Friday, May 6, 2016

The Trials Of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle

Title: The Trials Of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle

Author: Rick Riordan

After the previous five-book-series of The Heroes Of Olympus, Rick Riordan is back again to give his readers a story from Greek myth - The Hidden Oracle- the first book in the next saga The Trials Of Apollo.

Since the book has been released only this week, I am not detailing the story. No spoilers!

The story revolves around the Greek God of Sun, Music, Archery and a “bunch of other stuff”, the Lord Apollo, who falls to the Earth after being punished by his father Lord Zeus to undergo several trials and prove his worth before getting restored in his godly form in Olympus again.

The book starts with the heroic landing of the sun God in a pile of garbage in an alley in West Manhattan as a dorky sixteen-year-old mortal named Lester Papadopoulos. The mortal, powerless Lester is forced to serve Meg(Margaret), an untrained demigod in of the Manhattan streets. Their bonding, and their adventures before they reach Camp Half Blood, and an unofficial quest to find the hidden oracle of Dodona is the crux of the story.

This book brings us back many of the characters whom we adore like Percy, Chiron, Will, Nico and even Mrs O’Leary. And towards the end of the book, there is an amazing entry of Leo Valdez with his pet metal dragon Festus. But somehow, when I read the book, I did not feel the same charm that Percy or Leo used to bring, back in the old series. I felt Percy was less cool. He was not the Percy I knew six months earlier(time period according to the book), and I didn’t know Percy can become such an all-time-worried chap from the happy go lucky guy that he was within such a short time. Leo, too, had changed too much. And in all parts that they appeared, I was telling myself: There is something wrong with them. What is it? Probably nothing is. But I don’t know.

The new characters are charming as ever. I especially loved Meg and her pet karpoi named Peaches. Apollo in the form of Lester is also super cool. One other character whom I loved was Harley, son of Hephaestus.

I liked the parts when Apollo was not able to accept and come to terms with the fact that he wasn't a God anymore but a mere mortal. The parts in which Apollo forgets that he is in mortal form without any powers, but talks like a God in his mortal voice, is very funny, and for poor Apollo- it is pathetic!

The book was totally cool. The plot was amazing and there was a very unexpected twist in the end. It was an awesome read!

Thanks, Riordan!

Now, the wait for the next book- The Hammer Of Thor in the Magnus Chase series- begins!

Monday, March 28, 2016

To Kill A Mockingbird

Title: To Kill A Mockingbird

Author: Harper Lee

Six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, fondly known as Scout, and her elder brother Jeremy Finch, or Jem for short, live with their father Atticus Finch, a lawyer, in the tired old racist town of Maycomb, Alabama. One summer, they get introduced to a boy named Charles Harris Baker, who shortly called himself Dill. Dill, Scout and Jem start playing and spending a lot of time together. They are terrified, but also amazed, at their neighbour Arthur “Boo” Radley whom they have never seen and who hasn’t come out of his home for many years. Once, Dill dares Jem to touch the wall of the Radley mansion just to prove he wasn’t afraid. They do many things and work out many plans to make Boo Radley come out of his house. After the summer, Dill goes back to his family and, Scout and Jem are left to themselves.

While walking back home from school, Jem and Scout discover small  gifts like bubblegum and wrappers in a tree-hole in the Radley’s place. Deciding that those who discover things are the owners until somebody else’s ownership is proven, they start taking the gifts. They get a packet of bubble gums, a small figurine of themselves, a wristwatch and many other assorted gifts. Jem writes a letter to the person thanking him for the gifts. The next day, they see Mr. Radley, Boo Radley’s father sealing the tree hole with cement. They are disappointed that they can’t get any more gifts, but in time forget about it.

Meanwhile, Atticus is posted to defend innocent Tom Robinson, a black man, accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell.  Atticus fights his best and proves why Tom Robinson hadn’t done it. But, Maycomb, steeped in racism, had never delivered a case in favour of the coloured and is also not prepared to do so. Tom Robinson is unfairly convicted. Atticus and Jem completely lose faith in the law of the country. But Atticus destroys Ewell’s last thread of public pride. Due to this, Ewell swears to kill Atticus. Jem, Scout and Atticus fear the attack but it does not happen for many days. Also, the town of Maycomb starts abusing Atticus as a "nigger-lover", and blames him for letting his children mix even with the coloured. They blame him for setting a bad example.

On Halloween night, sly Mr. Ewell attacks Jem and Scout in the dark while they return from a party. Jem gets badly hurt and Scout does not understand what is happening. At that point, a mysterious man saves Jem and Scout and take them home. After going home, Atticus calls the doctor to check on Jem’s broken hand. They go back to the place of attack and find Ewell dead. Meanwhile, Scout finds out that it was Boo Radley who had saved Jem and her. She immediately stops fearing Boo Radley, goes up to him and thanks him. She gets to know that it was Boo who left them all their small gifts.

