A Hundred Year Old Pandemic

A hundred years ago, humankind went through one of the worst phases in their history. A world war, a global pandemic and then another world war. We survived. After that, a lot of measures were put into place to ensure we don’t have to go through such devastation again. World War 3 is something we dread whenever the slightest international diplomacy failure happens. And it has worked, to an extent.  We haven’t had to face a World War again. However, we haven’t been as vigilant about Global Pandemics. And today, we seem to be in the grip of something as dangerous as any – COVID -19. The Spanish Flu though overshadowed by the World Wars, was perhaps as big a disaster as either of the wars. We need to mobilize our nations today, as we would for a major war. Bill Gates had made a global call for this back in 2015.

We did not heed it. Today, we go to work and talk about deadlines and other stuff as if a global war is not waging on humanity. We need to take severe war-like action today. Before it is too late.

Perhaps it would be a good time to look back on the 100-year-old pandemic that almost sunk us. The Four Riders of the Apocalypse rode together a hundred years ago, and it would serve us well to remember that the horsemen always meet each other and reap together, even if one might arrive before others occasionally.

In 1918, during a century just like ours, in which the most modern of societies thought such epidemics were a thing of the past, people got a reminder that even seemingly routine illnesses can be potentially civilization threatening under the right conditions. A malady that would be dubbed the Spanish Flu struck while the devastating First World War was raging, and soon its death toll greatly surpassed that of the war’s.

Perhaps one of the most astonishing things about this flu was that at the time it hit, humanity had made great strides in medicine. But when American service personnel started showing symptoms, the experts were stumped. The author John Barry describes in The Great Influenza how sailors mysteriously began bleeding from their noses and ears, while others coughed blood. “Some coughed so hard the autopsies would later show they had torn apart abdominal muscles and rib cartilage,” Barry writes. Many were delirious or complained of severe headaches “as if someone were hammering a wedge into their skulls just behind the eyes” or “body aches so intense they felt like bones breaking.” Some of the men’s skin turned strange colors, from “just a tinge of blue around their lips or fingertips” to skin “so dark one could not tell easily if they were Caucasian or Negro.”

A couple of months before the appearance of these extraordinary symptoms, autopsies of crewmen from a British ship who had died after experiencing similar trials showed “their lungs had resembled those of men who had died from poison gas or pneumonic plague.”

More alarming was the speed and scope of the spreading, Barry writes, despite efforts to isolate and contain those who hadn’t even shown symptoms but had merely been exposed: “Four days after that Boston detachment arrived, nineteen sailors in Philadelphia were hospitalized. . . . Despite their immediate isolation and that of everyone with whom they had had contact, eighty-seven sailors were hospitalized the next day . . . two days later, six hundred more were hospitalized with this strange disease. The hospital ran out of empty beds, and hospital staff began falling ill.” As the sick overwhelmed the facility, officials began sending new patients to civilian hospitals, while military personnel continued moving among bases around the country, exposing ever more people.

What began in Philadelphia—at least in its most dangerous form—quickly advanced. In his new book, The End is Always Near, Dan Carlin writes, there was still an international war on, and modern transportation had made great strides, so the virus could get from place to place at a far greater pace than any previous pandemic could. The collision of this outbreak with this first period of true globalization was devastating. At its height, whole cities in the United States were virtually shut down, as areas, where human beings congregated, were closed to prevent people from transmitting the illness. People stayed home from school and work rather than risk exposure, and the gears of society in some places seemed imperiled by the justifiable fear of getting sick. By the time it receded in 1920, modern epidemiologists estimate that the flu had killed somewhere between fifty and one hundred million people; “roughly half of those who died were young men and women in the prime of their life, in their twenties and thirties,” Barry writes. “If the upper estimate of the death toll is true, as many as 8 to 10 percent of young adults then living may have been killed by the virus.”

The disease wasn’t just remarkable for the number of its victims, but also for the compressed nature of its devastating labors. Although it took two years to come and go, “perhaps two-thirds of the deaths occurred in a period of twenty-four weeks, and more than half of those deaths occurred in even less time, from mid-September to early December 1918.” That amount of damage in that short a period of time is disorienting and potentially destabilizing for a society.

All this happened in an age when we understood a lot about biomedicine. We understood that germs spread disease; we understood how you prevented contact to limit exposure. Indeed, doctors quickly figured out that what was killing sailors in Philadelphia was a strain of influenza, but it was unlike any they had seen before, and nothing they did could contain it. As much as a fifth of the entire population of the planet contracted it, and as much as 5 percent died from it. In sheer numbers, it was the deadliest pandemic to hit humankind, but as a percentage of the human population alive at the time, it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Black Death that hit western Europe in the mid-fourteenth century. So, humankind didn’t exactly dodge a bullet—the damage was severe and widespread—but it could have been much, much worse.

It still can be, Dan Carlin assures us, in a book that talks about enough civilizational collapses to give one ennui. The same sense of hubris affects us today as affected the generation that was blindsided by the Spanish Influenza. It’s hard to imagine a human society acting rationally or humanely if mortality levels began reaching catastrophic levels, Dan Carlin says. In the past, societies have been reshaped and at times have nearly crumbled under the weight of a pandemic. It’s possible that, facing mortality rates of 50, 60, or 70 percent—as people who lived through the Black Death did—we might do as they did: turn to religion, change the social structure, blame unpopular minorities and groups, or abandon previous belief systems. We can learn from how people in other eras responded to a catastrophic situation, and we can ask ourselves: With all our modern technology and science and medical knowledge, how do we respond?

What’s the likelihood that humanity has already experienced the worst plague it will ever encounter? In the famous science fiction classic The War of the Worlds, author H. G. Wells has the alien would-be conquerors defeated ultimately by Earth’s pathogens. Let’s hope those same planetary defense mechanisms don’t get us first. Those who regularly work with infectious diseases and see the Black Death–like damage that something like Ebola or Marburg virus can have on a small scale in isolated communities are all too aware of how a hemorrhagic fever virus in one global region, or an avian flu mutation somewhere else, could remind us that, just like the Titanic, our civilization is not unsinkable.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 22, 2020 in Book Reviews, Books, Philosophy


We Should All Be Feminists

We Should All Be FeministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.

It is not a complicated word. We should all be feminists. Obviously.

View all my reviews

1 Comment

Posted by on September 17, 2019 in Books



Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of SuccessPeak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Summary at the end of the book is more than all you need from the book. So here goes:


Stress Yourself

A) Seek out “just-manageable challenges” in areas of your life in which you want grow

Just-manageable challenges are those that barely exceed your current abilities.

If you feel fully in control, make the next challenge a bit harder.

If you feel anxious or so aroused that you can’t focus, dial things down a notch.

B) Cultivate deep focus and perfect practice

Define a purpose and concrete objectives each time you set out to do meaningful work.

Focus and concentrate deeply, even if doing so isn’t always enjoyable.

Remove distractors such as smartphones; remember that out of sight is truly out of mind.

Do only one thing at a time. Next time you feel like multitasking, remind yourself that research shows it’s not effective.

Remember that quality trumps quantity.

C) Work in discrete blocks

Divide your work into blocks of 50 to 90 minutes (this may vary by task). Start even smaller if you find yourself struggling to maintain attention.

If deep-focus work is new to you, start with blocks as short as 10 to 15 minutes. As you cultivate a deep-focus practice, gradually increase the duration you go deep.

For almost all activities, 2 hours should be the uppermost limit for a working block.

D) Nurture a growth or challenge mindset

Keep in mind that how you view something fundamentally changes how your body responds to it.

In situations when you feel the sensation of stress, remind yourself that this is your body’s natural way of preparing for a challenge. Take a deep breath and channel the heightened arousal and sharper perception into the task at hand.

Push yourself to view stress productively, and even to welcome it. You’ll not only perform better but also improve your health.

Have the Courage to Rest

A) Grow your mindful muscle with meditation so that you can more easily choose rest

Find a time when other distractions are minimized, such as first thing in the morning, after brushing your teeth, or before going to bed.

Sit in a comfortable position and, ideally, in a quiet space.

Set a timer so you aren’t distracted by thoughts about the passage of time.

Begin breathing deeply, in and out through your nose.

Focus on nothing but your breath; when thoughts arise, notice them, but then let them go. Direct your focus back to the sensation of the breath.

Start with just 1 minute and gradually increase duration, adding 30 to 45 seconds every few days.

Frequency trumps duration. It’s best to meditate daily, even if that means keeping individual sessions short.

B) Apply your growing mindful muscle in everyday life

Have “calm conversations” during stressful periods; remember that you are separate from the emotions and sensations that you are experiencing.

Realize when you want to “turn it off” and then choose to leave stress behind. Taking a few deep breaths helps because it activates the prefrontal cortex, your brain’s command-and-control center.

C) Take smart breaks and let your subconscious go to work

• When you are working on a strenuous task and hit an impasse, have the courage to step away.

  • Step away from whatever it is you were doing for at least 5 minutes.
  • The more stressful the task, the longer your break should be.
  • For really draining tasks, consider stepping away until the next morning.

• During your breaks, perform activities that demand little to no focus.

  • Go on a short walk.
  • Sit in nature.
  • Meditate.
  • Recover socially.
  • Listen to music.
  • Take a shower.
  • Do the dishes.

• You may have an “aha” moment of insight during your break. If you do, great. Even if you don’t have an “aha” moment during your break, your subconscious mind is still at work. When you return to whatever it is you were doing, you’ll be more likely to make progress.

D) Prioritize sleep

• Reframe sleep as something that is productive.

• Aim for at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. For those doing intense physical activity, 10 hours is not too much.

• The best way to figure out the right amount of sleep for you is to spend 10 to 14 days going to sleep when you are tired and waking up without an alarm clock. Take the average sleep time. That’s what you need.

E) Take extended time off

Regardless of the work you do, take at least one off-day every week.

To the extent that you can, time your off-days and vacations strategically to follow periods of accumulated stress.

The more you stress, the more you should rest.

On both single off-days and extended vacations, truly disconnect from work. Unplug both physically and mentally and engage in activities that you find relaxing and restorative.


Optimize Your Routine

A) Develop warmup regimens for important activities/performances

Determine what state of mind and body your performance demands.

Develop a sequence of activities that puts your mind and body in that state.

Be consistent: Use the same routine each and every time you engage in the activity to which it is linked.

Remember the impact of mood on performance; positivity goes a long way.

B) Create “a place of your own”

Find physical spaces to dedicate to unique activities.

Surround yourself with objects that invite desired behaviors.

Consistently work in that same place, using the same materials.

Over time, your environment will enhance your productivity on a deep neurological level.

C) Condition yourself to perform

Link key behaviors to specific cues and/or routines.

Be consistent and frequent; execute the same cue/routine every time prior to the behavior to which it is paired.

If possible, link key activities to the same context (e.g., time of day, physical environment, etc.).

If your pursuit requires variable settings, develop portable cues/routines that can be executed anywhere (e.g., a deep-breathing routine, self-talk, etc.).

Consistency is king. The best routine means nothing if you don’t regularly practice it.

Design Your Day

A) Become a minimalist to be a maximalist

Reflect on all the decisions that you make throughout a day.

Identify ones that are unimportant, that “don’t really matter” to you.

To the extent that you can, automate those decisions that don’t really matter. Common examples include decisions about:

  1. Clothing
  2. What to eat at meals
  3. When to complete daily activities (e.g., always exercise at the same time of the day so you literally don’t need to think about it)
  4. Whether to attend social gatherings (It’s not always a good idea, but during important periods of work, many great performers adopt a strict policy of saying no to social events)

Don’t devote brain power to gossip, politics, or worrying about what others think of you.

Consider the second- and third-order effects (e.g., commute, financial pressures, etc.) of larger life decisions, such as where to live.

B) Match activities with energy levels

Determine your chronotype (e.g., whether you are a morning lark or night owl).

Design your day accordingly—be very intentional about when you schedule certain activities, matching the demands of the activity with your energy level.

Protect the time during which you are most alert for “the most important work.”

Schedule less-demanding tasks during periods in which you are less alert.

Don’t fight fatigue! Rather, use this time for recovery and to generate creative ideas that you can act on during your next cycle of high energy and focus.

Remember that working in alignment with your chronotype not only maximizes performance, it also ensures an appropriate balance between stress and rest.

C) Surround yourself wisely

Recognize the enormous power of the people with whom you surround yourself.

Do what you can to cultivate your own village of support so that you surround yourself with a culture of performance. Positive energy, motivation, and drive are all contagious.

Remember that by being positive and showing motivation, you are not only helping yourself, you are also helping everyone else in your life.

Don’t put up with too much negativity or pessimism. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

D) Show up

There is no replacement for showing up, day in and day out, to hone your craft.

Remember that attitudes often follow behaviors; sometimes the best thing that you can do is to simply get started.


Transcend Your“self”

A) Overcome your ego

Remember that your “ego” or “self” or “central governor” serves as a protective mechanism that holds you back from reaching your true limits. When faced with great challenges, your ego is biologically programmed to shut you down, telling you to turn in the other direction.

