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  • 11/10/17--17:10: Overheard at coffee shops...
  • The cuppa that cheers may invigorate the mind, but a visit to a coffee shop can also tickle the funny bone if you have honed the skills of prying and eavesdropping like me.

    As I sip my café latte, I overhear a person giving directions in broken Hindi to somebody who does not seem to understand any other language. After a few exasperated efforts, he says, "Hand over the phone to some local person." The guy apparently gives the phone to a passer-by who speaks only Telugu. "Saar, please pass the phone to somebody who knows Kannada," our man pleads.

    The next one to come on the line is a Tamilian who does not understand Kannada. "Kannada... Kannada..." our man insists. The phone is now in the hands of a gentleman who speaks Hindi and English, but not Kannada. Almost half an hour has passed and the person on the other side is none the wiser about the directions.

    By now, the man in the coffee shop has lost all patience, "Yelladru hogi haalagi hoogu," (Go somewhere and get lost) he shouts and hangs up. Living in a cosmopolitan city like Bengaluru can lead to some hilarious situations!

    Another day. Another coffee shop. A college-going couple is about to indulge in some public display of affection, when the girl suddenly spots me and warns her boyfriend through her eyes. Unfortunately, her eyes meet mine. "Do not worry about me," I say with an evil smile and point to the closed-circuit camera staring right at them. They quickly pay the bill and leave.

    Sometimes, I notice how a few customers make fools out of themselves by being cantankerous. A guest who is served a tall glass of mosambi juice protests loudly, "I asked for sweet lime, not mosambi." It appears, he has mistaken sweet lime (mosambi) for fresh lime (lemon juice). The bearer politely explains the difference and the guest is finally convinced, but his ego does not permit him to accept his ignorance, especially when accompanied by a lady companion. "Next time, please do not mislead your customers," he warns. The bearer responds with a smile. The customer is always right.

    Another guest who has ordered a sugarless cappuccino fires the bearer, "Why have you not added sugar? The bearer respectfully replies, "Sir, you asked for sugarless coffee." But the customer throws a googly, "When I said sugarless, I meant less sugar, not no sugar." Phew, it is tough being a bearer. Once, I find a very obese man - forgive me for being judgemental - who orders a jumbo burger with double cheese, french fries and extra mayonnaise. Just the sight of all that food on my plate would give me a heart attack.

    The man polishes off the fare with relish and then, perhaps overtaken by guilt, he orders a cup of green tea, insisting, "No sugar please."

    On another occasion, I come across an ex-MLA known to me and walk up to his table. His face turns chalk white as he stands up nervously to greet me. He does not recognise me as we have not met for a decade.

    Raids have taken place on the houses of some politicians a few days ago, and going by my build and short hair-cut, he has mistaken me for a CBI officer. When I introduce myself, he is visibly relieved and lets out a sheepish smile. While I get my regular dose of comic relief at coffee shops, there are also times when I am inspired by what I hear, like this piece of advice by a young girl to her friend: "There are certain things in your control.
    There are certain things that are not in your control.
    Dont worry about things that are not in your control."

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  • 11/10/17--17:24: Doctors in distress!
  • Being a doctor is not a joke, though there may be many a joke themed on doctors. Listening to the experiences of my friend, a leading pulmonary specialist in Chennai, I do agree that the life of a doctor can be deadly.

    A woman patient who frequented his hospital would always come with a long handwritten list of symptoms associated with her illness, hearing which any person, let alone a doctor, would swoon. She kept the list in her handbag, and on entering the doctors cabin, would pull it out like a magicians rabbit and read out every single symptom from the list.

    To disarm her, the doctor made an offer of a hundred rupees incentive to his secretary, if only she could hoodwink the symptomatic woman and manage to take out from her bag her dreaded list. Next time the patient entered the docs cabin and realised that her list was missing, she became restless.

    The doc smiled and asked her, "Tell me, maam, what are your symptoms?" The woman took a deep breath, pulled out another list from her dress, and said, "Thank god, I always keep a duplicate, should the original go missing," shattering the docs peace.

    During my friends initial posting in government service in a rural area, he was in charge of an infertility centre. He administered an injection to 20 women patients who couldnt conceive post marriage. Soon, four of them got pregnant. This drew admirers and more patients to his hospital.

    The villagers said, "Theres a young doctor who has come to our place. Hes able to make our women pregnant." This sent shock waves in the doc, who promptly sought a transfer from his assignment that was pregnant with ominous signals.

    In yet another rural assignment, a man came to his clinic and requested him to issue a death certificate to his 98-year-old grandma. "I cant issue it without seeing the body," the doc was firm. So he was taken to the dead womans house where the body was in a lying-in-state and folk music for the departed soul was played out by a specialist dance at death squad in full throttle.

    The doc went to the body and placed the steth on the chest. Beats were heard and he was baffled if they were from the dead oldies heart or from outside. He checked again. The old woman was very much alive, but in a sort of coma. The shocked villagers started crying. "This young doctor doesnt know a thing about medicine. Lets call another senior doctor." The senior came and he too declared the woman alive, saving my friends skin. The ceremony was halted and everyone disbanded.

    The next day, the same man came to the clinic and said, "Today shes really dead. But well commence the ceremony only if you give the green signal, doctor." The doc placed the steth and declared that the old woman was indeed dead. Like a priest announcing for auspicious moments in a marriage, "Band and nadaswaram, please," my doctor friend said, "Drums and dance, please," and left the deadly scene in a hurry, mentally typing his transfer request yet again.

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  • 11/10/17--17:34: Islands away
  • New Zealand was one of those countries I always dreamt of visiting, and I was ecstatic to pursue my solo backpacking dream in the Land of Mountains, Fjords and Adventure in the autumn season.

    New Zealand is basically divided into two major islands - the North Island and the South Island. Both have a personality of their own. The North Island is known for its national parks, cosmopolitan cities and volcanic activities. It is more populous and busy in comparison to the South Island. The South Island, on the other hand, is renowned for its glaciers, lakes and mountains. It is also a hub for an array of adventure sports. With less than two weeks to spare, I decided to explore more of the South Island.

    I took a domestic flight from Auckland to Queenstown. One of the best views of the country can be from your plane as you land at Queenstown Airport. I was left absolutely speechless while flying over the beautiful Southern Alps draped in autumn colours and pristine turquoise-coloured lakes. I just didnt want to land.

    Falling for a town

    Surrounded by the majestic Remarkables and framed by the serpentine coastal inlet of Lake Wakatipu, it is no surprise that Queenstown is boast-worthy. Although a small town, Queenstown has the vibes and the energy of a big city, and beams with pride as the Global Adventure Capital.

    When in Queenstown, you will never get tired of the adventure activities it has to offer. Bungee jumping, skydiving, white-water rafting and canyon swinging are a few to quench your adrenaline thirst. I had my first bungee experience at the Kawarau Bridge, which is incidentally the birthplace of bungee. I was insanely anxious and laughing hysterically out of nervousness standing on the edge of the bridge, and before I could blink, I jumped off the bridge by screaming with fear and joy. And as I hung there, upside down, I was glad that I was still alive to soak in the experience. That evening, I treated myself to a nice lip-smacking ice cream at Patagonia Chocolates and took a Gondola ride to get a beautiful view of the town in twilight.

    Crashing at a backpackers hostel was a great decision because its right in the City Centre. Clubs, bars, restaurants and shops are easy to reach from here. Queenstown is also famous for its beautiful hikes. The Queenstown Hill Hike is a short and scenic trail that leads to stunning views of Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables. The one thing that I missed doing in Queenstown was the gruelling Ben Lomond hike. The weather was unfavourable, and with my limited time in New Zealand, I had to skip this one and proceed to the next destination. When in Queenstown, dont miss to gorge on the worlds best burgers at Fergburger. Be prepared to wait in a long queue, but the wait for this gastronomical delight is totally worth it.

    Jumping off the bridge

    Wanaka is the quaint sister of Queenstown. It is about a two-hour drive from Queenstown to Wanaka. I decided to do a tandem skydive at Wanaka in the morning slot. The weather was great with clear skies. And, as I jumped off the plane at 12,000 feet, I felt a strange tingling sensation in my stomach during the first 45 seconds of free fall. Skydiving is a high-risk activity with at least one fatality occurring every 1,000 dives. But once the parachute was open, my heart calmed down, and the view from above was beyond description.

    The mountains, trees and lakes looked mesmerisingly beautiful. At that point, I could not thank god enough for this wonderful world and experience. I sailed down slowly with a beaming smile on my face and tears in my eyes.

    For the next two hours, I sat by Lake Wanaka to completely embrace the sky diving experience with visuals playing back in my head over and over again. Framed by the stunning Southern Alps, a lonely tree has grown up to spread its wings just off shore at the south end of the ravishing Lake Wanaka. Known as the Lone tree of Wanaka, it is one of the most photographed trees in New Zealand.

    I also took a walk around the Eely Point Recreational Reserve amidst New Zealands fern trees. The freshness in the air and the golden-yellow leaves scattered on the shores made for a walk to remember.

    The resplendent drive from Queenstown to Mt Cook is unforgettable. The scenery keeps changing every few minutes. This is really what sets New Zealand apart from the rest of the countries that I have travelled to. The country is blessed with many natural wonders such as volcanic mountains, snowy Southern Alps, fjords, lakes, glow-worm caves and stunning beaches. Every time you move from one town to another, there is so much more to explore, and so many new things to do.

