Sunday, July 29, 2007

The great Indian Jinx

It would be a heart-breaking day for all the Sania Mirza fans around the globe. She has just lost the finals of the Bank of the West Classic tournament in Stanford, California. This was one good chance for her to win a second WTA title after the first one in Hyderabad. Having beaten 3 top-twenty players in the run-up to the final, she looked to be on course for the title. But then she has meekly succumbed to her opponent in the final.

I did not see the match, but just followed the scores through the net. From the way, the score board ticked, the final score (6-3, 6-2) and from the total duration of the match, it looks like Anna Chakvetadze had the upper hand throughout the match. And that is why she was the top seed in the tournament.

Sania on her part seems to have been bitten by the "Great Indian Sports Jinx". She appeared to play really well all through the tournament and finally when it is time to reap the benefits of her performance, she stumbles in the last hurdle. This seems to be a jinx that is affecting all spheres of Indian sports (It even seems to affect me at my level of playing any game :) ). Our sportsmen in so many disciplines, be it cricket, weight lifting, Boxing, hockey, tennis, shooting, archery ... seem to be doing well until the final stage of a tournament. But then something overcomes them and they seem to fail at the last moment. We've witnessed this so often in major tournaments - World cups, Olympics, Asian games, Commonwealths and so on.

Sports always takes a backseat in India. As long as the government and the public do not give importance to this field, we should not expect any great results. But this doesn't mean that there are no talented sports persons in our country. We know that they are capable of winning and we see some good performances in smaller tournaments. But somehow they fail to deliver in the big stage. This seems to afflict all sports irrespective of how popular the sport is. We all hope this jinx is broken soon and we see some good results. Sania has to play the doubles finals now and she is also taking part in a tournament in San Diego next week. Hope she sees some success there.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Potter - After the hallows

Spoiler Warning: This post will contain references to the story of Harry Potter and the deathly hallows and will discuss some parts of the story.

So, the wait is finally over. The final edition of Harry Potter has come out. I was eagerly waiting for my copy on Saturday when my friend from India boasted over the phone that he has received his copy. Finally the book came in by around 10:30 am. I brought it in, unwrapped it and immediately called my friends to do my bit of boasting :) I started reading by 1:00 pm, and completed the book by around 12:30 pm the next day.

Now, coming to my impressions of the book. Overall it is a good story. Most of the plot is on expected lines (atleast my expectations), but there are a few unexpected things too.

Looking at how Rowling killed Dumbledore and Sirius, I expected her to finish off either Ron or Hermoine. But she has played safe and kept both of them well and alive. In fact, eventually Ron marries Hermoine and Harry ties the knot with Ginny. I would've been heartbroken, but that might have done justice to Voldermort's power. And all along, Rowling kept saying that we're delaing with a great war and so loss of some of the bigger characters should be anticipated. But the people who died are no doubt important, but by no means the main pivotal characters - Mad-eye, Dobby, Fred, Lupin, Tonks etc.

Sometime back I received a fake 7th potter book (fan-fiction). That author had paid a great deal of attention to every small bit of information that Rowling has provided in her first six books. Plus she (I remember the author is a lady, but not her name). She has also carefully analysed the small clues that Rowling provided about her seventh book. The basic storyline of this fake book is so much like the Actual book (Or should I say the reverse, since the reverse came out first?). In both the books, the horcruxes are the Locket, Ravenclaw's diadem, helga hufflepuff's cup and finally Harry himself. And the person who stole the locket is 'Regalus black', sirius' brother. this has been guessed by so many people in the discussion forums. We just cannot think otherwise. The raven claw's tiara is vaguely specified in HBP to be on a bust in the room of requirements. Both books have placed that exactly in the same place in this book. I'll give more credit only to the author of the fake book. And there are similarities in the retrieval of Hufflepuff cup too. In the fake book, Harry goes to the house of Hufflepuff and goes to someother place through a cupboard and fights a dragon to get the cup. In the original book, the trio steal it from Bellatrix Lestrange's vault in Gringotts and in the process makes use of a dragon to escape.

