Thursday 28 January 2016

Why I took up the 2015 reading challenge

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As a kid I was always fascinated by books. It just seemed to be the right thing to do. I associated it with wise, intelligent people. Plus, it smelled so nice!

I used to read till I was around 10 years old; mostly encyclopedias and quiz books. My parents would take me to all the book fairs and I would buy a bunch of quiz books every time I went. That habit gradually faded away as school exams became a higher priority.

Interestingly, I somehow did not know much about books which children generally read at that age. I did not know of the existence of 'The famous five', 'The Hardy boys' or Agatha Christie. During my 6th standard, I saw a few of my friends reading Harry Potter so I decided I should give it a shot. That 240-something page 'monstrous' book was looking like a formidable challenge and I wasn't sure whether I could complete it during my life span. I remember the time when I was asked by my teachers to read Huckleberry Finn in the 3rd standard, and I couldn't make heads or tails of it (especially who that character Tom Sawyer was).

But I must admit I enjoyed reading Harry Potter a lot. I bought the next few books in the series and read them tirelessly. I read each of them atleast 7 times! Over the next few years I started reading other books too. I never dared to attempt long reads and kept it to Paulo Coelho's and Dan Brown's. Still I read quite a bit. But that was before college.

As soon as architecture started, I struggled to take out time to read. I initially made attempts, but these books would generally remain incomplete for months and then I would pick out another book, and the result would be the same. I barely read some 20 books during the 5 years of graduation.

Last year I pledged that it must change. I knew that even though I have missed out on so many years, it is never too late to restart. I joined and took up the 2015 reading challenge. I pledged to read 18 books (3 books in 2 months), which seems quite modest, but I wanted a realistic target, one which I can complete. That way, even if I miss out on a few days or weeks of reading due to some unavoidable issue, I can make up for it later; a daunting target would only lead to giving up prematurely. It turned out to be a good decision because amidst work and daily chores, it becomes a challenge to read regularly.

I eventually completed the challenge with about a week to spare! Still it made me really happy. It was my best reading year ever and I would like to keep that up in 2016 too. (You can check out my reading year here reading challenge 2015)

Sharing my success will definitely inspire me (and hopefully others too) to keep going. So I thought I should share a list of the 5 best books I read in 2015, which you can also try out.


It was the first book I read last year, and definitely one of the best. 600-odd pages gave me the impression that this is going to be a long, slow read. But I just got sucked into the story line and felt that it moved so very smoothly. The characters are well developed and the writing is great. It is unquestionably a timeless classic.

Not many of you might have heard of this book, but trust me, it will crack you up every page or two. The writing might not be of the Mario Puzo levels, but it is every bit relatable to most readers; simple and uncomplicated, and more importantly, funny. Random, unthinkable, and impossible events lead to more coincidences, but I feel the story has been strung well together. You will not regret reading it if you are up for some light read.

3. 1984 (-GEORGE ORWELL)
This is as different as it gets from the previously mentioned book; better too. Written 67 years ago, this master piece is as timeless as it gets. It talks about an imaginary, dark world of the future (1984). The imagination and maturity of Orwell is unparalleled. It is definitely one of the best books I have come across, as it will forever leave a mark.
Ps. Read this book and compare it to the current situation of North Korea; you will see some striking resemblances for sure.

The third book of the 'modern epic' A song of ice and fire, A storm of swords is the best book of the series so far for me. Even though I started reading the series after watching the TV series, I am often left with amazement at the intricacy and detail with which Martin has woven this 'game'. This book has so many dramatic twists that I loved reading it even though I knew so much of it beforehand. The writing, needless to say, is great, and the characters, even though they are many, are dealt with expertly.

This is the most unique book I must have ever read. It is full of random questions (asked by people at such as 'Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward-firing guns' or 'If an asteroid was very small but supermassive, could you really live on it like the Little Prince'. Munroe answers them hilariously! He considers various permutations and combinations to answer whether the questions asked are actually possible or not, or to what degree. In addition to that, he uses really funny cartoons too. The end result is a laugh riot! I had a blast reading it and seriously, it is funny.. really funny!

Australian Open 2016 : semi-finals preview

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The Australian Open 2016 semi final spots have been booked. After 10 days of gruelling tennis down under, we are down to the last four contenders for the coveted first major of the year.

