Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Johnny gone down - book review

It was a long hiatus since I have written anything for my blog. So why not a little about a little book called “Johnny gone down” by Indian-English writer Karan Bajaj. The previous “Indish” writer I read was Chetan Bhagat (One night at call centre) and liked the book just for its lucid style and simple plot. Well, this one was entirely different with a complex plot. The story takes place in many countries starting from America, then to Cambodia, Brazil, back to America and finally settling in India. The protagonist dons various roles of an MIT graduate, a Buddhist monk, accountant of a local goon/mafia don, software wizard and eventually a loving father/husband. The journey is tumultuous, thrilling and racy. The author didn’t give over emphasis on the geographical descriptions which I liked, as the novel is not a travelogue. He successfully narrates the story with all the necessary details as the “Brazilian favela”, “Buddhist monastery” and the “corporate world”. Obviously the author is interested in philosophy as the book is replete with Buddhist doctrines (another turn-on for me) and dwells upon the impermanence of life in general. The protagonist is not at all interested in money and almost anything mundane other than love, which I found quite amusing. Is it possible to be such a man impervious to pain, emotions, money, fame and virtually everything human. He touches the lives of everyone he meets, but never demands anything from the people around him (unbelievable so). Besides he is so dark and so angelic at the same time which I could not comprehend. I know that we all have shades of grey, but a person who knowingly chooses a difficult path is beyond my logic.

I am going to give some spoilers here, but not all.  The synopsis is as follows; the protagonist is an extremely intelligent man (no wonder he got to MIT), with enormous physical prowess (he survived genocide) and later a broke insomniac who don’t care for anything. A harmless vacation to Cambodia along with his bosom friend turns into a disaster where he got entangled in the Cambodian bloodshed revolution of “Khmer Rouge” instigated by the greatest of Asian dictators, Pol Pot. He somehow survives it (many unbelievable elements are there in the Cambodian episode though) and ends up in a Buddhist monastery at Thailand, deep meditation follows for years. Despite the meditation, his mind continues to be restless and haunted by the past experiences (in fact he is haunted by past experiences almost until the end which not over-the-board, considering the degree of traumatic experiences he had gone through in Cambodia). He then helps his Buddhist guru to set an off-shoot of their monastery in Brazil where he meets a beautiful Brazilian model during the air travel and instantaneously feels an attraction for her. Well, it ends there but her image gets imprinted in his mind which we will read in later chapters. He gets more and more restless at Brazil and finally he gets out of the monastery with all the support from his guru who had already understood his inner struggles. Accidentally, he then joins a local ‘favella’ as an accountant, succumbs to the Brazilian underworld life abound in sex and violence, helps the ‘donos’ (name for Brazilian underworld don) gain significant amount of money and he achieves nothing other than his own contentment in helping others. During this time he marries the prior mentioned Brazilian model and embarks on a successful married life. On the eve of the arrival of his bundle of joy, he was forced to get out of Brazil as the Columbian drug mafia puts a price on his head. He migrates to America and befriends a broke software developer who also happens to be an MIT graduate. He wittingly and painstakingly helps him in fulfilling his ideas; in fact he develops a website (a virtual reality chat site) with the aim to rekindle with his own wife and son thousands of kilometers away in Brazil and finally gets addicted to the game he developed. His addiction proved lethal as he avoided food and started obsessively searching for his wife. One would wonder about the existence of telephone and email, but protagonist cannot use the traditional systems of communication due to the fear of tracking by the dreaded Columbian drug cartels. He then gets emaciated and weak due to his addiction and finally ends up in hospital. Out of regret, he escapes again leaving all the fruits of his work to his protector and heads to India for a duel where one person gets shoot to death for the amusement of the viewers. Yes, a game of death. Many stories unveil after that which you can read from the book.  Don’t worry, it is not a black story at all, the end all is all well and his ultimate realization of truth comes. More like an enlightenment. He finally finds happiness and peace. The plot was racy and a little complex but the characters are well structured.

The story is all about the “Faustian journey” of an ordinary man, impermanence of almost everything in life and his ultimate self realization. There are many beautiful passages in the book some of which I would like to present here. Try this one out: Our protagonist is traveling to India via train and he meets two random strangers, the conversation moves out in the direction of one’s choice to go abroad or stay in India.