A special mention should be given to the cup retrieval. For all the hype given about the safety of gringotts, it seems to be childishly simple for Harry, Ron and Hermoine to go in and steal voldermort's most treasured article from one of the most secure and guarded vaults. If this is the case, then I can't imagine, how lax the security will be at ordinary times.

I really liked Dobby's appearance and sacrifice. The author has cleverly used the available options to help Harry come out of difficult situations. Dobby's innocence and unfailing devotion to the person who set it free is really moving. This is to just show the effect of love on a person. We should not think any creature as being lowly and inferior. We should learn to love everything around us.

Hermoine is absolutely brilliant. She compliments the Hot-headed Harry and the emotional Ron very well. Her expert knowledge on the complex charms, quick-thinking abilities are visible throughout the story. The way she led the three of them to safety after Bill's wedding, their escape from the ministry, escape from Lovegood's house etc. But as lovegood says, she has a narrow view. That is why she refused to believe about the hallows.

The hallows themselves are just additions to the plot. They are like a distraction for Voldermort from his main quest of destroying Potter. Gaunt (Voldy's grandpa) mentions that he descended from a Peverell. Then Dumbledore says that Harry is a descendant of Ignotus Peverell, the youngest of Peverell. Voldermort is younger than Dumbledore, but elder than James and Lily. So in a way, Voldy is a very distinct uncle to Harry. :):):) Harry and Voldy are related. I remember that in HBP, Voldy is said to be the descendant of Salazar Slytherin. so that means, Harry is also related to the slytherin line :)

Rowling has taken it in her mind to talk about Dumbledore's past. And to make it interesting, he has portrayed him to have been briefly overcome by desire to rule over the world and dominate the muggles. Isn't this exactly what Voldy is now trying to do? Of course, Dumbledore comes to his senses, mainly due to the death of his sister. Makes an interesting read, but this doesn't seem to make a difference to the story. Anyways, Dumbledore fought Grindelwald and confiscated the Elder wand. So it doesn't matter if they were friends before or not.

And Rowling has done justice to Neville. The poor guy has always had an inferiority complex all through his life and had difficulty coping with his studies. The manner in which he resisted the death-eater shows the warrior in him. And the loyalty he shows towards the end, that makes the Gryffindor sword appear before him and the way he killed Nagini are simply brilliant. But to make this point, Rowling has made Voldy summon the sorting hat and show some tricks. Just like our tamil cinema, where the villain will have the gun and the hero will be unarmed. Inexplicably, the villain will throw the gun off and will say that he doesn't need a gun to finish off the hero. :)

And Rowling is using the Love-protection clause so often in her stories. It has become an overdose. Whenever Harry is face-to-face with Voldermort, some aspect of love comes in and Harry is saved. As bad and filled with hatred Voldermort is, he would've found a way over this. He is not some petty thief to not be able to master over this. And the final duel between Harry and Voldermort is just too simple. This is not a dueling clib match, where Voldermort and Harry fire spells at the same time. Voldermort is an accomplished legilimens and would be able to read Harry's mind within seconds. And he's also skilled in non-verbal spells, whereas Harry is not. He can cause incredible damage just by thinking a spell. For the hype given to him, I felt that he can just obliterate everything and everyone in the great hall.

Rowling has been portraying Harry to be just a school kid with some additional powers bestowed upon him by a sequence of events during his childhood. He does not possess any extra-ordinary magical power. At the same time, she has to show him as a hero matching Voldermort, the greatest wizard of all times. She has handled that really well to some extent. Whenever Harry is stumped, his mediocrity is well complimentede by the brilliance of Hermoine. Even though Harry is the center of the entire book, he does not do everything alone. He is helped by various people . Ron, hermoine (obviously), Aberforth at hogmeade, Luna a couple of times, Snape in delivering Gryffindor sword, griphook in gringotts, narcissa in the forbidden forest, Neville in killing Nagini, Dobby from Malfoy manor and Dumbledore himself from his portrait through Snape, Fred, George, Mad-eye and so on. That is good. Obviously Harry cannot handle this alone. But he handles the final duel with Voldermort to justify him being the hero. But I guess that is the main crux of the story. You need to love people. Harry's love for the people around him, made them rally around him (though the prospect of getting rid of Voldy is another reason), stand up in his defense when Parkinson talks about handing him over to Voldy. Of course, Voldy also had his set of faithful followers. But that was due to fear rather love (except probably Bellatrix. She seems to be totally in love with him).