On the women's side, the legendary Serena Williams, and world number 1, takes on fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the first semis final. In the second semi final, the 28 year old German and number 7 seed Angelique Kerber will take on the fast rising Brit, (unseeded) Johanna Konta. Serena is undoubtedly the best player out of the four. If she plays even OK tennis by her standards, she is going to take this trophy home, period.

Serena Williams in action at this year's Australian open
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On the men's side, the blockbuster 45th showdown between world number 1 Novak Djokovic and number 3 Roger Federer has every one taking. On the other side, current number 2 Andy Murray takes on the 13th seed Canadian Milos Raonic.

I follow the atp circuit more closely so I will give my views on them.


Novak Djokovic : The world number 1 has been the most consistent player in the world for the last couple of years. He has raised the bar of tennis to a level never achieved before by anyone else, at least that consistently (in my opinion). This Australian Open has been a different story however. The 5 time Australian open champion started off quite convincingly in the opening rounds. Andreas Seppi gave him a tough fight in the third round, but he came out unscathed in 3 sets. The fourth round match against Simon was a scare though as he barely managed to win it in 5 sets after committing 100 unforced errors. Against Kei Nishikori in the quarters, he won convincingly if you look at the scoreline (6-3, 6-2, 6-4). Yet I felt he was far from his best that day. He gave Kei too many opportunities to break (8 overall; even though the Japanese managed to convert only 2) and made uncharacteristic unforced errors. But even at his worst days, he finds a way to beat his opponents, which is why he is the best player in the world.

Roger Federer : He had a fabulous 2015; almost a perfect season if you take out his losses to Djokovic in 5 finals out of 8. In my opinion, Federer is currently the only one who can beat Djokovic even at his imperial best. He has the tools to counter Djokovic's game and make him look mortal. His road to the semi finals has been fairly uncomplicated. He has dropped just 1 set against Dimitrov in the 3rd round. That match was not a spectacular one as both players leaked errors and struggled on big points. Apart from that match though Federer has been red hot. He almost demolished David Goffin in the 4th round (6-2, 6-1, 6-4) and played great tennis to subdue the always dangerous Tomas Berdych in straight sets (7-6(4), 6-2, 6-4). I feel he has been very aggressive with the backhand and is playing more topspin than slices this year. It has yielded great results so far and will be a key component against Novak tomorrow.

Going by their head to head, it is as even as it can get; it is a 22-22 in 44 meetings. Going by current form, Federer has a better chance; by their recent history it is Djokovic who has the edge (He beat Federer in their last 3 grand slam final meetings). I really hope both of them come out firing and play a match which would live up to the expectations.

A lot will depend on how each of them play the big points. The US open final 2015 was a story of missed opportunities for Federer as he converted just 4 out of 27 break points. Federer's ability to find the first serve will also be crucial. The 2015 Wimbledon final was a story of how his first serves deserted him in crucial points. Federer will obviously try and keep the points short and will try and open up the forehand side of Djokovic. He will have to be aggressive with his backhand and will need to come up to the net
 often to finish points before Djokovic gets comfortable from the back of the court. Djokovic on the other hand will rely on his backhands to do some damage both to Federer's slightly weaker backhand side and also down the line. His composure will also be tested as the crowd is surely going to root for Federer.

As much as I want Federer to win it, I feel Djokovic will rise up to the occasion and deliver his best tennis of the tournament. Federer will not be blown away, but will find it difficult to break Djokovic's solid game. A set, maybe two might go the Roger, but I think the world number one prevails in the end.

I want a 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 in favour of Federer but I think it is going to be 7-6, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 in Djokovic's favour.


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Andy Murray : The world number 2 had been quite consistent last year after his back surgery marred his 2013 and 2014 seasons. He was last year's finalist at this venue and has what it takes to win majors. He has been good at this tournament this year too, even though he dropped a set each against Sousa and Ferrer. He has been good with his return game as usual, but an added bonus has been his serve, which I feel has let him down on 
a few occasions before. His ability to stay in the rally and make the opponent play that extra ball has paid dividends too. He looks in decent shape and will be tough to beat in this form.

Milos Raonic : The world number 13 had a great 2014, but an injury filled 2015 saw him drop out of the top 10. This year has been different though. He looks a much improved player. He beat Federer for the Brisbane open a couple of weeks ago and has made the semi finals here as well. His biggest weapon, the serve, has been at its best. But his movement, baseline game and the return game has taken a huge leap. He looks much more confident too which is always a bad sign for the opponent on the other side of the net.

