Monday 28 December 2015

The Cuckoo's Calling : A book review



The Cuckoo's Calling is the first novel in the trilogy by Robert Galbraith (J.K Rowling) in the detective series featuring the private detective Cormoran Strike and his secretary/ accomplice Robin. The story is set in present day London.

Cormoran Strike is a war veteran, who lost his leg during the war in Afghanistan. Working as a private detective, he is under going a torrid time. Emotionally he is suffering because of a break up with his long time girl friend, Charlotte, and financially he is immersed deep in debt. Without any new clients for his practice, he is forced to live in his own office.

The temp agency keeps sending him secretaries which he neither needs, nor can he afford. The latest of them is Robin, a 25 year old smart, clever woman, who secretly was always fascinated by the world of detectives and investigators.

Strike gets a lifeline when John Bristow hires him for the case of the supermodel, Lula Landry, John's step-sister. Even after the police have declared that Lula committed suicide, John is not convinced and wants Strike to handle the case. Reluctantly, Strike accepts, even though he himself is not convinced that it is murder.

Strike sets out to join the pieces together by delving deep into the life of Lula Landry and her social circle. With significant help from Robin, Strike manages to solve the mystery and unmask the actual murderer.


In the world of crime fiction, I doubt whether I have read anything better than 'And then there were none' by Agatha Christie. The mystery was unscathed throughout the novel and the ending was totally unpredictable. Probably every other murder mystery that I have read after that have been predictable in one way or the other. When there are a limited number of characters involved, and hence, the number of suspects, you tend to expect the least likely one to be the killer (it would seem stupid if the person under most suspicion is also the murderer).

It is a similar case in this book. I will try not to give out any spoilers, but I kind of guessed who the killer is at the beginning. But I think by the time I finished 80% of the book, I wasn't too sure anymore. I was suspicious of ALL the characters and could not put my money on just one of them, and that is where I think the author has done a great job.

One reason for that is that the characters are all very interesting and well thought out. We are taken into the characters' back stories and the opinions that the other characters hold for them, which gives us a good insight into their lives. They all have their own distinct individual identities which helps keep a track on who's who.

The book does not go at a breakneck speed. Most of it is Strike interviewing one person or the other, till the final showdown between Strike and the murderer. But that does not mean it is a snail-paced one either; it just moves at a steady pace, which is fine for me.

One particular thing that I absolutely loved about the Harry Potter series is the simplicity and clarity. I am not a literary genius to pass a judgement on how great the writing is, but if I can understand what the author intends to convey easily enough, I enjoy reading it even more. I was not disappointed by this book either. The conversations and sequences just flowed and I never had to re-read any of it I think.

So overall, I would say that even though this is not the best book I have ever read, I still enjoyed reading it a lot. My initial skepticism about knowing who the killer is was quashed quite effectively by the end and I can't wait to read the next novel in the trilogy, The Silkworm.

If I have to rate it, I will say 7.5/10

Sunday 27 December 2015

Pollution : A looming menace

A hazy view of the India Gate due to smog

The odd-even number plate rule to be implemented in Delhi next week has attracted vociferous debate. The move is aimed at curbing the traffic related issues for one, and probably, more importantly, to reduce the ever-rising air pollution in the nation's capital. While some support the move, others are skeptical about the feasibility and it's effectiveness in a city like Delhi known for 'Jugaad'.


All eyes were on Beijing for the last decade or so, a city known world-wide to be the most polluted in the world. The city is engulfed in smog on most days, and sometimes it makes the visibility so low that it is difficult to see even buildings a few meters away (Beijing is aptly called 'Greyjing' or 'Beige-jing' by some). That was until the World health organisation submitted a report in May last year.

According to the report, the air quality in New Delhi was found to be almost three times worse than in Beijing. If I get a little technical here, particulate matter (PM) in the air causes most of the health related hazards. There are two major groups, PM10 and PM2.5. Simply put, PM10 are the larger particulate matters and PM2.5 the smaller ones. But PM2.5 are far more dangerous than PM10.

The report mentioned that Delhi air had a concentration of 153 micro grams per cubic meter of PM2.5 and 286 micro grams of PM10 during the period 2008-13. During the same period, Beijing had 56 
micro grams of PM2.5 and 121 micro grams of PM10 in the air. The WHO considers under 25 micro grams per cubic meter of PM2.5 to be safe. So to put it all in perspective, the air in Delhi is 6 times worse than the standard of air quality which WHO considers severe.