By focusing on a self-transcending purpose, or a reason for doing something beyond your self, you can override your ego and break through your self-imposed limits.

To the extent you can, link your activities to a greater purpose. This way, when you are faced with formidable challenges and your mind is telling you to quit, you can ask yourself why you are doing it. If the answer is “for someone or something greater than myself,” you’ll be more likely to push onward.

Thinking less about your self is one of the best ways to improve yourself.

B) Enhance your motivation

Recall that you are constantly balancing perception of effort, or how hard something feels, with motivation. Thus, if you want to endure more effort, you may need to increase your motivation.

To increase motivation, link your work to a greater purpose or cause.

Not only will focusing on activities that help others make the world a better place, it will also help make you a better performer.

Think about why you are doing what you are doing, especially when you are feeling fatigued.

C) Give back to avoid burnout

Find opportunities to give back in the context of your work. These can be more intensive activities like coaching and mentoring, or less intensive acts like posting sincere advice in online forums.

The only criteria is that the giving is closely linked to your work and that you give without the expectation of getting anything back.

While giving is especially powerful for preventing and reversing burnout, you should still aim to avoid burnout by supporting stress with appropriate rest.

Develop and Harness Your Purpose

A) Develop your purpose with these steps:

Select your core values.

Personalize your core values.

Rank your core values.

Write your purpose statement.

B) Strategically call upon your purpose

Use visual cues to remind yourself of your purpose when you are most likely to need a boost.

Develop a mantra based on your purpose and use it for self-talk when the going gets tough.

Reflect on your purpose nightly (try using expressive writing). Think about how closely you lived in alignment with your purpose, striving to move closer to consistent alignment over time.


Do all of this, and do them well,

When all about you are watching Netflix,

And you will be ready for Peak Performance, my son.

— Rudyard Kiping

Leave a comment

Posted by on February 22, 2019 in Books


The Fast and the Curious

Welcome, fellow runners and readers-yet-to-be-captivated-by-running, to the sequel to my running journey which began last year with a bang.


The high of running the HM at TMM 2018, in my very first year of running was soon wearing off, and I was about to get myself into a tornado called Speed Training! In a way, I am really glad I did it this way – long distance training in sweet comfortable pace first, because I still needed to get my body and mind in sync with running – base building as they call it 😜. However, it is in these last 4 months that I finally learned the *importance* of body strengthening. Gone were the days when all you needed to run was a pair of shoes and running clothes. No longer a beginner here. To sustain running with improvisations each time, and to stay injury-free, it was really crucial to get the core, quads, glutes, calves and even the little toes real strong. I couldn’t avoid it anymore and decided to dive into the world of dumbbells and barbells 🏋🏻‍ (utterly scared of those!).


Rewiring  the Muscles!

Post TMM, we (JJs) started off a month of strengthening routines coupled with small warm up runs. We were back on the mud doing our lunges, burpees, push-ups (yep, another intimidating exercise which I managed to….oops, getting ahead of myself here!) and explosive movements that got me dog-tired in just an hour. I used to reminisce the HM training days-the long beautiful runs ..sigh… Had to wait until July to restart that. Back then, hours of running brought in only calf stiffness for me once in a while, but this made the whole body ache, and how! Luckily, I had my old runner gang for company and my very own spirited confidante – who always merrily said- “Oh, it’s a good kind of pain to experience!” Anyway, exposure to the soil microflora got me sick and I missed couple of the workouts which affected the start of the speed training season. I felt I lost my stamina and maybe even willpower 🙄. But there was hope, coz, namma Bengaluru city was buzzing to prepare for the TCS World 10k – the country’s famous short distance race. The race that started my running journey! It was a very special one and I was totally looking forward to it.

We began our training with a carefully structured plan by our Coach Pramod, who has taken many beginner runners to the finish line faster than they expected, and experienced ones to the podium🙂. I started believing in the power of training last season but I highly doubted my own ability to get upgrade my speed level. The training runs included short and long speed workouts that tired me to such a great extent that I had to be coaxed into going back by my “sole-mate” 😇😬. Luckily, we are all filled with tiny powerhouses within each cell, called as Mitochondria, that helps us give those bursts as well as recover from it.


Burst and Recover!

I found that running my fastest (short bursts of speed) isn’t sustainable even to a meagre distance of 1km. This required my muscles to be stronger than before. I took the Gym training seriously (no more excuses) and for over 2 months worked with good dedication. We also included regular practice of Yoga and that I feel has added great value to my speed training. We even gave up our fun badminton games for 3 full months to make time for the gym and speed work and of course, to avoid any random niggles. I was curious to know how am I going to go from running a 10k at 70 minutes to attempting one at 60 minutes. Yep, that was Riku’s…ahem.. my target time. I guess I was getting into a comfortable zone with running, not caring about what speed I ran with. It’s kind of a paradox – one should be able to enjoy running and also try to push one’s limit. The pushing part is never easy. Fortunately for me, curiosity didn’t kill the cat this time 😼😹. I was getting really interested to know how fast can I run. With relatively stronger muscles, I peaked well in my training and even though I wasn’t close to my target pace, I was really happy with the improvement.


Happy miles!

Alongside, Riku’s running story was also unfolding  – there he was keeping ‘unrealistic’ goals and training hard for them as well, and part of my job was to keep up his spirits and help him stay on the journey, just as part of his job was to keep me going 😊. There were times when workouts would have been missed and runs would have been slower if not for the steady stream of positive energy we directed at each other. This is why I believe it is important to get your spouse or partner or a good friend into running as well, if you are really into it – it converts some of the tedium of training into ‘quality time’, as some JJs like to say 🤗. There were even times when I had to pace him on a bicycle for a full 10k on the TCS route to match his target pace, even though it was supposed to be a day I was running as well (12km fast finish!). Pacing done, I was then ordered to go running to finish my own mileage while he went off to rest up and have breakfast.. Baaaahhhhh 😪😑… I told myself I’m a strong and determined runner, no complaining there!

Anyway, to illustrate how strength-building works, let us go back to the push-ups story 🙂 – I was gradually able to move up to 5 push-ups in good form! Woohoo! Why is being able to do push-ups such a big deal anyway? It’s a form of exercise that mainly utilises the muscles of the chest, arms and shoulders. Why was I so curious about it? Coz I have been hearing so much about push-ups challenges and the boys I know do it with ease whereas many girls struggle to do it. When I tried it for the first time, I could hardly lift my own body weight! I used to lay flat on my yoga mat and just glare at Riku for doing it cooly! Anyways, that was the past (15 push-ups now, Yo! 😎) and I’ll get to the point I’m trying to make here. The best part about body strengthening is that you realise that there are so many muscles in the body that you hardly gave attention to and they are all weak, stiff and meek. With good care and nurturing, they get well oiled and are able to do things once you thought was unimaginable!! And there is no age limit to start or restart body strengthening. However, studies clearly show that a fit body (not to be read as a highly muscular bulged body) helps in overall good health and slows down ageing. No wonder all these runners look barely their actual age. I know a 50+ JJs runner who looks over a decade younger than his age and many runner-moms who can easily pass off as college going gals.


Push-ups for a selfie!😛

Moving back to the TCS 10k training, as we entered May, things got heated up- thanks to the weather and the excitement. As usual, we loaded up on our nitrates (bloody beets!) and carbs before the race. This time we also got some of our close friends into running their first race which brought back good old memories of our own. As the race day inched closer, our running group, Jayanagar Jaguars, were hugely involved in making the race a real special one. Three of our running rockstars were part of the world’s first ever all-women pacer team. Few of us also got a personal interaction with the Grand slam champion, Mary Pierce who was the event ambassador. Excitement was in the air throughout. A day before the race, all of us got together to take our group photo with our new running tees. Only then did I realise, 500+ of our community are running TCS 10k! Wow! Thats over four times the JJ runners who ran TMM together. So, it was going to be a smile-fest throughout, and constant doses of energy and support to keep us pushing throughout 😬🤗.


The JJs Battalion!

On the eve of the race, Riku and I did our usual tradition of watching an inspiring running related movie (Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, this time) to get those nerves pumped up with steel followed by an early meal and a good night’s sleep! We reached on time at the Venue on the D-day and soon entered into our line-up sections, warming up slowly to get the heart and the muscles ready.

As the clock hit 5.30 am, the first group of fast runners sprang out. It was amazing to watch their perfect form literally glide over the track and out into the roads. I had a bit of a crowded start but managed to pick up a good pace surprising myself in the initial 2kms. This was the speed that I had imagined in the beginning of my training and never quite reached there until that moment! Everything was going perfect till the 4th km came by. This time curiosity almost got the cat out of breath! Why is it that I lose my focus and speed at the mid distances? Did I start too fast? Or was I dehydrated? Many questions hovered over the familiar route that was slowly getting laced with humidity. Maybe I would be able to answer some of those questions, further along in my running journey – but for now this aspect of how my body reacts is a mystery 🤔🧐.

Luckily, due to the familiarity, both with the 10k distance and the course, I was able to get my drifting mind back into the race and the thumping feet of thousands of runners soon got me into picking up my pace. I knew then I wasn’t going to hit the 60 mins mark, but I also started getting doubts of hitting 65 (which was my previous best during training). My mantra then was the carefully studied route details by Riku – he had chalked out exactly where the downhills came – those are my favourites! My mood lifts up and my body goes into a dance-zen-smile-run mode ☺. I took advantage of that and ran faster when the terrain changed to my advantage. A potential sub-64 was soon blooming in my hopes, and I was into my 8th km that was led into by my favourite stretch of the Vidhana Soudha road. With just 2 more to go, I was able to pick up speed surprisingly with not much effort. Was that the 2nd wind? Hmm… Curiouser and curiouser! How did my muscles recover 😲?! Where did the exhaustion vanish?!


Perfect shot at my favourite spot in the route with one of my fav fellow runner!

Enter 9th km and DISASTER STRUCK!! – I was literally thrown out of track!. A turning popped up along with a speed breaker and loads of runners getting their sprinting phase ready. In that hazy moment, I tripped over and scraped my knees. Luckily, I was able to keep cool and judge fast the extent of it – Verdict? Most likely it was only a superficial wound and my prized knees were alright. Three super kind runners (whoever you were, I am extremely moved by your gesture, thank you!) helped me get up and all I could tell them is that they ought to continue running coz its the 9th km!!! Runners are extremely compassionate, in addition to being people with great attitude and superpowers (my Coach keeps teleporting at all the required places 🤩)! If only I could go back and thank them again for their gesture. Coach saw me too and encouraged me to take it easy and be conservative. At that moment, I wasn’t at all behind my adjusted target time or pace. All I thought was to get to the finish line as quickly as possible and into the arms of my sole-mate. With my arteries pumping adrenaline and newly styled tights with knee-slashes, I started sprinting up to the finish line. I almost hallucinated Riku cheering me up and shouting my name towards the end and that gave me the energy to give a final push to seal my run to a strong 62 minutes finish!

I was in a daze when I crossed the timing mat and I stumbled into Deepesh (fellow JJs runner and high energy bubble)  who helped me catch my breath. I walked down the stadium entrance in search of my people amidst beaming finishers with all their swagger, all the nerves now converted to jubilation. It took a few moments to find Riku and he immediately opened his arms for our congratulatory hug. He had finished super strong in 52 minutes! Such a proud moment for us. He had worked so hard for this which in turn inspired me to push myself. My eyes welled up for no good reason (mostly embarrassment for tripping over 😪😛!) and I blurted that I fell down. I could see his face immediately convert the huge smile into a concerned gasp after seeing my torn tights with bright crimson patches. After a few minutes of consolation, I traipsed over to the medical camp and got my wound checked and dressed up. All was good. No serious damage done.


Celebratory pose!

Time to get back to the party🎉🎉! We caught up with our runner-familia along with their friends to share stories of our speedfest! Following that was the celebratory traditional JJs breakfast party which we enjoyed and chatted up spiritedly with our fellow runners, all gleaming after their newly minted PB’s🎖! This was very different from the TMM Half marathon after party. No one was tired… bringing back the memories of my last TCS 10k. I remember falling into my bed and waking up very late in the noon. There were so many positive changes in my stamina and strength after this year of taking up running and the focus on holistic fitness and nutrition. It is time to conclude my very first year of running and all the adventures it brought into our lives. I am extremely grateful to my husband, Riku and our amazing family for the enthusiasm and support. Come any race, there’s always an eager bunch to gather around and participate. It is this infectious enthusiasm that charmed and challenged me to change my lifestyle and outlook. I am also equally grateful to my amazing Coach and running buddies at JJs who have exponentially charged up the enthusiasm coupled with perfect training sessions that made all the achievements possible.

So, what comes next? Of course, we will keep running and I want to stay curious about how much I can push my body and still enjoy the process. We also would love to get more people curious about running/fitness and get them to experience adrenaline and endorphins flowing down their veins 😊!