Their head to head is an even 3-3, so we cannot make a statement based on that. On current form, they look equally formidable. Murray has an edge because he has been at this stage so many times before (this is his 6th Australian open semi final). But Milos can turn that into his advantage if he comes out believing he can win. The pressure will be on the veteran and if Raonic plays his best tennis, he can potentially overcome Murray. His booming forehand will be a key aspect to penetrate Murray's defenses. Murray on the other hand will definitely look to draw Raonic into long rallies and move him around the court. If he can manage to do that, Raonic will have a tough time snatching the victory from the 'favourite'.

I feel that is exactly what is going to happen. I am making a bold choice here, but I like the look of Raonic this year. He is going to out-serve and out-hit Murray and dictate play on his service games. On return games, Raonic will need to look for tiny openings to get crucial breaks and that he can only do if he is aggressive on the return. Murray's serve might waver if he is mentally not a 100% and I feel it might be such a case on Friday if Raonic manages to get the early advantage.

I think I will go with a 7-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory for Raonic.

Wednesday 6 January 2016

Travel diaries : Sri Lanka

About a month ago, I embarked on a journey to Sri Lanka. I have traveled quite a bit in India (and a few kilometers into Nepal's border once), but this was my first proper visit to a foreign country.  I was accompanied by 11 other people from my work place. We were to attend our boss's wedding ceremonies in Colombo, after which we would go on to explore a few other parts of the country.


Yes, I am talking about day 1! All thanks to a flight delay, which had us land Colombo around dawn, and some confusion regarding availability of rooms after we reached the hotel. It meant we did not get any sleep whatsoever and the beds were so comfortable that we decided that we like Colombo from there better.

Around afternoon though we woke up (all groggy) and went for a walk to some nearby place for lunch. The first look of the streets of Colombo left me wide-eyed. It looked something like this.

And I am used to something more like this

It was nice to see some traffic rules for a change, vehicles letting pedestrians cross the road and the road itself (sometimes we can't see it due to a blanket of vehicles over it).

We went to a tiny shack by the side of the road and had the first taste of local food. Damn it was spicy! And good too... but damn spicy!

For the rest of the day I remember seeing a lot of my pillow whenever I would wake up, before dozing off again.


A glutton that I am, I was looking forward to it. Sounds very crude, I know. But you see, I love feasts! So we went and I did a good job of eating and we all came back to the hotel pretty full.

In all the excitement of food, I forgot to mention that we also visited the Independence Memorial hall, which commemorates Sri Lanka's independence from the British rule on February 4, 1948.

Independence Memorial hall, Colombo

We found some time in the evening to walk towards the sea-front across the hotel. It was nice and breezy, kids were playing football and flying kites. We decided to join in and have some fun ourselves. We bought a kite, and struggling and fighting the odds (ironically a nice breeze), we managed to fly it.

Another feast at night followed. This time I decided to drink heavily. That I did, except I woke up after the party somewhere not in the party hall, having no recollection of the last few hours, and managed to walk back (quite unsteadily) to my room to sleep it off.

With great difficulty, I surprisingly managed to eat a whole lot of food, even after having a funny (but unpleasant) stomach ache and an equally unpleasant headache. It makes me really happy when I exceed my own expectations and do my job well.

Thereafter, we checked out and bid goodbye to our boss and his to-be-wife. We would now travel in a mini-bus we booked off for the entire trip and our first stop was Dambula.


As it always happens when traveling with a group of 12, things got off to a slow start. Every one had their own way of going about things. But we finally managed to leave for Anuradhapura just before noon (as opposed to the pre-decided time of 9 AM!).

Anuradhapura is an ancient capital of Sri Lanka and it is known for its well-preserved ruins of ancient Sri Lankan civilization. It is an hour and a half drive from Dambula.

We visited the museum in the beginning, which contains various artifacts and tools of the civilization. Then we took a tour of the city which were full of brick plinths and erect stones, narrating a story of the civilization which stood tall hundreds of years ago. The city also consisted of 3 major stupas, which have been well-preserved to this date. Here are some of the pictures from Anuradhapura

The ambience of Anuradhapura is serene and peaceful. After exploring every nook and corner, we headed back to retire for the night.

Being architects, we have to go see a few places known for its architectural beauty (at least to tell other people that we went). So we made a stop at the Heritance Kandalama, a hotel designed by the great Geoffrey Bawa.

The place was nothing extravagant, but it immediately touched a chord. What brings it close to nature is the ample greenery, along with its simplicity and openness. It was my first experience of a Bawa building, and I have to admit, it made me realize why he is regarded so highly all over the world.