The Government of India rejected the report saying that the 'UN agency had overestimated the levels in the capital'. The government scientists said that the air quality of Delhi is not as severe as the report showed it to be. Even if you agree with the government's statement, I see no point in waiting till the time it actually got as worse as the report suggested. Certain ambitious measures could have been planned even at that point. Nevertheless, no point crying over spilt milk. Let's hope things get better from here on.


This might come as a shock to some, but out of the most polluted cities in the world, 13 of them are in India

Looking at the list, I felt bad, but thought, atleast my current city of Bangalore doesn't feature in the list. How wrong I was! The city on an average might fare a little better than the ones on the list, but on certain days and in certain parts of the city, like the BTM Layout, the pollution levels reach higher than even Delhi. Click here article for details.


Obviously, air pollution is caused by factors such as vehicular emissions, industrial emissions, power plants and domestic sources. But interestingly, what caused the pollution levels to reach such a high (or lows, depending on how you look at it), nobody knows! Conflicting reports by IIT Kanpur, IIT Delhi, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and Center for Science and Environment (CSE) states different reasons for this ruckus. So this mean that nobody knows precisely how much is vehicular emission contributing to the air pollution in Delhi; just that it is a major factor by virtue of common sense.


I can put up a lot of statistics of how so many thousand people die and suffer from severe lung diseases each year, and it is not going to make any difference to the reader. After all we cannot relate to the actual situation if we throw in too many statistics in the mix (which I feel I do a lot). But the most important thing to understand is that the pollution levels in our country are reaching unprecedented levels and breathing such air inevitably affects everyone. About the half the children in Delhi already suffer from irreversible lung diseases, and the other cities will only have a slightly better number. That this air causes chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart related diseases, goes without saying. Air pollution is the 5th largest killer in India, according to an article in So just imagine to what extent we all are at risk.


In our country, we just do not value human lives. In Beijing, if the pollution levels spike up to hazardous levels, the government imposes red- alert and schools, offices and other institutions close down. In India, we have no such emergency alerts. Maybe we should think about something like that. In the entire post, I just compared everything to Beijing. I did not even mention the success stories of huge cities of Europe and North America, where the levels of pollution are far from even the 'mildly unsatisfactory' standards set by the WHO. Saying that we should aspire to become like them will be nothing short of over-ambitious, but at least we can take baby steps and learn from them. In my opinion, the odd-even rule in Delhi is one such step. It might not work, or might be impractical. But at least it is a step, or a thought in the right direction. Whether to joke on or to criticise the move, at least people are waking up to the idea that if not this, then there must be something else that needs to be done...and quickly.

Sunday 13 December 2015

The facts and myths about OCD

(image courtesy :

When we see a person obsessed with cleaning, keeping things in order and symmetry, fussy about rechecking everything multiple times, we tend to label that person as someone with OCD or Obsessive-compulsive disorder. I have always believed that even I have OCD because of my obsession with symmetry and order. But then most of the people I know have similar symptoms. So does it mean everyone has a small measure of OCD? If so, why is it a 'disorder' if it is so common among people? 


OCD is composed of two key words, obsessive and compulsive. It is an anxiety disorder of a combination of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. These obsessive thoughts are uncontrollable, unwanted and intrusive; the behaviors recurrent and ritualistic in a way that you are compelled to do something. Even though you know your behavior is irrational, you cannot resist or control it.


OCD's can be of infinite things but most people with OCD's fall into the following categories:

- WASHERS/CLEANERS : This is the most common form of OCD, in which the afflicted has the uncontrollable urge to wash hands multiple times for the fear of germs or for the fear of inflicting someone else with germs. You tend to feel that you have not scrubbed it well enough and have irrational fear of diseases. This category also contains compulsive cleaners of their (or other people's) households, cars, clothes or whatever they can lay their hands on.

(image courtesy :

- CHECKERS : If you know someone who checks whether the front door is locked 200 times or constantly goes into the kitchen to make sure the gas stove is off, that person might be afflicted with OCD. 

- COUNTERS : These guys can't stop counting while doing routine tasks like cleaning or climbing stairs. They are obsessed with numbers. I have been obsessed with numbers all my life too. I cannot bear to watch TV if the sound is on numbers like 13, 19 or 23. This is definitely a symptom of OCD, but I might not necessarily be afflicted by it (read on to know why).

