Friday, March 30, 2007

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows - Cover Arts

The book covers of the much awaited seventh book featuring Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, has been released by the publisher Bloomsbury. The cover arts of the US and UK Children’s edition do give us a few more clues in trying to predict what the story could be, though there is no conclusive evidence.

In the UK Children’s edition, the cover art shows Harry, Ron and Hermione in front of a round opening, and you do see a lot of gold, rubies and other valuables. As seen from the faces, Ron and Hermione are terrified, but Harry’s face does not show fear. According to the picture, he has just seen something of interest. You can also see that Harry’s and Hermione’s hands are hurt, with a few cuts and bruises here and there.

From the description given in HP and Philosopher’s Stone, I guess the round opening in the background in that of a Gringott’s safe. From the contents of the safe, I could not predict whose it could be. It might be a good guess to imagine that Harry is searching for one of the Horcruxes, and the safe could belong to one of the founders of the Hogwart houses.

Also hidden behind Harry, with one hand on Harry’s right shoulders and another carrying a sword is an elf. The face of the elf is not shown, so it could be either Kreacher or Dobby. From the fact that JKR has mentioned to the movie makers of HP and the Order of the Phoenix that Kreacher was “very important” and cannot be left out of the movie, I guess its Kreacher. Also seen in the bottom right of the front page is the Stag, which is Harry’s patronus.

In the back cover, you can see Hogwarts, with its doors open. Is it an indication that Hogwarts would open and function normally in the 7th year also?

The US edition of this book shows both Harry and Voldemort. They are standing on a patio, with the outlines of several people looking on. There is some evidence of destruction on the ground where they are standing, and the sky is bright orange.

The most noticeable thing is the lack of fear in Harry’s face. From this I could deduce that he no longer gets those blinding pain in his scar, which he had experienced whenever he was in close contact with Voldemort. Another noticeable thing is that both are not carrying any wands; their hands are stretching out towards the sky, which could mean that either they are summoning their wands or both can perform magic without their wands.

You can also see that Harry is wearing a locket. Could it be the original Slytherin’s locket which Harry and Dumbledore had gone hunting for in the cave?

As the date of the books release gets closer, more and more rumours and predictions are set to fly. In another four months, we shall know.

Image Source: Leaky Cauldron

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Delayed Justice by Supreme Court

In what could be termed as a landmark decision, the apex court of the country has stayed the implementation of the 27% quota for the Other Backward Casts in all educational institutions across the country from the academic year starting in 2007.

The present government had implemented a new legislation in April last year under the leadership of Arjun Singh, the minister for Human Resource Development, reserving 27% of seats in all educational institutions across the country. The legislation was passed under the 9th schedule, which was not under the judicial review at that time. The entire country witnessed an uproar against the legislation which many termed as unfair and cheap vote-bank political game being played by the politicians before the elections.

In the first landmark decision by the apex court, the court ruled in January that all laws under the 9th schedule were subjected to judicial review. With this new judgment, many organizations especially those led by students across the country, filed a case in the apex court seeking a stay of this legislation. The court has delivered its verdict today and according to me justice, albeit delayed, has finally been done.

The court stayed the legislation saying to the government “Don’t divide the country only because of your vote bank” and “The consequence of this quota would be very bad”. The court has asked the government for adequate data and the reason for implementing the quota, and has deferred its final judgment to August.

My faith and hope on this country has been restored a wee bit by this judgment, as I am beginning to believe that there is some governing body in the country which can stop our corrupt politicians from implementing laws that are unconstitutional.

Now the ball is back in the government’s court, and I am waiting to see how they play it from now on. They can neither retrace their steps and withdraw the quota legislation, as it would severely impact their vote bank, nor can they defy the supreme court.

The course of action which is most likely to happen is that the government would go for a caste based census of the population, as the data on which the original legislation is based is 76 years old. So we are going to have a bunch of people roaming around the length and breadth of the country asking people their religion, caste and sub-caste!

Its ironic that such a census would be happening while another group of politicians and industry stalwarts give us dreams of a developed India, 9% growth, et all.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Movie Review : 300

Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Andrew Tiernan and Rodrigo Santoro

The movie is an adaptation of the graphic novel by the same name, written by Frank Miller. The movie recounts the Battle of Thermopylae, where a huge Persian army was met by 300 Spartan soldiers and 1100 other Greek soldiers. The 1400 soldiers were able to hold an army of more than a million for 3 days, which gave the Spartans and Athens army a chance to gather a huge army to meet the Persians in the Battle of Plataea, where the Persians were routed.

