Review: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

I read this book more than a year ago – the e-book version. Then I went and picked up the hard copy of the book because some books just don’t cut it in the e-version. You need to hold the book and savour it.

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is one of the coolest books I’ve read in a long, long time! And I’m someone who consistently meets the GoodReads 50 Books A Year Challenge. The storytelling is so fluid and easy, yet compelling, that you are switch between timelines and plots without that common jarring interlude. I_Am_Pilgrim_-_hardback_UK_jacket

This is a spy thriller, a remanent of the John Le Carre days, set in the modern world. The spies are more intelligent, more severe and so is the other side.

The plot begins, very simply, at the scene of a murder. A murder that seems to be the perfect crime, with absolutely no clues. And it seems to have drawn a lot of inspiration – in terms of how to clean up a crime seen – from one of the protagonists’ books.

The other protagonist is a man born into Islam, a firm believer. His father’s execution by a particular Islamic regime becomes the reason he turns to terrorism, as he believes that they were responsible of the corruption of the society, which eventually led to his father’s death. It is beautifully and compellingly written, drawing us into two distinct worlds and its underbelly without missing a step.

The two men, on ends of the world, and on two distinct paths, are forced to intersect when the former is set on the chase of the latter – and he needs to find him before the man can execute his simple, yet terrifying plan.

Unlike the deluge of crap books and movies that sets everything in the US of A, much of the action here happens outside the US. In little towns, described so well that you can almost smell the dust on the streets.

This is a book that deserves to be read in hard copy. Make sure you have ample time to finish the book because it sure is hard to put down!

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Windows vs MacBook

I’ve been a Windows user for… well, all my life. I started with those little DOS systems where you’d to enter C: prompt commands to login. Then there were some laptops and some computers that seem tortoise-level slow today. Some worked great. Some were bad. But they were all, without fail, Windows.

In 2017, however, I switched to MacBook. It wasn’t a brand preference so much as the fact that the config I wanted was the cheapest in MacBook compared to other Windows-OS systems. About 50% cheaper.

Disclaimer: Now, before I go ahead, this has been the most powerful laptop I’ve ever owned, with SSD and all that. I’ve used great desktops but laptops were more functional and everyday.

The first week was pure hell. Apple does everything backward. Including the mouse scroll. I told myself to be patient. Any new system needs time to get adjusted.

#Con: The most annoying then was the placement of the Cmd, Option and Ctrl buttons. Awkward.

#Con: Pages app was designed by someone who obviously doesn’t do much writing. Of course, I was yet to learn the keyboard commands but a lot of things I took for granted in Microsoft Office were missing – in Pages, in Numbers. I figured out some customisations after a week (and this was why I would never go for Macs earlier – they really aren’t fans of customisations of any sort, even internally).

#Pro: But KeyNote – that was pure pleasure. As a design lover, it was wonderful designing presentations with ease. A lot of the design was instinctual and the new update has taken it to a new level.

#Con: Of course, that lasted till I made something, converted to powerpoint and sent it to a Windows user. The file was 65 MB. Needless to say, the recipient was not too happy.

MacBook, like everything in the Apple universe, works great within the universe they have designed. This universe does not even begin to acknowledge the existence of another world out there, a bigger world.

For someone who is a true fan of open source and customisation, I found it hard to work within the Mac’s ecosystem.

#Pro: While the MacBook works great for photo editing, creating powerpoint presentations. However, for other basic work, I really miss my customisation options.

#Pro: On the positives again, I do love the speed of the laptop, attributable to SSD; and of course, the battery life. I do know that Jobs’ ethos was about integrating software and hardware in a manner that it functions optimally, hence, he wasn’t really a fan of allowing people to do what they wanted. But I really do wish we could customise a little more than what’s possible right now.

#Con: The last grouse I had was about having to pay for all apps! Guys, it is 2017. I shouldn’t have to pay for a basic notepad app!

#Pro: But at the price what I paid, the laptop does work great and does everything it is supposed to. Additionally, unlike Windows systems, I get system updates consistently and do not have scrounge the internet for drivers after a couple of years. Bugs are minimal, and there hasn’t been a time that my computer has hung.

#Meh: Of course, I don’t really like the prompt asking me to create and sign in to an iCloud account, but well, Google & Windows are getting there as well.

#Meh: And then there’s the snob factor. The MacBook instantly creates a “Ooh” moment when you pull it out. And the weight factor is definitely a plus, when you are lugging around the laptop all day.

Would I have gone for a MacBook if not for the price? Nope. Do I regret buying it? Nope.

 

Has Life Really Changed After Demonetisation?

