Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years

Queen Elizabeth I is one of the most fascinating emperors to have ever ruled the United Kingdom. She is a vision in portraiture, literature and history for centuries now but much of her term in power is shrouded in some of the most catastrophic decisions ever made by an English ruler: from being an avid Protestant to granting lifetime imprisonment to the Queen of Scots, Mary. A new book by John Guy speaks in a similar tone of disagreement over Queen Elizabeth’s rule in England, although for quite a different set of reasons.

A captivating new look inside the life of one of the greatest English monarchs of all time
A captivating new look inside the life of one of the greatest English monarchs of all time

The book talks about the Spanish Armada episode and how the Queen successfully defended her kingdom from it. Moments such as these demonstrate what a great Queen she was despite Elizabeth’s many faults. It’s tough to imagine every ruler so wicked and steely, that the country manages to protect itself from a Spanish invasion for as long as Elizabeth I ruled the United Kingdom. John uncovers new historical documents which showcase negotiations the Queen was always ever busy in, with the Spanish to keep her kingdom very safe and secure. A subject of many foiled attempts to take Elizabeth’s life, the Queen always exudes a sense of calm and poised-strength that is hard to gather from other monarchs.

But Elizabeth I’s faults far outshadow her commitment to coming off as a great Queen. She must have given her secretary Sir Francis Drake numerous headaches despite his entrenched loyalty to his duty, Elizabeth was filled with lies and also liked to divide and rule her kingdom, which was unfair to say the least. And to top all that off she also had an affair with the Earl of Leicester, who she never married because her throne depended on it. The book is a good counterargument against picturing Elizabeth I as a stuffy (and powerful) woman-in-control, and for that alone it is a remarkable historical narrative about a Queen and her glorious rule in the United Kingdom as a monarch, which should really always be taken at face value.

Best Journaling Apps

The greatest apps in the market for writing your diary entries

One of the biggest tasks that you have daily is writing down your experiences for the day in a beautiful diary. It makes you feel good about daily activities, and also helps you reflect on what happens in your life everyday. Every day may not be an insomniac whirlwind – days go from mundane to exciting and vice versa and a diary comes in handy to record all those precious moments that make life so amazing.

Technology has made it easy to jot down your thoughts because not only is going digital a rather cost-effective alternative in our society for beautiful diary writing in comparison to the more traditional approach to keeping a diary (think: papers, ink and a crafty DIY diary you have put together yourself), it also aids ‘the paperless agenda’. Going digital with diary writing is also very well suited for people who love technology (like me).

Penzu

Penzu is a great online app in the market for writing your diary entries. The app is cross-platform (supported for iPad, Android and iPhone as well) and the interface will quite simply take your breath away – it boasts a word count function, you can add images to your diary entries if you like and my favourite thing about the app is that it has a good range of text edit options for writing your diary.

Everyday (for iPad and iPod Touch)

The Everyday diary app is a simple diary option. I loved the personalization feature for it – there are a good range of themes there and there’s also a unique-looking stats (number of posts and words used), as well as reminders to jog your memory that it is time to write in your diary.

Moleskine Journal (for Android and iPad)

It’s a personal favourite because the app is a digital alternative to a traditional (and very amazing) Moleskine Journal. There are options to have several diaries, all stacked across a shelf-like space or as note patches which looks nice enough but my favourite features on the app are the page-like writing interfaces (lined-or-not), a sync feature with Evernote and the ability to scribble whenever and however I please.

JotterPad (for Android)

With JotterPad, you can write simple diary entries. My favourite feature in the app: it comes with a dictionary.

Momento (for iPad and iPod Touch)

If you like to keep a private diary then this is the app for you. One of my favourite features in the app is that it provides seamless connectivity with Spotify, Flickr, Medium and Moves to name a few, which will record your activities on all of the platforms, right into Momento.

Journey (for Google Chrome and Android)

With the Journey app, you can publish your diary thoughts to WordPress, and selected social networks, which I really liked the sound of but other than that it is a rather simple diary app, in comparison to it’s contemporaries.

Collect (for iPad and iPod Touch)

If you like to keep a photo-based diary instead of a traditional diary, then Collect is the app for you. You can add photos from Flickr and Dropbox if you like, apart from manually taking one with a camera. But the best thing about it is that the app lets you build your own collages.

DayJournal (for iPad and Android)

What I liked about DayJournal is that it comes with emojis. The interface is pleasantly uncluttered and there is also a magical route to learning what you were upto this time in the year past.

