Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

pic courtesy flipkart

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
Written by Jacqueline Kelly
Published by Square Fish, an imprint of MacMillan
Ages 10+

It is the summer of 1899. The only girl in a family of seven siblings, Calpurnia Virginia Tate (Callie Vee, as she is called) is expected to apply herself to the task of crafting a lady out of herself. Her mother's sole dream for her only daughter is that she be tutored in the arts befitting a lady- music, drawing, dance, embroidery, cooking- so that she would make a stunning debut on their social circuit and land the most eligible bachelor before she becomes 'an old maid of twenty.'

There is a slight hitch in the plan, though. Callie Vee has not the slightest inclination towards these achievements, and is encouraged by her naturalist grandfather in her scientific forages. The only grandchild that matches his interests.

"The laws governing inheritance are quite unknown; no one can say why...the child often reverts in certain characters to its grandfather..." 

The Origin of Species plays a large part in the book. Each chapter begins with a fitting epigraph quoted from Darwin's book. Callie Vee knows of the book, but it is a banned book, and she has no chance absolutely of laying her hands on it. Until her formidable, cantankerous grandfather discovers her interest in, and keen observations of the strange case of large yellow and small green grasshoppers- that she dutifully notes down in her 'observations notebook.'

"He stared at me for a moment with an odd expression on his face- perhaps surprise, perhaps consternation- as if I were a species he'd never seen before...He extracted a book covered in rich green morocco leather handsomely tipped with gold. Ceremoniously, he bowed and offered it to me. I looked at it. The Origin of Species. Here, in my own house. I received it in both my hands. He smiled. Thus began my relationship with Granddaddy."

It was a beginning of a wondrous journey of scientific discovery. The beginning of a dream that showed her the path out of a possible life of drudgery like countless other girls like her. A life that she could not visualise herself enjoying, no matter what her parents and society at large expected of her. The beginning of an old man's dream of at least one among his heirs carrying the light of his discoveries into the future.

This refreshing debut book by the author, Jacqueline Kelly, was devoured and thoroughly enjoyed by the resident 11 year old, who has to often be-labour under expectations from her peers, and sometimes from elders, to conform to stereotyping by her gender. Be that in clothes, interests, behaviour, dreams or priviledge. She applauded with Granddaddy, when Callie Vee ensured that she is paid for her work during the harvest season, not just the boys, and when she stressed on her right to make a choice about her life.

My daughter A loved the book, and has been recommending it to all her friends. It makes a lot of sense to her since she has been doing evolution and taxonomy at school this year. She also identifies with Callie Vee on a more basic level - she has often been the butt of jokes among her peers for being different - more science and literature minded than the average 11 year old girl, not so interested in what is considered 'cool behaviour.'

Cross-posted here and here.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Mount Everest Beckons...

Many people succumb to the charm of beckoning wilderness, challenging mountain cliffs, enticing treacherous trails and coaxing unknown paths. The reasons, objectives and experiences may vary from individual to individual but it is amazing to notice that even the fatal incidents and near death experiences do not mitigate their passion to walk the razor sharp edges (sometime literally).Perhaps the excitement to be at the top of the world or exploring the un-traversed paths is difficult to replicate anywhere else and  even more harder is to derive the same joy and contentment from any other pursuit. But thanks to the chronicled words of these mountaineers and trekkers, their armchair counterparts can virtually share at least some part of the thrill.

'Why do you want to climb Mount Everest?', was the question asked to George Millory (an English mountaineer who took part in the first three British expeditions to Mount Everest in the early 1920s). To this question, he retorted : 'Because it is there' and these three words have become the most famous words in the world of mountaineering.

Mt. Everest  8,850m (29,035 feet) high lays in Himalayas, along the border of Nepal, Tibet and China. New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Tenzing Norgay were the first people to ever reach the summit of Mount Everest. Since that year, the roof of the Earth - the Sagarmath (the mother Goddess), the Everest keeps beckoning many people year after year.

'Into Thin Air' is the first person account of Jon Karuker who was part of the Mt. Everest expedition of 1996.  He was in a team led by a seasoned climber Rob Hall heading the Adventure Consultants. But despite being well equipped with all required paraphernalia, expert guidance, meticulously planned program, well researched tracks, deftly organised training camps and human assistance in the form of Nepali Sherpas, this expedition completely fell apart.