The handling of Snape is yet another masterpiece from Rowling. And I'm happy that my instinct about this before reading the book had been correct. After saving Potter for so many years, it just didn't make sense that he suddenly switched sides . And simlarly I was right in telling that Dumbledore will help Harry in some way (Though he did not pass on any power as I suspected). But I do not like the prospect of talking portraits. In the earlier books, this looked good - the photos just moving about. But now all the photos are talking, thinking and just behaving as if they are in real world. Just one another way Rowling has used things to explain some part of the story.

It is unfortunate the "Mcgonagall spy" theory didn't come true. But it was fun thinking in that angle. but I myself never believed it. But I feel that she is just a waste of space. For a teacher of her caliber, she has not done anything worth-while in any of the books. This book is no exception. She makes her appearance only towards the end and runs here and there fighting. So did so many others. But did she do anything extra-ordinary. No, Nothing. Many other like Mad-eye, Snape, Trewlany (atleast she gave the prophecy), hagrid made some contibution through the series. Similarly Ginny also didn't have any role. She's like a heroine in Tamil movies who appear just to fall in love with the hero and dance a few duets (Of course, she did have a good role in COS, though she didn't do much even there.)

All these days, Rowling has been saying that some non-magical person will perform magic. But I don't recall anyone like that from this story. I'm not sure if I missed that. If any of you know about this, let me know.

I see a lot of similarities between this and the fake book. In the fake book, Harry will lure voldermort to the ministry of magic and use Avada Kedavra on him. At the same time, he holds the golden snitch and created a horcrux from his soul which effectively rips off Voldy's soul from Harry. In Rowling's book, Harry gets a snitch from Dumbledore, Hermoine researches about the Horcrux and finds out how to create it. But then towards the end, the snitch just opens up to reveal the "resurrection stone". And I really did not see any use for the stone. In what way Sirius, Lupin, James and Lily help Potter when he went into the forbidden forest? They followed him for sometime and he just let the stone slip from his hand and they vanished. Did Rowling originally intend to put the snitch to the same use as in the fake book? But then after reading the fake one, she probably changed her mind. I got this feeling in many places throughout the book. For example, Bill and Fleur marriage is also so similar in both the books.

A review in Time magazine has specified that the "Accio" charm is childishly simple. At one point, they say "Accio Hagrid". Why didnt Voldy get this idea? When there are seven copies of Potter at the beginning, all he should've done is "Accio potter" and the real one would've come zooming to him or atleast struggled against the charm :):):)

I thought that there are only 7 pieces of Voldy's soul. But in this book, it seems that there are eight: Seven horcruxes namely Riddle's diary, Ring, Cup, diadem, Nagaini, Locket and finally harry. Then the last piece of Voldy's soul is with himself. That makes it eight.

We can keep asking lots of questions like this and give zillions of opinions. But we should admit that it is a good piece of work from Rowling. It is not easy to tie all loose ends together and provide some acceptable solution. She has done that job really well. She is a master story-teller.

A few of my predictions / theories have come true - Dumbledore's help, Snape's goodness, Fred/ Lupin's death, Neville's role. Some have gone wrong - Ron/Hermoine's death, Kreacher helping Voldy, Draco's death etc. But on the whole, it doesn't look bad :):):)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Potter - Before the hallows

Today is July 20, 2007. Time is 11:51 pm. Exactly 9 minutes later, Rowling will read from her final edition of Harry Potter - the series that captivated the entire world for the past decade. Never have I heard of any literary work winnig the hearts of such a wide range of fans - children, adults, whites, blacks, browns and what not.