Stay Fast, Stay Curious, Stay Fit – everything is possible! Happy Running! 🙂

Some tips and lessons learnt this season:

  1. Strength, Strength and Strength: It is immensely vital to get the body strong if one wants a considerable amount of improvement. Working on strengthening different muscle groups along with a good amount of Yoga has helped us to better our running performance.
  2. Nutrition: We noticed a slight increase in our body weight initially due to the reduction in our weekly mileage. It took us few weeks to alter our diet to suit the new training regimen. We also started experimenting on rice alternatives and discovered the amazing millets.
  3. Watching the pace: With all the interval and speed workouts, we had very specific pace targets. So, learned to keep an eye on the watch and a check on the pace. It is a bit strenuous to keep a track of the numbers but it all helps, come #Raceday! 😎

Be limitless, Be fearless!

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 23, 2018 in Fitness, Running


First Year of Running: Halfway to a Marathon

A “marathon” post to commemorate the experience of a Half Marathon!

I feel incredibly privileged to have been a part of the 44000+ runner community at the Asia’s largest running event – Tata Mumbai Marathon 2018. Never imagined myself to be a runner but then got into this exhilarating ‘sport’ or rather ‘way of life’ serendipitously! They say that running completely changes you as a person and it is definitely true. All you need is a good pair of shoes and you can just take off! The journey started last March, when my highly active husband and brothers decided to run the TCS World 10k. I just went along with them, innocent about the drastic change that was about to happen to us! Thus, the training began and I started to realise that it would take a lot of time for me to actually enjoy running! During the initial two months, I struggled with my breathing and couldn’t will myself to run beyond the 2 km mark. I went out of breath within 200 metres and had to walk to get my rhythm back. From there it has been a long journey to be able to not only run with ease, but also dare to run in a saree ☺😄!

With Milind Soman

Pinkathon Training Run, with Mr. Running, Milind Soman 😄

Luckily, Riku and Soumya (who are both passionate runners) were always there to motivate me. They all made running sound and look very easy. I was getting easily frustrated with my lack  of finding that ease and ‘runner’s high’. With the TCS 10k around the corner and realising that I did not train for a long run, one day, Riku decided to pace me into running a continuous 10k. I know it was a very slow run for him even though it was completely challenging and scary run for me. I felt proud and tired after taking 1hr and 27 minutes to finish 10km. But, come TCS 10k and things changed! The whole atmosphere that day was unbelievable and I was able to easily push myself to a strong finish at 1 hr and 11 minutes. Watching all the runners around me and overall high energy levels propelled me into a different zone. I finally got my runner’s high and there was no turning back since then. Oh, one more thing – that started our collection of those beautiful finisher medals that you can display proudly to show off all the happy miles you’ve put in😅!

First race – TCS 10k Bengaluru 2017 🏅🏅

The next few months, I watched Riku do longer runs and I went into a slow phase, running once or twice a week. We did a couple of 10k runs with family and friends which was enjoyable. Life was going well and I was content with my running miles. I was able to put in some memorable runs in UK during my short stay for research at the University of Liverpool.  Running in the Scouseland got me hooked on the feeling, high on believing that I’m falling in love with running 😍❤😬…

Refreshing run at Sefton Park, Liverpool 😇

Meanwhile, back at home, Riku found a running event in Shimla by Running & Living. We decided to do a run-vacay with family. The stud boys, Riku and Rithu did a staggering 25k up in the beautiful hilly terrain of Shimla, whereas, Soumya, Amith and me ran an enjoyable 13k. I would say that it was my most beautiful run ever – I literally swayed and danced my way down the slopes with majestic trees on one side and gigantic mountains on the other side. There were uphills too, but, one could always walk them up 😉. The fresh air of Shimla coupled with the aromas of the forest was simply an experience that I just can’t articulate. Kudos to Rahul Verghese and Running & Living team for arranging this amazing run. Oh, by the way, before the run, we did a couple of treks too, got lost in the misty wilderness of Taradevi mountain and got attacked by a leech party. Nevertheless, that’s when I realised that I’m not only deeply in love with an incredible runner (Riku) but also beginning to have fond feelings for running itself!

Running & Living (& Trekking!) in Shimla

Life was going good and again, one day, Riku, who after a full marathon (this guy doesn’t seem to be stopping!!), comes to me and says that there is this huge run called the Mumbai Marathon which is the biggest running event in the whole of Asia. I looked up and saw that there were only two categories in it – Half and Full Marathon. So, I had two options ahead of me- be the support team to my husband or run a HM! I wasn’t sure if I was ready to step up from 10km to 21.1km. After days of contemplation, I registered for the Half marathon with just a small meek voice in my brain telling me that I could do it.  Next question: How to go about the training then? I didn’t have to worry much. Riku, again, did all the hard work and the research!

Random motivational quote 💪

Enter, Jayanagar Jaguars, fondly called as JJs – Bengaluru’s oldest running community spearheaded by a passionate and imperious coach, Pramod Deshpande. We joined the group which had about 150+ enthusiastic highly trained and casual runners prepping for TMM and other 200+ energetic runners who trained along with us. The training was for 12 weeks and my monthly mileage (I knew all the running jargon by then 😅!) suddenly grew almost 3 fold.

Jayanagar Jaguars TMM Winter Session

I had my own share of energy loss, injuries, muscle tightness, soreness, etc. that made me learn more about my own body working tirelessly to keep me running. When the training began, I found myself tired for the first 2-3 weeks, poor eater you see. I increased my protein intake (eggs, chicken, fish, pulses, etc) supplemented with carbs, good fats, F & V, and nuts; all of which helped me build my endurance and stamina. Each run was challenging and fun, now that I had a gang of 10+ runners running along with me  in my sub-group. In addition to the running, focus was also given to body strengthening for the first time. Well, now that I look back, it was naive of me to just keep running without trying to get my body strong for it. Core exercises and weight training helped me to run stronger during the training runs. Also, I learnt that the post run routine such as stretching, icing, and rolling the muscles should never be ignored just like the pre-run warm up. I figured what worked best for me as a pre-run snack (6 pre-soaked almonds and 3 bananas) and pre-race nutrition meals (broken brown rice, oats, poha, nuts, beetroot, sweet potato, potatoes, etc). For the TCS run and races after that, it was only the race day that felt important but during the training runs with JJs, I realised it’s the whole process that gives you the satisfaction and not just getting a desired time by giving your best on the race day. Perspective. The running community is one filled with individuals who work extremely hard, juggling both work and running; and with an amazing attitude towards life and people. They are eager to give advice and help fellow runners based on their experiences. It is something that I strongly felt to always be a part of. As we inched closer to TMM, the weekend runs became longer and more challenging.

JJs all set for TMM 2018!

TMM was supposed to be my first Half Marathon but then during the training came a special run called Bengaluru Thump Run where as per our training schedule, we needed to test our HM distance. I ran comfortably after the right advice from Riku (start comfortably slow and then finish strong). I didn’t know how much my long distance pace should be so that I avoid burning out. Taking inputs from the previous runs, I set out a pace and decided to target a sub-3 HM. This run was also special in a way that I was able to give away my habit of  listening to music during races (coach hates it and is willing to stop you in between to tug the wires off 😝). Of course, coach was right as ever – turns out running is about getting in sync with one’s body and surroundings. I realised that drowning all that with music wouldn’t do justice to our experience of being “one with the run”! I was able to finish strong at 2 hrs and 43 minutes.

That’s it, I did it! Conquered the 13.1 miles.

This run along with 3 other 20k+ runs gave me enough confidence to believe that I can finish a half marathon.

Thump Half Marathon 2017 – My first HM! 🏅🏅

With one week left to TMM, everyone around was getting excited to embrace the marathon of the year! Strangely, I didn’t have the butterflies in my stomach that used to hover during the TCS time… perhaps the walnuts did their job of reducing the pre-race jitters! Thank you, Dr. Ryan Fernandes. We had well tapered and loaded on beet juice and other carbs. When Riku asked for my race target, I said I didn’t have any as I just wanted to run a strong HM and I did it during the Thump Run. So, my target was already achieved and I could enjoy TMM aiming for a similar time. He insisted I aim for a better time since he believed I could run at a faster pace than what I’m used to. I took up this challenge with a practical back up plan and imagined a 2:30 finish – which is 13 min faster than my personal best (PB)! Getting to finish at that time would require me to run the entire 21.1k at the pace at which I ran my TCS 10k!!! It was a challenging task, but I felt I was up for it. My back up plan was to finish by 2:40. Riku again advised me to go with a 2:30 pacer (he always gives the best running tips!) so that I can focus more on my form than constantly checking my pace. I decided to get into the 2:30 bus which was to be paced by an enthusiastic runner, Kartik. That was it. Take it easy and just keep running. I believed that I was capable of doing it and the TMM theme song imbibed that further.

“Soch liya toh mumkin hai, Nikal pado toh mumkin hai”!

“If  you have thought about it, it is possible. All you need to do is just get out and make it possible”!

The powerful theme song of TMM 2018

As we entered the city, the feeling of something huge about to happen sunk in and all of us JJs were excited about the race. We set out together as early 4AM to board the local train to a mid point from where the local bus ferried us to the holding area. Watching thousands of runners assembling at the holding area gave me goosebumps. This was definitely much bigger than imagined! Munching a handful of raisins, I walked towards the start line with my pacer group and we heard the loud cheer  of all the runners starting the run with high energy levels! This was it! The cool Mumbai breeze whizzing across was a sign that it was going to be fantastic!

Journey to the Start Line

With the sea on one side and the city on the other side, the 12000+ HM runners set out with racing hearts, huge smiles and determined minds. I held on to Kartik’s group as we chanted “Ganpati bappa moriya” and ran steadily towards the sealink. My focus was on maintaining my form and heart rate (under 180). Focusing on Kartik’s 2:30 flag helped a lot. He kept chatting with us, making sure everyone was comfortable. It really didn’t feel tough at all. At around the 3k mark, we entered the famous sealink and there was a pleasant breeze blowing at us. It felt really good and I looked around trying to get a glimpse of the sea but it was too dark. Suddenly, out of nowhere, doubts crept in – if I could do it, can I run 21k at this pace, why couldn’t I been happy with just running 10k’s, etc. I tried to brush off the mental cobwebs, thinking about my target and of course, Riku’s words of inspiration. He has always believed in me and I know I can trust him 🙂… Back to the race, I caught up closer to Kartik, who was chatting away spiritedly with a fellow runner. We did a Mexican wave and I felt the energy levels surge up. I had my first salt cap at 5k and held on to the water bottle for little sips every 4-5 minutes. Then came a beautiful downhill – I love it when I get to switch off and let gravity take me along. Gives a feeling of being extremely light and l let go of everything.

The 10k mark came by too soon after that. There was no panting, no slowing down and I didn’t feel any major energy depletion. There was a nagging dull pain on my back which I get sometimes on long runs – nothing that I hadn’t experienced before. I tried to relax my back and shoulder while maintaining the pace. While doing all that, I heard a familiar voice shout out my name. It was my partner in crime, Riku, running the full marathon in the opposite road. I was so elated and cheered him back. Nothing beats that feeling of your loved one shouting for you amidst the crowd when you are in the conservatory phase of the race. It brought the smile back on my then resolute sweaty face.  He always waits for me to give a big hug after every race and this time I was going to miss that as he was doing the grand old full marathon!

Always waiting patiently for the celebratory hug! 🤗🤗

After a km or two, just when my mind started playing the usual tricks to make me walk a bit, Kartik announced that we’d take a 15 sec walk break since we were on the Peddar road. We were already there! The famous Peddar road uphill with a 40m elevation that everybody had been talking about! To be honest, it wasn’t that scary a hill. Our coach had trained us well to tackle them with all those hill training sessions. It is all relative, I guess! Like Riku seriously told me, the strategy of the TMM is to magically increase the Peddar road incline only on the FM return loop! I also realised we were around the 15k mark and it was time to take another salt pill. The nape of my neck was getting heated which I tried to cool down by pouring water. It felt extremely refreshing against the Mumbai humidity and rising temperature. This was also when I witnessed the support of the Mumbai locals. They were all out of their homes on an early Sunday morning. Little kids were offering us chocolates, jaggery, oranges, bananas, etc, along with their cheering parents. I’m sure all the runners, including me, felt awesome getting pampered by the Mumbaikars. Even the Police force were out there cheering us. We cheered them back for their support.

Favourite placard by the TMM 2018 cheer squad! ❤🤩

As we entered the city, the sea faded off and it was time to start changing the gears. The finish line was near and I slowly tried to increase my speed after the 18th km. I was surprised that I still had energy to do so in spite of running faster than my usual training run pace. The last 3 km was a negative split and as the finish line approached, I tried to get into a sprint. There were a lot of runners finishing around the same time, I weaved through them and finally crossed the line at 2 hours 30 minutes and 14 seconds!!

I did it!!

For a moment, I just couldn’t believe it and tears welled up in my eyes. I looked around in search of my husband. But then, I realised he was still running his marathon. He is always there when I finish, waiting with open arms for a hug that seals my strong finish. I had to keep moving on and was given a towel branded with the TMM logo. Wow! That’s a wonderful memorabilia! I found few of my fellow JJs runners, each gleaming with happiness over their newly acquired PBs. Everyone was in a festive mood.

