Monday, 16 October 2017

My Top 10 Books!


Books are for me and I am for books!


 I vaguely remember my first reading ‘encounter’ with a book ‘Mickey Mouse: Clubhouse’ with me on my mother’s lap. Since that time to the present, I read hundreds of books which I cherish. I decided to narrow down my favourite top 10 and present a mini-review with it. What’s your pick? Read and find out!

10. Malgudi Schooldays (R.K. Narayan)

A classic Indian tale, probably set just after the Indian Independence. The story follows the days of Swami, the main character, and his friends Rajam and Mani. Something worth noting about this book is the innocence of the characters. The timid Swaminathan, the brave Rajam and the bold Mani make a great team. It is interesting to see what life was like in a typical Indian town. Also, their story of trying to become part of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) is great as well. Connecting to their stories is not very difficult as my native place is in Mangalore, South India. Clearly, my reason for liking it is because of the simplicity with which it is narrated.


9.The Complete Adventures of Feluda (Satyajit Ray)
Crime-thrillers are always my favourite. What I really like about it is the change in depth of the crime; sometimes it seems obvious enough and you try to work it out yourself. Other times, instead of stopping to think, you just get on with the book anyway. It is a collection of stories, one better than the other. However, it is really great to see the Feluda equivalent of ‘Elementary, my dear Watson!' Satyajit Ray outdid himself on this one.


8. A Man Called Ove, (Fredrik Backman)
This book is about…well, a man called Ove. The book is narrated in two time sequences, one taking place in the past narrating Ove’s backstory, and one taking place in the present. The present narrative is interesting and especially good with people like Patrick “The Lanky One” and Parvaneh, always trying to get Ove to 'modernize'. But is the past time sequence which was enthralling. The very sad story about how Ove loses everyone in his life after his father and his wife and unborn child. It just brings tears to one’s eyes to read about it. It also explains Ove’s uncanny temper. A very tear-jerking book.

7. The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
Thievery, violence, arguments, more thievery, makes a good book! It paints a very good picture of what times were like during World War II. 

The story begins with the life of Liesel, her mother and her brother. After her brother's death on a train, possibly due to tuberculosis, her mother leaves Liesel to Hans Hubberman and Rosa Hubberman. she also meets Rudy Steiner and makes friends. The story is beautifully narrated illustrating her journey and unquenchable thirst for book. It is also entertaining to read about how she gets along with neighbours, The bullies in her school, and most of all, how she would rather help another person for her own life.

You begin to take an instant liking to the characters, especially Hans Hubberman. Rosa Hubberman just adds to the fun with her constant yelling and shouting. An astounding work of fiction if I may say so.


6. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

What can I say? This prequel to the masterpiece of The Lord of The Rings is ground breaking in itself and adds spice to LoTR as well. What differentiates it from other novels is the amount of detailed description to each and every character, the way it never lingers and keeps moving on, and most importantly, giving almost every item and person their own backstory, and not introducing them to the story when the plot asks for it. Detailed description is why the LoTR movies were a huge success: because the readers were able to imagine the characters exactly as portrayed in the movies. One example for this is this song:
Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates-
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!

Cut the cloth and tread on the fat!
Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat-
Splash the wine on every door!

Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;
Put them up with a thumping pole;
And when you’ve finished, if any are whole,
Send them down the hall to roll!

That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates!
So carefully! Carefully with the plates!

This book is worth your money. And your time. And my axe!


5.Wonder (R.J. Palacio)


The protagonist August is different and passes through love, anger, hatred and most of all kindness because of his facial deformity. Yet he stands tall and is remembered forever in my heart. In this book you begin to really feel for Auggie; you are just as shocked as him if he is insulted, you are just as upset when you learn about Daisy the
Dog’s fate and you too are joyous when he triumphs at the end of 5th grade. The books simple English made me feel like it really was a recorded diary by August, his sister Via, his friends Jack and Summer, Justin, Miranda and Julian. Although it seems like this book is nowhere in the crowd, it is one of the best I have ever read.
“If you had a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind”
…is the essence of the book and touched my heart!

4.To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

The story is set in Alabama in around the 1930s. The book is about two kids, Jem and Jean-Louise who are brothers, living during a time when Alabama's racial laws still existed. The plot line is interesting as their father, Atticus Finch, is almost the only one in support of the blacks in a court case. It is nice to see him defend their side when the crowd gapes in disbelief.