Atticus is under the assumption that Jem killed Ewell, while Atticus’s friend Mr. Tate believes Boo did it. But finally, they conclude that Ewell fell on his own knife and killed himself: like what happens to those who kill a mockingbird!

Scout goes to drop Boo Radley in his place. Boo Radley goes inside his home, and that is the last time they see him. The story ends by Scout feeling bad to have not given Boo anything even after he has given them so much.

I like Dill and Scout the best. They are really charming and insane with their ideas. I love them. The best part in the book was when Scout met Boo Radley in the end. I like Boo Radley very much too. 

The book is all about respecting people because they are people and not on the basis of colour. It talks about overcoming the stereotypes and fighting the right battle. The book was really nice. I loved it.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Lazy Girl's Guide To Being Fit

Title: The Lazy Girl’s Guide To Being Fit

Author: Namrata Purohit

Do you pick the fattest book from the library so that you can just sit and read all day? Do you feel lazy to pick up a glass of water for yourself even when you are a little thirsty? Do you look at the mirror and know that you are going a little extra in some places but just ignore them, convincing yourself that you will slim down once you start working out? And do you always resolve that you will start working out regularly from the next day onward? Well, Namrata Purohit’s ‘The Lazy Girl’s Guide To Being Fit’ basically asks you to stop thinking too much about it and rather start moving. That would show better results, really, and then you can still read your fat book!

So, what should we be doing? The first thing, the book says, is start! Dance, jump, run, kick, play, walk, squat, stretch- just do something! You won’t and can’t lose all your extra fat in a month. But you surely will- gradually. Namrata, in the book, asks us to have SMART goals: simple, measurable, achievable, reasonable and time-bound.

The book discusses various exercise routines, and also talks about a healthy balanced diet and the benefits of exercising. It talks about motivating yourself. Start, and you won’t stop, the book says. It gives tips as to how to continue some workout routine even on long holidays.  

At the end of the read our motivation is renewed. And, we decide to start our exercise regimen from the next day onward…

Oh gods, no! Let’s start today. Let’s start now!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Uncle Tom's Cabin

Title: Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Author: Harriet Beecher Stowe

Main Characters: Uncle Tom, Aunt Chloe, Eliza, Harry, George Harris, Haley, Mr. Shelby, Mrs. Shelby, George Shelby, Augustine St. Clare, Evangeline St. Clare, Marie St. Clare, Aunt Ophelia, Mammy, Topsy, Legree, Cassy, Emmeline, Madame de Thoux

Mr. Shelby, a generous Kentuckian who believes in the good treatment of his slaves and does treat them well, is forced to sell off his wife’s worthy slave girl’s son, Harry, and his most faithful pious servant Tom, fondly referred to as ‘Uncle Tom’. He signs the papers of their transfer to a man named Haley, a slave trader, with whom he had to settle debts. No amount of pleading from Mrs. Shelby could change Mr. Shelby’s decision to do so, however bitter his heart felt, as he had high debts with the cruel man which could be cleared only by complying to Haley’s demands of transfer of the beautiful Eliza’s son Harry and faithful Tom!

Eliza on overhearing the conversation between Haley and her Master Shelby, and getting to know that her only son Harry was going to be sold over to a trader and then put up in the general auctions for bidders to buy, takes extreme steps and decides to run away that same night. She writes a note  to her Mistress, Mrs. Shelby, thanking her for her generosity and stating that she was running off to save her child from inevitable cruelty. Then she picks up her dear son Harry, proceeds to Uncle Tom’s cabin, and informs him of his ill fate. Eliza offers Uncle Tom to run off with her but Uncle Tom refuses telling her that he would always be faithful to his master and would get sold if his master wanted him sold. And, so, Eliza proceeds on her journey all by herself, fueled by ‘maternal love’ and ‘wrought into a paroxysm of frenzy by the near approach of a fearful danger’.

From here, the story follows these two people separately, following two simultaneous storylines and finally threads them up together in the end.

Uncle Tom is bought by Haley and they, with several other slaves of Haley’s ‘band’, board a small ship bound to New Orleans. On the ship, Uncle Tom even wins the loyalty of a cruel man such as Haley by being faithful and religious. A beautiful little girl named Evangeline shortly called as ‘Eva’, travelling with her father Augustine St. Clare and her Aunt Ophelia, takes fancy to poor nice Uncle Tom and persuades her father to buy him. St. Clare buys Tom for a good price and takes him home. There Tom has a good time with the angel-like Eva and his lovely master St. Clare, and many years pass. The other slaves in the house are treated like masters themselves.