It was over.

The tough training for 3 months ended on such a high! We slowly parted after chatting up and stretching our prized muscles who did a wonderful job! Walking around Mumbai streets with the beautiful finisher medal around our necks gave us all instant celebrity status with the local residents, who made us feel super special. The support that this city gives to its annual runners is commendable. I wish other cities followed the same and this would encourage more individuals like me to take up running.

Conquered a half and a full marathon with style! #PowerCouple😎

With that the first major running season ends. No doubt about it being tough and challenging, but it opened up a whole new world. A new season awaits now, with new goals, new challenges and a lot more fun! And I certainly can’t imagine a life without running. What next for me? A few more half marathons and then, maybe, I will start my full marathon training 😅😬. And some day, I would love to run an Ultra marathon and even run across different terrains from mountains to beaches! It will be a long road, but I will have plenty of good company!

Some tips and pointers I picked up along the way:

  1. How to start running: Start slow if you are new to running. I started with running 15 minutes a day – 2 or 3 times a week. It doesn’t matter how much or how fast you can run. Just will yourself to run and focus on your breathing/form.Putting in the miles per week is very important for a half marathon/full marathon training.
    There are multiple articles, blogs and books on running that will help you understand about running the right way:
    a. Runners World is a good place to start exploring.
    b. Born to Run is a wonderful book to get you to enjoy running with special insights from the famous running tribe, Raramuri Indians.
    c. Chi Running is a great technique to adopt if you are serious about running and want to run injury-free in the long run. Danny Dryer’s book is the go-to resource for learning the methods, but if you are in Bangalore you can reach out to Thomas Bobby Philip, our very own running guru, for tips and motivation!
    d. Join a running page like the Bangalore Runners and Mumbai Road Runners, to always be in touch with the sport and the enthusiasts.
  2. Timing your run: Early morning runs are the best coz it brings you so much time for the day and feel really good with all the endorphins pumping through you all day. Also, in our country, it’s always good to run before the heat sets in!
  3. Cross-training: Try to alternate runs with other activities like cycling, swimming, body strengthening, etc. which will make it fun and get you to run better.
  4. Nutrition: Give equal importance to nutrition requirements. If you are feeling exhausted hours after a run, it means you need to increase your calorie intake. See what works best for you and include all the healthy foods. Running has helped us to greatly reduce our junk food intake. We have become more conscious of what we eat now that we want our bodies working perfectly for all kinds of runs.
  5. Cadence: Focus on getting a high cadence while running coz it will reduce the chances of injuries. Amateur runners usually have a cadence of 160-170 steps per minutes whereas Elite runners hit a cadence of over 180 steps and some even get over 200 at their fastest speed.
  6. Heart rate and breathing: Getting a heart rate monitor will help condition the heart to beat efficiently while running. It is very easy to get the heart pumping furiously, but the challenge is to run better with a low heart rate. Anyway, having a high heart rate will immediately force you to slow down (true experience). Anytime my heart rate hits 170+, my speed automatically comes down. Now, I’m trying a new method of heart rate training called the MAF method for a better control during runs. Coming on breathing, I started off with only nose breathing and soon got out of breath. Running consumes a lot of oxygen since the muscles require them to perform the repetitive movements. Breathing with both the nose and mouth allows more oxygen to circulate to the muscles. It takes a while to get used to the technique but once acclimatised you’ll wonder how it was so difficult for you initially! Deep abdominal breaths while running are the best and the toughest to achieve. Take your time to enjoy how your body adapts to running.
  7. Running injuries: There are all kinds of injuries that are bound to happen to runners since it’s a repetitive motion. Dont get bogged down and learn to identify the difference between tired muscles and an injury. Side stitches happen to almost everyone and I figured out that it mostly occurs when I’m not hydrated enough before a run. I ease them out by taking deep breaths and sometimes even gently massaging the area. Like I said earlier, a good warm up pre-run and stretching routine post-run would go a long way to help prevent injuries. Using an ice bag on my joints and injured areas along with wearing compression socks has helped me recover well post my runs. Also, roll out the stiff muscles using fingers, tennis ball/massage ball or that torture machine called the foam roller😰. It’s only human to feel lazy post races with cravings to just fall asleep but, trust me, you will be able to walk normally and get back to running if you do all the stretches! Running has helped us learn about our anatomy/physiology and we always feel privileged that we have all the mechanisms perfectly set within us to be able to run.
  8. Benefits of running: I don’t have to elaborate on this. I admit I’m a bit (a lot!) biased, but it comes with scientific evidence. In a nutshell, running gets you stronger, prevents age related issues and wards off many non-communicable disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, etc. It is quite paradoxical as to how it works coz runners are people who make a conscious effort in maintaining a healthy lifestyle coz otherwise one just can’t sustain running. Psychologically, running gives you a sense of euphoria, inner peace, and determination to face any hurdle that life throws your way.
  9. Ill-effects of running: I’m afraid there aren’t any. If you run the right way and take care of your nutrition, you should be good. Be aware of miscreants such as stray dogs and harassers during the early morning runs. Always try your best to run in a well lit area or with a running partner/group.
  10. Last point that I want to talk about are the myths and negativity often associated with physical activity, especially for girls, that I had to face and explain to many. Running is a healthy activity and does not make you anorexic. Poor lifestyle and eating choices does that. ‘Why does anyone have to run? It’s such a strain to the body’ – NO! It is not. Smoking cigarettes is, having a sedentary lifestyle is, eating a lot of sugar/junk food is, just not paying attention to health is – these are strains to the body. But any activity we take up to counter our sedentary lives is not a strain, but medicine for the body. ‘Are you running to lose weight?’ NO! But some might and it’s a perfect way to lose weight. Running slowly for longer distance has been scientifically proven to increase fat metabolism. Running tones your body frame and make you stronger. So ignore all the negativity, cross-train your mind to focus on the positives and the joy of running and most importantly, find people who enjoy it as much. And then put on your shoes, and into the cool morning you go. Nikal pado to mumkin hai. It will be another great day!

Happy Running!

Another random motivational quote, not that you need it now!



Posted by on January 28, 2018 in Fitness, Running


Tags: , ,

Hamlet at the Harold Pinter

Hamlet at the Harold Pinter

Hamlet at the Harold Pinter

Starring Andrew Scott

Directed by Robert Icke

This is a scene by scene review/commentary.

In case you plan to see the play, or have a chance of doing so, please skip the review and head to West End. It is not to be missed. Get thee to the play. Seriously! In case you just cannot catch it, then make do with this. I have tried to capture my experience of the play, it is hardly comparable to being there, but I had to write this long commentary so that I don’t forget what it felt like to watch this amazing performance, and so that I preserve for myself the thoughts and feelings that were evoked through it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A spartan set greets the audience, which in addition to the lack of anything royal about it, also has a few unexpected elements. A large sofa to one corner, two-three steel chairs to either side, and what looks like a steam-punk console of some sorts to one corner.

* * * *

Act 1 Scene 1

To the immediate surprise of the spectators, the play opens with large flat TV screens switching on all around them with weird footages playing in them.

Instead of a guard platform we get a CCTV observation room. The guards look flustered and soon, of course, Horatio enters (in some style I must say, much more casual in attire compared to the stiff suited guards).


Marcellus and Barnardo resume their attempts to convince Horatio (one is to assume somehow the CCTVs could not record the supernatural stuff, I guess) of what they have seen when all of a sudden horrific static erupts in the theater and the dead King appears on-screen, ominous and really really spooky. A collective gasp from the audience at this. It was pretty effective – considering the Dane had only come on screen yet – the audience has not been introduced to the real ghost yet. I wondered if all ghost scenes would be thorough CCTVs… that would be a pity even if it went pretty splendidly this time. After all how would the father-son equation, which is the core of the play, play out through CCTVs? In any case, even as Scholar Horatio tries to hail the Ghost (who is in military attire, as a modern parallel to the armor worn by the original), there is a minor explosion at the console and the Ghost had disappeared from the screens as abruptly as it had appeared.

Before the scene concludes Horatio quickly updates the soldiers about what is happening in the kingdom and why security is so tight these days: The old King killed his rival King of Norway, Fortinbras, and conquered his territories. Now his (Norway’s) son, in revenge, is attempting to take back his territories with a small band of rag-tag outlaws he had gathered. Mark that from this it doesn’t feel like Fortinbras had any chance of defeating Denmark, but then an internal revenge drama will facilitate the external revenge drama. Pretty sweet, right? This is something that is often overlooked I guess, but maybe there was a poetic symmetry to this as well.

The Ghost makes another abrupt appearance, throwing the guards and Horatio into another frenzy. More frantic fiddling of the dials, etc. ensue (to be honesty this time it felt a bit comic, the reactions).

Ghost exits. It faded on the crowing of the cock – the guards quickly trying to explain away the unknown with the presumed known, finding some comfort in their astute understanding of how the supernatural world is supposed to function. We have to make everything conform to rules, absurd rules may it be.

They decide that they have to inform Hamlet of what has been happening here.

Scene closes to some stunning music and the stage goes pitch black. Obviously some stage rearrangement was underway in the darkness, though I am unsure how they manage to do so in that darkness. Must take some deft hands.

Act 1, Scene 2

The shady guard-room is transformed now into a stunning Titanic-movie-ball-room like atmosphere with golden draperies, sliding glass doors, elegant women with wine glasses, and fine music in the background. For a moment Denmark doesn’t feel like a place of omens and forebodings, but like a late evening at the Buckingham Palace (sans all the chinese tourists).

Claudius looks stately and kingly dealing with the matter of Fortinbras in very efficient style, and at this point no one could clearly have imagined that Denmark could be under any threat under such efficient management.

This is the moment when it hits you that the play is not going to bowl you over with the visual spectacle of medieval costumes and regalia. It feels more like a very elegant boardroom or a modern Lord’s mansion than the royal court in which you would have imagined these scenes playing out normally. This means that this play has to transport you all on itself, without much help from the visuals – which is quite apart from the normal theater or movie-going experience nowadays. I have a slight pang of regret that I am missing out on the costumes, but it is not as if we have a shortage of medieval costumes on TV these days.

And then, and then… A thin school boyish young man in what looks like a well-worn black tee traipses across the stage, a small ottoman in hand, and plants himself in one corner. The audience leans as one trying to get a glance at this moody, almost “emo” (forgive me) presence. Hamlet had entered he building folks, and it was electric. He had not uttered a word yet but he had captured the stage, he had filled the whole of it just by being in one corner of it. I knew then that this was going to be awesome. There were goosebumps. And just to clarify I was not a fan of Moriarty, or of what I had seen till then of Stewart’s acting. In fact I was skeptical that he can pull off a Hamlet after what I deemed as definite overacting as far as Moriarty was concerned, especially in the later episodes (Miss me? Miss me? Oh, just get the heck off!). But there was something about the entrance that immediately threw all my doubts out of the window.


Claudius tries to introduce his son with some lame humor, but Andrew with the first quip, about being too-much-in-the-sun gets a too-much-in-the-rain British audience going immediately. It is really easy with the British, when it comes to weather jokes of course. Of course, the original joke about cloud-sun-son-cousin-son is also not lost in this, and the audience cheerfully laugh for both the original and the modern joke. This sort of personalization of dialogues is what Scott pulls off throughout the play – he never fiddles with the dialogues, and not a word is out-of-place (as he has to advice later against ad-libbing, this is only appropriate – this is one play you can never ad-lib!), but just by looking at the audience or half-smiling at the audience he makes them see other meanings in those words and react exactly as he wants. A master conductor of the audience he was throughout, and the way he conducted the audience (including this willing participant) was the true spectacle at the Harold Pinter that night.


Gertrude’s first foray is to ask Hamlet to cut short his grief and the exchange really rubs in the fact that Hamlet feels his raw grief cannot be so easily cast aside, while Gertrude is insistent in asking him to do exactly that. Scott later says suppressed grief is for him one of the keys to the play, so this takes on special significance for me in hindsight. Claudius also  pitches in with some ineffectual self-help wisdom about how all living things die and blah blah blah – as this Hamlet wouldn’t hesitate to characterize it.

In any case Hamlet is convinced to stay back in court, albeit probably still in Black. A quick royal photo shoot before they disperse.

And then comes the first monologue – I was looking forward to this – Scott had proven he can use humor, especially dark humor, effectively to play the audience and establish himself, but a true Hamlet lives and dies by his monologues – and I was eager to see how this one would go, especially since this monologue is what will introduce the audience to the inner workings of Hamlet’s mind, to the anguish that torments him and again, to the extent of the grief that he is being asked to curtail.


