All Hail Greg Chappell – The Destroyer of Cricket Teams!

Few people associated with the Indian Cricket scene are as reviled as Greg Chappell, the former Australian batsman and captain, later the coach of India preceding over a disastrous World Cup in 2007. In fact the only other person who has been despised more is probably Mohammed Azharuddin in the aftermath of the match-fixing scandal.

Chappell took over the reins of coaching the Indian team in May/June 2005 after John Wright’s long and successful stint. John Wright, it must be remembered, forged a combination with Sourav Ganguly that helped take India to the finals of the 2003 World Cup, and pushed India up the test and ODI rankings. Under his tutelage and Ganguly’s leadership Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman became the architects of many groundbreaking victories (2001 Eden Gardens, 2002 Headingley, 2004 Adelaide), Virender Sehwag became the first Indian to score a test triple century and the Indian batting order morphed into the juggernaut that it always had the potential to become.

Continue reading All Hail Greg Chappell – The Destroyer of Cricket Teams!

Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

28 years after Kapil Dev led an unfancied India to a sensational World Cup triumph at the Lord’s 25th June 1983, M. S. Dhoni led a thoroughly efficient Indian outfit to repeat the feat.

When Kapil won:

  • I was as old as my son Aikataan is at present: not yet 5.
  • Colour TVs weren’t in vogue in India. You had to place an order for one and it could take up to a few months to get one, as my father found out when he tried to buy one before the LA Olympics in 1984.
  • The only sport where India had previously made a mark internationally was hockey, where it had won the Olympic gold medal 8 times (3 times as British India, including Pakistan). This happens to be a record not yet broken.
  • ODI matches in cricket had 60 overs a side and they were played in whites with a red cricket ball.
  • Cricket World Cups were named after their chief sponsors. The 1975, 1979 and 1983 trophies were called the Prudential World Cup, the 1987 trophy was called the Reliance World Cup, in 1992 it was the Benson & Hedges World Cup and in 1996 it was the Wills World Cup. Only from 1999 did the trophy start being called the ICC World Cup.
  • India were beyond rank outsiders, quite in contrast to being the favourites this year. In fact David Frith, the founder-editor of the Wisden Cricket monthly had claimed he would eat his words if India won the World Cup. He famously kept his word.
  • Broadcasters were too few and Kapil’s breathtaking knock of 175* against Zimbabwe was lost forever due to a BBC strike.
  • The Man of the Match for the Finals took home £600. In contrast the BCCI has promised $200,000.00 to each member of the winning team this year.
  • There was no concept of a Man of the Series.

I haven’t a recollection of the 1983 World Cup (we didn’t have a TV then), and I am pretty sure Aikataan is too young to have a recollection of his parents celebrating this World Cup. One of our lighter moments throughout the World Cup was getting him to say “India will win”, or “India has won”. Whoever the opponent – Australia, Pakistan or Sri Lanka, he was always giving two thumbs down to India and saying that the other team would win. The superstitious lot that we are, whenever India’s fortunes were on the downturn my wife and I prodded him for his opinion as to who the winner would be. He would promptly answer “Sri Lanka” and immediately there would be something good happening for India.

Continue reading Thoughts on the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup

Anatomy of an Ekta Kapoor Soap – The Regurgitating Plot

Folks in and from India are probably familiar with Ekta Kapoor and her unending saga of soaps. It is my belief that it is algorithmically possible to define the plot for these:

The Core Engine behind Ekta Kapoor's Soaps
The Core Engine behind Ekta Kapoor's Soaps

PS: I have been really busy with Suffusion, and weekly transcontinental travel isn’t helping either (actually it is from one coast of the US to the other, but transcontinental sounds so much more imposing). Hence the delay between posts.

Truth and Seek

Following my article about the Harry Potter series I have decided to write another summary, this time of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. Before I begin, a few words about books and me. I love books, though I am not obsessed with them. On an average I read around 12-15 novels a year. That translates to approximately 1 a month. Of course, it doesn’t mean that I read one every month – it is entirely likely that all the novels are finished in the span of 2 months. I have a pretty decent collection of books, running close to a thousand.