Meanwhile, Eliza and her little boy Harry, with the aid of many generous people along the way proceed with the aim of reaching Canada- the place where George Harris, her husband, had started running off to. She makes many good hearted friends who go to great lengths to help her get away from men who pursue her on the instructions of wicked Haley.

Coming back to Uncle Tom, a few sudden events change his fate. Evangeline dies. And a few weeks later, the poor heart broken man, St. Clare, who promised Uncle Tom his freedom, also dies in an accident. All the slaves of St. Clare are sold off in an auction. Uncle Tom is bought by a tyrant name Legree who is a plantation owner. He goes and works faithfully in the plantation. It is cruel, but Uncle Tom survives it, till one day Legree asks Tom to beat up a woman and Tom refuses to do anything that was cruel or a sin. This invokes the wrath of Legree and he beats up Tom for not obeying him. With many such instances and Tom’s complete faith in God, Legree is astonished by the determination of Uncle Tom. But this only makes Legree angrier and he resolves to change Uncle Tom and make slave not only of Tom’s body but also of his soul.

"Well, here's a pious dog, at last, let down among us sinners!—a saint, a gentleman, and no less, to talk to us sinners about our sins! Powerful holy critter, he must be! Here, you rascal, you make believe to be so pious,—didn't you never hear, out of yer Bible, 'Servants, obey yer masters'? An't I yer master? Didn't I pay down twelve hundred dollars, cash, for all there is inside yer old cussed black shell? An't yer mine, now, body and soul?" he said, giving Tom a violent kick with his heavy boot; "tell me!"
In the very depth of physical suffering, bowed by brutal oppression, this question shot a gleam of joy and triumph through Tom's soul. He suddenly stretched himself up, and, looking earnestly to heaven, while the tears and blood that flowed down his face mingled, he exclaimed,
"No! no! no! my soul an't yours, Mas'r! You haven't bought it,—ye can't buy it! It's been bought and paid for, by one that is able to keep it;—no matter, no matter, you can't harm me!"

This piece shows Uncle Tom’s unwavering faith in God which carried him through all his bitter experiences with amazing strength, and which influenced many to follow his method to retain hope and life in their melancholy heart.

Master George Shelby, who by this time had grown from a little boy to a young man, comes back in search of his loved Uncle Tom to redeem him and take him back to reunite with his wife and children in the Shelby estate. He traces all the bills of purchase of Uncle Tom and rides out to Legree’s plantation to claim back his Uncle Tom. But there, he finds Uncle Tom in a pathetic state- beaten up and in the doors of death. Uncle Tom recognizes his ‘little Master George’ and declares that he shall ‘die content now’ as he had seen and inquired about the wellness of his family. Uncle Tom rests forever. George, with a broken heart, takes the body of Uncle Tom with him and gives him a decent burial.

Meanwhile, Eliza and her child, on their way, reunite with her husband, George and they all escape, after a lot of dangerous adventures, to Canada- a free land!

George comes back to the Shelby estate and informs everyone of the sad turn of events. He prepares legal documents and frees every single slave of his estate. He vows to fight against the practice of slavery. While returning he meets two women- Cassy, a runaway from Legree’s estate, and another woman Madame de Thoux. He comes to know that Madame de Thoux is the sister of George Harris and Cassy was the mother of Eliza. He redirects them to Canada.

The story of Eliza and her Harry ends happily as they all reunite and reside in a free land as free humans. Uncle Tom’s story is sort of sad and touching! But the book tells us:
Pity him not! Such a life and death is not for pity!

I loved the book! It is such an amazing and touching book. It is simple yet strong! I loved many of those kind characters in the book and despised the cruel!

Uncle Tom’s Cabin was really nice.

Monday, December 7, 2015

#Chennai #Floods- When Essay Topics Became Reality!

It started like this
Varuna Varuna Varuna (Varuna is the rain god)
Varuvai Varuvai Varuuvai! (Come! Come! Come!)
Varuvai Varuvai Varam Arulvai (Come! Come! And give us a boon!)
Arulvai Arulvai Mazhai Pozhivai (Bless us! Bless us! Make it rain!)
Aruludan Maa Mazhai Pozhindiduvai (Bless and make it rain heavily!)
Manithar Thuyaram Theerave (So that worries of humans get over!)
Maa Mazhai Pozhindiduvai Arulvai! (Bless and make it rain heavily!)
Varuna Varuna Varuna…

We sang this song, written in Tamil, in Amritavarshini raga everyday in school! Why? Because two months before, all that anybody saw in Chennai streets was water lorries providing water to houses and people trying to manage the water scarcity! I think we were all a little too sincere while praying for rains!