    Mt Cook Village is located in the spectacular Mount Cook National Park overlooking the stunning Alps. Soon after lunch, I headed out for a walk along the Hooker Valley track. This is one of the best day-walks in New Zealand that takes about 3-4 hours (return). The walking track starts near the Hermitage Hotel, heads up the Hooker Valley, and crosses three swing bridges to the terminus of the Hooker Glacier. Once you cross the first swing bridge, the view of Mt Cook dominates the track and you can also see a lot of icebergs floating on the Hooker river. It was extremely windy and cold during the walk, but I fed off from the stunning landscapes and scenery. It quite reminded me of the Himalayan region with its majestic mountains laced with green and yellow patches sprinkled with snow.

    Climbers delight

    Aoraki/Mount Cook is named after English Captain James Cook who surveyed and circumnavigated the islands of New Zealand in 1770. Mount Cook is the highest mountain in New Zealand, standing at a height of 3,724 m (12,218 feet). The summit is sandwiched between the Tasman Glacier and the Hooker Glacier, and is one of the most sought-after challenges for mountain climbers. At the end of the Hooker Valley track, you can get an up-close view of Mount Cook.

    I had to cancel my plans of walking on the Sealy Tarns track the next day owing to bad weather and non-stop rainfall. I spent some time at the Hermitage Hotel and also visited the Aoraki Visitor Centre, which has an excellent display of old photographs, trekking equipment used by summiteers in the 80s, flora, fauna and history.

    As I boarded the bus the following day and set off towards Christchurch, from where I was set to depart to India, I reflected on my adventures and experiences in New Zealand.

    With 150 km of walking and hiking over two weeks - with temperatures ranging from -2 to +21 degrees Celsius, mesmerising landscapes draped in autumn colours, bungee jumping, skydiving and hitchhiking (for the very first time), and loads of strangers who turned friends - solo backpacking in the land of fern trees, mountains, kiwis and sheep was one hell of an adventure. I must admit that Im totally in love with this country.

    Fact File

    Getting there

    Flights are cheaper and shorter from India to
    Auckland than any other place in New Zealand. From Auckland, there are multiple domestic airlines that can take you to

    Go for the backpacker bus Stray Travels. There are many other hop-on-hop-off buses.


    At Queenstown:
    Basepackers Queenstown

    At Mount Cook: Mount Cook Backpacker Lodge

    Things to do

    Bungee jumping, sky
    diving, swings and other adventure activities offered by AJ Hackett Bungy.

    Carry raincoat / umbrella as the weather is unpredictable in Queenstown.

    Where to eat in Queenstown

    Fergburger, Patagonia Chocolates, Bombay Palace Queenstown.

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  • 11/10/17--17:42: In Deeg, many mansions
  • After visiting the Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary and even the Lohagarh Fort in Bharatpur, we have ample time to visit any other place of tourist importance. Our queries reveal that there is no better place to visit than Deeg, a small town about 34 km from Bharatpur.

    Next morning, we set out in an autorickshaw - as taxis are not easily available - for Deeg.

    After a little over an hour-long drive, we enter Deeg, which boasts of a fort and a palace, though the former is in a dilapidated state. Driving through the town to avoid the potholes on the shorter route, our driver Gurbachan Singh halts right in front of the main Deeg Palace entrance.

    Maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India, we enter the vast stretch of the palace through the main entrance known as Singh Pol (Lions Gate).

    Built more or less in Mughal style in 1730 by the only Jat ruler of the region, Maharaja Badan Singh, the magnificent palace served as a summer capital. With over 200 fountains adorning it in the gardens surrounding it, the cool ambience is at once inviting. It speaks volumes of the technical knowledge and skills of the maharaja; like, of the four storeys of the Gopal Bhavan, one is always submerged in water to give it a cool effect. Two pavilions on either side - Sawan and Badhon - add symmetry to it. In the rear portion of the palace is Gopal Sagar.

    Bang opposite the Gopal Bhavan is a marble swing known as hindola, which by its lustre and position draws the attention of the visitors. This swing, we are told by the palace guide, was brought as a war trophy from Delhi by Maharaja Suraj Mal after defeating the Mughals. It is also conjectured that the swing may have been removed from the Phulkari Palace in Bayana and placed here.

    Mistaken identity

    At the entrance to the Gopal Palace museum is a bed-sized marble slab that Maharaja Suraj Mal is said to have brought under the impression that it was the Mughal kings royal bed. As learnt much later, it was a slab meant for washing the bodies of Mughal kings and princes.

    The museum has several objects of interest. Among them are two amputated feet of elephants turned into a table. The massive bed in the bedroom of the maharaja with sofa sets nearby speaks of opulence. Our guide leads us to the dining hall of the maharaja. In typical Indian style, the guests used to squat on the carpet with a low-height oval-shaped stone as the table. From here we have a view below of the western dining hall with a wooden table and chairs around. A grand view of Gopal Sagar from the dining halls is at once alluring.

    We then move to Suraj Bhavan nearby. This mansion is made up of marbles that were plundered from Delhi Fort by Maharaja Jawahar Singh, the son of Maharaja Surajmal, when he went to Delhi and attacked the Mughals. Maharaja Jawahars contribution to the palace complex has been no less, apart from Maharaja Badan Singh, who initially set up his palace here as a summer resort. Maharaja Suraj Mals contribution to Deeg and Bharatpur is remembered to this day with his statues adorning important junctions in the two towns. He developed the two towns and gave them a stature that now attracts tourists in hordes.

    Right across the Gopal Bhavan is Keshav Bhavan, with its rear dipping into Rup Sagar. To Rup Singh goes the credit for creating this sagar by digging the area behind Keshav Bhavan. The ingenuity of the maharaja can be gauged from the fact that one could hear the sound of thunder, and even experience rains in the bhavan by the noise of rolling balls along the ceilings, and water gushing out through pipes above the arches. The spectacle was an attraction. It is not functional anymore for want of a large quantity of water to keep it going.

    Nand Bhavan, which faces Kishan Bhavan, resembles an auditorium. Its earlier timber beams of the roof collapsed in 1867. It was repaired by using iron girders. Kishan Bhavan, built by Raja Balwant Singh in the mid-19th century, boasts of 13 fountains on its terrace.

    Hardev Bhavan, to which Maharaja Suraj Mal made additions and alterations, was largely meant for the women of the royal clan. Purana Mahal, which was originally built by Maharaja Badan Singh, now houses the office of the state government.

    On our way back to Bharatpur, we visit the fort at Deeg, which is in ruins. An old canon atop one of the imposing bastions known as Lakha Burj has many visitors. A dilapidated palace within the precincts of the fort stands as a mute testimony to the life of opulence the royal families once lived. The moat around the fort speaks of the alacrity with which they strengthened their defence.

    Since Bharatpur was ruled by Jat kings, the Jats of these places were not given any reservations in jobs and education as they were considered prosperous.

    As the temperature soars, we return to our hotel, impressed by the historical revelations about the Jat rulers in this part of Rajasthan.

    Fact File

    Getting there

    Nearest railway station is Bharatpur, 35 km away.

    All important trains other than Rajdhani and Duronto halt at this station on Delhi-Mumbai mainline. From Deeg, Delhi is 200 km away.

    Nearest airport is at Agra, 88 km away.


    Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation runs two hotels in Bharatpur - Hotel Ashok (within Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) and Saras Hotel.

    Going around

    Autorickshaws are available, but taxis can be hired, though they are known to charge exorbitantly.

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  • 11/10/17--17:46: Looking forward
  • When Satya Nadella was chosen as CEO to lead Microsoft in 2014, there was much buzz in India. He is the third person to lead Microsoft after Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Now three years later, he is out with his book Hit Refresh â€" The Quest to Rediscover Microsofts Soul and Imagine a Better Future for Everyone.

    Right at the start of his book, author Nadella makes it clear that it is not a memoir. Having taken over as CEO of Microsoft in 2014, he still had a long way to go in his new role. The book, he says, is about transformation, one that is taking place inside people, companies and in every life - the most "transformative wave of technology that will include artificial intelligence, mixed reality and quantum computing."

    The book, as Nadella explains, delves into three aspects of transformation - the authors own personal journey, Microsofts transformation under his leadership, and the third aspect focusses on the argument that a fourth industrial revolution lies ahead, one in which machine intelligence will rival that of humans.

    The narrative, interspersed with cricketing details, may interest the Indian reader. Hit Refresh is obviously not a book for the random reader but specifically aimed at Microsofts employees and the companys customers and partners.

    Among the many buzzwords in the book are some key ones such as empathy, culture, democratisation and transformation. Empathy, according to Nadella, will become more valuable in a world where the torrent of technology will disrupt the status quo like never before.

    At times, he comes across as a dreamer when he says that culture needs to be a microcosm of the world where builders, makers and creators achieve great things, and one where every individual can be their best self, where diversity of skin colour, gender, religion and sexual orientation is understood and celebrated.

    In 2014, he was taking over as Microsofts CEO at a time when the company was desperate for a change. At Microsoft, after decades of steady growth in worldwide PC shipments, sales had peaked and were now on the decline. While PC shipments were declining, smartphone shipments were rising, showcasing the rise of Android and Apple operating systems.

    But Nadella realised that innovation was key. "In order to accelerate our innovation, we must rediscover our soul - our unique core… We will reinvent productivity to empower every person and every organisation on the planet to do more and achieve more," he wrote to his employees.

    Apart from building the right culture, Nadella also believed in working on healthy partnerships, and that was the need of the hour for Microsofts turnaround. In that endeavour, he worked on building partnerships with rivals Apple and Google.

    "In todays era of digital transformation, every organisation and every industry are potential partners," he says.