The deer wandered restlessly from forest to forest, searching for the divine fragrance, not knowing that the musk rest in his own belly

More such philosophical quotes are there which I found extremely impressive for a man of such young age as that of Karan Bajaj. In author's personal website it is clearly mentioned that he is a "thriving yogi". So no wonder.  Another quote from a random stranger,

Jesus always creates a pattern. When you are close you only you see unraveled threads, but with time and distance, it reveals itself as a mosaic. Just wait and watch. Everything was meant to be exactly the way it is”. Such quotes are really liberating.

Try this wonderful conversation between protagonist’s wife and him about him being overprotective to his son due to his unreasonable fear of an impending attack from the drug cartels on his family.

Did I tell you about the misguided botanist mentioned in the book I am reading? The gentle botanist saw a butterfly struggling in her cocoon and felt so bad that he pulled her out so she wouldn’t have to suffer. Of course she shriveled up and died instead. The botanist didn’t realize that struggling in the cocoon, fighting and stretching, is what makes the ugly fat moth a butterfly. Like the botanist, you want to make sure he doesn’t suffer, but you will end up smothering him instead. You don’t realize that your struggles were essential to make you what you are. You can’t deny him his own”.

The protagonist amasses lot of money in his various avatars, but losses everything he makes, every time, but he is not wary of that loss of money which is hard to digest. But that is where his Buddhist upbringing comes to play. He is a monk in all respects even though he out rightly falls for temptations in many occasions. He had survived unspeakable savagery, but had not lost the belief in humanity simply because of the enormous kindness offered by random strangers he met during the various facades of his life. Yes, the random acts of kindness and their enormous impact on human life - for both the giver and the taker.

Protagonist had all the resources for leading a comfortable corporate life, but he chooses a different path. Chance and destiny played their parts, but mostly it was his decision. He had choices; a reckless life that knows no boundaries or a comfortable restricted life. He chose the former. He had regrets on all the decisions he made, he had nightmares and sleepless nights, his soul wandered aimlessly, until he realizes the truth/his "own self" at the end.

See this introspection of the protagonist while attending an alumni meeting of Indian MIT graduates, “I was turning my son into them by denying him the very things that made life worth living – friendship and loyalty, openness and vulnerability, love and loss, complexities and contradictions, falling, picking up the pieces, rising and falling again, a world that has no boundaries, a life that knows no limits”.

There are many things unbelievable in this book, many incongruous and anachronistic elements are also there. Definitely Karan Bajaj needs to do some more research before writing his next book. But his language is fairly good and the writing is quite lucid. The plot resembles a Bollywood film and the protagonist is too hard to believe as I said before. He is not that human. I would not have felt surprised if he was Jesus or any other heavenly creature. It would have been more believable if the protagonist showed a bit more vulnerability and sensitivity and above all he should have expressed the basic human emotions.

This book will make you see life in a different perspective. The book is all about a personal journey which we all will feel, at one point of time in our life. In that way, it touches every one of us. Johnny gone down is not an outstanding work, but it is readable because of the excellent writing and perspectives, even though the plot is quite filmy and unbelievable.  My verdict:  "a decent read".

Sunday, 26 October 2014

A touching video on bullying gay kids - What if being gay was normal and heterosexism a perversion?

photo credit: link

What if gay was the norm? This little parody video says it all, in one imaginary homo-normative world, what a hetero-person, a "different" person in that world, would probably feel and face: a parody on the status of every gay man/woman in this hetero-normative world. I think this will help to make heterosexual people more aware of what kind of alienation and isolation a gay man/women feel in the hetero-normative world, as I feel it is very difficult for many hetero-people to fall in the shoes of a gay men/women. But they may understand it if the story is told in their own psyche, in their own situation, they may relate to it better. Awesome video. Wonderful message. See it. You won't regret.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The IUCN Red List : Guiding Conservation for 50 years

This is an eye opening video by IUCN on animal conservation. We human beings are destroying our mother earth for a long time now and many of the fellow species extinct or about to get extinct. We cut trees, destroy forests, hunt and indiscriminately kill animals, pollute earth, all for our material gains and nothing else; we do almost irreversible damage to earth. Please think about what we are doing to our earth and do support initiatives like this. Make people aware by sharing. This earth is not entirely ours, but we share it with animals, birds, plants and other living things.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Why we need sports?

I have always wondered why we need sports. It is a big money churning business, many stake holders and people are wasting so much of time watching sports. Take a look at us, Indians, when there is a cricket match; we spend almost 8 hours glued to TV virtually doing nothing. People take leave from office; spend valuable office hours discussing and analyzing the match and even people engage rough fights as in the case of football hooligans. Is a sport any good? Well, we can learn many things, I think. 

