Monthly Archives: July 2013

Going Crazy

“Going Crazy” by Otto Friedrich is a kind of biography or a history of insanity or madness through the ages. Otto does a good job in keeping the narrative flowing throughout the pages with first hand accounts by many patients. Apart from celebrated cases he has also dwelt on the ordinary people’s lives disrupted by what he calls as “craziness” – by all accounts all of us are somewhat crazy at some times or other – it only varies by degrees, but while majority are able to keep their thoughts clear there are many who lose control of their minds. He has also written about the cures which in medieval times ranged from cruelty itself like chaining the patients to drugs, therapies etc. It was surprising to read that so many celebrated people had problems in their lives. I would highly recommend this book to those interested in different genres like non-fiction, biographies etc. Rating 5/5

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Ultra-Marathon Man

Just finished reading “Ultra Marathon Man – Confessions of an All-Night Runner” by Dean Karnazes – an absorbing and overwhelming story of his early athletic prowess, loss of his sister to accident, his subsequent forays away from running for 15 years and rediscovery of running to running ultra marathons to running crazy distances and impossible feats like running the south pole marathon, running 199 miles non stop etc. His heroic attempt at running the Western States 100 miler and succeeding first time and the Badwater Marathon and failing first time have been very poignantly told. A very nice inspirational story with dollops of quotable quotes for keeping in one’s mirror or desktop. The paperback edition has given details of his training plan, nutrition, strategy etc. at the end so that helps in people who are planning to run short distances like the marathon instead of crazy distances like ultra marathon and beyond. A must read for all running addicts.

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The Fate of a Man and Early Stories

The Fate of a Man by Mikhail Sholokov, the Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1965 and six other short stories. All the stories are gut wrenching heart rending tales of sorrow, grieving, loss of family, sufferings due to the turmoil in Soviet Russia in the early part of the last century primarily the fight of the Cossacks against the then newly emerging Red Army. At several times during reading the stories, I had to take a break because it became extremely difficult to continue reading. The love of a father towards the children is the same whether it is in communist society or capitalist society and these were also evident in “Fathers and Sons” by Ivan Turgenev. Sholokov wrote “And Quiet Flows the Don” for which he was given the Nobel Prize. “The Fate of a Man” is another masterpiece from Sholokov.

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Running on Empty

Just finished reading Marshall Ulrich’s book “Running on Empty” – his story of love, loss and a record setting run across America. This guy is a true ultra marathoner nut in the sense that he has incredible feats under his belt like finishing Badwater Marathon 18 times, winning it four times, and then doing the Badwater route solo i.e. without any team, but only with all his supplies in a cart that weighed 200 pounds, Badwater Quad which is like utter crazy – doing badwater four times back to back. Who can attempt such crazy ultra running feats. His ultra running or rather his running started with the loss of his first wife to cancer when he used to run to escape the depression and thereafter running became a lifelong passion. He has also some mountaineering feats up his sleeve like summiting the tallest summit in each continent and also ascending the Mount Everest.

So it was to be a culmination of his running career by running across America, starting from San francisco to New York a total distance of 3063 miles in 46 days at the age of 57. The previous person to have covered America thus was a 27 year old Frank Gianino about 28 years ago. It involved Marshall running 2 marathons plus 10K every day across terrain and weather that varied from state to state from heat to cold, snow, rains and all. It led to a process of discovery within himself and brought his family close together. The daily travails of running coupled with diet, nutrition, injury, illness, exhaustion, plus the logistics of daily runs are not given in much detail but the reader can very comprehend what it must have taken for the crew to get this runner across America. At the beginning Charlie Engle who ran across the Sahara desert accompanied Marshall during his run but somewhere approximately half way through a fight broke out between the two and Charlie quit and then came to crew and there were recriminations with the original crew which included Marshall’s wife. So it is a kind of an eye-opener as to what really transpires in all these multi day ultra marathons. Read it to see whether he manages to break the record of Frank Gianino. Nice read for running fans. There was a movie made out of it “Running America” but could only find a trailer on youtube for it. 

