Monthly Archives: May 2014

Maus: A survivor’s tale

maus-cover

Image source: http://jdanspsawyksui.com/tag/maus/

Rarely does a graphic artist manage to evoke in you a sense of realism. Most comic art lets you escape into a universe richly realized by its creator, with its own rules or lack thereof, qualities that its characters are vividly endowed with, and circumstances that get you involved, like a silent spectator actually living and breathing in the same world as the characters. But Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’ portrays a world that is nothing short of a nightmare that has become indelibly stamped as a black mark in the book of human history. It is a world you cringe even to observe, and even when you do not share any commonality with the events portrayed, you feel the sense of horror and sorrow and also the inner strength of the people who have come through the Holocaust and have made up their lives anew across the world, spawning successful generations who have made their own mark.

Art Spiegelman is one such successful descendant, having made his name as a post-modernist graphical artist, editor, and also a storyteller nonpareil. In ‘Maus’, his bestselling Pulitzer prize-winning 1991 comic novel, he narrates the trials and tribulations of his father, Vladek, a Polish Jew from the town of Częstochowa, who moves to Sosnowiec in 1937 to take up a textile business set up for him by his father-in-law, after marrying Anja, a girl he spots by chance and falls in love with while visiting his own relatives. After the birth of their first son, Richieu, Anja, always fragile, suffers from post-partum depression and Vladek takes her to a beautiful sanitarium in Czechoslovakia. After they return, they are caught up in the anti-Semitic wave riding Poland, and Vladek is drafted in the Polish army to fight the Nazis. He is captured and becomes a prisoner of war for a time, until he is sent back, but not to Sosnowiec, as it has now become part of the Reich. Instead he is dropped off along with other prisoners of war at Lublin, part of the Polish Protectorate, though still ruled by Germany. Vladek sneaks back into Sosnowiec to be reunited with his family.

After reuniting with his family and his in-laws and managing to stay together in as normal a way as possible in a small house in the Sosnowiec Ghetto, the German Army commands the Ghetto’s Jews to move to Srodula, after which the men are marched back to Sosnowiec to work as labourers. As rumours of the deadly gas chambers increase by the day, Vladek reluctantly lets his son Richieu go with his sister-in-law to Zawiercie. Tragically, the Nazis start rounding up the Jews in Zawiercie to send to the concentration camps in Auschwitz, and Vladek’s sister-in-law Tosha, rather than submit herself and the children under her care to German atrocities, poisons herself and the children, and Vladek and his wife are heartbroken when they search for their child across orphanages after the war and find no trace whatsoever of him and accept that he did not survive the war.

In Srodula, Vladek and Anja and her relatives hide in bunkers prepared by sympathetic Jews, until they are discovered. The older family members are taken away to the gas chambers, while Vladek and Anja hide in another bunker with a group of Jews. The group splits up after the Germans depart Srodula. Under cover of night, Vladek and Anja return to Sosnowiech, where they seek refuge and Vladek scours the black markets for food he can buy with money and valuables that he saves up carefully and uses wisely to keep himself and his wife provided for during this period. He makes friends with a Polish woman named Mrs. Motonowa, who sells food in these black markets, and has a regular patron in Vladek. She agrees to let him and his wife stay in her house with her and her young son except for ten days every three months, when her husband, an engineer with the German railways, comes home for a vacation. During this time, Vladek and Anja are asked to hide themselves in the cellar and not come out, as Mrs. Motonowa’s husband is very suspicious.

Through another Polish acquaintance, Vladek meets old friends, the Mandelbaums, who are currently negotiating with shady characters who promise them safe passage to Hungary, which is then relatively unaffected by this turmoil plaguing Poland. Mr. Mandelbaum’s nephew Abraham, offers to go first, and write to his uncle once he has safely reached Hungary, about whether it is safe for them to follow suit. After anxiously waiting to hear from him for some time, a letter comes from Abraham, declaring that Hungary is peaceful and that he is able to lead a normal life there and that the Mandelbaums and the Spiegelmans should follow suit. Anja is very wary and unwilling to undertake this risk and begs Vladek to consider continuing their undisturbed life with Mrs. Motonowa, but Vladek is determined to give his family a free life instead of living in hiding or incognito, and decides to take the chance and pays for safe passage to Hungary. However, the Spiegelmans and Mandelbaums are betrayed by the Polish crooks and find themselves arrested by the Gestapo on the train, and are sent directly to Auschwitz. Art, who is desperate to know his mother’s own experiences at Auschwitz, is mortified to hear that Vladek has destroyed her diaries after a particularly bad day, and also to lessen the pain of his memories of her, which still haunt him. After knowing this terrible truth, Art can no longer stand his father’s presence, and leaves him, calling him a ‘murderer’.

‘Maus’ is only the first of a two-part saga, the second one dealing with Art’s life in Rego Park, New York, where his family has newly settled in, and his troubled relationship with his father, who has become rather stingy and eccentric, and the continuation of Vladek’s macabre tale post his and Anja’s separation at the concentration camp in Auschwitz. I’ve only just started reading this second book, and I look forward to exploring this Byzantine story further.