Atticus Finch, is one amazing character. From the way he reasons with his kids to his court case later on in the book, truly spectacular. The way he keeps cool and calm in the craziest of situations is almost lovable. Really, he is the more gripping guy in the story, followed by Jem Finch. (The protagonist just feels like an active narrator in the book). A must read for all those who haven’t.

3. Surely your joking, Mr Feynman! (Richard Feynman)

The humour Feynman comes up with! Richard Feynman is a man into science ever since he was a child. He is associated with developing the Atomic Bomb, won the Nobel Prize and is known to have given talks to Einstein and Lord Kelvin. If you thought hat science books were boring, you might want to reconsider. In this autobiography, Feynman talks about varied subjects, from his childhood demand of fixing radios, to how unwillingly he accepts the Nobel prize and many more in a fun way.  Basically he likes to do a combined mixture of comedy and knowledge. He makes a joke out of every scene. How he does it is beyond me, but all I can do is sit and wonder. Truly, Feynman is one legend!

2. The Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson)

Bryson has made some amazing works of fiction. These include A Walk in the Woods and The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid. This book however, is completely different from the other two. The name suggesting it, The Short History of Nearly Everything talks about how you are lucky to be reading the very book (using atoms), that you are never alone (using microorganisms), and yet at the same time are alone in this Universe (using the vast emptiness of space).

There is something about the book which just makes it difficult to put down. Coming from an author who is into travel logs and travelling itself, you would be surprised to see this book. It is more of an encyclopaedia, when Bryson dedicated a couple of years of his life to this book.  Otherwise, I’m just a queer person for liking this. But it is more than just an encyclopaedia. Bryson can write good comedy. Just because the book only contains knowledge doesn’t mean that he isn’t going to use comedy in his book. Just like “The late but godlike Richard Feynman” in Bryson’s words. Although he was referring to something else then. But still! It is a great book and you should read it!

1.The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)

Nothing ever comes close to beating the humour in this book no matter how much I try to find one. Truly remarkable book! The book is about two people on Earth, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, who is actually from 'somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse'. Earth is destroyed by a Galactic race called the Vogons, but Arthur and Ford ‘hitch a lift’ and escape. After a series of events, they meet up with Trillian, a human who skipped the Earth’s demolition. They also meet Zaphod Beeblebrox, President of the Galaxy. Not to forget, another favourite of mine from Douglas’ creations is Marvin the Paranoid Android. What’s special about him is how he is always depressed. Some of the randomness just makes you want to think “What is going on?” An example for you:

“…back when men were real men, women were real women, and fuzzy creatures from Alpha Centauri were real fuzzy creatures from Alpha Centauri”

Excerpt from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, entry: Magrathea

Seriously, this book is something that is must read. It is “my precious”. Don’t you want to make it yours?



That's it then! Now if you'll excuse me, I have to rush to my kindle to add more books. Which one is your favourite? Answer in the comments section below! 

Till next time, goodbye!

Avathanshu

Friday, 18 August 2017

The latest International master in the block: IM Sidhant Mohapatra

170 km away from the capital city Bhubaneshwar, Odisha is a small village called Chudamani. This is where a talented lad, and India's latest International Master is from. Yes, you guessed it; we have with us IM Sidhant Mohapatra to tell us about his chess life.


Q: Congratulations! Coming from a small place like Chudamani, it was a tough journey, wasn’t it?

A: Thanks :). Yes, it was really a very tough journey. And I must say Chudamani is not a small town, it’s a typical village area. If you look for Chudamani in the map, it will show you a small area near the Bay of Bengal. Bhubaneswar, the main city of our state where all the Chess Players stay, is around 170kms from my place. So, going there to playing training games or practicing together was very much difficult for me. So, yes basically the journey was quite tough but I learnt a lot of lessons from it.

There lies the village that is Chudamani...


Q:  I’ve heard that you learnt how to play this game by playing against your sisters with a toy chessboard that came free with a health drink packet :) Is this true?