This battle, were a very few skilled soldiers stood against a huge army has been etched in history as the first war of independence, it turned the king of Sparta, Leonidas – I into a living legend and the battle is always remembered by warriors when they are facing a situation where the odds are stacked heavily against them.

The movie tells us the story of Leonidas (Gerard Butler) through Dilios (David Wenham), who fought the war with Leonidas. Dilios suffered an injury to his eye, and hence was asked by Leonidas to return to Sparta to recount the story to every Spartan and Greek. Leonidas was banking on the oratory skills of Dilios to unite Greece against the Persians.

In the starting scenes, Dilios is telling a group of soldiers about Leonidas. He tells them how he grew up to be their king, recounting incidents during his agoge (military training). Dilios then recounts the incidents which preceded the Battle of Thermopylae and the battle itself.

The Persians led by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who has proclaimed himself as the “god-king” plans to invade Europe. His forces are planning to enter Europe through Greece, and after making elaborate arrangements for the cross over of the army, Xerxes sends messengers to the kings of Greece asking them to surrender, failing to comply would result in the annihilation of the entire kingdom. Xerxes asks for earth and water from their homeland as a token of their submission to him.

When the messenger approaches Leonidas, he kicks the messenger into the well, telling him that there was plenty of earth and water in there. Leonidas then visits the priests who live in the mountains, to seek for their approval before setting out to meet the Persians. The priests, who had already been bribed by a counselor loyal to the Persians advised Leonidas against such an endeavour.

Leonidas believes that any delay in sending troops to meet the Greek would jeopardize the lives of his countrymen. He selects a band of 300 of his best soldiers; who had sired sons for Sparta. He tells the counselors that he is going for a walk along with his bodyguards, and sets off to meet the Persians at Thermopylae. On his way, he is met by a group of Greek soldiers, who offer their help in the upcoming battle.

Leonidas and his men arrive at Thermopylae and set up walls, which would make the Persian army to march through a narrow pass, enabling the small army to attack the Persians. Before the battle Leonidas is approached by Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan), a deformed Spartan whose parents fled Sparta for the fear that Ephialtes would be abandoned for the dead, to fight alongside his army. Ephialtes claims that he has been trained by his father, who was in the army, and wanted to redeem himself by fighting the Persians.

Leonidas rejects his offer, saying that every Spartan solider is part of a unit (phalanx) wherein other than fighting the enemy, they protect the soldier on their sides. Ephialtes, due to his hunch, would prove to be chink in the armour, resulting in the defeat of Spartans. Leonidas suggests that if Ephialtes wants to help, he could carry water, look after the wounded and carry the dead from the battlefield. Ephialtes is offended and leaves Leonidas, promising that Leonidas would regret not taking him in.

Soon the Persians start their waves of attack. The first wave of Persians is routed by the Spartans, their thick shields and war formation giving them an edge over the Persians. Xerxes then sends his best group of soldiers known as Immortals to fight; they also meet the same fate as the earlier group. After the first two attacks, Xerxes himself appears Leonidas, praising him of his valor, and trying to persuade him to stop fighting. Xerxes promises him land and money, saying that Leonidas would be the lord of Greece and would be answerable only to Xerxes. Leonidas rejects the offer and the war continues, with Spartans annihilating every wave of Persian attack.

The first day of the war belonged to the Spartans, who suffered minimal loss and inflicted a huge loss on the Persians, both in terms of numbers as well as their moral. Back in Sparta, the Spartan queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) tries to rally support for her husband amongst the counselors; but to do so she should get the support of Theron (Dominic West) who commands a lot of respect amongst the counselors, but has been bribed by the Persians. Theron wants the queen to sleep with him, in return of his support, which the queen reluctantly agrees to.

When the queen faces the counselors the next day, Theron betrays her by charging her with adultery and protests against any force being sent to support Leonidas. Humiliated, Gorgo stabs Theron; in this process the Persian coins in the possession of Theron spills out and the counselors name him traitor.

In Thermopylae, a disgraced Ephialtes meets Xerxes and tells him of a secret passageway around the Spartans, if taken would result in the Spartans being surrounded and they would easily be killed. Xerxes offers rich rewards to Ephialtes.

After learning that Ephialtes has betrayed them, Leonidas sends most of the Greek troops who had come to support them back to Greece. Spartans could not go back, since it was a rule that Spartans could either return victorious or dead from a war. All Spartans except for Dilios, stay back to meet their death.

In the final scene, before his army is killed and before he himself falls for the Persian arrows, Leonidas manages to injure Xerxes, thereby dispelling the belief that Xerxes was a god king.