Quiller (for iPad and iPod Touch)

Quiller is an eccentric journaling app. My favourite features in the app are the enormously long range of fonts and the paper-feel of the writing space – this is also complimentary to how the app amazingly looks traditionally like a glorious diary.

Diaro (for Kindle Fire, iPad and iPod Touch)

I think Diaro is growing on me. The interface is uncluttered, the app boasts a customizable UI colour, and it is a pretty simple diary app but it’s really excellent for taking small (and fast) notes just when you need to.

When Breath Becomes Air

Every so often a book comes along that can only be described as moving and dogmatic. Paul Kalanithi explores life’s most pragmatic questions in his book, which was penned before he died. Paul was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer when he was only thirty-six years old and it was the most tragic thing because he was very close to finishing ten years of training. He was a neurosurgeon by profession, and born to a family of Indian migrants in the United States, and died aged thirty-seven.

An emotive memoir
An emotive memoir

One of the subjects that Paul was always interested in was death. He wanted to explore it’s connection to life and the wider meaning of life as a result, and in his search for the answer, he even did not consider medicine as a profession, at first. Having studied English Literature and human biology at Stanford and obtaining a postgraduate degree from Cambridge in history and the philosophy of science, Paul chose to become a neurosurgeon because unlike all his Yale med school companions he wanted “a profession not a job”; it’s tough really to have a profession that asks to sacrifice personal interests just in an effort to serve because there is absolutely no joy in that.

I don’t think that a job can be held if you do not enjoy it and where is the enjoyment if you do not have a life of your own? Naturally, a person can feel that a demanding profession like that, where a person has to always choose “lifestyle last” and their job first, is worth having because it’s a lot higher up on their list of priorities but is that what is the meaning of life really, where it’s all work and no play because that for sure, as the saying goes, makes Jack a dull boy.

Some other different kind of observations by Paul includes the point of life when human beings have to grapple with the idea of death and what to do when you do not exactly get the chance to get all the things in life you had wished for. Becoming a neurosurgeon-in-training had hardened Paul to patients’ sufferings because he even witnessed several deaths, on-the-job, inclusive of a fellow worker who was so wracked by guilt at a medical error he committed suicide.

The push for sentimentality in the book is strangely rare in places because it is so filled with Paul’s questions about life and death: he turns down his dream job because he realizes that he will not live long enough to take it up, and also takes the decision to have a child, with his wife, after finding out that his lung cancer is not a treatable disease. But nevertheless, the book still serves as a good insider’s account of what it is like for young people training to become a neurosurgeon, and the journey that a person must sometimes make to find the right path in life for themselves.

Movie Reviews: Funky Humour, Gripping Drama & Gender Wars

Ki & Ka

In Bollywood, defining stereotypes is the easiest thing: always imagine a spirited woman, ultimately destined to be doomed underneath a patriarchal system, for every one of life’s little choices. Traditional (and bizarre, in modern India) as that thought sounds, this is an outdated outlook in a world where feminist theories have a wider appeal than confinement of the weaker sex, fuelled by sexist theories. Playing into a similar story is the film Ki & Ka, by R. Balki, where the protagonist is a female career woman, and she literally is “the one who wears the pants in her household.” Kia (Kareena Kapoor) wishes to see more women actively contribute to the workforce in India, rather than still be all-perfect housewives.

Kia, however, then falls in love with Kabir – a son, destined to inherit his father’s wealth, but pursuing interests in becoming a househusband, like his mother instead, because to Kabir playing up a career sounds zany. After the two get married, Kia happily takes on the role of “the bread-earner” in her family, leaving Kabir to manage the two’s home instead. The film is lukewarm in spots, despite it’s overarching feel-good atmosphere: there is a loose story about suspicions over infidelity brewing in Kia’s mind for Kabir, along with the thought that the male protagonist is a “Goody Two-shoes”, when his wife is instead more zealous. Because of these loose stories, the film does not really elaborate how tough it must be in Indian society to simply switch traditional family roles (for women, in particular), preferring to instead sugarcoat this new forward-manner of Indian thinking.

