Through the Looking Glass: Army of the Dead

I am not sure about when the production and pre-production started for Army of the Dead, but the timing of the movie suggests that it was a pure cash-grab move by Netflix capitalizing on the popularity of Zack Snyder after the Snyder Cut fiasco. Nevertheless being a Zack snyder movie I was looking forward to watching this movie, at least for the gory slo-mo action sequences and the dark brooding environment that Zack Snyder is known for.

But a few minutes into the movie, I noticed that the colour tone of the movie was brighter than I expected. I know that Snyder has been constantly criticised for his use of dark tones which was made even more evident when he took up the role of driving the DCEU. I think Zack Snyder was probably one of the prime victims of the MCU vs DCEU fan-war. With chronological order of movies and a headstart to boot, the success of MCU was leaps ahead of DCEU in the game of box office catch-up. Meanwhile Dc had just tied up its immensely popular and critically acclaimed Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy and was sitting on Man of Steel which was received with mixed reviews.

I, for one, loved Man of Steel because of the dark and realistic portrayal of Superman fights and its obvious after effects to the city’s skyline. This Superman was far more grounded (at least as grounded as a flying invincible alien with, and not limited to, super-strength and ability to shoot lasers from its eyes, can be) and had reasonable moral dilemmas. Superman in this universe was a superhero unlike any before. There was no guide book he could read up on. General Zod and other Kryptonians were the first real challenge he encountered. For him the choice was between the city skyline or world destruction.

Marvel’s cinematic universe catapulted with the unexpected success of Iron Man, a movie about a not so popular superhero played by an actor whose face was relatively new for the general international audience. I am not and will never say that the first Iron Man movie was not good. It was extremely well made and I am a fan of Jon Favreau’s work. But the slate was clean and because of that their work was comparatively easier. Iron Man did not have a cinematic entry and if any had been done, it was obviously not a popular take. So the creators just needed to bring forth an iteration that was true to the comics and made sure that it was keeping up with the modern times, and thankfully the world had enough real-life tech to make this not seem like a huge leap.

Man of Steel on the other hand was a harder movie to get the audience excited for. Superman was obviously an iconic hero and his origin story had been told, retold, revamped and parodied and even those parodies have been retold countless times. So when coming up with a Superman movie to kickstart a universe Syder obviously had to reinvent the wheel and to be honest the new wheel was pretty awesome. But it started ricketing when it started playing catch-up to Marvel who by this time was several movies ahead. DC’s counterstroke was to skip building the foundation to jump on to match movies with Marvel thereby creating a hodge-podge universe that barely made sense.

All this rant over a different colour tone, guess it had to come out sometime. Coming back to Army of the Dead. The most frustrating thing about Army of the Dead was that it was the most unSnyder Snyder movie. There were no picturesque sequences that stayed with you even after the movie, I missed the overused slo-mo action and the otherworldly feel. The movies I am referring to as signature Snyder movies are Sucker Punch, 300 and Watchmen – I am not exposed to more of his work other than the DCEU obviously.

Coming to the characters, they were just different shades of the same caricature. They were essentially a group of badass characters with no defining traits or motivations. Throughout the movie any character choice made could very well be made by any one else in the group.

Army of the Dead is almost making fun of the Zombie genre. It is almost felt as if this zombie apocalypse trope was so played out that even the creator felt that there were no real stakes. Yes, most of the characters die by the time the movie ends. But when these paper thin characters are so nonchalant about the threat ahead of them, why should we, the audience, care. The most noticeable was the lack of panic when the nuke was preponed. The best I could get from the scene was “Aw shucks, I guess I need to run instead of walk now”. While recovering from this lack of response to a shitty situation, I was presented by the obviously non-existent threat of the helicopter leaving without them. It was so obvious that there would be a grand re-entry, that I kinda hoped the movie would actually not make the helicopter come back so as to add at least some shock value to the entire movie.

The only time when the movie subverts our expectations is in the most frustrating scene for me. Early on there is a sequence of this person being tricked into a room full of Zombies alone. Which results in her having to decimate an entire horde which she does in one of the best action sequences in the movie, jumping out the window to a hallway right next to her team. She is still fighting off zombies without any sign of being zombified herself. But the entire team of badass zombie killers with their big-ass guns just look at her as if they were helpless. She alone took out a HORDE and that too in a tight dark space without much room to maneuver, and when she rejoins her whole team in a large bright hallway they suddenly are unable to help her out. They don’t even make an effort to support her, they just abandon her outright.

It is obvious that Army of the Dead is the cornerstone for a new franchise. There are sooo many questions left unanswered. The origin of the Zombies, the robot Zombies and obviously the cliffhanger at the end. I guess, Army of the Dead did serve its purpose of setting up questions that could potentially be answered by future entries in the franchise.

Yin and Yang – The Convergence

This is the final part of a three part series. Do read the articles preceding this to better understand the nature of this series.
Yin and Yang – Chaos from Order
Yin and Yang – Order from Chaos

The idea of chaos rooting from order and order rooting chaos naturally directed my thoughts towards the ancient Chinese concept of Yin and Yang. Yin-Yang is a generalized idea about opposing forces complementing each other to form the visible world and its nature. This is essentially an example of the philosophy of “dualistic monism”. The basic idea behind this school of thought is that reality exists as a unified whole, but is expressed to our perception as an interconnected or interdependent duality. According to this, there is a simultaneous existence of unity and duality. But, of course, these are all philosophical ideas, not science and not even pseudo-science.

According to this philosophy, all manifestations in this world contain yin and yang aspects. These exist in complementing balance, opposing each other but finding stability in their equal quantity. Either aspect may appear more strongly in a particular object based on the observer’s perception. The visualization of this idea is the very familiar symbol of Yin and Yang known as Taijitu. The actual Taijitu has multiple layers with yin-yang being just one of those layers. Even the yin-yang or the Taijitu that we are familiar with has undergone multiple iterations to be simplified into the modern one.