Flooded street
What will you do when you don’t have internet for a week?
What will you do if there is no electricity for one whole week?
What activities will you engage in if there are no gadgets for a week?

I never saw any of these questions as anything more than common essay topics, especially living in a city! Yet in the past ten days many people of Chennai, including us, saw all of it come true. No gadgets. No electricity. No internet.

On the first of December, it rained heavily in Chennai. The intensity was very high. The streets were already inundated, and this made it only worse. But even then, we didn’t have any problem in our house though we were in the ground floor. Our house is raised a good four feet from the road, so no water came in. The next day, the rain stopped. We were already running two days without any power supply. They had shut it down for safety purposes due to water logging in our street. It was the third day.

A car parked on a
speed breaker:
It later submerged!
On December 2nd, it only drizzled but the water level kept increasing. Eleven thousand cusecs of water was being opened into the city from the Chembarambakkam reservoir. The water level in the street was quickly rising. It started climbing up the slope of our parking dangerously fast. Anytime a vehicle passed, the water surged into the parking lot with a swoosh.  We weren’t very sure as to what to do. Should we pack up all the books and other goods in the house? Will the water come in? Or will it stop rising and recede? We got the signal to pack up things to safety by 1.30 pm that day when the water had completely encroached our entire parking, and was slowly making its way up the house stairs to the entrance.

A brave man taking his chances!
We started clearing everything in the hallway of our house and dumping it in the bedroom upstairs (our house is a duplex model, thank God!). It took us just one and half hours to pack up everything! My dad asked us to imagine and think as to what would get spoiled if there was  hip-level water inside the house. Only our refrigerator couldn’t be shifted anywhere. We couldn’t do anything about it. We left it that way. When we checked again, the water was in the last step. It would be a matter of minutes before it would come in! So, we gobbled up our lunch, took the essentials, and shifted to our neighbour’s place in the first floor. And at three in the afternoon on December 2nd water entered the house. We looked down anxiously from the neighbour’s balcony as it started raining again. A transistor of our neighbour’s helped us know some news. But it was bad news! From eleven thousand cusecs, they had increased the flow to sixteen thousand cusecs!

Car parked on a
The water level kept rising! My mom was terrified. It rose from knee level to hip level to chest level to neck level! Water was flowing at a terrific speed. By the evening, it was pitch dark. We couldn’t communicate to anybody because we had very little saved battery. Even when the battery was there, there was no cellphone tower and the calls simply failed! By the night, the news from the transistor informed that 30,000 cusecs of water was being released! We just prayed and went to bed early after dinner. I fell asleep. My parents told me the next morning on December 3rd that the water had been flowing at its peak around 2 am that morning. But by the time I woke up, it had receded. It was still in the parking area but had receded from the house.   

My mom and dad went down to our house and started cleaning as our neighbour, who has experienced two earlier flood situations, advised them to clean the house while the water was receding and not let it go dry with dirt. It was a laborious job! The water had brought along with it fine mud and a all species of insects, both dead and alive! There was the smell to be taken care of too! They cleaned the house with salt and Dettol over and over again. It also took a long time to dry since there was no fan!

Not just Kundrathur plots
Even the city was so!
In between all this, there was the shortage of milk! We couldn’t lay our hands on milk packets at all! Even if we managed to get a few packets, they got spoilt real quick and couldn’t be used. Amulya milk powder helped us a little. Also, bread packets and milk packets from Shree Mithai, delivered at our doorstep, helped us greatly! Drinking water that we had stored was also getting used up.

We shifted back to our house on 4th December. All of Chennai seemed to have got electricity but not us! We suffered for three more days, and finally, we got it today- December 7th- ninth day from when we last had power!

I never believed it could rain so much in Chennai as to bring water into my house! Most part of the  mornings were spent staring at the flood water and debating if it was receding or rising, or when we would get back power. The mornings passed quickly and easily. Only after five in the evening, time was difficult to while away. We would look at the clock at 5:40, and look at it again at 5:43! Evenings were the most difficult part.

Anyway, it’s all getting better now. Thanks to all those relief volunteers for their work! Thanks to all my friends who offered their help! Thanks to everybody!

Half the gate flooded was
just a start!
From water scarcity to not knowing what to do with so much water, it has taken nature barely two months to change Chennai from a parched water-scarce land into an island! Let us better be respectful to Mother Nature and not wag our naughty tails by polluting her! This is the important lesson that we have to take back from this experience.

Thanks to all, again, for their support to flood affected areas. Let us all #PrayForChennai!