Friday, December 22, 2017

Best Films of 2017

Best films seen this year (not necessarily released in 2017) - no particular order
1. Baby Driver - simple, fast, stylish film - all the tropes of an action movie with little twists, and executed very well.

2. Qissa - atmospheric, and hallucinating - will linger for a long time.

3. Hacksaw Ridge - For all his weirdness, Mel Gibson is a supremely accomplished director. Visceral war stunts, charming romance (rarely depicted nowadays, and great acting by Andrew Garfield

4. Spiderman Homecoming - Just a well made superhero caper

5. Wonderwoman - Just a well made superhero caper with the ethereal Gal Gadot in it. Who can resist!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Croydon We-Desi Quiz Club for kids- Full List of all the quizzes

Full list of all the quizzes so far

Quiz held in Jan 2017

Quiz held in Feb 2017.

Quiz held in Mar 2017.

Quiz held in Apr 2017.

Quiz held in May 2017

Quiz held in June 2017

Quiz held in Aug 2017

Quiz held in Sept 2017

The answers follow the questions immediately. Try it yourself or get your kids to take it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

From Greehorns to Dragon Slayers - L'Etape Dragon Medio Fondo – 11th June 2017

Just as the post L2P (London to Paris) blues were striking last September, Uthi suggested the Wales L'Etape Dragon race. A number of new members had joined DCC, a lot of us hadn't done distance more than 20km at a time, and certainly no one had done any big mountain climbing before. Dragon was a daunting prospect - 153km, 2400m climb with long endless climbs one after the other.

However, bravely or foolishly, seven of us decided to take on L'Etape Dragon Medio Fondo - route

Immediately, the gravity of the challenge was clear. We kept the rides going throughout winter where people started to slowly build up their mileage and stamina and getting a hang of technique and pacing.

First meetup to discuss the training plan happened in Feb at Matthew's Yard. People started getting to hear slightly technical jargon such as hill training, speed sessions, heart rate zones, chainset configuration. Discussions became more serious.

A minimum of 3/4 sessions per week were needed, however, given varying time pressures, it was difficult to co-ordinate during the week. However weekends, people generally rode together.

All this while, people were also helping new DCC riders getting started with their slow/steady rides. The club is geared towards beginners and amateurs, so helping people to ride regularly takes precedence over serious training.

Sanjay was also training the kids and their parents for the Big Foot Croydon to Brighton challenge. That was one amazing accomplishment.

In April and May, our mileage and elevation soared - all the major climbs around Kent, Surrey, and Sussex were shortlisted and scaled. However, nothing of the magnitude of dragon ride was still attempted. We remained sceptical!

Matthew dropped out after a medical diagnosis. And then just a week before the event, Ganesh had to drop out and travel to India due to family emergency. Magnificient Seven became the Famous Five. New dad Uthi was also unable to train due to parenting duties. In general, our training left a lot to be desired. Many were looking at avoiding the DNF status rather than setting time goals.

All throughout the last week, all eyes were on the weather. The weather in London was awful and that in Wales was worrisome. Saturday (D Day - 1) showed heavy rains, but Sunday showed 16 degree with 50% chance of rains... and significant winds.

The forecast was spot on. It was raining incessantly throughout the day. Before reaching Cymmer (where we were based), we took a detour along the start of the route (Margam Park going towards Tata Steel works in Port Talbot). The climb started almost immediately going until Cymmer and beyond.

Our cottage was awesome – rustic, well equipped with cyclist friendly facilities. We had a lovely dinner in the converted station pub. Venu, Sanjay, Pankaj decided to recce the first big climb. I had seen enough on the way to Cymmer and didn't need more putting off.

D-Day - Thankfully, the overhead taps were off in the morning and it looked cool and calm. First setback was encountered when I tried to fill air in the tyre however the pump head saliciously took my virgin tube's top off. And to reaffirm its lecher credentials, it did the same with Sanjay's tube. Thankfully, both tubes were replaced soon and we headed to the start location.

We all started together at around 9.30 am, but soon I, Sanjay and the rest spread out. First big hill Blwch started immediately after Cymmer (our base). About 7 km of climb with 5% gradient. All the cyclists ahead were looking like ants reaching up to the sky in search of nirvana. We were back of the queue.

The descent were extremely treacherous due to the gradient and weather. Wind and rain were really taking a hold now. There were some causalities who lost control due to the slope and cross winds.

The second climb Rhigos was 9 km with 4% gradient. Again non-stop spinning, but still the legs were fresh so no major concerns at this point. Also, the first feed station was at the other end. The station was well stocked with Jaffa cake, baked potatoes, and nut bars. With stocks replenished I set on my way. I met Sanjay on the way who needed help with wobbly camera mount, so lent him my rubber bands (always handy). Few meters down, however, I got cramps so stopped. Sanjay stopped to help but I had the cramps in control, just needed some rest. And then he stopped with the same problem ahead (remember the tubes).