    He spends some time focussing on the importance of partnerships in the transformation journey. He then makes a pitch for artificial intelligence. In the future, artificial intelligence will become a more frequent and necessary companion, helping to care for people, diagnose illness, teach and consult. "Imagine whats possible when humans and machines work together to solve societys greatest challenges - disease, ignorance and poverty."

    In the final chapter, titled Restoring Economic Growth for Everyone, Nadella says the spread of technology and its impact on economic outcomes have always fascinated him. He quotes economist Diego Comin when he says that differences between rich and poor nations can largely be explained by the speed at which they adopted industrial technologies. Equally important is the intensity they employ in putting new technologies to work.

    Another high-priority area is fostering human capital and next-generation skills development. "In the workplace, we need to invest in lifelong learning with a focus on programmes and investments that promote upskilling for the cloud and a more digital-ready workforce," he says.

    Nadella confesses that existential questions about why do we exist or why do our institutions exist, and the role of a leader in digital technology prompted him to write this book. The book is the outcome of a project that involved the participation of Greg Show and Jill Tracie Nichols, his co-authors in this endeavour.

    This is a book mostly for those keyed into Microsofts future and those interested in the next wave of transformation in the technological world.

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  • 11/10/17--17:52: An easy mystery
  • Diana Cowper, a wealthy widow, walks into a funeral parlour in London, with an agenda: to plan her own funeral. Six hours later, she is found strangled in the parlour of her home. Coincidence? Not. The word here is murder.

    Anthony Horowitzs murder mystery sets up the premise without much ado. The opening lines of this mystery find mention again a little later in the book: "Just after eleven oclock on a bright spring morning, the sort of day when the sunshine is almost white and promises a warmth that it doesnt quite deliver, Diana Cowper crossed the Fulham road and went into a funeral parlour."

    This line becomes a metaphor for a device Horowitz uses in the telling of this story: the narrator of the mystery and the author of this book are one and the same. Horowitz blends fiction with non-fiction as he inserts himself into the story as the first-person narrator, a device used my many other authors to varying degrees of effect. (For a truly what-did-I-read experience, pick up Italo Calvinos If on a Winters Night a Traveller.)

    Tony Horowitz, the writer in the book, is commissioned by disgraced Scotland Yard detective Daniel Hawthorne to write the story of Mrs Cowpers murder, as the detective works on solving the case. Horowitz finds himself accepting Hawthornes offer of partnership reluctantly. Wary of working with someone he hasnt liked working with earlier, Horowitz nevertheless is, like every writer, a slave to the unravelling of a good plot.

    Hawthorne becomes the surly foil to eager beaver Horowitz, and a testy partnership develops between the two as they attempt to piece the puzzle of Mrs Cowpers death together.

    The partnership does give rise to the cliched Holmes-Watson comparison, a trope so widely used in the genre that it doesnt quite surprise the reader to see Horowitz using it here. Hawthornes reserve is Holmesian, his approach analytical, his thinking five steps ahead of Horowitz, and Horowitz the narrator becomes the garrulous Watsonesque figure who trails behind the detective, trying to upstage Hawthorne with his mental acuity, because he is - after all - a writer.

    Compounding this story is Mrs Cowpers maybe-estranged relationship with her movie star son, who lives far away in Hollywood. And she may have made some unwise investments in the business of a friend, a decision driven more by emotional obligation than acumen, and she may have incurred losses. Add to this a backstory where she may have been instrumental in the unintentional maiming of two young children owing to reckless driving in a drunken state. And because the plotting must keep the mystery alive until its solved, secondary characters crop up at regular intervals who may have had motive to want Diana Cowper dead.

    The plotting by itself is great, but the narrative gets a bit jaded with Horowitzs self-referential tics and long digressions where Tony turns his lens onto Anthony Horowitz, writer of many murder mysteries. They are fun, to be honest, because if theres one thing a writer likes more than observing the world around him, it is turning the gaze upon himself. A writerly trope if ever there was one. One scene involves Horowitzs maybe collaboration with Hollywood, and a semi-funny situation where he is in conversation with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson about a possible big-money-paying gig that goes bust. This scene feels like a misfit in the larger scheme of things, and does nothing to keep the plot moving, but somewhere in the middle, there is another scene involving a funereal atmosphere that gives way to giggles that I felt was masterfully done. As I was waiting for the sombre lowering of Cowpers coffin into the earth, I was beset by giggles by what ensues in the wake (literally) of the scene.

    More things happen. Newer possibilities emerge. And Horowitz and Hawthorne find themselves pitting wits against one another frequently. And in the attempt to get to the bottom of things, the boundaries of their partnership are tested several times, and as with every marriage of the minds, they arrive at that sweet spot where they begin to enjoy working with each other. And get to the bottom of things they shall.

    Like a good murder mystery should be, the pace is breezy, subplots emerge at all the right places to keep the main plot going until the end, there are a few red herrings thrown in here and there: just what youd expect. But the foreshadowing left much to be desired. It may be that I have read one too many murder mysteries, because I could tell the ending from a mile away, and the last scene from somewhere around page 30 of the book.

    All in all, a good, engaging weekend read. I read it in one sitting.

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  • 11/10/17--18:00: Hacker's legacy
  • Fans of Stieg Larsson will know that he planned for 10 installments in his Lisbeth Salander series of books, though he only managed to write three before he passed away. They will also know that those first three books - better known as the Millennium trilogy - are some of the highest-selling books of all time. It is therefore natural to assume that Larssons estate will attempt to recreate the magic by commissioning more volumes in the series, presumably working off Larssons notes.

    The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is the second of these new volumes, the fifth in the series. The writer, David Lagercrantz, is already known in Sweden, and did a fairly good job in the previous volume (The Girl in the Spiders Web). The stories in these new books follow the established formula of pitting Salander and her on-off collaborator, journalist Mikael Blomkvist, against a shadowy conspiracy, all the while having something from Salanders past come up to complicate the situation.

    In the current volume, it isnt Salander whos in the most danger, but a young Bangladeshi girl named Faria Kazi, who is in jail for the murder of her brother. Faria comes to the attention of a brutal ganglord in the jail. With no one to protect her, it looks like Faria is done for. However, it turns out Salander herself is in the same jail, related to events from the previous book, but is just using her time to study up on Physics in the meantime. Shes unable to stand by as the young woman is bullied, and begins to protect her and study her case. The story soon moves into a well-worn path with known elements, at least for Indian readers - forbidden love, controlling elder brothers and father, honour killing, the younger brother who silently sides with the sister, and so on.

    In parallel, Lagercrantz brings in yet another murky element from Salanders past. In his previous book, hed fleshed out the character of Lisbeths fraternal twin sister, Camilla, who, while being as intelligent as Lisbeth, is an amoral sadist who takes pride in her ethereal beauty and ability to manipulate men with it. Now, we hear about a secret government experiment to test the impact of upbringing on children, by separating out twins and putting them in diametrically opposite social situations. Lisbeth and Camilla were considered to be a part of this experiment, but things did not go as planned, and they were dropped. However, there is another pair of twins -identical this time - who were subjected to the experiment, and who are now beginning to realise what has happened. But the researchers from that old era dont want their deeds to come out, and are willing to go to any lengths to conceal themselves, including murder.

    As plots go, this second thread is more Ludlum than Larsson - the shadowy conspiracy that strives to create a new breed of super-people, and is backed by the state and so on. The weight behind Larssons conspiracies in the original trilogy came from the assumption that men were fundamentally corrupt, misogynistic and power-seeking, and willing to cover up their own crimes by committing worse ones. The state, run by such people, is collapsing on itself, being hollowed out by this corruption. But Lagercrantzs plot is driven by the reverse - a state proud of itself and willing to compromise on ethics to come up with scientific results.

    Lagercrantz is also tied by the need to play safe with his main characters - while Larsson was willing to make his heroine vulnerable, indeed damaged, here we have her as almost a superwoman who can do anything. Lisbeths evolution is no longer the subject of the story - the changes she effects in other, weaker characters is. Yes, we do have the death of a major supporting character in this volume, but by the time this happens, Salander and Blomkvist have more or less moved on from that dependency.

    While the previous book in the series was relatively close to the spirit of the originals, here we seem to be moving towards an obvious template for an assembly-line book. The dark, uncomfortable misogyny that was the heart of the story seems replaced by plotlines pulled from the newspapers and pulp thrillers. It may be a quick, fun, read for new readers, but is likely to be a disappointment for loyal fans.

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  • 11/10/17--18:10: Book Rack Nov 12
  • Theres a Carnival Today

    Indra Bahadur Rai

    Speaking Tiger, 2017, Rs 350, pp 236

    Set in Darjeeling in the 1950s, Janak, a prominent businessman and a local leader, is facing professional, political and moral ruin. The novel is a panoramic view of post-independent Darjeeling. It treads along the lines of identity politics & attitudes in the region.

    The Little Big Things

    Henry Fraser

    Seven Dials, 2017, Rs 299, pp 159

    Henry Fraser, who was a rugby player in school, met with an accident at 17 that left him paralysed from shoulders down. Here, he narrates the accident and recovery. A tale of struggle and finding the positive in the face of despair.

    Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

    Ruth Emmie Lang

    St Martins Press, 2017, Rs 1,197, pp 352

    Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasnt like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day, he realised just how different he actually was.

    The Inheritors

    Sonu Bhasin

    Penguin, 2017, Rs 299, pp 304

    This peeks into the behind-the-scenes of businesses that are inherited by the heirs. It offers multiple examples of high-profile companies like Marico, Dabur and others. Discussed here are culture, family, politics and ego battles.

