Friday, March 01, 2019

Mindsport - Mukul Sharma

In the pre-smartphone days, reading books or magazines was a popular way to occupy oneself during long train journeys. Especially if you were the type that did not enjoy talking to strangers. And so, it happened that I would religiously raid the newsagent’s stall at the railway stations, and arm myself with a bunch of periodicals, before boarding the trains for all those trips between home and hostel.

A constant in this mix was the Illustrated Weekly of India. The initial attraction was the jokes and the low price. I think it was just Rs 5, when others were around 10. But what got me addicted was this absolutely wonderful column curated by Mukul Sharma, titled Mindsport. It was a treasure trove of puzzles of all sorts. Numerical, Word games, Spatial, you name it. Mukul would present a few puzzles that he had found elsewhere, and readers would send in their own as well. A large portion of the page was taken up by the replies and explanations by the readers, which were fascinating as well. Mindsport alone would easily consume a couple of hours during each journey.

During our 1st year of college, the last 3 hours of the week aka Friday afternoons were taken up by Engineering graphics, which many of us considered time-pass. On the weeks when we did not skip class to catch the 1st show of the new release at Sridhar, many of us would be huddled around one of the large drawing desks, with the latest edition of Mindsport open before us. This became a tradition that lasted throughout the year, and made us actually look forward to Graphics class.

After Mindsport, the logical questions in various job tests were all kids’ play. During gatherings with friends or cousins, these same puzzles helped me appear as one of the smartest in the room. Was also aided by the fact that hardly anyone else read the Illustrated Weekly those days. Which, I soon found out, was not a blessing. The magazine shut down, for want of readers.

Cut forward to a couple of decades later. While waiting for our orders to be served, at a restaurant, I asked a couple of old Mindsport puzzles to my 2 pre-teens. This kept them engaged for about half-an-hour till the food arrived. And thus arose a new tradition. Every time we dined at a restaurant, my son would be quite eager to get the ordering done, so that I could ask them a new puzzle. Napkins would serve as paper to draw on, and condiment containers as props in efforts to explain the questions and the answers. Later also found out that my son was trying these puzzles on his friends, and their parents, impressing them as I had impressed my relatives years ago.

Reminded of all this when I read of Mukul Sharma passing away today. Mindsport alone would have made me forever thankful to him. Any person who I met later, who said they were readers of Mindsport, became a friend for life.

But my debt goes beyond that. He was also a superb writer on varied topics. A lengthy article of his in the same weekly, on The Origins of the Universe, got me all fascinated with this branch of physics, and led me to read up many more books on this subject, which continues to this day. Follow up on this introduced me to the writings of Stephen Hawking, George Gamow, and most importantly, Douglas Adams. Cosmic Theories also became the subject of the 1st seminar that my friends and I presented in our 1st year of undergrad.

So, to Mukul, for Mindsport above all, but also for introducing me to the Big Bang, Thanks for all the Fish!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan's Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai has long been a favourite, something I frequently go back to listen to.

Going through YouTube found a few other renditions as well. This gave an opportunity to mix it up a bit.
and this
Looking further, also found a version by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan that seemed to have the audience in rapture.

Then found this version by Farhan Saeed. It's sung more as a love song than a devotional. So not as attractive as the earlier cases. But can still understand the appeal.

Finally stumbled on this rendition in a Jeetendra - Rekha movie titled Souten Ki Beti. And I cannot unsee it :-( Click at your own risk on this last one. May ruin your memories of this wonderful song.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

And the Best Sherlock goes to…

Sherlock Holmes has been quite an inspirational figure in more ways than one. Many other fictional detectives have been created based on him, his exploits have been adapted to the screen, multiple times, he has inspired many spin-off works such as ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, ‘A Study in Emerald’, and ‘The Seven Percent Solution’, and he is one the most, if not the most, portrayed characters on screen.