My foray into fantasy was fueled by a K-Circle quiz in 2003, Harry Potter and LOTR notwithstanding. I decided to try out the books that happened to be the answers of the quiz and took recommendations from my good friend Vishy. Vishy suggested that I try the book Wizard’s First Rule from the Sword of Truth series. And I was hooked. If I might add, Vishy stopped following the series through the middle of the third book (Blood of the Fold), but I went on to read the entire series of 11, plus the prequel Debt of Bones. The series has been adapted to a TV series called Legend of the Seeker. The challenge of adapting a book for the idiot box is that you have to make things formulaic, whack some events out of sequence, introduce your own elements and drop a few others. Keeping these in mind the Legend of the Seeker comes off as an attempt that is not very satisfactory. More of it later. But I must add that they have a rather pretty leading lady in Bridget Regan.

Kahlan Amnell and Richard Cypher / Lord Rahl
Kahlan Amnell and Richard Cypher / Lord Rahl

The Character Universe

  • Richard Cypher / Lord Rahl – The protagonist of the tales. He goes by several titles, the first of which is “The Seeker of Truth”. He wields the Sword of Truth, a magical sword (seen in the picture above). The series focuses on Richard’s growth as a character as well as in magic. He is shown to be free-thinking, compassionate, intelligent, strong and with an intuitive understanding of his power.
  • Kahlan Amnell – The Mother Confessor and Richard’s love interest. As a Confessor she can “confess” any person by touching him / her. This makes the “confessed” persons lose themselves completely and becomes slaves, obsessed with obeying and protecting the Mother Confessor and losing their free will. Of course, she controls her power most of the time so as to prevent people from becoming unwitting slaves. However Confessors cannot control their power throes of passion, which results in people never falling in love with them. Kahlan is an extremely powerful Confessor, who is very beautiful, just, intelligent and dedicated to her cause.
  • Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander / Zedd – The First Wizard and mentor of Richard. Zedd is an extremely powerful wizard, who was responsible for killing Panis Rahl – father of Darken Rahl. Zedd is portrayed as a perennially hungry old man who is friends with Richard from before the series begins.
  • Darken Rahl – The villain for the first 2 books and the ruler of D’Hara. He makes an appearance in the fourth book as well. Richard becomes Lord Rahl after killing Darken Rahl.
  • Jagang – Also known as the Emperor of the Imperial Order or Jagang the Just or the Dream Walker or the ruler of the Old World. Jagang’s role grows as the series progresses. He is only mentioned as the Emperor of the Old World in the second book (without being named), starts driving things in the third book, he shows what he can do with his powers in the fourth book and becomes the chief villain from that point on.
  • Mord-Sith – Mord-Sith are the personal guards of Lord Rahl. They have the unique ability to turn a person’s magic back on him/her. Mord-Sith are created by torturing girls from a very young age and they develop into women who can administer unbelievable amounts of pain using a tool called an Agiel. Two Mord-Sith feature prominently in the series – Cara and Denna
  • Sisters of the Light and Sisters of the Dark – These sorceresses are good and evil respectively. By birth people with the “gift” of magic possess the additive side of the gift. However, the Sisters of the Dark have pledged their souls to the Keeper of the Underworld and have gained use of the subtractive side of the gift. The Sisters getting repeated mention through the series are Prelate Annalina Aldurren (Ann), Verna Sauventreen, Ulicia, Nicci and Merissa.