The blackish-golden anniversary of Demonetisation. This was definitely the biggest defining moment politically in my lifetime. After all, I was not a child of the freedom movement, nor was I around during emergency. I was around when the economy opened up in the early 90s, but that was a gradual impact.

Something as explosive as this? Yep. First time. And a part of me hopes there will be more and a part of me hopes for a quieter life.

Has life really changed after demonetisation? Living in Bangalore, I could perhaps say yes. My grocery store accepts PayTM now. I can pay as low as 10 bucks in PayTM. People who would have never gotten a bank account are online now and use it frequently.

I’ve fallen back to the habit of carrying little to no cash (picked up on my days abroad). So yes, I can live without cash now.

But what about outside Bangalore?

I still ensure that I carry cash when I go traveling. Because especially after demonetisation, there is a fear of ATMs running dry. That is the biggest nightmare. Stranded somewhere without money. Because a lot of other towns and cities are not as happy with online transactions. Card machines don’t always work. Or they say they don’t work, because they still do not trust banking and online transactions.

The culture of cash and mistrust of banks is too deeply rooted in us to be removed by one round of demonetisation. It isn’t just the corrupt guys who like to keep cash. It is everyone. My parents. Maybe your parents. My neighbours. I’m sure your neighbours too.

Did corruption come down? I seriously doubt it, especially since the number people asking for bribes or cutting short things hasn’t really gone down.

But in a country like India, the only way we’ll ever do anything is if we are dragged, albeit, kicking and screaming. So maybe the demonetisation did not entirely work as intended but it did make us aware of online payments, get a section of people on it, and it taught us how to stand in line. Pretty good for a first attempt, I guess.

Happy anniversary!

Why Do We Refuse to Believe in Global Warming?

I’ve read about global warming for nearly two decades now. Earlier, it was a concept.

“The world could get too hot to live.”

Then, it was a slight warming. “Perhaps the world shouldn’t be getting so damn hot, because it’ll be destroyed.”

And yet, though there are certain factions who are alarmed about it, the fact of global warming is yet to sink into our collective mindsets.

It is hard to believe in global warming as anything more than reality, especially to us living in the cities, disconnected from nature. If the summer gets too hot, we crib and turn the AC on higher. If the winters seem colder, we pull on an extra blanket. If the food prices go up, we crib but shell it out.

Very rarely do we connect these things to global warming, or to our actions.

Global warming is not an isolated thing. It isn’t about eating beef, and leading to a rise of methane in the air because of excessive cattle rearing. It isn’t about using ACs or deodorants. It isn’t about deforestation. At least, not about all these alone.

I’ve been aware of our impact on the environment for a long time. Infact, with a family like mine, it was hard not to be. My mother would ensure that we switched off the lights and the fan in a room when we left it. She told us not to waste food. Some lessons stuck. Some didn’t. It wasn’t about the electricity bill or water bill. It was about the fact that we were taking something from the environment. She sowed the first seeds for our consciousness, though what we’ve done beyond that is entirely up to us. Perhaps I would’ve gotten around to thinking about this, but it might have taken more time.

I’ve grown up around farmers, and know what? Even farmers didn’t blame ‘global warming’ for freak rains and floods and droughts. They just called it nature. Sure, it is nature, but how long are we going to pretend that we aren’t impacting it?

The coral reefs are dead. There are several species that perhaps died out before we could even discover them. Every one of our actions has a reaction.

Yet, when a government proposes building an airbase on an uninhabited island, they don’t talk about global warming and how the destruction of species on that island would impact the broader ecosystem. This could be the same government talking about it otherwise, but they cannot afford to in that case because national security trumps global warming.

A real estate company that’s holding marathons to talk about this phenomenon is destroying lakes and rivers, forest lands. While they would market their apartment complexes as ‘green’ they wouldn’t talk about the price paid for it, and by that I don’t mean in terms of rupees. They wouldn’t talk about the ecosystems they’ve destroyed to build these apartments.

 

We do not have a consciousness about our every day actions. Actually, it is not possible to be. It is about living our life the way we want to. Plastic bags are convenient. We want to come back to a cool room, so we keep the AC running through the day. We want a cool car when we are driving, and keep the windows up and the AC running.

We throw around plastic bottles, bags and more on beaches. Various things that get into the water and choke animals and birds.

It used to make me wonder how this wasn’t just common sense. This wasn’t something that I was taught, at least not consciously. Do we really have to tell people that they are killing themselves and the world?

Travel The World Under $5000: Myth or Reality?

When I was 21, I wanted to travel the world. Well, that dream was the same since I was about 5 years ago and I found that the world extended beyond my road corner. Except at the age of 21, I was intent on finding a way to pay my way to travel the world.