There has been a recent uptake in interest in this character with 3 screen interpretations. There have been many adaptations before, but most of them were true to the original works. 3 contemporary versions all use the stock Doyle characters, but are quite distinct works. Here I try to compare these 3 bodies of work and figure out which works best; for me, at least.

1.       The BBC series ‘Sherlock’ that has made a star of Benedict Cumberbatch (1st 3 seasons).
2.       The US TV series on CBS  ‘Elementary’ ( 3 seasons)
3.       The 2 Guy Ritchie movies featuring Robert Downey Jr.

While series such as HOUSE are also clear inspirations, I’ve excluded them as they do not have the Holmes and Watson characters by name.
There may be some spoilers ahead for those who haven’t watched, but not too much.

The minor awards (2/1/0 point):


Professor Moriarty appears in only a couple of the Doyle stories, and is mentioned in passing in a few more. However in most of the screen spin-offs, this character plays a much bigger role, usually the recurring arch-enemy.  Andrew Scott’s performance in Shelock is IMO the best of the 3. He created a compelling rival to Holmes & Watson, playing the character with a bit of a psychopathic streak. The idea of ‘Consulting Criminal’ was a nice add-on. Elementary had a clever twist to the character, however as most of Moriarty’s exploits happened before the events in the series, the character’s impact is not as memorable. The Moriarty in the 2 movies hardly registered.
Sherlock 2           Elementary 1     Movies 0

Irene Adler

This is another character that appears in just one of the book stories, but comes up in almost every screen version of Holmes. The stock romantic interest for Holmes, though that has not been really implied in the books, Irene has been played by 3 beautiful actresses in the 3 versions. Natalie Dormer and Rachel McAdams are both impressive. However it is only Lara Pulver’s character in Sherlock that intellectually challenges the detective in solving a case.
Sherlock 4           Elementary 2     Movies 0

Mary Watson

She has not appeared in Elementary yet. The Mary in Sherlock is quite a departure from the books. Somehow seems to over complicate the story-line. Kelly Reilly’s portrayal in the movies was the closest to Doyle character.
Sherlock 5           Elementary 2     Movies 2

Mycroft Holmes

A 3rd personality with a minor role in the books, but is found in all the screen adaptations. All played by accomplished actors as well. Both the TV series show some animosity between the brothers, which does not exist in the books. While he does not have a big role in the movies, Stephen Fry is always a welcome sight. Rhys Ifans’ character in Elementary started off as a distraction from the plots, but then became more central to the stories. Mark Gatiss, on the other hand, began impressively in Sherlock, but became more of an annoying presence in later episodes. Will tend to not award anyone full points for this.
Sherlock 6           Elementary 3     Movies 3

Mrs Hudson

Una Stubbs in Sherlock easily wins this one. Especially with her repeated efforts to remind her tenants that she is their landlady, and not their housekeeper.
Sherlock 8           Elementary 4     Movies 3

Inspector Lestrade

Rupert Graves in Sherlock stands out as the most memorable of the 3. Would remember him for saying, "Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and some day, if we're very very lucky, he might even be a good one." 
Sherlock 10         Elementary 4     Movies 4

Inspector Gregson

Only Elementary has a significant role for him, played by Aidan Quinn.
Sherlock 10         Elementary 6     Movies 4

Sebastian Moran

While he does appear in all three, it is only Vinnie Jones that leaves a lasting impression. An Arsenal fan to boot.
Sherlock 10         Elementary 8     Movies 5

The Villains

The most impressive is Charles Augustus Magnussen, who’s based on Milverton from the books. For him alone Sherlock would get top points. However all the villains portrayed in Sherlock are intellectual challenges. Elementary falters a bit on this count. This is understandable given the large number of episodes, each with a fresh plot. Lord Blackwood was a worth rival in the 1st movie.
Sherlock 12         Elementary 8     Movies 6