Kabir, is the kind of man that most don’t expect to meet in India: when it comes to goodness, he is naturally a hyperbole. Kabir is also over-sensitive, and massively popular with neighbourhood women (because of his brewed up plans for females interested in maintaining a better diet and regular exercise), and women en générale (Kabir lives in a co-dependent relationship with his wife, and this attracts the attention of many, inclusive of cookery shows). With his latest film, R. Balki has managed to push the envelope in terms of creativity, and boldness because not very often do you meet a male character, so different from the usual butch male kinds in Indian films. Furthermore, this is a film that does justice somewhat to newer romantic urban cultures propping up all over India, that is less about tradition, and more about reformist.

Rating: 7/10

Mastizaade

Mastizaade
Mastizaade

The adult comedy, Mastizaade, centres around the curing of two sex addicts, Sunny Kele and Aditya Chothia, who have hopelessly fallen into that state because of a fun-loving prankster. Played by Tusshar Kapoor and Vir Das, respectively, the boys try very hard to get rid of their obsession with sex, even when they fall in love with a set of twin sisters (Laila and Lily Lele), but to no avail. The twin sisters, to elaborate, are natural opposites, they have a gay brother (who falls in love with Kele), and one of them is even engaged to a patriotic (and handicapped) army officer; basically, Lily is a simple young girl, with stuttering issues, whilst Laila is wholly-contemporary, in nature, and the film is a fat collection of one-line comedic sentences, and typecast humour doses, with a lot of regularity – funny and familiar.

Rating: 4/10

Rocky Handsome

Rocky Handsome, is an official adaptation of the Hollywood success story, John Wick (2014), starring Keanu Reeves. John Abraham plays Rocky Ahlawat, a pawnbroker, who develops a mutual fondness for his neighbour’s young daughter, even though she likes to nick items, and her mother disapproves of the two’s relationship. The young girl’s mother is addicted to drugs, and is also a dancer at a bar, but she doesn’t seem to be too concerned over how this new friendship between her daughter and her neighbour could actually prove to be a positive experience in the child’s life, for a change. The film soon shifts into a thrilling spin of mystery and secrets, however, with the abduction of the girl, that Rocky must now enlist himself to not only protect, but also save. Peppered with action scenes, very uncommon to Bollywood, Rocky Handsome, is an emotional commitment to John Abraham’s naturalistic portrayal of the electrifying adventures of a sombre and silent young man.

Rating: 7/10

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

If you enjoy “a good princess, chasing a wicked queen” kind of stories, then prepare yourself to suddenly shift focus on two young soldiers out to thwart their master.

A tale of two royals and their evil desires
Rating: 6/10

The sequel to “Snow White and the Huntsman” seems half-baked, at first. In the first film, Queen Eleanor wishes for a fair child, but dies soon after giving birth to her. The child is named Snow White, and her father, King Magnus marries Ravenna, who kills him to take supreme control of his kingdom. Locked away, Snow White eventually gets chased by Ravenna’s people, for her heart. In the second film, Ravenna is about to die but discovers Freya, her sister, is pregnant with an illegitimate child. However, the child is murdered by the man who fathered her, which tears Freya apart enough to kill him, with her previously blocked powers.

Freya never recovers from the loss so constructs her very own empire far away, killing all those that get in her way, and sitting atop an army she has crafted. Ravenna dies eventually, but when Freya grabs hold of her sister’s magic mirror, she finds out that before Snow White killed her, Ravenna transported her spirit to the mirror. Starring Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt and Chris Hemsworth, another angle to the film is a love story between two of Freya’s soldiers, where the maiden is a violent troublemaker. The movie is replete with rich forests, fairy spirits that reside in those forests, and colourful beasts, but all of that is really in the background, as a hardened (towards love) Freya grows into a vengeful royal, with two key army soldiers missing, because they are in love.

Movie Reviews: Eccentric Tamil Films

Baahubali: The Beginning   

The most expensive film ever made in India

In Bollywood, on an average day, more films are produced than Hollywood. Approximately 1000 films from Bollywood hit theatres across India annually, and this is twice the number of films produced in Hollywood. In the midst of it all, the most expensive film ever made, “Baahubali: The Beginning”, is a Tamil film from S. S. Rajamouli. The first of the two films, performed spectacularly in both India, and around the world, and also premiered at the Busan International Film Festival, Golden Horse Film Festival and Hawaii International Film Festival. The plot of the movie is set in an ancient era, where Sivagami, the Queen, sacrifices her life to save her child. The child is named Shiva (Prabhas), after being saved by local villagers, and he is absurdly strong. Shiva gets dragged into a war over rescuing a Queen, who has been chained in the Malishmati Kingdom for the last 25 years. The film is interesting for the deadly looking chariots, the chip shop atmosphere of good vs. evil, and a story about strength and Tamil battles.