In Taijitu, you can see how contrary forces balance each other while having the portion of the opposite element at its core. According to this philosophy, Yin and Yang are by nature inseparable, because one leads to the formation of the other. There is no hierarchy among these concepts. Neither Yin or Yang has superiority over the other, moreover the idea of looking at them as distinct entities itself is considered an impossibility. Without their co-existent, both of them cease to exist. Sexual reproduction is a common example that is mentioned to drive home this thought. Yin and Yang are considered core energy components of Female and Male genders respectively. In all species with sexual reproduction, the whole ceases to exist without co-existence of both the genders.

There is also another characteristic of this concept that, whenever one quality reaches a peak point, it naturally transforms into the opposite quality. There is a very memorable scene from Jurassic Park, where they find out that the population of all female dinosaurs mutated themselves into the opposite sex in order to procreate. Even though this is science fiction, this is actually something that is seen in nature, commonly among coral reef fishes like the clownfish from Finding Nemo. Whenever the population finds itself with diminishing female presence, they change gender to ensure species survival. Read this while keeping in mind that Yin and Yang are also core energy components of Female and Male genders respectively. Also something to keep in mind is that India has a similar idea for the dual nature of cosmos which is the “Ardhanarishwara”. Ardhanarishwara is the androgynous form of Shiva embodying Purusha and Prakrithi, the male and feminine aspects of nature. A single school of thought nativized by neighboring cultures.

This interplay between order and disorder is also hypothesized to exist within a wide variety of systems. Physicists consider this as a transition space called the “edge of chaos” – a region of controlled instability. This is often mentioned in conjecture with a “Complex Adaptive System”. A Complex Adaptive System (CAS) consists of multiple elements interactive with each other. An example would be the Stock Market with the people dealing with stocks as the elements. These elements interact with each other and learn from these interactions, adapting themselves as they progress. The ideal condition for CAS is the constant flux. Without this controlled flux edging on chaos, it attains stability which would lead to a state of stagnation and thereby culminating in zero-progress or change in the system. For a CAS, this is essentially a collapse of the system. Considering the opposite state of complete chaos would also naturally end up in disaster. This state where there is enough structure to maintain order and simultaneously encourage flexibility and change is the “edge of chaos”.

Life itself would strive only in this Edge of Chaos. Without the ups and downs, life would cease to exist. The diversity in nature is fuel to this chaos. But at the same time there are enough rules and laws that govern natural behavior to ensure that life teems as a CAS on the edge of chaos. This is increasingly being adapted by different industries. The introduction of Agile Methodologies in the Software Development Industry is one such initiative to introduce multiple stakeholders interacting with each other, adapting and evolving with the changes they encounter – leveling on the brink of chaos but with enough order to prevent it from disintegration.

It is evident from our past that a system with too much order is just a system waiting to collapse. Relaxing in order to make way for flexibility ensures emergence of new ideas, willingness to experiment and a space to learn from mistakes. It is important to realize that striving for stability would only lead to an eventual monotonous collapse. We need to maintain our life at the edge of chaos so that we can be constantly surprised.

Keep in mind, that Yin is the root of Yang and Yang is the root of Yin, there is no permanence to any condition. When we fall, we would eventually rise from it even stronger and when we rise, it is time to brace ourselves for the fall. To reject crisis in life, is to limit yourself to a weaker state and to assume that your graph is all rise henceforth is absolute folly.

Concluding with a video of fractalized Taijitu.

Yin and Yang – Order from Chaos

This is a three part series and this is the second part. Going through the first part would be highly beneficial to obtain a perspective on the nature of this series: Yin and Yang – Chaos from Order

Recently I had the opportunity to read the book “Life on the Edge” by Jim Al-Khalili and JohnJoe McFadden. Though most of the book went whoosh over my head, there were things that outright baffled my mind. I came to realize that most of the stuff happening in nature that I took for granted, including photosynthesis, migration of birds and even our sense of smell was still unexplained, and the theories were collectively paving way towards quantum biology. As the authors tried to include a crash course on quantum physics on a paperback, I was educated on how Schrodinger was not just a random scientist obsessed with radioactive cats.

One of the things that kept on repeating throughout the book was Schrodinger’s principle of “order from disorder”. The principle in simple terms, or at least what I understood, is that the chaos at the quantum realm eventually tends to a pattern leading to order at the molecular level. This tendency towards pattern formation is the foundation of the order at the macroscopic level. This is why Newtonian physics works perfectly at the macroscopic level. Newtonian physics is basically approximating the chaos at quantum level by taking the behavior of matter on a larger scale. This is the same reason that we fail to explain quantum behavior with same Newton’s laws.

A similar pattern can be seen in the Stock Market behavior. Stock Market can be considered a real world measurable example of a complex chaotic system. The unpredictability of the stock market comes with the involvement of a large number of stakeholders and influencers along with the psychology of trading which differs from person to person. The risk appetite of a person has numerous emotional factors influencing it, which by nature is obviously not predictable. One cannot with any surety discern how a particular trader would respond to their gains or losses. This in turn makes the system prone to “butterfly effects” that push it from equilibrium to either side. But for stocks with strong fundamentals there are two basic feedback loops that govern it.

  1. Growth Loop – Trader buy a stock -> Stock Prices go up -> Seeing the trend, more traders by the stock
  2. Stabilizing Loop – Traders sell a stock -> Price Falls -> Since the price is less, other traders, if they see potential, buy the stocks -> Prices go up again.