We caught up at the second feed station. This one had lovely wraps, sausage rolls, banana etc. Again, well stocked and staffed. Rains got heavy, so the break was longer. We started together, but Sanjay slowed down again due to cramps, but not aware, I kept going. The big one Devil's elbow lay ahead.

Devil's elbow is the only timed segment in the race. From the bottom, it looks like the way to the top is made of steps. On closer look, realised it was a road with cyclists riding at almost walking pace (and some actually walking). I paused before the climb, got some liquids. Sanjay passed me by again. As I started riding, realised that the only way to complete this is to not look too far up. First hair pin gone, looked down and wondered how the hell I climbed so high. Kept going after that, desperately trying not to get blocked by two abreast riders, else I would be off the bike with no chance of getting on until the top.

After that, it was fairly easy for a while. Then suddenly, two long stretches of unexpected climbing (thanks to not studying the route + focussing too much on the Elbow) came up in the closing sections. Shoulders and back was sore, and legs were heavy, but finish line was closer, so I gritted my teeth and kept going.

Was so glad to cross the finish line. Sanjay came a few minutes behind. We got some pasta and (non-alcoholic) beer. Took photos at the podium and with the Devil (who was put off by the weather to be standing as usual at Devil’s Elbow cheering the riders).

After a while, Uthi, Pankaj and Venu came one after the other. They had done the entire 153 km ride in a group. Incredible to stick together in such awful weather conditions.

More photos at the podium opening Spanish ‘champagne’ to celebrate many months’ worth of hard work culminating in a very memorable achievement!

Here’s hoping for more rides and races!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Croydon We-Desi Quiz Club

Last year, I conducted some friendly quizzes in order to liven up family and friends' get together. Having been through a gamut of typical party games such as Dumb Charades, Pictionary, Uno, Zenga, people were ready for something new. Also, I was looking at getting parents and kids involved together, which was not quite happening with other games (no idea why).

The quizzes were well-received and kids seem to be keen for more. So, this year I decided to start a quizzing league from local desi kids. It's called Croydon We-Desi Quiz Club.

The age group was 8-13 years (exceptions allowed). Focussing on desi kids allows the quiz to have some level of India emphasis.

Full list of all the quizzes so far is here

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Cycling in Croydon, London

As a keen cyclist, I am asked cycling related questions on a regular basis, so thought I should write up an FAQ. The answers (some obvious, others not so) are aimed at those who want to use cycle for commuting to/from work or shopping or just leisure rides. Following is Croydon specific, but also applies to elsewhere in the UK.
Q -Is parking free?
A - Cycle parking is free everywhere. Massive free 2 tier cycle parking facilities at East Croydon station. Loads as well in the city centre and high street.
Many shops (Sainsbury’s, Waitrose) will allow you to keep the bike inside if you forget the lock (like I have smile emoticon
Q - Is theft an issue?
A - Cycle theft is a problem, especially in Croydon. Park in visible spots, lock both wheels, use locks with gold/silver rating. Cyclists leave their stronger locks where they park frequently, so they don’t have to carry the heavy locks back and forth (I do at East Croydon station).
Q - Are helmets compulsory?
A - No, but strongly recommended, especially for kids.
Q - Are lights compulsory?
A - Yes, in the dark. Front white and rear red.…/izn20130902-Buying-bike…
Q - Is it dangerous?
A - Cycling has become safer over the years in spite of rise in the number of cycle journeys .
In Croydon, there are loads of cycle and bus lanes so even on busy roads, you are surprisingly safe. However, you have to be careful along tram lines.
Q - But the weather is bad – cold and rainy always!
A - As they say, there is nothing like bad weather, only bad gear (clothes). Anyway, for short journeys, the gear doesn’t matter much. 5 minutes intocycling will banish all the cold and you will actually enjoy the rain. However, most days of the year, you will need gloves.
Q - Can you carry kids on a cycle?
A - Yes, you can carry kids from toddlers to older ones as long as the cycle is “built or adapted” to carry “a passenger.”
I carry my 8 year old daughter around on a normal cycle with a strong rear rack, a seat mounted on the rack, and footrest.
Q - Is riding on footpath illegal?
A - To quote - " legislation came into force to allow a fixed penalty notice to be served on anyone who is guilty of cycling on a footway (legal term for footpath, pavement). However ...FPNs should only be used where a cyclist is riding in a manner that may endanger others".…/cycling-and-the-law/
Q - I haven't ridden a bike since I was a kid?
A - Start slow, on quieter roads, build confidence. Ride regularly. Become a kid

Nationalism and Religion - Opium to fool the masses

There is no dearth of bigoted people in politics, but they flourish because they are smart enough to give credence to the thoughts of a sizeable populace who are themselves bigoted and ignorant. These politicians are using the weapon of nationalism to distract citizens from talking about fundamental issues (poverty, pollution, drought, economy) and brand those who don't tow the line as anti-nationals. Forcing people to say, "Bharat Mata Ki Jai" is one such instance. 