‘Maus’ is an achievement on many levels; at once a biography, a documentary, a novel, a post-modern masterpiece of pictorial literature…it subsumes genres. It is a portrait of a man who holds himself steady in incredibly trying circumstances, who is at once a hero and a nag in the eyes of his son, who protects and takes care of his wife throughout their miserable times during World War 2 and its aftermath but comes across as aloof and cold and more interested in objects than in people during his present day condition as a rich but miserly, convalescing multiple heart attack survivor, who has also survived the suicide of his wife and the estrangement of his son; it is also a forceful and stark depiction of the human condition. As Vladek says to Art at the beginning, when a young Art complains to him about his friends deserting him, “Friends? Your friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, friends!”

Though Spiegelman initially found the raw reality of his father’s tale and his portraying his own suffering at his mother’s suicide too harrowing and intense for depiction in comic form, he took an anthropomorphic approach and added a layer of abstraction to his story by showing the Jews as mice, the Nazis as cats, the Poles as pigs, and other animals that represent other races. Here, especially in his portrayal of the Jews as mice, he was playing along with the Nazi depiction of Jews as vermin. Ultimately, the characters are no more animals than you or I, but are simply distinct identities in a human mass.

‘Maus’ is a tribute to powerful memories that live through generations, and like terrifying urban legends passed on through oral tradition, continues to make us viscerally relive experiences that we wouldn’t wish upon our enemies. In realizing this profound work in such a unique and genre-defying form, Art Spiegelman has indeed created an original and enduring work of art.

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Fight Club: A movie about your life

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Image sources:

http://news.doddleme.com/news-room/fight-club-gets-a-sequel-this-time-as-graphic-novel/http://www.impawards.com/1999/fight_club_ver3.htmlhttp://alikamran.com/2012/08/1174/

I’ve been in Bangalore for two years now. Before that, I have lived in a small town suburb of Mumbai and then in Hyderabad. Though all three are metro cities, Bangalore has a quality all its own. For it is one place where the ambitious come from all over the country to realize the dream life, experience all the pleasures that an urban environment can provide, and seek satisfaction in the pursuit of material happiness. So much so, that Bangalore is now a typical urban jungle, filled with more vehicles than pedestrians, more potholes than footpaths, more traffic jams than smooth drives, more people who are connected to their devices than to their reality, more opportunism than empathy, more avenues of instant gratification than purposeful activities and more frustration than enthusiasm. It exemplifies the rat race like no other place I’ve seen. What does this have to do with the cult classic 1999 movie? Read on…

‘Fight Club’ is the story of an urbane man, trapped in his small world filled with small comforts and respectability, stuck in a dead end job and suffering from insomnia. His lonely life combined with his perception of the vacuity of his material ambitions drives him to a state of frustrated wakefulness that reaches such a peak that he seeks solace in the suffering of fatally ill patients, and sits with them at group therapy, pretending to have their diseases himself. So wretched is he that he finds ‘release’ from his pent up frustration and despair only when he is able to truly cry while hugging a fellow attendee who is actually dying. The released sorrow soothes him and he finds himself being able to get a full night of sleep. This pattern continues until he sees a fellow ‘tourist’, a woman seeking similar dubious relief from being part of such groups, and the narrator is forced to stop attending them for fear of being found out as an imposter. Thus, his insomnia returns and he becomes miserable round the clock again.

One day, during a business trip, he meets an unusual man named Tyler Durden, who turns out to be a soap salesman, and whose values seem to be the exact antithesis of the protagonist. Tyler is a rebel, a mercenary, a shady businessman, and an in-your-face type, who is at the same time very focused, very energetic and fears no one and nothing. And he has an agenda. He is more than just a soap salesman, in fact, he’s a subversive prankster who engages in disturbing acts such as showing a second-long porn image during a regular family movie in a cinema hall while working as a reel changer, collecting waste bags of fat deposited by hospitals in dumps post liposuction surgeries and using these in the making of his soap, and more, purely to disturb the docile civility of the average person and get back at the rich who gain at the expense of the working class.

One day, as he is returning from a business trip, owing to a gas leak and subsequent explosion, the narrator’s house burns down and he suddenly finds himself homeless. He calls up Tyler and is offered indefinite asylum at Tyler’s house, which is a rotting independent house, fit for demolition. One evening, outside a bar, after a few drinks, Tyler challenges Jack, the narrator, to hit him as hard as possible, in the face. Ignoring the narrator’s protests, Tyler encourages him until Jack ends up punching him in the ear. After howling in pain for a few seconds, Tyler punches Jack neatly in the gut, making him bend over in pain. This starts a no-holds barred fight, which awakens a deadened energy and spirit in Jack. Slowly, more frustrated men in the vicinity start coming over to participate in this bizarre ritual, and thus ‘Fight Club’ is born.

Jack’s life changes completely, as he finds himself being able to ignore the stress of work life as well as his demanding and mean boss, as his injuries from fights, new fitness regimen to continue participating in Fight Club and newly toughened disposition makes him numb to everyday irritants. Soon he starts working with Tyler to organize fight clubs in other cities, even as the activities of these groups become more and more dangerous and violent, something that Jack is not comfortable with. Jack realizes that even though they started Fight Club together, Tyler has slowly shut him off from his plans and activities.