- ORGANISATION/ ARRANGERS : The pile of books has to have all the books one on top of the other. If even one book has a centimeter sticking out, it feels like an itch in the back of our throats. It needs to be put in order, just like the set of knives in the kitchen; they all must be in a straight line., never mind (No 'or' here, it has to be in a straight line!)

Don't get ideas here!
courtesy :

- HOARDERS : People with this category of OCD tend to hoard or keep everything with them, because of the fear that throwing something away might make something bad happen.

There are other forms of OCD as well such as excessive fear of violence, repeatedly seeking assurances and having obsessive, uncontrollable brutal and violent thoughts.


After reading all this, most of you must have felt like you have one of the above categories of OCD for sure. Well, not necessarily. Our perception of OCD is very different from what it actually is. It is not just about obsessing about cleanliness or symmetry. OCD is always accompanied by feelings of anxiety, distress, guilt or anguish.

There is a major difference between OCD and 'quirks'. While keeping your living room carpet spotless can be categorised under quirk, checking and cleaning the carpet 30 times a day, and still anxiously getting up at 3 O'clock in the morning to check whether the carpet is clean is what OCD is like. You know that it is unreasonable and weird, but you just can't help it; you have to straighten those chairs around the dining table, which gives you temporary relief, and then like a record playing in a loop, you have to do it again, then again and then again. 

OCD always gives you unpleasant, intrusive thoughts. You will always have thoughts about losing your loved ones, or contaminating someone with germs, or doing something bad to someone you know,all in graphic detail (for instance beating up your best friend brutally; you don't know why you will keep obsessing over it but you can't stop it from happening). You will never end up doing it yourself but you will keep having those thoughts over and over again. They don't mention it in movies but it is accompanied by overbearing anxiety and extreme mental anguish. You will also have obsessive thoughts about how you are a bad person and something is terribly wrong with you. Some people also have obsessive thoughts about how they might not have OCD!

Another fact about having OCD is that it is rarely just that. OCD in many cases, is accompanied by panic attacks, tourette syndrome, hypochondria and eating disorders (called OCD spectrum disorders). Many people become more susceptible to depression when suffering from OCD.

People with OCD become more susceptible
to anxiety and depression
(image courtesy :

While all the spectrum disorders are treatable, OCD cannot be cured; it can only be controlled. Consulting a specialist, indulging in things you love to do dearly, constant counselling, getting the right amount of sleep are some of the few ways OCD can be kept in check.

I always thought OCD is all about being a cleanliness freak and obsessing about symmetry and organisation (read about pure 'o', which is about experiencing obsessions, minus observable compulsions). I did not know how a person suffering from OCD undergoes so much more. I may not ever understand it completely, but if I try and imagine myself having OCD, I think I would feel terrible about myself every single day and think I am completely crazy. The reason why I wrote this post is to make people realise that labeling an obsessively clean and organised person as one suffering from OCD is ignorant and, to a certain extent, insensitive as OCD is clearly a very unpleasant disorder to have, and there is nothing 'hip' about it.


Tuesday 8 December 2015

A triumph after 33 long years

India won the bronze medal at the 
2014-15 FIH World Hockey league

India recently beat South Africa 3-0 in the test series. I think it is an amazing achievement and deserves all the applause showered by the people. An ever bigger achievement probably was India's bronze medal at the FIH World hockey league last week. 

Everyone knows Indian hockey is no longer what it was 3-4 decades ago. India has never been the same especially after the synthetic turfs were introduced around the early 80's. That is when our last medal came at a world level event, when India beat Pakistan to clinch the bronze at the Champions trophy 1982. And after 33 years, we finally overcame the draught. 

That itself speaks volumes of this triumph in Raipur. Imagine, none of the current players were even born when India won its last world level event! 


The world hockey league has a complicated round robin format. Simply put, 56 teams competed in the 2014-15 edition. The top 8 teams get a bye to the semi final round while others qualify by playing round 1 and then round 2. The final round consists of 7 teams qualifying from the semi final round and one host nation (India) making up the 8th. These teams are divided into 2 pools and based on their standings after round robin matches, the quarter final (knockout) line-up is formed.