BJP General Secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya and Baba Ramdev (brother of Baba Kamdev) are two such specimens of Reptilia Bigota.

Can these two please clarify the following
1. How frequently should we say "Bharat Mata ki Jai"? Can we just say once (say in the bathroom)
2. Who will record that we have said "Bharat Mata ki Jai"? Does it have to be in front of BJP/Sangh/RSS Office. Is a selfie video ok.
3. If there is a foreign born person who is now resident in India, does he have to say it?
4. What if someone says "Bharat Mata ki Jai", in a sarcastic tone (say when India loses in a game, when they see huge mounds of garbage, when they are bribing a government babu in a hospital to allow carry out life-saving operation on their loved ones). How will you know the difference and who will judge that the statement was heartful or sarcastic?
5. What about the Indians who don't want to say anything positive about India but have no other passports. How do you plan to deport them?
Mr Vijayvargiya you are general secretary of the ruling party and Babaji, you are the 'owner' of the fastest growing FMCG brand in India, so would expect your statements to be logical and actionable. Don't see that being the case. EVER. Any party for that matter.

Monday, September 14, 2015

First ever full - Farnham Pilgrim Full Marathon

Phew, ran my first full marathon ever at Farnham Pilgrim. It just wasnt your usual run-of the mill 42.2 km. With an elevation of 1781 ft and a route comprising tarmac, gravel, steps, sand, mud, busy road crossings, wooden stiles, and gates, it was a mini obstacle course.
But there was no masochism in choosing this as my first marathon. I have run about 8-9 half marathons, most on road. 21.1 km distance had become less of a challenge, and I thought its best to check a full marathon off my list before I turn 40. Over the years, I have also realised that road running is a lot less fun that trail running - road  is monotonous and harder on your knees, trail is varied, and more stimulating. The route changes every few feet - grass, mud, gravel, hill - making you alert and forcing you to run a bit slower. At the same time, you use of more of your leg muscles to stabilise your feet, so helps strengthen them rather than breaking them down.

At the same time, mass participation events have become a big turn-off for me. Farnham Pilgrim is still a small event with a total of 700 runners for full and half marathon. The entry fees are not a rip-off and places are guaranteed even at the last minute. You are not herded like sheep at the start of the race and its easier to mingle with family and friends at any time. In spite of it being a small event, the organisation was top class. It has consistently rated in top 10 marathons since its inception.

Knowing how tough it was going to be, I was less focussed on the time, and more on finishing it. Didn’t want to face the embarrassment of not completing it due to injury or hitting the wall.

I trained the best I ever trained for, for any event. Apart from a few missed runs (due to illness and travel), I was mostly on track. Joining my local running club – The Striders – also helped tremendously. Training with others during speed sessions was the key in training at the right intensity which you just don’t achieve when you train alone. At the same time, learnt a few warm-up/cool-down routines which I then incorporated in my sessions.

The plan I followed was of another trail marathon. Didn’t want any more than 4 sessions per week as I know I would struggle to make the time and it would be harder on the body. If you are a regular runner and are only aiming at completing a marathon in good shape and not in any ambitious time, 4 sessions is more than enough.

I even ran most of the Farnham Pilgrim route a month before the race to familiarise myself with the course. Glad I did, because it gave me a sense of the challenge that lay ahead. This race was not to be taken lightly.

Photos from recce run

Photos from recce run

The race day itself was perfect – lightly overcast, but no rain, and temperature in mid teens. 

I had decided to start slow around 6:30 min/km mark. However, just like most runners, got carried away in the moment, and the aim of running negative splits was soon going to go out of the window. For a first timer, it is hard to judge whether running slower will actually help you run negative splits and if you will still have the strength at the end to run faster.

Anyway, was hovering around the 6:00 min/km mark for most of the first 10 kms. This stretch has minimal climbs, so it was easy to keep the pace without feeling fatigued. Though there were some steps to be climbed on the way, the first (and biggest) real test was around 20 km mark at Church of St Martha-on-the-Hill . 

The climb here is continuous 1.5 km or so with a LOT of sand. It was so hard to find a grip that almost everyone was walking up rather than running.

From here, it was steep downhill run for a while. However, there was no scope for taking it easy. There were 5 hills one after the other. Fatigue and pain had set in at this time. Having done distances longer than 30 km in training, I knew that the pain was pure fatigue related and wouldn’t stop me from finishing the marathon. However, now the run was taking a mental toll. Every water station was an excuse to stop, every hill was an excuse to walk, especially when other runners were doing the same.