Eventually, Jack understands Tyler’s unflinching drive as caused by his desire to destruct capitalist society’s pillars, the banking and financial institutions, that facilitate our comfort-seeking lives and make us subjugate our selves in our quest for material success. In Tyler’s view, destruction brings improvement, and letting go of all the things we hold dear makes us realize who we actually are. In a shocking twist towards the end of the movie, we learn that Jack and Tyler are the same person, that, like Jekyll and Hyde, Jack’s submissive conformity and endless despair seeks relief and self-expression through Tyler’s no holds-barred drive to recreate by destroying the existing order and helping an evolution of the self.

Though the message of the movie is expressed in a rather subversive way, for that very reason, it is quite hard hitting. A purely material life’s shallowness is exposed for what it is, and the innate violence within us that is severely suppressed by following rules rigidly is also brought to light, as is our meaningless quest for self-gratification and the media’s hypnotic control of our minds and desires. Ultimately, the quest for pure material success erodes our souls and we see society transforming into a well ordered battlefield, where everyone’s trying to run everyone else over to be the first to reach the destination, where a person’s worth is measured in the material assets he/she owns, and to achieve success, it is fine to compromise on your real values and your true nature. ‘Fight Club’ portrays the destruction of a materialist society that makes mice out of men, amuses and gratifies us with junk, keeps us conforming to its diktats, wants us to aim for what it holds high, and keeps our true selves repressed. It is indeed a dystopian existentialist vision that today’s average yuppie or aspirant would relate to and see reflections of his life in.

This movie makes you think about how you are squandering your life, and sums up its philosophy in this unforgettable dialogue:

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

And one more gem that reminds us of who we are not:

You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

 

Read between the lines

In my various attempts to delve into my artistic muses, be it drawing, playing guitar, writing, etc., I’ve discovered over the years that the most (pleasantly) surprising creations happen when you’re not consciously working yourself into a sweat, or thinking about creating ‘a masterpiece’, something that others will admire you for, or trying to emulate someone whose work you admire, but letting yourself go free. Letting your subconscious take over and chart its own territory. Bringing out visions hidden in your psyche.

Though I’ve always enjoyed drawing, lately inspiration has been rare in coming, and more and more unpredictable. Usually, it takes a strong trigger, in my case, a vivid memory that I’d like to depict on paper, for me to unconsciously start doodling. One such memory remains in my mind decades after I saw the scene in an obscure Hollywood movie on DD2 (yes, it really was quite long ago). The scene goes like this:

A plane is shown flying in a stormy sky at night, the darkness punctuated by flashes of lightning. The scene shifts to the inside of the plane, and we see the passengers sitting with their hearts in their mouths, petrified at what might happen. The camera pans to a handsome but melancholy looking man, who seems unmoved by the storm raging outside or the scared passengers within. Suddenly, he gets up and walks down the aisle toward the rear of the plane. To the shock of an airhostess who spots him just at that moment, he begins turning the hydraulic mechanism that opens the exit door. As she runs screaming towards him, tell him to stop, the door flies open inward, and amid a rush of various papers and small objects flying across the aisle, the airhostess is thrown back, loses her balance and falls. The passengers are now screaming in terror. The man, however, continues to look unmoved, and fighting against the terrible wind, he struggles towards the door. The camera then focuses on his calm and melancholy countenance one last time as he scans the whole world from the entrance of the plane door, 30,000 feet up in the sky…and then he jumps. As we hear his fading scream, muffled by the wind, we see not him falling but instead the horizon, consisting of two adjoining mountains which are briefly lit up by a huge flash of lightning. As the light fades away again, we see two powerful God-like eyes showing above the mountains…and then the opening credits begin.

This nightmarish scene remained vivid in my memory since that day, and one day, without thought, while wanting to express something intense on paper, I drew this:

Eyes-in-the-sky

So yes, inspiration has no shape, form or definition when it comes to art. It has to have made an impact on the subconscious to express itself as vividly as this.

Of course, inspiration isn’t always dark and foreboding. There are many colourful sights, sounds, and visions that clamour for space in our subconscious as well. After I arrived in Hyderabad post getting an employment offer from Google, I had my first experience of visiting pubs. One which I frequented a few times with my friends was Club 8, a basement pub in Begumpet, complete with a large LCD TV in the centre of the room showing football matches, a regular one on the side playing recorded cricket matches, and best of all, a large speaker blasting out awesome hits from Stone Temple Pilots, Jefferson Starship, Toto, Spin Doctors, Guns N’ Roses, Deep Purple…you get the picture. My love of rock music began here, and to this day, I’d rather listen to rock than anything else. Later, over the years, I discovered many more artistes, especially great guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Joe Walsh, David Gilmour, and many others, whom I worship to this day. Over time, these influences remained in my head strongly enough for me to want to play guitar, and after playing a classical and a steel string one that went their ways with their owners, I bought a Yamaha acoustic that sounded beautiful and more than worth its price.