Blogging was yet to become a full-time profession but there were fascinating travel blogs around any way and they all talked about ‘How to travel the world under $1000’ or ‘Quit Your Job & Travel The World’. But honestly, none of these seemed quite plausible at the moment. It required savings, planning and a whole bunch of other things, including one crucial element – a passport that allowed visa on arrival to a lot of countries. And that typically meant a U.S. or a European passport. Strike 1.

Secondly, coming from a country whose currency was at a disadvantage to the dollar, $5000 was a hell lot of money. At the average conversion rate of 65 bucks to a dollar, that was over 3 lakh Indian rupees. That’s the entire year’s salary of a starter job. So when I did the math, I realised that these blogs were written for people who were talking in $$$. Strike 2.

I needed an entirely new system for people like me. The ones who did not have the advantage of holding passports that entailed visa on arrival to all the cool places. The ones where airlines were yet to introduce the concept of ‘air miles’, let alone crazy last-minute deals.

My typical travel trip? Struggle to get a last minute train or bus ticket to a place that wasn’t longer than 12 hours. Then struggle to get a room that suck away my week-long budget and then fit in the rest. But I’m not complaining. I found some awesome deals, learnt to bargain (sorta) and had some great experiences.

Of course, I couldn’t ever fly off to Spain because I found a cheap airline ticket. I had to get a visa etc. But there was so much more to do here!

I discovered hidden cafes in Goa. Nearly missed my train in Hampi and then slept the rest of the day waiting for the train on the dusty platform. I found fantastic beach-side shacks that offered a great view of the ocean but nothing else in terms of comfort.

Traveling internationally as a U.S, U.K or European passport holder is a very different story from traveling as an Asian. We are more budget conscious (and naturally develop a calculator in your head when you’ve to figure out how much exactly you are paying for that slice of pizza in euros). So as an Indian, the under $5000 travel, did seem like a myth.

 

Conversations with Cabbies #1

Introduction

Uber & Ola (India) have introduced a new dimension to our lives. As a user, of course, the convenience of calling a cab to your doorstep. The bigger change, however, is to the life of the drivers.

The popular mode of private public transport was the auto rickshaws in many cities till the advent of these cabs. Infact, the only place that did have cabs was Mumbai, fondly called ‘kaali peeli’ describing the yellow and black coloured cabs.

However, the arrival of app-based cab service turned the ecosystem upside down. Cab  and auto rickshaw drivers typically were on the low-end of the earning scale. Rickshaw drivers were also perceived as time wasters, who bought an auto and just worked when they wished like.

With Uber & Ola, suddenly the earning potential exploded multi-fold. I’ve heard stories from the older cabbies about earning more than 60 grand a month (the salary of a 3-4 year experienced IT techie – one of the most coveted jobs in India). Infact, I did have conversations with many cabbies about how they not just earned enough to pay off their car loan, but were able to buy a couple more cars and were running it with part-time or full-time drivers.

This rags-to-riches stories attracted people from smaller towns and soon, we had a a ton of people flooding in to be cab drivers. And then reality set in. Companies yanked incentives, the drivers had to work insane hours but the legend lived on. And so they continue to work as cabbies.

When you meet as many people as a cabbie does, there are bound to be great stories. I’m sharing some of the ones I’ve heard directly from them.

Story 1:

The journey was for more than an hour. It was close to 10.00 PM or later, but there was a bit of traffic (when isn’t there traffic in this city!).

“I was just getting ready to switch off the app when your call came in,” the driver said. Now, this is a story that I’ve heard before, and sometimes leads to requests for extra money. My typical answer to this the question “Where do you stay”.

He said he didn’t have a house in Bangalore. Infact, he bought the car 4 days ago and had come in to the city 3 days ago from a little town about 3 hours away. He had been sleeping in his car for the past two nights, and bathing at the public bathrooms when he got a chance.

I had heard stories of such newbie drivers before but most of them had a friend in the city where they could crash for a couple days.

“I don’t really want to stay with anyone. I actually don’t want to stay in this city itself. I’m going to head back tonight.”

He went on to say that he was sick of the city, the attitude of the passengers and the incredible chaos.

Manju was a farmer. The delayed monsoons a few months ago hit his family hard, and he claimed that he had to get tankers ‘from far away’ to water his fields (which smelled a lot like bullshit). He bought this car because the money from the farm was low, and thought he could earn good money. After 3 days, he realised that he would rather work on the farm instead of being yelled at by passengers, find a hovel-like house where he could sleep and spend all waking hours fighting through the nightmare of Bangalore traffic.

Manju’s Last Words: “People don’t have patience. They want you to come to a location and come right now, even if they can see that the road is blocked. They want you to find a place that they do not know. And they yell at you no matter what.”