In both systems we can see that, taken in small dimensions, they behave unpredictably. But when the perspective is zoomed out, the system starts to follow a fairly estimable pattern that can be predicted by algorithms and reason. In case of the physical world, the dimension used to zoom in and out is size and in case of the market, it is time. The quantum world that is devoid of normal reason starts to follow Newtonian laws in the macro world. Similarly the squiggles of the stock performance graph becomes more understandable when the time period is widened.

As with the earlier article in this series, this is time I plug in my lesson from this pattern. In our life, we go through different phases of ups and downs. Considering that we are living in that moment, it is naturally hard to view it in any other way. We can’t really comprehend when our emotional graph goes up or down, when we look at it on a daily basis. When we tend to focus on the minute aspects of our life, we tend to be psychologically pulled either way and we lose our grip on equilibrium. This is what we generally term as overthinking. Over-indulgence into small things in our life that were chaotically introduced to your life. But as with the systems mentioned earlier, there is a more sensible way to look at it. Maybe you have to widen your mind and think from different perspectives. Or maybe you need to widen the scope of the event, and view the episode as part of a larger sequence.

Keep in mind that the ups and downs that you face daily, disappear into a line when the scope is widened. 

The concluding part of the trilogy is hereYin and Yang: The Convergence.

Yin and Yang – Chaos from Order

Covid-19 has introduced a lot of new things into our lives. For some it was the realization that they have the ability to make barely edible food out of edible items and for others it was the realization that their idealization of working from home was not as well-thought out as they thought. For me, in addition to these, there was the sudden fear of barber shops. This self-inflicted fear and my family heirloom (or rather HAIR-loom) saw me progressing from this

to this

Yes, as these accurate depictions of myself suggest, I do think that I look cooler with new hair. But I digress. This partial circle over my face, made me wonder how tiny strands of hair curled around themselves to form this chaotically dense forest over my head, with little or no manual intervention. This drove me article hoping and I somehow found my search history going from afro to chaos theory and then to the motherload, fractals.

Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are created by repeating simple patterns or process over themselves. And as the Fractal Foundation rightly says – “Driven by recursion, fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos.”

Fractals occur everywhere in nature – from leaves of ferns to branching of trees, from river networks to lightning bolts and from seashells to galaxies. All these geometrically complex shapes are formed by repeating nearly identical miniature copies of the whole. As you all might already now, most of the things occurring in nature are evolved and gradually perfected to make the best use of a given circumstance. The increased occurrence of fractals in nature is also no exception to this behavior. To bring home this thought, let me introduce a very relatable implementation of fractals – Our Lungs.

Respiration is obviously one of the core reasons why humans, or rather most animals, survive in this world. In order to facilitate proper exchange of Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide a large surface area is required. But given the size of an average human being, nature needed to be clever in its usage of space. In an average the adult human pair of lungs is about 4-6 litres, but through the use of fractals, evolution made sure that the alveoli inside the same lungs had a total surface area of 50-100 square meters, which is the size of half a tennis court. Imagine that! A tennis court inside our lungs!!

It is not really a matter of debate that humans are the dominant species in the world today. This dominance over other beings was not achieved through their dexterity, strength or resilience. Human being had the two things required to counteract any weakness – the ability to learn from observing the world and the creativity to use these learning to their own benefit. So when nature displays this genius design, we humans figure out ways to use it better our own life.

Due to the ability of fractals to maximize surface area for a given volume in a spread out network like pattern, it is of great use for digital applications. Computers are shrinking and preforming faster with each new generation, this naturally gives rise to increased heat. Inspired from our blood vessels, the cooling systems are adopting fractals to deliver coolants uniformly. Mathematically fractal mapping enable us to procedurally simulate vivid, complex and realistic 3D landscapes using graphic imaging. Since fractals makes use of recursively re-applying simple equations, the need for storage is minimized without sacrificing on detailing.

More than this intriguing applications, fractals got me thinking about how a simple shape or equation could jumble around itself to create something so massively chaotic. This seemed similar to how one by one our thoughts mangle upon themselves, snowballing themselves to debilitating anxiety. The next time you find yourself hit by periods of unmanageable stress, instead of considering it as a massive black hole of chaos, try to break it down into its root. Find the manageable shape at the core of this fur ball and tug at it, and see the rest of it fall apart into identifiable shapes, which can be dealt with one by one.

Remind yourself that all the complexities that you encounter around you are birthed from small fundamentals that can be managed with relative ease when isolated.

This is a three part series and this is the first part. The subsequent part is hereYin and Yang: Order from Chaos

Through the Looking Glass: Ramayana by Valmiki

During my childhood, we had limited options for entertainment. I won’t ever rant about how that was a better time, but I would surely say that the noise was less. We had only “Aakashavaani” on the radio and “Doordarshan” on TV, both courtesy of Government of India. So it was no surprise that my first superhero was “Hanuman” from Ramayana. Please don’t take this as a commentary on secularism either. On one side, my parents offered a guy who walked around talking real calm and on the other side the TV showed me this muscular flying Man-Ape who lifted mountains. My parent’s guy was so chill that even though he could potentially do more, he decided to walk on water, meanwhile Hanuman was flying over the ocean to get to the other side while battling monsters. It was no competition, Hanuman was easily more badass.

Growing up watching Ramayana and Mahabharata piqued my interest in mythology. So I found myself reading stories of mythical gods and demigods. I started home with an abridged version of Ramayana and Mahabharata, moving on to Greek and Roman mythology, followed by Norse, Egyptian and finally the phase ended with a failed effort to understand the Chinese Mythology.

But there was a lingering feeling of incompleteness due to realization that I never really read the unabridged stories. More than a decade passed and 2020 struck. Thanks to the added time made available to me, I was again reminded of this thought. But of course Sanskrit is still not my strong suit, so I looked through forums for a faithful unabridged translation of Valmiki’s Ramayana and ended up with the translation done by Bibek Debroy.

