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.