Cerebral Shangrila

Monday, August 31, 2009

Photo of the Week - Waterfall Aviary - Bird Park, Singapore

It claims to be the highest man-made waterfall in the world. What caught my eye was the beautiful evening sunlight spreading like a veil across the falls.

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Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli

I recently read this interesting book. Pietra, who saw countless well-intentioned students protesting against the WTO and sweatshops, decided to trace the journey of a T-shirt to understand what happens due to trade barriers and if there is any truth to the "sweatshop" argument. The book is an amalgam of history, economics and travel diary rolled into one and definitely makes up for an interesting read. My only grouse - The length of the book should have been edited to be much crisper.

The section I found most interesting was the market for " Discarded" T-shirts. What happens to the used T-shirts that we throw into a Salvation army bin or any other charity? It finds its way to Africa where there is a huge second hand market at work for these T-Shirts. Don't think lowly of these customers- they are as brand conscious as the rest of the world - Nike, Disney, Adidas, Levis, Sports ( successful teams) Tees fetch a premium whereas the rest get sold at less than 50 cents a pound.

Here is my Trivia on Second-hand Tees. Can you answer them?

1. Which country is the largest importer ( By $ Value) of second-hand American T-Shirts ( You will be surprised by the answer)?

2. America's largest export to which country is "discarded T-Shirts" ?

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Music Trivia

Illayaraja's " How to name it?" is an instrumental Indian-Western fusion album released in 1986. It is one of the best fusion albums of Carnatic and Western Classical music ( If you haven't heard it please beg, borrow, steal or google for it.)

To which two "famous" composers is the album dedicated to?

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Vishal Bhardwaj - Profile

Outlook profiles the man with a midas touch - Vishal Bhardwaj. Vishal's rise as a multi-faceted & promising talent has been one of the most spectacular stories of recent times. He is an idol to many with a cult following that is quite rare amongst directors. Here's wishing him more success.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fighting Chance - From WSJ

WSJ has an interesting article on young muslim women from Kolkata who are learning boxing as a means to get out of poverty. The hurdles are quite huge - Religious conservatism & lack of recognition in a cricket crazy nation.

A sport like boxing can do many things for these women - Increase self-esteem, provide skills for self-protection, Create a gender equality , break down the tough rules of religion and (If lucky) potential to earn some money.

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Landmark Quiz - Chennai - Prelim Q's

Some interesting questions from the Landmark Quiz that was held in Chennai last week. Give it a shot.

1. In the 1960’s Vogue magazine listed the “10 Most Beautiful Women in the World”. Two Indians were on this list and both died recently. Name them.

2. On what poster would you find these lines, “What does it take to find a lost lover? (a) Money (b) Luck (c) Smarts (d) Destiny”

3. During a previous total solar eclipse visible in India, in 1868, a French scientist named Pierre Jansen travelled to a tobacco field just outside Guntur to observe the spectrum. A resultant yellow line in the spectrum was a pointer to which new element, which was the first-ever element to be discovered outside Earth before it was found on Earth?

4. By convention what two symbols are traditionally used in publishing to denote the first and second footnotes to the main text in a book?

5. What sweet dish made from wheat and ghee is believed to derive its distinctive flavour from the Tamaraiparani river and was made famous by a Marwari family which settled there more than 300 years ago and started an eatery named Lakshmi Vilas?

6. Gandhiji was inspired by the simple attire of peasants in this region while on a train journey. Once he reached his destination, he shaved his head. The next morning, after a bath, he appeared dressed in a four cubits long khadi cloth, worn as a knee-length half-dhoti. Rajaji and Dr. T.S.S. Rajan who were present there tried to make Gandhiji change his mind. Gandhiji’s mind was, however, firmly made up. In which city did this incident occur?

7. The rath yatra is now a standard mode of elections campaigns in India with several leaders choosing this mass contact programme to win over the electorate. Who undertook the pioneering ‘rath yatra’ which besides catapulting him to power also entered the ‘Guinness Book of Records’?

8. Which organization got its name because its members used to meet at the office of each member of the group in turns?

9. Who is the only fictional character whose death in a book was announced to the world in the New York Times?

10. Madras and Bangalore are installing statues of poets from each other's states as a mutual gesture. In Bangalore, the statue is of Thiruvalluvar. Which Kannada poet's statue will come up in Chennai?

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Appeal - John Grisham - Book Review

I rarely read fiction these days but can always make an exception for Grisham. A master storyteller and the father of the " Legal thriller" genre, Grisham held sway over readers across the world with his early novels such as Pelican Brief, The Firm, Client ( most of which were made into blockbuster movies). Then he tried his hand at non-legal fiction and that is where he lost steam.