The plot of Ramayana is actually quite straightforward, but to summarize it would be disrespectful. More than the good vs evil plotline, Ramayana scores with the emotional interplay between characters and the philosophical undertones. There are also multiple short stories strewn throughout the book, to make up for the otherwise mundane travels done by our heroes, that helps to widen the world and enrich the mysticism of the land they are part of. The major characters are painted with behavioral characteristics that determine their actions throughout the series.

Since written publication was limited, all the mythological epics depended on word-of-mouth as their primary mode of reach. As with all word-of-mouth publications, the original content is inevitably bombarded with embellishments and exaggerations that match the source’s imagination and the listener’s appetite. Keeping in mind this fact, even if we consider Valmiki’s Ramayana to be a faithful narration of real occurrences, the version of Ramayana that exists would still be filled with exaggeration because the original account told by Valmiki simply does not exist anymore.

So throughout my reading I tried to wipe out the magic and mysticism away and replace with what could have been possible during that time. Surprisingly it was easier than I expected, because this version of Ramayana unlike more recent adaptations was way more grounded. It was not until Yuddha Khanda that I started having difficulties, but even Yuddha Khanda was fine. My gripe was with Uttara Khanda. For me, the last chapter of Ramayana, Uttara Khanda was so distinct in nature from the rest of the series that it sadly left a bitter aftertaste. The élan I felt while reading Ramayana was ruined by this last part which seemed to me like a patchwork of stories created to cater to a specific audience. In my mind, Valmiki Ramayana concluded with Yuddha Khanda.

I recently came to know about the Three-Act structure in narrative fiction. The Ramayana till the end of Yuddha Khanda matches perfectly with this, and then there is the Uttara Khanda left hanging at the end. The Three- Act structure has as the following separations:

I am no expert in narrative fiction, but this separation made sense to me.

  • Act 1 (Exposition with an inciting incident) – Bala Khanda and Ayodhya Khanda
  • Act 2a (Character Arc) – Aranya Khanda
  • Act 2b (Rising Action) – Kishkinda Khanda and Sundara Khanda
  • Act 3 (Climax) – Yudda Khanda

Coming to the characters. Ramayana has numerous named characters, but only a handful of characters who actually matter and even lesser characters who are well-established. The primary among those is obviously Rama. I have a penchant for flawed heroes. For me it was a shame that Rama is addressed by the society as a perfect human, when while reading Ramayana I found him more attractive as a flawed hero. Rama follows dharma to a fault. The primary motive behind all his actions are seeded from his need to maintain the respect and image he commands. I am not saying that he did not love Sita. The moments from Sita’s abduction to the brothers reaching Kishkindha has Rama in obvious lamentation. But his drive to kill Ravana was fueled more by revenge for the shame incurred. Rama was never a person who backed out from a challenge, on the contrary he enjoyed the thrill of battles, probably because his first set of praises and accolades came from his travels with Vishwamitra where he fought down Rakshasas.

The despair on losing Sita and the need for revenge clouded his thoughts to make his most potent mistake in the book – the killing of Vali. The assassination of Vali is never properly explained in Valmiki Ramayana. There are other versions suggesting that Vali had the boon to obtain half the strength of those opposing him, justifying Rama’s need to attack from afar while Vali was engaged in a challenge from Sugriva. Even that is lame excuse for a person who follows dharma like Rama. The only justification that is present in Valmiki Ramayana is that Vali had sexual relations with Ruma, Sugriva’s wife, who should have been like a sister for him. This is the sin that Rama accuses him of. That still doesn’t justify the cowardly way in which Rama killed Vali, but let’s roll with it. The only problem with this accusation is that immediately after Vali is killed and his subsequent coronation, guess who Sugriva takes as a sexual partner in addition to his wife – Tara, the wife of Vali, who should also have been like a sister for him. Why did Rama suddenly turn a blind eye towards the sin committed by Sugriva?

Coming towards Sugriva’s character. Sugriva was despicably self-centered and cowardly until his redemption in Yuddha Khanda, where he seems to have done his due. In every other sense Vali was a better person than Sugriva. Vali on his death-throes even says to Rama that if he had asked Vali, he would single-handedly delivered Ravana to Rama’s knees. Admittedly people say anything on their death bed, but considering the undefeated legacy of Vali, he might have actually pulled that off unlike Sugriva who in drunk lustful leisure delayed Rama’s plans by many months. But despite the valor of Vali, Sugriva had one advantage. Sugriva had geographical knowledge of the realm which, ironically, was acquired while hiding from the wrath of Vali. I am not going deep into the origin of enmity between Vali and Sugriva. I would rather you figure it out by yourself by reading Valmiki’s version. For me Sugriva did not come so clean at the end of it, especially because the ministers of Kishkindha themselves doubted him and went in search of Vali after the event of betrayal. The only thing that was in favour of Sugriva was that Hanuman, who was a gem of a character, was in his side.

In my interpretation, Rama seemed have made an error in judgement when choosing Sugriva over Vali. As evident from the end of Aranya Khanda, Rama was depressed due to the loss of Sita. So when Kabandha instructs Rama to seek help from Sugriva, there was no other thought in his head. At this point Rama was in dire need to get revenge/rescue Sita, that is probably why he didn’t think twice about making a deal with Sugriva about killing Vali. The state of Rama is even more apparent when you notice that since the abduction, till the beginning of Yuddha Khanda, Lakshmana is the one who is doing the majority of talking and decision making. The taint in Rama was made more evident by him asking Sita to immolate herself to prove her purity, only to be intervened by the Gods themselves. Then he makes his need for approval even more apparent by exiling a pregnant Sita. But that is Uttara Khanda and I don’t care much about it.