A view of the infinity pool in the Hertence Kandalama,overlooking a river 

After that we headed out for Sigiriya. It is an ancient palace, with the massive 200 meter high rock serving as the center of attraction. Sigiriya is a UNESCO World heritage site and 
is the most visited site in Sri Lanka.

A view of the Sigiriya rock

I decided to make the climb. Carrying a DSLR, a couple of bottles of water and your passport, (and of course making the climb on the side) is not a very easy task. The steps got steeper and narrower the higher I went. On the way to the top, there is the lion's paw (huge stone-cut paws), the mirror wall and the famous rock paintings. It is a wonder how the people in ancient times made such a climb and created such wonderful pieces of art at such heights.

The tiring 35 minute climb was worth it though! The view from the top was breath-taking. I spent another half an hour going to each corner and looking around, before I finally got hungry and decided to climb down.

A view from the top of the Sigiriya rock

Our plan (not mine) was to visit the Pinnawala elephant orphanage after that, but due to heavy rains (not too unfortunate, just fate), we had to call it off, and proceed to the beaches (finally!) of Hikkaduwa.

Waking up to the sound of the breaking waves is a delight only to be experienced and not described. The beauty of the early morning sun reflecting off the lapping waves like jewels in water, made me almost run towards the water. This day was just to have fun and I wouldn't come out of the water for anything, I thought, no matter how important. But apparently, for me, food is more important, and I went back for some lunch.

After lunch we went to the Dutch fort, which is about a 20-minute drive from our hotel. Only the a part of the wall and a lighthouse remain. The view of the ocean is majestic. The streets and architecture have a Dutch flavour to it and it was overall a short, but enjoyable visit.

After a day full of jumping around in the water (yes, jumping) and walking around the Dutch fort, I was ready to sleep like a baby, except my back wasn't. The back of the neck and the upper back was on fire, red as a ruby. I forgot to use sunscreen and the sun did the rest. Tossing and turning, I managed a few hours of sleep with great difficulty.

One of our major goals for the trip was to go scuba diving. I was the only one in the group who had experienced it before. Some of us in the group couldn't stop gleeing at its prospect. I was like 'eh.. whatever', just because I had done it before, but the child inside me was dancing like Drake.

We went, we trained for it, we jumped in. It was a great experience (honestly the one I had done in the Andamans was better), but sadly, the camera broke down that very day and we had to settle for taking back just memories. I think the merriment was compounded by the fact that 12 people went on a boat together and did it. Every one had their own stories to share later on and our joy notched up a new high.

The evening went mostly into booking our tickets back, as due to the Chennai floods, our flight got cancelled. In the end we managed, but a flight next afternoon (instead of the earlier booked midnight flight) meant we had to leave for Colombo early next morning.


We left Hikkaduwa in the morning amidst lots of rush and confusion. As is tradition, we left the most important place to be visited in Sri Lanka, for the last! A couple of hours from Hikkaduwa, lies Luna Ganga, the country home of one of the greatest architects ever, Geoffrey Bawa (ya, the same guy who designed Heritence Kandalama).

We had limited time, but we took a (hurried) tour of the estate anyway. It was actually mind-boggling. Nothing fancy, nothing ethereal, just simplicity and purity. The estate was full of gardens and greenery all around and is the kind of place which we dream of. It is synonymous to being one with nature. Take a look at some of the pictures instead.

We reached the airport on time thankfully, and as if my traveling Gods weren't happy enough, I traveled all the way to New Delhi, to take a connecting flight the next day to Bangalore.

The trip was a successful one and very enjoyable. As we were a large group of friends, things were more fun. The people who I see everyday typing and clicking from 10 to 6, seemed to have conjured different avatars. Again, by comparison, I think my trip to the Andamans a year before was better in many ways. But going for a trip after getting the first ever stamp on my visa has to memorable.

-The ruins of Polonnaruwa would have been a great addition to our itinerary, provided we had more time of course.
-Trincomalee, on the north east is supposed to be a place full of nice beaches.
-Adam's peak. We would have required even more time for that, but it seems like a nice place in google images.
-A safari in the Udawalawe national park.
-Pinnawala elephant orphanage... no actually never mind, I did not say that!


-The view of from the top of Sigiriya rock is something I would like to experience again. The climb too actually.
-Luna Ganga. The highlight of the trip for me.
-The amazing feasts and the food. Actually on second thoughts, that was the real highlight!