At around 2 miles to finish, decided to run at a steady fast pace. In my mind, it felt like I was running at 5:30 min/km, however, in my watch, it was hovering around 6 min/km. The legs were heavy as logs and no amount of exertion was making me go faster.

Caught up with a female runner who was running steady. Instead of overtaking, got into first real conversation with her. But she decided to pause before the last hill, so I kept going. Wife and daughter saw me coming and I ran with my daughter to the finish line

I finished the marathon in 4 hours 39 minutes, which was slightly more than what I had anticipated, but can’t complain. The legs are stiff, and my gait will take a few days to get back, but haven’t got any serious injuries. Overall, am glad that I registered for the run and then completed it in good time. One of the highlights of the year, and probably, my life.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Focus on Protection and Prevention, Not Punishment

Whenever we hear of a major in India crime that causes national outrage– a heinous rape or a terrorist attack, the only cries I hear, even from the sanest and most ‘educated’ of Indians are to mete out harshest of punishment to the perpetrators. The punishment methods usually suggested are chemical castration, flogging, shooting dead, or hanging. They also want it to be meted out by swiftest possible means. Right Now! Nothing else would do. The criminals don’t have a right to defend their case. They don’t deserve to be heard. They are evil and inhuman and don’t deserve justice reserved for normal folk. They have already been judged.

There are massive moral and legal issues in meting out justice in the swiftest and sternest manner. Think of one innocent amongst the thousands of actual criminals, who didn’t get access to a decent lawyer, and who was not allowed to build his case due to the exigency to ‘carry out justice’. And the case was heard and then he was hanged. We all clapped and applauded, and 2 days later, we found out that he was actually innocent. Oh, well, we murdered an innocent man. Its ok, some collateral damage is fine!

By focusing on punishment, people also miss the real issue, which is of protection and prevention. By the time is crime is committed, the ship has already sailed, and capsized. Lives have been ruined – of the victims, their families, the criminals, their families. Whether they deserve it or not, is not the point. Damage has been done irreversibly.

By focusing on punishment, we have already let the real perpetrators off scott-free. The real perpetrators who are the root cause are the State and its various components who have played a significant hand in the creation and development of the deviant individuals. In the case of social crimes, the factors that contributed to the crime are societal, cultural, and law enforcement failures. In case of terrorist attacks, these could be intelligence gathering, surveillance, and interception failures.

You might argue that government doesn’t control society’s attitudes and cultural leanings. But I think it does. A liberal government allows all voices to be heard, all faiths to be practiced, all differences to be allowed. It allows dissent and disagreement, as long as there is no crime committed (i.e damage to property, physically hurting people you disagree with; causing offense and mental anguish are not crimes). If you give confidence to the people that radical or ultra conservative beliefs are not given covert state support over other beliefs, you get a more open and free society, not where you are watching what you say, and looking over your shoulder for being non-conformist. Such a society is fundamental to serve the needs of the minority – women, children, people practising non-majority religions, atheists, gays and disabled.

The government also controls society’s attitudes and cultural leanings through education. It can invest more in education of the weaker section of the societies – women, poor, lower castes – ensuring that they have better chance to move up socially, integrate more fully with the rest of the society, and be well-represented in all important spheres of life. It can also keep education ‘agnostic’ of all religious, philosophical, and economic dogma, and let the kids make up their own minds.

Through genuine freedom and openness, and education, government can not only shape social and cultural views, it also encourages citizens to be more responsible. Promoting genuine freedoms, education, and mobility are significant 'soft' steps in protecting the people and preventing any major crimes.

The 'hard' steps in protection and prevention are with respect to law enforcement, intelligence gathering, surveillance, and interception. Again, we have seen that there are persistent systemic failures in all of these areas. Crime is frequently under-reported, police stations are notoriously understaffed, police rely on informal khabaris for intelligence gathering, and survelliance is very poor. We know of oil tankers blown off course landing within a kilometre of the Worli Sea-Link without the army/navy/police knowing about it. No major overhaul has happened after 26/11 that will give us confidence that the issues have been addressed.

All these failures on the part of the state need significant step-by-step attention and remediation. They can’t be fixed in a day and there are no easy solutions. The solutions may take time to implement and realise. Sometimes, the solutions may span different departments and jurisdictional areas. Perhaps that's why, there isn’t a willingness to address these. The state just moves from one crisis to another, focussed purely on damage control, and blame-game. Blame the criminal, we have no part to play.

However, the people, by not going after the real problems and instead just focussing only the criminal, allow the state to wash their hands off their sins. 

And that’s the real crime.