Tuesday 27 September 2011

Sweet dreams are made of this

A colleague of mine brought some blossoms into the office from his garden. Beautiful fragrant passion flowers. Their smell filled the room all day. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me and anyways for now cameras cannot capture aromas!

The flowers gave rise to a discussion about flower names in English and Oriya. Passion flowers, Passiflora  caerulea, is known as  “rada tamara”.

The flowers one sees at weddings are “rajanigandha”, Polianthus tuberosas, trying to find the common English name for this I found this great website about the flowers of India. Also I loved the comments on this  essential oils website  - “its fragrance can enhance the fantasy factor and give yield wonderful bedtime!” Bon rĂªve tout le monde!

So for any aspiring botanists coming to India please consult www.flowersofindia.com

Sunday 25 September 2011

Sci-fi blast from the past!

Forbidden Planet


Directed by


Fred M Wilcox


One of my childhood dreams was to  travel, to travel to the stars. I was awestruck by the heavens, by the likes of Telstar, Sputnik. Then, I could name you all the Soviet and American astronauts, men, women and dogs! I even sat in a Gemini capsule! I have no idea really where this craze originated from but it found its way through DC Comics, to Thunderbirds, to Doctor Who, to Star Trek, to Babylon 5, and beyond and to every sci-fi movie I have ever seen. The first one I remember was “Forbidden Planet” and I still have a fondness for this movie even now 55 years after it was made. Robby the Robot was I suppose the 1950s equivalent of Honda’s Asimo, and defined the genre. His classic response to a request to synthesise whisky of “will 60 gallons be sufficient?” still gets  me . Whoever wrote Robby’s lines had a wicked sense of humour. The film has a Hollywood ending when the captain gets his girl, and good triumphs over evil, and yes the plot is flawed in that a man of Dr Morbius’ intelligence should have realised what was generating the monsters, but a fan forgives. It is after all inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest. Looking at it now I love the  artwork of the scene sets of the desert landscapes where the spaceship lands, the green sky with its two moons. I read that there is going to be a remake of the movie for release in 2013, and inevitably there is a lot of hype surrounding it. I wonder if it will be as ground breaking, genre setting and long lasting as the original ?

ashramblings verdict : a classic 4*

Friday 23 September 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire Book 2 - A Clash of Kings

A Clash of Kings




George R R Martin


I think the second book in a trilogy or longer series always has a difficult time to sustain the  impact of the first. Its main function is to progress the story line. That this one does for all the main characters. Westeros is now at war , the clash of kings of  the title is heard everywhere, nothing and no one escapes. I thought the battle scenes were well written, very visual. Martin likes his blood and guts, rape and pillage, tales of loyalty and deception. He excelled in his description of the sea battle scenes at Kings Landing . His descriptions of wildfire reminded me of those of Dark Fire to be found in CJ Sansom’s book of the same name. In Book 2 Martin sends the reader up a false trail and has laid the ground work for continuing the tale in what was originally going to be a trilogy but which now runs to 5 books, with 2 further ones in the pipeline. My thirst for this story continues unabated.

 ashramblings verdict : onward! 3*

Related Reviews:  ashramblings review of Book 1 A Game of Thrones

Sunday 18 September 2011

When Dreams Go Bad

imageRequiem for a Dream


Directed by


Darren Aronofsky


I felt I needed something more substantial movie wise this weekend. I have long been waiting to watch Requiem for a Dream, having first encountered its director from watching Black Swan which impressed me greatly. Investigating, I found he had directed Ellen Burstyn in two movies and this meant I just had to see more. Burstyn starred in one of my all time favourite movies, the very romantic, personally poignant, Same Time Next Year with Alan Alda. Now at an age when major good parts for mature women actresses are few and far between (the film was made in 2000, she was born in 1932, and is still going strong) , here she was centre stage.

The storyline is simple, drugs ruin lives. Four people spiral out of control as their addictions late hold: the youngsters on smack; the mother ( Burstyn) on quack prescription pharmaceuticals to aid weight loss in the vain hope of becoming a TV quiz show contestant. The opening scene with her son stealing and selling her television sets up the storyline, the culmination of which for all four people is disastrous ……SPOILER, death, incarceration and  prostitution.

The camera tempo for the good times is smooth and normal. For other times it is very jarring, fast and furiously shifting to and fro. There is a juxtaposition of graphical images of drugs flowing through veins, of hallucinations, of the high and the lows, of the energies and the depressions, of the paranoia, of the withdrawal. There is some humour - I’ll never look at a refrigerator in quick the same way again especially when it makes an unexpected noise  :) – but these only serve to show how bad it gets.

