Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman – a fresh coat of paint

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For People who love mythological stories, the Norse stories are surely a draw. I had an odd thing introduce me to this grandeur – a video game, Ensemble Studios’ Age of Mythology. Later I figured out that much of Tolkien’a lore was actually influenced by the Norse Gods and creatures, and that fact intrigued me even more.
Gaiman’s retelling of the stories – from beginning to the end don’t give you anything new if you are aware of the central themes. It however gives you a fresh coat, a different literary perspective, something which Gaiman has plenty of experience dishing out. With his sharp, measured approach, the stories are cut lean, stripped from all the usual chatter that most writers tend to introduce. Gaiman also lends his lucid way of storytelling, far cry from the campy or dark, Brother Grimm like ways.

I thoroughly loved it, and this book will appeal to even the staunchiest of myth disapprovers. You don’t have to believe in divinities – just enjoy the larger than life stories.

The Seven Samurai: Indian Tech Review Warriors, 2017

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The Indian summer is exclusive as it is relentless. Obfuscating as the endless media channels with their ‘you-saw-it-here-first’ slaps on the hapless faces of consumers, the generous heat emanating as a result of a lovemaking between human farts and the rays of the sun ends up shaping our lives in more ways than one.

But we’re not talking about copulation, and its irritable effects. The issue at hand is much more grave than coming back home with STD after the wildest night of your life.

I, therefore, invoke the power bestowed upon a lucky few by the Gods of tech. This is not my writing, but a mere translation of the divine words. I feel grateful that the onus fell upon my shoulders. Maybe it was the fruit of my past ten years’ worth of asceticism. Maybe I won the lottery. Maybe I went rogue.

  • The written review sites- are there any even left worth reading?
  • Video review sites – most are shit. Some stink more than others. Worse even, the YouTube endorsed Indian reviewers are on top of this stinking mountain. Best to utilize that time watching or reading stuff that will actually help you. If you know what the different voltages are and how they affect overclocking and stability, it is going to help you decide how far you want to push your processor. Watching a video where a barely 20 year old doles out maa-behen ki gaaliyan won’t.
  • Tech Evangelists, know-it-alls, Well-wishers of the community (there are a million names these people go by) – These are the most poisonous snakes. You will find them rambling about things in product pages, forums, and most of them ultimately end up hate-speeching on their own Facebook pages. These kind of idiots thrive only because we give them attention.
  • Old, back from the dead zombies – Some are really risen for the good. Others are lurking in the shadows. Their stink’s way too real.
  • Young advisers – Keyword Nazis, fighting and calling everyone fanboys. Has a very strong opinion about everything, and often uses obscure sites to prove points. Especially adept at producing benchmark numbers out of their rear ends.
  • The Buying and Selling Connoisseur – One who jumps into every sale thread with plentiful advises, fights vehemently with everyone, and then tells that he was educating the seller/buyer. The stench that these pariahs leave can floor even a Super Saiyan!
  • The Lone Mercenary- He is a Skinwalker, a Wendigo, a Ronin; He walks a thousand paths, yet he never settles. Can be seen online most of the time, but barely replies back. The hard disk crasher, the data-ninja, the male Valkyrie of the downed warriors in the long tech battle. You will see him everywhere, yet he’s not there. He fights alone, because his insatiable hunger for hardware is all-consuming. If you see him, do not move. Stay still.

I do wish from the bottom of my heart that these seven perils won’t faze a new reviewer. Amidst the rubble, there are a few rays of light, new warriors adorning familiar weapons with a new blaze. If this Kurukshetra is any lesson, here’s hoping that the bastion will be carried by the worthy, and not the attention-seeking vermin.

The Wendigo – Algernon Blackwood : visiting one of the sources of Pet Sematary

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Pet Sematary is one of those books that has many uncommon tropes of the horror genre, penned effortlessly by Stephen King in his drunken rage, only to loosen up the dreary influences he received from multiple source materials. Blackwood’s The Wendigo served as one of the biggest catalysts in the early 1900s to have writers incline towards Native American folklore – and before you knew it, a sub genre was born that dealt with only these legends. In Pet Sematary, arguably King’s finest telling of the Wendigo lore of the Algonquinian tribe, the literature peaked at its best, yet to get to the root of where it all started, we will definitely have to give due credit to Blackwood. Derelith, who wrote the marvelous Ithaqua, drew heavily from this psychological thriller of a short story, and in turn ended up influencing the monster that dwelt in the marshes beyond the Creed’s, one who was barely seen but was often heard, one who walked with the wind.

The premise in itself is pretty barebones : but that gives the narrator plenty of time to spin his web and create an atmosphere that is as vicious as it is visceral. Five people break into groups of two and three in some remote American wilderness, hunting big moose. The obscurity of the forest ensures that the stories inside it also stays intact, and something primal lurks in it that the forest protects fervently. It is no accident that this creature, the Wendigo, masks its presence so well amidst the dense foliage, icy terrain and a placid lake that splits the forest into two. You have a hard time for the most part deciding who is the villain here : is it the monster that feeds on fear, or is it the forest that creates that fear?