A: I don’t know where you found this out but it's true. It was in the year 2004 when if you buy “Horlicks” you get a chess-set free with it. I was a very naughty kid; I would always be running and hiding and would be troubling my mother. So, to make me sit in one place, my father taught me and my sisters the rules of chess. And I got attracted to the game. After learning the rules, me and my sisters used to play against each other and I would be winning most of the games (they stopped playing chess after that). And then after a week I started winning against my father regularly. So that’s how it all started and I still am a big fan of “Horlicks”

After all, little boy Sidhant needed to be "taller, stronger, sharper"!

Q: It is never easy when it comes to coaching. It doesn’t come cheap. How did you manage? How was your talent ‘unearthed’?

A:  As I have said, my house is quite far from the main cities. So, when I was a kid I used to stay in the hostel of S.R. Chess Centre with Rabindra Kumar Ojha (a very experienced chess player and coach in Odisha), a tutor in the center. Staying there helped me a lot. I had the access to the chess library there. I could read and study many books and I could play practice matches with other strong players. It improved my game a lot. Then after some years I went to RB Ramesh for few camps but couldn’t afford them regularly due to the financial problems. Our state association organized two GM coaching camps from Farrukh Amonatov in the year 2013, which was immensely helpful. But after that, I was on my own for almost 3 years because there were no good trainers in my state and I had to go to another state for training, which was obviously quite expensive. But during these days Swayams Bhai (Swayams Mishra) was always there to help me. He was like a big brother and mentor.

Champion Sidhant in the making!


Q: You went to places internationally. Many players also wish to go abroad. But, it is a costly affair. How did you manage?

A: Actually, I have played few open tournaments abroad. I never had, and still don’t have any sponsor. So, it was very difficult for my father to send me abroad to play in tournaments on his own as we didn’t have a good financial status. Hence, I relied mostly on the tournaments in UAE which were a bit cheaper.

Q: Do you have any memorable incidents?

A: Yes, it was during the Dubai Open this year.  I was paired against GM Salgado Lopez. There was a rest day before the round. After I checked the pairing, I searched for his games in the database and I found out that he is playing almost everything against 1.e4, which is quite obvious for a guy who is above 2600 for many years. So I immediately messaged my coach and asked him what I should do. And on the next day, which was the free day, I with my roommates went to visit the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa. By the time we returned, it was already around 8 pm and I was very tired. After some time I got a message from my coach, asking me what I had seen on that day and I replied that I was out the whole day and now I was very tired. Of course, he wasn’t pleased to hear that. He told me that tomorrow you are playing against a guy, who is playing almost everything and today you went out. He was correct as I could not finish preparing against him. And before the game, I was cursing myself that I should have prepared on the rest day. But I won that game and beating a player like him was always memorable.

Q: How do you go about your chess preparation?

A: Since last year I have been working under Vishnu Prasanna. He is a great player and a great coach too. He bought the confidence back in me. He brings around lots of positivity in me. I learned a lot in my camps with him. We normally have a camp in every 3-4 months. And besides that, I play training games with my friends, which are equally helpful as well.
What else does one need when he is by his coach? With GM Vishnu Prasanna.

Q: What do you do in your spare time?

A: In my spare time, I like to watch movies or anime, listen to songs and go out with my friends. But most of the time, I would be sleeping.

Sidhant's favourite anime, Dragon Ball Z

Q: Which particular player do you idolize and why?

A: I like Bobby Fischer’s game a lot. I like the way he handles the position and craves for activity. The way he plays the Spanish Opening. The love for light-squared bishop. His endgame magic with Taimanov. His love for chess. The attitude to win (Sac, Sac, Mate!). And the fact that when I was a kid most of the books I read were about him.

The two legends who inspired Sidhant.


Q: You have inspired many chess players from small towns. A word of advice?

A: Well I would like to say to them that, there is nothing impossible in this world if you work hard and believe in yourself.

...and you'll get here someday!


Q: Finally, which do you think is your best game?

A: Well there are few good games I have played, but I think my games against Srinath in IIFL Mumbai 2016 and Salgado Lopez in Dubai Open 2017 were quite good.


(game Srinath vs Sidhant)

This game of Sidhant vs GM Srinath Narayanan, where Sidhant got his second IM norm, is a truly beautiful Sicilian Najdorf! But wait, there is more to come...

