite possibilities of the generation that grew up with regular Lego. And it made me wonder how awesome it would be to make things out of Lego like as though it was real stuff, real material for making things. But I'm gifted with neither an artistic talent nor  capacity for patience so I never even attempted it. Of course someone had to do it and so did Nathan Sawaya.
We went to the Old Truman Brewery on a weekend to view the Art of Brick. It was truly inspiring. And a long exhibition that one. The path through the exhibition starts off by replicating the masters. Here is David by Michaelangelo and Van Gogh's Starry night.

There were more! Creation of Adam by Michaelangelo, Rembrandt selfie and many more.

Then comes the fun part - his own creations. Some fun, like the man inside a man and the solar system. And some profound like the split man, the swimmer.

The exhibition goes on and on and then ends up in sort of an activity centre for kids. I would have moved to stay but it was too crowded and all of them were children.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

BlogAdda and Akshaya Patra fighting hunger !

The possibilities:

I am going to #BlogToFeedAChild with Akshaya Patra and BlogAdda.

Across India you hear a similar theme in every class of people (except the rich): I work hard to provide a good education for my children so they gave a better life. A better life is what we all want for our next generation. And a better life they get, through education. 
Now imagine a classroom full of children eager and willing to learn giving that extra something to make that extra distance. Now imagine this classroom full of children dull and bored and cannot hear a word you say because they are hungry. Now imagine this classroom full of students half empty because they prefer cleaning cars and serving tea for some food. Now imagine the entire class empty and the kids working here and there earning a few rupees, falling into crime, a generation lost!
Why would the children clean cars if it didn't give them a means for satisfying their hunger? It's not like they love cleaning cars. Do you know anyone who loves cleaning cars (except may be someone who loves the car a bit much)? What if the children had a means to satisfy their hunger and revive their chances for a better life? Akshaya Patra does just that. 

How do you eliminate classroom hunger? First you need to find some children enough to fill a classroom. And ensure they go to school instead of work by not only giving them a place to gain knowledge to work but also you feed them with the help of Akshaya Patra. Then you give them a different kind of hunger, a hunger for knowledge and education. 
After the Supreme Court passed a rule in 2008 to feed every child at least one meal a day, what was a right to education became a right to a meal that Akshaya Patra continues to live up to. The world's largest NGO, it is operational in 10 states in India and feeds 1.4mn school children a day. They prepare food in a centralised manner and distribute and where they cannot, they prepare the food closer to the site with the help of women self help groups.

Are there other ways to end classroom hunger ?
Could the schools get all the excess food from private boarding schools? Could private boarding schools pledge to prepare 20% more food and distribute to the nearby government schools? Could weddings and other festivals pledge to distribute a % of the food prepared for the government school children next door ? Could temples pledge to feed a full school every other week ?

BlogAdda has pledged to feed one child for one year for every blogpost you publish. Are you ready to do that ? Time is running out. Check this out:

Help to solve classroom hunger. To find out more click here.