A Summer of Challenges – Buckets, Books, and Billy Goat


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a motor neuron disease, which severely affects muscular action and results in muscular atrophy. The challenge involved dousing oneself with a bucket of ice-cold water within 24 hours of being challenged OR making a donation to the ALS foundation.

It wasn’t long before the thing was turned into a spectacle, with people reveling in posting videos about bucketing themselves, without mention of a donation. A bigger controversy erupted when it was revealed that only a small fraction of donations actually goes towards research on curing/ alleviating pain associated with the disease. Most of it seems to be funneled back towards fund raising activities.

Bollywood, as usual, was streets ahead, as seen in this article.



The Ice Bucket Challenge spawned numerous offshoots. A popular one was christened the ‘Book Bucket Challenge’. The idea was similar – someone would list ten books that were a major influence on him or her, and then invite others to do the same. From the deluge of data on my Facebook timeline, I got the impression that Ayn Rand and Khaled Hosseini have sabotaged the businesses of those who actually set out to ‘motivate’ people with their books.

I don’t quite agree with the idea of a book being such a powerful influence. A book is not something you read everyday – a daily newspaper or a magazine is bound to play a bigger role in influencing and shaping their readers’ thoughts.

Anyway, my cousin, Sneha, put up a list of ten books, and asked me to do the same. While I’m putting up a list of (around) ten books that stuck with me for while after I had finished reading them, I’m tired of seeing people play this game. Which is why I’m going to do my bit for the cause by not asking anyone for his or her list. The list, in no particular order:

  1. Tinkle Digest and Sportstar were faithful companions on many a train journey. I still read Sporstar every week!
  2. The Great Indian Novel (Shashi Tharoor) is a laugh riot. Part of the reason I enjoyed it is because it lampooned two things I don’t particularly care about, and most others I know needlessly get excited about – mythology/ religion and politics. Elementary knowledge of the Mahabharata and the Indian freedom struggle should suffice to leave you in splits while reading this book.
  3. The Idea Factory (John Gertner) is the story of Bell Labs, the (erstwhile) R&D arm of AT&T. The name, AT&T, might elicit violent reactions from most customers on their phone networks, but they were a major player in the development of communication, as we know it today. From transistors to computer programming languages to improving the longevity of telephone poles, there were few things that Bell Labs did not touch.
  4. Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle) – The breadth of the adventures is something – from murders and robberies to missing horses and breaking codes, Holmes had it all covered. The only person I know who came close was Satyajit Ray with his Adventures of Feluda, a character, not surprisingly, inspired by Holmes.
  5. Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman! showed that ‘nerds’ and ‘geeks’ could have a wicked sense of humor.
  6. And Then There Were None, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Agatha Christie) – These two stories particularly stood out. Books by Agatha Christie, Enid Blyton and Erle Stanley Gardner were like Hilbert’s Infinite Hotel Paradox –there was always one more to read, irrespective of the numbers already read!
  7. Iacocca: An Autobiography (Lee Iacocca) – the autobiography of the former President of the Ford Motor Company and former Chairman of the Chrysler Corporation. Although it was not a work of fiction, it had all the elements of a potboiler.
  8. Knowing what you don’t like to read is probably more important than knowing what you like. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho) and The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (Robin Sharma) helped in shutting out an entire section of a bookstore to me!
  9. Julius Caesar, The Tempest (William Shakespeare), Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) – Not among my favorites, but they sure have left an indelible impression. Mr. Kim Noble and Mrs. Ponnu Poovaiah, my English teachers in high school, deserve more credit than M/s. Bill and Charlie in making the characters in these stories come alive.
  10. Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order (Steven Strogatz) gives fascinating insights and examples of things operating in synchrony around us, without any of the associated math.



Warning on the Trail

Warning on the Trail

A stretch of the trail

A stretch of the trail

Amit, Kartik, and I went hiking on the Labor Day weekend. The Billy Goat Trail overlooks the Potomac river near Great Falls. It is said to be the most demanding urban hike on the East coast of the US. That is like saying I’m the most popular person whose name starts with ‘Bh’, ends with ‘ar’ and has ‘ask’ in the middle – there are only that many options!

The trail was a couple of miles long, and took a little over two hours to complete. It was not as demanding as it was made out to be, but we decided against going further (there were two other ‘less difficult’ trails in the vicinity), as it was a very humid day, and we were running out of drinking water.



Deepak was here for a few days in July. Other than the usual tour of DC, we drove down to Luray Caverns. The cave contains a large number of stalactite and stalagmite formations. While it was good, I don’t think it was worth more than a one-time visit. We also stopped at the Air and Space Museum in Dulles. This was more of an exhibition than a museum – the primary attraction was the Space Shuttle Discovery, the longest serving orbiter in NASA’s fleet. Most of the other exhibits were from the various wars of the last century – not something I found fascinating.

The Washington Monument has also reopened to the public for the first time since the earthquake three years back. We were lucky to land tickets to go to the 50th floor to get a view of the DC area.

Stalactites and Stalagmites I

Stalactites and Stalagmites 

Space Shuttle Discovery

Space Shuttle Discovery


The football world cup was a source of entertainment for a month. The department screened many matches, which also provided an excuse for socializing.

The highlight of the summer, however, was a screening of the Broadway Musical, The Lion King, which we attended at the Kennedy Center in DC. While the story was largely based on the Disney movie by the same name, it still had to be adapted to a stage audience. The loud cheers during the play, the huge ovation it got at the end, and, not to mention, the many awards it has won, was ample proof that it had been adapted well!