Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked Ass

Not me. I’m talking about Lisbeth Salander.

Read the Millennium Trilogy last week. Excellent, thrilling, intelligent crime fiction that had me turning the pages feverishly. Actually, the feverishly part is rather literal too – I was down with fever, cough and cold all of last week, so all I did was lie in bed and read. I’m actually glad I read it when I was unwell and in bed, because otherwise I’d have just left all my work unattended till I had finished off the series.

The Millennium Trilogy is a three book crime fiction series set in Sweden. The protagonists are Lisbeth Salander, a highly intelligent but anti-social a 25 year old and Mikael Blomkovist, an intrepid reporter with the magazine Millennium. The books were written by Stieg Larsson and published initially in Swedish, where they became quite a rage, and were translated into English by Reg Keeland.

Sweden isn’t a common setting for books in English, so this series provides a fascinating insight into Swedish society. Larsson focuses especially on how the media, the police and certain government authorities in Sweden work. There are also occasional references to Swedish politics, which I found particularly interesting.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Mikael is on a forced career break and is hired by a wealthy ex-businessman to uncover the truth behind a murder which took place in the family 30 years ago. He is initially sceptical about his ability to solve the mystery but gradually realises that there is much more than meets the eye. He then discovers that Lisbeth has some skills that could be especially useful to the assignment, and hires her to help him on the case. What they uncover goes beyond just one murder in the family, and leads to a whole lot of horrific crimes.

This book starts off in a ‘locked island mystery format’ but the scope of the mystery gets bigger as the book progresses. So as one goes reading, a number of other elements start coming in, but Larsson handles these smoothly, and it never gets unwieldy. Though there are a number of threads which are introduced but not followed up (these are for the later books), this book reads very well even as a stand – alone piece.

At different points of the book, the story is told from the perspective of different actors. Larsson uses this not so much as a narrative device as a way of letting us know the thoughts of the protagonists – and this works well for the book because at many points we are left pondering over the motives behind the actions of the people in the book (this is especially true in the case of Lisbeth).

The Girl Who Played with Fire
The team at Millennium is working with a couple who are doing an expose on the criminal elements in the sex trade industry in Sweden. Lisbeth comes back to Sweden after a long holiday and is getting her life together in order. The next thing we know, the couple is murdered, and Lisbeth is charged with their murder, and has a nationwide manhunt going on for her.

The rest of the book is about how Lisbeth avoids the police, and tracks down the people responsible for getting her into this mess, and extracts her revenge. Simultaneously, Mikael works towards finding out who the true murderers are, while also trying to clear Lisbeth’s name. In the course of this investigation, he finds out about Lisbeth’s shocking past, and has to figure out how her past is connected with these murders.

This is a crime mystery on a vast canvas, and has the reader wondering right from the start about the who, what, why and how. As in the first book, this starts with two murders, but expands to a whole lot of murders, criminal activity and drug dealing, and a major cover up by the Swedish secret police and maybe even the government. What makes this book work is how all these elements are connected to one another, and how they all come together brilliantly by the dénouement. There is also a lot of physical action in this book, and it sometimes reads and feels like a movie.

The one major issue I had with this book is that there is a lot of unnecessary stuff that could have been edited out. There is already a lot happening within the main plot itself, so it was a little annoying when Larsson introduces little side tracks (for example, the strange couple Lisbeth meets on her holiday, the Blomkovist – Vanger angle, or all the details about Erika). The main plot itself is rather convoluted, and all these other tracks become tedious and unnecessary and rather distract one from getting fully involved.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
This takes off from where ‘The Girl Who Played with Fire’ ended. This book was by far my favourite in the series. By this time, it’s more of a howdunit than a whodunit. In ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’, the whodunit gets solved – we find out the entire back story about Lisbeth’s past, the murders, the police cover ups, who did it and why. This book is about whether the truth will come out and bring down the bad guys or whether the truth will stay hidden and thus bring down the good guys. This is popular crime fiction so we already know the answer to that one, but the book deals with how the good guys get together and try to get the truth out while the very powerful bad guys try to stop the good guys.