On the whole, Lakshmana and Hanuman were my favourite characters. Their deeds drive most of the story, but they never steal the limelight. They never hesitate to raise their opinion against the decision of their elders, guiding them towards the better way. They withstand physical and mental flak to serve their duty throughout the book. Sita was essential nothing more than a plot device. Last but not the least were the primary challengers to the hero – Ravana, Kumbakarna and Indrajit. Eventhough their characters were not that well-rounded, the portions where they appeared in Yuddha Khanda were pure adrenaline.

As with all stories, Ramayana might also have original roots. Even if the original story was recounted by Valmiki as is; it has undergone centuries of imaginative rewrites. Valmiki’s Ramayana will always remain in my head as a literal epic, and Hanuman still trumps all other characters as the most badass character in the story. Rama comes a close second with the single-handed slaying of fourteen thousand rakshasas in the middle of forest and obviously the climatic fight with Ravana. All things considered this was one hell of a read, but even then fanatically forcing your interpretation of the book on others can not be justified.

Phi + Phi ~ Pi

The number system is the most basic concept in our lives. It literally makes up our time. Each second in your life, the money you spend, the distance you travel, your thoughts, your dreams everything is determined by numbers. Thankfully we have a number system that is simple and yet powerful enough to govern everything in our life.

Using the number system we rose from star gazing Neanderthals to Home Sapiens on the cusp of interstellar travel. It is impossible to deny the efficiency of numbers since it enables toddlers to fib about the amount of candies they got and also help us predict astronomical events. Beyond their obvious influence in science, we have their influence in art too as patterns like the octaves in music.

As with all the unbound appreciations, there ought to be a “But”. Despite the advancements in science, mathematics and logical thinking using number system, there is an elusive strand that sticks out, eking the OCD-laden scientific minds since the age of Pharaohs. The strand I am talking about is the most famous weirdest number – no points for guessing – π.

The infamous PI. Arguably (really?) the most commonly used number in the scientific world, occurring abundantly in nature, yet disgracefully called as “irrational”. Typical of us to label something we clearly have no grasp over as irrational. Makes perfect sense meaning-wise, but is it really irrational or is it our rationality that is wrong. Now don’t start arguing saying that pi is not the only irrational number, its just a classification under the number system. I know.

But then while you are making that argument, let me just add on terms on top – pi is irrational, non recurring and non-repeating. This in layman terms means that pi is a value that we have not yet figured out how to quantify. For those who are holding on to their convenient (22/7), reality check – that is also an approximation. There are other similar numbers like √3 (square-root of 3). But my primary issue is with pi because of it abundance in nature.

The abundance of pi in nature is not really something that needs to be explained. Starting off with the most obvious example, the sphere or circle is something that naturally in nature. Look around you and there would be something circular. The water molecules that form spheres in the clouds, the celestial bodies and the very eyeball that you are using to look around. Circle or sphere is the shape that occurs when two balancing forces cancel each other out. The celestial bodies are large enough to have gravity pulling its constituents together, but at the same time repulsive forces push it outward, cancel each other to form spheres. In the manufacturing industry sphere plays a major role, since for a given volume a sphere has the least surface area, and given a surface area, sphere gives the most tensile strength when compared to other classical shapes.

Moving on to other not so obvious occurrences, we start with one of the most innovative thinkers that shaped the 20th century – Alan Turing. Among Turing’s countless contributions is also a mathematical model that discerned how cells group together to form parts of animals. The process for the scientifically keen is called morphogenesis. This governs the the skin pigmentations that animals have, the small protrusions in internal organs and even limb structure. Even though it is fairly obvious where I going with this, let me point out that pi is a central part of the model.

There are other weird examples like the “meandering ratio” – the ratio of a river’s actual length with curves and all to the distance from source to destination plotted as a straight line. The average meandering ratio is …. <insert drumroll here>… pi.

Finally for them people who love their daily dose of the romantic escapades of ancient civilization and aliens, let me present you the oldest of the Seven Ancient Wonders and the ONLY ONE to remain largely intact – The Great Pyramid of Khufu at Giza, also known as The Great Pyramid of Giza. Take the perimeter of this grandiose structure and divide by it height and what do you get? Now I know that you have the urge to answer pi, understandable but wrong. Its 2π! Lets also add to it that its slope is 4/π.

Pi had always interested me, and even continues to influence my daily life. But it was this last fact that prompted to think about Pi. This combined with the fact that till now with all our advancements we have still not invented anything that transfers energy as efficiently as some of the basic occurrences in nature – photosynthesis. Scientists are now theorizing the efficiency of photosynthesis as an implementation of quantum tunneling, while we are struggling to replicate quantum phenomenon even under the most controlled conditions.

I started wondering whether we are doing something fundamentally wrong. By dealing with a number system that fails to address one of the most commonly occurring number in the world, are we missing out on something grander? When an ancient structure stands the test of time and to know that it has employed pi in its structure, should we rethink our basics. Similar to how classical physics that led us until here is paving way for quantum physics, should we have a relook into our mathematical systems.

I understand the number system is very basic and seemingly undeniable. Take two fingers and you have essentially proven the core philosophy that 1+1=2. How can that be wrong? But I am wondering if we are running the race with blinds on. Are we being cowardly to look beyond the box, afraid that our systems will crumble? Or is there something grandiose out there?

While you ponder about pi, also check out the golden ratio, phi.
During the “research” for this piece, I stumbled upon this awesome website, check it out – https://pisongs.com/techno/

Through the Looking Glass: The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara

I am not entirely sure how “People in the trees” came to be in my to-read list, but I very well remember the hesitation I felt while choosing this book as my next read. These are the moments when I am glad that I have a haphazard system in place to discover books that I would otherwise never pick up.

People in the Trees is a book that has the audacity to take an easy plot which has in itself possibilities of being a decent enough scientific thriller or even something along the fantasy genre (if you push it hard enough) and throw it out the window to make a philosophical commentary on human behavior, personal ambitions and cost of culturalization. While the hunt for an illusive, mysterious secret to immortality is an interesting plot, Hanya takes it to the next level and answers the question of how a discovery like that would span out in real life – setting real world limitations and parameters that elevate the novel to the realm of magical realism.