I leaned forward with the rest of the audience as Hamlet moved to the front of the stage and looked up at us to confide in us, to let us overhear his thoughts, to use Bloom’s terminology. The theater descended into silence as if we had entered another theater – the solemn one inside Hamlet’s mind – and after a long pause Scott’s voice gently started essaying. No firm utterances, almost a whisper, as if he was slowly constructing these thoughts, as if they were coming to him then and there. Stuttering, half-audible, the words came, and I felt as if at least a few in audience would surely tip over now, straining to catch the words. The tension was being built up, and I could see that Scott was the master of this too. He was showing us how monologues are nothing but thoughts – Hamlet was not delivering a monologue, he was just alone and thinking just like any of us. An everyday occurrence. The mighty, formidable monologues of Shakespeare had been tamed right in front of us, mysterious no more – they were going to be easy and accessible today in Scott’s hands. It was a relief as well as a mild let down – grandeur was not on stage today, reality was. Mirror to nature, indeed.

Gradually the muttered tirade about sullied flesh and unweeded garden rose to an audible pitch and the worried audience could finally make sense of what was being half-whispered. They leaned back a bit as they entered familiar territory with Hamlet talking about what a man his father was, about how his mother doted on him. And then, and then… within a month of his passing, Hamlet appeals to us, as if to a close friend… and turns away from the thought, breaking our hearts.

Now comes the first famous quote – I was on the lookout for this too – will Scott bombastically stress the famous quotations – because that will always engage the audience since they would recognize it and feel good about themselves… An easy win for a Shakespearean actor. I wanted to see how the famous Shakespearisms (?) would be handled.

Frailty, thy name is woman! Hamlet cries out in frustration. Within a month he says, couldn’t you have mourned longer? Within a month – married  my uncle… and here Scott pauses in the midst of this anguished cry of Hamlet, steps out from Hamlet’s skin and becomes himself for a second, just part of the audience. This was a moment of unquestionable genius for me – a moment when Scott brought in a cultural reference, made the play supremely accessible and also eased any worries of his audience by proving that he is completely on their side; just another bloke like them who enjoys the same type of stuff that they do. He effectively told them I am just one of you and we are going to have a ball with Hamlet – which is nothing to be scared of, but is in fact super-duper fun.

How did he do that?

Again, after saying she married my uncle, he paused, stepped out of character and gave a mischievous look to the audience before uttering the next line with a lot of emphasis – My father’s brother.

The audience exploded into laughter as we realized what he meant – uncle, yes, but not My mother’s brother folks, this is not Game of Thrones! – that is what the look conveyed. And Scott waited patiently for the laughter and relief of the audience to die down before picking up on his monologue/thoughts. From that moment onwards Scott had achieved what Shakespeare probably did back in the day – getting the audience thoroughly comfortable in the idea of actually enjoying a masterpiece instead of getting caught up in venerating it.

To me this was genius, especially because of the risk involved – to attempt laughter in the midst of the monologue that basically sets up the Hamlet character… it was a tightrope, but Scott was the perfect maestro again – he got us tense, he got us light and laughing, and from the next moment got us fully back into Hamlet and his grief again, and had us all feeling the foreboding as he concluded that it cannot come to good…

I think I forgot to breathe for a few minutes.

Horatio interrupts at the right time, to the relief of everyone including the audience and perhaps Hamlet himself. They embrace and laugh and the audience is made aware that this chap Horatio is a chap they can also trust. We are not going to question Hamlet on these matters, not tonight.

Another moment of mirth for the audience as Hamlet says I think I see my father, and Horatio and Marcello jerks in genuine comic fright. Horatio then begins the painful task of telling Hamlet that he had indeed seen his father… Hamlet seems to take Horatio at his word on this and agrees to come and see for himself at the observatory.

Act 1, Scene 3

Ophelia is introduced to the audience, along with her brother Laertes, as well as her father a bit down the line. Come to think of it, the whole family is pretty much introduced and established in this one scene. And it is my duty to report that the scene and much of the play was henceforth stolen and made his own by Polonius. Peter Wight, as Polonius, was brilliant and held the play together, truly.

Perhaps as an invention, here the scene opens with Hamlet and Ophelia making out before Laertes interrupts them, forcing Hamlet to hide behind the couch – which means that Hamlet is present, hidden away but visible to audience, for the rest of the scene.


Laertes, packing to go for France, gets on the bad side of the audience very early as he is intent on advising Ophelia to not mess around with Hamlet.


Laertes had earlier asked the King’s permission to go to France, was granted the same, and thus his very small initial role rapidly approaches its end… This is when Polonius, the light of this show, shines brightly and establishes himself as the audience favorite!

Polonius comes in to hurry Laertes on his way, but not before the pithy man has given his share of self-help tips. The spate of avuncular advises are delivered in a masterly way by Wight, and has the audience in splits throughout – though the audience is also, along with Laertes, earnestly hoping for the commonplaces to end. Laertes turns to depart three times, but is pulled back by Polonius to hear more about being neither a lender nor a borrower, a whole rendition of Kipling’s If, etc. (I exaggerate, of course).


Then Polonius, having lost Laertes turns his advising prowess upon Ophelia’s love-life. Trying hard to summarize his own words multiple times, finally he sums it all up by asking Ophelia to not spend her leisure with Hamlet. Ophelia agrees with a wink to the audience and the audience is thrilled in having such a lovable villain in Polonius to troll for the rest of the evening.


The scene ends very agreeably for the audience. Things are going very nicely and there is a lively energy buzzing across the theater. Nice music too. Clearly, we are in for a lot of Bob Dylan tonight.


Act 1, Scene 4

However, the audience is immediately spooked mightily by the sudden descent of pitch darkness and eerie music. It is the graveyard shift. Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are visible now; we are back in the guard platform and it is Scooby-Doo time, everyone!

Cue eerie music, static on the speakers, and the CCTV screens start acting up. The royal Dane appears and Hamlet entreats speech. The king in the screen motions to Hamlet to approach. Hamlet goes closer. Marcellus utters the classic lines “something is rotten in the state of Denmark” and follows with Horatio.


And then…

The stage goes dark again and then starts alternating between light and dark, as if lightning was striking repeatedly. Loud static and spooky sounds fill the theater, the dead King’s face comes closer and closer and fills all the TV screens on stage, and then in one blinding flash the Ghost appears, in the flesh, in front of Hamlet – the effect was scintillating, since until now we had the image and now we had the thing. Hamlet touches the ghost and is able to touch. The father and son in the flesh, together. All the build-up was worth it for this one moment.


The royal Dane preps Hamlet with the backstory and informs him that from now on art thou for revenge. Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. Yes, murder! Murder most foul!

The serpent that did sting thy father’s life

Now wears his crown.

I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand

Of life, of crown, of queen at once dispatched

And most importantly he was killed with no chance to repent for his sins, and hence he now roams as a ghost, plotting revenge. After importuning Hamlet to revenge his Murder, in another glorious spectacle the Dane vanishes.

Hamlet extracts a very strict promise (again and again!) from his friends to never repeat to anyone what happened there (presumably this promise is revoked at the end when Hamlet releases Horatio from the silence). This was an important scene as Scott clearly meant this to be an introduction to the audience to Hamlet’s dawning madness – after all, in one interpretation the madness might even have struck before the ghost appeared… In any case, his manner towards his friends have changed markedly, he is more frantic in speech, with more puns and hidden entendres in everything he says. The notebook also makes its appearance, as he notes down that it is possible to smile, smile and still be a villain.

Horatio utters his cue about how things are wondrous strange and I had my first let down as Hamlet said hurriedly, without any bravado –

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

I was expecting that with the dawning of madness being depicted there was license to give full flourish and bombast to this – as if to say that from here on out Horatio and the rest of the cast are being thrown into a new reality that is beyond ever dreamt by any of them.

However, Scott for some reason decided to downplay this awesome Shakespearism and hurried through it… and hurried on to extracting another sworn oath to secrecy that no matter how much stranger things get Horatio will never utter a word about the night. The ghost also joins in with a “Swear!” and Hamlet hurries his friends out, muttering “The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite, That ever I was born to set it right!” This time it was done better and the fear and a comic frustration reached through to the audience, who laughed nervously.

* * * *

Act 2, Scene 1

Another scene for Polonius to shine with his comic genius, as he schemes with Reynaldo on how to find out the true state of affairs with Laertes in Paris. The pride with which he devices his little scheme and the care with which he details it has the audience in splits throughout. I missed a few of the dialogues since the laughs drowned them out…

Then Ophelia comes in flustered about Hamlet’s changed behavior towards her. Polonius in all his wisdom connects the dots and concludes that Hamlet is crazy in love with Ophelia, and the thwarted love (since he was in opposition to it and had strictly instructed his daughter against it, who would never go against his word) was the cause of Hamlet’s strange behavior. “The very ecstasy of love”, indeed. Polonius decides to pronto go to the king and bring his majesty up to speed on the matter.

Act 2, Scene 2

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern make their entrance! I was looking for some serious comic relief from them, but as it turns out I was to be a bit muted in my laughs for them, and consequently not so devastated to learn of their deaths later as I should have been. That is why the double act of these two had to be pulled off just right.

Claudius and Gertrude welcomes R & G and it immediately strikes the audience that one of the two is female (turns out to be G)! Now in my surprise, I forgot to notice if they changed Gertrude’s address which goes “Good gentlemen, he hath much talked of you.” I am pretty sure they must have… for the play acknowledged the femaleness of Guildenstern, and extracts some mild humor out of that as well whenever Hamlet seems to prefer G over R in his overtures. I wonder why this was done though, for part of the crucial thing about R & G was their interchangeability and some of the comedy comes from how the other characters never seem to know who is who. This made R & G blend into each other and become one – they had no individuality and one could not exist without the other.

In any case, I didn’t think it was a particularly great idea and felt it was a needless distraction – R & G would have worked better as a homogenous mass of sycophancy for me. This was one of the questions I would have liked to clarify with the cast and the director, given an opportunity (hint, hint!). In such a well thought out production, this can’t have been introduced without purpose. The purpose, if there was one, was unfortunately lost on me though.

R & G are escorted out and taken to Hamlet to begin their spying duties.

Polonius comes in with news of ambassadors from Norway and quickly launches into his more important news – about his discovery of the cause of Hamlet’s lunacy.

The ambassadors talk to the King over teleconference and appears only on-screen. Heh, ya I thought it was pretty cool. Norway conveyed that Fortinbras will not be threatening Denmark but requested passage for him through Denmark to march across and attack Poland (to keep hothead Fortinbras occupied, one would assume). Claudius switches off the screen and turns to Polonius, it is time to discuss Hamlet.

And at this point Polonius delivers his master speech, a gem of brevity and perfection, the very paragon of the art of speaking to the point.


This business is well ended.

My liege and madam, to expostulate

What majesty should be, what duty is,

Why day is day, night night, and time is time,

(Wight stretches these already tedious dialogues to their limits, teasing the audience with every pompous word)

Were nothing but to waste night, day, and time.

Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit

And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,

I will be brief: your noble son is mad.

Mad call I it, for, to define true madness,

What is ’t but to be nothing else but mad? But let that go.


More matter, with less art.

Polonius goes on for a while longer, reveling in his own words and finally gets round to reading out Hamlet’s letter.

He confides that he asked Ophelia to turn Hamlet away and from unreciprocated love poor Hamlet is now on the brink of lunacy. That is all, really. Nothing about his father’s death, or his Mother’s marriage in Polonius’ philosophy of Hamlet.

Gertrude, understandably, is skeptical if this can be the only cause…

So confident is Polonius that he goes on to say:

(points to his head and shoulders)

Take this from this if this be otherwise.

Polonius staked his life on his theory, and yes, he will pay with the same later… Bombastic to the end.

Polonius tries to engage Hamlet in conversation as he wanders in with a book, and from here on every encounter between Polonius and Hamlet is something to be cherished, and the audience laughed their head off every single time. Hamlet trolls Polonius mercilessly throughout, and Polonius in his earnestness rises above his sycophancy and shallowness – and we come to love him.

The rest of the scene is a riot. The Scott-Wight duo was magnificent, I am still laughing at their exchanges, reminds me of Jon Snow and Ser Davos, really. Forgive me, but really.

Meanwhile Polonius progresses from “He is far gone, far gone” to “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ’t.” And as soon as he leaves Hamlet turns to us, the audience, comments on how tedious the fool was and laughs with us at Polonius. Ah, good times, good times.

Right on cue, the next set of tedious fools enter – R & G. Again, I forgot to check if they modified the “Good lads, how do you both?” to account for the female Guildenstern. Post a bit of inappropriate jesting about Lady Luck’s private parts, Hamlet delivers one of my favorite lines “for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” R & G try to keep up with Hamlet’s skill with words, but Hamlet keeps soaring higher and higher, a king of infinite space. And suddenly after getting them all philosophical he tries to take them off-guard by interrogating them on what brings them to Elsinore. G finally admits they were sent for by Claudius and did not come of their own initiative.

Now this one scene is what I had imagined the most before going for the play. In a Guardian review I had read that the play employed CCTV cameras. Here is what I had imagined after reading that: I thought Hamlet had hacked access to CCTV cameras across the castle and hence knew most of the things going on, and were privy to most conversations. That to me explained his preternatural omniscience on display in these few scenes where Hamlet seems to be a step ahead of everyone else. Of course, it is because of his superior understanding of human nature and how people behave, but CCTV access to everyone would have been pretty cool too. Turns out my theory was wrong. Hamlet just knew, even in the era with technology. Oh well.