Non-Canonical characters

Elementary has Marcus Bell & Kitty boosting up the interest levels. Molly Hooper does the same in Sherlock, as does SImza (Noomi Rapace) in the movies. Elementary has the edge here as the characters are more prominent.
Sherlock 13         Elementary 10   Movies 6

The More Important Awards (4/2/0 points)

Story plots

The movies are more of thrill-a-minute escapades than whodunits. Sherlock had some good plots in the 1st 2 seasons, before it became too melodramatic in the 3rd. It is Elementary that is most faithful to the central puzzle-solving ideas of the originals.
Honestly do not know what screenplay exactly means. But I think this has also been covered here.
Sherlock 15         Elementary 14   Movies 6


Benedict Cumberbatch became a star through Sherlock. He has managed to capture most of the quirks and eccentricities quite well. However he has tended to overplay certain idiosyncrasies and ham a bit, in each progressive season. I’d think Robert Downey Jr, comes across more convincing as Holmes, playing him with a bit of insouciance, but still resonates with the book descriptions on focus and determination.  Johnny Lee Miller isn’t quite as impressive as the other 2. Will go for Downey on this one, closely beating Cumberbatch.
Sherlock 17         Elementary 14   Movies 10


This is, IMO, the most important role in the stories. While the titular character may have more airtime, and dialogue, it is Watson through whom, we see the stories. Holmes is an eccentric and brilliant genius, even beyond the smart ones amongst us. It is Watson, who the audiences can identify with, and through whose eyes we witness the genius at work.
All 3 series have established actors playing Watson. However it is in this department that Sherlock steals a march over the other 2. Martin Freeman has probably given the best performance of any actor across the 3 sets. He displays the right balance of surprise at the events, and enthusiasm to involve himself, that we fans can identify with, as our own emotions at those junctures. A gender change for Watson in Elementary is a good novelty. But Lucy Liu displays more weariness, than disbelief, at Holmes’ antics. Jude Law seems all too eager to jump into the action, as if he is on the same wavelength as Downey’s character. So not an effective window for the audience.
Sherlock 21         Elementary 16   Movies 10


All are very good re-interpretations of the classic stories. The 2 TV series are a tad better than the movies. Guy Ritchie’s version is a bit like AC Doyle meets the Wild Wild West. Sherlock has tended to become a bit melodramatic in Season 3. Elementary has continued to focus on mysteries; however it tends to meander a bit too frequently, into existential angst of addicts. Sherlock comes out as the best, mainly due to 2 factors.

  • A very finely written Watson, that has been portrayed exceptionally well by Martin Freeman. The standout actor across the 3 sets,
  • Well-developed and distinct characters all around, be it Moriarty, or Mrs Hudson, all pushing the story forward without distraction.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

That Messi goal!

Some time in the early 90s playing against the Aussies, Kapil Dev produced a magical spell of 3 consecutive out-swingers. I did not see this match, only read about it later in Sportstar. The 1st ball bowled out Alan Border (so technically an in-swinger), and the 3rd bowled out Dean Jones. Apparently it was the 2nd that was the best of the lot. It swung just a bit, and quite late. Dean Jones, who was in a purple patch at that time, played at it and missed. The ball missed the off-stump by a whisker on its way to the wicket-keeper. The writer opined that only Don Bradman could have got out to that.

Meaning the ball was so good, that even the best batsman in the world would have got out to it. And it was so good, that only the best batsman could have got out to it. Dean Jones, great batsman that he was, was not good enough and reacted a bit late.

Sometimes you need to have the best batsman at the other end to witness the excellence of the bowler. And vice-versa. Similarly it takes one of the best defenders playing currently, backed by one of the best goalkeepers to showcase the magic of Messi's 2nd goal against Bayern in the CL semi-final 1st leg.