India did not have a great round robin, where it lost 2 matches and drew one. But tides turned in the knockouts dramatically. India beat the United Kingdom in the quarters 2-1. Inspite of an inspired performance in the semis, India lost narrowly to Belgium 0-1. But in a dramatic 3rd place match, India stunned the world no. 2 Netherlands 3-2 in the penalties (after a 5-5 scoreline) to clinch the bronze

Rupinder Pal Singh(left) after equalising, making the score 2-2.
He had a horrendous game initially but made amends
by scoring this goal. He also scored the final goal in the
 shootout to become an unlikely hero eventually.


I think a victory like this is always a great morale booster for any team. Next up in 2016 is the Sultan Azlan Shah cup, the Champions trophy and then the Rio Olympics (for which India have already qualified by winning the 2014 Asia cup). 
I also think it will help our team go a long way if people at least appreciate and make the players feel that they have done India proud. We only need to be a little more aware. We pounce at the opportunity to criticise when India fail to get any medals at the Olympics. I think if we want to criticise, we also must appreciate their efforts when they achieve something. 

A little trivia for the readers.
The second to the left is Sardara Singh.
He is the captain of the Indian hockey team.

India: A country without a national language

image source :

India is a country with unparalleled diversity. Not only in terms of geography and history, India is a mix of various cultures, religions and languages.
Recent outcries about 'religious intolerance' though puts a question mark on whether the diversity in India is a colourful conglomerate, which strenghtens our society, or an ocean of unblendable emulsions, which is a burden on progress and development. It is a very debatable topic and I will give my opinions on it some other day. 
Similar to religious diversity, India also has a huge linguistic diversity. More than 1500 languages are spoken in this country. But unlike most other countries, India does not have one unifying language or a lingua franca, which is spoken or understood by all. 
Well why, we have Hindi! Around 422 million Indians (41%) can speak Hindi and well, it is our national language, right? Wrong. Absolutely wrong!
It is a very common misconception we Indians have. Hindi is NOT our national language. In fact, India does not even have a national language!
Here are the facts: The Central government of India has two official (not national!) languages, Hindi and English, while the state governments can use their respective languages as their official language. While English is the lingua franca (though only 0.01% of the population can speak English), and Hindi (and its dialects) is the most widely spoken language, there are 21 other languages which has the status of official language.
The reason why I stated these facts is because I feel most Indians do not respect people with a different linguistic background other than their own. While many(I did not say all!) Hindi speakers think Hindi should be learnt by all as it is our National language, Tamil speakers especially (read about the anti-Hindi protests of 1965), and a few other non-Hindi speakers refuse to accept that. 
I am not someone significant enough to pass some judgememt and say that one of them is right and the other is not. I just think that if we are stuck with playing a game of who bends first, it is sure to be a never ending wait. Rather, can't we avoid this unpleasantness and love and respect a person for what he or she is, irrespective of what language he or she speaks? So what if that person cannot speak a certain language. Does that change the fact that he/she is a human being just like us with dreams and aspirations not different from ours? I strongly believe (and try my best to practice) that kindness and love still have a place in this world no matter what people say. The results may be delayed but irrespective of religion or linguistic background or nationality, if you treat a person with respect and love, you will eventually get back more from that person. If you on the other hand, hate somebody because 'people from his/her background' treated you disrespectfully, you are just extending the chain of hatred and bad blood. No good will come of it. Just try being respectful and kind and nice and polite, even if the other person might be the opposite.. Sooner or later you will conquer his/her negativity. It is one small act, but it is far far better than criticising someone or something on facebook.

Sunday 22 November 2015

Novak Djokovic Vs Roger Federer: two best players this season?

Djokovic after his victory over Federer in the US Open
They will face off again at the finals at the O2 tonight.

We have come down to the final match of the season and once again, two of the best players of the season face off for the summit clash of the World tour finals. No doubt irrespective of the outcome Novak Djokovic will still have his best season ever and with 10 titles this season (Federer has 6), a defeat at the hands of Federer will still make him, by far, the best player this season. 

While there is no doubt that Novak Djokovic is the best player this season, there can be a slight debate on who the second best player this season is. Andy Murray is the current world number 2, and unless Federer wins the title here at the O2, Murray will finish 2015 as year end number 2, his best finish ever. Even if Federer wins the title, Murray can still end the year number 2 if he wins two Davis Cup singles clashes. 

That is about stats and rankings. But I think there is more than just that to judge who has been a better player in a particular season.