    Knee Jerks & Gallop Rhythms

    Eva Bell

    Book Solutions, 2017, Rs 200, pp 171

    This is a collection of 13 short stories - from human experience in hospitals, the emotional distress, to the healing process that begins in the mind. The stories are situated in the writers professional experience and understanding of patients, and give an insight into human emotions.


    Rob Moore

    John Murray Learning, 2017, Rs 499, pp 399

    In a world that revolves around money, one feels the gap between the money that one earns and the money that one needs to live life. It becomes important to manage wealth and close the gap, and track the success one wants. This book explains the rules of the money game and helps in money management.


    Jessica Townsend

    Orion, 2017, Rs 399, pp 374

    Morrigan Crow is cursed; she is blamed for all the bad luck in the world. Also, destined to die on her 11th birthday, she is given a chance to join the Wundrous Society - a place of magic and protection. She must pass four trials to gain her place here; will she succeed?


    Lakshmibai Tilak, translated
    by Shanta Gokhale

    Speaking Tiger, 2017, Rs 650, pp 520

    In her memoir, the author candidly describes her complex relationship with her husband and their struggles as a couple involved in social welfare and community service. First published in 1934, this is a classic.

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  • 11/10/17--18:16: When One Became Two
  • 1947

    July 31

    There is a wedding in the family of young Satjit Singh and he has arrived at his paternal village Kharpal in Narowal district on the banks of River Ravi in Punjab. His cousin is the groom and the barat is all set to leave for Sialkot, 60 km away, on horseback. Theres celebration in the air but the word Pakistan often interrupts the conversation. It creases the brow, but no one is unduly worried about it.

    August 1

    The marriage is solemnised according to Sikh traditions and the revelry continues as the extended family returns home the next day. The coy bride is welcomed and becomes the cynosure of all eyes. The week passes quickly in seeing off relatives and giving them packed meals and the customary wedding treat: a basket containing sweet-savoury mathiyaan, shakkar-paara, gur-para, sheerni, and a box of ladoo, all prepared by the village halwai. Amidst the gaiety, the only ominous voice blares from the radio. The British are all set to leave but the Radcliffe Line will be drawn and India will be partitioned. Pakistan will become a reality. The elders in the family are still not overly worried about it. Narowal is their home and they will continue to live here. It makes little difference which side of the border it is. That is reassuring for Satjit who has cleared his matriculation exams and will soon be taking the entrance tests to FA (Intermediate in Faculty of Arts). With festivity getting over, Satjit and his family return home to Amritsar where his father is posted.

    August 10

    Satjit feels a sense of tension in his city. The word batwara (partition) is on everyones lips. For the first time people are being identified as Hindu, Muslim and Sikh. Meanwhile, back in his village Kharpal, they have received a message from his newly-married cousin sister whos feeling insecure about staying on in Lahore. She is married to a railway officer and he talks about his team being told to brace itself for a possible transfer of population. The scale of movement can be fathomed by none. Satjits cousin sisters fears deepen when she sees her Lahore neighbourhood up in flames. Her family decides to move to the ancestral home at Jadanwala village, where relatives from other towns have also arrived to seek shelter as news of sporadic riots begins trickling in. They are 34 members staying under one roof now in the village home.

    August 14

    At the stroke of the midnight hour, a land is partitioned. Pakistan is born. India gains independence. The first prime minister of India famously says, "...when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance." To the man on the streets of Punjab, and inside homes such as Satjits, these words mean nothing. Their ears are tuned to voices that betray fear, urgency and uncertainty. They are being told they will have to leave home, albeit for a few days, till the situation calms down. That is a reassuring thought in these times when trouble has begun brewing. Friends till yesterday are turning foes.

    August 17

    The Radcliffe Award, that drew the split line, had been readied on August 13 but absurdly it is told to the political leadership on August 16, a day after the two countries have rejoiced their independence. It is made public on August 17. Utter chaos prevails almost instantly. Lahore and Amritsar, once friendly neighbours, 49.5 km apart, have become outposts on different sides of the line. Sikhs and Hindus living in the Lahore end are told they have to cross over, while Muslims from all over India will be doing the same from the other side. Once again, everyone feels it is a temporary packing of bags and moving to safer ground. They will be back home in a while. "Think of it as setting off on a hurried vacation," Satjits uncle tells his family in Kharpal. "Just take the bare essentials and some money. It will be well soon." They are heading to Amritsar. Its only an hours journey and they have made that trip many a time. Usually its been on horseback, and at times by car. It should be much the same way, the uncle assures everyone.

    August 20

    Satjits uncles family in Kharpal has been taken aback by the sudden turn of events. They need to leave their home immediately. A Muslim friend has advised them to make a quick exit as mischief-mongers are at play. The friend says he will look after the house in their absence. There are no horses, carriages or buses to ferry them. News coming in talks about trains filled with bodies arriving at railway stations. Qatal-e-aam or bloodbath is the word heard many times over since the past three days. Satjits uncles family of 12 members will go to Amritsar, but will have to cross River Ravi for that. The river is in spate and the amphibious vehicles of the Army and its boats are packed to capacity. They have to wait their turn by the banks. Satjits father proceeds from Amritsar to help his brother.

    August 27

    Satjits uncles family and father finally arrive in Amritsar. Three members cannot make it to this side of the border. They have died on the way. His father narrates tales of horror. He talks about women jumping into the river to save their honour, and children being mercilessly murdered.

    September 3

    In Jadanwala, Satjits cousin sisters family has been told by her husband to get ready. They have to board the train to Delhi and time is short. They are 34 of them and getting everyone to leave together takes a while. They miss the train. Riots break out in the village. Curfew is declared. A day later, a government official enters Satjits cousins house and fills a column in his register. Dead: 34.


    This is not merely the story of Satjit. It is the story of Partition. Almost everyone who witnessed the Divide has a similar saga to share. Its been 70 years since the line was carelessly and deviously drawn, but it haunts those who suffered till today. It haunts those who did not go through the ordeal themselves but have heard the stories of escape and massacre told to them over and over again by their parents and grandparents.

    "My family was among the millions who suffered the same fate on both sides of the border," says Brig (retd) Satjit Singh, AVSM, VSM. "The Partition of 1947 has been the biggest exodus and the bloodiest in the history of the world." Based in Chandigarh after his retirement from the Army, the now-85-year-old is sharp and lucid as he describes the sequence of events that were to scar his youth and remain imprinted in memory.

    Those who witnessed the trauma and lived to tell the tales are the living legacy of Partition. The one common sentiment heard during interviews with them is that none thought leaving home was permanent. Everyone always felt they would get back sooner or later. The reason why they simply locked their houses and walked out with a few belongings.

    "We may travel to any place in the world, to the most luxurious, but we always long to return home. Partition snatched our home and destroyed us. It all happened in a day. We had to rebuild our lives from scratch," my grandfather, who fled from Rawalpindi, would often say. He got a chance to see his lost home 40 years later. "He directed the auto driver to the exact spot. And when your grandfather stood outside his home, he broke down. Its the first time I saw your grandfather weeping," my grandmother would tell us on their return from the ancestral house she had entered as a bride. "Its just as it used to be," she would beamingly say. Some solace, that.

    Seeds of separation

    Bengal too suffered the pangs of separation and the single-most quintessential subject you hear Bengalis discussing is life epar (this side) and opar (that side) of the border. Those who migrated from the other side long to row across and have a glimpse of their land. A raging debate in fish-relishing Bengal is whether the much-savoured ilish (hilsa) that comes from River Padma, a distributary of River Ganga, which flows through Bangladesh, is tastier than the one available locally. Usually, opar wins. Nostalgia wins.

    The seeds of a separate Muslim state within the boundary of India had been sown on December 29, 1930 by poet Muhammad Iqbal during the famous Allahabad Address, at the 25th annual session of the All-India Muslim League. He had said: "I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state, appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of north-west India."

    In 1933, the word Pakstan (later spelt Pakistan), coined by Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, came into circulation, but did not make much of an impact. All along, at different points of time in the 1930s, Muslim leaders may have voiced the idea for a separate state, but the idea of partition was never on their agenda.

    At the Lahore session of the All-India Muslim League held from March 22â€"24, 1940, a resolution was formally passed calling for independent Muslim states. The statement mentioned, "Territorial readjustments as may be necessary that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of (British) India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign". It was after this resolution that the term Pakistan began being used. Also, the till-now secular-minded Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who saw his hope of leading India diminishing, began focussing his energies into becoming a leader of the Muslims.

    By 1945, towards the end of World War II, the Empire had weakened. In India, local elections were being dominated by the Congress as well as the Muslim League, and there was a growing demand for complete independence. Britain came under pressure now to accept it.

    In this environment of extreme nationalism and escalating communal tension, the insistence for a separate state for Muslims grew louder. The only way out, Britain felt, was to grant independence, and on June 3, 1947, the Mountbatten Plan was hurriedly put together. It announced that British India would be granted independence but would be partitioned along religious lines. The successor governments of the two nations would be given dominion status.

    The bloody exodus

    The division on paper, which massaged many an ego, turned out to be horrific on the ground. It led to wide-scale looting and rioting that killed more than 10 lakh people and made lakhs of others refugees. People scrambled to get aboard any mode of transport that would take them Across. Every conceivable open space in towns on both sides of the border turned into refugee camps. This was especially true for Lahore and Delhi, where trains would arrive packed with passengers atop rooftops. They would then be directed to various camps set up by the government. Refugees would register themselves and also report those family members who had got separated during the exodus. The already-battered refugees also had to deal with theft, food shortage and illness at the camps. The leaders of both countries, who had sounded optimistic on August 15, soon realised the ruthless reality of handling the largest mass migration of the 20th century. Its reverberations continue till date.

