Saturday, March 8, 2008


Release 2.0: The Bangalore Imperative
250 pages

Spanning from January 2005 to December 2008 and set in the continents of Asia, America, Africa and Europe, Release 2.0 is an interesting science fiction novel and thriller concerning the Indian IT industry. This futuristic novel explores two possible outcomes of the Indian IT industry- both utopian and dystopian. From another perspective, it also chronicles the rise of the IT industry in India and its expected future.

The current contribution of the Indian IT industry sadly mostly pertains to the services sector. The ultimate contribution of the IT industry to India as a nation is almost nothing apart from the minor revenue earned. IT work is outsourced to India because of the cheap labour the country provides. India however faces competition from Hungary, Iceland, Morocco, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand as far as outsourcing is concerned.

Release 2.0 prophesises that if India’s IT industry relies heavily on services not only will it stagnate but bears a risk of actually being wiped out. The author has drawn a wonderful parallel with the mills in Mumbai that relied on cheap labour. In the 1850s India had a booming export business of yarn. The Japanese mills however improved in productivity by investing in new technology. Soon the Japanese mills superseded the Indian mills and took away the Chinese market. The author paints a grim image of the carcasses of the defunct textile mills in central Mumbai waiting to be sold for their land value. IT firms will face the same consequences if they don’t innovate. This is the dystopian outcome of the Indian IT industry.

A major part of Release 2.0 is set on the tiny isle of Mauritius. Mauritius, which is known as a tourist and leisure destination actually houses a backup centre for the software development centres in mainland India. It stacks seventeen and a half tonnes of back up batteries and its diesel generators has four thousand gallons of fuel to provide fifteen days of power supply in case of power failure India. A mysterious figure called Mr.Mauritius heads the operations out there. His real identity is kept under wraps and is only revealed at the end of the novel.

A special feature of Release 2.0 is that it is very grand in its technological vision. The author goes into intricate detail to lucidly describe these new innovative technologies.

Release 2.0 suggests that the Indian IT industry should follow the steps analyzing, designing, building and testing to innovate. The characters of the novel create a computerized hair cutting machine which creates a data base of every strand of hair. An electronic pair of scissors clips hair. An identical scalp is created bearing the desired haircut which was replicated on the human scalp. The customer is given the privilege to review the progress of the haircut by checking out its image display on the computer screen. This technology is furthered into the collection of data from across the world through wireless means using secure data-channels which itself is the most beautiful ramification of a seemingly simplistic technology. A concept as easy as putting ‘individual’ tags has been given an entirely new dimension in the wireless future.

The characters use RFID technology (radio frequency identification by electromagnetic and electrostatic coupling) to precisely identify any object or person any where in the world. This system bears a striking similarity to the futuristic technological system of global tracking shown in critically acclaimed motion picture Minority Report.

The inflowing information is stored in a mammoth data base. A brick wall astonishingly lights up to form a gigantic plasma screen. After all to exhibit mammoth data a screen which is the size of a wall is needed.

A normal ball point pen turns out to be a digital pen. It’s activated by removing the cap. It’s deactivated by replacing the cap. The pen has an inbuilt modem which is the size of a hairpin. The pen has an invisible digital camera. Its optical sensor captures any work done with the pen and duly registers the pen’s movements. A processor digitalizes the words and images. The data thus collected is then transferred to the ‘wall’ through the hairpin modem thus enabling the building of a huge database at the backend.

The book suggests an amazing networking strategy to help in the innovation. Like minded people are who want to want to see India’s IT industry innovatively flourishing are encouraged to be a member of the South Asians’ Network for Research and Development. The members may actively participate in the research or help by financing the projects. They must be well-coordinated like the Al Qaeda not in promoting terrorism but in evolving a sophisticated and secure system for information dissemination. Though the members of this network are not directly connected to the head person the IT related information that they send are reaching the headquarters. The back-end data may be available to the front end whenever required simultaneously maintaining top secrecy. This is only possible by the way of an emerging telecom provider. Banks and the President of India are also involved in the networking.

Beauty contests are eyed for choosing beautiful woman who has in depth IT knowledge. It is a refreshing change to see IT companies sponsoring a beauty pageant instead of cosmetic companies. Instead of asking clichéd questions on world peace, IT related questions are asked.

Release 2.0 suggests that new overseas markets like France need to be tapped by the Indian IT industry. If through innovation India seems to be a lucrative IT hub, the brain drain trend may be reversed. Indeed eminent IT personalities may be motivated to pack their bags and return to their mother land India.