(game Sidhant vs Salgado Lopez)


Thank you for joining us on this interview. Congratulations once again! We wish you a pleasant future ahead.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Chess Species Classified!

Disclaimer: This article is based on real-life incidents and should not be taken offensively. This is taken from observations over time and NOT on any specific individual or on his/her traits. Your discretion is advised. 

Chess is always fun! I’m sure you will agree with me on it. Apart from winning, losing, emotions and atmosphere there is something else that spices up the game. I have an unusual habit of observing players that come by. Trust me, I am not being judgmental or sarcastic, but this is just part of me which I am born with. My mother often complains that I get distracted by this, but I can’t help but watch people and ‘admire’.

In all these years of playing chess, I have classified them into these types. Again, no fingers pointed at anyone.

Mr. Take your time: These people appear just five minutes before the walkover time when you’re drooling for that free point. They will slowly sit down, put the bag aside with no rush, put the coffee aside carefully, comb their hair neatly, fish their pen out, fill their scoresheet without any hurry, adjust the pieces on their fingertips as if they are meant to be kept as decoration, take an enormous breath, shake hands and finally, painfully play ‘e5’ and feather-touch the clock. Phew!!



Mr. Why so serious: They appear serious as if they had a bad morning, they never smile and they give a very cold and lifeless handshake. They don’t eat anything themselves and dislike their opponents eating as well. Any sound from another board and they will sulk while looking at that board with a pointed look. They dislike their opponents shaking their legs or pressing the clock hard. Win or loss, their expression is always the same- stony.

Ms. Perfectionist: Why ‘Ms’ is because it is more often girls than boys. They are pretty punctual, they carry a lot of stationary, as big as the cabin luggage all neatly kept on the table. They have impeccable handwriting and their movements are graceful, be it eating or drinking. They appear calm and do not show their emotions quite easily.



Mr. Made for eating: They generally carry a kitchen with them. They will munch and chew and repeat. Better are those polite ones who offer you their food. As if that wasn’t enough, you can see them after the game is over chomping on more food! Unmoved by the result they continue chewing.


Mr. Midget: These guys are better not messed with or underestimated. They are barely higher than the table yet they have an air of menace around them. They appear disinterested and clumsy, often accompanied by a runny nose, scattered footwear under the table, pen marks all over them and a half eaten pen. Never try to fix their ways; they know the rules very well. Beware!


Mr. Pins under their seat: These are the guys that rarely sit. The moment you write down your move and look up they are on the other side of the hall, spectating on other’s games. Their frequent standing sometimes gives the impression of winning. They seem to find the washroom so interesting that they go every alternate move. When they sit, they change their posture every ten seconds from Spider-man to Superman to Batman.


The Baby Bones: I say ‘Baby Bones’ but it is nothing to do with age. When it isn’t in their favour, they panic, they shake their legs vigorously, they start asking for draws, their eyes become red and they sniffle. When it is over, they become inconsolable. Nevertheless, they are fine ten minutes after coming out of the hall.


Well, isn’t it fun? I am sure, you too might have come across these types as well and maybe many more.

Honestly, I never had any problems with my opponents so far. None of them have tarnished the image of this game as far as I know. Chess has always been a royal game and has earned its respect as a gentleman’s game. After all, what is a game without these diversities!


Cheers!!


Avathanshu

Monday, 20 February 2017

Chesspreneur : Not child's play


    

Chess has been part of my life for the past five years. And in these lovely five years journey, I have learnt that Chess is not just a sport. It taught me patience, speed, faster decision making and most of all balancing loss and win. Mr. Frederic Friedel (CEO of ChessBase) has once said, "When a student learns chess very early, he/she not only learns to think logically, and think ahead, but mainly to concentrate on one subject." So success in this sport cannot be counted in the number of trophies you earned. But I feel that this beautiful game has not earned as much recognition as it should have.

I was thinking about this for quite sometime. How could I spread the awareness? How could I get people interested in this game? How could I make people to get better? I wanted to introduce chess to more people, spread the joy and help people to explore their inner strength. It would be so much better! But how do you do this? Then I hit up on a brainwave. There was going to be a local neighborhood fair called Powai Fest on the weekend. On inquiring, we got to know that we could put up a stall. 