The meta nature of the book being a fictional autobiography of the protagonist complete with footnotes by a lackey-ish editor that further expands on the alternate history and the characters was a completely new literary device for me.

The autobiography starts with Norton Perina, the protagonist, in his youth with all the hubris that comes along with it. Even though there is some retrospection on his actions and thoughts, the author through Norton betrays how unapologetically sure he was of himself. The older Norton does look back and finds himself amusing but that is mostly on his own confidence and ambitions, knowing very well the path he would take. In contrast, he is never doubtful of his superiority among those around him, especially his colleagues. Perina, even with the comparative maturity, still looks down on others, keep himself on a pedestal. The only one that Norton even considers to on his level is his twin brother Owen. Though they don’t always see eye-to-eye, there is a sense of respect, almost as if Owen is the elder one and possibly the more the grounded version. This brings to mind the bizarre childhood segment, which I believe might have had deeper influence on their respectful lives – probably will be more meaningful on a re-read.

The egotistic nature of Norton becomes more apparent during the journey to Ivu’ivu. This momentous journey comes at a point when Norton is at his lowest, when he is at the brink of realizing that he is no longer special. Thrust in to a jungle in the literal and metaphorical sense, since he is way out his depths here, Norton struggles for attention and value which he very well considers his right. Hanya, from the get go, hints at the sexual nature of Norton’s admiration for Tallent. His admiration for Tallent as well as his contempt for Esme is two-pronged. Tallent being the leader of the group, Norton sees himself competing with Esme for Norton’s approval. On top of that each instance of Tallent’s comfort around Esme and each point she scores over Norton further cements Norton’s fear of their relationship being non-platonic.

But probably the most important turn in his life was witnessing the two major rituals of Iv’ivu – A’ina’ina and Vaka’ina. These two events reset his moral compass. While the former convinced him that humanity’s general perception of right and wrong need not stand everywhere, the latter boosted his role from an observer to something to a treasure hunter. These events peaked into the episode with the tribal boy and the episode with opa’ivu’eke. This part of his life was his peak moment, everything from his past blurred into this moment and all his actions, deliberate and otherwise, stemmed from these moments of fulfillment.

Till this moment in the book, the atmosphere created by the author was of an adventure, with the team trekking through seldom explored jungles. Hanya, through the eyes of Norton, paints a lush green environment filled with wondrous flora and fauna. She makes sure that the reader joins the team in each step of the journey experiencing the island as the characters does so as to bring in the stark contrast between Before Perina and After Perina.

Post his fame, there is a whole entry dedicated to be a sort of apology to the fate he inadvertently brought about to the village. Though he initially refrains from accepting ownership of this outcome when suggested by Tallent, his disgust at the state of Ivu’ivu, with its indigenous identity snatched away from it to be replaced by a hybrid amalgamation of wannabe imitation and imposed moral code, suggests that no matter how much he blamed corporates there was a slight sense of acceptance for the consequences of his actions.

Initially the adoption of children plays of as an act of retribution. We see a manic frenzy of adopting kids which, in his word, is in order to fill a hole. Initially the reader is led to believe that it is a cry for forgiveness. But given the ending I tend to question whether the hole was his yearning for redemption or the effort to recreate the experience he felt with the A’ina’ina boy. From the introduction of the ritual of A’ina’ina, I could foresee that his lawsuit was regarding child molestation. But I was expecting something along the lines of him making the questionable choice of imbibing the children with U’ivuan customs and being misunderstood. And when finally the curtain opened to the ending, I was left baffling by the raw nature of the act. The mask had been wearing off as the book neared its end, but to see the pure ugliness under the mask laid bare was shocking.

When you closely inspect the upbringing of Victor, you can find parallels with the culturalization of Ivu’ivu. Norton find Victor as a revolting bundle of mess which he subsequently cleaned up mentally and physically. All the efforts he took to make Victor “normal” was to some respect parallel to the things he found disgusting when he went back to Ivu’ivu. There is a hypocritical justification of his actions when Victor rebels, while in contrast he felt that the subsequent explorers to Ivu’ivu snatched away its identity to make it in their image.

Despite the obvious unpleasantness of Norton; Hanya, through superior writing, makes sure that the reader has a soft spot for him. The book takes morally ambiguous topics head on like profiteering in the expense of others, cultural assimilation and sexual correctness and thereby makes you question your own idea of morality.

“It made me rethink certain assumptions I’d always had about childhood, and sex in general, and how there was no single correct attitude to either… my time in Ivu’ivu taught me that all ethics or morals are culturally relative”

A Pigeon named David

Once a lone pigeon was kept in a box with zero stimuli. The pigeon roamed around the cage, in vain, trying figure out the way out of this limbo. It search all corners and all edges for ways to escape to no avail. The desperate search for an escape slowly built up hunger and thirst that soon overcame its senses. Mysteriously a small door, just enough for its head, opened up on the opposite wall. It was taken aback. Cautiously, it made wary steps towards the door. To its surprise, just beyond the opening there was a plate of grains and water. The sudden hope of gratification flooded its brain into numbness. But before it could regain its senses and make it to the food and water, the door slammed shut. All the hope now turned into frenzied regret. The answer to its immediate sorrow had just presented itself, but alas it was too wary to reach in time. Questions upon questions rolled around its tiny head. What made the door close, or more importantly, what made the door open in the first place? What had it done differently to deserve the gift?