This may be a hard film for some people to watch, but this is quite possibly the best anti drugs movie I have ever seen. If I had kids I’d  watch it with them and then discuss. But it is adult in its content, so judge for yourselves first.

 ashramblings verdict: Simply exceptional! 5*

Saturday 17 September 2011

The Blue Bedspread by Raj Kamal Jha

The Blue Bedspread




Raj Kamal Jha


This book is unique. I’ve certainly never read anything quite like it. Basically, a man’s sister dies. He takes her newly born child home for one night. New parents are to be found the next day. During that night he writes her stories. These are memories of his life, of his sister’s life, through their childhood, adolescence and adulthood in Calcutta The stories are often short fleeting glimpses. They mesmerise the reader. It is a kaleidoscope of thoughts streaming out of the man’s head onto paper. At one point he writes “maybe it’s memory trying to swim to the surface”  - well the waters are turbulent, oft times very murky. Out of sequence, reality and fiction mix, stories disjointed, touched on, left and returned to – the reader is left to make the whole. Some of the stories will make you remember your youth, bring a smile to your face : boy and girl go to the movies and get banned for back row activity! Others will profoundly disturb: the lengths his Princess went to for him and her to be together will stop you in your tracks. If you like your stories linear, then this is not for you. If you like your read to be like looking at an impressionist painting or watching a  dogma movie then this is a book for you.

 ashramblings verdict: If you can read it in one sitting, it is quite magical!  4*

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Calling all school teachers……

My landlady’s daughter is just about to sit here Term 1 exams for this academic year. She is in Class 9, at  an English medium school, which means all her subjects are taught in English. This is the first year of her education where this has been the case. She’s just been in to ask if I could find her some sample papers on the web. Oh how things change from my day :) No web, no sample papers at school level.

So it got me thinking how does the standard of education really compare?  Not having kids, nor an education background myself I thought I might share the link to the sample papers and ask if any teachers reading this would post their considered opinions.  Is the syllabus like what she would be studying if she was in school in your country?  Is the exam format the same as in your country? How alike is the syllabus?  How alike is the type of questions? Any other insightful thoughts and comments would be most interesting to hear.

Friday 9 September 2011

Turning one’s hand to many things….