Well, music has always cheered me up when things have been low, and it was such one dismal afternoon at my rented house in Hyderabad, when my dad was admonishing me for the poor choices I’d made, as I was sitting at home unemployed, my bank account nearing zero, and a flatmate who was heavily in my debt but treating me shabbily as soon as he got a job, that I started unconsciously scratching with a black pen on the back inside cover of a diary, to block him out. This is what came out:

Dave-Navarro

Jane’s Addiction’s guitarist Dave Navarro had impressed me with a memorable live performance of ‘Three Days’ in Toronto, Canada in 2009. Dave’s controlled but powerful playing, smoothly covering the intro, riffs, bridge solo and lead solo of this famous song were simply awesome, and I keep checking this video over and over. You can view and appreciate this great performance at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwoo2Rp-pww.

And finally, this is what happens when you take a break. Inspiration takes a break too.

IMG_20140516_144659

Someday, I’ll complete this 7-string Schecter guitar. But for now, I’m continuing life’s routine and waiting for the next ‘Eureka’ moment that might produce something worthy.

How big data is affecting our lives

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Image source: http://www.greenbookblog.org/2012/03/21/big-data-opportunity-or-threat-for-market-research/

Since George Orwell created the sinister ‘Big Brother’ in his epic novel ‘1984’, the world has come to terms with nothing being sacrosanct, least of all, privacy. Over the decades since the 1990s, when information technology was just beginning to be recognized as the next big wave that would change the course of the world, businesses started realizing that they could now have easier access to a larger audience of potential customers by using the technologies that the web provided. From the earliest browsers, email and chat messaging services, forums and bulletin boards, online games, web portals and any other web properties requiring registration, all our transactions, monetary and otherwise, have been recorded. Big data was waiting to take the world by storm.

Fast forward to 2003. In the words of Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce five exabytes every two days… and the pace is accelerating.” Indeed, the amounts of data we produce today is mind-boggling. Even more worrying is the fact that the automatic data generated by machines such as CCTV cameras, sensors, vehicles, computes and mobile devices, etc., is overtaking the manual data generated by humans, and data volume is growing to the extent that a complementary new field called machine learning is currently a ‘hot’ specialization and is generating intense demand in the job market and businesses are coveting such specialists. The irony is that this might very soon render a very large number of people across the world useless because their less than creative, machine programmable tasks, will soon be performed efficiently and effectively by machines, which have been fed all the parameters on which the tasks need to be performed and have perfected the right responses to all possible scenarios.

Big data analytics tools like Hadoop typically ‘crunch’ massive amounts of data, amounting to several terabytes, in astonishingly small timeframes like a few hours or even minutes, by breaking down the data into smaller sets, which are individually worked upon, on multiple computers, and the individual results for each of these are combined to produce a final result that relates to the entire mass of data. This idea was Google’s guiding principle in creating their path breaking search engine, and today forms the basis of big data analysis.

What is the purpose of using the tools of big data? Primarily businesses, and increasingly governments, are realizing the need to analyze ever-increasing (in volume and complexity) data to study individual and collective trends at a minute level, which helps them to come up with policies and products and services that serve their purposes while ostensibly serving their stakeholders better. The range of data encompasses phone records, commercial transactions, email, chat and browser logs, GPS coordinates, social media activities, devices that transmit data about our activities, such as smart watches, Google Glass, smart phones, tablets, etc.; the list goes on.

Businesses that have a large volume of customers, such as telecom service providers, the travel industry, retail, etc., use big data tools to analyze individual behaviour so as to take predictive actions. For example, a retail chain can analyze the log of data about a customer using her transactions to predict an event in his/her life, such as a birthday, pregnancy, etc., and target relevant promotions to that person coinciding with the event. Thus, in real time, businesses can study customer behaviour and use promotions based on future activity. In effect, they can predict our lives.

An example of a non-commercial application of big data is the analysis of our music consumption by an audio website over time and its subsequently generating playlists containing music that matches our personal tastes.

From the point of view of machine learning, a great example of the application of big data analysis would be in the case of Google X’s ambitious project of developing self-driving cars that have to process a massive amount of information in real time using their various sensors so as to be safe for use on the roads.

There are four pillars on which big data is based. These are: volume, velocity, variety and veracity. This refers to the increasing size of data, the speed at which data is being generated, the increasing complexity of data due to the various forms of it, and the amount of real world value that each of this data represents.

While critically evaluating the idea of big data, one cannot deny some of its benefits, which include creating customized products and services across various sectors, providing enterprise-wide insights that can help companies develop policies that redefine them, reducing unnecessary costs, identifying new opportunities and revenue streams, providing better security, analyzing potential risk better, making our infrastructure smarter, making healthcare more efficient, understanding customer preferences better, and many more.

Though organizations like Google, Facebook and others face numerous lawsuits our breaches of privacy, we are coming to terms with the glum fact that in today’s digital age, we can never hope to be completely anonymous, and that a record of our activities and our lives will exist and update in some form or another across the spectrum of our lives.

The recent revelations by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal how rampant spying is in this digital age, and that no one is exempt from it. Spy agencies have gone to the level of using tracking devices in USB cords, so that even if devices are not online, they can transmit data. This is indeed scary, and makes us realize that we can be manipulated in innumerable ways, and that a variety of institutions know more about us as individuals than we dare acknowledge.

George Orwell’s disturbing dystopia is indeed manifesting itself subtly but steadily.