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There’s a third perpetrator in this tale : the human yearning to jump into things that they don’t comprehend, a sort of answering the call of the wild, feral, the uncharted – that inevitably brings about their doom. Blackwood is quick to point that out in The Wendigo, that even though the monster of the folklore maybe out there, it is the curiousity of the hunters and trackers that ends up being one of the deciding factors in their encounter with the elusive beast, and as much ferocity nature can conjure, it is also the fate of a few inconsiderate people who run chasing every rare chance an obscure wilderness may present : in their callousness they give life to folklore and legends that are best left unseen.

Unsurprisingly enough, it’s the Indian tracker Dévago who bears the brunt of the abuse of senses – in his change of form from a jocund moose-tracker to something else that is most profound here. Blackwood also throws in the possibility of a possession and its fatal aftermath, but the conversation between a newbie Scot and a veteran Dévago constitute the better part of the story. Punk and others chip in and fill the holes in the plot.

In the end, the sparsely heard song is what remains as a crushing reminder :

“Oh! oh! My feet of fire! My burning feet of fire! Oh! oh! This height and fiery speed!”

There is an undeniable Lovecraftian quality in this story that I absolutely adore. The thrusting into the atmosphere horror, the unseen protagonist, the psychological turmoil, the relentless questioning of human psyche elevates this story into a work of art from a simple narration. No wonder it inspired a generation of writers to spin their own twist on this genre.

Chatwin’s Patagonia, or why I couldn’t finish the book

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There are five or six different types of places in this world in my opinion. Most of them are synonymous with one of your own emotions – remember that I said yours and not the generalized human emotion, because emotions are purely subjective, a customized version atop a common platform. So what Kolkata might evoke in you may not elicit the same emotional response in me. But then there are places that come very close to defying that rule. Places that are either too crowded, overbuilt and infested with civilization to the bones – your days are too sped up there for you to conjure up things in your mind. It’s like a whole array of art installations on a conveyor belt. The moment you blink, the visceral statue of a muscular, dead horse is replaced by a rather jaunty, psychedelic picture of a man screaming his head off.

Then there are places that are so derelict, so devoid, so empty, so abyssal that the small bubble of human emotion just fizzles out in front of it. The absorbing power of such place is unheard of, not only because human beings have not yet stepped on it, but also because of the core ingredients that constitute such an ocean of emptiness has yet to come into contact with enough of our species to form a bond. Hence the stories that are found there are conserved ferociously, almost like the treasures of Nassau, and are being passed from generation to generation with occult like precision.

Patagonia – or where the memories evolve.

Bruce Chatwin, born and brewed in the society that rejected the tribalness in human nature, took it upon himself to fancy a chance in exploring the extreme nomadism that existed in the loneliest parts of our planet. It all started with his childhood fascination for a Brontosaurus bone (in actuality, a giant sloth’s called the Mylodon) that he saw in his grandparent’s home. The bone was found in Patagonia, a large, mostly uninhabited land on the southernmost part of Argentina and Chile that stretches from the prairie like grasslands of the Pampas to green and yellowish lakes to the remote snowladen peaks of the mighty Andes that stretches to Antarctica. To the child, it was a land of never before seen stories, of giant animals and long lost worlds, but he never thought about it before his monotonous work took him to Eileen Gray, the then 93 year old architect who had a map of Patagonia printed on her salon wall. There, revitalized by the nonagenarian’s inspirational words, he flew to Lima two years later on a whim, to find out what that world had to offer.

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In Patagonia is a two-hundred page book filled with Chatwin’s recollection of the stories that he collected in his multiple travels. The stories, often criticized as more a figment of his own mind mixed with some truth, are disjointed, experimental, and divided into nearly a hundred chapters that range from a paragraph to two pages. The biggest flaw of the book turns out to be this: the nomadism that Chatwin so wishes to experience ends up being so evident in his writing that he ends up not building any sort of flow whatsoever. You can safely skip pages without any consequences here.

While that is my biggest gripe, there are some more glaring omissions as well. Reading through the chapters felt like Chatwin was aiming for a cheap recipe of storytelling : not investing in any characters that he met, rather swiftly browsing through their daily lives, trying to cover as much as possible. Hence we never get any ramblings of his mind, just a clean, journalism-esque reporting of incidents. This puts him in accordance to his then livelihood and hammers any prospect of getting a Borges out of his diaries.

So after trudging through halfway of this book, I am heavily inclined to abandon my journey through Bruce Chatwin’s eyes. Not like I don’t like Patagonia – I want to go there, I want to experience the lack of emotions myself, I want to feel the vastness of absolutely nothing, the fiendish preservation of culture of the people surviving there, albeit I want to take time to assimilate them all. A fast one won’t do.

Brontosaurus bones or not, the Chatwin Patagonia continues to be one of the best travelogues, popular amongst many book lovers. I agree to this: read this book as a simple travel diary – just don’t expect anything better.