    It was Punjab that suffered the brunt. Though Bengal too was divided, the transfer of population in the east was gradual and happened over the next three years. Punjab, which was sliced almost in the middle, witnessed widespread communal riots immediately before Partition; consequently, the transfer of population here happened almost soon after Partition as terrified people abandoned their homes on both sides of the border. Within a year or so the exchange of population was more or less complete. Amidst the harrowing scale of destruction and massacre in Punjab, many Hindus and Sikhs who did not want to leave their homes stayed back and opted to embrace Islam.

    Bouncing back

    Partition killed and destroyed, but what it could not quell was the indefatigable spirit of those who migrated. Slowly but steadily they bounced back and took on lifes challenges. Enterprising Punjabis set up food carts and started small businesses. Many went into construction work, for a new capital, well, a new country, was being built, and work was aplenty. Among those who migrated to India were a small section of Parsis and Jews too from cosmopolitan Lahore, and a large number of Sindhis from Karachi, who chose Bombay as their city to resettle and give wings to their dreams.

    So, be it the refugee camps of Delhi or Bombay or elsewhere, many a story was born here. Stories that spoke about lives rudely uprooted, replanted and blossoming once again.

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    When one talks about the jewellery of Nepal, traditional pote jewellery first comes to mind. They serve as a symbol of marriage in Nepalese society. In fact, its quite common to come across pote jewellery here. Comprising miniature and colourful glass beads, they are believed to bring good luck to the womenfolk of the land.

    Pote necklaces are worn by married ladies belonging to the Brahmin, Kshatriya and other Hindu communities of Nepal. When a woman loses her husband, she stops wearing them.

    Around eight years back, when I was zipping around Kathmandu, I come across pote jewellery on my visit to Bhaktapur, where one can get pote of unusual designs. There are necklaces crafted out of Tibetan coins, which impart a touch of elegance to the wearer.

    One can also try the tribal Nepalese coral pote that comes with a Tibetan coin at the back of the coral. The multi-stranded glass beads are priced higher than the single-stranded glass beads. Coin necklaces are common in western Nepal and are well-known as rupiya mala, having either Indian, Chinese or Tibetan coins. Pote jewellery is used for dolling up Nepalese brides. If one is travelling to Pokhra, then Pote jewellery should be on your bucket list as their prices are comparatively cheaper than in Kathmandu.

    Pote jewellery with stone pendants in royal blue or green is popular. But its Kathmandu, which is more of a tourists paradise, that acts as a ramp for those sporting pote.

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  • 11/10/17--19:58: On a long, long journey
  • Radha Thomas is an author, a columnist and a businesswoman. But what she is best known for is her role as one of the countrys best-known jazz singers. Over the last 45 years, shes represented India at many jazz festivals the worldover, and has performed with the likes of John Scofield, Ryo Kawasaki, Alex Blake, Joel Farrell, Louis Banks, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Allah Rakha et al.

    Excerpts from an interview with Indias First Lady of jazz...

    Ive heard that you were trained in Hindustani music early on. How and why did you make the transition to rock n roll with Human Bondage?

    Actually, even before I learned Hindustani vocals from Kumar Gandharvas school in Delhi, my mom had me take Carnatic singing lessons. Its a sort of traditional thing in South Indian Iyer households, I suppose. But both my mom and I loved all sorts of music and the house always had jazz and other types of music playing. I went off to boarding school, and the 60s happened, and the rock n roll revolution totally spun my head around.

    I met Suresh of Human Bondage in Delhi when I was around 16 and found myself singing a few songs with them once in a while. Before you could say Janis Joplin, we were married and I was singing full-time with the band.

    From rock nroll you then made a further transition to jazz. How did this happen?

    It was a natural thing. Everyone in the band slowly shifted to listening to more and more of jazz, and pretty soon, rock n roll was mostly forgotten.

    Tell us about why you chose to go to the US to live and perform there for 20 years?

    Well, someone chose me. There was an organisation called Jazz India, and Niranjan Jhaveri, who founded it, had heard about me. We were in Bengaluru at the time, and Niranjan came down to Bengaluru to audition me at Chin Lung (Yes, the dive on Brigade Road) and said that if he thought I was good enough he would send me to perform in Europe representing India at jazz festivals.

    Fortunately, I made the cut and he sent me and Suresh off. We went to America and began the long journey called jazz.

    How different was it performing in the US to India, and what prompted you to return after 20 years?

    It was fantastic to perform in the US. It is still fantastic to perform in India, or anywhere for that matter. Just performing is fantastic. I love it every single time. I came back for personal reasons. I go back to the US very often. I havent left it completely, you know.

    Is there a defining moment or event that you would call the highlight of your music career, and why?

    Recently, after performing for 45 years or so, I did a concert in Delhi for the 7th Delhi International Jazz Festival. It was the first time I did a concert entirely with my own songs - music and lyrics. There were 7,000 people in the audience. I wont forget it.

    Any interesting incidents you can recollect of singing for 20 years in New York?

    One incident I will never forget is my first encounter with sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar many moons ago. I was auditioning for him at the Lincoln Centre in New York City, and I had heard he was moody. I was very nervous. He strode into the entrance, a tiny man surrounded by about 10 blonde goddesses. One of the beauties pointed a painted nail at me. I obeyed and we entered a dressing room filled with the scent of jasmine where a man sat fiddling with tablas. I realised he was Allah Rakha.

    Ravi Shankar looked at me and said, "These clothes wont do. You have to wear a sari."

    "Yes sir," I said, gleefully. Clearly Id passed the audition!
    "Whats your name," he asked, an afterthought.
    "Radha," I said.
    "Ok Radha, lets do a little riyaz," he commanded.

    I began the rhythm of the strings. He began the alaap to a Megh Malhar.
    "Give me that," said the maestro, grabbing my instrument.
    "Its out of tune," he barked and tightened the wooden knobs. He handed it back. "Its fine now," he said. His sense of pitch-perfect. I reshuffled my legs and began twanging.

    "What did you just do?" he cut in sharply. "Nothing!" I said hastily. "Im just getting comfortable."

    "No," he said conclusively. "No comfort. You may not budge. Not even an inch. Like a statue. A statue with fingers that move. Do you understand me? You cannot uncross your legs once they are crossed."

    "Yes, sir," I said. I could see my legs falling off like dead branches from a tree by the end of the night. That concert lasted for about three hours. At the end of it, the audience clapped thunderously, and as I wobbled up with Mr Rakha and Mr Shankar to take a shaky bow in front of New Yorks finest.

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  • 11/10/17--20:08: The Catalan artist
  • One of Spains wealthiest and most productive regions, Catalonia, has been in the news recently. While the region has its own distinct history, language, parliament, flag and anthem, the constitutional tension between the local Catalan administration and the central Spanish government has been festering for long. It came to head when, on October 20, the Catalan regional parliament voted to declare independence from Spain, even as the Spanish parliament approved imposing of direct rule over the region. Earlier, the so-called referendum to create a sovereign republic was marred by violence; the high drama in the region continues unabated.

    Joan Miró (1893-1983) hailed from Catalonia, and along with Pablo Picasso (1881 -1973) and Salvador Dali (1904 -1989) was among the most celebrated artists of the 20th century. Born in Barcelona, the capital and the largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, Miró trained to be an accountant but also enrolled at the Academy of Fine Art much against his fathers wishes. He eventually gave up any interest in accountancy and held his first solo show of paintings in 1918. Two years later, he took the crucial decision of moving to Paris. Over the next few years, he was constantly shuttling between the French capital and his family farm in Catalonia; this routine was to be disturbed by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

    A Paris meeting

    When he went to Paris in 1920, Miró called on Picasso that resulted in a long-lasting friendship between the two artists. Picasso introduced Miró to dealers, collectors and the radical artistic society of Paris, and even declared that their work had things in common because "we inhabit the same world." While he admired Picasso as "a very fine, very sensitive, and great painter," Miró also found that "a visit to Picassos studio was like visiting a ballerina with a number of lovers… Everything is done for his dealer, for the money."

    In the mid-1920s, Miró was in the heartland of the Surrealists which included the likes of Max Ernst, René Magritte and Paul Eluard, who were producing their most groundbreaking work. Miró also came under the influence of several poets and writers in Paris. This helped him develop a unique artistic style which often incorporated calligraphic writings, organic if abstracted forms, and flattened picture planes. The group of images he produced then came to be known as dream paintings, and are considered to be among his best works. Historians also point out that it was Catalonia which gave him the force to become a great artist. His art was, in many ways, a personal storehouse of memories and images of Catalonia.

    Among Mirós famous paintings is The Hunter (Catalan Landscape)/1924 in which he presents a compulsive detailing of an abstracted but colourful landscape filled with rich iconography and suggestions of political strife. Another feted painting created by him during the same period is Head of a Catalan Peasant/1925. "The Catalan peasant whom Miró imagines is bearded and pipe-smoking, and most recognisably wears a red snail-shaped hat, the barretina," writes Matthew Gale, head of displays at Tate Modern. "It is a sign of resilience and associated with the cap of liberty worn in the French Revolution. That he painted this at the moment when the dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera had suppressed the official use of Catalan would suggest that Miró was, quietly, subverting the new political status quo. The result is a series unlike anything produced by any artists of that moment."