P9080229When needs must one turn’s one’s hand to many things, especially when you are a volunteer :)  Here’s the tale!
A bit of history
Over a year ago it was clear there was a definite need to improve the quality of photographs taken by Shakti staff. Previously they had been working with cheap film cameras but had recently acquired a couple of compact digitals. However no one really knew how to use them properly. Consequently the resultant pictures were of poor quality – some over exposed, others under exposed – and the composition of the subject of the photograph left something to be desired.  Certainly very few were of suitable for scaling up or for use in a web site. I drafted a proposal to address this: and waited, and waited.
Then just when you thought it was never going to happen, it suddenly appears luminous on the horizon. “Can we do this on Thursday 8th September when members from all our project teams will be in town?” I was asked on Friday 2nd ! “Of course we can!” I say whilst thinking “OMG that’s less than a week, and one day I know is fully committed already, and one day is Sunday, oh that leaves at the most 4 working days. Can I really do a good job at short notice on a subject area that is not my forte?”
So Friday evening and Saturday I put on the thinking cap and identified what might be feasible to do and what should be left out. I reviewed what I had written way back in April 2010. I had originally been assuming we would be a photographer or a photography enthusiast with a development background  to present this training, not that I would end up doing it. Now I am no great photographer, and probably would have a hard job remembering enough high school physics to tell people how a camera works, but what I decided I could do was to design and deliver a workshop to encourage and motivate folks to take better pictures by discussing why photographs are important for our work at SHAKTI, review the various types of photos required and the reasons why, and show just how powerful a photo can be for reporting, for publicity and for fundraising.
On Monday I presented Mr Panda with a project plan complete with audience segmentation, use scenarios,  learning requirements, training objectives and draft course design. I got agreement with a couple of minor changes and I spent the rest of Monday & all of Tuesday scouring the web and the photo collection at Shakti for suitable images to illustrate various points and finalised the training photosets and prepared the presentation materials on Wednesday. I gave a final briefing to Mr Panda late on Wednesday evening after the project meetings had finished.
In a nutshell the workshop objectives would be to give staff
  • An understanding of why Shakti needs photos and how they will be used
  • An understanding of what constitutes a “fit for purpose” photograph
  • Knowledge of how to use their project cameras effectively
  • The ability to compose a photograph
  • The ability to plan and execute a series of photos for a project
The proposed training components would be
  • Introductory session  - why we take and how we use photographs in everyday life. Then relate this to why we take and how we use photographs at work – to report, publicise, fundraise
  • Interactive participatory session  - use photos to illustrate aspects like Point of View, the message or story in the photo, its emotional connection with the viewer etc. Aim to develop attendees ability to look closely and really “see” the image, its message, the composition, potential use and impact. Use photos which relate to social issues and to the areas in which Shakti works.
  • Breakout session (1) : Mix up the project teams. A collection of several different photos to each team. Review photos in light of points discussed earlier. Group presentations & discussion
  • Recap. Lunch Break
  • P9080223Photography 101 : An introduction to the basics and to the camera. Use studio photographer. Prepare briefing on what should be covered
  • Tea Break
  • Project Requirements  - Some events and occasions are common to all projects e.g. meetings, training workshops. Each project also has specific requirements for photos.  Some requirements are donor driven e.g. when funding includes provision for food for workshop  attendees it is necessary to report on lunch menu in order to prove what was given to whom and when. Use several series of photos showing points to remember when taking photos in specific situations (including meetings, focus groups, health camps etc),  to show methodology or approaches used (e.g. street plays, games, household mapping etc) for specific reasons (e.g. animal health vaccination administration, recording child weight gain, mother’s  haemoglobin blood test etc)   P9080181  
  • Breakout session (2) ; Split project team wise. Review the aim of your project. Identify a  typical forthcoming event/occasion to photograph which is going to occur in the next month. Draft a storyboard/ plan the days shooting. Groups presentations & Discussion
  • Feedback
  • 1 Month hence, project teams return with outcomes of planned photo shoot and lessons learnt, what went according to plan, what did not, what unforeseen things took place, any serendipitous good fortune etc . Award (small) prizes for best photos, best set etc .
  • Encourage sustainability by working with project managers to schedule photography planning as a regular project team meeting agenda item
Planning faced a minor preparation hiccup on Wednesday when we failed to find a studio photographer who could come at such short notice. Only on the Thursday morning did one of our staff locate one! In the end he arrived a little later than we had scheduled, had not been given the session brief, but he did a great job on explaining how to use and care for the cameras!
Overall the day was a great success as hopefully the accompanying pictures show.
Mr Panda took the Project Requirements Session and stood as translator for me for the other parts. Ok we ran over time: estimating timings when much has to be translated is still difficult to do accurately. Also half the group are new to Shakti so I had no experience of their level of competency in the topic area or how readily they would take to such a participative workshop. I’d recently attended one day of the CHILDLINE official training given by the national reps which had been mainly as lectures, classroom style.  In the end the group were marvellously talkative! After a few initial hesitant steps they got used to the interactive nature of the first session, and were in full flow by the time of the breakout sessions .
Yes I could have prepared the photo collections for the morning breakout session better, using ecopy rather than printed ones, but that was a constraint of time. In the end the second breakout session was rushed. The storyboarding idea did not take and the teams ended up planning an unconnected series of photos to take over the next month. But the upside is that they did plan and the have the thought of prizes to incentivize them to practice taking better photographs in the forthcoming weeks, and so embed, internalise and sustain the training. I will be following up with each of the project leads to make sure them schedule photography planning into their project team meetings, and with Mr Panda to ensure he does the same for his monthly project review meetings.
The feedback from the participants was most surprising and very gratifying
The training was beyond my expectation - very innovative, enriching and mind blowing. It was the need of the hour. Right training in right time and in right way. Thanks” Ramesh Nayak
Today’s programme was unique. It was a great opportunity to attend valuable training. I could learn many objects through this photography like as:  how to communicate a message, to think about the composition, wanted and unwanted messages, what is good and what is bad about a photo. I learnt why photography is important. It’s been really fruitful for me. Thanks” Suresh Lima
Comments like these really made a long day worthwhile and I went to bed giving myself a well deserved pat on the back!

Saturday 3 September 2011

A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1 A Game of Thrones


A Song of Ice and Fire Book 1 A Game of Thrones



George R R Martin


If you like fantasy novels then this is one for you. It may be a long book, but it sped by. I was thoroughly taken by the storyline, the more I read the more I had to read. As with all series some parts will be better than others so I will try and remember this and adhere to my philosophy of reading the whole set and treating it as a whole.

There's a multitude of characters, strewn across the united "Seven Kingdoms" of the land of "Westeros" the book. There's love, honour, sex, faith, betrayal, birth, death, madness, myth, magic and humour as the various house of the kingdoms go to war – you play the Game of Thrones to win else you die and in that way it is reminiscent in parts of the sort of stories found in a Star Trek holodeck with the safety turned off, with even The Khal seeming to remind me of Woolf with his mixture of Klingon fight and his softer sensitive side. 

Some of the characters are clearly "baddies", other clearly "goodies", but some, for whom I have a growing liking and admiration, I am at this stage much less sure about - Tyrion the dwarf, Dany the Dragon Princess. Then there is the ever present, mostly unseen threat from beyond the Wall which the 'Men in Black' patrol. Everything you expect from a story made to last.

The book has been filmed for TV by HBO and I think it should suit episodic filming very well. In particular the visually spectacular ending of Book 1 which did not disappoint me at all and hooked me into Book 2. Martin certainly nailed the ending!