Sunday, March 4, 2012

Two books and a movie...

Lately, I have fallen quite behind in terms of my reading. For whatever reason, I have just not been able to spend as much time on reading as I wanted to. This, despite the fact that the last trip to my local bookseller (who gives books on rent - god bless him) in mid-January saw me as bring as much as 4 books. Even after a month and a half, I have finished only 2 of those and have started the third. Also there is a huge backlog of Times Crest articles (since November), whose soft copies are gathering dust (metaphorically speaking :) on my desktop. The story is quite the same when it comes to movies. With the baby at home, it is a long time since I have last gone to the theater. Have got to make do with watching downloaded stuff (old movies only). Clearly, a lot more time needs to be put in both these activities viz. reading and watching movies. Till that time, here are some thoughts on the couple of books and movie that I have finished recently.

The first book that I started off this year was Chetan Bhagat's Revolution 20-20. Frankly, for quite some time, I had not even heard about this book. It was only when I started to see the college-going crowd eagerly lap it up in the local trains that I became curious about it. To add to it, of course, was the name (the book's as well as the author's). But having started reading it with moderate expectations, I must admit it has fallen short. Set mostly in Varanasi, the book has three main characters:  Gopal, a wannabe IIT guy who, after failing it to make it there, joins hands with the dubious local politician and starts his own engineering college. Then there is Aarti, his childhood sweetheart and finally, Raghav the third point of this triangle and a IT-BHU grad-turned-journalist with a mission to expose the corrupt, a mission that brings him into direct confrontation with Gopal. The plot, of course, is nothing new and Chetan Bhagat fails to infuse it with much of life. And for a title like Revolution 20-20, you expect him to go beyond the lives of the three characters and address some of the bigger issues facing society. Sadly, there is not much of that either. And finally, there are hardly any shock moments in the book, so required for a novel that otherwise, has nothing new to say. Surely not amongst Chetan Bhagat's better works and can be safely avoided.

The Ascent of Money: a recommended read..
In contrast, the second book in my list was a pleasure to read. Niall Ferguson (a Harvard professor) has written 'The Ascent of Money' and it is a fascinating read if you are interested either in history or economics. And if you are interested in both, it is simply not to be missed !!. He begins with his central point that far from being reviled as the root cause of most evil in the world, money (in its various forms and hues) has actually facilitated the progress of mankind from medivial times to the prosperity (albeit unequal) where it finds today. He then proceeds to trace the historical evolution of the main pillars of the modern financial system i.e. Banking, Bonds, Stocks, Insurance and Real Estate. In each of these five chapters, Ferguson takes a detailed look at the origins of that sector for e.g. the concept of Bonds took shape in Italy in the 14th century, whereas Insurance as we know it today developed in Scotland in the middle18th century as a means of providing for the wives of the Church members who died unnaturally. It is great to get the historical context of all the things about finance that we take for granted today. He finishes with a chapter on the international linkages in the world of finance and goes on to mention that the financial world is very much akin to the natural world in that, it allows for natural selection, survival of the fittest and is as much vulnerable to outside and unforseen events. Though the book sometimes feels lengthy, it is still a good read and in fact, I believe it should be part (if not directly, then atleast as recommended reading) of any B-school course in finance and economics (if it is not already). For those who do not want to take the pain of reading it (or cannot find a copy), there is also a 4-part video series, which can be found here. And finally, you do not need to be a finance whiz in order to comprehend the book. A basic understanding of the terms would do just as well. As mentioned earlier, a thoroughly recommended book, if only to learn about the past.

Coming to the movie now. Watched the Marathi movie 'Gabhricha Paus' ('The Cursed Rain'). A much-acclaimed 2009 movie about the prevalance of farmer sucidies in Vidarbha, the movie stars Girish Kulkarni and Sonali Kulkarni (starred in Dil Chahata Hai opposite Saif) as the couple Kisna and Alka. The movies begins with a farmer suicide, which then makes Alka fear and obsess that her husband would be the next in line. Kisna, of course, is very much the hard-working and optimist types. After two years of drought, all eyes are on the monsoon clouds as another sowing season approaches. But then, the Cursed Rain comes down in torrents, thus destroying Kisna's hopes of finally getting just reward for this hardwork and toil. The movie, directed by Satish Manwar, may not be a masterpiece, but it definitely takes a sincere look at the troubled times faced by the farmers and has good moments of black humour, none better than at the ending. Also it marks another step in the ascent of Marathi cinema from the run-of-the-mill slapstick comedy variety to a medium that looks at all facets of modern life, both urban and rural. Would heartily recommended seeing it once.

Signing off for now. Have currently started off with Steve Jobs' biography by Walter Isaacson. Will write about that when I finish.


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