Book Review: Men and Dreams in the Dhauladhar

Men and Dreams in the DhauladharMen and Dreams in the Dhauladhar by Kochery C Shibu

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of the first books I read in 2017 but couldn’t review it as I got really busy! Now that I have more time, I am all geared up to write this review.

The book is based in a small village in the Dhauladhar ranges in the outer Himalayas. I have spent majority of my life in the foothills of the Himalayas and this area is very close to my heart. As I child, I had the opportunity to explore the workings of a hydro-electric project as well. So I was very excited to read this book.

The book is about a hydro-electric project and the various lives entangled in it. Nanda, a mechanical engineer from Kerela, joins the project as a mechanical engineer. He comes to Dhauladhar to get away from his past. Radha is a doctor by profession but a dancer at heart – and is searching for someone to match the rhythm of her soul. Khusruis a pawn in the hands of terrorists aiming to destabilise the roots of India. Their paths cross at a hydroelectric project in the Himalayas and what follows affects not only their lives but the lives of people all across India.

There is another major character in the book – the Dhauladhar range – which has an unpredictable and temperamental personality – reacting to all that it is put through to build the dam.

When it came to writing this review, it was easy to describe Nanda and Radha as they are relatively straightforward characters. Khusru was hard to describe. Even after I went through the book again, I couldn’t figure out whether he believed in the ideology of the ISI or went through the training because he didn’t know any other way of life.

The characters and their stories are very well described by the author. Even the supporting characters are so well written that I got lost in their stories. The book is well researched and the author has described the lives of workers at a hydro-electric project in great detail – their living conditions, their personal lives, and dangers faced due to torrential rains and snow. The author also writes about the villagers already living in this area and how their lives are affected by this project. The area is also visited by tourists for adventure sports and the author writes about them as well. It is truly amazing how he manages to include so much information and yet never let any of it seem unnecessary to the plot.

I am a bit disappointed by the ending as it built up to a exciting climax that kind of fizzled out in the end. It may be the only flaw in an otherwise wonderful read. Kudos to the author for a very well written novel and I hope I get to read more of his works soon.

Disclosure: I had been sent the book by the author for reading and reviewing – but have not received any compensation for the review – It is an unbiased and uninfluenced review.

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New Year, New Me

Hey everyone. I am back, albeit after a long hiatus, with a resolution to be more regular with my blog. Now that I look back, the last couple of months of 2016 flew by! It’s not that there was nothing to write about – in fact there was a lot happening! I studied, read a lot of novels and became fitter! Since the start of a year is traditionally associated with resolutions, let me write about something most of us resolve to do – improving our health!

With Mark Zuckerberg labelling 2016 as the year of running, everyone wore about the benefits of running and becoming healthier within a couple of months. I had been running inconsistently since 2015 but resolved to run daily and steadily increase the distance. It took a ligament injury for me to try other ways of working out – doctor’s orders. Once I stopped limping after a couple of weeks, my fiancé took me to his gym and introduced me to weight lifting. Till then I had always thought of gyms as smelly and boring – after all the benefits of running outside are the wonderful view! Still, after complaining a lot I let him guide my training sessions. To my surprise, it was really fun!

I started with really light weights and working out for half an hour at most. Soon I graduated to heavier weights and longer intervals. Once my foot became better I even started to run on the treadmill (I missed the awesome sea view I used to run along earlier though!) Some of us assume that weight training leads to bulky muscular bodies – nothing like that has happened to me yet – I am leaner and more toned. I enjoy my daily gym sessions these days. Being the bibliophile that I am, I listen to audible books while working out – It’s one and a half hour that I dedicate to myself each day!

The goal of this post is not to decry the benefits of running. I really admire runners and their stamina. I still dream of being able to run a marathon someday. All I want to say is that everyone should strive towards the healthiest version of themselves and running may not be the best choice for all. So whether you run, do yoga or lift weights or play some sport – enjoy it to the fullest. Remember – with this life we have been given the responsibility to live it well – stay fit and live long!

Book reviews: Short Stories by JK Rowling

September 6th was a wonderful day for Harry Potter fans as JK Rowling released three collections of short stories adding to our knowledge of Britain’s magical community. These  are available as ebooks from Pottermore through Amazon or iBooks store. Being a potterhead, I bought and read these books as soon as they were released. However, my work kept me from reviewing these sooner. Since these books were released together, it seems fitting to review them together as well.

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1. Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardships and Dangerous Hobbies.

Let’s start with this one because it has my favourite characters. The book begins with the story of Professor McGonagall. My impression of her is that of a crunchy chocolate chip cookie – hard on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside. In the initial books she is a strict impartial professor but in the later books we realise that she has a soft corner for all her students and specially Harry Potter. She is proud of her school and her students and is brave during the battle of Hogwarts.  She has exceptional magical skills as she was able to become a trained animagus. Yet, she chose to pass on her skills to further generations as a teacher rather than aim for a top ministry posts. All these qualities definitely made me want to know more about her and Rowling does not disappoint.

The book also has the life story of everyone’s favourite defence against the dark arts professor, Remus Lupin. Being a werewolf and knowing his fate does make it more tragic. It is quite interesting to read what Rowling was considering when she wrote about this character. Rowling also wrote about Sybil Trelawny, half charlatan half seer and Professor Silvaus Kettleburn, the care of magical creatures professor before Hagrid whose life makes for an interesting read. As I mentioned earlier, Rowling has also added her own thoughts about each character which adds flavor to their life stories. She has also written about animal, werewolves, naming seers (no wonder some wizarding families give such weird names to their children!) I read the book within a couple of hours and was hungry for more! And so I started reading the next one –

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2. Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists

– which starts with the most hated professor of all – Dolores Umbridge. Ugh – even her name leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t think I even hate Voldemort as much as I hate her. Voldemort and she are the only ones who left permanent scars on Harry – the lightning scar and the ‘I must not tell lies’ scar. Her search for power and her disdain for anyone except purebloods left her friendless and mean to the core. In high school, we named a teacher we intensely disliked ‘Umbridge‘ and I’m sure many other potter-heads have similarly nicknamed people they know!

Rowling has also written about the Minister of Magic and the various wizards (and witches) appointed to the post ever since its conception in 1707. As she writes – to understand more about the politics of the wizarding world, look at who held the top post.

We learn more about the notorious wizard prison, Azkaban – which brings shivers up my spine. Built and sustained by dark magic, it sounds much worse that Alcatraz, on which it was based. I’m glad to learn that after Voldemort’s second uprising was squashed, the prison was no longer guarded by Dements but by Aurors – though it must be a dreary rotation for them.

Rowling has also written about Horace Slughorn, who is a proof that some of the best wizards come from Slytherin. Despite being a snob and telling Voldemort about Horcruxes, he still fought bravely during the Battle of Hogwarts and that redeemed him in my eyes. We also get to learn more about Quarrel, who had the misfortune of encountering Voldemort during his travels and subsequently lost his life due to the latter.

Lastly, we come to Peeves, the Hogwarts Poltergeist who would have been a tremendous improvement to the movies. Although he has troubled all Hogwarts students, I still recall him fondly whenever I think of Fred and George zooming away on their broomsticks in their seventh year and telling Peeves to ‘give her(Umbridge) hell!’ He also defended the school during the Battle of Hogwarts and that itself is enough to earn him a permanent place in my heart.

The last book in this  series is –

3. Hogwarts, an Incomplete and Unreliable Guide

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–  which sounds so much like what Hermione would say because elves have been excluded from this guide as well.

It starts with the journey to Hogwarts – the construction of the platform nine and three quarters and the Hogwarts express to ferry the students to the school – and moves on to the sorting. On re-reading the books, I have become more opposed to sorting because it exaggerated the differences in the characters of different students. Though it is true that some Gryffindors are evil and some Slytherins are good, nonetheless the founders should have tried to amalgamate the students rather than separate them. Rowling has also elaborated on the lessons at Hogwarts, the various secrets it has held over the years and the ghosts at Hogwarts.

Overall, the three books are an interesting read and make me want to fly off to Hogwarts! Highly recommended to Potterheads.

Happy Teachers’ Day!

September 5th is celebrated as Teachers’ Day in India in honor of Dr S Radhakrishnan, the second President of India and one of the most distinguished scholars. Other countries celebrate Teachers’ Day as well – to honor their national educators.

What makes teachers so important that we set a special day to celebrate their contribution? When I look back, I remember various moments when my life was shaped by my teachers. I think of my 6th grade English teacher who honed my writing skills to what they are now. I think of my 9th grade Biology teacher who kindled my love for human biology and ultimately made me choose medicine as a career. I think of my high school English teachers who drove away my fear of public speaking. Everytime I see a patient, talk to her and operate on her, I am guided by the principles my seniors inculcated in me. Even my interest in fountain pens was rekindled when one of my seniors gifted one to me!

I am what I am due to my family, seniors and teachers. I consider myself lucky to have studied and trained under such fine educators. One day of the year is not enough to thank them – they deserve to know that their hard work has made a difference in someone’s life everyday! I strive to be as dedicated as them and guide my juniors towards the right path – so that one day they too remember me lovingly and thank me in their thoughts.

Audiobook Review – Six Degrees of Assassination

Six Degrees of AssassinationSix Degrees of Assassination by M.J. Arlidge

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lately I have become addicted to audiobooks. With the kind of services Audible provides, it’s hardly a surprise. So this time when I was travelling for a conference I decided to buy a few audiobooks to listen on the flight.