And I'm sitting here at my home like millions of potter fanatics around the world, painfully waiting for the final edition of the series. And like them, I've also pre-ordered a copy of the hallows and am expecting it to be delivered tomorrow. So, before immersing myself into the final edition, I'm putting down my thoughts, ideas and expectations. I'll follow this up with a "After Hallows" blog once I finish reading the book. Let's then compare my thoughts and expectations with what Rowling has actually created.

The first six books have built an elaborate plot based on very simple concepts : Good Vs Evil, power of love, friendship etc. All these are themes handled by countless authors, but not many have been as successful as Rowling. Now the final edition is expected to tie all the open ends of the plot and provide a exciting feast for its fans.

So what is one guaranteed ending to this series ? Voldermot will be destroyed and the good will triumph over evil. But how will this come about? Will Potter die along with Voldy? Who else will die? As the series progressed, the story kept becoming darker and darker. So I'm sure this will be no exception. My bet is that either Ron or Hermoine or even both will die in this edition. This is my first bet. Even Harry might die. But that will break the hearts of millions of fans. I myself will be soooo disappointed. But Rowling may just want that.

Next comes the question of how Harry, a seventh year student (?) is going to win over Voldermort, one of the greatest wizards of all time. Voldy specializes in wordless spells, that too one of the most powerful ones that no one else knows about. He is an accomplished occlumens whereas Harry is very poor in this. So Harry will have some special help. I've a few guesses:
  1. Dumbledore is going to give Harry with some kind of power to Harry or is going to help Harry in some way. His death is going to aid Harry, like how Lilly's death saved Harry. The circumstances of Dumbledore's death is highly suspicious. However weak he might be, I think he could have protected himself against Draco. His delay there, led to snape interfering. Plus he also stupefied Harry. All these will have a better explanation and effect.
  2. I still trust Snape, probably more than Dumbledore himself. All through the five books, he has been protecting Harry. Then all of a sudden, he goes to Voldy's side. His reasons are not so convincing. I feel this is all a part of a plan between him and Dumbledore. He'll probably be the one helping Harry, while at the same time pretending to be a death-eater. He is an accomplished legilimens, so his thoughts cannot be read by Voldy.
  3. Whoever this RAB is, he's also going to help Harry in some way.
  4. I came across some discussions which proposed that Mcgonagall is Voldy's super-spy. I've always complained that she is fit for nothing and is just a side character who does nothing significant. But what if these discussions are true? It gives a different angle. And We can expect rowling to do something like this. But somehow, the character portrayed by Maggie Smith in the movies doesn't give me that impression. She is more like a headmistress than a spy. This link analyses each of the six books and tries to establish mcgonagall as a spy, some of which are quite convincing:
  5. The other important characters like Hagrid, Lupin and atleast one of the weasley brothers might die. On Voldy's side, Lucius, Bellastrix, Narcissa might die.
  6. Draco might die trying to protect his father or might end up at the good side (even if reluctantly), after seeing that his father is prepared to sacrifice draco to save himself.
  7. Rowling has said that Umbridge will have a role again. Maybe she'll again mess things up.
  8. Kreacher might follow Dobby's footsteps i.e. become free. But he might work like a spy and feed voldy with info. Or he might devise some plan to make it harder for Harry to find the horcruxes.
  9. Neville longbottom is going to play some good role here. Mostly Bellastrix lestrange will be killed by Neville - revenge for what she had done to his parents.
  10. Rowling has said that one non-magical character will perform magic. and she herself has ruled out Petunia. I think the person is Dudley. Though I can't imagine what it is. But Petunia is someway related to harry's childhood and is going to play a part.
I do not want to guess what the horcruxes might be. I've read the fake potter book (I know it is fake because it has a happy ending, which is so unlike rowling. And not many people died) and as per the book, the horcruxes are ravenclaw's tiara, hufflepuff's cup, locket stolen by RAB and potter himself. With this idea in mind, I'm not able to think of any other credible alternative.

Finally seeing how Rowling approaches her books, I don't think this book is going to have a "Lived Happily ever after" ending. Even if Harry is alive at the end, he's going to be all alone, having lost his friends (possibly Ginny too). The World would be rejoicing, but Harry will be crying in his heart, all alone in this world.

I'm preparing myself to be heart-broken at the endding that Rowling would have given to this series.