Smart game ideas

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Image source: http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow_viewer/0,3253,l=259352&a=259350&po=5,00.asp

When I first started using a smartphone, I was taken in by the touchscreen concept, keyboards you could ‘swipe’ on to type really quickly, high quality camera and nifty audio and video players, to name a few of the amazing features that completely engaged me. After that, of course, I saw many exciting games featured on the Android app store that I wanted to try out. I’ve played a few of these, including ‘Atomic Bomber’, where you are the pilot of a bomber jet that flies over enemy territory destroying tanks, rocket launchers, ammo warehouses, etc., while trying to avoid being shot down, a thrilling bike racing game called ‘Racing Moto’ involving tilting the screen left or right to allow the rider to make steep turns at high speed or avoid obstacles in a rich variety of landscapes amid heavy traffic, an addictive game called ‘Fruit Ninja’, which allows you to slice falling fruits in half by swiping across them as they fall…the list goes on.

Smartphone games have become more and more sophisticated, with high-definition RPG games like ‘Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour’, multiplayer games like ‘Asphalt 8: Airborne’, major upgrades to old favourites, such as ‘Angry Birds Space’, ‘Temple Run II’, etc., retro-themed games with great music from the period featured in the game, such as ‘Crazy Taxi’, world building games like ‘Minecraft’, and more, completely redefining our idea of gaming and giving us experiences that we thought we would get only on gaming consoles, with flat screen HD TVs acting as game screens.

Here are some game ideas that I’d like to see implemented as smartphone games, purely because I’ve either played the retro versions of these games or the concepts themselves immediately get my attention and interest. There must already be different versions or interpretations of some of these ideas existing in the smartphone gaming world today. Nonetheless, here goes:

Steet Fighter

This is one of the few games I played years ago on a Windows 98 PC, and which I still remember fondly. If there’s any way to adapt the characters in this epic game to the Android screen and replicate as many of the fight techniques as possible, this could well be a great retro comeback to the Android/iOS smartphone screen.

Shoot the assassin

A game with a twist; you’re not shooting off random targets and becoming a top assassin, you’re chasing and killing off assassins secretively. The game can involve dark corners, night/infrared vision, top storey windows of buildings or even terraces, drive-by shootings and more. As you clear levels, your weapons can be updated. You can plant car bombs in the cars of the assassins and watch them blow up when they try starting their car, you can make their weapons malfunction through remote control (remember the Mark Wahlberg movie ‘Shooter’, showing a remote-controlled gun; now you can sabotage that gun and maybe make it shoot the assassin if you can spot him). Other bonus points include health packs, babes (because they always attract male gamers) who are in fact messengers delivering ammo or the keys to your vehicle or food (health packs) or other essentials to you, and keys to secret passageways to escape into if an assassin has spotted you and is chasing after you or shooting at you.

Once you shoot a certain number of assassins, you win a medal for service to the country. This can be made into a multiplayer game as well, where you can take on the role of either hunter or assassin.

Kill the hunter

Here, you’re in a dense forest, and danger lurks all around you, in the trees, in the air, on the ground, in the ponds or other water bodies across you, in the bushes, you name it. You have to be very quick-witted and kill off these animals (all predators, no Bambi here) using a variety of weapons available to you (hunting rifle, hunting knife, bow and arrow, club, spear), as you make your way through the forest towards getting out of it. As the levels progress, you can have a night mode, which can be pretty scary, where all you can see are glowing eyes or hissing noises or slight movements that indicate where the animal is. Animals can range from lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, and panthers to snakes, scorpions, poisonous spiders, crocodiles and more. This is jungle hell and you should be a quick killer to get out of it alive.

Hunt for the Red Baron

Another cool vintage-themed PC game adapted to smartphones, here you’re a World War 2 flying ace, on enemy territory. Your enemies are mainly other planes which always seem just out of reach or in the far distance but start shooting at you much before you can get close enough. So again, good reflexes and shooting ability are needed. As you successfully shoot down enemy planes while sustaining minimal damage (nothing that will make you crash and explode in flames), you progress through levels and get better weaponry (your enemies might have better weapons too; you won’t know for sure), including rocket launchers, mortar guns, cockpit machine guns (like Jason Statham in ‘The Expendables’), even shrapnel (a blast of shrapnel can seriously damage enemy planes and make them crash, if not make them explode in mid-air). In the final level, you face the Red Baron himself, and he can be frustratingly difficult to bring down, due to his ability to roll sideways, glide up or down at varying speeds, be in front of you one minute and be shooting at you from your back the next, etc. If you’ve mastered the controls, you can yourself do these motions, but the Red Baron is very fast and you need a combination of tricks to finish him off. You can get sonar equipment so you can try bouncing sonar waves to your left or right, if you’re not sure of his location, and if you get back a ping, you can confidently fire in that direction and try to hit the Baron.

Ground-to-air attacks are not a part of this game, though they’re there in the original PC version.