Andy Murray has a season win-loss record of 69-14 (83.13%). He won 4 titles this season out of 7 finals he reached.
Roger Federer has a win loss record of 63-10 (86.3%). He made it to 10 finals and won 6 of them.
While Federer's 6 titles is second only to Djokovic, David Ferrer has one more title to his name than Andy. Add to it a slightly better win-loss percentage, Federer edges Murray in this criteria.
Interesting to note here that Novak Djokovic has been responsible for all of Federer's 4 and Murray's 3 final losses this season.


Andy Murray beat Rafael Nadal for his only
Masters 1000 title this season in Madrid

Andy Murray won the Canadian Open, defeating Djokovic for the title and made the finals of Miami and Paris, losing both to Djokovic.
Federer defended his title in Cincinnati by beating Djokovic, and made it to the finals of Indian Wells and Rome, surrendering the titles to Djokovic.
No winners in this category clearly.


Federer beat Murray 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 in the
Wimbledon semi-finals, their only grand slam
encounter this season

Andy Murray made it to the finals of the Australian Open, losing to Djokovic in four sets. He stretched the same opponent to 5 sets in the semi finals of the French Open but the outcome of the match was the same. In the Wimbledon semi finals he suffered a straight sets loss to Roger Federer and exited the US Open in the fourth round by going down in four sets to Kevin Anderson.
Roger Federer's quest to a grand slam quest started badly, as he lost to Andreas Seppi in the third round of the Australian Open. Stan Wawrinka conquered him in straight sets at Roland Garros in the quarter final stage. In the last two grand slams of the year, he made it to finals comfortably (losing just one set to Sam Groth in the third round of Wimbledon) on both occasions, but eventually lost in four sets to Novak Djovkovic in both attempts.
This category also does not bring out a clear winner.


Andy Murray in action at the Davis Cup

While Roger Federer has done well to contribute to Switzerland's elevation to the World group playoff's again, Andy Murray has ensured that Great Britain gets a shot at the title for the first time since 1936. This a great achievement for any tennis player and is one of the highlight moments of Andy Murray's career.


Roger Federer after his victory over Rafael Nadal at the
Basel Open final.

Federer clearly has a better record when it comes to facing top 10 opponents. He is 15-5 (75%) while Andy Murray is 12-9 (57.14%). 


When we filter the above criteria into just matches against Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka (read big four? if you do not agree that Stan Wawrinka should be on the list), and each other, the facts become even clearer. While Federer is 9-5 (64.29%) against these four fellow players, Murray is a poor 2-9 (18.18%). This means that Murray has struggled against the very best of men's tennis. A record of 1-6 against the number 1 player, 0-2 against the number 2 (Federer) and 0-1 against the number 4 Stan, does not go well with the résumé of a world number 2. Federer meanwhile has handed the world no. 1, 3 of his 6 defeats this year, and losing 4. With Murray he is 2-0, Stan 3-1 and Rafa 1-0. 

Murray after losing to Djokovic in the
Australian Open final, one of his 6 losses to
Djokovic this season

Looking at all the above criteria, it is quite clear that Federer has been a slightly better player than Murray this year, no matter what the rankings say.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Still 'Big four'?

Andy Murray will face Stanislas Wawrinka in the last round robin match.
The winner will qualify for the semi finals

In less than half and hour, we will have the last match of the round robin stage at the ATP World tour finals, where Britain's Andy Murray will face the reigning French Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka.

The reasons why I decided to write a post on this match are more than one. First of all, it is a match between two of the best players in the world, which, hopefully will make for an interesting viewing. Two, it is the last match of the round robin format, yet it is a virtual quarter final, where the winner will seal a berth for the semi finals. Three, the semi finalist waiting on the other side is the great Roger Federer and everything related to him interests me greatly. Four, these two players are both in the debate as to who the fourth member of the so called 'Big Four' is.

Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have already qualified for the semi finals, and have also proven once again that they are still well ahead of the upcoming players. The fourth position (in the 'Big Four' as well as in this tournament) is up for grabs, mainly due to Wawrinka's form in 2014-15. While he has notched up the Australian Open last year and the French Open this year, Murray has failed to add to his tally of two slams during the same period. No doubt Murray has been the more consistent player of the two at any given time, but in tennis, excellence gets rewarded more than consistency.

