I shrugged off Ayn Rand!

My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.

— Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
‘The Fountainhead’, ‘Atlas Shrugged’, ‘We The Living’, and  ‘Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal’. I read them all during my teens and early 20s. I read them multiple times. Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart were real inspirations on how to go about changing the world. About two decades later, am amused by the unadulated enthusiasm and think with wonderment that I believed that these protagonists could be real-life heroes.
Ayn Rand is truly inspirational when you are in your teens, trying to battle your demons and find your identity. Supremely confident and competent figures like Howard Roark and Dagny Taggart seem magical and one instinctively feels that they will make the world a better place to live in for all of us. Even if one were not a superhero, one could align to the vision of such characters i.e. shades of Eddie Williers, who was an average and honest bloke well aware of his own limitations and yet idealized Dagny to be his leader.

Continue reading

Michael Lewis’ ‘Liar’s Poker’

Written in 1988 the book gives us a ringside view of the creation of Mortgage bond and Junk bonds. Twenty years later we witnessed a massive blow up involving Mortgage subprime lending and NINJA loans (No Income No Job or Assets) that led to the great Financial Crisis.

The creation of the Mortgage bond market is the genesis to an incredibly mismanaged risk allocation culture – all in the chase to drive the short-term yield on money. But this is not just serious stuff – the writer relies on his own experiences as a rookie bond salesman to provide us a glimpse into the lives of the privileged few who had highly stressful jobs and incredible lifestyle to keep them hooked.

The opening scenes describe the ‘Liar’s Poker’ game played by the traders. It is a smart game – you need to have a mind for numbers and probability. You need to be able to mask your emotions and knowledge just on similar lines as required to play poker. The game gets an extra edge since you are playing with professionals; so it no real kid play. But the game is amoral not even immoral – the actors can keep changing but the relentless pursuit of yield will go on undaunted by man or the environment.

Continue reading

Ray Romano’s ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’!

Recently I happened to see an episode of the Indian version of the popular sitcom – while it may have seemed refreshing to all of us, tired of the Indian ‘Saas-Bahu’ sagas (Mother-in-law v/s Daughter-in-law), it was not a patch on the original.

The original series that ran on CBS was cute and had a long run for about 9 years and 210 episodes. It is like a mini-capsule running approx 20 mins each. Recurrent themes make for familiar settings and the fun is in the interaction though one can predict how the Cookie will crumble in most episodes.

Ray Romano has an Italian lineage but not much of it shows except for the mention of the delicious Lasagna cooked by his mother, Marie. But a lot of the story is based on his real-life family as well.

Continue reading

Review of ‘The Murder Room’ by P D James

Complicated lives, fraught relationships, angst-ridden souls in the backdrop of the modern world and chaos is an enduring theme in all P D James novels. And she doesn’t disappoint us on that count even as she weaves a classic ‘whodunnit’ set up in a museum dedicated to crime and murder in Britain during the interwar years of 1919 – 1939.

The 12th novel in the Adam Dalgliesh series, we have the familiar characters of Ackroyd, Kate Miskin, Piers Tarrant and Emma. Dalgliesh remains a recluse professional but love is in the air as his relationship makes progress with Emma. (The heroine – if one were to use the term – is named after a famous character by Jane Austen who was P D James’ favorite writer’).

Even in her past novels, James has given her readers a flavor of real life crime history and the judicial system. Herein she sets the story in a quaint little museum that is dedicated to archive criminal history and artifacts from the interwar period in Britain. Ackroyd introduces Dalgliesh to the museum that is facing the prospect of closure as it is not viable in commercial terms. The Dupayne family are the patrons who need to decide on its future and whether they continue to subsidize it.

Continue reading

R K Narayan’s ‘The Dark Room’

Somerset Maugham happened to read the novel and was interested to meet Narayan when he visited South India. Unfortunately Narayan was still a rising star and their paths didn’t cross.

Set in Malgudi, the novel is grim and full of foreboding sense of doom. In the tale Narayan focuses on aspects of traditional Indian marriages that are a cause of grief instead of celebration. The Dark Room narrates the sad but futile struggles of Savitri who justifiably fights with her philandering husband but ends up losing the war.

Narayan is known for his sense of humour. We are introduced to the family of Ramani, Savitri and their three kids. There are the usual tiffs and fights to begin with but nothing seems to be seriously amiss – it sounds just like a typical middle class South Indian home where Ramani holds the upper hand. Savitri, as the heroine from popular folklore, is a traditional housewife. She is docile and readily submits to her husbands wishes. She is a victim of a patriarchal set up as she never got the opportunity to pursue her education and be an independent person. She is perpetually trying to navigate her world by buying peace with her husband who till then troubles her with minor quirks and foibles.

Continue reading

‘The World is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman

Deja vu! For the readers who have read ‘ The Lexus and the Olive Tree’, the book is familiar territory as Tom Friedman beats up the drum in support of Globalization. India is a favorite story for him and being from the generation the benefited from the ‘ LPG’ (Liberalization, Privatization & Globalization) reforms in India in 1991, I can understand his enthusiasm.

But yet again the view is overtly simplistic and looking back on some of the predictions he made in 2005 it is unrealistic as well. Crude is floundering instead of being on steroids, the echoes of the 2008 financial crisis are still felt as ‘Quantitative Easing’  (QE) is a trap that countries are unable to escape while Africa sounds like a land of promise.

It is a brave new world – the Schumpeterian principle of creative destruction is at work and the pace is frenetic. Analogue is being replaced by digital technology in various facets of our lives. Yet there is a spirit of accommodation and adaptation as the older forms of technology also survive or even thrive in a new avatar. The TV didn’t make the radio redundant, the internet media is not making newspapers vanish though newer forms of collaboration are jostling for space.

Continue reading

Arvind Swami – the reluctant actor!

In 1991 the Tamil cinema audience were introduced to a suave and good-looking actor when Arvind Swami took on with panache the role of a step-brother (pucca credentials playing a young district Collector upholding the Law) against Tamil superstar Rajnikanth (an illegitimate son who is the right-hand man to a righteous mob boss – Mammootty) in Thalapathi. The movie was a commercial success and helmed by the man with the Midas touch – Mani Ratnam.

The next year he took the Indian cinema by storm with a follow-up act as a patriotic Government technocrat who is kidnapped by terrorists in Roja. He captivated audience on similar terms like Kamal Haasan in ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’. Yet he wasn’t even around to enjoy his stardom as he pursued his Masters degree in Management in the US. Nearly twenty-five years later he has proved to be a reluctant actor – having done a handful of films and been away from the industry for a stretch. Yet he made a promising comeback playing a suave villain in the recent Tamil movie, ‘Thani Oruvan’.

Arvind Swami emerged in the long tradition of mild-mannered heroes such as Mohan and Murali, however he could never represent the underdog. A quiet demeanour still hid a self-confident and suave persona who seemed best slotted to play romantic leads – he did have a great following among the fairer sex to boot as well.

Continue reading