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Bhag Milkha Bhag, the movie

Bhag Milkha Bhag is a biopic of a man who was the first athletic sporting hero of a newly independent India and I would say about 30 years late in the making. He gave up running in the mid 60s, Tokyo Marathon of 1964 being probably his last major championship.

Bio pics were never popular in mainstream Indian cinema popularly called as Bollywood except as documentaries by the Indian government channels. There have been bio-pics of popular political leaders like Gandhi, Ambedkar, Shahis Bhagat singh but it is the first time that a bio pic of a popular sportsperson has been attempted and to that extent credit should be given to the producers for venturing from the tried and tested formula of movie making in Bollywood.  It is only recently that few bio pics are being made which is closely resembling the lives of the protagonists otherwise they make movies “loosely based on somebody’s life”. “Shootout at Wadala” was made on the life of one time dreaded gangster Manya Surve. Either ways, the directors take extreme liberty with the true content of the person’s lives introducing elements that are never there in their real life.

Bhag Milkha Bhag is therefore the story of Milkha Singh’s life. It is also a sad story of Bollywood’s obsession with sex, skin show, six packs and songs. Even if the four S were removed yet the story would have been beautiful enough for people to connect to the person’s life who is venerated as a God in sporting circles in India. Of course in India any yadav, kumar and shinde who knows how to hold a bat or bowl a long hop is also venerated in a mad cricket crazy country.

So the story is about his uprooting from his village in Pakistan, butchering of his parents, brother and sister in front of his own eyes and his traumatic train travel to India as an orphan where he has only his siblings to take care of him at a tender young age of 10. His early life in the village involved trekking to a school 10 kms away by going through sand dunes which must have been the major contributing factor to his athletic prowess in latter life. Had it not been for the army, India would have lost a sporting hero to theft, vagabondness and whatnot.

The narrative of the movie does not follow a linear format like in Chak de India and therefore it juxtaposes from one situation to another. Army was where he first came into contact with running and the recognition from winning at running gave him the impetus to furiously pursue his pursuits.

They allowed a few inaccuracies to creep up such as his breaking the world record in 400 metres which as per this Wikipaedia entry here i.e. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Men’s_400_metres_world_record_progression does not show any such record in his name. In the movie they have depicted that he lost the 1960 Rome medal due to his angst and anguish at the loss of his parents and siblings in Pakistan but that was already erased in the Indo-Pak friendship series which took place in the mid 50s where he decimated the Pakistani athletes and extracted succour for that loss. But they probably did not have much content to play around with and therefore they made adept use of the element of a Indo-Pak rivalry to prod the movie along.

Bollywood’s obsession with six pack abs is almost delusional. Probably the movie makers think that anybody who has a body with huge muscles is a champion in every sport forgetting that every sport does not require huge bulging muscles. Why should an athlete have a sick pack abs with huge bulging muscles – They should have done their homework properly.

This youtube video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZ3EShJzOOc shows that Milkha started off fast but started fading in the later stages of the 400 metres final in Rome Olympics – a case of tactical, strategic error rather than angst at his loss in Pakistan. The same tactical strategic errors continue to be committed by later Indian athletes such as Sriram Singh who had a devastating first lap in the 800 metres final of the 1976 Montreal Olympics only to fade to finish 7th in the race which was won by Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena in a then world record time. Juantorena later acknowledged that he was able to break the world record only to the initial burst of speed by Sriram Singh.

With all these inaccuracies and the formula system of Bollywood, the movie is well made with decent performances by all the actors including some bravura performance by Divya Dutta and Pawan Malhotra as the sister and coach respectively of Milkha. Sonam Kapoor as the love interest of Milkha has done a delightful cameo role. An absolutely must watch by all the youngsters of India, all athletes irrespective of whether they are runners, shooters, wresters, boxers. Too many songs perhaps elongated the movie to little more than 3 hours. Farhan Akhtar in his six pack has done a decent role as Milkha Singh.  There are several moments of pure adrenaline in the movie.