Lets us consider a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal tennis match. Roger is a flamboyant, beautiful and aggressive player while Nadal is a defensive player. Aggression is always preferred over defense. Then How Nadal wins? Analyze the game. It is simple. From the first game itself, Roger will go with all guns blazing; Nadal remains submissive initially and defends everything thrown at him. Federer cannot keep his aggressive best for ever in a match. After some time, errors will creep into his game, his serve drops and the momentum shifts. Nadal just hangs in there, waits for his opportunity, patiently, his self belief is immense, he knows Federer is going to drop his level at some point of the game and there lies his chance. He grabs even a single window of slight chance and climbs through that window. He converts half chances to opportunities. He has a very effective strategy. He executes it better. Federer may be more talented, but he sacrifices effectiveness to beauty while Nadal is ruthless. Federer tries an almost impossible shot at a very critical moment of the game to woo the viewers, but loses the point. Nadal will not attempt any such shot, his play is not beautiful, but he is clinical, incisive and ruthless. Defense is the best offense. Slowly we will see Nadal overpowering Federer and the tables turning. Both are legendary players, their styles extremely opposite. Federer too will not succumb easily, he will also fight and that leads to a fascinating game of tennis. These are valuable lessons for a viewer. What are the take home lessons here? Courage, self belief, perseverance, strategy, making full use of the opportunities, hope and above all, hard work; these are the modern management mantras, right. Sports are the best reflection of all the management mantras, sportsmen are the best managers in action; the best part is they do it alone, all out there, singlehandedly. It is akin to Lao Tsu’s “art of war”. It is indeed a war, a mental war.  Well, these sports mantras can be applied to practically anything. Clearly talent is not everything. The channeling of that talent, the planning and execution is utmost important for success. So is the case with Lee Chong Wei and Lin Dan in Shuttle badminton. Who is the effective player, I would vote for Lin Dan. Who embodies the beauty of the game? I would stay with Lee Chong Wei. Lee Chong Wei plays beautiful, but Lin Dan wins. Lee Chong Wei has many tricky and awesome shots over his sleeve, but he eventually fails. Those shots will stay in the minds of viewers, but it is a personal loss for him. Well, again, there are different views on this. Some will argue that the class, the beauty will prevail over the effectiveness of the play, but the statistics speaks a different language. Lee Cong Wei loses, but the game of badminton wins, Federer loses, but the game of Tennis wins, the beauty of badminton/tennis etched into the minds of millions of viewers, and in those lines, Lee and Federer wins, despite their loss to an effective opponent. A kind of sacrifice. A choice, too. Who is the better player? Well, I am not able to decide! 

Another lesson, what will happen to a player, when he/she repeatedly get defeated to an opponent? For eg. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Sharapova is extremely dominant against most other players, she defeats them with comfortable ease, but when she faces Serena, even on her worst day, it is difficult for her to win. Serena has crept into the mind of Sharapova. It is no longer a physical game, but a mental game. Serena too realizes that she knows the Sharapova game and she can defeat her, she is confident and that confidence will bring out her best game. Sharapova on the other hand forgets her best game against Serena. It is difficult to break that jinx. It is possible, but far more difficult. Learning from the mistakes, improvising and indefatigable energy/hope are required for that. More like an uphill task. That is why winners win again and again. They prey upon the opponents mind. 

I accept that under dogs wins at times. The interesting thing is crowd always favors underdogs. The collective consciousness of the crowd percolates to the player, especially when somebody is playing in their home grounds; we have seen so many remarkable performances instilled by the crowd. The collective consciousness unearthing the hidden talent. Everybody has talent; to bring that talent out is the key and of course maintaining that talent at the desired level. It is all a mental game. That is why Managers look for Emotional Quotient (E.Q) to Intelligent Quotient (I.Q) in their prospective employers these days. Why E.Q is important is best shown in sports. Again Federer comes to mind. His opponents cannot decode him that easily. He shows no expressions at all. Even when he is losing he will not show his frustrations on court and so the opponent cannot really judge him. His presence of mind is superb. He plays his best shots under pressure. We have seen almost all great champions do that. As Jamie Murray quoted, these champions are like tea bags. As water gets hotter, the tea gets stronger. Yeah, they get stronger during adversity. Their fighting spirit unveils under pressure. What more lessons one need in this era of depression, in this era of people committing suicide. We need to fight oblivious of the result. The Great Indian Epic “Bhagavad Geeta” quotes it, you need to do the work and need not think about the result. No matter you win or lose, you need to fight. The manner of defeat itself speaks volumes. A hard earned victory is sweeter and a hard fought defeat is comforting and hopeful. Better luck next time. That hope can do wonders. 