"The Appeal" is a mixture of " Legal thriller" and " Political lobbying" in a cocktail. Its Big greedy business vs small county citizens - David Vs Goliath story though in the end the Goliath wins ( which am sure disappointed many readers). I thought the ending reflected the reality of today's world where more Goliaths than Davids win. So my verdict : Its like most movies - Great first half that loses pace in the end.

On a Separate note, the book offers a quick glimpse of the clash of Social Liberalism Vs Conservatism in rural America. Issues that still deeply divide the nation - Pro-business ( Vs Pro-people) , Gun Control, Homosexuality, Abortion and Death Penalty.

It got me thinking of own stand on these issues ( Though none would care for my views !) . Well, I would reserve that for another blog post.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Rainbow Quiz - Week 67 - Western Classical Composers

Taking a stab again at my now defunct Rainbow Quiz. Many years ago, I had framed a quiz on " Geniuses who died young". Given my current penchant for Western Classical music, it is time to revisit that topic but focusing exclusively on Classical musicians. This quiz is dedicated to all those geniuses who enriched our lives with their astounding genius and creativity yet died before they turned 40.

1. An easy one to start with. "X" is arguably the most naturally gifted musician in history. He could compose and play the piano & violin by the time he was six. He produced an astonishing body of work touching every facet of music - Symphonies, Concertos, Chamber music , Religious music, and Operas. "X" death was quite poignant as he composed a " Requiem" for a mysterious stranger under the delusion that it was for his own soul. He died at an young age of 35. His wife couldn't afford a grand funeral and no one knows his burial place till today. Who is "X"?

2. His first name when translated to Latin means " Happy man" and very few people have managed to entertain and keep people happy the way he has. He came from a highly intellectual Jewish family - his grandfather was a famous philosopher and mother a gifted musician & painter. By the time he was sixteen , he produced his seminal work - An Overture to Shakespeare's " A midsummer night's dream". By the age of 20, he was conducting the works of Bach and had composed several symphonies, concertos and operas. His sister's death had a devastating effect on him and he died within six months of her death at an young age of 38. Who?

3. By the age of ten, he could play the Piano, Organ, Violin and Viola. By the age of 20, he had composed more than 400 works, yet fame and recognition still eluded him. The death of his idol Beethoven was a terrible blow for him and he never fully recovered from it with the only ambition of being buried next to Beethoven. At an young age of 31, this genius died babbling the name of Beethoven. As per his wishes, he was buried next to his idol with the epitaph " Here lie rich treasure and still fairer hopes".

4. He is called the " poet of the piano" and is recognized as one of the greatest pianists ever. Although born in Poland, he spent his most fruitful years in Paris composing solely for the Piano. He had a very tense relationship with the famous novelist " George Sand" and when the relationship ended, he was devastated. He died at an young age of 39 leaving behind the best body of work composed for the Piano. ( I made it a point to visit his burial place in Paris during my trip early this year).

5. "X" was born in Paris and was a child prodigy on the Piano. By 17, he had written his first symphony and followed it soon with operas. He was a man with a short temper and addiction for chocolates & cakes . He composed for an Opera titled " Carmen" that met with an unenthusiastic response. "X" never fully recovered from the shock and died a few months later at the age of 36. Ironically, a few months after his death " Carmen" was hailed as a masterpiece and produced in every major opera house in Europe. Who is X?

6. "X" was a child prodigy from a highly musical family and legend has it that he could sing an aria at eighteen months. He began studying music theory at two, the piano at three, and by the age of five could apparently play well. X's first five pieces were composed when he was just six years old. An Italian, he is acknowledged as having largely shaped the "Opera" in the 19th century. His most famous works are the "La Sonnambula" and "Norma". He died at an young age of 34 in Paris. Who is X?

7. His father immigrated to the US from Russia. Unlike other prodigies, he started showing an interest in music only at the age of 10. He was then taught by Charles Hambitzer, who introduced him to music of the European classical tradition, and encouraged him to attend orchestra concerts."X" composed his first major classical work - "Rhapsody in Blue" which won him instant fame and popularity. He then wrote one of his popular works ( Later adapted by Hollywood) - "An American in Paris". At the young age of 39, he was dead due to brain hemorrhage . Who is X?

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Trivia - # 1 (Business)

Which famous Indian firm counts Shah Rukh Khan, Yash Chopra and Javed Akhtar in its " Board of Directors" ?


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Extraordinary Lives

This article touches your heart - makes you think about the purpose of your life. Not all of us can be Krishnan, but perhaps we can start small somewhere.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Green Card Lottery

The US Green Card represents the pinnacle of achievement, a culmination of academic & professional journey, for most middle class Indians. Countless sacrifices, immense dedication and perseverance have gone into fructifying the " Green Card" dream. Though my personal story with the US " Green Card" is one of " Sour grapes", I am always fascinated by the US Green Card system which in my opinion has been the most aspired symbol for immigrants and a tremendous source of strength for the American Economy.