Once confirmed that his friends are there to betray him, Hamlet gives his ironic “What a piece of work is a man!” speech to R & G.

Somehow the conversation slips from that to the actors in the city and it immediately distracts Hamlet from his morbid thoughts about humanity. A bit of commentary about theater life follows.

Set of players enter.

Scott as Hamlet goes into seeming throes of ecstasy in meeting the players and I for a moment felt it was perhaps a bit too much acting there? But then who can question when a mad prince might choose to exhibit his mad genius. Maybe he had to convince R & G that he was crazy about the theater, crazy enough to get seriously involved with them for days on end.

Hamlet trolls Polonius a bit more as he comes in, entertains the audience further, and then turns his attentions back to the newly arrived actors.

The player launched into his long song about Pyrrhus, Hecuba and Priam, and as always at this point in the play, I zoned out for a bit and reflected on the acting and the presentation, etc, for once agreeing with Polonius as he objected that this is going a tad too long…

Then, towards the end of it, comes the moment of enlightenment for Hamlet, and Scott made sure that just in case the audience’s attention had wandered, it was brought back to focus intently on this moment. I salute him for this, for it allowed me to understand the significance of this moment and the song a lot better, after this.

As the player narrated Hecuba’s terrible cry on seeing her husband cut down, his eyes filled with tears and he flushed with the full strength of those emotions welling from Hecuba through to him. After asking if Murder of Gonzago can be played, Hamlet takes leave of everyone – clearly a plan is formed. And in a quick overhearing he lets us into the plan – He wonders how this player could force such emotions out of himself for nothing, for Hecuba – who is Hecuba to him?

What’s Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba

That he should weep for her? What would he do

Had he the motive and the cue for passion

That I have?

He berates himself (reminiscent of a later self-beration much later in the play, that time comparing himself to soldiers getting ready for action for much smaller purposes) that he can’t summon enough anger for a real wrong when the player can summon so much for an imagined scene. In any case, soon we come to the crux of the thought – that “guilty creatures sitting at a play” (here Scott smiles and points at the audience, evoking nervous laughter from us, all guilty) if struck to the soul can be driven to confess their crimes, at least in their expression.

Hamlet decides to enact a play that will probe his Uncle’s conscience and see if he flinches. That will be the test.

In a flourish Scott exclaims,

The play’s the thing

Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

With the audience thrilled by the prospect, with goosebumps at that last delivery, the light comes on for a short break, leaving us to savor the way the plot had been hatched in his mind. Isn’t it just wonderful that our Hamlet doesn’t take the Ghost at his word and decides to confirm it for himself? The Ghost might think Hamlet is one equivocating weakling of a son, and even hamlet might berate himself for hesitating and procrastinating, but Hamlet is a modern man – he will not stand for “fake news” he will find out for himself, yeah? I kept repeating to myself: The play’s the thing , Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king; The play’s the thing , Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king; The play’s the thing, Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king. A earworm. Great.

* * * *

Act 3, Scene 1

A crowded stage. Claudius and Gertrude interrogating R & G. Polonius, Ophelia also present. It is a bit funny to see actors sitting around waiting for their turn to speak. Ophelia does some nice emo poses to pass the time. Claudius and Gertrude are informed about the play being planned by Hamlet and seem interested to attend.

Then Claudius asks the rest to leave for a bit of play acting of their own – as he and Polonius planned to have Hamlet run into Ophelia and look on to observe and see how Hamlet is coming along in his love-lunacy.

To be, or not to be?

Hamlet walks in with the iconic words, and as one the audience leans all the way into the stage, eager to not miss this one monologue, even at the risk of an architectural calamity.

After expressing disgust with himself and berating himself as a vile creature for being too cowardly, Hamlet seems to have gone further in his thoughts. Now he is questioning his own existence and worth. He wonders if it is worth the struggle that is life, isn’t it better to sleep, to die? But then what dreams may come in that sleep of death. That is when death gives us pause – when we wonder what will come after. And so choosing the known devil over the unknown, we shuffle on with our one long calamity of a life.

Scott utters this deliberately, slowly, giving us time to digest it. Remember, he had banished our fears of Shakespeare long ago, he had gotten us familiar, and now the investment is paying off. No one is afraid to engage with the full depth of the monologue – we let it seep into us, we feel the full morbidity and helplessness of the thought – To be, or not to be?, it is a question we all consider and conclude with Hamlet that to To not be is too scary, we too should plod along and suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (including some petty outrages like inefficient legal system, Bangalore traffic and British food). Perhaps for the first time, the famous monologue feels like just another passing thought within us, something we can fully comprehend and then attach back to the play; a fully relatable thought. In place with the rest of the play. The couple next to me seemed to be completely taken aback that they got the whole thing at one go. We whispered to each other that this is some special kind of sorcery at work here.

To be, or not to be? That is the question—

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And, by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep—

No more—and by a sleep to say we end

The heartache and the thousand natural shocks

That flesh is heir to—’tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished!

To die, to sleep. To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub,

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes calamity of so long life.

Hamlet notices Ophelia and hushes himself, before he got too deep for his now well comprehending audience. Hamlet denies the letters and the gifts, again betraying omniscience (and CCTV hacking skills).

The conversation progresses through wordplay to hit on two strong notes:

I did love you once.


I loved you not.

And then crescendos in Get thee to a nunnery!

Scott screeches this, Hamlet has lost control and almost madly angry with himself tries to get this over with. I have never fully understood why Hamlet had to do this, and even this play couldn’t explain it to me. If there was true love here, was this necessary? I don’t think I have dreamt up enough philosophy to grasp what made this necessary, why Ophelia had to be driven to madness too. I suspect it is extreme paranoia that drives this or complete disillusionment with the world, either way two hearts are broken irredeemably in this one mad repeated scream.

I would have liked to ask the cast about their opinion on this as well – what drove Hamlet to this? (Hint, Hint)

What Claudius gets out of all this though is that Hamlet’s madness is nothing innocent like love-sickness, it is dangerous – and he decides to get him to England so that he cannot plot any further harm here in court. Polonius however sticks to his theory and proposes one more spying act, this time of an encounter of Hamlet and Mum. He had put his head on the line, and he is not lazy about proving his theory at exactly that cost.

Act 3, Scene 2

Hamlet/Shakespeare’s great education to the artists and players of his time and to posterity.

Scott does this with a lot of sincerity and with a hint of self-deprecation. This must be a difficult scene for any actor to pull off – presumption on display, having to instruct all actors ever on how to act, must take guts.

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance that you o’erstep not the modesty of nature.

Overall I must report that this performance stuck well to Shakespeare’s maxims, and would merit his pleasure.

Horatio returns to stage after a long gap. Hamlet goes on to praise Horatio as the best man he knows and expresses his implicit trust in him. Again, this has always thrown me off – why not give the same credit to Ophelia? Is it because she “conspired” with the King and Polonius, and Hamlet somehow came to know a part of that? Is Horatio really the only one Hamlet felt worthy of trust (and eventually worthy of life…)? If Hamlet did indeed feel Ophelia betrayed him, I would have to disagree. Ophelia was clearly caught between her family and Hamlet and tried t keep both happy, alienating Hamlet in the process perhaps – but she never deliberately meant to cause him any harm. She was noncommittal to the plots of Polonius but she still went ahead with them, if only for show, and that was perhaps her mistake. Unfortunately, girls would do that – a best friend like Horatio might have been able to ignore his father for his friend, if placed in a similar situation.

Hamlet lets Horatio in on his plan to expose his uncle, to catch his conscience with the Play: Horatio and Hamlet will be watching Claudius closely during the Mousetrap and comparing notes thereafter. In this performance this ‘comparison of notes’ turns out in a nice manner, as we will see later.

Stage fills up again and then empties as quickly – this confuses me a bit since in my memory this should be one of the packed scenes of the play – with the full cast in attendance along with the players of the play-within-the-play. I always wondered how they pulled off such a packed stage with so much happening. In this particular performance an ingenious solution is presented:

The King and company go off the stage and are seated with us the audience (well, not exactly, but that is the representation) and all of us watch the play-within-the-play together. On stage thus we have only the Play that is being enacted and those players. The courtly audience remains off stage, thus freeing up space on stage.

However, everything key to the actual play happens then off stage, right? We have to observe the reactions of the courtly audience to the play that is being put on to expose them. For this what has been done is that the whole play has been made into a televised courtly performance – imagine the Oscars if you will, where the cameras keep alternating between the stage where the presenters are and the audience, trying to show us the expressions of the important members. In the same manner, here the play is going on, but the cameras keep coming to the audience, i.e. to the King, the Queen, Hamlet and the rest. And the camera visuals are available to us on the giant TV screens across the theater. So just as we watch the Mousetrap we can also see the royal mouses watching it.

Hamlet, of course, has got the video camera trained on Claudius for the bulk of the play.

Hamlet 3

For me this was a bit excruciating – I had to every moment make a choice between keeping my eyes on the play going on on-stage and the expressions displayed on the monitors of the off-stage actors. I tried flicking my eyes repeatedly between the two, but eventually gave up and let the play guide me. In spite of this I still admit that it was a great way to present this scene.


The pantomime prologue-summary begins, to the accompaniment of music.

Gonzago is the Duke’s name (played by David Rintoul, who also plays the Ghost, for added effect!), and his wife is Baptista. The villain of the piece kills the king in exactly the way the Ghost had told Hamlet he was murdered. Polonius turns pale, stops the play and exits. The camera follows him down a flight of stairs. The actors on stage seem to be in a tableau as the king walks on to the stage, looks at the audience and announces that we will now have a 15 minute break. We all laugh and head out for refreshments, amused at Claudius himself announcing this momentous break. It also amused me that they took the interval in the midst of a scene, and the scene will resume after the interval. Risky, but nice. Applause.

* * * *


After the break, we open to the sight of Hamlet and Horatio examining the King’s reactions to the play – they have access to the recorded footage of the King’s reactions – so they can “compare notes” a lot more easily than in olden times. Hamlet concludes that his visage is a portrait of guilt.

R & G arrive to inform Hamlet that the King and his Mother are upset, and his Mum wants to talk to him about his behavior. Hamlet chastises them for trying to manipulate him.

Polonius also arrives with the same purpose and is immediately subjected to more trolling, much to our pleasure.

Act 3, Scene 3

Claudius tells R & G that Hamlet is to be sent to England with them, this time with a lot more conviction and with some serious steel in his voice. Audience is clearly being allowed to guess at what it means to be sent to England here…

As Hamlet goes to his mother, Polonius is planning to hide behind the curtains and listen in. After informing the same to Claudius, Polonius leaves, leaving Claudius alone on stage. This is one of the rare moments the audience gets to see Claudius by himself, and immediately we are given access to his thoughts, not through a monologue but through a prayer, which is in effect another form of thought – addressed outwards, not inwards being the  difference.

In Macbethian fashion, Claudius laments the blood on his hands and wonders how to pray for his sins, probably the after-effect of being confronted with his own evil deed so publicly.

On stage is also Hamlet, who had never exited from his own last scene. He has a gun in his hand which he is pointing at Claudius throughout the scene, but always hesitating to shoot. Taking mad steps forward and then retracing. This is another innovation in the production, like with Hamlet being on stage during the Polonius-Ophelia talks. Here it seems as if Claudius and Hamlet can see each other, but not really – perhaps both imagine the other? I cannot be sure. Once Claudius’ monologue is over, Hamlet lets us know why he is not ending it all there. It is because his father went unrepentant, to hell, and he cannot allow Claudius to go to heaven, being killed in the act of repentance for his sins. It wouldn’t be revenge proper. No. He will kill him in the act of something horrible, like incest. Or, it was just more dilly-dallying. Take it as you please.

Act 3, Scene 4

Polonius hides, Hamlet enters to meet Gertrude in the great Freudian Oedipal scene. I sat tensed, wondering how this scene is going to work itself out. Another crucial make or break moment had arrived for Scott. Will he follow the maxim of using calm voices here also, or will Hamlet burst into a rage of sound and fury? Will it be quiet malice or mad rage, or perhaps violent assault? Possibilities for this scene are endless, and the version chosen affects the whole play more than anything else.

In the back and forth Hamlet yanks Gertrude sharply down to the bed to make her sit and also draws his pistol at the same time. At this Gertrude gasps out for Help and Polonius bursts out valiantly from the tapestries and is immediately shot dead. He collapses, to shocked silence from the audience. We had truly grown fond of the pompous fool. It felt like a moment of true tragedy, and we couldn’t forgive Hamlet for that, just as he himself wouldn’t.

Hamlet justifies his deed, and alienates the audience just that bit further:

A bloody deed? Almost as bad, good mother,

As kill a king and marry with his brother.

He then says he is going to wring his mothers heart with the truth and sets off on it. Hamlet shows the portraits of the two brothers and exhorts his mother how she could chose the lesser over the better. By this time Hamlet is like a child throwing a tantrum, his words on the edge of being incomprehensible, a boy who is so angry with his mother that he can hardly articulate. The audience smile nervously at each other at this performance, they are scared to see this version of Hamlet…

What devil possessed you to do it he shouts, pointing his gun at her, throwing her to the ground.