This was a great read – you know the good guys will eventually triumph in the end – but you’re so desperate to figure out how they are going to do it that you just can’t bring yourself to put down the book. Secret police, secret units within the secret police, politics, murders, suicides, hacking, spies, counter spies, espionage – this book makes for very exciting reading, and has you rooting for the good guys right till the end in a very ‘That’s the way to do it! Serves those bastards right’ sort of a way. I think this was the most dramatic of the three books.

Lisbeth Salander makes for a fascinating protagonist. I think it was a rather daring choice to make someone who is so inscrutable and difficult to like as your main protagonist. And through most of the first book, one has no idea why Lisbeth is so difficult, making it even more difficult for the reader to root for her. Apart from her, almost all of the female characters in the book are very strong characters – Erika Berger, Miriam Wu, Sonja Modig, the Vanger women, and the other relatively minor characters.

There is a lot of physical action in the books, and sometimes it feels like it was made with a future movie in mind. Surprisingly, I didn’t mind that at all – in fact, I think I quite liked it, and am looking forward to the movie (I am assuming they will be making one – they can’t pass up a script like this!). I had major problems with the fact that when the lead characters are in some sort of trouble, they find extremely simplistic solutions to get out of it. Also, by the end of the series, there were a couple of loose threads left hanging (Camilla for example), that didn’t leave me completely satisfied.

However, these don’t really take away much from the overall awesomeness of the series, so I will end this very long post by saying ‘GO READ IT RIGHT NOW!’.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The One with the Complex

So Nike and I were on our way home after dinner* and I was telling him this long winded story, and at some point came to the part about how I happened to have two prams when I was a baby**. And out of the blue he snapped at me “There are people out there who haven’t had even a single pram. And you are showing off about how you had two prams! What’s the big deal about two prams anyway?”

I was of course taken aback. The guy was trying to guilt-trip me about prams! PRAMS!

Of course I sulked at being snapped at for no reason whatsoever. And of course Nike apologised. But I wasn’t going to stop sulking till he revealed what had provoked the strange outburst. After a lot of drama he confessed sheepishly “Well, I don’t know, in that moment, I was just mad because you had two prams and I hadn’t had a pram at all”

And people say I need to grow up!

*Dinner was rolls at Chakum Chakum. If you live in Bangalore, and are in the mood for some rolls, head out to Chakum Chakum for absolutely fantabulous rolls. This place is off Indiranagar 100 Feet Road, next to the Daily Bread. We regularly drive from Benson Town to Indiranagar just for the rolls.

**I know this sounds lame by itself, but in my defence, it was part of a rather interesting story about my uncle.

Saturday, July 17, 2010


This week I did (seeing as I am typing this post just a few hours before I am going to go back to Bangalore) a short trip home for my mother’s 50th birthday. My visit was a complete surprise for her, and as I opened the door, she just stood agape at the threshold, completely taken by surprise. That was so worth it!

I took an overnight train to Hyderabad and then Pinni and I flew down to Vizag. We reached a day before her birthday and surprised her. The day of her birthday was spent cleaning up the house and making arrangements for the surprise dinner party we threw for her. It wasn’t much of a surprise considering how we were cleaning, not an activity you would otherwise catch Samee and me doing for love or for money. But it was a good party, with most close friends and family there, good food, lots of laughter.

I bought her a stove as a birthday gift. I can’t help but wince at the thought of buying her such a boring gift, especially because she doesn’t even like to cook, but that is all she wanted (which I could afford) so I gave in gracefully (ahem!) and bought it.

The day after the party, the whole gang headed out to the farmhouse. It was raining throughout, and the farm was a brilliant green, looking fresh and lovely. We then headed out for a trek to some nearby caves. By this time, the raining was coming down quite heavily, and we voted in favour of doing the trek even if it meant getting drenched. But the heavy rain became a torrential downpour, and even the drive became a pain because of the low visibility so we turned back to a grandmother’s house close by, where we hung around chatting and playing with their incredibly adorable one month old puppy.

