Thursday, 28 January 2016

Must Reads 2015

Yes, folks it's that time of the year again. It's time for Must Reads 2015. Last year was a poor one as far as book reading is concerned. A couple of PhD courses, a conclave and a mad clutter of projects made sure I couldn't even cross the customary mark of 50.

I did manage to read some incredible books. Here they are. I hope you like them. As usual this is not a list of books launched in 2015 but a selection of the best ones I read last year.

1. Einstein's Dreams

Topping the list is Alan Lightman's delightfully intricate and intriguing work. I reproduce what I wrote in my personal diary after reading the book,

"Only today finished a fabulous book named Einstein's Dreams. It's about 150 pages long and if you're buying a book this year I'd place this at number one (will check my books read list once more though). It's essentially a work of fiction showing a young Einstein on the cusp of producing his papers on Special Relativity. While he struggles to overturn a several centuries of accepted scientific wisdom he lapses into visions or dreams. That's all you need to know. Trust me, you'll find the time to complete it."

2. Lucky Jim

Next up is some classic comedy. I've read my fair share of PGWs (actually I think I've read all of them) and Lucky Jim is as good as any of them. Starring Jim Dixon, a trenchant but incompetent lecturer, it also features the quintessential English fraud, the crook, and the drug addict before scandalously imputing a hapless love story in between. Must Read.

3. The Country of First Boys

Over the past decade or so, Prof Sen has graced our mortal world with rich expositions of his immense edifice of erudition. Among all other such books post 2000, including The Argumentative India, The Idea of Justice, Identity and Violence and An Uncertain Glory, this book must count as one of the most lucid of them all. The book is light and the essays are an excellent way to think about a lot that's going on in the country and the world.

4. Salt, Sugar and Fat

The best work in investigative journalism I read all year. Michael Moss explores the dark underbelly of the biggest food companies of the world. Read this and you'll realize that the can of soda or even the bowl of cereals you're having is probably doing you much more harm than good. The whole thing is backed by a wicked mix of science (sugar has been investigated as thoroughly as any drug or chemical) and marketing (so that you'd stop claiming that the "ads never affect me").

5. Logicomix

It's a brilliant account of the travails of Bertrand Russell through childhood and then the ultimate quest to find the foundations of mathematics. It's a solid story of Russell's life, his obsessive fear of madness and how he met the likes of Cantor, Godel, Hilbert and Poincare. Comp Science buffs will also be interested to know the book is co-authored by Papadimitriou (co-author of a brilliant book on Algorithms).

Let's stop here. In a few months I'll say farewell to Ahmedabad. The next Must Reads will be written (I guess) in a very different milieu. Fare thee well!

P.S.: So what was the best book you read last year? Do share in the comments section

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

The End of Quizzing as I Know It

Last day of Chaos brought to completion what was probably the last General Quiz I would sit through in a long while. A journey that started by Lalitray Ma'am's kind push into an inter-school contest took me across the length and breadth of the country - literally, metaphorically and figuratively. Nihilanth brought me to A, C and L before I even thought about completing an MBA (I still have no idea why I'm doing it to be honest). I went to tier-IV towns hunting for moolah. I made great friends on the way - many of them much younger or older than me. All this brought laurels and prestige. I've had the privilege of winning in every quizzing arena I've ever attended. I've also had many memories as an audience member enjoying the questions yet all the while suppressing the dull pain and torment of not qualifying.

So it's extremely jarring to imagine a life without this beautiful endeavour. This sport of mental endurance and undemocratic superiority. I don't know where I am going but I do know that nothing will match the happiness and exuberance of winning 500 rupees by tentatively working out a few answers and pouncing on them with your tongue between your teeth. Collegiate quizzing can never return.

Sure, there'll be a bunch of business quizzes soon and I can imagine some tournaments are still to be hosted by other campuses in Ahmedabad. But frankly the overpowering sense of an ending is undeniable.

Nihilanth (I apologize to the reader for my incoherence and the return to this particular event) took me exclusively to the IIM campuses - A, B, C, I and L. In my last appearance in the holy tournament I was on stage more times than ever before in the past. Not winning this time hurt but more than that I am overcome by the mischievous and, I fear, slowly soul-possessing prospect of coming back as a PhD student. It's only fair...

We won the General Quiz today. It feels great to sign off with a win. There were questions I should have answered (Rhodes island, stent and what not) but I guess I have to let it pass.

I won 3166.66 INR in Chaos this year (my personal stash after the customary division process). Money may never have as much value as with this little loot.

Till we meet again. Thank you for everything