Nay, but to live

In the rank sweat of an enseamèd bed,

Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love

MAKING LOVE he shouts, uncontrollably, and in a fit of petulance he mounts his mother, enacting the humping that he could not get out of his imagination, and getting the Oedipal moment out of the way – potent enough to draw gasps but not central enough to overshadow the rest of the scene.

Gertrude pushes him and slides away, begging him to stop, aghast at his madness. Hamlet continues on about how the King was killed, and for a moment it felt like Gertrude started to believe her son, if for nothing else but due to the intensity of his emotion and conviction.

And then the Ghost enters in another flash of spectacular brilliance. Hamlet starts speaking to him unaware only he can see him, and Gertrude is now fully convinced that Hamlet is off his rocker and scared stiff herself.

I always liked to think that the Ghost appearing at this moment, perhaps in his imagination, is what stopped Hamlet from either killing his mother or going full Oedipal. And that is why the Ghost had to enter at that precise moment with his mother begging for mercy. But that psychological angle is not explored here, and that is okay, it is not my play.

A slightly calmer Hamlet forbids Gertrude from sharing Claudius’ bed tonight and exits dragging Polonius’ bloody body behind him, leaving bloodstains on the floor.

Short break for the audience after this harrowing scene while they get the blood stains out, music cues and soon the next Act begins.

* * * *

Act 4, Scene 1

Gertrude tells Claudius of Polonius’ death and Claudius clearly want to use this as justification for his England plans with R & G as Hamlet is now not only mad but violent and dangerous.

Act 4, Scene 2

Action progresses faster now, R & G try to get info about the corpse from Hamlet. Hamlet avoids, some humor even here by Scott.

Act 4, Scene 3

Another well executed scene with the highlight being when Hamlet replies that Polonius is at dinner when asked where he is – dinner of worms – Not where he eats, but where he is eaten! Morbid gallows humor plenty here.

R & G to carry Hamlet to England with a letter instructing his execution.

Act 4, Scene 4

Fortinbras asks permission for troop movement through Denmark via teleconf link. Small conversation between Hamlet and Norwegian captain about the pointlessness of war interjected. Hamlet also asks R & G to start without him, he will be there shortly (duh).

Hamlet looks at the spectacle of the army marching for a pointless piece of Polish land and exhorts himself to action too in another classic monologue:

He berates himself for his procrastination, wondering why it is that he says ‘I have to do this’ instead of having finished say “I have done it”. When men can rouse themselves to war and action over matters so trivial as a piece of land in the middle of nowhere, how can he not take action when he has such good cause – a father murdered and a mother defiled?

Hamlet’s pitch and anger rises as the monologue continues, reaching the fever pitch of earlier again… And again a nervous audience looks on at this spectacle of a man becoming a beast.

He says he has motive, means and the ability, yet he look on as men march to action, for a mere fantasy.

And then he roars out to us:

Oh, from this time forth,

My thoughts be bloody!

A chill passes down our collective spines as we ready ourselves for the blood bath that awaits us.

Act 4, Scene 5

Ophelia’s madness. Somehow I couldn’t connect with this much. I always liked Ophelia, but her madness after her lover rejects her and her father dies was just not real enough for me. I am heartless. And to don the critic’s hat, I don’t think Jessica Findlay quite carried it on this day. However, the songs did tug a bit at the old heartstrings, especially when she sang of Valentine’s day.

Meanwhile, Laertes, accusing Claudius of the murder of his father, comes like the flooding ocean to the court, leading a revolution of some sort? Where did a revolution spring from all of sudden, I always wonder? Did Shakespeare expect us to imagine in the space of five lines the impact upon the populace of all the workings of this mad family and that they would naturally want to overthrow such a regime? Polonius’ mysterious death with no funeral, etc. must have added fuel to this discontent… In any case, the rebellion remains incidental.


Another son come to revenge his father’s foul murder on Claudius. Claudius was looking pretty tired of this, but he also knew he had a new instrument in his hands…

Ophelia enters and flings herself at Laertes and Laertes again looses himself in grief. Too much overt grief for the audience – could have been toned down a little for more effect – less art – I felt.

Claudius vows to Laertes that he will show him who is guilty of the murder and that the guilty party will be punished by death – i.e. Hamlet is going down.

Act 4, Scene 6

Hamlet’s letter reaches Horatio. Could have been a Facetime call really, I felt – maybe wi-fi on a pirate ship was too much to ask for.

Act 4, Scene 7

Laertes is convinced about the agent of his father’s murder. Letter from Hamlet arrives, and the play makes a point of showing us Gertrude’s expression noting the king’s surprise at receiving a letter from Hamlet. Claudius recruits Laertes as his pawn – in a new murder that is supposed to look like an accident. Laertes being a master at fencing, Claudius plans to arrange a fencing match between them with a sword with sharpened point dabbed with poison being used by Laertes. And a cup of poisoned drink as plan C just in case. A fool-proof plan, if ever there was one.

Gertrude brings more bad news for Laertes – Ophelia is drowned.

* * * *

Act 5, Scene 1

The gravediggers! I was super pumped for this scene and for Yorick’s introduction. It disappointed a teeny bit, I have to report. Some more spooky music, darkness and bingo a big hole has appeared in the middle of the stage. Gravediggers are inside the hole, chit chatting about some casual morbid stuff. Gravediggers seem to be singing quite a bit which I don’t remember from the play – and it also seems like a few dialogues have been cut from this scene, but I can’t be certain. Hamlet and Horatio somehow wander in, though I have never figured out why they ended up there. Hamlet approaches the grave and the gravedigger inside who is singing and causally throwing or breaking skulls. Hamlet engages in a bit more banter about death, his fav topic.


Then, funnily enough, Hamlet meets his match in wordplay in the gravedigger – goes to show that being Hamlet is all about how morbid your humor can get and how casual your outlook on life is consequently. The literal gravedigger throws Hamlet further off stride, much to the delight of the audience. A mild joke at the expense of the English here as Hamlet asks why Hamlet was sent to England if he is mad (the gravedigger knows not who he speaks to) and the Gravedigger says it is because in England everyone is as mad as Hamlet is – waves of laughter from a delighted audience, for once I didn’t join in.

Yorick’s skull, the king’s jester’s skull, comes out for display!

The royal company enters the grave putting an end to Hamlet’s ruminations on Alexander and Caesar and their parallels with Yorick’s skull.

Ophelia is buried. Laertes  jumps into the grave to hug her one last time and at that point Hamlet comes forward. Immediate fighting breaks out between them. Horatio tries to separate them but Hamlet, still mad, shouts this is an issue he can settle only by a fight to the finish. Which issue?

I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers

Could not with all their quantity of love

Make up my sum.

That is the issue. That is how much he loved the girl he drove to suicide. Somehow that touched me – this mad boy is tortured and lost. Scott brings this home with this one line. Hamlet however makes a getaway before he can be captured. Claudius exhorts Laertes to stick to the plan they had hatched and be patient.

Act 5, Scene 2

We are winding to the close now, the audience is fully into it. The play is fully established, every character has been developed, there is not much scope for anything to go wrong now. I have fully settled into it, at ease with the play, ready to enjoy the gory climax as much as possible. Though I have misgivings that in a world with guns, swords wont be as terrifying…

The next famous line is about to be delivered: Hamlet advises Horatio that sometimes acting rashly and on impulse works out better than well laid plans,

and that should teach us

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,

Rough-hew them how we will

What prompted this? Hamlet’s accidental discovery of the letter carried by R & G, on the way to England. Hamlet glibly tells of how he wrote a new letter to England, stating: He should the bearers put to sudden death.

That was it, the rest was implied. The bearers R & G thus perish. Audience might have felt a pang, but I feel it was more a pang for Hamlet than for R & G – for Hamlet to be doing such deeds, to have reached a point where he is capable of it with such efficiency. The emo boy we saw has come a long way, and it pains us.

Horatio says Claudius will find out soon of this, but Hamlet has the interim to do what he can about this evil king that casts a shadow over Denmark. At this moment Osric arrives to inform Hamlet of the betting match upon the fencing match and to invite him for the farce. After getting trolled for a bit he manages to deliver his message. Hamlet seems to agree to the match, perhaps not taking it too seriously?

Horatio is worried Hamlet can’t stand up to skilled Laertes. Andrew Scott looks at the audience with a smile as he says that I do not think so. Since he went into France, I have been in continual practice. The audience laughs aloud as they realize how absurd that sounds. Hamlet gets a sinking feeling about the match, but contrary to his speech earlier about instincts and a divinity that shapes our ends he chooses to ignore it. So the scene has a symmetry to it overall.

But this leads to another favorite line of mine, this time against superstitions:

If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.

Now the stage descends into darkness, with heraldic music playing loudly. When light comes back on we see the two contestants getting into fencing clothes and cameramen descending on them just like at an Olympic arena, zooming in on theirs and their teams’ expressions. The big TV screens showcase the nervous countenances in full detail.

After a quick gentlemanly, though slightly rubber tongued apology from Hamlet, the match is about to get underway. Claudius’ plan is that if Hamlet is getting ahead he will feed him some poisoned wine to even the odds in his own favor.

The match starts and the TV screens now display the scoreline boldly 0-0! This is fun I thought, and got ready to enjoy the show. As a bonus, we had more Dylan to take us through the fencing match, sometimes even rising above the dialogues.

Hamlet 1 – Laertes 0. Claudius tries to get Hamlet to take some poisoned wine…

Hamlet says he will drink after the round.


Hamlet 2 – Laertes 0!

Gertrude comes forward to wipe Hamlet’s brow and then picks up the poisoned goblet to drink to his health. The quasi-dance of all the characters moving across the stage is well choreographed and unlike the earlier population dense scene this time all the actors are on stage, sharing it, hence requiring some delicate acting.

Claudius frantically tries to get Gertrude to not drink from it. But it was too late, she had drunk the poison!

In this production, Hamlet retires to his corner and the match was in pause when Laertes reaches out illegally and slashes Hamlet’s hand and draws blood with his poisoned blade. Hamlet ends up with Laertes’s rapier after a scuffle and wounds him as well. Both poisoned now.

Effective score? Hamlet 1 – Laertes 1. Ha!

Laertes collapses, Gertrude faints crying out the drink was poisoned – clearly in her dying moment she realized everything, understood her mistakes and wanted to save Hamlet at least. Icke fully absolves Gertrude of any potential guilt here, possibly robbing the play of some worthy possibilities… Laertes confesses to the whole plan and outs the King – The king, the king’s to blame.

HAMLET: The blade poisoned! Then get to work, poison!

And he stabs Claudius with the poisoned blade as well. Then forces him to drink from the same cup as his mother. End of the evil Dane.

Laertes also dies.

And now things get a bit weird for me – I regret to report that the ending really didn’t work for me. Let me try to describe its best I can:

Probably this dialogue of Hamlet is taken literally by the director:


Heaven make thee free of it. I follow thee.—

I am dead, Horatio.

Before Hamlet dies the backside of the stage opens and is revealed to be Heaven, with dancing angels, etc. Each of the dead actors are raised up into heaven (including Claudius mind you, there was no space for a Hell on the stage really) – they graciously flutter to their respective posts and occupy their positions in the heaven that has opened up there. Even Ophelia, Polonius, et al are also there.

This is set up slowly before Hamlet can deliver his dying lines so there is a long pause where the audience has to wait for Heaven to arrange itself, with slight unease, wondering if it was really necessary.

Hamlet asks Horatio to stay on in this harsh world for a while more to tell his story and to clear his memory, while he. having resolved his own to be or not to be, moves on to heaven. Horatio is left the last man standing.

The rest is silence. (Dies).

Heaven closes around Hamlet and then the audience is treated to the rude TV footage of Fortinbras announcing his plans for Denmark and for Hamlet’s honorary burial.

It was almost perfect, but the ending could have been a bit more tragic. A stage full of bodies over which the curtain descends seem a more fitting end to Denmark than a well populated Heaven with chorus singing as it closes gently. But the audience is more than willing to forgive this lack of such devastating tragedy as the play closes. Scattered applause starts to erupt, and as the cast comes out in their heavenly clothing to receive the applause it soon becomes a torrent of applause raining down on them. Then, a few seconds later, Andrew Scott joins them and the torrent becomes thunder as every single member of audience rises from their seat to make known their roaring appreciation. Scott soaks it all in like a gladiator in the midst of a great Roman arena. In a few choreographed movements the cast acknowledge us again and again, giving us a chance to sate our unending appetite for raining down applause.

Once it finally dies down, but not before one final eruption for Scott who takes the stage alone, we all collect ourselves and sit down, whispering to each other adjectives that barely described the play. As the audience prepares to leave, Horatio comes out and requests for a moment of our attention, which is gladly given. An announcement is made that the cast will come down in a few minutes for a 15 minute Q & A session and interested members can stay back. Half the audience immediately sits back down and settles in for a slightly longer night. The play had been almost 4 hours in the playing, an epic by any means, and we were game to discuss it late into the night if need be.