    Many decades later, two of Mirós paintings of that period were to smash auction records. First, at Christies London auction on February 7, 2012, his painting Poem/1925 - in which he combined words with visual art - came with a high estimate of GBP 9 million; it eventually went on to realise GBP 16.84 million. Secondly, at Sothebys London auction on June 19, 2012, his Peinture (Étoile Bleue) /1927 sold for GBP 23.56 million!

    Playing with dots

    Miró was known for his affability and generosity towards others all through his life. When Salvador Dalà arrived in Paris in 1929, it was Miró who introduced him to Surrealism and many of its proponents. He even persuaded his own Paris dealer to look at DalÃs paintings. "Miró was such a respectful person with everybody, absolutely generous with everyone, and with very clear ideas concerning what was right," recalls Feran Cano, gallerist. "He did not care about the money at all. I dont think he ever understood why so much money was paid for his works… Above all, he totally abhorred the absolute power of Fascism, which we had to put up with for so many years."

    Miró was prolific in his output and worked painstakingly till the fag end of his life. Critics and art aficionados are awestruck by the pulsating colours and rich symbolism of his canvases to this day. "Miró could not put down a dot without it being in just the right place," observed eminent sculptor Alberto Giacometti. "He was so much a painter, through and through, that he could leave three spots of colour on the canvas and it became a painting."

    On his part, Miró, who maintained a strict regimen of working, considered his studio to be a kitchen garden. "I work like a gardener, like a grape-picker. Things come slowly. For example, I have never discovered immediately my dictionary of shapes. It formed and I almost did not notice it. Things follow their natural course. They grow, they ripen. I must graft. I must water, as it is with lettuce. Ripening goes on in my mind."

    A vital aspect of Mirós art was finding meaning and essence in the smallest of creatures and objects, as well as the brightest of landscapes. "For me an object is always alive," he once observed. "A cigarette, a matchbook contain a secret life much more intense than certain humans… I see a tree, I get a shock as if it were something breathing..."

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  • 11/11/17--04:58: Sock turning it around
  • Jack Sock was down and just about out, lying on his stomach on a secondary court at the Paris Masters as a trainer massaged his stiff lower back. True, Sock had just saved a break point in the previous game against Kyle Edmund, but that had only kept him from trailing by 0-5 in the third and final set of his opening-round match.

    It looked very much like the end of Socks season, one that had started full of deep runs and promise and largely failed to deliver. But his back felt looser when he rose to resume play, and though he soon fell
    behind by 1-5, he played with fresh abandon and salvaged the match in a tiebreaker, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5).

    Four rounds later, he also found a way to win the title -- his first in a Masters 1000 tournament -- and earned a spot in the top 10 and the final slot in the tours most exclusive event, the eight-man ATP Finals that begin Sunday in London.

    "We werent feeling too good at 1-5," said Jay Berger, Socks new coach. "But its a great lesson to learn and great for Jack to realize that if you get through one match, its pretty amazing the things you can do."

    No American had won a Masters 1000 since Andy Roddick won the Miami Open in 2010. No American has played in the ATP Finals since Mardy Fish in 2011 after he, too, secured the eighth and final spot in Paris.

    That achievement felt like a late-career reward for Fish, who was 29 at a time before Roger Federer had reset the biological clock for mens tennis excellence.

    Sock, long considered a great talent with his wrenching forehand and athleticism, turned 25 in September. He said that of all the consequences of his surprise Paris victory, breaking into the top 10 meant the most. "I think that everyone that grows up and aspires to be a tennis player dreams about being in the top 10 and pushing from there and going as far as you can," he said in an interview.

    Asked if he might frame a copy of this weeks ATP rankings, where he is at No. 9, Sock demurred and said, "I hope to be framing a lower number than that in the future."

    Still, these are giddy times for a man who arrived in Paris ranked No. 22 and with no thoughts of an ATP Finals debut. Other players were seemingly better placed to claim the final slot.

    "Obviously theres only eight guys a year who make it and to do it for the U.S. -- and not only for myself -- is special," said Sock, who will face Federer in the opening singles match Sunday. "Im just going to go to London and play free. I snuck into the last spot, so nothing to lose."

    Sock did, however, miss out on a tee time at Augusta National Golf Club with John Isner, which was booked for this week at the home of the Masters. Sock will be indoors at the O2 Arena, and Berger had to make some new travel arrangements of his own.

    Berger was not planning any late-season European travel when he decided to leave his post in June as head of mens tennis at the US Tennis Association player development programme. His goal was to improve his own golf game and watch his son play -- Daniel Berger is a two-time winner on the PGA Tour and was part of this years winning Presidents Cup team from the United States.

    Instead, Berger got a call in June from Sock, who met Berger as a teenager and was looking for help after splitting with his longtime coach Troy Hahn.

    "I think I understand Jack," Berger said. "And really from the first time I saw him play, I really believed in him. I know in my bones hes a great player, so I told him I would certainly help him out. I did not hesitate."

    Now, all in a rush, Berger, once a top-10 player himself, is working with another top-10 player.

    "Its not a late-season surge; its a one-tournament surge," said Brad Gilbert, a coach and ESPN analyst.

    But the platform for the big rankings leap was built in the first three months of 2017, when Sock won titles in Auckland, New Zealand, and Delray Beach, Florida, and then lost to Federer in the semifinals of the Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells, California, and to Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals of the Masters 1000 tournament in Miami.

    But soon after Sock made the long trip to Australia and back in April to play in a losing effort for the U.S. Davis Cup team, his season turned into a struggle.

    "He was playing at a super-high level, and then we got overextended a bit in the scheduling," said Mike Wolf, Socks longtime mentor in Overland Park, Kansas, who remains part of his coaching team. "He had to
    take kind of a breather, which was somewhat on us. We had him play too much and then he got hurt."

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  • 11/11/17--05:00: BFC set to storm ISL
  • Ever since Bengaluru FC burst on to the scenes of Indian football five years ago, theres been a certain sense of expectation from the side to achieve something special. In their debut year, they became the first-ever side to win the I-League on debut, while the second saw them clinch the Federation Cup. And the third was special for more than one reason.

    It was a year that saw Bengaluru take their performance a notch higher and surprise many with their achievements. They not only managed to pocket their second I-League title that year, but also became the first-ever Indian side to reach the final of the AFC Cup, a Europa League equivalent for the Asian clubs. And with this trend continuing with a Federation Cup win last year, the expectations have reached a crescendo as they prepare to take the Indian Super League (ISL) by storm.

    Since their inception, Bengaluru have grown from strength to strength with every passing day - setting new standards and benchmarks. A foundation that resembles that of a European club -- shrewd signings, especially on the foreign front and a system where the head coach has the final say in things pertaining to the team -- and all this means Albert Roca has had the liberty to go on with his business of delivering results without much fuss. "I dont have to worry about that (management) as long as I am getting results on the pitch," he once said addressing his relation with the club management. "When it comes to the team, I have the final word. The management believes in my philosophy at that has helped us reach this far."

    This year too that doesnt seem changing as Bengaluru will look to bring their winning mentality into the much more glamorous spectacle and show that they can cut it in the cash-rich league.

    One of the things that have worked in favour of this side so far is the financial backing that it has received over the years, a factor that made Bengaluru a cut above the rest in the I-League. But with the sides involved in the ISL too having a relatively greater financial clout and technical strength as compared to the clubs in the I-League, it would be interesting to see how Bengaluru handle this change.

    The squad

    Over the years, if theres one thing that has put Bengaluru in good stead as compared to their competitors is the stability that they have achieved in maintaining their spine. The likes of skipper Sunil Chhetri, defenders John Johnson and Rino Anto, and midfielders Eugeneson Lyngdoh and Udanta Singh have been a part of most of Bengalurus exploits in the past. However, with the ISL not allowing more than two senior players and two U-21 players to be retained from the current squads in order to make way for a draft, Bengaluru were in a spot of bother heading into their new venture.

    They opted to retain Chhetri, Udanta, Nishu Kumar (U-21), and Malsawmzuala (U-21) along with foreigners Johnson and Juan Gonzales, but they also didnt allow the draft to have a telling effect on the squad as they bought back a number of first-team players at the July 23 event. "Our idea was very simple. We knew what we wanted. The coach wanted a certain players and we went out for them," the clubs Chief Technical Officer Mandar Thamane had said after the draft. "We were not looking at big names. We retained a few players and rest was about filling the jigsaw, and we went about doing that."

    While this move would see the likes of Lenny Rodrigues, Harmanjot Khabra, Lalthuammawia Ralte and Alwyn George return to Bengaluru, the city side had to part ways with established names in Lyngdoh, Anto, Sandesh Jhingan and CK Vineeth. But that hardly seems to bother Bengaluru as they roped in quality replacements in Rahul Bheke, Thongkhosiem Haokip and Zohmingliana Ralte. And with promising foreign recruits filling in the eight-player quota, Roca looks to have assembled a squad that is capable of challenging the best in the ISL this season.

    Talking tactics

    Theres no doubt in the manner Roca, a former assistant manager at Barcelona, would line-up his squad on any given day. While possession-based football has been the feature at Bengaluru for over a year, it has never looked like what one is used to seeing. While in the past, Roca blamed this on lack of proper players to implement his style, this time though that would not be the case.