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D-Day, the movie

Saw this movie with wifey today morning at 10.00 a.m. show when the prices are down. Surprised to see not more than 20 persons in the theatre despite it being a mini theatre in a multiplex. Well, Indo-Pakistan rivalry and Dawood Ibrahim have given many a script to Bollywood to fantasise about and every one is different. This one looks at a covert operation to flush out the operative from their soil and bring him to our soil. The film is taut and narrative is fast paced and does not slag in between with slo-mos or the mandatory item songs or skin shows, – there are about 3 songs but they are well interposed with the story line. There is a beautiful ghazal sung by Rekha Bharadwaj composed to music by Shankar, Ehsan Loy which is mesmerising. Of the cast Shruti Hasan stands out for her brilliant acting as the nautch lover of the Indian infiltrator. The girl has the looks and the acting genes to go places provided she chooses her roles well in future. This one lass to watch out for in future. Of the other characters we have come to expect nothing but the best from Irrfan Khan and Rishi Kapoor and they provide that as well but Arjun Ramphal is the one who impresses the most with his angst ridden role of an Indian soldier. Not revealing the plot too much this movie is a must watch for those who have just viewed Bhag Milkha Bhag because it carries the Indo pak rivalry one step further. It is also a primer to the Indian intelligence on how to infiltrate and usurp the most wanted one!!

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Dangerous Curves

Picked up a book called “Dangerous Curves” by Peter Cheyney on a seconds books sale somewhere in Bombay, either because it was way too cheap or the it looked sorta good to read. Got down to reading it last week and was pleasantly surprised to read it – a riveting fast moving fiction with mystery suspense thrown in galore. Then I researched Peter Cheyney on the internet because i have never heard of this guy, was surprised to learn that he belonged to another era practically born in 1896 and died in 1951, relatively young just like Raymond Chandler another of my favorite. In the first few pages itself I discovered another of my favorite author James Hadley Chase in his writing. Chase who wrote many potboilers and wrote about the underdogs and the underdregs of the society has beautiful flowing narrative to his writing. This book is a Slim Callaghan mystery – that is the name of the investigator who is given the job of investigating the wayward stepson of a vivacious Thorla Riverton who is 30 years younger to her husband and whose husband is dying of complications from old age. Slim Callaghan has obviously a very disruptive style of operating which is not appreciated by Thorla Riverton and sparks fly between the two, she being attractive. Slim Callaghan being the quintessential fictional detective is able to comprehend the hidden facts as well as portend the future shape of things to come. One thing i did not like about Slim Callaghan is his excessive smoking and drinking, but what the hell, this book was written in 1939 when there were more worldly matters to be concerned than the post modern James Bondish type of fit action heroes. From this Wikipeadia entry here it seems Peter Cheyney lived the life of his fictional protagonists and died young having penned 35 novels and 150 short stories. This book is “out of print” and therefore a rare copy. Books such as these are rare to come by. Highly recommended reading for fiction fans.

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Havana Bay

Martin Cruz Smith is a first timer for me and I did not realise that he had written Gorky Park which was made into a movie a few years ago. Arcady Renko is a humourless Russian investigator sent to Havana to investigate the death of another little known Russian spy in a water accident. The book begins very slowly and takes even more slowness to get into the characters of the plot. There are few police people and a Cuban female investigator Ofelia all of whom don’t want to investigate the Russian’s death. There is a liberal sprinkling of the mistrust between Cuba and Russia in the book a kind of Cuban hate of Russia for leaving them in a lurch and sort of leaving them as holding the last communist post in the world. The plot gets bogged down repeatedly in the Cuban Russian interplay of emotions which is not dispelled despite a few more murders taking place. Smith has done a good job in slowly unfolding the plot to its conclusion in the Havana Bay but I thought the ending was a bit too abrupt. He should have allowed the emotions between Arcady and Ofelia to be taken to a logical conclusion. This was supposedly Arcady’s fourth book in the series, it would be interesting to read his earlier works on Arcady and also his later works.

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