On a lighter vein, I was browsing the web today and found myself in a pop-up window that promised me an entry in the " Green Card" Lottery. Having not even won a " Sikkim / Bhutan Lottery" ( Though I did win a miraculous Singapore Lottery - that is a story for a later date) and with curiosity getting the better of me, I decided to google on the US Green Card Lottery. What I found was fascinating.

The good news - the US Green Card Lottery is TRUE. The US Govt calls it " Diversity Immigrant Visa" and awards 50,000 of these every year to countries with historically low immigration rate to the US.

The bad news - Indians are ineligible for this program since India sends more than 50,000 people in other immigrant visa categories ( For the record, we have been ineligible since the first year - 1995 !).

For all those who criticize the US on its immigration policy, be informed that the US continues to be a torch bearer of building a diverse immigrant population.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Around the World by Private Jet

This sounds too good to be true. National Geographic conducts an annual expedition around the world by a Private Jet - 22 days of unforgettable experience at some of world's most legendary natural & cultural wonders.

In 22 days, get to see Machu Picchu, Great Barrier Reef, Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, Serengiti, Pyramids and Marrakech. The Cost - US$56,950.

I would say its worth it - where else can you get Louise Leakey ( The grand daughter of the famous paleontologist Louis Leakey) as the tour guide in Tanzania?

More details about the expedition here.

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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Western Classical music - Dummies guide

After years of listening to Western classical music without understanding the head or tail, I decided to get myself educated. I borrowed the book "The NPR guide to building a classical CD Collection" from the Library which has definitely given me a much better understanding of this art form and the "best collection & composers" that I should look out for.

I am humbly presenting a few things that I have learnt in the past few weeks. My understanding is still very rudimentary but I hope it throws some light into this complex art form.

What are the broad different types music forms in Western Classical music ?

Orchestral Works : Orchestra is a large body of diverse instruments that sound together. The Orchestra , in general, is dominated by the string instruments which can be divided into four groups - First Violins, Second Violins, Violas, Basses ( Cellos & string basses). Commonly used wind instruments include flutes, oboes, scores and occasionally horns & trumpets.

The Symphony ( meaning " sounding together") emerged in the 18th century and typically consists of four movements - Opening movement in lively tempo, lyrical slow movement, a minuet and a brisk finale. The Symphony still remains the pinnacle of Orchestral works.

Concertos : Solo concerto are musical forms dedicated to unique instruments ( such as Piano concerto or Violin concerto) and consists of three movements - Sonata, Aria ( slow temp) and Rondo. In concertos the main focus is on virtuosity, with the soloist often being treated as the hero.

Chamber Music : Is meant to be played in a room ( rather than a large public space) and could consist of either solo instruments or multi-movement compositions. Some popular forms of Chamber music are the string quartets ( usually two violins, viola and a cello) and quintet.

Solo Keyboard Works : Popular forms are either Organ or Harpischord based. The Piano later emerged as the most popular form of Solo works.

Sacred & Choral music : The Choral music consists of skilled choirs singing music dedicated to the God. Choral compositions consists of genres such as cantata & oratorio and involves solo singers, chorus and orchestra.

Opera : A theatrical style dramatic singing where the music is part of human drama that people enact on the screen.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Pritish Nandy on Kishoreda

A very un-journalistic piece on Kishore. Makes up for an amusing read. Although I try to love Art for Art's sake, it so difficult to extricate the persona from the Art. Kishore is exactly that - part of his success/genius was his " cultivated personality". Here is a rare glimpse into that.


Monday, August 03, 2009

Kannil Dhagam - Achamundu Achamundu

There are songs that grow on you.You listen the first time - It sounds different ; second time - it seeps into you ; third time - you are hooked to it .

One such song is the recent " Kannil Dhagam" from the movie Achamundu Achamundu. The song marks the comeback of Karthik Raja ( A brilliant composer who disappeared overnight) & the debut of carnatic music singer " Sowmya". The song is marked by excellent orchestration, haunting voice ( Almost as if Sowmya sang 10 feet away from the Mic) and beautiful lyrics.

The song seems to be based on the Raga Charukesi ( based on my limited knowledge of carnatic music) , which is a versatile raga but rarely used to express sorrow in Tamil film music.

Listen to the song here:

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

Aval Oru Thodarkathai

They showed this movie on Vasantham central yesterday. The movie hits you on the face with its protagonist's characterization ( What a dream debut for Sujatha - may be this should count as the most impressive debut by an actress) and KB , as always, shines with his directorial touches & in etching memorable supporting cast. I am sure Jai Ganesh, Fatafat ( who got that adjective from this movie) Jayalakshmi would count this as their most memorable movie.

Then, there is the Song. A song, that perhaps comes once in a decade, where everything is perfect - Divine singing, excellent tune/music and unforgetable lyrics. Yesudas / MSV / Kannadasan team up to deliver a song that continues to haunt us today. What divine bliss !

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