Each book mentions one Wizard’s rule

  1. Wizard’s First Rule: People will believe a lie because they want to believe it’s true, or because they’re afraid it might be true.
  2. Wizard’s Second Rule: The greatest harm can result from the best intentions.
  3. Wizard’s Third Rule: Passion rules reason.
  4. Wizard’s Fourth Rule: There is magic in sincere forgiveness; in the forgiveness you give, but more so in the forgiveness you receive.
  5. Wizard’s Fifth Rule: Mind what people do, not only what they say, for deeds will betray a lie.
  6. Wizard’s Sixth Rule: The only sovereign you can allow to rule you is reason.
  7. Wizard’s Seventh Rule: Life is the future, not the past.
  8. Wizard’s Eighth Rule: Talga Vassternich. (Deserve Victory)
  9. Wizard’s Ninth Rule: A contradiction can not exist in reality. Not in part, nor in whole.
  10. Wizard’s Tenth Rule: Willfully turning aside from the truth is treason to one’s self.
  11. Wizard’s Eleventh Rule: The “Rule Unspoken”, the “Rule Unwritten”, “The rule from the beginning of time.”

Each rule is explained in the context of the story. The last rule is particularly interesting and is not explicitly quoted. However Richard figures it out and that is instrumental in his victory at the end.

The books are quite captivatingly written. I recall starting the first book and turning the pages in excited anticipation of what was going to happen next. I didn’t rest till I had finished the book at around 4:30 a.m. That being said, there is a lot of gore and violence at several places, along with talk of rape and abuse in every novel. However, if you are not squeamish about such things then you will enjoy the ride. You have to be careful, though, about giving the books to younger kids. Another aspect of the book is the angst. The lead characters never spend much time happily with each other – they are almost always separated by some machination.

And now for the books themselves. I am keeping my reviews as spoiler-free as I can. As a result I am leaving out key plot details and character traits at several points.

  1. Wizard’s First Rule
    The first book of the series, which sets the tone by introducing the main characters. The story starts with Richard meeting a very beautiful but mysterious lady in white (Kahlan), being chased by a group of four assassins. He takes her to meet Zedd, learns a few very important things about himself and Zedd and becomes the owner of the Sword of Truth, an ancient object of power. He then gets involved in the journey to save the world from the rule of Darken Rahl. On the way he meets a witch woman (not to be confused with a sorceress), gets captured by a Mord-Sith called Denna who tortures him to within an inch of his death, befriends a dragon and eventually manages to prevent Darken Rahl from gaining control of the world by making him open the wrong Box of Orden. And yes, he gets Confessed by Kahlan.

    The structure of the story is like most other works of fantasy – the young hero finds out that he is blessed and has to save the world, the odds are insurmountably stacked against him, he has a kindly mentor to help him in his quest and the villain is a nasty piece of work. However, what makes the difference is Goodkind’s deftness with words. The details about violence are graphic enough and scenes of angst are drawn out to just the right limit, so as to not only prevent the reader from getting bored, but also to paint the correct picture in the reader’s head. What works very well is the way the characters are fleshed out. If anything is wrong, it is the fact that the names are somewhat corny. Darken Rahl? More laughably, Panis Rahl?

    Continue reading Truth and Seek

Potting the Seven Potters

By nature I tend to avoid books and movies with a lot of hype associated with them, because the bigger the hype the greater the magnitude of disappointment in a large number of cases. So I was quite judgmental about the Harry Potter series when I first heard about it in June / July 2000 and I kept wondering what it was all about. When my dear friend Vishy tried hard to get me to read a Harry Potter, I was staunch in my refusal, going more by my brother Koke’s word about Harry Potter being like Enid Blyton’s novels. Not that I disliked Enid Blyton as a kid, but as a 21 year-old I did not want to be caught with a kids’ book in hand.

So when I had to start a train journey from Hyderabad to Kolkata aboard the Falaknuma Express in May 2001, I was quite surprised to see myself picking up a Harry Potter. I had no clue what the first book in the series was, but looking at the descriptions on the back flap I figured Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone had to be it. It was a decision that I wouldn’t regret. By the end of that trip I had finished reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (book 4) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (book 2) as well. To say that I was addicted would be an understatement.

After getting back to Bangalore I got myself a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (book 3) and finished that. Then began an elaborate hunt for good fan-fiction. But nothing could keep me sated till the next installment came by. I was a bit disappointed with Order of the Phoenix (book 5), and while I felt Half-Blood Prince (book 6) was a definite improvement, I was also left wondering how on earth J. K. Rowling would finish up the series with so much left to do. With trepedition I looked forward to The Deathly Hallows (book 7), and what a fitting end it was to the series!! So pleased was I with it that I went ahead and purchased Tales of Beedle the Bard.