Sports also teaches us tolerance or can make it worse; consider this, India and Pakistan are two warring states, Cricket can bridge or make it worse. When India and Pakistan plays any sports, say it cricket, hockey or for that matter any game, it is more or less a war. We extrapolate all the emotions to sports. If India or Pakistan loses to one another, it is more than a loss, it is a National shame. I think it is a sad state. People get killed for losing as in Columbian football scene. We need to grow beyond such atrocities. Olympics, Asian games, Commonwealth games, the athletes are national properties and to be precise, national treasures. Athletes mingle with each other in the Olympic village and that interaction can lead to better relations, better understanding, for a better world. Millions of fans come together, millions of minds come together and thus, sports need to be seen as a unifying medium, rather than a divisive one. Sports need to unearth that collective consciousness in all human society. Sportsman spirit; accepting the failure and trying to win next time, congratulating the winner whole heartedly, praising the opponents fighting spirit, encouraging and giving best wishes for the one who lost for next time, all these are characteristics of humanity, which we see in sports an sports should re-iterate these feelings in every being. That the ultimate need of sports. To remind us of the collective human conscience.   

Monday, 25 August 2014

Good old books versus e books

 I am an avid reader. I like books more than anything in my life. I don't consider books as non living things, instead I consider them as my friends, who don't talk behind your back or back stab you. I can share my melancholic moments with them, my happiest moments with them, no matter what, I can share with them. They are silent listeners and aggressive advisers. They enhance and expand the horizons of my mind like no other thing.

"Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul" - Joyee Carol Oates.

There cannot be a better description than the above quote. Why I am writing this post is that I heard a news that in one of the University authorities where I studied before are planning to implement a law which fines the students for not going to library and read the books kept there. Well, the Library is pretty old with dusty interiors and nothing modern to brag about. There are old and new books, but the physical facilities are limited. There erupted a loud cry against this controversial law and during the deliberations, there were some views that the library should be closed down as this is the era of e-books and nobody no longer reads a book going to a library.

I beg to differ to this opinion. It is my firm belief that there are people who still loves to go to a library, roam around the dusty interiors, searching a dust mite infested book among the heaps of books in the book rack. The happiness you feel, the relief you feel when you finally grab the book you were looking for, is immense. It is an experience e-books can never replicate. 

E-book cannot really replicate the feel of turning the pages of a physical book, laying in your cozy little room, during a rainy season enjoying the drizzle and a cup of green tea in your couch. You can hold you  apple i-pad or notebook and read e-book and it is absolutely comfortable in that they can be carried anywhere. But did you really get that feel, the characters of the book really floating around you and conversing with you when you are reading a horror novel, I am doubtful. Both have their own merits and demerits. You can choose which one do you want, but closing a library is not the right thing to do and so is inflicting a fine for inculcating reading habit. Both are wrong. Instead the authorities should think of renovating the library into an appealing abode for the good old books. What is you take?

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Art that craves your attention - Aparna Rao

This is an engaging TED talk ("The art that craves your attention") by Indian artist/designer Aparna Rao, about her recent works on cartoons that respond to the viewers emotions and mood.......wonderfully cool. For hearing the complete video of the talk please click the embedded video below or click this link.

A little bit about her, she is a part of the artist duo "Pors & Rao" specializes in interactive installations with electro-mechanical systems. The description about their art is fairly complex like "a personal exploration of subtle unconscious patterns and limitations that influence our behaviors and relationships; and the applied fiction or imaginative logic that makes them seem logical. The resulting work can be idiosyncratic, but still logical on its own terms.”The artist duo, Aparna Rao (India) and Søren Pors, (Denmark)


In this talk ("The art that craves your attention"), she convincingly simplifies the concepts.

Her art is dynamic, edgy and innovative. Like the ones below. Hear from the artist's own words about the installations (From another TED speech of hers " High Tech art with Sense of humour").