    The Spaniard has made sure that the Spanish influx continued at Bengaluru with Dimas Delgado, Toni Dovale, Edu Garcia and Braulio Nóbrega joining Gonzales for this season. While Venezuelan Nicolás Ladislao Fedor Flores aka Miku completed their quota of foreigners, a closer look into the striker would reveal his Spanish roots as he spent majority of his career in Spain before joining the JSW-owned side. And while the new recruits will definitely aid Roca in establishing his style at Bengaluru, its also likely that the Spaniard will cherish the versatility that his side can provide.

    Roca has structured Bengaluru to be comfortable with both a three-man and four-man backline, and that is likely to continue in the ISL as well. With first-choice goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu set to miss the initial four games of the season to a technicality, Lalthuammawia Ralte is expected to start the season for Bengaluru. Johnson is sure make a return to the side after missing the AFC Cup campaign and will join Gonzales in the back with Bheke most likely being the third man in what has been a back-three for Bengaluru for majority of last season.

    Khabra and Nishu Kumar are expected to put on the role of the wing-backs, while it would be interesting to see who Roca chooses to go with in the attack. Miku and Nóbrega are tipped to be Rocas answer to miss-firing forwards from last season, while choosing between an ever-improving Udanta and Garcia, a former Real Zaragoza winger, could be one of the difficult decisions that the Spanish tactician will have to make when he sits down to name his playing XI as Bengaluru join the ISL bandwagon.

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    Its not the first time that head coach Albert Roca will be leading his Bengaluru FC into an unknown territory. Last year saw the Spanish tactician mastermind a plan that saw Bengaluru become the first Indian side to reach the AFC Cup final.

    Though the Indian Super League is a different ball game for various reasons, the former Barcelona assistant coach is optimistic of his sides chances. In fact, hes already laid down the target. But how does he expect the season to pan out? What could be the challenges? What are his plans? Here are the answers.

    Challenges in ISL: Every season brings with it challenges and I dont see why this one will be any different. Weve gone into a draft this season and have had to rebuild most of our squad and its almost as good as starting from scratch. We will be up against teams we have never played against before and we have to get into a rhythm early on.

    Difference between ISL the I-league: We havent played any of the teams in the ISL before and that will be the biggest change from last season. Also, the number of foreign players every team has at their disposal is eight and that could play a big role in how the season pans out for teams. A lot has changed but its going to be about 90 minutes of football when we set foot on the pitch and that wont change.

    Poor record in away games: We did struggle in a few away games last season and that dented our title defence. There were also so many instances of purely poor luck on the road and at home. Theres never a sure way to get results away from home but we will have to work on a few aspects that weve made notes on and Im sure the team will respond to our plans.

    Struggling forwards: Yes, we did struggle with our striker situation last season and that hurt us bad. But in Braulio (Nóbrega) and Miku we have seasoned strikers who have blended really well with the team. The big positive is that we have both of them much before the season has begun.

    The foreign player policy: Ive always rolled out a team based on merit so I dont really have to substitute a foreign player with another foreign player. The squad has depth and everyones fighting hard to earn a start in their position and thats a very encouraging atmosphere to have at a club.

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  • 11/11/17--05:10: Mary still going strong
  • Mary Kom does not believe in giving up. When most assumed she had retired, the feisty boxer was sharpening her punches in the national camp in January. By November, the 34-year-old had added to her stacked cabinet a fifth Asian Championships gold medal in Vietnam. It mattered little she had not competed in over a year and was busy wearing several hats, including that of a Rajya Sabha MP.

    But still, "Magnificent Mary" could pull out the will and the means to box her way to glory. Her last competition was World Championships in May where her dreams of second Olympics participation were crushed. But Mary dusted off the disappointment with the same determination she brings to the boxing ring.

    The transition to 51 kg from her preferred 46-48kg weight category, where she won most of her medals including Word Championships titles, had never quite suited her. She, however, bagged 2012 Olympic bronze in the 51 kg after the 48 kg category was not included in the Games. But Mary is a natural 48 kg fighter and gaining three more had added to her challenge. She decided to return to 48kg, though it still has not found a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Asian Games. It, however, was part of Asian Championships and also 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast next year. Mary has obviously set her sight on that.

    Marys journey to gold in Vietnam reaffirmed her liking for her preferred weight category. Asked if she felt nervous while making a comeback after nearly five years in 48 kg, Mary quickly countered, albeit with a grin. "Nervous? What nervous? I had already trained in good way. I have told in the past also if I am fit nobody can touch me or beat me easily, that is the confidence I have. Only if I am not training then something can happen," Mary said on her return.

    "I am very happy I got all the support I needed and I could make my country proud."

    Like all champion athletes, Mary too has a knack of making things look simple. She insisted her return to 48 kg was not difficult. "The comeback was not so challenging. I already know the 48 kg category. I have been five-time World Champion in this, have played continuously in various competitions and Games and won medals. It was easy," she shrugged.

    "I have an experience of 15-16 years, and that came very handy. In the first round, boxers have three-minute fight. If I could get the measure of my opponent in the first one minute or 30 seconds, then everything is easy. if I am not able to figure out how she is fighting then it gets a bit tough. But no matter what happens, I stay calm and enjoy myself. Why take unnecessary stress or frustration? Whether I win or lose is a different matter. In my training also I am like this. I listen to music, freshen up my mind, and make it fun."

    Mary, however, acknowledged the improvement in world boxing standards. "The level of boxing has gone up. Even 48 kg is tough. Physically I have not faced much problem except the soreness. But the physio has taken good care of that. The boxers have all changed, the current ones are smart and clever. You find opponents some of whom are of equal height, some are taller than me," she said.

    "My coach always pushed me to train with taller and heavier boxers of 54 kg category, even 57 kg. That was very helpful. It is difficult to catch up with taller boxers. When we fight the taller boxer, it is all about how we can have the control, the ring craft, different techniques, and tactic etc. Also, since I had the experience of fighting in the 51 kg, I could handle things in the ring."

    Training, too, exacted a lot out of her. Besides being a mother to three boys, Mary is a Member of Parliament, a national observer, runs her own academy in Imphal and is an athlete commission member of IOC. How tough was managing everything?

    "Too painful!," she said and continued, "I would reach for training at 6 am and finish at 8 am. Then I would rush to have shower and breakfast, before going to the Parliament. Then again I would go to the stadium in the evening to train. Thank God I didnt get hurt or fall sick because then it would have been difficult.

    "I took my training seriously. When there was a personal or official function or I would have two sessions of training every day. If I missed morning session, then I would ensure I train in evening for 40-45 min, I never missed that. I know my body and for me everything depends on my fitness."

    Mary takes special interest in mentoring the youngsters and finds them talented. "I went to youth trial as an observer. The kids are very talented. One or two performed very well. I felt very happy. In elite boxing, still the old pattern of playing is continuing. In youth, girls are intelligent, they are playing smartly. They should do well in future."

    Mary, though, stresses on having a fearless approach. "I tell this to my girls also when playing with strong countries. I have seen many a time people will come to me and say Mary I am playing with China or Kazak boxer. They decide beforehand that they are not winning the bout. I had my first fight against the host country. Anything can happen when you play against the host country. Then they would ask me, how will you do it? I would say, arrey, we will see in the ring! That is not the matter of worry of you. I will take care of it and handle it. I have always been like this from the beginning.

    "We will have to push the youth. When I get time I will chat with them and motivate them, I am sure they will turn out to be medal prospects in the future."

    With AIBA womens World Youth Championships all set to be hosted by Guwahati (November 19-26), Mary sees it as a wonderful opportunity for the young boxers. "We are hosting world championships after a long gap, the last we hosted was in 2006. For our upcoming players, I think it is a very good opportunity to win medal. Outside the country anything can happen, but we have advantage when we are the hosts. The competition is getting tougher and tougher. But if we win gold, it will be historic."

    The question about her prospects in 2020 Olympics has evoked a cautious response. "My next goal is 2014 Commonwealth Games. For Olympics it is too early to say.

    "If the 48 kg category is there, then yes. But even if it is not there, I will try my best to qualify in 51 kg. You see, I always try my best. Rest I leave it to God," she said.

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    Most referees would rather spend an afternoon in a dentists chair than see their name in a newspaper headline. In their world, anonymity implies a job well done.

    So forgive Bibiana Steinhaus for rolling her eyes when she thinks about the various times she has been tugged into the soccer news cycle. There was the mens game she officiated seven years ago when a player accidentally touched her breast. There was the time in 2014 when Pep Guardiola, then the manager of Bayern Munich, put his hand on her - first angrily, then apologetically - as she did her job as a fourth official. There was the German Cup match, just this summer, when a mischievous Franck Ribéry untied her shoelace before a free kick.

    Steinhaus, 38, brushed these moments aside when they occurred, but to her dismay, each incident was caught on video, and each quickly was blown up, in her view, far out of proportion.

    "I work my butt off for 20 years," Steinhaus said with a sharp laugh, "and Im famous for that?"

    That and, now, much more. On a crisp afternoon recently, Steinhaus, whose career has included officiating the finals of every major global womens soccer competition, recapped the invigorating past few months of her life. In September, she reached a new professional pinnacle, officiating her first game in the Bundesliga, the top level of German soccer. In doing so, she became the first woman to referee a match in one of Europes top leagues.

    Nursing the vestiges of a cold with sips of hot peppermint tea, she alternated between nonchalant professionalism ("Im doing the same job as all my colleagues") and earnest excitement about the achievement ("This is the freaking Bundesliga! This is cool!"), all while reckoning with the multidimensional state of being a pioneering female in a male-dominated field.

    "I dont think I embrace it," she said of a status that still feels mildly uncomfortable. "I deal with it."