If we look at the head-to-head between these two, Murray is slightly ahead with an 8-6 record, but the last two meetings have gone to the Swiss, and both remarkably easy victories. In fact, at Monte Carlo 
 2013 and the US Open in the same year, the scoreline reads 6-1,6-2,6-4,6-3,6-2 respectively, in favour of Wawrinka . Out of the last 4 hard court meetings, they have split it 2-2.

But they haven't met in the last years and it is very difficult to pick a winner. Wawrinka can be devastating on his day, but can be unpredictably mediocre on others. Another variable is added when you consider the fact that Andy is supposed to play in the Davis cup finals on clay a week later, and it is very difficult to assume how is he prepared to perform on the hard courts, and more importantly, whether he is mentally there to perform at his very best. If you ask me, I feel Wawrinka has a slight edge, and should win this contest in three sets.

No matter who wins though, this is an important match in the whole context of 'the big four'. While nobody can rule out Murray for at least another couple of years in terms of winning slams, a victory here for Wawrinka, (and who knows, he might move beyond the semis too) might force us to accommodate an additional berth for him and call it 'Big Five' instead.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Roger Federer : the most commonly associated name with tennis

This is my first ever blog on Roger Federer and what a day to start writing about him. The World tour finals 2015 is underway and not even 24 hours ago, Roger Federer defeated Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-2. As a Federer fan, nothing gives me more happiness than to see the great man still conquering the very best in men's tennis.

I am not actually very sure what to write about him. So much has already been written and said that I doubt I have any original story to tell. The only uniqueness I can bring to my post here is to share my views. Today I want to talk about why he is the one name most commonly associated with tennis.

Every sport has its greats and legends. When we talk about football, names like Pele, Diego Maradona, Ronaldo, Zidane immediately come to mind. For cricket it might be Viv Richards, Sir Donald Bradman, Allan Border. Major Dhyan chand and Jamie Dywer reminds us of field hockey and Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumachar takes our minds to zooming F1 cars. Even tennis has its share of legends in Arthur Ashe, Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and so many others.

I will not go into the debates regarding the greatest of all time, but at least for an era, I have observed that one name is more closely associated to a particular sport than any other. Some of you might not agree with me but I think the name Sachin Tendulkar is associated to cricket more than any other cricketer. Same goes with football, where Lionel Messi is the second name of football today. In a country like India where basketball is not a very popular sport, many people know about just one player: Michael Jordan. Same can be said about Tiger Woods and golf, and Hulk Hogan and wrest
ling (Just kidding. WWE might be the most popular 'sport' after cricket in India).

In all these cases, that one name just sticks. That is what I feel about Roger Federer and tennis. So many players have come and gone but Roger Federer is one of the most loved and admired tennis players of all time, by fans and players alike. As proof, he has won the fan's favorite (voted by fans) award for the 13th time in a row and the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship award (voted by fellow players) for the 11th time in the last 12 years. Yes, Rafael Nadal comes close to being so loved all around the world, but the fan following that Federer has, I think it is unparalleled to anybody in any sport at the moment.

Sometimes I ask myself why. He is of course one of the greatest player to have played the game. Some of his achievements are mind-boggling and I doubt anybody can surpass him easily. For example being world number 1 for 237 weeks, or making 23 consecutive major semi finals is a ridiculously imperious record. But I think the reason for his popularity is more than his records.

When Roger Federer plays, it is very easy to make out, even for a non-tennis fan, that he is inhumanely calm and composed. While others get pumped up after a couple of winners or smash their racquets into a lump for making a few mistakes, Roger Federer never (except once that I remember) does something like that. He will win a point by an ethereal volley and go back to the baseline, ready for the next point as if nothing happened. I have also seen many players yell back at the crowd if they get under their skin, but with Federer, it is unthinkable. During a match, he is mentally as stable as they come and that makes him stand out among others.

One other aspect of Roger is the way he plays his game. He makes everything look so ridiculously easy. Some people say it is just talent. I disagree. I think you have to work even harder to make something so tough, look as easy as peeling a banana skin. Add to that ease, his grace. He makes tennis look like art. There is no data to prove this but I am sure everyone will agree with me on this one. I can never get bored of watching Roger play. I can play it over and over again and feel like someone is feeding me unlimited chocolate pastries (except that you will get bored of eating pastries eventually).

He is an amazing strategist too. I have seen so many matches where he came back to win the match against a more inspired and dangerous opponent by using the right tactics at the right time. (I am sure many of you can relate to it with the SABR he started using for the last few months.)