Uncle phone


" It was inspired by my uncle's peculiar habit of constantly asking me to do things for him, almost like I were an extension of his body -- to turn on the lights or to bring him a glass of water, a pack of cigarettes. And as I grew up, it became worse and worse, And I started to think of it as a form of control. But of course, I could never say anything, because the uncle is a respected figure in the Indian family. And the situation that irked me and mystified me the most was his use of a landline telephone. He would hold on to the receiver and expect me to dial a number for him. And so as a response and as a gift to my uncle, I made him "The Uncle Phone." It's so long that it requires two people to use it. It's exactly the way my uncle uses a phone that's designed for one person".

Sun Shadow


"This is a work called "The Sun Shadow." And it was almost like a sheet of paper, like a cutout of a childlike drawing of an oil spill or a sun. And from the front, this object appeared to be very strong and robust, and from the side, it almost seemed very weak. So people would walking into the room and they'd almost ignore it, thinking it was some crap laying around. But as soon as they passed by, it would start to climb up the wall in jerky fashion. And it would get exhausted, and it would collapse every time".

Upside down man

"This work is a caricature of an upside-down man. His head is so heavy, full of heavy thoughts, that it's sort of fallen into his hat, and his body's grown out of him almost like a plant. Well what he does is he moves around in a very drunken fashion on his head in a very unpredictable and extremely slow movement. And it's kind of constrained by that circle. Because if that circle weren't there, and the floor was very even, it would start to wander about in the space. And there's no wires. So I'll just show you an instance -- so when people enter the room, it activates this object. And it very slowly, over a few minutes, sort of painfully goes up, and then it gains momentum and it looks like it's almost about to fall. And this is an important moment, because we wanted to instill in the viewer an instinct to almost go and help, or save the subject. But it doesn't really need it, because it, again, sort of manages to pull itself up".

The pygmies

"The "Pygmies" was a sound-sensitive installation that we affectionately call "The Pygmies." And we wanted to work with a notion of being surrounded by a tribe of very shy, sensitive and sweet creatures. So how it works is we have these panels, which we have on the wall, and behind them, we have these little creatures which hide. And as soon as it's silent, they sort of creep out. And if it's even more silent, they stretch their necks out. And at the slightest sound, they hide back again".  

"we worked very hard to make them as lifelike as possible. So each pygmy has its own behavior, psyche, mood swings, personalities and so on. So this is a very early prototype. Of course, it got much better after that. And we made them react to people, but we found that people were being quite playful and childlike with them".

For reading more on the art works go to the TED speech Transcript.

If you are interested to read more about their art, check out Deepa Bhasthi's blog.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Pink Dreams - the magnificient works of gay artist Jim Ferringer

The allegorical and alluring digital photographs of openly gay artist, Jim Ferringer, celebrate male body and male nudity. Some may label the works as pornography, but they are a far cry from pornography, rather come close to the magnificent paintings of Renaissance masters.   

He states in his blog, "I am fascinated and in love with light. It’s what draws me to the art of photography and what I strive to capture in my imagery. To me the art of manipulated photographs is the ability to see and paint with light and combined images. Through the manipulation of images and the overlaying of textures, most of my work ends up looking like paintings. I am captivated by the beauty of men, all men, and have embarked on a journey to explore that in my current imagery. These manipulated photos explore the world of the beauty of the male body and soul. My work is a reflection of my thoughts as I make sense of the world around me. They are my notes as I navigate through. They are part of a process of a releasing of my sense of self and finding what is beyond my limited thoughts. To me, there is something about the beauty of the human figure which stimulates contemplation of life’s deepest mysteries and stories".

I have included some of his works in this post. Some time later, I will post the excerpts of an e-mail interview with him. He was very open minded and gave frank answers to my questions related to the struggles of being gay, male nudity and his art. It was really wonderful to connect with him and I cherish the opportunity to cross paths with such a genuine soul.

a fine balance
boy in venice

Listen to what Ferringer has to say about how he creates such dreamy montages,

“I would describe my work as manipulated figurative photography. All work is created with a Nikon D60 and an iMac with Photoshop CS6. My goal is a contemporary photograph with a reference to painting, history and environment. Light, shadow and color all build stories around the male figure. I try to bring to my photography some of the qualities that Carravagio, Jacques-Louis David, Anthony van Dyck and others brought to their paintings. It is important that my art have a sense of history and mystery”. 

an indulgence of 100 days

black shaman

For more details and to see his amazing opuses, visit the below mentioned links,


Please bear in mind that some photographs show explicit male nudity. 

Orlando - I feel hopeless!!!!

Every gay man and woman would have heard the news of Orlando shooting completely terrified and would have froze by the fact that the man w...