Closer home, Arjun Vajpai relates his experience vividly in 'On Top of the World'. He became the youngest Indian to scale Mt. Everest in the summer of 2010. For him the fascination of mountains began at the tender age of 10 and his parents nurtured his passion in tandem with the support of his teachers and friends. The hunger and thirst for adventure drew Arjun to the mountains. His is a story of inspiration, grit, determination and indefatigable spirit to fulfill the dreams and his was clearly an expedition where almost everything went right from the fitness, weather conditions to the support system.

'The Top of the World : Climbing Mount Everest' written and illustrated by Steve Jenkins is a picture book for very young readers - Ages 5 and up. The book briefly explores the history, natural geography, culture, climate of Mount Everest along with the mention of people like Mallory and Irvine, Tenzing and Hillary. The formation of Himalayas, the weather conditions and brief introduction to various aspects of scaling Mt. Everest including the gear and training required and the impending threats on the way find the mention in this book. Besides being an informative book, the beautiful cut paper illustrations make it a visual treat for young adventurers.

'Legs on Everest' is written by Mark Inglis, the double amputee who fulfilled his childhood ambition to stand on the summit of the highest mountain of the world. He achieved this feat on 15th May, 2006 braving all odds in the wake of his peculiar condition. The frostbite from one of his previous expeditions costed him both his legs from below the knees but it could not rob him off his dreams rather it made him even more focused and driven to accelerate his efforts towards the goal. In Mark Inglis words, 'Whenever you have pushed yourself to the limit, you know you can achieve things that were once only a dream. The more times you undertake the extreme journey, the greater your confidence that you will attain your dreams, and the bigger your dreams become. And if you want a bigger dream then why not go for the biggest - imagine standing on the summit of Everest!'.

These are not all, there are umpteen books written on the experiences of mountaineers who have dared to climb the crowning glory of the Earth. There are some common strings worth appreciating in all these adventurous stories which tower taller than the uniqueness and differences of the same. Such individuals dare to let their dream soar high, they make their passion fuel their efforts and eventually their determination leads them to achieve the set goals. After having accomplished the designated objective, they find themselves having gained maturity and education from none other than the supreme teacher - the Nature itself. Being in the lap of nature in its purest form, they get to witness its true soul - its nurturing quality and its tempestuous side, its f  ury and its vulnerability, its unpredictability against human planning. The individuals come out with heightened respect for the supremacy of nature and understanding of the humble position that we share in this precarious balance that has been so beautifully maintained.

Whether it is the - love of wild flora and fauna, desire to redeem oneself, test of self limitations, need to push oneself harder and further, this trend would continue, the epitome of grace Mt Everest would keep seducing mortals year after year. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

G is for Googol by David M. Shwartz

Title: G is for Googol
Author: David M. Shwartz
Illustrations by Marissa Moss
Published by Random House

A for Abacus to Z for Zillion, 'G is for Googol' has all. The book introduces fascinating mathematical concepts in an interesting and palatable manner.

The Supreme teacher - nature seems to be an eternal lover of Math; It is surprising how Fibonacci numbers show up so much in nature! The number of petals in a flower is usually a Fibonacci number. Fibonacci numbers could also be called 'sunflower numbers', 'artichoke numbers' or 'pineapple numbers' because sunflower's seeds, artichoke's leaves and pineapple scales all spiral according to this series of numbers. Amazing, isn't it!!! Who can ignore amazing symmetry in nature.

Googol is actually a number which is 1 followed by 100 zeroes, and so is googolplex which is 1 followed by a googol zeroes. R is for Rhombicosidodecahedron and this is a real word and a mouthful too. It is a special kind of Polyhedron.

Little bees are not just busy, they are super intelligent too as they work to get the most space to store honey for the least amount of wax that they have to spend to build their honeycombs and so they use hexagons as the tessellate (when shapes cover a surface with no gaps in between, the shapes are tessellate) polygons to build their honeycombs. So you see, it does pay to be good at math - even if you are a bee!!

Talking about units, in Egypt about 5000 years ago, the distance from the pharaoh's elbow to the tip of his middle finger became the first standard unit of length. It was given the name Royal Cubit. Just imagine taking his elbow all over the place just so everyone could measure papyrus!! No prizes for guessing, what got invented - a measuring stick of course.