    Still, that first game in the Bundesliga, on Sept. 10, in front of a crowd of 49,118 in Berlin, gave Steinhaus a different magnitude of fame. Hertha BSC, the home club, offered half-price "Bibiana tickets" to female fans, and Reinhard Grindel, the president of the German soccer federation, turned up to watch from the stands.

    For Steinhaus, the daughter of an amateur referee, promotion to the Bundesliga was the realization of a lifelong dream. But it was in the flood of messages she received before, during and after the game that she began to grasp the remarkable extent to which others were invested in her achievement. "Youre breaking the glass ceiling for all of us," a fellow female referee texted her.

    Her promotion highlighted a recent stretch of progress for women in her profession. In 2016, FIFA, for the first time, merged its training courses for men and women. And over the summer, seven women, including Carol Anne Chenard, were selected to work matches at the under-17 mens World Cup in India, with one, Esther Staubli of Switzerland, acting as the center referee in a group-stage match.

    But none of those steps, Chenard said, could match the power of seeing her longtime friend referee a match in one of the worlds best leagues.

    "It can really push people to see things differently," Chenard said of Steinhaus professional ascent. "I think it can be an important message that things are going to change, and it wont have to be a big news story the next time it happens."

    Being defined by her profession, though, and not merely by her gender remains a work in progress. Steinhaus became animated, for example, when it was pointed out that despite her new prominence in the game she continued to be referred to as "Howard Webbs girlfriend" by certain media outlets and soccer fans. She has dated Webb, a retired English referee, for several years, and she visits him every few months in New York, where he lives while working for Major League Soccer.

    "This is my status? Honestly?" Steinhaus said. "Of course, Im damn proud to be that girl. But nobody says, Thats Bibiana Steinhaus boyfriend."

    Steinhaus was 15 when she took her first steps toward qualifying as a referee, and within five years she was certified to officiate by the German soccer federation. She found that the job was appealingly complex: Each game represented a 90-minute world within a world, wherein she was tasked with interpreting rules and selling decisions to 22 uniquely delicate psyches.

    But she was good at it: As her career progressed, she was assigned to referee at major womens tournaments and a number of big matches, including the 2012 Olympic womens final and last summers womens Champions League final. Since 2007, she had been refereeing mens games in the German second division.

    While rising through the ranks, Steinhaus was simultaneously cultivating a career as a police officer.

    These days, she still works 25 hours a week for the regional police department, although her schedule and growing celebrity have for the past two years confined her to a desk.

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  • 11/11/17--21:38: A dessert for food lovers
  • This weekend came as a welcome surprise for food lovers as customers will have to pay only a uniform GST rate of five percent instead of 12 percent or 18 percent for AC or non-AC restaurants as per the last council meeting.

    Foodies in the city are thrilled with this change as they feel they can eat out without feeling the pinch in their pocket.

    Food enthusiast Renukesh Bingeri says, "I eat out at least once a day. I mostly go out to have biryani or to cafes. I end up spending a minimum of Rs 300 to Rs 400 each time. The increasing of GST to 18 percent had been very difficult for me. I was sceptical to order as it felt like I was ordering for four people instead of one."

    He says that this new move of reducing GST has been great. He adds, "Its an absolute delight for foodies like me as prices will now be reduced. In the last few months, even the restaurants that were known to serve pocket-friendly dishes seemed expensive because of the increased GST rate."

    Food and lifestyle blogger Nameesh N Rajamane says, "This is one of the best move taken by the government and it will encourage restaurateurs and common people. Today, eating out has become quite common and by reducing taxes, it will lessen the burden on ones pocket, enable one to save more and encourage more people to eat out. It will also give a chance for restaurateurs to open new outlets."

    Hes also hoping to order food via online apps. "It had become very expensive to get food delivered through an app. Once you finished ordering, you will be shocked to find that the overall price is much higher than the total cost of the dishes."

    "On a lighter note, I always felt that the government was dining along with me and having a great dish named GST every time I ate out," he laughs.

    While the customers are happy with the change, restaurateurs have a few concerns. With this new implementation, restaurants wont get the benefit of input tax credit, a facility to set off tax paid on inputs with final tax.

    Chilis CEO Ashish Saxena explains, "The GST reduction is a welcome change. It is also nice that the government has reduced complexity with a single rate across all restaurants. However, removing input credit goes against the philosophy of GST. Even before GST, we used to get VAT and service tax set off. So after GST implementation, our cost structure did not change much. With the government taking away input credit, we have to now look at increasing menu prices just to maintain the same profitability."

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  • 11/11/17--21:44: Meet the urban gypsies!
  • Jealous 21, the exclusive womens wear brand from Future Lifestyle Fashions Limited, has been launching jeans that fit every bodytype.

    The idea of a perfect fit is the primary attribute that women look for when buying jeans and the brand caters to that need.

    With style being a way to say who you are, the brand has introduced the concept of three hip sizes for every waist size - hottie for slim hips, hour glass for regular hips and bootilicious for curvier hips.

    To match the range of denim are the tops and tees that one can make a fashion statement with.

    Vice-president of Jealous 21 Rahul Gupta says, "The brand is for the young and free. It is dedicated to girls who believe in themselves and dont shy away from taking edgy and bold steps."

    "Keeping in mind these attributes of an independent girl, we have curated our two key looks for this season, Urban Gypsy and Campus Trends. These collections are inspired by the free, vibrant and young souls," he adds.

    One can also walk down memory lane with either quirky doodle graphics or stripes with the Campus Trends selection.

    The Urban Gypsy is for those with infectious energy, for the one who belongs to no one but herself.

    The collection embraces the free vibrant spirit with a range of patchwork embroidery, minimal distress and inner details in denim.

    The highlights in the top sections are embroidered, Bardot, cold shoulder and crop tops.

    Rahul adds, "On one side, we have these uber cool breezy casuals while on the other, we have classy black and blush range that has been specially designed for parties and the holiday season."

    "On the denim front, we have introduced two new ranges which are all about high stretch, comfort and flexibility. They are the Do Denim and the stylish Diva Denim ranges."

    So start experimenting. After all, each day is a page in your fashion story.

    Priyanka Preeth from JK Shah CA Institution wore a white netted top with denim shorts.
    Punchline: "The white top can be teamed up with a skirt or a pair of jeans too. The denim shorts are cute and durable. "
    Price: Top (Rs 1,499) and demin shorts (Rs 1,799).

    Kumkum Rathore from Army Institute of Fashion and Design wore a pink off-shoulder top and denim shorts.
    Punchline: "It is a trendy and chic outfit. I loved the combination as it is something that you can wear anywhere."
    Price: Top (Rs 1,499) and shorts (Rs 1,699).

    Purvai Nehru from Army Institute of Fashion and Design wore a black golden dress.
    Punchline: "The outfit I wore is suitable for clubbing. The way the outfit falls on me made me fall in love with it. It is a must-have in a students wardrobe."
    Price: Dress (Rs 1,799)

    Priyanka Shetty from BLR College wore a grey star dress.
    Punchline: "Though the dress was a casual one if accessorised right, it can be worn for a party too. It is a very comfortable outfit."
    Price: Dress (1,699)

    Monica M Reddy from Jain University wore a black top and blue denim.
    Punchline: "The ripped jeans is a classic one! The solid black top complimented the ripped texture at the bottom."
    Price: Top (Rs 1,399) and denim pants (Rs 2,499).

    Neethu Anand from Jain University wore a mustard top and blue jeans.
    Punchline: "The outfit was comfortable and the fitting was perfect. It is surely reliable and worth the money."
    Price: Top (Rs 1,499) and jeans (Rs 2,299).

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  • 11/11/17--21:52: Pitch perfect
  • Talking to Raghavendra Rao is akin to flipping through the pages of cricketing history. The octogenarian lists names and dates with unerring accuracy, a trait enhanced by his hobby of collecting autographs of Test cricketers.

    "It all started when my father introduced me and my brother to cricket. In high school I started collecting cricket pictures from magazines and newspapers. Soon, I started collecting autographs of players," he says. A unique factor is that Raghavendra has not approached any cricketer personally. Over the last 67 years, he has written several hundred letters to individual players, captains, managers and even Board officials.

    "I would enclose a self-addressed envelope while requesting autographs from players within India. For those abroad, I enclosed international reply coupons. You could be sure that the letters would reach them and you could be equally sure that their responses would come," he adds. His collection comprises of names like Don Bradman, Keith Miller, Harold Larwood, Denis Compton, C K Nayudu, Mushtaq Ali, Hazare, right up to recently-retired stars and the current crop of players.

    While working in the Bhilai Steel Plant, Raghavendra was a regular at the Ranji Trophy matches. There, he got a chance to meet players like Sandeep Patil, Rajesh Chauhan, Narendra Hirwani and more.

    Apart from procuring precious autographs, he was also able to build a rapport with several famous personalities. "Mushtaq Ali was my fathers favourite cricketer and our hero. I have several letters from him. His son, Gulrez Ali and his grandson Abbas Ali, both of whom were playing for Madhya Pradesh, would visit Bhilai every year. They would come to my place to relish Masala dosa prepared by my wife," he says.

    "Sunil Gavaskar is another acquaintance. In June 2002, I had sent him some pictures to be signed and requested him to convey my regards to Rohan Gavaskar, his son, who had just been selected for the India A-team. Along with the signed photos, he sent a reply saying, Thank you for the good wishes you sent for Rohan. I guess hes waiting for his opportunity but his father seems to have used all the cricketing luck!.

    "But now, players are busy throughout the year and have no time to respond. I depend on friends who are able to meet these players and get their autographs," says Raghavendra.

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