I do not know exactly why he is so unanimously loved and associated so closely with tennis. I am just here to speculate and share my views, and I think a few of the above points, or maybe all of them, in addition to thousands more that I have not mentioned, or are not possible to put it down on paper, contribute to it. My only wish is to keep seeing him play like he is at the moment and relish every bit of it.

If you were looking for '12 reasons why Roger Federer is the greatest ever' kind of a post, I am sure you would have been disappointed reading this post. So to try and compensate for that, I shortlisted Roger's 5 most memorable shots (in my opinion). These shots have been compiled keeping in mind the significance of the tournament, the quality of opposition and the ridiculous ease at which Roger executes them.

5. This shot is simply here due to the brilliance and cunning of Roger on court. Just look at the way he outfoxes Ernest Gulbis by giving a 'fake gaze' crosscourt.

4. Back in 2002, when Roger was a 21 year old emerging player, he conjured up this against his rival Andy Roddick. (As a bonus I have uploaded the full game which is worth watching).

3. Wimbledon finals 2012 against Andy Murray. Who really expects that kind of a 'drop shot'?

2. Who can forget the 2008 Wimbledon finals between the two legends? This backhand passing shot to save Championship point is one of the highlights of this great match.

1. This, in my opinion is one the best shots the maestro has dared play (and perfectly executed!) in a major. US Open 2009 semifinals against Novak Djokovic and he plays this to bring up match point.

If you have any suggestions or feedback regarding the post, please leave a comment. Cheers!

Sunday 15 November 2015

Travel diaries : Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Exactly 1 year ago to the very date, I went for a trip to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This is one of the few trips I went for with my family. I always knew that the Andamans are a beautiful set of islands. Little did I know that I would have one of the best travel experiences of my life.

The Andamans are actually beautiful, most of it safe from excessive human intervention (note: internet connectivity is almost nil). The air is pure, the waters a clear cyan. The natives are allowed to live in peace and the government provides for all their needs. There is absolutely no crime anywhere (at least according to the locals). I do not want to jinx it but it feels like you are a part of a peaceful, balanced ecosystem. We stayed there for 8 days and 7 nights. I could have stayed there for another 8 years I think.

In this post, I will share my itinerary in brief and also share a few photographs of the places I visited.

DAY 1 : We boarded a flight from Guwahati around midnight and landed in Kolkata, from where we boarded the connecting flight to Port Blair at around 6 AM. The journey from Kolkata to Port Blair is around 2 hours and 15 minutes. So by around 8:15 AM we landed at the Port Blair airport. It is important to note here that we had already got a packaged deal from a local travel agent. It actually made our trip much more convenient because they had worked out a great itinerary for us and the cabs and hotels were not our headache anymore. So as soon as we landed, a cab was waiting to take us to the hotel. We freshened up a bit and immediately began our journey. Our first destination was the Cellular jail.

The Cellular jail is one of the most significant places to visit in Port Blair. Only one wing (out of the existing seven; the one on the right in the picture below) is open to the public now but it is all decently maintained. We learnt a great deal about the freedom fighters and their struggles while they were imprisoned there. It was almost as if we could feel a tiny part of their pain while we were there looking at the unforgiving shackles and whips.

The Cellular jail

At about 4:15 PM we left for the Corbyn's cove beach which is around half an hour drive from the Cellular jail. The Corbyn's cove beach is a nice beach, but is nothing compared to the other beaches we would travel to later on. So we just spent about half an hour there and headed back to the Cellular jail for the light and sound show from 6-7 PM. The light and sound show is a major attraction for the tourists and it did not disappoint us. After that we went to the hotel, and tired to the bones, retired for the night immediately.

DAY 2 : We woke up early and headed out to the dock at around 7:30 AM. A ferry would pick us up at around 8:30 and take us to Ross island. We made it there 20 minutes later and started exploring the small island. It was the administrative headquarters during British rule. You can find ruins of the administrative home, a large swimming pool, a church and a ballroom. A huge earthquake rocked the island in 1941, after which the headquarters were moved to Port Blair. According to the locals, the Ross island absorbed the wrath of the 2004 tsunami and significantly reduced the damage on Port Blair. It was also under Japanese control during 1942-45. 