I have been asked this question by the little ones at home.. When are we ever gonna use this stuff anyway? The answer is - everywhere - at school, at home, at play, and at work. Don't you check the quantity and quality and the units used to measure what you’re buying. Living in this world who can avoid conducting transactions without dealing with money?

Designers of modern computers have weaved a whole new world around binary numbers because computers 'think' in binary. The computer understands only two digits - 0 and 1, and it is happy working with just these two digits to get amazing things done for us.

It is strange but the world of unknowns in Math which is also called algebra assigns names to unknowns and X can boast of being the most common and famous personality here whose identity changes with every equation and who revels in a new identity every single instance.

G is for Googol' would entice every reader to dig further and no matter how much you try, in no time this book would turn you into an ardent fan (if you already are not) of this wonderful subject which holds keys to solve many other queries that crop up in the minds. From light year to exponents explaining very big and very small numbers, from mobius strip to Fibonacci numbers, delightful information is tastefully packed which kids and even adults would love to explore. The fact that math is in every aspect of life would not go unappreciated when the concepts are found getting practically executed and validated in day to day life. A convincing presentation of the fact that math is all pervasive.Its time to kiss the Math phobia goodbye with this alphabet book.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

STOP ME IF YOU CAN - An IIM Grad's tryst with sales

Author: Mayank Jain
Publication: Alchemy Publishers
Price: INR 175

A young man graduates from IIM-C, one of the premier most MBA institutes of India, and lands a job of a Sales Management Trainee at ABC, a leading FMCG company. Lakhs of people can only dream of being in a similar position.

A dream stage is set and now it is expected that this person will also grow up to be one among the rest. Slowly, he would also become what most of the other people like him eventually become - ordinary people, only that they have a supposedly extra-ordinary educational qualification. But not Rohit Salaria, our hero. He would set the stage on fire instead. He is sure that the world has never seen and shall never see another Rohit Salaria.

Our over-enthusiastic and supernaturally talented hero gives his bosses (far too many for such a short span of time) the time of their lives till he finally ends up in a situation where he has pratically lost his job as well as the love of his life.

It is interesting how he eventually makes things go the right way, though it would have been a lot better had the story ended in a different way.

Being a management student myself, it is easy to analyse the thoughts of a fresh management graduate. To think of oneself as a God personified - best manager ever, to apply the principles of management and to think of them as the supreme guidelines - yes, an incredibly typical 'B-school grad' mindset.

There are a lot of interesting characters that are introduced at different places in the book - Priya, Loser, Sucker, Barua, Boro, the three bosses and so many more. All appear like different colours deliberately and wonderfully scattered to dipict variety and prevent the story from losing itself.

Through the story, one thing is evident. The very fact that not working up the ladder the right way is not easy and is full of uncertainties, even though it might just somehow, bring success. Also, self-belief and confidence are the tools that help in growth and with the help of these, any thing can be achieved, at least it did in the world of Rohit Salaria!

The best thing about this book is that it is not very far from reality and is really easy to understand and relates to the situations actually faced by companies, and fresh B-school graduates, as well!

Indeed a humour packed, racy and exuberant peek into the corporate world drama, one can't just overlook. A must read for all, especially young management students, executives and employees of the corporate world!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Life Behind the Frames : THE LIFE OF THE MISUNDERSTOOD NERD By Arsalan Khan


Arsalan Khan’s, The Life Of Misunderstood Nerd, as the name itself suggests is about how the world in general see’s the people through preconceived ideas. How it is not bothered if it is stereotyping people and making them miserable. It makes you see into the life of an adolescent of today’s time, how an adolescent mind works, their struggles, their approach towards life and in general the adolescent psychology these days.

It is a well written book especially if you see that the author is an undergraduate student.
I’d recommend the book to young adults as it is inspirational, especially for their age group. I’d also recommend it to their parents, as it gives an insight into an adolescent’s life and their psychology. I especially liked the quotes that the author has used in beginning of every chapter.
I’d sign off with a quote from the book " Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Minpins by Roald Dahl

Title : Minpins
Author : Roald Dahl
Illustrator : Patrick Benson
Publisher : Puffin
ISBN : 978-0-141-50178-9

"Little Billy's mother was always telling him exactly what he was allowed to do and what he was not allowed to do. All the things he was allowed to do were boring. All the things he was not allowed to do were exciting.
One of the things that he was NEVER NEVER allowed to do, the most exciting of them all, was to go through the garden gate all by himself and explore the world beyond". 