The news of the final stand made by Leonidas reach Sparta and the rest of Greece through Dilios, who manages to gather support from every corner of Greece against the Persians. In the final scenes, Dilios is seen leading an army of 10,000 Spartans and 30,000 Greeks against the Persians in the Battle of Plataea, a year after the fall of Leonidas.

I liked the movie for its amazing visuals, the characters and the fight sequences. The movie was shot in 60 days and the post production took almost a year. Majority of the shooting was done indoors with a green or blue background, and the background we see in the movie was added digitally. Every character played out his part, and gave life to it. The fighting sequences were filmed brilliantly. The film deviates from the actual battle of Thermopylae in many ways to appeal to the movie audience.

I’m not sure how much the movie would appeal to the fairer sex, since its all about war. There is plenty of gore, and sequences where heads, arms or legs are cut off. Strangely, the lady who was in our group who went to watch the movie, liked it, she was fascinated with the fact that the movie is based out of a true story.

I would give it a 4/5.

Sources: Wikipedia (Movie, Sparta, Battle of Thermopylae), IMDB and Official Site

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bangalore Stray Dogs - Do they deserve it?

There is a huge debate raging amongst the citizens of Bangalore – between the animal lovers and the others who feel that stray dogs are a menace to the city.

The issue started with a 7 years old girl being mauled to death by a pack of street dogs near her house. A hue and cry was raised by many citizens who felt or have experienced the menace created by street dogs in Bangalore. The situation turned to worse when another 4 year old boy was mauled to death. The city corporation swung into action and ordered that stray dogs should be captured and culled.

Special dog catching squads were brought in from Kerala and new dog vans were purchased and the dog culling process was started early this week. A few section of the citizen, especially those who have been terrorized by the stray dogs before felt that this was the only way in which Bangalore could be freed from stray dogs. Another section felt that the culling of dogs was inhuman, since they also have the right to share the planet along with us.

My personal experience with stray dogs in Bangalore has not been dangerous. Once when I was returning home from Bangalore Central to my home near the airport by bus, I had to walk around a kilometer at 11pm. The streets were deserted and there were a number of stray dogs; a couple of them started growling at me, but I never looked in their direction and just kept walking as if I had not felt their presence. This seemed to have worked, and I was able to reach home safely. In another occasion, another dog started chasing my bike, but I shouted at him on top of my voice, and he seemed to be discouraged with that.

I love pets, especially cats and dogs and I am against all sorts of cruelty to animals, except towards the ones which I eat (chicken, mutton and fishes). That’s when I saw the way the dogs were being culled on news channels. In one case, the catcher wedged the dogs heads between two branches of a near by tree and injected it with the poison to kill it. These scenes really pained me since dogs, unlike mosquitoes or flies do not deserve to be treated like this.

NGO’s like CUPA, who have been taking up activities like sterilization of dogs in the past have washed their hands out of the second incident of mauling by saying that the area where the incident happened does not fall under their jurisdiction. Couldn’t the NGOs have performed a better role in preventing the number of stray dogs from going out of hand? The NGOs would always complain that they were short of funds, like all NGOs, but isn’t it the government’s duty to have taken steps to prevent such incidents?

I guess that the NGOs need to come forward to prevent this indiscriminate killing of dogs. I agree that there are a number of ferocious dogs which might have to be killed, but then there could be dogs which do not pose a threat to anyone at all.

I guess that the dog catchers should deposit the dogs with any of the NGOs after capture and the NGOs should decide if the animal should be killed or not. The NGOs also need to relook into their sterilization drive, since it has had no effect till now.

What can citizens like you and me do? They can either donate to the NGOs to take up such a drive or they can always pay Rs.25 to the corporation and adopt a dog.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Book Review - The Eye of the Needle

Author: Ken Follett
Published in: 1978

My habit of selecting a book for reading has undergone a small change. Initially it used to pick books recommended by friends, not I’ve started using Wikipedia. I search for an author in Wikipedia and from the article I get to know the best novels written by the author.

Recently I went through the article on Ken Follett in Wikipedia and read that the Eye of the Needle was his first success, and a brief about the book was enough to tell me that I would like it.

The book is a work of fiction, woven craftily around a historic event. In 1944, during WW2, the Allied forces were planning a great invasion in the German occupied France, to get a stronghold on Europe from where they could attack Germany. The Allied forces created a fictitious army group, which consisted of dummy airplanes, dummy tanks and barracks. A real general was also posted there, along with a few hundred soldiers, to give the German reconnaissance the picture that a huge army was being built up for invasion.

The position of this army as well as the sending out of decodable messages by England made Germany to believe that the Allied army would be invading France at Calais, while the Allied army was preparing to invade through Normandy. The book tells us the possibility of the presence of a master spy, who might have had the knowledge of the plan and was traveling to Germany to warn them. If the spy succeeds, England would loose the war.