Multiplayer cricket game

Lots of cricket versions are out there, but here you can try cool gyro effects so you can pan camera angles by tilting the screen right/left, play a great variety of shots and bowling styles,  as well as fielding techniques. You can choose different versions (T10, T20, and T30). One unique and interesting characteristic of this game is that you can be nasty if you want (special keys for sledging, for throwing a Yorker and hitting a batsman in the face, for a direct face-smashing shot that retires hurt the bowler or a specific fielder or even the umpire), but be ready to be suspended or face other penalties (your character can be asked to leave in the middle of your innings for any really serious/nasty actions, and this may be an issue if each player is given their own batting/bowling features, like in the case of the Street Fighter game; you won’t get to use these techniques if the player is asked to leave mid-game, so be sparing with the nastiness!). When you become Captain of your team, due to repeated wins for a certain number of times over the opposing teams, and you win a championship trophy, a special prize (inspiration from ‘Road Rash’) is a couple of hot cheerleader babes posing with you as you grin like an idiot. And yes, you can save this image.

So yes, I hope some of these ideas become realities and I’d certainly love to try them out when they do.

Girls aloud: Women who rock!

This may sound like a male stereotype, but there’s no denying the fact that a talented female musician or singer who’s also easy on the eyes makes men pretty much powerless. Especially men who love music. In my years of exploring the rock and pop music landscape, I’ve discovered a few ladies who catch your attention with the first lilt of their voice, and not only make you want to listen to more but also, in typical guy fashion, check out how they look.

Without further ado, here are some of my favourite female music artistes. Do check out their discographies and get hypnotized by their vocal charms.

Shirley Manson (Garbage)

Shirley Manson

Image source: https://sallylouvintage.wordpress.com/page/14/

Scottish redhead Manson first caught my attention when I heard the theme song of the Bond movie ‘The World Is Not Enough’, which sounded elegiac and yet beautiful. When I discovered the band behind this song, I was even more intrigued by their name, Garbage, which apparently was an evidence of a positive take by the founding members on criticism that their initial music sounded ‘like garbage’. The true power and moodiness of Manson’s voice expressed themselves even more intensely in the ode to depression ‘Only happy when it rains’ and the lament on squandering potential (female-centric) ‘Stupid girl’. Lesser heard beauties include the vulnerable and lonely ‘Milk’ and the seductive and trippy ‘Queer’. When you listen to these songs, what you remember is the lush contralto voice and her punk vocal style which echoes the seedy glamour of our visions and emotions. With her sexy vocals and engaging-yet-aloof screen presence, Shirley paints her own shades of a purple haze that I don’t mind getting lost in at all.

Amy Lee (Evanescence)

Amy Lee

Image source: http://www.nikinphaser.com/2010/02/amy-lee-promises-new-evanescence-album/

Amy Lee’s vocals have a steely quality, flexible yet consistently strong. They are similar to her personality, a potent combination of attractive looks and a 100-yard stare that could intimidate even a rabid fan. I remember watching the trippy video of ‘Bring me to life’ and thinking, wow, what a perfect combination of sultry vocals, existential themes and a nightmare vision. Amy Lee proved that she was no one-hit wonder by following this smash hit up with a string of catchy yet meaningful songs firmly grounded in illusory reality, such as the fame hungry wannabe-mocking ‘Everybody’s fool’, the zombie-living alternate reality vision portrayed in ‘Going under’; besides these, I also like the ones portraying the darkness of the afterlife, like ‘My immortal’ or the numbness-themed ‘Lithium’. Though Evanescence has been in a hiatus since 2009, Amy Lee’s soul-stirring vocals and dark vision continues to haunt, and I find myself listening to Evanescence’s classics again and again.

Marie Fredriksson (Roxette)

Roxette - The Look album cover

Image source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Look

Roxette was formed in the mid-80s by Swedish duo Per Gessle and Mary Fredriksson, and they sounded like a more edgy and rockish version of ABBA, with Fredriksson’s grainy vocals perfectly complemented by Gessle’s brighter one and the upbeat tempo in many of their songs. Millennial children would at least be familiar with one my favourites, the 2001 hit ‘Centre of my heart’, featuring their trademark energetic  keyboard riff punctuated by Fredriksson’s urgent and melodious appeal to understanding the maze of a romantic relationship. 1989’s ‘The look’ showed off their sexually aggressive foot-tapping energy. The album cover, showing off a hot Fredriksson in a leopard print double breasted coat open and showing off a gold bikini did not harm their appeal either. However, Fredriksson was not just a punk rocking diva flaunting sexual energy; she could carry off a mellow romantic number with equal panache. 1988/89’s ‘Listen to your heart’ made you see the desolation caused by growing apart in a relationship, as did 1987’s ‘It must have been love’. From it’s formation in 1979, Roxette has been steadily active till 2013. Though we don’t know what lies in the future, Roxette deserves its status as the second-most popular Swedish band after ABBA, and Frediksson’s energy and mesmerizing vocals continue to bring colour to a dull day.

Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters)

The Carpenters

Image source: http://insightsandsounds.blogspot.in/2013/10/karen-carpenter-solo-album-in-living.html

One of the most beautiful voices I’ve heard belongs to Karen Carpenter, half of the brother-sister duo that formed The Carpenters, one of the best-selling artists of all time. I remember my dad playing a cassette back in the early 90s, a recording of classic hits from a popular FM radio programme that used to air on Saturday evenings, and listening to a smooth and melodic voice singing ‘Top of the world’ and I instantly fell in love with it. Karen had a lovely contralto voice which instantly swept you away into her moods seemingly effortlessly. The melancholia evoked by ‘Rainy days and Mondays’ has a wistful beauty to it, as does ‘Yesterday once more’. However, she could sound equally sweet on upbeat numbers like ‘Please Mr. Postman’ and serene romantic ones like ‘We’ve only just begun’. Sadly, Karen passed away at the young age of 32 due to heart failure, caused by her long suffering from anorexia. She has truly made me feel on top of the world every time I hear her angelic voice, and she’ll be missed forever.