It rewound back to that moment just before the opening showed itself to the bird, when in panic it had been bustling around the cage. With skepticism it flapped its wings preparing for the next bout around the cage and lo! to its wonder the door opened and without a hint of hesitation, it flung itself through the door and ate its treat. But soon the door slapped shut, forcing its head back. But now it was not as dejected, it flapped its wings again and to its delight door opened up again. This carried on, the wings flapped and the doors opened. The pigeon felt majestic, it had figured out its world.

The sole emperor of the pigeon box strolled around its world but the only hit of dopamine was across the door. It flapped its wings, commanding the door to open. But to the pigeon’s alarm, the door remain shut. The pigeon was irritated, the door seemed to be not paying attention. It flapped its wings harder, still the door didn’t budge. Anger build up inside along with something else long forgotten, it walked near to the door and flapped harder – nothing. It was bewildered, as if someone pulled it down from it’s metaphorical throne. It flapped its wings harder in desperation, the fear of entrapment, that had been long forgotten, flooded over the anger. It continued to flap with all its might, cackling forgiveness to the Door for its false hubris. The pigeon repented with all its heart for its transgressions, realizing that it was nothing but a servant to the mighty Door and its fearful wrath. And the Door heard its prayers, and The Door opened its bountiful riches to its lowly pigeon. The pigeon cried in happiness and ate its fill, all the while praising its Lord. The door shut again, but the pigeon was not the least dejected, it sang praises of The Door waiting for its mercy and the glorious Next Opening.

A researcher jotted down his obervations. Checking the clock for the next timed release.

Fun Fact: No matter how urgently you smash the “close door” button, an elevator will close according to its own schedule. The “close button” had been neutered since the 90s. The button is now there to just serve the illusion of functionality, a placebo.

The pigeon experiment is an adaptation of a 30 sec sequence from the movie Mr. Nobody.

Through the Looking Glass – Godfather by Mario Puzo

It has now been a decade since I first picked up Godfather the book and immersed myself into the world of New York City Mafia in the 1900s. The fact that a decade had passed since that momentous moment just came to my attention right now. A whole decade has passed but still the major occurrences in Godfather is still fresh in my head. How could one forget the bedside horse head, Michael accepting his role in the family, Al Neri proving his mettle and Vito Corleone’s daunting presence. So it was with high anticipation that I picked up Godfather for a re-read, my first book at that.

Those of you who are in my Goodreads circle could very well find that Godfather is one of my all-time favorite books. Consequently there was a slightly pessimistic thought in my head that what I remembered about Godfather might not be as huge as I imagined, probably magnified since it was being looked at through nostalgic lenses. But never was I disappointed in the slightest, except when I had to put down the book each day knowing very well that a monumental sequence was waiting for me just ahead. Even though I knew what was going to happen and there was no sense of suspense, the slow build up towards those incidents was exhilarating to say the least. And when the scene actually comes into play, the anticipation bursts into a surge of dopamine leaving a sense of satisfaction that envelopes you.

But despite being one of my favourite reads, I was surprised by how much part of the book my memory had glossed over and how much the incidents varied with what I had in mind. For instance, even though I had a faint recollection of the character called Johnny Fontane, the entire subplot of Johnny Fontane and his struggles as a/an actor/singer/producer never jolted any memory cells to activation. The same happened with Michael’s arc in Sicily. Even though I am still at odds about the importance of those arcs to the main story-line, it was nevertheless plot points that rounded out the characters.

Reading through the Godfather, one could easily differentiate between various parts of the story even when there is no clear distinction. It is best explained in terms of the air surrounding the characters. Mario Puzo makes sure that the reader feels as if present in the room with the characters feeling the same energy as everyone else. Every glance, every nod, every single annotations are expertly conveyed on to the reader.

Setting aside the prologue where Amerigo Bonasera is wronged by the Justice system he believed in, from the moment the scene focuses around Corleones there is a warmth. A general delightful environment kicked off by Connie’s wedding. Even though there are lot of “family business” being carried out, as the reader is introduced to the world of Corleones mostly through the perspective of Tom Hagen, there is sense of smoothness as that of a well oiled machinery. Don Vito Corleone is essentially rendered as a Man who can do no wrong and to whom nothing can wrong.

That is until the coming of Sollozzo, the archetypal villian, making it easier for the reader to root for the Corleones as the anti-hero. By now Mario Puzo has established Vito Corleone as the better evil for those on the fence. But by this time chaos rumbles and the warmth climbs up to a searing heat following the fateful shooting of the Don. The confusion, unrest and indecision that follows increases the value of Vito in the mind of the readers. It is interesting to note that there are very few actual exhibitions of Vito’s brilliance and intelligence, but the characters especially Tom Hagen make sure that the reader knows that the Godfather is not a force to be reckoned with.

Coming to think about it, The Godfather is almost Lion King-ish. We don’t really see that many showcases of Mufasa’s wisdom but we just know it is there. Then there is the eventual break of trust, the exile of the prodigal son, and return of the prodigy serving the cold dish of vengeance.

Going back to the temperature readings, a chill sets down as soon as Michael comes back from exile. The warmth of Vito’s friendships have made way to Michael’s cold stares and dominant aura. The difference between wartime and peacetime is laid out plain. Even though it was my second time through this, I could feel the palpable suspense and tension in the air. Everyone knew that something was brewing, everyone knew that sooner or later the tension had to burst.

And golly it did. Magnificently Poetic! The ending of Godfather is one of the most goosebumps initiating segments I have read. Mere hours of symphonic precision, the test of Michael Corleone and the rise of the New Don. With this Mario Puzo rips off the mask of sympathetic anti-hero to reveal the coldness of a calculating villain.

The character arc of Johnny Fontane was a curious one. For me the parallel arc with life and struggles of Johnny in Hollywood and later in Vegas served mainly two purposes. One was to show the width of Godfather’s influence and how vast the network of Corleone family was. The second seemed to be as a literary device to cut away from the main plot line, so that the intensity is reset. If the main story line was a TV show, this was the commercials. If the rise and fall and eventual resurrection of Corleones was the main mission, the fall and rise of Johnny was the side quest.