That's it for now. I'll get back after reading the book. We'll see how close my thoughts were to Rowling's.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Evolution - yesterday, today and tomorrow...

Sometime back I saw a program in the history channel about evolution of life. It was really fascinating. It is as though nature is playing a game - something similar to playing with the Lego building blocks. The natural elements are the building blocks in this case. Before starting with the creation of life, the stage needed to be set. From what man has postulated so far, this started with the big bang. Then it took billions of years to get the stage ready. Looking at the sequence of events, it looks like nature is gradually building things by trial and error.

  1. About 5 billion years ago, the sun is formed and remaining debris are allowed to coalesce into planets, moons and asteroids.
  2. All the planets cool down, settle into their relative orbits and start rotating around the sun, paving way to season and weather patterns.
  3. Here each planet seem to have a different characteristic - probably samples of different conditions. Mercury - small and hot; Venus - has excessive carbon-di-oxide and atmospheric pressure; earth - has liquid water and oxygen, Mars - has thin methane based atmosphere and violent storms, Jupiter - a gas giant with lot of hydrogen and so on.
  4. Then the organic elements in earth are fused together to create the first single cell organism.
  5. At this time, the continents look very different. There is just a single giant continent. It is like how we keep changing our designs while building something. The continents continuously keep drifting about forming different land masses.
  6. The single celled organism slowly evolves into complex life forms. The majority of life forms are concentrated in the oceans. Then slowly life spreads over land.
  7. Life multiplies in the oceans and the continents. but what about the skies? They are devoid of life? Then nature creates birds to fill the skies.
  8. The land is quite swampy and the plant life looks very different. The world is ruled by reptiles. Huge dinosaurs roam the planet. The scene must be as chaotic as it was depicted in the Jurassic park movies. It was an age where physical size dominated mental capabilities.
  9. Then suddenly it looks like nature didn't like the path that evolution is taking. Just huge reptiles roaming about and killing each other. Nature has already tried different forms of reptiles, birds and fishes. So how to reverse this evolutionary path? The answer is a meteorite. A huge meteorite strikes the earth and wipes out a major chunk of life on earth. It just happens so quickly in geological terms. The huge dinosaurs are wiped and the slate has been wiped clean. But Nature is careful not to obliterate life totally. It is like pressing ctrl +z just the required number of times.
  10. Now the land form changes. The swamps start drying out and out came mammals. this time nature is careful not to bring about such huge monstrous creatures like the dinosaurs.
  11. But this time nature decides to go one step further. A thinking mammal evolves - man.
  12. Now man starts doing some of Nature's work. He changes the character of dogs, cows, pigs etc by domesticating them. He alters landscapes to suit his needs.
From that point onwards, man has come a long way in his work. He is trying to alter nature at will. The entire evolutionary process has changed because of this. Plants and animals that would have thrived under the absolute rule of nature are now dying out due to man's interference. Similarly life forms that might have been eliminated by nature's plans are being preserved by man's conservation efforts.

In the past, forests grew and disappeared, species developed and became extinct on their own. no one tried to stop either of these. But now man is interfering with every single activity. He is not allowing other life forms to flourish and develop nor is he allowing other life forms to die out on their own.

After man arrived on the scene, how has evolution progressed? I'm not sure. Physically man has changed in appearance from apes and gorillas. And he started looking different in different parts of the world. But now with increased movement of humans across the globe, he has started interbreeding. So probably 1000 years down the lane, all these differences between humans might disappear. And what about other life forms? Many will die out and new ones will be born - but rather than being a direct work of nature, this time it might be due to man's work in genetic modification and such work. Probably nature is driving man through his intellect to further the evolutionary process.

But as with the dinosaurs, will nature again try to change its plans? Will it again try to erase the slate clean and start over? I personally believe it will. If so, how will it happen? Will it be through man? He is already standing ready to wipe the slate clean - nuclear weapons, biological weapons, pollution climate change and what not? But how many times is nature prepared to press ctrl+z? Probably nature will attempt a complete shift+delete and use this experience in a different game - establish a better system of life in some other planet / galaxy?