The German spy, who goes by the identity Henry Faber, who has been stationed in London to collect information about the movement of troops in England has been assigned to verify the claim that a huge army is being built up to invade France through Calais. He reaches the site and taken enough evidence to prove that the entire army is a fake.

Since the information he possesses is of strategic importance to the war, he decides to take the information himself to Germany. He also sends the photographs which he had taken at the site through a channel which he thought was safe, but it was compromised. Once the photographs were captured by England, the investigation is handed over to the MI5, to capture the spy before he hands over the information to Germany. Two people – Percival Godliman, a professor and Frederick Bloggs, are made in-charge of the operation to capture Faber. The cat and mouse chase takes the readers from London to Aberdeen, with Faber always managing to outsmart MI5.

Another thread in the book follows the story of Lucy Rose, wife of David Rose. They were married one day before David was to join the RAF to fight in the WW2. While driving back home after their wedding they meet with an accident, which results in David being crippled for the rest of his life. This throws their married life out of gear.

The two threads of stories meet, deciding the final outcome of the story. By the time Faber and Lucy meet, Lucy has a son from David named Jo. The ending of the story has not deviated from history, that the Allied forces were able to fool Germany into believing that they would be attacking from Calais and not from Normandy.

While reading the novel, I could not stop myself from comparing the similarities of the story with the story of a recent Hindi movie “Fanaa”.

Fanaa follows the story of a Pakistani spy who is returning back to Pakistan carrying sensitive information. Here too the Pakistani spy is always one step ahead of the authorities until he meets the women, whose part is played by Lucy in the book. The story of the movie has been “Indianized” and a major difference being that the woman is blind, unlike Lucy. During the course of the movie, the woman undergoes surgery to recover her eyesight.

I had watched “Fanaa” on my computer and finished watching the movie in an hour, I fast forwarded most of the scenes.

The novel was a pretty decent read, though I could find a few similarities with respect to the style with “The Day of the Jackal” by Frederick Forsyth, although the stories are totally different.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lunar Eclipse - 4 Mar 2007

I happened to watch my first total lunar eclipse on Sunday morning, which was visible throughout India. This was the first time I witnessed a total lunar eclipse; the previous one which I witnessed was a partial one and in a few cases, an overcast sky prevented me from getting even a glimpse of the moon.

I had got a few CDs so that I could stay awake till the time the eclipse would start. The eclipse was supposed to start at 2:14am and would last till 7:15am. The total eclipse was supposed to last for 76 minutes starting from 4:15am.

The movie got over at 1:30am, and I just went to the terrace to check the sky. I was praying that the sky should be clear and I was not disappointed, there was not even a single cloud to be sighted anywhere – a sky gazers paradise. So I came back to watch some TV and kill the rest of the time until the eclipse started.

The Hindi news channel “Aaj Tak” was covering the entire eclipse live with constant reports from the planetarium in Delhi and from the bathing ghats of Haridwar. Its normal for devotees to take a dip in the holy Ganges during an eclipse.

At 2:15 the channel stated that the eclipse had started, and I proceeded to watch it with my own eyes. I went to the terrace, expecting to see a part of the moon already covered with the earth’s shadow, but I was initially shocked to see that the moon was still in its original form. It took me sometime to understand that it was the penumbra which was passing over the moon currently and it would take sometime before the umbra would pass. Only when the umbra would fall on the moon, would we be able to see the creeping shadow across its face. So I went back to the TV and returned to the terrace only when the umbra had started passing over the moon, which started at 2:50am.

The sight was simply magnificent. A part of the moon was dark, with a reddish glow, while the other was bright and milky. I was sorely missing a telescope, even though the sight was clearly visible to the eye, I wanted to see it in more detail. I wanted a more zoomed up picture of the moon, and a better view of the creeping shadows; but there was no source of such a view, except for the TV. At that moment, I would have been happy with a powerful binoculars, but there were none and I had to be content with watching the entire spectacle with my bare eyes.

I used the camera in my Sony Ericsson w810i to capture a few extremely crude pictures of the eclipse. You cannot make out anything on these photos, except for the apparent reduction in brightness, but I was very happy in capturing these snaps, as I had some way of capturing the event.

The first one was taken while the moon was under the penumbra region of earth’s shadow and the subsequent ones were taken during the time the shadows had started creeping on its surface. In a few of the pictures, you can make out that the shadow is creeping from the top left of the moon. The final picture gives a crude image of what was left at the end of the eclipse – a bright red orb.

At the end of it I was happy that I braved the mosquitoes, aching legs and sleep to watch the spectacular event.