What makes me like the series so much? I could point out several reasons:

  • A really fertile imagination – Rowling comfortably rivals other fantasy writers with her world of fiction. There are several literary creations of hers to show that off:
    • The game of quidditch, complete with rules, a world cup and a supporting book, Quidditch Through the Ages.
    • The smooth blending of the world of magic with the world of “muggles”, as the magical folks would call them:
      • The hypothetical Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross, acting as a train stop for transporting between the two worlds
      • Use of fairy-tale concepts of magic, like flying broomsticks, magic carpets, cauldrons for potions and adding a modern spin of commercialism to them, like a Nimbus 2001 broom.
      • Introducing a minister for magic to handle liaison between the two worlds
      • Making the kids of the magical world go through an academic schedule similar to the kids outside – full-year terms, exams at the end of the terms and so on.
      • Saying that creatures like dragons, basilisks, phoenices, goblins, centaurs, elves and merpeople exist in the magical world. This kind of writing provides rich fodder to kids’ imaginations.
  • Great play of words
    • Avada Kedavara – Interesting how abracadabra and cadaver could be changed into a curse
    • Diagon Alley, Knockturn Alley
    • Voldemort, meaning “flight of death” for the villain’s name, though Rowling claims the name wasn’t intended to have a meaning.
    • Malfoy, meaning “bad faith” as a name for the villain’s lackey.
    • A werewolf called Remus Lupin
    • A person called Sirius Black, who can transform himself into a dog
    • Spellotape – much like cellotape, except that it is magical
    • Pensieve – from pensive, something where all your thoughts go in.
    • Rubeus Hagrid – based on Hagrid Rubes, or “Giant of the jewels”, a kind giant in Greek mythology who was framed by Zeus for murder and banished from Mount Olympus, but allowed to stay and take care of animals. Rowling claims that the name is derived from “hagridden”
  • The *very* witty writing style.
    • Poking fun at the arbitrary values in the FPS system of measurement using the concept of galleons, sickles and knuts (1 galleon = 17 sickles, 1 sickle = 29 knuts)
    • Some really funny dialogue, like the ones involving Kreacher, the mocking by Severus Snape and the bickering between Ron and Hermione.
    • The motto of Hogwarts was “Draco Dormiens Nunquam Titillandus”, meaning “Never tickle a sleeping dragon”.

The plots are simple, yet engaging. I will try to summarize them without letting out too many spoilers:

  • Philosopher’s Stone
    This book was called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the US because the American editors felt that the use of “Philosopher” in the title would misrepresent the contents of the book to children. Being the story that introduces it all, this novel has a special place in the hearts of most fans. The plot was straightforward – there is an attempted robbery where the thieves try to get a highly desirable object – the Philosopher’s stone. This could be the elixir of life for Voldemort, hence every attempt is made by Harry and his friends to foil the plot thereby delaying Voldemort’s return to power. The novel did set about highlighting those traits in people that would become cornerstones of the series.
  • Chamber of Secrets
    The theme here was certainly more innovative than Philosopher’s Stone. Mysterious messages show up everywhere in the school and people keep getting petrified. Harry keeps hearing mysterious voices and then he discovers that there may be a monster locked up in an unknown Chamber of Secrets. The book then proceeds to show Harry beating the odds to emerge triumphant. It also shows how brilliant Voldemort was and highlights class discrimination in the wizard world. Watch out for the anagram at the end of the novel – it is particularly intuitive.
  • Prisoner of Azkaban
    This is the book where Harry breaks free off the pack. He displays mastery over an extremely advanced form of magic and shows that when it comes to dark magic, he is better than most at defending against it. There is no Voldemort in this book and it is slightly low on action except for the last bit. Most people liked this novel for the titular character, but I felt that Sirius Black was more of a plot device than a character of much significance.
  • Goblet of Fire
    The most action-filled book of the series up to that point, bested only by The Deathly Hallows. It has a lot of things happening, like the characters developing into full-blown adolescents, a full-blown sequence with a dragon, some spectacular fights with other creatures at the end, the first death explicitly portrayed, Harry honing his magical abilities further, some great plot devices and most importantly the return of Voldemort. It also leaves a few very significant open ends (like a glint in Dumbledore’s eyes) that don’t get resolved till the very end of the series. And then it leaves the gates open for fans arguing what the romantic coupling in the novels should be.
  • Order of the Phoenix
    This is one depressing novel. It wasn’t a bad novel – it was just gloomy. Everything that could go wrong with Harry goes wrong, starting from nobody believing his story about Voldemort’s return, to a really sadistic teacher at school, to losing a dear one to coping with anger issues accompanying his age, to encountering romantic frustration. And given that it was longer than Goblet of Fire, it felt like a let-down when the climactic scene didn’t show much of a battle between Harry and Voldemort. Of course, that was compensated by a more competent wizard battling Voldemort. But nevertheless, this book was a let-down. This was also the book where “the prophecy” was revealed, in fairly ambiguous terms, if I might add.
  • Half-Blood Prince
    After the gloom of Order of the Phoenix, I was hoping that this book would lift my spirits. It did, though the end left me rather stunned. Luckily this novel did not have Harry brooding too much over the killed character from Order of the Phoenix. One of the key aspects here was some back-story for Voldemort, to help Harry and us readers understand his psyche. True to form Rowling killed off another character, but this was a character who had truly been central to the plot up to this point. I wasn’t able to wrap my head around how Rowling would be able to tie up all the lose ends in the last book. Statistically only 2/7 of Harry’s battle had been won and his most powerful ally was lost.
  • Deathly Hallows
    It is a testament to Rowling’s exceptional skill that she managed to tie up ALL loose ends in this novel. And what really took the cake was the whole aspect of the Deathly Hallows and Dumbledore’s back-story. More than anything else this was a tale of redemption. Several characters, major and minor found forgiveness and redemption and their stories received closure here. All in all the entire journey was well worth its wait.

Rowling’s writing style is so captivating that even the most mundane of sequences have the quality of an absolute page-turner. Though the books are all titled Harry Potter and something, each book shows what can be achieved by teamwork – Harry is never the smartest wizard, but he has a conviction and determination that is so desired in a hero, Hermione is most often the brains behind the operations (though Harry tends to overrule Hermione’s logical outlook of things) and Ron is all about heart. Also, each book chronicles one year in the life of the characters, so the characters grow with the series.

If there is one criticism that must be leveled at Rowling it is that she is an unmitigated disaster at the romantic aspects of the series. A common topic of discussion all over the internet during the first 5 novels was how the romantic pairings would work out. Fans were vertically split between Harry-Hermione vs. Ron-Hermione. Both camps were convinced that there was enough evidence for their “ship” to win out and ship wars ranged from dignified to vitriolic. Eventually one relationship triumphed, which most people could live with since it was the author’s prerogative. But the manner in which a new relationship was foisted on Harry by suddenly having a character pitched as “his equal” left a lot to be desired. More importantly the romantic interactions in Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows seemed extremely awkward and forced, almost as though Rowling felt obliged to include something romantic, but had no idea how and would much rather be concentrating on the main plot. But this must be the sole blemish in a remarkable series.

One thing that I will be grateful to Rowling forever is that she has given the kids of today something really good to read with contemporary settings. A lot of children today shun books for video games and movies and in that process, they really miss out on the undiluted thrill of turning through the pages of a book. Her books showcase very simple concepts like the values of love, kindness, forgiveness, courage, redemption and loyalty. They also highlight several issues in society like class distinctions, belief in superiority by birth, blind faith, presenting illusions of safety when things are not quite hunky-dory and so on.

I am waiting for Aikataan to grow up a bit so that he can start reading – books like these are bound to unlock a child’s imagination.