Image result for powai fest 2017 logo
 The Powai Fest,an event  organised by Rotary  is popular with voice of Powai, Fashion Fiesta,and other contests with musical nights and other enthralling programs.

 I named my stall Chaturanga(Sanskrit word for Chess). It was a stall meant for chess. You could pay Rs 50 and play a blitz game against me; if you win you would get prizes. But you could also go over to the second part of the stall containing products of ChessBase India. There was Fritz and Chesster: Learn to play Chess and ChessBase Account. They both were appropriate because there were many beginners in Powai who were interested in chess and some who wished to enhance their chess abilities. As it turned out, many people already liked chess; they just needed that one good game to be interested to learn it.

Right from the naming to the banner to the prizes to  advertisement, I just loved the experience. I was in touch with Chessbase  India officials for all the information and they were happily involved in this.
Under Constuction.


My stall Chaturanga, where you could play or buy!

Come one, come all!

Age means nothing in Chess!!
Displaying IMG_0574.JPG
What a feeling when getting a prize for tournament in your local neighborhood
My stall was visited by ChessBase India's founder IM  Sagar Shah, and Co founder Amruta Mokal


There were some incidents that were quite startling. Once a gentleman had come to play a game against me and lost. Then after sometime, determined to beat me, he played again and lost again. Right before I ended for that day, he walked over and played one final game. By then we had got to know each other a bit. He lost this game too. On the next day, surprisingly, he was waiting for me even before I had reached the stall! I must say, chess is just too addictive! We ended up playing twice more. For his determination and love for the game, I gave him a ChessBase account of three months.

 After a few customers, I already felt like a skilled entrepreneur, which was obviously not true; I had completely lost count of the number of games that I had played and I was immersed in explaining the products. Business was fun, although not child's play!
CM  Aditya Mittal, India's rising star player visited the shop.
What a great feeling when your chess buddy, Ketan Patil, travels miles, just to encourage you! Priceless!






My friends Kavya,Kavin  Aditya are always by my side.
I think that I can now safely come to the conclusion that my idea did work satisfactorily. Many of the people who had visited my stall had wanted to know exactly what Fritz and Chesster was. There were so many who would play chess against me just to learn how to play or that were re-kindling their spirit for chess which they played abundantly in their youth. There were some very good players who were playing to warm up and beginners determined to beat me.  It was amazing to see just how many were secretly interested in this lovely game. I had a great time interacting with people. There are few  things I could have improved upon like advertisement and more appealing audio visual.  I am sure I will soon learn that.


What fantastic two days of my life! As my all time favourite author R J Palacio says in her book 'Wonder',


"The best way to measure how you’ve grown isn’t by inches or the number of laps you can now run around the track, or even your grade point average—though those things are important, to be sure. It’s what you’ve done with your time, how you’ve chosen to spend your days, and whom you’ve touched this year. That, to me, is the greatest measure of success."

Keep playing!
Avathanshu


Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Book Review: Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine


  
Last Chance to See is a book written by Douglas Adams (an English author and humourist) and Mark Carwardine (a zoologist). It comes under the genre of travel and wildlife. 

Douglas and Mark travel the world finding rare animals. Be it a mild kakapo or a ferocious Komodo dragon, Douglas and Mark are trying to raise the population of these creatures from passing on to extinction. This book is a humorous and factual book where the reader understands the danger of certain animals due to poaching.

If you are an animal lover and keen on wildlife, then this is the book for you! Even if you haven't the slightest idea on what this kind of a book is like (like me), it will still enthrall you with it's humour and story.

The story starts with Douglas 'not expecting' the fact that he was travelling to Madagascar with Mark Carwardine to find the aye-aye which no one had seen in years. It then unfolds into their journeys and their stays in various places.


The best parts are when Douglas and Mark miss a flight, or Douglas unable to cope with mosquitoes, or his ignorance of birds or one of those moments when the person you are speaking to doesn't understand what you are saying and you don't understand what he is saying.


Personal views- The book is one of the many other great books by Douglas Adams and, I think, is just as good. Once you get drawn  towards the book, you won't rest until it's over. So sit back and explore Komodo, Mauritius, China and more!

Another book by Douglas Adams is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which is another comedy sci-fi novel divided into five parts.

That's it for the book review on Last Chance to See. Hope you all enjoyed!

Keep reading!
Avathanshu