Thus begins another adventurous tale spun by none other than the ace storyteller Roald Dahl whose imagination knows no bounds and who dares his readers to enter the magical worlds where anything and everything is possible.

So little Billy kept on looking at the garden gate longingly day after day, month after month, year after year but the lure of the world at the other side of the gate never mitigates in his mind. And one odd afternoon, a devil whispers in Billy's ears and instigates him to cross the garden gate to explore the lovely world that is alien to him. He makes Billy believe that there is no such thing as Hornswogglers and Snozzwanglers and Vermicious Knids and the Terrible Bloodsuckling Toothpuckling Stonechuckling Splitter about which Billy's mother often alarmed him.  Little Billy stops 'being good' and follows the advice of the devil whispering in his ears.  

He enters the forbidden forest and soon enough finds himself being chased by none other than the terrible snorting smoke-blowing, smelly breathed beast. Billy runs for his life and on finding a mysteriously low branch climbs on the tree and enters the world of green leaves and thick, smooth branches with no earth or sky in sight. As he rests there in peace for a while, he notices tiny little windows and doors opening up in the bark of the tree and many miniature faces staring at him.  He realizes that he is in an extraordinary strange world of tiny people who called themselves Minpins. Minpins had taken refuge in the hollows of the trees for the fear of Red-Hot Smoke-Belching Gruncher, who had grunched up hundreds of humans and millions of Minpins. They had special suction-boots which helped them walk up and down almost vertical branches without any trouble and the feathered birds were their friends and transporters with whom they had a beautiful symbiotic relationship.

But now with the fearsome Gruncher waiting for Billy under the tree how could Billy reach back home again? Can he help Minpins get rid of this Gruncher so that they enjoy their freedom once again? Read on to find that out.

The curtain draws on the adventurous story with these words - "Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most likely places. Those who dont believe in magic will never find it."

These words capture the essence of life and how it should be approached with open senses and mind to experience the wonders all around us. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Desperate In Dubai by Ameera Al Hakawati

Title : Desperate in Dubai
Author : Ameera Al Hakawati
Publisher : Random House India
ISBN : 9788184001716

Desperate in Dubai is centered around the lives of four women protagonists. Each of these women have much to hide, little to reveal in the crazily diverse culture of Dubai. The author Ameera talks about many of the taboo subjects which usually do not come out of the cupboards especially when it is concerning Muslim women. She explores the lives of her heroines addressing the topics like - dating, love, secret marriages, drugs, alcohol, extra marital relationships and much more.

Lady Luxe has a rebellious streak in her disposition and she comes across as a person who loves walking on the razor edge of thrill, adventure and exploration. She manages enter the garb of a completely different person, usually for her nocturnal pursuits. She has inherited the business acumen of her Emirati father and is the potential heiress of the business empire. Lady Luxe's friend Leila thinks she has just a small age window left to find a suitable wealthy husband for herself. Nadia relocates to Dubai following the dream of her husband but it does not take her very long to realize that all her efforts were in vain. The last is Sugar who tries to push her past away by leaving the familiarity of UK behind and by trying to embrace the culture of Dubai.

Though apparently they all seem to belong to diverse backgrounds but as the stories progress, it becomes very clear that all of them are trying to be someone who they actually are not. And the main motive behind all this struggle is to get the illusive happiness either through defying norms, starting afresh or believing that having someone else would end the search finally.

Being a Muslim woman herself, I feel the author has dealt with the issues much more authentically and has also brought the right perspective to the proceedings. The habitual usage of hijab, prayer routine, religious symbols, mosques and such are entwined in the narrative without letting them hog the complete focus. The narrative has good dose of luxury which Dubai stands for. You will find mention of glamour, fancy brand names and luxury cars scattered throughout the narrative.  It is courageous on the part of the author to bring to the forefront the other side of Dubai's glittering picture. The book never attempts to be a literary masterpiece so readers should not expect it to be one. It is simply a breezy light read which gives a small peek into the lives of a set of people.