Let’s talk about Love

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I am a hapless romantic. No matter how hard the outer cynical, nonchalant shell becomes, there are always some things that I cannot overlook. Even in the days when my mood is as inclement as a pre-norwester weather, simple things often coo their presence and put a smile on my face. Remembering a particular morning when I was en route to Ganesh Chandra Avenue, the mecca to all things eletronic in Kolkata, and was in a particularly foul mood. The hour-long journey from my place to the city in the local train was as exhaustive as travelling through a cattle van, not only because there were way too many people on board, but most of them moved and behaved like biped bovine.

On my way, I was walking through the bustling footpaths that were often home to all sorts of people – hawkers, homeless, the mischievous and the charlatan,  and the common beggars and loonies. On other days, this common fixture didn’t bother me, but on that day, I saw something amidst them that made me pause for a while.

A little baby was lying on his back a sheet of torn cloth, barely enough for his little toddling body. His eyes were beautifully rounded by gracious lines of kajal; and his toothless smile was a stark contrast to the paltry conditions where he was in. A few paces away, his mother, probably a sweeper, worked on making lunch from the spoils of a vegetable shop. He, unperturbed, smiled away at whomever looked at him.

No matter how much annoyed I was then, drenched in sweat and my despair, at that moment, I couldn’t keep myself away from smiling. The more I smiled, the more the kid smiled back. In the end, I walked away from that scene happy, content that the world still made sense. That pure love was still a thing.

Being the fat, shy guy I was (and still am), getting my courage up to actually propose a girl was completely out of the picture for me. That and my reluctance to discuss my personal life, coupled with the complete lack of any social media (Orkut was in rage those days, but I wasn’t that involved until later on) gave my friends plenty to speculate about my potential girlfriend. I remember walking into such a conversation during my second year in the college, only to be slightly amused.

Interestingly, in my entire life of about thirty summers, girls that I have proposed to always turned me down, whereas I always accepted any proposals that came my way. How much that speaks about the certain desperateness of mine, you’re only to judge. I am also very fortunate that both the women who proposed to me turned out to be amazing, and shaped my life in a major way. One, the latest (if you call nine years latest, that is), is going to be ma femme very soon.

But my love isn’t bound to flesh and blood entities. I am drawn to nature, I am drawn to books ; I am drawn to anime, cartoons, comicbooks, manga ; I am drawn to technology; I am drawn to video games. I am more at ease in a calm, natural habitat rather than in the hullabaloos of a city life, yet the duality in me craves presence of other souls. Souls that would listen and hear what I need to say. At times, my rants and ideas might last a few hours; at times they’re confined to one conversation. Over the years, I had plenty conversations about the not-so-normal things, and absolutely enjoyed the deviation. As intrigued I am as to the Basilica and the modern history and paleontology, I am equally drawn to long hours in Diablo 3 or League of Legends or reading through the lore in Age of Mythology or Dungeon Siege 2. Besides reading news, one of my daily routines is to check AnandTech or Tom’s Hardware to read the latest and greatest in technology. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read The New Yorker or The Paris Review for their excellent articles and literature published. Moreover, I am equally fond of both Bengali and World literature.

In essence, love doesn’t need to be in cards or paintings and pretty words. It needs to be more than that. With all of our feelings withering for each other and our blue planet, it is high time that we don’t get stuck to the confines of a single day to profess our love for something or someone. Get out, hold a hand, or hands, or paws, or hooves, or branches, or pages – and make it worthwhile.

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks!

Reviewing “Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account” : A small sized terror-hole

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I paused several times while reading this book, shuddering at the thought of the visceral scenes of a Nazi concentration camp. Auschwitz-Birkenau had been a slaughterhouse for millions of Jews, Romanies, Gypsies, people political and apolitical, and Dr. Nyiszli writes their plight with the flair of a surgeon. This book, arguably one of the shortest accounts of the atrocities of the Second World War by the Germans, has the precision of a pathologist. Hence the words are not flowery or pretentious; there is hardly any fluff; and grabs the nerve exceptionally well. He understands the symptoms of the Reich. How criminal behaviors were masked with the veil of scientific research and progress is shown time and again in this journal.

But one thing also stands out here in this book – about how people accepted their fate and never fought back. The reason Dr. Nyiszli came back alive from that hell is because he rebelled against the norm – the guineapigging, the shoving to the chambers, the expendable scenario. He saw liquidation after liquidation and yet through those crumbled mass of sanity and devastation, emerged alive.

A haunting reminiscing. Not sure if I can recommend this to people who are more addicted to romanticized accounts of war, but if history fascinates you, this is probably as close to it as you will get.

The Modern Nomad

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In vastness of Patagonia,

I’ve heard hoofs making noises of muted

conversations; terrible wind notwithstanding,

a lonely Condor circles around

the last refuges – after which

human powers doesn’t

withstand.

An Armani blazer kisses the dirt that was once lava.

The naked body up for swim in the

acid lake amongst the Flamingos,

I eat sulfur for breakfast, and spew

magnificent Cadmium red and green

poems.

I sniff the fresh smell of snowflakes on

skin, running with Bisons and

diving with the gray whales.

This new earth is brutal,

but I love it. No love,

no connection, just

nomad-ing.