A view from Ross island looking into Port Blair

Ross island

Ross island

We headed back to Port Blair a couple of hours later and quickly grabbed some tiger prawns for lunch; we needed some energy for scuba diving next!
For that we headed to the North Bay island. It is around a half an hour trip by ferry and by 1 PM, we were 'suited up' for Scuba diving. They just trained us for 15 minutes, mainly to teach us the hand signals and to see how well we cope up with sea water. And then we were off! For about 45 minutes or an hour, we dived in to experience amazing underwater life. The trainers were always with us so there was no question of safety. We saw and felt, with our bare hands, some amazing plants and fishes we only ever saw on the National Geographic channel. Overall it was an amazing experience. Unfortunately, I do not have the pictures and videos right now. Maybe I will upload it later.

We came back to Port Blair, ate some more and rushed to see the sunset at Chidiya Tapu. We made it there around 4:30 PM. The sunset was scenic. It was like a Hollywood set for a movie and we thoroughly enjoyed that too.

Sunset at Chidiya Tapu

DAY 3 : We started even earlier this time. 6 AM, we reached the port. Around 2 and a half hours later, we were at Neil island. The water was an absolute cyan here and looked like a collage of award winning pictures everywhere you look.
Our first destination there was a natural bridge, locally referred to as Howrah bridge at the Laxmanpur beach 2. This was around 9:45 AM.
'Howrah bridge', Laxmanpur beach 2, Neil island

Laxmanpur beach 2, Neil island

By 10:30 AM, we reached Bharatpur beach. It was calm and serene. We almost felt like dozing off for a bit but decided against it. So we went for a ride on a glass-bottomed ferry. After about an hour, we headed to Sitapur beach. Sitapur was deserted and calmer than Bharatpur. We roamed around for about half an hour and left.

Sitapur beach, Neil island

At 3 PM, we again took the ferry and left for Havelock island, two and a half hours away. After reaching in the evening, we checked in at the hotel. It was a row of cottages along the beach and I wasted no time at all. I checked in, kept my bags, and headed out for a swim. After about half an hour, I came back, took a long bath, had dinner and slept happily.

Cottages opened up to the sea, Havelock island

DAY 4 : I woke up early in the morning and took a stroll around the beach. I could just spend days looking out into the sea. But we had a schedule to follow. So we left for Elephant beach around noon. It is a 20 minute ferry journey from the Havelock dock.
We first went for under water walking. It is simply the best experience of my life. It is even better than scuba diving in my opinion. For an hour, I was just awed by the marine life right before my eyes. I fed the fishes some bread crumbs too and shoals of them would school around and nibble at my fingers. The memories of that experience brings a smile to my face. Unfortunately, the camera there malfunctioned and couldn't produce photos.
Next I tried some snorkeling. Spotted a lot of fishes and had a great time. I also tried a couple of water sports; banana ride and jet skiing (ya that is me in that picture!).

Jet skiing at Elephant beach, Havelock island

After all that fun, we headed back to Havelock and went to Radhanagar beach. This in my opinion is the most beautiful beach in Andaman. The waves are simply perfect and it is a delight being in the waters. Like so many other things during the trip, I wish I had more time for this!

Radhanagar beach

After the ferry ride, there is another half an hour walk amidst scenic fields and steps to finally reach the limestone caves. 

Ferry rides consists of going through canopies like this

DAY 5 : After having breakfast, we journeyed back to Port Blair. We checked into the hotel and had a good rest. This was a buffer day for us so we did not have much to do. So went for a bit of shopping in the evening and visited a local park.

DAY 6 : We left at dawn to Jirkatang (around 40 kms). From there we had to travel another 50 kms to Baratang via the Jarwa reserve forest. This is a no overtake zone and photography is strictly prohibited. From here, a 15 minute ferry ride took us to Baratang island.

Scenic fields on the way to the limestone caves, Baratang island

The limestone caves, Baratang island

We probably reached Port Blair around 4 PM and were too tired to do anything else that day.

DAY 7 : We visited the Chatham saw mill in the morning. Then we went to the Samudrika museum, followed by a visit to the anthropological museum. After that we also had time to visit fishery museum.

DAY 8 : Probably around 8:30 AM, we boarded a flight to Kolkata in the morning. After all the amazing experiences, I scarcely wanted to go back. All good things must come to an end, but I hope I can accumulate many more such memories. I would definitely want to go back again and will recommend everyone to go explore such awesomeness.

PS. I made a quick sketch while I was there. Thought I should share it with you guys as well. Cheers!

A quick sketch of Laxmanpur beach 2, Neil island