The utopian future that the book envisages is IT people making a beeline for Bangalore, leading Indian IT companies merging thereby forming one of the world’s largest company, villages being digitalized and the IT industry providing a major share of the GDP. The key to India being an IT powerhouse according to the book is through innovation and meticulous networking.

Besides its visionary ideology, the book stands out for the way it has chronicled and caricatured some of the chief architects of the IT industry.

Though this book is set in the IT industry it is not meant for just IT professionals. Any person who enjoys thrillers should find it an enjoyable read.


By Al Raines
Undercover Utopia

Whoever had made the proverb ‘Don’t judge a book by the cover’ would have surely changed his mind if he came across a copy of Soul Search Engine by Al Raines. Honestly, this is the first book I have ever come across, which so crisply captures the whole essence of the novel with its cover page design. No, this book doesn’t have an expensive and glossy cover. Rather it is a sweet and simple cover.

Your foremost glance at the cover will give you the impression of the google homepage. However you will soon realize the title, hyper links and search button logos of this google page look-alike, actually read different. In bold colourful font this page is titled ‘Soul Search Engine’ which also happens to be the book title. The words keyed in this search box read ‘life times’. The indices or cross-sections of search offered are ‘time’ and ‘space’. You are given the options of an indepth infinite search or a simple nostalgic search on the whim. The web links indicate that you can savour your search through your five sense organs in terms of images, sounds, tastes, textures and fragrances. This book can’t be accessed with a mouse click as it is after all not an online book nor is its cover page a real web page. Just start turning the pages and read on- the novel will take you on a lovely trip down the ages.

Thematically Soul Search Engine is ‘a brief story of life, the universe and everything in ninety-nine pages: a story fourteen billion and thirty six years in the making’. The novel traces the history of the world from its inception till the modern times. It simultaneously unravels one of the greatest and touching tales of friendship through the story of two souls who strengthen their bond of friendship through the successive life times they share together. The front cover illustratively captures this very thematic concept.

Structurally the book is divided into three broad chapters: Disappearing Dinosaurs, Neanderthal Noon and Modern Men. The book opens with a prologue and is rounded off with an epilogue. A striking feature of the book is that the chapters are interspersed with diary entries by the protagonists of the book in cursive hand, lending an epistolary touch to the novel.

Those of you who think, “What’s the use of a book without pictures or conversations?” let me gladly inform you that Soul Search Engine has soft pencil shade sketches of dinosaurs, prehistoric men, cave sketches and artefacts symbolizing the modern age. The conversations between the protagonists are sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes highly philosophical and sometimes so naïve, sweet and simple.

The protagonists of the novel are the adorable Stegy and Rex, who despite being poles apart become best buddies, in fact soul mates. They meet for the very first time when both are dinosaurs. They are reborn as Neanderthal men and later as modern men. As they bump into one another over several births they renew and develop on their friendship every time they meet.

Historical fact and fiction are harmoniously blended in etching out the characters and developing the plot. Stegy in his dinosaur birth is the Stegosaurus, very correctly described as large, plant-eating dinosaur with triangular plates on his back and spikes on his tail. Whereas Rex is a Tyrannosaurus Rex very aptly described as a carnivore with a massive skull balanced by a long, heavy tail. Despite being the largest predator alive he is pint sized when compared to the Stegosaurus. Stegy and Rex are however not the blood-curdling dinosaurs as shown in Jurassic Park and the Godzilla movies. They are docile rather than destructive. The only destructive dinosaurs in the book are the wily raptors. They retain their birds of prey instincts even when they reincarnate themselves later as prehistoric tribes thirsting for vengeance and finally modern terrorist warriors.

Neanderthal Noon beautifully chronicles the impact of the discovery of fire and the invention of the wheel. This chronicle may not however adhere exactly to factual truth- it reads more like a fictional chronicle. The wheel and fire rather have symbolic overtones in the novel and act as a medium to unravel the innate characteristic traits of the prehistoric protagonists Coznay (a reincarnation of Rex) and the Hider/ Finder (a reincarnation of Stegy). Coznay seems to have the vibrant energy and indomitable fiery spirit a fire seems to have. The Finder, the inventor of the wheel is the creative one. The way in which the Finder brings forth innovative changes to the world, he is indeed like the wheel of progress.