Rating: 8/10

Naanum Rowdydhaan

A comedy about crime and romance

One of the biggest Tamil hits, Naanum Rowdydhaan, is about Pondy (Vijay Sethupathi), a seven-year-old-boy, who gets convinced by criminals to become a thug, in a police station he accompanies his mother to because she is a police officer. When Pondy grows up, he opens a crime shop and participates in enormous crimes. However, when he meets a young maiden, Pondy alters the way he communicates with people, which means that he exchanges punches with soft words. Peppered with scenery in Pondicherry, the movie is a typical Tamil comedy.

Rating: 7/10

Papanasam

A family drama unfolds…

Papanasam stars Kamal Hassan in the lead, as Suyambu, the local manager of a national cable television company. Suyambu, needs to go through good days watching classic films, quiz shows and news stories, earning a reputation as a live encyclopaedia. Suyambu also spends his lunchtime providing minute legal advice to fellow people, who shockingly have been harassed by corrupted policemen, and at night he presses the rewind button on romantic movie items, with his wife, Rani. The film is entertaining enough for its domestic plot, but loses the story when Suyambu dedicates enormous effort into saving his family from a privacy intrusion because of a corrupted “law and order” system. From that point onwards the film goes downhill considerably, but grows punchy again when the question of morality and intelligence inherited from television, is raised in the screenplay.

Rating: 7/10

Things Fall Apart

What is rural life really like in Africa?

This is a book  that was published in 1958 but with it’s help brought Africa global recognition. Steeped in colonial history, Ghana eventually gained independence and both France and Belgium began to understand that colonialism has finally come to an end in the African continent, but unknown to those European imperial powers that had colonised the place, independence began to torment Africans. Several European powers grew deeply interested in the “local power source” they could sense was abound in the African continent then and Achebe’s novel begins at this point in time, where you meet a young man, in a fictional Nigerian town, who suddenly goes from being a farmer to a wrestling champion of his African province.

The young man went by the name of Okonkwo and he was born to a father who, in his eyes, was lazy and he died ten years before fame found Okonkwo. Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, was in heavy debt, and all of his neighbours in some or the other way, was in want of important money from him. Okonkwo had limited forbearance for the tall, sorrow-filled, savage-like, flute-playing and stooped Unoka: whenever his father rarely had money, he would splurge it on palm-wine, drunk from gourds, invite the neighbours and indulge in merrymaking but his happiest days were when two or three moons following the harvest his entourage would bring down the instruments from their fireplace and play it with friends, make music, feast, go from one town market to the other as the sun would shine ever brightly.

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How is Africa’s colonial past in the flesh?

It is pretty clear that Okonkwo never got along with his father or had the desire to reserve kind words about him but the story isn’t about any of that: it is about how Okonkwo threw a fellow dominating wrestler, Amalinze the Cat, from his high horse and won. Amalinze was known as the cat because his back never touched brown earth and it was the most hotly contested battle since the founder of the town conversed with a wild spirit for seven days and seven nights. Amalinze, a smart professional, met his opponent Okonkwo, a slippery fish in water, and in the protagonist’s words, lost to him, in wrestling in a patriarchal and rural democratic town. Although that particular thought sounds so hard to believe when Amalinze seems to be a gifted wrestler, Okonkwo did defeat him in the end in his village surroundings, that magically remains preserved throughout time.

The book is interesting for bringing a correct picture of Africa to the West. Reading the book will enrich your idea of the kind of villages that build up the continent, overwhelmingly, and what life is like for the people who inhabit them. Okonkwo gets famous after he wins against Amalinze, an event that you understand, was more than twenty years ago. A mammoth man, Okonkwo is tall like his father, with bushy eyebrows and a wide nose. Severe and lacking zero tolerance for unsuccessful men, when Okonkwo naps his huge family can sense that he is breathing even though they live in separate village houses.

Stammering slightly, Okonkwo spent his whole childhood looking for a blue kite floating around a clear sky and if he met it, he would ask it if he had brought back any yards of cloth with him. Okonkwo, having grown up in absolute poverty because of his father, had to live a life where he barely ate, with people constantly making fun of him, and growing up exhibiting the same debt-ridden habits of Unoka, except that people trusted him much less than his father, when the question of borrowing even more money was raised. There is a lot of market environment in Things Fall Apart and it is worthy of a read to understand Africa during the 1800s so much better, from the inside.