Hillary Scott (Lady Antebellum)

Hillary Scott

Image source: http://www.countrymusicislove.com/country-music-news/lady-antebellums-hillary-scott-featured-in-june-issue-of-in-style/

This list would not be complete without mentioning my recent discovery, thanks to my country music-loving friend, of a country music singing sensation called Hillary Scott, of the Nashville, Tennessee-based Lady Antebellum. Hillary’s vocals are clear as a bell, and can enchant you with their soaring range and emotive ability. She sounds equally perfect live, and her excellent harmony in the chorus parts with fellow vocalist Charles Kelley also adds lustre to their songs. Some of my favourites include ‘Need you now’, ‘American Honey’ and ‘Wanted you more’. I look forward to discovering more Lady Antebellum classics and hearing more of Hillary’s beautiful voice, which I have to admit, has kindled my own interest in country music and made me check out other amazing artists like Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban.

Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries)

Dolores

Image source: http://www.fanpix.net/gallery/dolores-o-riordan-pictures.htm

The Irish charm never fails to captivate, especially when it belongs to a singer, songwriter and musician who made Celtic rock as famous as U2 did, with songs that evoked freedom (‘Just my imagination’), the horrors of war (‘Zombie’), the beauty of a first kiss (‘Linger’)  and more themes impacting life. Dolores’ evocative mezzo-soprano voice and her trademark mannerism of dragging out the syllables of the last words of a verse combined with her strong Irish accent created a vocal style that was instantly recognized and loved across the world. Her vocal traits continued to shine in her first solo album post her Cranberries stint, ‘Are you listening?’ in songs like ‘Ordinary Day’. Dolores’ soulful singing, and especially her lighthearted rendition of ‘Just my imagination’, never fails to brighten my day and cheer for this pixie-like minstrel from Eire.

Before I end this piece, I readily accept that this list is anything but exhaustive. There are many more female artists I love and admire. Some names I’d like to mention before signing off include Tracey Thorn of Everything But The Girl, Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, British R&B singer Desiree, Agnetha Fältskog of ABBA, Avril Lavigne, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Imogen Heap of Frou Frou, Dido, Lisa Marie Presley and Suzanne Vega. Rock on, ladies!

 

Crazy but true story: A mad adventure

This happened during the third semester of my MBA. Thanks to one of our visiting professors having skipped a few of his lectures due to other engagements, we had to attend an 8-hour lecture of his, just one of as many such lectures as it took for him to complete the exam syllabus at this last minute. However, that morning, I and my friends arrived at the institute only to be told that the professor had cancelled the lecture. Wondering what to do after travelling more than 30 kms by a shuttle train to the institute (as the next shuttle train would only be at 6 pm), we decided on impulse to take a trip to the well-known Kharghar waterfalls, in Kharghar, a Navi Mumbai suburb a few stations away from Panvel, where my institute is based.

Kharghar waterfalls 2

Image source: http://www.dnaindia.com/big-picture/photo-monsoon-magic-in-mumbai-1853672

It was not the most sensible idea to start with, as it was the monsoon season, and the stream flowing from the waterfall would have swollen in volume and might even be dangerous. But we threw caution to the winds and happily boarded the suburban local from Panvel to Kharghar, and later, the autorickshaws that ferried us from Kharghar station to the falls. There was a long and muddy pathway leading from an entrance gate, where the rickshaws had to stop, and we had to make our way afoot on this path towards the falls. The soil was slippery and slimy and we trod gingerly, as we didn’t want our clothes to get dirty, by falling on the pasty dirt. Somehow, holding each other, we walked towards the falls, which appeared suddenly as we rounded a bend. We could already hear the heavy gushing noise of a large amount of water falling hard on rocks, and as we walked down the muddy path, we saw what was supposed to be a stream but had swelled into a small brown river and was roaring past heavily, carrying branches, garbage, and other debris along at tremendous speed. This should have warned us, but we walked along lithely until we reached the falls.

The waterfalls presented an awesome sight. On both sides of it were large rocks, and people were climbing up these to reach the top of the falls! We stood surprised for a few moments, then decided to follow these daredevils. In the company of peers, even the timid man becomes a hero, as he doesn’t wish to lose face in front of his friends. I’m sure all of us felt this as we unhesitatingly walked on towards the base rocks, which we started climbing, in our bravado, even trying not to hold any rocks for support and climbing just using our natural balance. The first few of these rocks were manageable, but as we climbed higher, the rocks felt more slippery, not to mention the spray from the falls whipping our faces and stinging our eyes. There was a moment, near the top, where the water flow was thin enough that I actually managed to jump from a rock on one side to the one on the other, with the falls flowing in between. This was an act that only the foolishly brave would attempt, for if my foot had slipped on the rock towards which I was jumping or I’d missed that rock, I’d fallen a good distance down and experienced several fractures or perhaps died of a broken neck or skull fracture from hitting my head on one of the rocks below. But that wasn’t the last foolishly brave thing I did that day.