The 1st goal was typical Messi. He has, so many times, picked up the ball near the right wing, and then cut across parallel to the goal, looking for an angle to shoot with his left foot. Sometimes this would mean skipping past 1, 2, 3 defenders until he found a straight line from ball to goal. He didn't have to do any of that here. Dani Alves did most of the work in cutting the ball across from the left and passing it. Then he moved it to his left foot and let go. Neuer thought he was going for the far end upper corner, and got beaten on his near-side lower end. This partly helped set up the 2nd goal. 

The 2nd goal was genius. Messi picked up the ball and started moving down the line near the edge of the D. When he neared Boateng, he opened up his left shoulder and arm very slightly as if to start cutting across like he normally does. Boateng, either seeing this shoulder movement, or knowing Lionel's propensity to cut across, started to shift his weight to his right, and deny any space for the maestro to shoot with the left. In less than an instant, the striker decided to change directions and go past the defender's left. Boateng, almost immediately noticed this and tried to change direction as well. But his weight had already shifted to the right, causing him to lose balance and fall.

That fall showed how good this World Cup and Champions League winning defender is. Most defenders would have just stood there, and then reacted much later. A very good defender, would have played on the probability, and moved to his right, then ended up looking bewildered as Messi ran towards his other side. Only the best defenders, would have  1st moved right, then immediately tried to change direction, and lost their balance. No one playing fairly could have stopped him.

It took the skills of Boateng to emphasize the magic of Messi's movement. And he wasn't done yet. He topped this with a delectable chip using his weaker foot that outfoxed the giant frame of Neuer. Something that Danny Welbeck tried and failed, the previous season.

Making to World Cup winners look like amateurs. What better way to drive home the point of who's the greatest?

Monday, January 06, 2014

Delhi's water for free

The new Delhi government, keeping its poll promise has announced 20KL of free water a month to each household with a metered connection. Use a litre more than this, and you'll be charged for the entire amount of water consumed. i.e. 20001 litres. This scheme is likely to be a disaster. And one needn't wait long to see the effects.

The scheme heavily penalizes usage beyond the 20KL. So there is a huge incentive to 'officially' use just below 20KL every month.

What could happen is:
  • Spurt in (requests for) metered connections.
  • Large scale tampering of meters.
  • Households monitoring their water consumption closely, and stopping each month and just below 20KL. They would then depend on alternative sources for their remaining consumption. This could be water tankers, or bore-wells (don't know if they exist in Delhi).
  • Connections which currently use well below 20KL per month, could start selling their surplus free water in the black market.
  • Large number of complaints about faulty meters.
  • Increased number of outages and disruptions in water supply. Delays in fixing them.
It would be interesting to see the distribution of water consumption across connections before and after this scheme. While before could most likely be a normal curve, the distribution with this scheme would likely peak just below 20KL with it falling sharply to 0 on either side. It would pick up again at values > 30KL.

PS: Just had a look at my water bill. It must be a really large household to reach even close to 20KL per month.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Of Gods and Men

The requirements for the genesis of a religion
  • Blind adoring fans. E
  • Drastic fall in intelligence levels when talking about object of worship. E
  • Animosity towards anyone who disagrees or criticizes. Ad Hominem attacks. E
  • The feeling that everyone else shares the same devotion.
  • Seeing meaningless patterns and co-incidences in words and numbers related to the 'diety'. E
  • The need to prove that he / she is superior in all respects. Quoting numerous and twisted statistics / tales to do so. E
  • Trying to outdo each other in proving allegiance. Often going over the top to do so. Bending rules in the process. E
  • Ascribing miracles to idol <pending>

Perhaps in a few years, we'll hear of a little girl miraculously cured of blindness, after sleeping with a Sachin poster on her wall. And then we'll have all the ingredients.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Tennis priorities

  1. Watch Roger Federer play
  2. Play Tennis
  3. Watch Maria Sharapova. Preferably off-court. At one of those photo-shoots.
  4. Watch one of the other top players in action - Djokovic, Nadal, Venus,...
  5. Catch up on some doubles
  6. Everything else