What attracted me to this book was my two favourite British actors on the cover – Andrew Scott, who infused a new life into Sherlock’s arch nemesis Moriarty, and Freema Agyeman, who played the tenth Doctor’s companion Martha Jones after Rose Tyler’s exit. Their performances were legendary in their respective TV shows and I was positive that these two would sound amazing together. So was it as good as I hoped it was? Read on to find out.

The book starts with the assassination of the British Prime Minister, John Campbell, on the tenth anniversary of July 7th 2005 bombings. MI5 agents Alex Cartwright (Andrew Scott) and Ellen Townsend (Freema Agyeman) investigate to uncover the people responsible for this assassination. (view spoiler)

The assassination of the prime minister doesn’t mean that politics takes a break in the parliament. In fact, his death leads to a power struggle between the deputy prime minister, Jane Clark and the next in command, Damien, in the political party. Both struggle to gather support – even if it means besmirching each other’s and the assassinated prime minister’s name.

The storyline is excellent and full of twists which kept me hooked. Unlike a book adaptation, the setting of the scene was not described and it felt more like listening to radio. In spite of this, the narration by the characters was clear enough for me to understand the background at all times. I loved the theme music as well. The ending was totally unexpected but wrapped up very well.

Recommended to all who love reading and listening to thrillers!

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An Indian Beauty – Review of ASA Nauka fountain pen

The story begins with my obsession for pens, and later fountain pens – which I have mentioned in my earlier posts. I am constantly in search of the perfect fountain pens for me – and I believe that I have finally found another gem!

I have recently started expanding my collection of fountain pens and wanted an Indian one. I had used Japanese and German fountain pens till now and had mixed feelings about them (I love my Lamy and Pilot Petit1s; Kaweco and Platinum Preppies – not so much!). I think the Parkers sold in India are made here itself but they don’t count as Indian, do they? Then there was this post by an American blogger who denounced Indian pens – I am pretty sure that he has never used a good Indian fountain pen in his life! I really didn’t know what to expect when I ordered an ASA pen for myself but I prepared myself for the worst!

Initially I was told that the pen would be delivered within one week but the same day I got a mail that it would take three four weeks as they had a lot of orders. That actually made me feel better – the pen wouldn’t be so much in demand were it not good! About three weeks of ordering the pen I felt that I had had enough of fine nibs and wanted a medium one. I promptly mailed Mr Subramaniam and also asked him if he could engrave my name on the pen – he happily complied (without any added charges!) A week later I got a mail that my pen had been dispatched as promised and three days later it was delivered to me. I couldn’t wait to fill it with ink and start writing with it!

Let’s discuss the looks first – I ordered an ASA Nauka in translucent body. It was delivered to me in excellent wrapping in a fine velvet pouch. The pen looks magnificent! It is called Nauka because it resembles a canoe. It has a translucent (not transparent) body handmade from acrylic and has a slightly rough texture which feels good on handling and doesn’t slip even in sweaty hands. It is a huge pen! All my other pens look tiny in comparison. Nonetheless, it is very comfortable to hold and write with. The pen came with a piston and can be used with standard international cartridges but I prefer to use it like an eyedropper and watch the ink swirl in it – one of the main reasons why I wanted a translucent body. The cap and the body screw on and off. There is no joint felt between the feed and the body which makes handling the pen even more pleasurable. The pen came with a medium Schmidt nib – German with an iridium point. Like the rest of the pen, the nib looks huge compared to my other pens. The nib is fitted very well in the pen.

The Beauty herself – ASA Nauka Translucent fountain pen

ASA Nauka compared to my other pens
Now I know that looks aren’t everything! The pen needs to write well to be considered good. So I filled it with Krishna Kot-massi ink (another Indian product) and waited for the ink to rise through the feed to the nib. After one or two shakes the pen started to write and OMG does it write well! This nib is one of the smoothest that I have used till date with no breaks or scratches. The ink flow is consistent with no leaks. In fact since I didn’t have silicon grease with me I just filled the barrel and hoped that it wouldn’t leak all over my stuff – it didn’t –  but a slight amount of ink did creep into the threads! I am still getting used to writing with a medium nib so I write slow but it is very comfortable and not at all heavy for the size. I usually prefer to post my pens while writing but this pen balances better unposted. For some reason my Lamy doesn’t write well on the inferior quality paper we use for maintaining our inpatient records – but even those papers are handled well by my ASA Nauka.

Writing sample of ASA Nauka medium Schmidt nib with Krishna Kot-massi permanent Blue-Black ink.
The dimensions and weight are given on the site so I will not go into those details. Everyone who has seen my pen so far has admired it. In fact many were surprised when I tell them that it’s an Indian pen based in Chennai! This pen is now a permanent part of my arsenal and I am proud to own such a fine Indian handmade pen. Keep up the good job, Mr Subramaniam!

ASA Nauka fountain pen can be purchased from www.asapens.in. I have purchased the pen on my own and have not been paid for the review.