After we reached home, we had Ash and Sim over for a while. Ash and I have been friends for over 15 years now. But then, that is part of the charm of growing up in a place like’s a city where everyone knows everyone, and it’s difficult to not become friends when you end up running into each other everywhere; suddenly you stop and look back and you realise that even though you’ve left home long ago, and gone and made many more friends, some of your dearest friends remain the ones you’ve known all your life.

My friend the Scottish Muscleman (SM) came home too, and after we saw off Mahi and Buns at the bus stop, we went for a long drive by the beach. SM was in low spirits, and he passed them on to me too, so we ended up discussing topics which just depressed both of us. Once he dropped me home, Samee snapped at me while I bore her attitude with calm and patience (truly!), and then went and cribbed to Ma about it, who of course grabbed the opportunity to muse aloud at length on the ills of our generation.

But Sravan served me a huge scoop of Strawberry icecream, and as I type this post while my cousins and (currently) hateful⃰  sister play cards next to me, I feel awful about having to leave tomorrow. It’s like this EVERY SINGLE TIME I come home. I don’t have it in me to leave the day I’m initially supposed to so I inevitably end up postponing my departure by a few days. This time though I decided to stay firm (also, there are no tickets available for the next one week :-p ).

So I’m off tomorrow, and I will see you on the other side of the journey soon. Have a good weekend!

⃰Whattodo! My sister and I have this love-hate relationship. As do most sisters. No?

Already, I feel so guilty about hating her in this post that I want to declare my undying love for her and give her my new pink shoes; though I actually wont of course.....they are PINK shoes!

Sigh! I should have just wished for a brother. Would have made everything a lot less complicated.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Weekends, Football and Other Stuff

It’s tough to appreciate something when you have too much of it. And given all the free time I’ve had lately, I’d forgotten to appreciate weekends. I KNOW! But this weekend changed all that, for I had been very busy the whole of the last week, rushing to meetings, and spending about 2 hours a day in commuting; and so Friday saw me very tired, and quite looking forward to the weekend.

And what a glorious, lovely weekend it was!

On Friday, Nike’s cousin came over from Hyderabad to spend a couple of days with us. We drove down to IIMB, Nike showed her around the campus, and then we sat down to doughnuts and coffee at the campus CCD. Many of my campus memories are tied to the CCD (erm, not in terms of “oh, remember that best doughnut I ate, ever, was at the campus CCD” but more along the lines of “ooohh, remember when we were sitting at the CCD and such and such a thing happened”) so it always makes me feel warm-fuzzy-nostalgic when I go back there.

I spent the rest of the day in IIMB on work and came back home in time for the Netherlands – Brazil match. This match saw the addition of soft drinks to the usual collection of beers, breezers and popcorn, thanks to the visiting cousin. I was rooting for the Dutchmen, so that match ended on a very satisfying note. Though I must admit that the brightness of their orange jerseys sometimes makes me wonder why I am supporting them, for such bright orange jerseys. Must. Be. Outlawed.

Having helped the Oranje win, I turned my attention to Nadal on the internet. (Dear gazillion sports channels: Given there are so many of you that every other channel seems to feature sports through the rest of the year, why is it that not one you is showing Wimbledon and leaving the football reruns to the competition? WHY?). Of course, given his form, Nadal didn’t need my help (or anyone else’s either), and I felt rather sorry for Murray at the end of it all. He had me worried in the beginning with his shaky form, but now he looks unbeatable. Oh, but I LOVE Rafa.

I was hoping this stroke of wins would continue and Ghana would prevail over Uruguay; but thanks to Luis Suarez’s ugly handball, that was not to be. Well, you can’t win ‘em all. Still, no prizes for guessing who I’m going to be supporting in the Holland – Uruguay match, despite the orange jerseys.

Saturday morning was lazily spent dozing over the newspaper. Post-lunch we sat down to Jeopardy and Scrabble. Once that was done, frenetic calls were made, and much planning and cancelling and conferencing happened before a dozen of us finally headed out to Zero G to see the Germany – Argentina match. All that planning paid off because Zero G was perfect - the screen was HUGE, the layout of the place is such that you can sit almost anywhere and get a good view of the screen, it was filled with an enthusiastic crowd, yet it was not so crowded that we had to strain to see, and it is reasonably priced.