Prehistoric life is unraveled through sensuous imageries. There’s a lavish description of a feast in which ‘a veritable cornucopia of berries, nuts, roots, shoots and fruits’ are ‘all dressed up in myriad shades of leaves’. A prehistoric village in the shroud of the night sky is garlanded with small fires on tree tops and the paths between the huts. Rex in a latter life time while visiting New York City with all its dazzling lights fondly conjures up this rich visual memory.

In the last chapter of the novel Stegy and Rex come back to the world as Mikhail Gorky (who though an Army General wishes to save the defenseless) and Alex Baldwin (a self-made American millionaire who bets on the war). The concluding chapter is the most philosophical and nostalgic chapter of the novel with Stegy and Rex now with the analytical thinking capability of the contemporary man fondly reminiscence over the many lives they’ve spent together and how the world has changed over the years.

For a literary person Soul Search Engine may be a poetic and lyrical experience. For a historian the book may be a crisp synopsis of world history specifically the time frames of the Dinosaur Age, Prehistoric Age and Modern Age. For the philosopher the book brings forth a plethora of philosophical insights without promoting the teachings of any particular philosophers. For a person who believes in reincarnation it may be a delightful spiritual rendezvous.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Business@Speed of Thought

By Bill Gates
I picked this book recently, though written around 10 years back.

During the first few pages, I thought that I did a mistake by buying this, as most of the things or technologies mentioned in it are already in place. But, at the same time I was really surprised by the Bill’s forecasting of the future, much of it has come true.

When I further read the book, I was more than amazed. I used to think Microsoft to be only Windows and Microsoft Office. I used to think, that soon it will be cannibalized by more innovative company like Google.

But I was wrong, what Microsoft has done around 10 years back, it will take other companies around a decade from now to catch up.

The book talks about Digital Nervous System in any system, organization, society or nation. It gives a fabulous examples in industries like Healthcare, Governance, Aeronoutical and what not.
Bill claims that this book is for CEO’s of this century. But, I disagree with him on this point. This book is for any and every person living at this point of time. As we can see, the impact of Information Technology is so great on our present lives, that it has become as essential in education as arithmetic. So, I recommend this book to any and every person who wants to educate oneself on how Information Technology has and would fundamentally change our lives forever.

The Prayer by Al Raines

This novel by Al Raines comes with the label ‘the first ever horror novel from India’ on its cover. Authors of the cult supernatural novel November Rain unfold yet another spine chilling tale through “The Prayer”.

The novel is set in Riverdale - a town otherwise well known in Archie’s comics. However Al Raines’ Riverdale is not at all a mirthful town as it is haunted by an evil prayer. Prayers are meant to give hope and heal. Unfortunately a prayer bearing a Wiccan curse is being forwarded to the inboxes of the citizens of Riverdale. This sinister prayer comes with the pledge that if read before bedtime it’ll make the reader’s dreams come true. By ‘dreams’ the prayer doesn’t refer to ‘wishes’ but ‘what the person dreams of when asleep’. Not all dreams are sweet, nightmares plague one’s consciousness when in slumber and some of those nightmares may indeed be of death. Reminiscent of the film The Ring in which every person who sees an evil video is supposed to die, in The Prayer, whoever has a nightmare of death after reading the prayer loses a loved one or dies. Life soon becomes a living nightmare with the characters in the book desperately trying to stay awake over cups of coffee to prevent themselves from falling asleep and dreaming in the process. Weariness however catches up and before they know it the characters are asleep and having ominous nightmares which will soon turn to reality once they wake up.

Eight-year-old Jamie found this prayer on a parchment on the windshield of his family’s car. He read that if he sent this prayer to seven people his dreams would come true. He diligently forwarded it with the hope that his separated parents reconciled. The characters affected by this forwarded prayer are shown to be within six degrees of separation.

The author does claim to be inspired by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkin’s theory of memetics. Meme is Dawkin’s unit of human cultural evolution analogous to the gene. The Prayer file not only infests the computers of the recipients like a virus, annoyingly popping up on screen just refusing to be deleted but adhering to the principles of memetics it seems to mutate in the brains of the recipients to be ready to jump to new vehicles. Adhering to Dawkin’s theory there seems to be a power struggle between the hosts (recipients of the prayer) and The Prayer which plays the role a gene in this case. Dawkin’s Selfish Gene theory says that the genes usually win without a fight. Only if the host is intelligent enough to realize its interests can there be a true conflict. As the prayer recipients begin to die one by one, the surviving members diminish their six degrees of separation to bring their heads together to solve their common problem by consolidating all their dreams to one dream and deciphering its symbolisms.

The authors do not seem to delve into well known dream symbolisms established by Carl, Jung and Freud. Rather they give the dreams a unique Wiccan supernatural touch. However Wicca even if practiced in scary rooms with black paint and no bulbs as shown in the novel may not necessarily always be ominous in its effect. The authors go on to show that Wicca is not synonymous to evil. ‘Evil lurks in our minds’ the novel says. ‘For those whose hearts are true, the light always shines on them.’

The authors also claim to have drawn inspiration from Edgar Allen Poe. There are special references to Poe’s poems A Dream Within a Dream and indirectly to The Raven. The circulating prayer of the novel in fact reads very similar to Poe’s poem A Dream Within a Dream. Poe’s poem questions the thin line between reality and fantasy with the rhetorical question as to whether everything is just a dream within a dream. In the novel fantasy becomes reality thereby becoming synonymous.

The characters of the novel see a raven in their dreams. Poe’s raven seems to ominously foretell that he will soon fly out of the poet’s life just like his friends have flown away from him along with his previous hopes. Similarly as the characters lose their friends, gradually they lose hope but ironically a mysterious character called Ravenclaw, the worshipper of the Goddess of Dreams can redeem them from the evil effect of the prayer.

Other than being a supernatural horror novel The Prayer beautifully explores the lives of Alcoholic Anonymous members in a foreign first-world-nation among whom the prayer is circulated. Some of them are trying to regain control in their lives sometimes by aiming for perfection when in reality they are following the path of self-destruction and returning to the bottle.

The novel ends with ample scope for a sequel to follow. Let’s hope that Al Raines is soon back with an equally scary The Prayer- 2.

November Rain by Al Raines

Cult novel and possibly India’s foremost pop-fiction November Rain written by Al Raines seems to take a cue from the epic rock ballad November Rain by Guns N’ Roses. The bride in the Guns and Roses song is often presumed to be killed abruptly when a lightning strikes during her church wedding. Similarly young Sandeep unexpectedly loses his sweetheart Arpita while fixing their marriage date when their car crashes during a rainstorm in November.

We’ve all heard of the wedding vow to love ‘till death do us part’. However what may happen if we continue to love our partner not only after he/ she dies but in his/ her next life as well? After all it is often believed that when you meet your lover from your previous birth, you instantly feel a deep and natural affinity with him/ her as he/ she is your soul-mate.

England-born Erica paradoxically sees her dream man in her nightmares from childhood. He holds a red rose for her in the fog. She seems to be on an unending ominous wait to meet him. Medicines, hypnosis and counseling just won’t cure her recurrent nightmares. Heeding to her grandfather’s advice on his death bed an eighteen-year-old Erica flies to India to find this soul-mate of hers.

November Rain uniquely explores the concept of fate, love and loss. It shows how a single incident may have a far reaching impact affecting many people over generations. Maybe it’s better to stoically accept fate, love and loss instead. Another relevant issue explored is whether we do end up in marrying our soul-mate? And should we just let the dead rest in peace instead of invoking their spirit through a planchette?

A supernatural thriller, November Rain subtlely builds up climax through nuances. An invoked spirit scrawls that he wants to watch a ghost movie. Two cars narrowly miss a head-long collision maybe symbolically indicating that the passengers narrowly miss meeting one another despite being intertwined by fate. A painter purposely does away with all light bulbs as he likes to paint by candlelight. Out-of-season rain in November acts as tragic foreboding. The novel breaks clichés to juxtapose a sinister touch to the number ‘16’ than the predominantly used ‘13’. 16 whether in birth and death seems to be of ominous significance.

Written in epistolary style, November Rain often narrates the same incident by the various characters in their own perspectives. The narrations randomly shift between the 70’s and 90’s decade in both England and India. One of the narrations is actually by a spirit called in a planchette!

The language alters in accordance with the narrator. When an orthodox ageing NRI couple is the narrator it is full of the usual grammatical errors they are typically prone to. When college-going-youngsters narrate, the language has slang and references to rock bands.
Though this book may have more takers among those open to the supernatural especially Stephen King readers, maybe skeptics should know that November Rain is partly based on four inexplicable incidents in the authors’ present lives