Through my first and second reading of Godfather, I associated myself with Tom Hagen instead of the protagonists. All these years it was quiet puzzling as to why I would harmonize with a character that plays second-fiddle to main characters. But with this re-reading I realized that this was almost intentional. This pattern can be seen in another fictional work – the various cases of the Victorian sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. In both these books the main character is portrayed as almost superhuman, perfect renditions of man at his best – supreme intellect and meticulous observation for Holmes and unwavering statesmanship and peerless cold calculations for Corleone. Unless you have a sense of inflated egotism it is seldom that anyone would associate themselves with these pinnacles of human minds.

It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it’s personal as hell.

Through the looking glass: Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire – IV)

Being someone who is yet to be blown away by the sheer awesomeness of Tolkien’s works, The Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin remains to me the epitome of fantasy fiction. The immensity of the world created with a huge heap of living, breathing characters, big and small, thrown in is enough to humble/inspire any author out there. The myriad array of puppets masterfully pulled by the genius of a single puppeteer, making them dance through all the convoluted intertwined plots would, without doubt, keep any reader hooked.

Despite the popularity and eventual unsatisfactory demise of the TV Show, the books still remain very much relevant. Thanks to the dilution of the book’s complex plot to fit the TV narrative, the hashtag #booksAreBetterThanTheMovie never have been more accurate.

The habit of diving down into something blindly in order to be surprised, got me good this time round. The story started with decay of King’s Landing around Tywin’s decaying body. As I read through the book, the world of ASOIAF slowly shrunk down to the ever familiar Westeros. Though I was too gripped to realize this, there was a constant nagging wait for my favorite character to burst from the pages – Tyrion Lannister the kinslayer. As I sped past one chapter of Cersie after another, the hype of Tyrion’s escape just build on up. Until I slammed on to the door in the form of an author’s note saying that it was all there is to this book. This book was all about Westeros, no chapter for Jon, Daenerys, or Tyrion. GRRM made sure that they were continuously teased throughout the book to finally hit us with the fact that their story is another book altogether. It almost felt sadistic to engross your reader into the book so much that they would be caught blindsided by the inertia of realization that they are not getting full satisfaction out of it.

As any book or any media that deals with storytelling, the characters are what determine the flavor of the dish served. As everyone who has seen, read or even heard of Game of Thrones, it is filled with scheming puppeteers pulling strings to their own whims.

By far the biggest screen time in this book was given out to Cersei Lannister who to me was the most underwhelming character among the whole. Even though she would very well be the most influential character in the book, her domain of influence falls incredibly short when considering her to be the Queen Regent over the whole of Westeros. But that is not to say that she falls short as a character. Haunted by a prophesy from her childhood that is becoming more real by the day, she plunges from a state of grace to a string of panic decisions which she has the audacity of comparing to her father’s statesmanship.

Handicapped by the sudden demise of the wall which had shielded her all her life she feels naked and adding to it is the nightmare of the dreaded prophecy claiming he first-born. She scrambles throughout the book struggling to keep the naive Tommen alive. Along with the loss of her protective wall, her guardian angel Jaime has also become near worthless with the loss of his sword-hand. She realizes that she has to fend on her own with the wits that she believes to match the great Tywin Lannister.

Jaime is also similarly haunted by words, not of prophecies waiting to be fulfilled but recounting of events past. His love for Cersei has been tainted by Tyrion’s revelation that she has made her bed with others. This prospect of being expendable in the eyes of his one true love added on to the already bubbling feeling of worthlessness that came with his golden stump. This humbling series of events incite a rethinking from Jaime leading him down to a path of redemption, an effort to claim a legacy big enough to strike off the tag of Kingslayer. His constant effort to reclaim his fighting skills despite the daily dose of humiliation and the respect his name commands shine a whole new light on the character of Jaime. With the new found handicap, Jaime has embraced Tyrion’s philosophy of “embracing your shortcomings so that no one can use it against you”.

Among the rants of countless book readers against the TV Show, there was one point that ranked high among their grievances, the omission of Dorne plot. Doran, the ever patient, “wheelchair”-ridden ruler of the lands of Dorne might seem like a pushover during the initial chapters. But there is an air to his wisdom and calm demeanor that make us curious about what is happening under those eyes that seem to be content with the simplest of things. Despite the many pleadings for revenge and a potential coup in motion, Doran’s unwavering stand for being content with what is offered seems puzzling. This lingers on until the final unmasking of the genius behind. Seldom has any book kicked off such an adrenaline rush as this chapter in Dorne has. I join my voice with the screams of unfair exclusion of the Dorne plot from the TV Show.

Another set of characters that the TV Show has been unfair towards is Euron and Victarion Greyjoy. Victarion the noble and dutiful servant to Euron’s cunning and mysterious alpha, yin and yang. Even though their actions have been limited mostly to the islands, the potential that these characters hold is suspended mid action, to be boiled over.

All the other characters seem to be on an RPG quest of their own. Sam with his easter eggs of Dany and Aemon’s prophecy, Arya’s slow rise to something potentially badass and Briene being the quintessential knight in an RPG game. Then there is Littlefinger and Sansa dancing through his schemes. But admittedly Littlefinger’s show of strength with all odds against him puts him up among the best players in the Game of Thrones.

Using the age-old storytelling device of ending a book in the middle of a series, Feast for Crows ends with a lot of unanswered questions and cliffhangers that leave us wanting for more. A Song of Ice and Fire is a series that despite its volume take us along a ride that we are never ready for. Each time I closed the book, I had to take a deep breath and stare ahead for a second to unplug into the world that encompassed me.

“How much can a crown be worth, when a crow can dine upon a king?”