The only downside was that they were not playing the commentary. But all in all, I think Zero G was an excellent choice; and any other place would have been too crowded/ too expensive/ too difficult to get good seats/ standing space only/not such a large screen. Also, I was going back there after 3 years, and the place looks very nice indeed now that it has been refurbished.

Now back to the match, I couldn’t quite make up my mind who to support. I was leaning towards Argentina, I even had a bet on Messi; but after the Germany – England match, it’s very hard not to root for a team that played such entertaining football. And whatttayyy match this was! Germany was fantastic, simply fantastic. It was such a pleasure to watch them play. Even hard-core Argentina supporters would find it difficult to not admire the way the Germans played, and totally outclassed the Argentines.

Oh, by the way, four years ago, I was at Bottles and Chimney in Hyderabad for the Argentina – Germany World Cup match, and felt like I was the sole German supporter in a pub filled with Argentina fans.

Anyway, once the match ended, we headed out to the Chancery Pavilion for a poolside FIFA party. The party started out rather slowly, but at some point the DJ started playing Bollywood, and the dance floor started filling up. Speaking of which, I just don’t get this whole ‘Bollywood music, ugh!’ thing that most DJs have going. I mean, clearly it’s the Bollywood numbers that get the crowd onto the dance floor, so why do DJs insist on turning their collective nose up on Bollywood and playing numbers nobody really wants to dance to?

Is this only a Bangalore phenomenon, or is this true of the clubbing scene in other cities too? Fair peoples of other cities, kindly lend me your wisdom on whether it’s the same scenario in your city too or if Bollywood gets the respect it deserves as THE music to play on club nights. Okay, end of rant.

So coming back to the party, which was in full swing by this time, with people jumping into the pool and all. We got into the spirit of the things and jumped into the pool too, and started splashing about in tune, or something, to the music. This was the best part of the party, it was awesomely awesome, and when I become rich I’m going to have a swimming pool in my house and have pool parties ALL THE TIME. The short term plan though is to make friends with someone who does have a pool already so we can have pool parties there. Any of you out there reading this right now?

After I got out of the pool, I went to the restroom, and this girl in there saw me dripping wet and actually asked ‘Are you sweating so much from all that dancing?’ Huh? HUH? Seriously, woman, what were you smoking?

We left the party early, and after a quick stopover at Empire to pick up dinner, we headed home to watch the Spain – Paraguay match and play Taboo. However, everyone was rather tired, so people gradually dropped off to sleep, and no one watched Villa score for Spain.

Sunday saw friends over for lunch, and then out to the Leela for bowling. A visit to the Leela must necessarily include a stop at the Barista, so a round of bowling (and air hockey and foosball and insert –name-of-random-shooting-game) was followed by a tall glass of Swiss Mocha Frappe. Then it was on to Brigade Road for some people watching. Oh, and at some store in Brigade I came across this very cute pair of light pink cargos. Now I’m not a cargos girl at all, but this one was on sale for 125 buck, yes, a HUNDER AND TWENTY FIVE BUCKs ONLY, and it fit well and looked good, and I wouldn’t be a girl if I passed that one up, so of course I didn’t (pass it up, that is).

Also, a momos counter has opened near the Nilgiris on Brigade - veg momos for 25 bucks and chicken momos for 30 bucks. Not bad at all, especially considering I don’t know where else in Bangalore momos are available by the roadside; and if YOU know, please, please drop me a line, and you shall earn my eternal gratitude (unless you’re suggesting some place in HSR Layout/Jayanagar/Whitefield or such other far off places to which one can’t go just to eat a plate of momos by the roadside, as much as one loves a plate of momos by the roadside). We then went to Donut Baker for donuts doughnuts. Damn you, America! I love their chocolate fudge doughnuts, as well as their plain honey dipped doughnuts – do give them a try.

We headed home to watch Rafa lift the cup. Did I say I LOVE Rafa? The weekend couldn’t have ended on a more perfect note!