We finally landed on a ledge near the top and breathed a sigh of relief as we edged away from the falls. Looking up, I saw more huge rocks at higher elevations, and on the largest of these, which was at the very top, three guys sat around coolly swilling beers from plastic cups. I had to admire their bravado, seeing as how dangerous this climb had seemed when completely sober, and how the climb down didn’t exactly seem easy either.

After taking in the sights from this height for a while, we decided to climb down and gingerly (this time taking support of each object that helped) stepped downwards among the rocks. We slipped a couple of places on the slimy stone surfaces but thankfully managed to grab on to each other or other rocks, branches, etc., and in time, we’d returned to the base of the falls. Feeling elated with this adventure, my friend called out, ‘Who wants to wade across the stream?’, for wading across the stream was a direct shortcut to the entrance of the pathway that led to the falls, as otherwise we’d have to walk some distance on the slippery mud path to reach the gate. Once again, without hesitation or thinking, I immediately said, ‘I’ll come with you!’, and even as the others smirked at our foolish enthusiasm, I followed him to the bank of the stream and stepped in after him. Immediately, I felt the force of the current and I was not able to put my foot down after lifting it up to take another step, as the rush of the flooding stream unbalanced me and it seemed like I was going to fall sideways. As I panicked and wildly tried to regain my balance, three guys who were wading across the stream in the opposite direction, parallel to us, saw me, and one of them shouted to my friend, ‘Hold him or he’s going to be swept away!’ My friend turned and caught my wrist in the nick of time and steadied me, and we both crossed the stream without further incident.

In keeping with the apathetic Indian sense of ‘humour’, our other friends laughed at me and my escapade like it was an amusing incident instead of wondering how bad it would have turned out if my friend hadn’t caught me in time. We walked back to the gate and hailed another rickshaw and were soon in the local train going towards Panvel. In the train, I thanked my friend for saving my life, and he made light of it. Soon we were back in Panvel, and as most of us dispersed back to their respective homes taking their various routes, another friend from Kalwa suggested, ‘Why don’t we pass some time here until the shuttle comes?’ There was still about a couple of hours until the shuttle was due, and my friend had already thought out what we should do in the meantime. He led the way to a bar, one frequented regularly by students from my institute, to the extent that the bar owner knew which division we were from without seeing any ID, and we settled down for some relaxing drinks.

Now I’d never been a drinker, and this was a first. But after the day’s adventures, I felt raring to go and willing to attempt anything without hesitation. We each ordered a tall glass of beer and later, a couple of pints of vodka, with peanuts and roast papad for snacks. Needless to say, the drinks tasted horrible and I somehow gulped them down, all the while acting and feeling completely sober, like I was immune to their intoxicating effects. Soon it was time to leave for the station and I and my friend walked along. It was only while we started to climb the flight of stairs at the main entrance that I began to feel a bit woozy and wobbled slightly. My friend, who had so far admired my apparent sobriety, now smiled and teased me, ‘you are high, aren’t you?’ I smiled and said no, and walked in a straight line to the platform where the shuttle train arrived on schedule.

In the train, as dusk gathered outside and the crowd increased inside as each station en route passed by, we talked about our day-to-day lives, things that young adults like us gladly talk about, like girlfriends, money, career, etc. Initially, as the train was passing through tunnels and the sound of the train increased to a din due to the enclosed space, we were shouting at each other to be heard, but I soon began noticing that even when we were not in tunnels and the outside noise was not so high, I was still talking very loudly, which is very unlike me. Not to mention excitedly, enthusiastically, like the things we were discussing were of the foremost importance in our lives. I noticed the people around us glancing in our direction, but I continued my high-pitched yapping nonetheless. That’s when I realized I was truly drunk and feeling drunker by the minute.

After the train stopped at Diva Junction, my friend and I parted ways, and I waited for the local to reach the next station, my home, Dombivli. In the local train, I realized that I was very much in danger of lurching like a drunk or tripping over someone, and I fought with all my willpower to control myself, lest I be manhandled or abused by fellow commuters. My chest felt heavy and I wondered whether I was going to puke, but that was something I was not going to let happen. So clenching my teeth and my fists, I waited for Dombivli station to arrive, and after alighting, walked fast but somewhat unsteadily home. When I rang the doorbell, and my folks opened the door, I announced that I didn’t want dinner and was going to bed as I wasn’t feeling well. They were concerned, but I brushed aside their questions and went to the bedroom, locked the door from within and was asleep within minutes without even having changed my clothes. The next morning, I experienced my first hangover but acted like it was due to my illness. Soon, I was back to normal, with that awesome day remaining a clear memory, which is why I’m able to narrate it so completely today.

The next morning, while travelling back to my institute with friends in the shuttle train, a friend read out from a regional language local paper that five people had been swept away the previous day in the flooded stream flowing from the Kharghar waterfalls and had been drowned at sea. My heart came into my mouth for a moment as I truly realized the horror of what would have happened to me as well. I thanked God and my friend again for my lucky escape, and proceeded on with yet another ordinary day.