* * * *

Q & A Session with the Cast

One by one the cast comes back on stage and occupies the chairs placed for them and Horatio takes up the role of show manager. He asks us to raise our hands to ask questions, and to ask only if picked by him.

The first lucky member of the audience manages to thrill across the first question:

Disclaimer: Questions and answers are nowhere near verbatim and is closer to what I got out of the exchange than what might have actually gone down. Given I am penning this down a few days after the performance night, we need to allow room for some memory lapses as well.

Q 1. Given that your two popular performances, one as Moriarty and one as Hamlet, are both of tortured, genius, mad men, how would you compare the two? (Or something along these lines, I hope the audience member who asked the question would pardon if I missed out on parts of it)

A: Question being directed to Scott, he pretty much directly gets into the core differences between Moriarty and Hamlet and in doing so provides the audience with a key to interpreting the performance he had just given us. He explains that Moriarty comes to him as a fully formed character with certain traits – of madness, genius and a tendency to chaos, perhaps – he just has to stay true to these traits.

Whereas in Hamlet the traits has to develop internally and believably so. He has to go from sad brilliant man to a brilliant genius to a mad genius to a mad blood-thirsty genius, and various combinations in between. Throw into the mix – passionate lover, dedicated son, loyal friend, disillusioned friend, etc. and the range of emotions to be expressed is vast and very very challenging. Through all this, for Andrew, it is one aspect that is key to the changes in Hamlet’s character (Andrew seems to accept that Hamlet is indeed mad and is not feigning madness): The madness is a result of grief that is not allowed full sway. A young man not allowed to grieve slips into madness, and it is the grief that forges the various elements of Hamlet that we see henceforth. The early court scenes take special significance in the light of this discussion. Scott might have spoken about a few more things but these are the points that stayed most with me. All in all, there really is no comparison. Ha, am I glad of this answer!

Q 2. If I recollect correctly the second question was basically whether the actors have any favorite scenes in a play full of so many outstanding scenes. There might also have been an aspect of the question about the use of technology on stage and how/whether that impacted certain key scenes, and if so how?

A: A few of the cast members pitched in with their favorite scenes, but what stayed with me was Andrew’s discussion about why they decided to fully humanize the Ghost. Hamlet could touch him, feel him, and hold his hands when they spoke. He says they wanted to make the father-son aspect fully realized and allowing direct contact and a personal moment between the two seemed the best way to do it. The technology medium adapted might have stood in the way of this, so the Ghost goes beyond all of that and manifests as flesh in front of Hamlet. When you add in the fact that in this production Hamlet is indeed assumed mad, then this also shows the extent of his hallucinations and his grief…

Q 3. A lot of you have long breaks in between two scenes sometimes, during the course of which you have to go off stage. What do you guys do off stage as the drama progresses? Do you stay in character, do you try to relax a bit, or do you netflix and chill, especially when it is such a long production?

A: The entire cast got pretty interested in this question. I was also pretty interested since if answered by a few of them this would give us a real glimpse behind the curtains. I thanked silently whoever asked the question (A shout-out to you, kind soul), and started following the conversation amongst the cast in response.

Horatio jokingly immediately pointed at Laertes who leaves court and the stage in Act 1 Scene 3 and does not return till Act 4 Scene 5 towards the end of the play, hours later, and says Laertes might be the best one to answer that since he has maximum time off-stage. The whole cast laughed, there was even a quo that in the time he had off-stage he could actually have gone to France and come back! Laertes finally got a say: no he cant stay in character that long, instead he tries to relax and just stay in touch with the action on stage. Someone else from the cast also joined in and said that yes, they can’t stay in character outside for too long since that would make it too tense. They have to get off character once off the stage, but stay ready.

Laertes came up with a good metaphor – he said, imagine you are going on a long distance flight – you wont be aware of the flight all the while, you might sleep watch a movie listen to music and then become aware of the flying itself only occasionally. But throughout you are in the flight – you never stop flying! Then Andrew pitched in by saying it is important to keep things a bit light, you can’t get too serious. “Without life and liveliness there is no tragedy, there has to be plenty of life on stage” – and the only way to have liveliness and life on stage is to preserve energy especially mental energy off stage by saying relaxed. Wight also acknowledged the same – there was another funny metaphor I believe, but it skips my mind. Gertrude pitched in that in any case every player has an audio piece or something so they are following the play off stage at all times. Overall it was an interesting discussion. The audience as well as the cast seemed to truly enjoy it.

Q 4. I believe this question was along the lines of how important is a play like this to you guys on a personal level. The questioner said the question is an open one – i.e. any of the cast can answer it.

A: The cast looked at each other waiting for a volunteer. Finally Ophelia started off. It was a touching moment. She talked about how she had been struggling with an eating disorder and depression. She talked about how the play helped her find herself during a crucial time. About how it filled with meaning so many empty areas inside her. We could see in retrospect how much she poured into her role as we talked and all we could do to acknowledge was some meager applause when she finished. But it was an intimate and brave moment.

We had exceeded the 15 minutes, but everyone was having a good time so Horatio said he will take one more question. From the hundreds of hands, including mine, he decided to pick one, this time from the Balcony. Thank you, the lady blurted out as if she had given up hope and was very pleasantly surprised to be called on. She took a moment to collect herself and asked a fantastic final question, to Andrew Scott again. Yes, we as an audience was biased, but I am sure the rest of the cast will forgive us for being dreamy-eyed fan boys of Scott for one night.

Q 5. The question went like this: We noticed that at moments of great rage, as during the confrontation with his mother, you seem to be throwing a tantrum, almost child-like in its intensity and lack of self-control. Those scenes reminded me of how my child behaves towards me when in a fit of rage. Was that deliberate? Were you trying to show that due to the circumstances and perhaps the madness a regression to the child had happened within Hamlet and all normal reservations that keep us behaving properly had fallen off? Andrew didn’t get the second part of the question, and she repeated if what Andrew was trying to show was that a combination of madness, grief and the presence of his mother, caused a regression to a child….

A: Andrew got it this time and asked whether she meant that at those moments filters were not there: that is, we were seeing Hamlet without the normal social filters that preserve the inner I from being exposed. She nodded and he continued with his answer. Clearly he was thinking through it, it was a good question since it addressed the few scenes which the audience would have been most uncomfortable with, and those which a bad critic could easily dismiss as overacting. But this question forced us to reexamine any impressions we had of those scenes of rage and “overacting” – there might be a method to the madness after all.

In fact it was such a good question that it required acknowledgment more than explanation. Andrew acknowledged it, touched upon the grief-madness connection once again, but finally accepted that yes, the grief and the madness had made Hamlet behave like a child. He also says that once this was let out and the grief had an outlet through this raw expression, Hamlet calms down a little, a bit of the madness has fallen away… The venting was crucial, just like it is for children.

He goes on to say that, in fact, a characteristic of most mad people is this loss of filters – they become too raw, too real for the rest of society. The layers of custom that makes us look like safe & rational beings, which we are far from being, comes off in such people, which is why they evoke fear. Hamlet does both – he becomes a feral force, but the filters coming off exposes his humanity and also his genius and as we wonder looking at him ‘What a piece of work is a man’ we learn a lot about what each of us is without filters. We fear hamlet, we love hamlet, we know Hamlet is doomed, just as we know about ourselves. A mirror up to nature, even in a scene that is mostly on the brink of being out of control.

The Q & A ends.

One final round of applause, adoring looks at the cast members, and then we were clambering off, hoping to catch the last trains and tubes back home so that we can get some time to savor the experience further, before sleep and perchance dreams engulf us.


Book your Hamlet tickets, playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 2nd September 2017.

Leave a comment

Posted by on August 13, 2017 in Book Reviews, Books, Movies, Theater Reviews


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Imperialism: The Darwinian Justification

The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the WorldThe Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

Imperialism: The Darwinian Justification

Ferguson contends that today’s financial world is the result of four millennia of economic evolution. It is very important to the aims of this book that this metaphor is accepted. Ferguson looks at this evolution of money into the complicated financial ecosystem of today. He explores how money mutated into new tools/organisms and acquired characteristics that allowed it to meet the needs of its users/demands of its environment better. The tools that helped men make even more money or harness their own energies more efficiently were selected for as ‘fittest’ and soon took over the monetary environment.

This happened in fits and starts:

First came the invention of money itself, which is not given much attention to, probably because it is too shrouded in the mists of time (and also because the West has no unique claim on it, at any of its stages – even the more advanced forms). Then it started mutating into its various forms, conquering and occupying various niches according to functionality.

And according to Ferguson, the civilizations who had access to these new and more efficient tools were hugely benefitted and in many cases were at a decisive advantage, down to our day.

The Evolutionary Stages

1. Banks

Money, once it allowed quantification of the value of transactions soon led naturally to delayed payments and then to the institutions of lending and borrowing. These slowly grew to become banks, clearing houses for ever larger aggregations of borrowing and lending.

2. Bonds

The rulers and the lords were the biggest customers of the banks. In time governments that figured out how to utilize the credit market best thrived and their innovations led to government bonds and securitization of streams of interest payments. This matured into full-fledged bond markets by the 13th century. The rulers had great incentive to protect and regulate this amazing new source of funding! This led those governments most dependent on these markets to institute regulated public markets so as to maintain stability and security of transaction, which was in their own best interests. Transaction and discovery costs reduced drastically and areas with such markets proved extremely useful to their rulers, who could no raise money for wars much more effectively. Battles were now to be won and lost in the bond markets.

3. Stock Markets

By the seventeenth century, corporations started aping the states, a process that was not limited to only financial matters, and started to raise equity through share markets. This could only develop first in areas with already well developed bond markets and public markets and thus gave them a further advantage — the advantage derived from the financial tools now extended from wars to trade and industry. The West was rising buoyed by its financial innovations, in Ferguson’s view.

4. Insurance

With the institutions of bonds and shares prospering, the next step was to use the market to spread risk out. insurance funds and then pension funds exploited economies of scale and the laws of averages to provide financial protection against calculable risk. The corporations now had another decisive advantage in being able to have access to protection against risk and in a world where financial risk was the biggest danger any advantage there could prove world-conquering. The accumulation of financial innovations had already tipped the balance for the West and was now on its way to helping them conquer the world.

5. Real Estate

With the rise of more innovative instruments such as futures, options and other derivatives, it was now possible to increase leverage, not only for governments and corporations, but also for individual households. With government encouragement they soon increased their leverage and used that to invest more and more in real estate. This helped the western countries to have a larger and larger propertied class helping them to transition the into property-owning democracies, which, according to Ferguson, are the most robust sort.

6. Imperialism and Globalization: The Justified Culmination

Now we come to the crux of the narrative — Economies that combined all these institutional innovations – banks, bond markets, stock markets, insurance and property-owning democracy – performed better over the long run than those that did not, because financial intermediation generally permits a more efficient allocation of resources than, say, feudalism or central planning. The financial ecosystem evolved in the West was the best suited for governance and for human civilization in general. And it is for this reason that the Western financial model tended to spread around the world, first in the guise of imperialism, then in the guise of globalization, and has been vital for all sorts of progress achieved around the world — from the advance of science, the spread of law, mankind’s escape from the drudgery of subsistence agriculture and the misery of the Malthusian trap.

Ferguson has narrated the history of money as a financial evolution and thus given it the air of inevitable complexity and of progress. This makes it seem like the adoption of the ‘evolved’ financial system first by the West and them by the Rest is but a logical and inevitable choice that is for the best of the world at large.

It is noteworthy that Ferguson makes a point of using elaborate evolutionary metaphors to project the history of financial institutions in a Darwinian light.


According to this interpretation, financial history is essentially the result of institutional mutation and natural selection: Random ‘drift’ (innovations/ mutations that are not promoted by natural selection, but just happen) and ‘flow’ (innovations/mutations that are caused when, say, American practices are adopted by Chinese banks) play a part. There can also be ‘co-evolution’, when different financial species work and adapt together (like hedge funds and their prime brokers).

But market selection is the main driver. Financial organisms are in competition with one another for finite resources. At certain times and in certain places, certain species may become dominant. But innovations by competitor species, or the emergence of altogether new species, prevent any permanent hierarchy or monoculture from emerging. Broadly speaking, the law of the survival of the fittest applies. Institutions with a ‘selfish gene’ that is good at self-replication and self-perpetuation will tend to proliferate and endure.

As we can see there are certain key themes here:

a. That the survived institutions have to accepted as ‘fittest’ under Ferguson’s interpretation, and

b. That ‘selfishness’ of institutions/genes are rewarding for the species/humanity in the long run. So we should encourage the selfish imperialism of countries/the globalization of corporations today.

These are specious themes that are present in this book with a specific agenda, trying to escape notice by being presented in pseudoscientific light. And as we have seen from our discussion of how Ferguson uses the history of finance to show us how Imperialism was a good thing for the rest of the world, we can safely slot this book as another among Ferguson’s life-long attempts to come up with innovative apologetics for Empire.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 7, 2015 in Book Reviews, Books, Economics, Thoughts


Tags: , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: