Books en Wed Nov 16 13:18:10 IST 2022 indias-g20-presidency-was-not-a-moment-but-a-movement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over 220 meetings across 60 cities in all 28 states and eight Union Territories…It wasn’t an easy task. To hold a Group of 20 meeting at a time when the Covid pandemic just got over, a world was wracked by wars and conflicts, when mutual suspicion ruled supreme and questions were raised about the efficacy of global institutions to mitigate financial and environmental distress. But India did it and how!</p> <p>For one thing, the summit went beyond the G20 mandate of accelerating Sustainable Development Goals, reviving economic growth and generating climate finance.</p> <p>A collection of articles into a book ‘India’s G20 Legacy: Shaping a New World Order’ by none but those who were directly involved in the enormous task—diplomats, bureaucrats, academics and intellectuals, both from India and abroad—and ably edited by Manish Chand, a foreign affairs expert and writer, brings out the entire range of issues and viewpoints that made the Indian chapter of G20 a new benchmark worthy of emulation.</p> <p>In his foreword, Harsh Vardhan Shringla, the chief coordinator of India’s G20 presidency sums it up succinctly: “The most important legacy of India’s G20 presidency was its overarching focus, not just in terms of priorities, but also through organization… India’s G20 leadership wasn’t just a moment, it was a movement”.</p> <p>The gains from India’s presidency that ended on November 30, 2023, were quite a few: A new permanent member in the form of the African Union (AU), managing the serious ideological and bloc differences over the Ukraine war (by finding the middle ground between the G7 countries and Russia), and framing consensus on a range of issues.&nbsp;</p> <p>With AU’s inclusion, writes Amitabh Kant, India’s G20 Sherpa: “India transformed the G20 into a substantially more inclusive institution, now encapsulating nearly 90 per cent of the global population…three-fourths of global trade.”</p> <p>But most significantly, as Manish Chand writes: “India’s G20 presidency marks a turning point for the ascendance of the Global South in the multilateral agenda”.</p> <p>The Green Development Pact was another feather in the cap of India’s G20 event, especially when viewed against the backdrop of the fact that 90 per cent of the total carbon space is already claimed by the developed world, at the cost of the space of the developing countries.</p> <p>A noteworthy feature was the widespread civil society participation embodying grassroots participation. Cultural events roped in about 15,000 local artists, in a big boost to the tourism sector.</p> <p>Articles by Vincenzo De Luca, Italy’s ambassador to India, and Kenneth Felix Haczynski da Nobrega, the Brazilian ambassador talk of continuing with the legacy set in New Delhi. In 2024, Italy holds the G7 presidency while the G20 presidency is held by Brazil.</p> <p>In his article, former diplomat and strategist D.B. Venkatesh Varma writes: “The character of G20 has changed from a grouping dominated by G7 concerns to one that is now better prepared to address a more equitable international cooperative agenda that is sensitive to the interest of the Global South.”</p> <p>What stands out in the end is the vital role that India played in bridge-building and consensus-building and the image of the nation being a problem solver and agenda setter is likely to endure.&nbsp;</p> Tue May 28 16:48:38 IST 2024 retelling-a-great-victory-as-witnessed-by-the-nagas-book-his-majesty-s-headhunters-the-siege-of-kohima <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>But the story of the battle that brought the world to Kohima can’t be told without the making of Kohima. And in telling Kikon writes poignantly about how Kohima came to being. “It did not tale exactly forty-six years for the British to establish the headquarters at Kohima. For the many who died in the vicious battles, it was a lifetime. For the villages destroyed as a result of the resistance of the British onslaught, it was a millennium,’’ writes Kikon.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book has a list of the number of losses suffered by Nagas under the numerous expeditions led by British forces. This table has 48 entries beginning from 1827, in which 4 villages were ‘subjugated’ as punishment or in 1876 Captain Butler is killed in an ambush at Pangti and then Pangti burns—illustrates the attacks were routine. Compiled from Gordon P. Mill’s Tribal Transformation: The Early History of the Naga Hills these attacks were carefully noted, making deaths a normal part of bureaucratic procedure.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vividly told, and evocative, Kikon has chosen to set the record straight. It is also the story of the defeat of the Japanese. So, there is Lt. General Kotuku Sato on a mission to capture Kohima within the shortest time. (He loved his baths in a bathtub). Sato fails and refuses to obey his superior Lt. General Mutaguchi. He had no ammunition, lost 3000 soldiers and had 4,000 wounded soldiers in his camp. Mutaguchi told him “If your hands are broken, fight with your feet, if your hands and feet are broken, use your teeth. If there is no breath left in your body, fight with your spirit. Lack of weapons is no excuse for defeat,’’ Kikon quotes Mutaguchi. Sato refuses to follow the directive, and goes back, risking court martial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Littered with details from the other side. And memories of Subhash Bose in Nagaland as well as the stories of valour by Nagas—including General Yambamo Lotha’s attack on the Japanese forces where he took 78 or 87 heads, the book is essential for anyone who wants stories told by the Indian side. It was the Nagas, finally who threw their lot with the Allied forces that proved to be the secret ingredient for a win. Their stories that deserve to be told, their stories that need to be read.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Book: His Majesty’s Headhunters—The Siege of Kohima that Shaped World History by Mmhohlumo Kikon</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Penguin Random House</b></p> <p><b>Price: 599</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 193</b></p> Fri Apr 26 20:24:33 IST 2024 smoke-and-ashes-review-tracing-the-original-drug-traffickers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The US Administration has been requesting China to stop the supply of fentanyl and the chemical ingredients for opioids which kill thousands of American addicts every year. The US blames China and the Latin American cocoa farmers and drug cartels for the supplies although the main driver is the flourishing domestic consumer and demand involving billions of dollars of business. In this context, Amitav Ghosh has reminded the world that the Americans, the Dutch and the British were the original drug traffickers. Many Americans made fortunes by trafficking opium illegally into China. The West went even went to the extent of waging wars (Opium wars) and forced the Chinese government to legalize opium.</p> <p>In his book “Smoke and Ashes: A Writer's Journey through Opium's Hidden Histories” Amitav Ghosh has given a vivid account of the criminal drug trafficking done by the American, British and Dutch businessmen in collusion with their governments. He has done extensive and meticulous research of British, European, American, Chinese and Indian sources and quoted from documents, statements and archives.</p> <p>While there is public knowledge of the British drug trafficking, the role of Americans in the dirty business is not that well known. Ghosh has filled this gap by documenting the smuggling of opium by American businessmen who made huge fortunes. According to his research, the Americans were, by some estimates, smuggling as much as a third of all the opium consumed in China at the peak time. There were the big opium-trading clans of Boston—the Perkins, Sturgis, Russell, Forbes Astor, Cabot, Peabody, Brown, Archer, Hathaway, Webster, Delano, Coolidge, Forbes, Russell, Perkins, Bryant as well as the families of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Calvin Coolidge. These families were all as intricately interrelated as the Sicilian Mafia. They called themselves ‘the Boston Concern’ and they became the single biggest opium-trading network in China. Many of the young Americans who became rich in opium trade had lived and worked personally in Guangzhou and boasted about the quick money they made.</p> <p>The Americans were responsible for several important innovations in the nineteenth-century illegal opium trade. They set up a steady transportation channel between China and Turkey through the system of ‘floating warehouses’ at Lintin Island to facilitate the smuggling of opium. They designed the vessels called as Baltimore Clippers which played an important role in the opium trade. These clippers were fast enough to elude British warships which tried to stop non-British opium carriers in order to maintain the British monopoly. The Baltimore clippers were much in demand for the transportation of opium from India to China. Before, ships would have to wait for the turning of the monsoon winds in order to sail that route. But the schooner-rigged Baltimore clippers were able to sail against the wind, and so the opium trade went from being a seasonal affair to a year-round commerce.</p> <p>The Opium fortunes were used by the Boston families to finance American railways, manufacturing, hotels and investment banking. Ghosh says, ‘Opium was really a way that America was able to transfer China’s economic power to America’s industrial revolution with the wealth generated by Indian poppy farmers who were forced to grow and the Chinese opium users who were forced to consume”.</p> <p>Much before the British entry, the Dutch traders and colonialists had established opium trade in South East Asia. Even the Dutch crown joined the illegal business. In 1815, the newly crowned Dutch monarch, formerly Prince Willem Frederik of Orange-Nassau, founded an enterprise called the Royal Dutch Trading Company (Koninklijke Nederlandsche Handel-Maatschappij or NHM). Using its royal sponsorship, this company became powerful enough to take over the opium monopoly. Their opium business was consistently profitable and earned vast sums of money for the royal family. Ghosh says,“ it was the Dutch who led the way in enmeshing opium with colonialism, and in creating the first imperial narco-state, heavily dependent on drug revenues. Later British perfected the model of the colonial narco-state in India”.</p> <p>The British started the opium trafficking to China initially to pay for the tea which they imported into UK. Chinese tea remained the British East India Company’s prime source of revenue. By the early eighteenth century Chinese tea was already an important article of trade for the British economy. The importation of tea was for centuries a monopoly of the East India Company and the customs duty on it was for a long time one of Britain’s most important sources of revenue. The duty ranged from 75 per cent to 125 per cent of the estimated value, which meant that the customs duty on tea fetched higher revenues for Britain than it did for China, which charged an export duty of only 10 per cent. The problem was that Britain had nothing much to sell to China in return. The Chinese had little interest in, and no need for, most Western goods. So the East India Company had a balance of trade problem with China. The company found the way to pay for Chinese goods with illegal supply of opium from India to China.</p> <p>The first pivotal moment in the opium story was East India Company’s takeover of the opium industry in Bihar in 1772. The second big move occurred in 1799, when the company’s leadership decided to set up the Opium Department, a bureaucracy that was devoted entirely to the production of opium. This Department oversaw every aspect of the production and sale of the drug, from the planting of poppies to the auctioning of the product in Calcutta. The department determined which farmers could grow poppies, how much they could plant and what they would be paid for their harvest. The company paid low prices but the farmers had no other alternative and were forced to sell their The entire production exclusively only to the Opium Department. Cultivation of poppies required the labour of more than a million peasant households, probably some 5–7 million people altogether. The department had two geographical agencies, namely the Benares Agency in the west and the Patna Agency in the east. Each agency was presided over by a British official known as the Opium Agent, one of the most highly paid and most coveted posts within the colonial regime.</p> <p>The East India Company forced farmers to cultivate opium in the lands where rice was grown earlier. Opium Department had stipulated that nothing else could be grown on land that had been earmarked for that purpose. This large-scale conversion of paddy fields for poppy cultivation was one of the major contributors to the famine in Bengal in 1770 which caused the death of ten million people.</p> <p>China had officially banned the importation and consumption of opium since 1729. Because of these bans, the East India Company could not formally or explicitly acknowledge that its opium was intended for the Chinese market: doing so would have meant the loss of its trading rights and the end of its immensely lucrative tea business. So, the company resorted to an ingenious subterfuge. Opium from the Ghazipur and Patna factories was loaded on to heavily guarded fleets and sent to Calcutta, where it was auctioned to ‘private traders’. Thereafter the Company disclaimed all responsibility for its product, which was then transported by these traders to Whampoa (Huangpu) on the Pearl River, where they would sell the drug to Chinese smugglers. The money was collected from the smugglers secretly and transferred to London and India through agents.</p> <p>1839, the Chinese put their foot down to stop the illegal supply of opium. They demanded that foreign merchants surrender all their stocks of opium. When the merchants refused, they were put under house arrest. After this, the merchants surrendered about a thousand tons of opium, which were publicly destroyed by the Chinese authorities. This loss gave the casus belli for war to the British government which attacked China in 1840. This was the First Opium War in which China suffered defeat and agreed to sign the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. Under this, the Chinese were forced to compensate foreign opium traffickers to the tune of 6 million silver dollars. The other conditions included the opening of four other ports to foreign traders (and smugglers) and ceding the island of Hong Kong to the British as a colony. The island thereafter became the main hub of opium smuggling in China accounting for three-quarters of the entire opium smuggling into China. After this, the Opium Department in India got the poppy acreage increased six-fold. An article published at that time in the US National Defense University mentioned that “the English merchants, led by the British East India Company from 1772 to 1850, established extensive opium supply chains, creating the world’s first drug cartel”. Besides China, the westerners smuggled opium into Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam also disregarding the ban in those countries.</p> <p>Ghosh has concluded that “the British Empire’s opium racket was a criminal enterprise, utterly indefensible by the standards of its own time as well as ours”.</p> <p>He has brought out the Chinese lesson to the west. When the westerners forced opium down the throats of Chinese at gun point, the Chinese turned the tables and beat the westerners in their own game. Unable to stop the illegal western supplies of opium, the Chinese started to produce their own and succeeded in import substitution. China’s domestic opium industry became the single largest producer and exporter of opium in the world, accounting for seven-eighths of global supply. The west has not learnt from this Chinese method and history. The western companies rushed into the Chinese market supplying products and technologies after the opening of the Chinese market in the eighties. The Chinese have simply repeated history by becoming the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter. The Chinese exports of 3.4 trillion dollars in 2023 is almost equal to the combined exports of US (2 trillion) and Germany (1.6 trillion). China has become the largest exporter of cars, solar panels and many other items, just as they became the largest exporter of opium. While the hubris-filled Westerners have failed to learn from the opium history, the Chinese have certainly learnt how to give it back to the west.</p> <p><b>Book name: Smoke and Ashes: A Writer’s Journey Through Opium’s Hidden Histories</b></p> <p><b>Author: Amitav Ghosh</b></p> <p><b>Price: 1,765</b></p> Thu Apr 25 17:00:04 IST 2024 heavenly-islands-of-goa-review-an-overview-of-the-states-biodiversity-and-heritage <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Did you know Goa hosts 482 of the total 1,360 endemic and migratory bird species found in India? Thanks to the colony of mangroves that has created an ideal and isolated habitat for birds they've made Goa their home. These mangroves in the Zuari and Mandovi rivers have in turn given rise to the Riverine and Estuarine islands which are a distinctive feature of the Goan landscape.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It will amaze many Goans to know that there once existed a Fort of Naroa, just across the road from Holy Spirit Church, very close to the Naroa-Narve ferry crossing. Today, just a high masonry wall of this fort remains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It might also be interesting to know that Estevao Island, one of the bigger inland islands of Goa is also known as the 'Island of the Dead'. It has to do with the battle between the Adilshahi forces and the Portuguese, when the latter having massacred most of the soldiers from the Adilshahi army left their bodies to rot all over the slopes of the island hillock.” This and much more interesting trivia and anecdotes are peppered in the latest book,&nbsp;<i>Heavenly Islands of Goa</i>, penned by P.S. Sreedharan Pillai, Governor of Goa.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book was launched on April 20 and thereafter the next day, five more books written by him were launched, thereby taking the total number of books he's written so far, to over 220. As all of these books that were launched pertained to Goa's historical past, its natural heritage and abundance, the launch marked an important milestone at the Raj Bhavan in the state. The book,&nbsp;<i>Heavenly Islands of Goa</i>, was launched at the hands of Sri Sri Vidhushekhara Bharati Sannidhanam.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the book, Pillai, the author, talks about the island in great detail, beginning with the etymology of its name to its heritage, caves and forts, temples and churches, biodiversity, tourist attractions, accessibility and testimonials of those who've been there.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has high-resolution images of the Governor's visits to most of these islands, but to those which he could not personally visit &quot;due to time constraints&quot; the governor &quot;ensured that the pictures of the islands were captured by the Raj Bhavan photographer and writing material gathered from books and experts.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book, in the form of a monograph, aims towards facilitating and highlighting the tourism potential of the state with regard to its lesser-known facets.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;Through this, the governor has tried to get a closer look at the nine small and big islands in Goa and understand their flora, fauna as well as socio-cultural diversity. This will make readers want to explore the lesser-known Goa,&quot; writes Pramod Sawant, Chief Minister of Goa in the foreword.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>About a year ago, Pillai announced that he would publish a trilogy related to Goa's natural heritage, Bonsai (art of potted trees), and its beautiful islands. The first two aspects culminated in two books viz,&nbsp;<i>Heritage Trees of Goa</i>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<i>Discovery of Vaman Vriksha Kala</i>, respectively, the third aspect on the beautiful islands of the state got covered in his latest book.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With this, the trilogy that the governor set to complete has been achieved. His latest book on islands &quot;contains ten islands, of which four are big ones while the rest are small in size. All the islands have now been connected by modern-day bridges except a coupe that can only be accessed by ferry. One of them is Divar. Interestingly, the Diwadkars have openly declared that they do not want a bridge and that way they have so far managed to keep tourists at bay. A remarkable feature of most of these islands is the existence of a dense mangrove ecosystem that envelops them.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking about the book to THE WEEK at the Raj Bhavan in Goa, Pillai said, &quot;Goa is known for its sand and sea but not so much for its vast treasure of natural heritage. The role of rivers and islands in Goa in their present topographical conditions, with the challenges they face, calls for comprehensive research, a thorough anthropological study and detailed biodiversity documentation. This book addresses the unique island settlements, distinctive biodiversity and their habitats and the amazing traditional and cultural practices on these inland islands.&quot;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On April 21, four more books penned by the Governor, were launched at Raj Bhavan in the backdrop of a symposium on the traditional trees of India that took place at the Raj Bhavan. The books titled,&nbsp;<i>Icons of My Literature</i>,&nbsp;<i>Cuncolim</i>&nbsp;(Based on the Cuncolim revolt),&nbsp;<i>Kaavi Art</i>&nbsp;(Based on the ancient Goan art form),&nbsp;<i>Vikshit Bharat</i>, and&nbsp;<i>Canacona</i>, (about his experience at Canacona Taluka) were launched at the hands of Dr Kumud Sharma, vice president, National Sahitya Academi, New Delhi.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In attendance at this book launch were distinguished guests - Professor Harilal Menon, vice-chancellor, Goa University, C. Achalender Reddy, chairman, National Biodiversity Authority, Paipra Radhakrishnan, ex-secretary, Kerala Sahitya Academi and others who presented research papers on trees of India from the ancient to the modern.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From time immemorial, our motherland expounded that plants are sentient beings, though their faculties are dormant, dull and stupefied. The Rig Veda and Atharva Veda note consciousness in plants.&nbsp;</p> <p>Speaking on the subject of the symposium, 'Traditional trees of India,' the governor said, &quot;After I took charge as governor in July 2021, I had to visit Partagal Mutt in Canacona taluka. There I saw this 1,000-years old Banyan tree. It was then that I decided that one day I would return to Partagal Mutt to worship this great Banyan tree.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“About a year later, I began the Saimik Daiz Yatra (journey to learn about heritage trees of Goa) and that’s when I learnt about 30 more heritage trees all of which were between 100 and 500 years, spread out over the length and breadth of Goa. Some amazing trees I discovered were 'Shidam,' 'Satvin,' 'Baobab,' and more. These trees constitute an integral part of people's socio-cultural association with nature and environment,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His yatra resulted in the writing and publication of&nbsp;<i>Heritage Trees of Goa</i>&nbsp;which was released by the governor of West Bengal last year.&nbsp;</p> Sun Apr 21 19:48:25 IST 2024 beyond-binaries-review-a-fresh-perspective-on-india-china-relations <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Men trip not on mountains, they trip over molehills. Or goes the Chinese proverb at the beginning of&nbsp;<i>Beyond Binaries: The World of India and China</i>. In the India-China relationship, even molehills are mountains, and Shastri Ramachandaran’s book gives a clear-eyed view for peak gazing and aims the reader to skip past the molehills.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In an ever-expanding bookshelf on understanding China, Ramachandaran's book provides the much-needed reporter’s experience. “Most expats tend to assume censorship and restrictions even when they do not exist,’’ he writes about when he worked with the Global Times. He narrates an incident when he wrote a piece that centres on Chinese politics, pulled no punches, but found that the editors who kept an “eagle eye against transgressions’’ said that he was “not critical enough’’.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The anecdote is illustrative of the kind of fresh perspective that Ramachandaran offers in his book. In India, he writes China is like the proverbial Indian elephant ‘seen’ by five blind men. What you don’t see is what you get. And in this space of “a threat’’, “enemy’’, “rival’’, “competitor and rising power” “itching for a war’’, Ramachandaran has chosen to introduce another—a fly-on-the-wall journalist, with old-fashioned curiosity. His book which traces the relationship through the ages, does so from the perspective of this journalist covering the beat.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His first trip to China was in 2008 when he travelled with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for an economic summit with Premier Een Jiabao—a defining moment, as he writes—and then, he worked in Beijing with China Daily and Global Times. This experience gave him a ringside view of China—from newsrooms—that is a vastly different view.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“India and Indians need to face up to the fact that we are not in China’s sights as much as we think,’’ he writes. In short, India does not matter, much. During his first months in China Daily, India figured prominently only a few times. India does not matter that much. Then, why China’s Global Times, is in the news in India for its anti-Indian comments, he asks. His explanation is “to feed the frenzy’’. Or in short, fun. The idea, he says, is a powerful one—that all publicity is good. And on the net that usually spells provocative. During his stint with the paper, for a year, there was only one India-related editorial that was carried. The Global Times English launched in 2009 but became popular. The Chinese edition had been coming out for decades. But it was a year later, that it went viral. As they were meant to be export products for a foreign audience, what appeared he believes is not necessarily the view of the Party, but often also to provide red herrings of what can be said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If busting the first two myths is not reason enough to read on. Here is another. The 1962 war. It is a war that the Indian army can’t forget. But “few in present-day China hark back to it,’’ he writes. His book aims to push boundaries, fill in silences and add a new view. If there was ever a time to make sense of the Chinese whispers to hear a high-top note, it is now.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Title: ‘Beyond Binaries- The World of India and China’</b></p> <p><b>Author: Shastri&nbsp;Ramachandaran</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Institute of Objective Studies</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 275</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs. 750</b></p> Sat Apr 20 13:13:28 IST 2024 2024-india-in-freefall-review-sanjay-jha-stood-on-the-burning-deck <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The&nbsp; prologue of <i>2024: India in Freefall </i>begins with a quote from maverick American writer Edward Abbey: “The patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government”. That’s exactly what Sanjay Jha tries to do across 292 pages of his angsty, aggrieved, vitriolic, satirical, and always eminently readable book about the state of affairs in 2024. It’s a book that stands apart from the clutch of publications that crowds the market in election season. It’s different because its author is more erudite and a bit of a maverick himself. Ideologically opposed to the BJP, Jha is also disliked by the Congress–making him an excellent de facto third umpire.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You can hold this book like you hold the bag in a tambola game into which you can dip in and pull out a scam. The first one he pulls out is the management of the COVID-19 crisis at the start of this decade. This official response to the pandemic is like modern art - susceptible to many interpretations. According to the BJP supporters, it was a Modi masterstroke. But Jha quotes WHO to say that the casualties in India at 47 lakh were among the world’s highest. Whom do you believe?&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let me tell you what I do. I believe both in turns. It’s the same thing with crony capitalism. Jha uses it as a euphemism for Mr Gautam Adani who features across many pages (he is a busy businessman). There are airports and ports which Adani has targeted, and fall into his lap just days after being raided by the tax and enforcement authorities. Sheer coincidence no doubt, and there were many more such wonderful concurrences of events! But Indians with long memories will know that the BJP, for all its other misdeeds, did not invent crony capitalism. It has been part of India’s economic history since the good old days of Haridas Mundhra - no known relative of the Mundra port in Gujarat which Adani owns. All along, scams have carried the Congress stamp until the BJP stepped in for its share of the spoils.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jha is also unsparing of his own team, the Congress, and accuses it of sleeping on the job (the chapter is titled ‘Rip Van Winkle…’) instead of getting up and going for the jugular. But the sins of the Congress, in Jha’s telling, are venal—being woolly headed, slow and missing opportunities. When there was a ‘six’ for the asking, the Congress timorously permitted a dot ball.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Painstaking research has obviously gone into the book. Facts and figures have been assiduously collated across the years and turned into powder kegs. Jha’s prose is fervid and he is so fluent that he can say the same thing using different words before you begin to realize it. Writing at the pace that he does, there is the forgivable lapse into what can be best described as Shashi Tharoor territory, as for instance in the course of damning Modi’s speeches with soft praise, he says: “Modi has mastered the art of skilful persuasion…Forget the frequent prestidigitation (‘conjuring tricks’ for the unversed) of his speeches…”.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a time when so many Congress supporters across the country are jumping ship, this former party spokesperson is maintaining his lone vigil on the burning deck. Despite his valiant act and despite the facts he has culled and the arguments he marshals, one wonders if it will lead to the results he seeks. But that’s neither here nor there. As writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel said: “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”. Sanjay Jha has protested, vociferously and brilliantly.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Title</b>: 2024 India in Free Fall</p> <p><b>Author</b>: Sanjay Jha</p> <p><b>Publisher</b>: HarperCollins Publishers India</p> <p><b>Pages</b>: 292</p> <p><b>Price</b>: Rs 599</p> Sat Apr 13 20:17:27 IST 2024 nonsense-file-by-the-colonel-review-a-delightful-and-captivating-read <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Can one find humour in a stressful, morbid and strict military life? Lt Colonel (retired) Jose Vallikappan could. In oodles. Not the dark and sardonic type, but delightful ones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Try this: As a Second Lieutenant in the 1960s, Colonel Vallikappan recalls being given the task of looking after a General and his wife who were visiting his unit. The enthusiastic novice he was, young Vallikappan jumped at the task. But, he had a rather challenging chore at hand: &quot;Finding a loo for the fussy lady.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his hallmark deadpan style, Colonel Vallikappan recounts the rigour with which he went about his task, arranging a 'thunder box' type lavatory and a team of scavengers to clear the night soil. He narrates in detail the clockwork precision he adopted to avoid the &quot;embarrassing encounter between the depositor and the drawee&quot;, which impressed the General's wife. Thanks to his work, Vallikappan became a hero overnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He wryly puts it: &quot;I was the uncrowned king in toilet training&quot;.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such hilarious vignettes from his military days make Colonel Vallikappan's book 'Nonsense File by the Colonel' a delightful and captivating read. A proud Army veteran with an exceptional career, Colonel Vallikappan's innate sense of humour and impeccable writing skills have created an impressive page-turner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of it may be set in the military barracks, but 'Nonsense File by the Colonel' comes with a disclaimer. The author says his only aim is to offer sober entertainment and no lofty ideas. Nevertheless, remarkable characters, like Major Joshy, the cantankerous official who is a stickler for military discipline, and General Jacob, a short and stocky war hero, vow the reader with their might.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Colonel Vallikappan's encounter with Major Joshy starts on a bad note after the latter lambasts the Second Lieutenant for his &quot;not-so-smart salute&quot;. The duo later strikes a good friendship after Vallikappan bravely asks for his shaving set. Through their funny encounters, the author paints an admirable picture of the Major, whose formidable reputation and dedication make him a hero.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Colonel also recalls funny moments involving his colleagues. Like the story of Lieutenant Kuldip and his second-in-command Risaldar Sohan Singh, nicknamed Kat Kata Singh. Kat Kata wasn't a popular officer among his troops, thanks to his bossy nature. During a patrol mission led by Havildar Balbir Singh in Wagah, the men found a huge pitcher of ghee. Lieutenant Kuldip ordered his men not to eat the ghee as it could have been poisoned by Pakistanis. The order was adhered to until a week later when Lieutenant Kuldip found his dal floating in ghee! When queried, the Havildar replied: &quot;Sahibji, it is not poisoned.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;What makes you think that it is not poisoned?&quot; Kuldip asked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Promptly came the reply: &quot;Sahibji, we have been over-feeding Kat Kata Singh with this ghee for one whole week, and he is still alive and kicking.&quot;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rather than blast at the reply, the Lieutenant appreciated the sense of humour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A veteran with a decades-long career which also saw him take part in the 1965 and 1971 wars, Colonel Vallikappan's account of his encounter with the famous General Cariappa, too, leaves us impressed. Vallikappan was riding horseback at Ahmednagar cantonment when he saw the illustrious General taking an evening walk. He promptly saluted the General and introduced himself. The General acknowledged his gesture, only after lavishing his attention on the horse. Interestingly, General Cariappa spoke to Vallikappan in Malayalam. The General deducted that Vallikappan was a Malayali from his accent and appearance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>'Nonsense File by the Colonel' is, however, more than just military stories. The author takes us through his boisterous childhood days in Teekoy in Kerala's Kottayam, rebellious college days and even his post-army life with <i>Malayala Manorama </i>and THE WEEK—he was a columnist for 15 years in the newsweekly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His admiration for his family, especially his wife, is reflected in his words as he pays tribute to admirable women he met in his life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As much as 'Nonsense File by the Colonel' is a book of funny anecdotes, this is also Colonel Vallikkappan's tribute to the many people who enriched his life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Nonsense File by the Colonel</b></p> <p><b>By Jose Vallikappan</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Manorama Books</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 290</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 183</b></p> Thu Mar 28 17:46:20 IST 2024 a-look-into-the-lives-and-works-of-great-masters-of-cinema <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>'Modern Masters of Cinema' is an exploration of the world of cinema, offering readers an in-depth look at the lives and works of some of the most influential figures in the film industry.<br> <br> The author’s keen observations and insightful commentary provide a fresh perspective on these cinematic icons – from Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, and Kevin Spacey to Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen to Amitabh Bachchan, highlighting their distinctive storytelling techniques and cinematic vision. Penned by Dhiraj Singh, a serving bureaucrat in the government of India, the book is an act of love showcasing his intense interest in the films and their craft that has spawned over decades.<br> <br> A short book of less than 200 pages, with over 30 chapters, this will interest film enthusiasts who look at them as more than just entertainment. If you have seen the classics and have them etched in your memory, you would connect with the book at a cerebral level.<br> <br> “Every great actor is good at playing almost everything but his or her greatness lies in a few selected zones where he is in full sync with his brilliant core. Al Pacino’s restless showmanship, menace or his exasperation, Di Niro’s pinpointed rage, Michael Douglas’ lovable rogue, Brando’s rebellious surliness come to mind. They are good or even great in other situations also but here they are home, hitting the sweet spot of their limitless talent,” the author writes in the book.<br> <br> In the author’s own words, “When I started thinking about why something feels so nice, I felt like documenting the points of appeal. It made me a better audience for my preferred art form... (book) is a commentary on my favourite practitioners of cinematic art.” He packs the book with his critical analysis, and anecdotes, and of course, peppering his reviews with questions like whether should films serve an ideological agenda or be politically correct.<br> <br> The author does not limit his analysis to Hollywood but also includes stalwarts of Bollywood like Amitabh Bachchan, Dilip Kumar, and Rishi Kapoor. This broad scope gives readers a comprehensive understanding of cinema as a global art form. He hails the advent of directors like Anurag Kashyap, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Dibakar Banerjee, who have caught the emotion and idiom of the cow belt in its most natural way.<br> <br> The ‘Modern Masters of Cinema’ offers a wealth of information and unique insights, but also demands a high level of engagement from the reader to navigate its narrative.</p> <p><b>Book: Modern Masters of Cinema</b></p> <p><b>Author:&nbsp; Dhiraj Singh</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Notion Press</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 275</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 190</b></p> Fri Mar 22 21:29:41 IST 2024 she-the-leader-women-in-indian-politics-review-a-fitting-ode-to-women-politicians <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For Indian women, 2023 was a momentous year. After languishing in the halls of Parliament for decades, the Women's Reservation Bill finally cleared the lower house on September 18, 2023. Hailed as a historic move, the act grants reservation to women on one-third of seats in Lok Sabha and state assemblies with near unanimity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To gauge the bill's significance, one needs to construe the fact that the current Lok Sabha has only 82 women members, which ironically is the highest ever. One can, however, draw solace from the fact that this is a three-fold increase in women’s representation in 67 years of India’s parliamentary election history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In such a discouraging scenario, celebrating and honouring the women who graced our political scene is imperative, for how they fought inequalities and patriarchal politics to make their mark.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nidhi Sharma's <i>She, The Leader: Women in Indian Politics</i> does exactly that. Through the profiles of 17 women politicians who have been groundbreakers, the book pays an ode to 'Nari Shakti'.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In four sections - Part- I: The Pioneers, Part- II: The Inheritors, Part III: The Lone Warriors, and Part- IV: The Future Leaders - Sharma traces the journey of women leaders who, according to her, &quot;create their own brand of politics in the national discourse&quot;.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>'Part- I: The Pioneers'<b> </b>focuses on the first woman Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and the first female Chief Minister of an Indian state, Sucheta Kripalani, a deserving start to the book. It documents their entry into politics, eventful reign and behemoth political legacy they left behind for independent India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>'Part- II: The Inheritors' has Sonia Gandhi, J. Jayalalithaa, Vasundhara Raje, Sheila Dikshit, and Mayawati gracing the pages, all sharing the common thread of inheriting their political careers from a male member of the family or a political benefactor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>'Part III: The Lone Warriors' is about Pratibha Patil, Sushma Swaraj, Mamata Banerjee, Brinda Karat, and Ambika Soni while 'Part- IV: The Future Leaders' follows the journey of Smriti Z. Irani, Supriya Sule, Kavitha Kalvakuntla, Kanimozhi Karunanidhi, and Ampareen Lyngdoh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book documents the lives of these leaders, who managed to break the ceiling while battling the everyday challenges of home and family, to reshape Indian politics. It also doubles up as a motivational guide which inspires women and documents the convoluted Indian political sphere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>She, The Leader: Women in Indian Politics</b></p> <p><b>By Nidhi Sharma</b></p> <p><b>Published by Aleph Book Company</b></p> <p><b>Price: INR 723</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 392</b></p> Mon Mar 11 18:14:23 IST 2024 trust-by-hernan-diaz-an-unconventional-and-thought-provoking-work <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>‘Trust’ is not a simple story for the passive pleasure of reading. It is a complex and unconventional novel that provokes the readers to think, detect, imagine and question. Within the book, there are four different books written by different fictional authors in disparate genres and styles. There are multiple characters at different time periods. </p> <p>The author describes ‘Trust’ as a polyphonic novel. The first section is a novel written by a fictional writer Harold Vanner about New York financier Benjamin Rask and his wife Helen who patronizes arts and culture. Although Harold Vanner is one of the central characters in the book he never appears in it. Vanner opens the book and triggers everything that happens in it: several people in “the real world” react to Vanner’s book, setting the whole plot in motion.</p> <p>The second part is a memoir of Andrew Bevel, a Wall Street tycoon who wants people to believe that his pursuit of profit was always aligned to the social good. His wife Mildred is a connoisseur of music and a lover of literature. They live together physically but live apart mentally. </p> <p>They find that the living together improves by the vast distance between their minds of which one is obsessed with money and the other arts. At times, Mildred dabbles in stocks and gives valuable advice to her husband which he uses to make more money.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>The third part is about Ida Partenza a writer who becomes secretary to the tycoon and ghost-writes his autobiography. Her father is an anarchist and an immigrant from Italy. She is caught between the anti-capitalist rants of her father and working with the wealthy financier who wants her to help with his autobiography spinning a positive image of his business and the cultural activities of his wife who becomes mentally ill. </p> <p>Diaz says in an interview, “ I enjoyed particularly writing the character of Ida. She is like my hero—she’s fearless, effective, crafty, and very bold. I made her all the things that I wish I were. She’s also a very different writer from me, so I had to learn to write like her”.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>The fourth part is the personal diary of Mildred, the tycoon’s wife “that is also a sort of a prose poem and a love letter to modernism”, in the words of the author. Midred writes about music, art, philosophy, her illness, the stock market and Swiss mountain slopes among which she convalesces in a clinic.<br> </p> <p>The connecting themes in all the four books are the Wall Street money-making and the world of art and literature. The author has juxtaposed the two themes with provocative pronouncements challenging the conventional American narratives and myths about money. He has chosen the boom years of the Wall Street in the twenties and the bust in 1929 followed by the years of depression for context.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Diaz says he wanted to write about the labyrinth of capital, how it works and distorts the reality around itself in the American value system. He is fascinated by the ‘transcendental and mythical place of money in the American culture’. He explores how wealth creates isolation for the wealthy while giving the person extraordinary outreach to the world of art, culture and politics. According to Diaz “money is also a fiction. It is just that we have all agreed on the terms and conditions and agreed to play it as a game. There is nothing that ties money to real value other than a narrative. Or the trust that we invest in that narrative”.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>In another interview, Diaz says, “Reading is always an act of trust. Whenever we read anything, from a novel to the label on a prescription bottle, trust is involved. That trust is based on tacit contracts whose clauses I wanted to encourage the reader to reconsider. As you read&nbsp;<i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Trust</i>&nbsp;and move forward from one section to the next, it becomes clear that the book is asking you to question the assumptions with which you walk into a text. I would even say that&nbsp;<i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Trust&nbsp;</i>aims, to an enormous extent, to question the boundaries between history and fiction”.<br> </p> <p>Here are some vignettes from the novel:<br> </p> <p>&nbsp;&nbsp;-He became fascinated by the contortions of money—how it could be made to bend back upon itself to be force-fed its own body. The isolated, self-sufficient nature of speculation spoke to his character and was a source of wonder and an end in itself, regardless of what his earnings. He viewed capital as an antiseptically living thing. It moves, eats, grows, breeds, falls ill, and may die. But it is clean. This became clearer to him in time. The larger the operation, the further removed he was from its concrete details. There was no need for him to touch a single banknote or engage with the things and people his transaction affected. All he had to do was think, speak, and, perhaps, write. And the living creature would be set in motion, drawing beautiful patterns on its way into realms of increasing abstraction, sometimes following appetites of its own that he never could have anticipated—and this gave him some additional pleasure, the creature trying to exercise its free will. He admired and understood it, even when it disappointed him.</p> <p>-The root of all evil, the cause of every war—god and country.<br> </p> <p>- History itself is just a fiction—a fiction with an army.<br> </p> <p>-Every life is organized around a small number of events that either propel us or bring us to a grinding halt. We spend the years between these episodes benefiting or suffering from their consequences until the arrival of the next forceful moment. A man’s worth is established by the number of these defining circumstances he is able to create for himself. He need not always be successful, for there can be great honor in defeat. But he ought to be the main actor in the decisive scenes in his existence, Whatever the past may have handed on to us, it is up to each one of us to chisel our present out of the shapeless block of the future.<br> </p> <p>-Every single one of our acts is ruled by the laws of economy. When we first wake up in the morning we trade rest for profit. When we go to bed at night we give up potentially profitable hours to renew our strength. And throughout our day we engage in countless transactions. Each time we find a way to minimize our effort and increase our gain we are making a business deal, even if it is with ourselves. These negotiations are so ingrained in our routine that they are barely noticeable. But the truth is our existence revolves around profit.<br> </p> <p>Hernan Diaz’s cerebral perspectives, intriguing plots and unconventional literary tools reminds me of Jorge Borges the famous Argentine writer. Diaz says, “Borges has shaped me not only as a reader and as a writer but also as a person. His playfulness with genre, his joyful disregard for taxonomies of any kind and his obsession with framed narratives are some of the aspects of his work that have influenced me”. Diaz has written a book “Borges, between history and eternity”.<br> </p> <p>Diaz believes that &quot;fiction has palpable effects on reality. A lot of the power constraints that we feel in our everyday lives are based on fiction. Think of something that is as inherent and powerful to you as your nationality. That is, at the end of the day, a collection of ideological fictions. There's nothing in it. Nothing. Think about it for a second. There's nothing that makes you American or Belgian or anything aside from what you ascribe to that identity, and that is a series of narratives”.<br> </p> <p>Diaz is a voracious reader. In interviews, he quotes so many writers and points out parts of his novel which have styles similar to some of the writers. After having read 29 books of P G Wodehouse he says, “ I love Wodehouse. Ever-surprising in his repetitiousness, never failing to delight, always making us safe in his breezy world. It is paradoxical that Wodehouse should give me so much comfort when he also makes me feel how mean and shabby my life is each time I emerge from one of his novels”.<br> </p> <p>Some authors write well but not impressive in speeches and conversations. Diaz is spectacular and mesmerizing both in writing and talking with his spontaneous thoughts and reflections. I have read some of his interviews which are as fascinating and inspiring as his book. He revels in abstract concepts and subversive thoughts. He calls writing as a monstrous act because it implies a metamorphosis.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Diaz says, “I write with a fountain pen (received as gift twenty years back) in large format notebooks. I enjoy the feeling of flowing ink and the rumor of the pen on the paper. With a pen, you create your own geography, with its islets of thoughts and streams of associations”.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>‘Trust’ has won the 2023 Pulitzer prize for fiction. It is the second novel of Diaz. I cannot wait to read his first novel “In the Distance”.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Hernan Diaz is a potential candidate for Nobel Prize.<br> </p> Mon Mar 11 14:22:28 IST 2024 nikhil-j-alvas-debut-novel-if-i-have-to-be-a-soldier-weaves-history-and-fiction-expertly <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Air Force bombers zoomed in low, dropping bombs and strafing anything in sight in the thickly populated town. Hutments, market areas, alleyways and buildings groaned to the ground in a plume of fire and smoke, even as terrified locals ran helter-skelter for dear life. Hundreds of innocent natives, including women and children, were killed, many trapped under the rubble of buildings. The people could only watch as their homes, livelihoods, places of work and worship, all went down in a hailstorm of fire power from above.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the above description sounds like a terrible episode from, say, the Second World War, or a slice of timeline from a tinpot dictator’s banana republic from deep within the African continent, well, think again. It is a true incident from a less-talked-about part of India’s contemporary history, when then prime minister Indira Gandhi ordered the armed forces to crush the rebellion of the people of present-day Mizoram who called for independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unthinkable in a modern society, you might say. Yet, considering the increasing narrative of muscled-up governments and chest-thumping leaderships around the world, not exactly implausible still, even in the 21st century — that is very much the contemporary relevance and urgency of Nikhil J. Alva’s just-released debut novel,<i> If I Have To Be A Soldier</i>. The paperback weaves history and fiction to come up with a potboiler that is easily a page-turner as well as a stark reminder of the unsavoury blood-soaked foundations on which our much-prided Union is built on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was exactly 58 years ago, on March 1, 1966, that Mizo leader and former Indian Army soldier Laldenga (Mizoram and most of northeast was then part of the state of Assam) declared independence from India, declaring the existence of the independent state of ‘Greater Mizoram’. Indira Gandhi, who had just taken over as premier and wanting to show off, especially to the syndicate of entrenched male Congress party leaders that she had mettle, ordered India’s defence forces to crush the secession. The result was a series of massacres and mayhem that did not stop with India bombing its own citizens five days later, on March 5 (The Mizo insurgency came to a close only with a peace accord in the mid-eighties, and Laldenga becoming the first chief minister of the federated state).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Author Alva’s fictional characters Sammy, an Indian soldier forced to return to the land he grew up and the dark past he thought he had left behind, and ‘Che’ Sena, Sammy’s childhood friend-turned-insurgent, give a human face to the travails that visited these hill regions in the mid-sixties that is very much a part of India, yet, often ignored with the collective ‘northeast’ terminology. As inculcated doctrines of a national narrative, jingoism and military discipline stare at identity, friendship and, above all, love, in the face, often there are no victors, only victims. That is the reality the Sammy-Sena combine has to come to terms with when they get swept away in the great power play in motion, even as it forces them to confront demons both personal and the political, along the way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Considering that it is his first book, Alva surely does impress with his descriptive prowess and free-flowing prose, and the way he has packed in enough action across 300-odd pages. This book is equally a fast-paced airport read as it is an eye-opening vista into the multiple layers of Mizo life and history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The author, who is the son of Congress veteran Margaret Alva who was also instrumental in the recent social media makeover of Rahul Gandhi, is a well-known TV filmmaker. This eye for the visual comes through not only with the way he brings the landscape and culture of Greater Mizoram to light, but also in the not-stopping-for-breath speed with which the story progresses, once Sammy and Sena go on the run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alva himself says he first wrote a screenplay on these characters and the backdrop, but then “decided that only a novel could do justice to them”. He thought right as he successfully manages to give life and heft of history to the characters he created. And knowing his background in TV, who knows, it is a tale perfect for the plucking for an OTT series. What say, Mr Alva?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>If I Have To Be A Soldier</b></p> <p><b>By Nikhil J. Alva</b></p> <p><b>HarperCollins Publishers India</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 499</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 318</b></p> Fri Mar 01 10:36:23 IST 2024 the-yamuna-memoir-from-an-admirer-of-the-river-to-its-custodian <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Every year, the images of devoted women stepping into the toxic froth-laden waters of the Yamuna for Chhat Puja in Delhi exude pain for both people and the river which has been bearing the brunt of rapid urbanization and industrialization in the city.</p> <p>Of the many initiatives to clean the river, the most recent one was helmed by lieutenant-governor of Delhi, Vinai Kumar Saxena, which he has documented in <i>Racing to Restore: the Yamuna Memoir</i>. As many as 3792 unauthorized structures were removed and 273.5 acre was repossessed in the floodplain through the programme Saxena led, both as the LG and chairman of the high level committee (HLC) constituted by NGT. However, he had to leave the work “unfinished” after the Supreme Court stayed his HLC chairmanship in July 2023.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saxena sketches his journey from being an admirer of the river to its custodian. He grew up on the banks of the Paishwani, a tributary of the Yamuna in Banda, the home town of Goswami Tulsidas, the author of the <i>Ramcharitmanas</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I used to swim and see through the water, the rippling sediments on the river floor,” he recalls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His personal and professional sojourns in Mathura, Prayagraj, Farrukhabad, Gotan, Bhal and Ahmedabad kept him around rivers, especially the Yamuna, working for them, and learning from them. At some instances, he quietly made his contribution towards protection of rivers, on other occasions, he stood against stalwarts. He eloquently discusses his “David vs Goliath” battle with Narmada Bachoa Andolan supremo Medha Patkar in exposing the “farce being run” in the name of river protection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“When waters of Narmada came gushing into Gujarat, I had a hand in making them flow,” he writes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2015, he was appointed the chairman of Khadi and Village Industries Commission (KVIC). His new office on Yamuna’s bank brought him closer to the river. He walked along the river, reflecting on its history, not knowing that the responsibility to do something for its polluted waters – first as the LG, Delhi and then as NGT-constituted HLC chairman – would soon beckon him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I took it more as an opportunity than an appointment,” he says. Unsurprisingly, among the first tasks he embarked on as LG, Delhi was to clean the Yamuna. And one of the first actions he undertook was to revive river Sahibi, once a tributary of the Yamuna, which had turned into a 57 km long “stinking, gas-emitting, marsh of putrid wastewater” – Najafgarh drain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I personally visited the entire stretch of the drain that carry millions of cusecs of dirt, silt, sewerage and enters Yamuna largely unhindered,” he writes. “I took a boat trip into the stinking Najafgarh drain, probably the first by an LG”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Like anyone, he was also taken by surprise by the startling statistics. The outfall of sewage, mostly untreated, was about 744 Million Gallons per Day (MGD) against 930 MGD. This meant that 80 per cent of water supply in the city turn into sewage and much of it is drained directly into the river. Expressing his disbelief, he writes:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I was appalled that about 85 percent of the pollution in the city is due to domestic sources.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As fate would have it, his authority to work on the Yamuna strengthened when National Green Tribunal (NGT) “requested” him to chair the HLC for Rejuvenation and Restoration of Yamuna. As he took the “authority and opportunity to take ownership of the task” with both hands, visible differences, he claims, began to emerge as a result of development of 40 new de-centralized sewage treatment plants, rehabilitation of Kondli, Rithala STPs, partial gravitational de-silting, tapping of drains, upgradation of 13 CETPs and other activities to rid the Yamuna of pollution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Though not satisfactory, year on year data with regards to several parameters started showing improvement in baby steps,” he writes. Project Baansera, Delhi’s first bamboo theme park and Project Vatiika, an initiative to recreate wetlands through effective plantation, are cases in point evincing the impact his work brought and appreciated by G-20 envoys during a visit to ASITA on the Yamuna banks in March 2023. His role was also instrumental in adoption of O-zone in the Master Plan 2041 as an “area of no construction” and a regulated O(R) zone with “only essential utilities”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, to LG’s dismay, Supreme Court stayed the NGT directions appointing him as the HLC’s head in response to a petition filed by the Delhi government in May 2023 arguing that the river rejuvenation work should be invested with them. “The order stalled the initiatives that were being taken on a war footing for about a year,” he woefully writes. “The appeal was to disempower a person and not to strengthen the programme.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taking an apparent jibe at the ruling Aam Admi Party in Delhi, he says: “Yamuna is yet again getting inundated with the confusion of ownership. The framework is ready, the soldiers were ready but it is just that in proving a political point, the plot is getting lost.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For political reasons or not, several programmes and millions of rupees have not been able to rid Yamuna of pollution, yet.&nbsp;</p> Sun Dec 31 19:45:07 IST 2023 revolutionizing-business-operations-review-change-the-way-you-think-about-and-run-your-business <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A must-read for anyone who wants to learn how to transform his business operations and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage in the digital age, Tony Saldanha and Filippo Passerini's latest book, <i>Revolutionising Business Operations: How to Build Dynamic Business Processes for Enduring Competitive Advantage</i>, provides a cutting-edge strategy for competitive advantage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The authors are seasoned experts in the field of global business services and information technology, and they share their insights and experiences with a lot of clarity in an engaging way. They present a comprehensive and practical framework for dynamic process transformation, which involves three key drivers of change: open market rules, unified accountability, and dynamic operating engine. They explain how these drivers can help businesses create a culture of continuous improvement, innovation, and agility, and how they can align their processes with their strategic goals and customer needs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saldanha and Passerini also provide real-life examples and case studies from various industries and geographies, as well as tools and templates that readers can use to apply the framework to their own situations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book is not only informative, but also inspiring and motivating. It challenges the readers to rethink their assumptions and paradigms, and to embrace change as an opportunity rather than a threat. It also offers a vision of the future of business operations, where artificial intelligence, automation, and human creativity work together to create value and impact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Revolutionizing Business Operations</i> is a book that will change the way you think about and run your business, and will help you achieve a level of excellence that is hard to match.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>Revolutionizing Business Operations: How to Build Dynamic Processes for Enduring Competitive Advantage</b></i></p> <p><i><b>Author: Tony Saldanha and Filippo Passerini</b></i></p> <p><i><b>Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers</b></i></p> Fri Dec 22 16:31:29 IST 2023 review-the-greatest-malayalam-stories-ever-told <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>David Davidar and his publishing startup Aleph has done yeomen service to Indian literature and writing over the years, grooming ‘bubbling under’ talents as evidenced in the sheer brilliance that was last year’s <i>A Case of Indian Marvels</i>, an anthology curated short stories by some of India’s finest new writers. Aleph has also been bridging the gap between wider world out there and the dazzling gems languishing in the depths of vernacular Indian literature by its ‘greatest stories ever told’ series, which helps regional masterpieces find a larger audience with their English translation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In fact, it is actually surprising that the series ventured into Malayalam only in its 13th edition, considering how refined and evolved Kerala’s literary scene has always been. The short story genre was perfected as back as the nineteenth century in the Malayalam speaking regions of Southern India, with not just translations of European masters, but a coming-of-age of this literary form through uniquely nuanced writers from Kesari Vengayil Kunhiraman Nayanar (believed to be the first Malayalam short story writer) downwards to the Padmarajans and Zacharias celebrated in recent times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The stories were selected and translated by A.J. Thomas, who was, amidst many other illustrious milestones in his CV, the editor of the Sahitya Akademi’s bi-monthly journal <i>Indian Literature</i>. The selections seem comprehensive enough, give or take a few, subjective as such a selection is always likely to be. All the big names of Malayalam literature are there, almost as if referenced according to the social evolution of Malayali society itself. So there is Thakazhi’s short story <i>The Farmer</i> which talks about the travails of rural toils, to Kesavadev’s (wrongly spelt in the inner flap) <i>The Oath</i>. O.V.Vijayan, much celebrated outside Kerala as well, makes an appearance with his <i>The Hanging</i>, which pulls you so realistically into the grief of a father over his son. Moving on, the stories reflect the progression of Kerala as it transformed from an agrarian economy into a consumerist ‘modern’ society, stories tracing the arc through women’s empowerment and angst (stories by M.T.Vasudevan Nair and Madhavikutty), tribal rights (P. Vatsala) to sexual abuse (M.Mukundan’s haunting <i>Photo</i>) and even caste and class divides, with the stunningly relevant <i>Sweat Marks</i> by Sara Joseph.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What especially works for this book is that it not only lives up to the expectation of being an authoritative compendium of some of the best known short story works in Malayalam, it also offers a nifty intro to the nuances and mastery of some of the best known literary giants in the language. This is especially useful not just for literary aficionados, but especially for the increasing number of Malayalis, either inside or outside Kerala, who hold their identity dear, yet, don’t have proficiency in the language or its rich history beyond the picture-postcard-perfect 'God's own country' campaigns on YouTube.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With all of Thomas’s impressive works behind him (he’s even won best translator award at Crossword Awards), one does get a nagging feeling here and there that the nuances and ethos of the original do not get precisely translated into English. Thomas resorting to a formal and ‘high’ English feel a bit grating at points and deficient in bringing out the rustic background or social subtext of a plot or the intricate intensity of the moments the protagonists are going through. Basheer’s satiric classic <i>Mookkan</i> (The World Renowned Nose) is a classic case in point, which I relished reading in its Malayalam original years ago – in comparison, the translation felt clumsy at points. Perhaps this anomaly is only to be expected, since idiosyncracies of cultures, contexts and language markers are often next to impossible to convey perfectly in a different language and in a different time. Hopefully, shouldn’t be a big deal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Greatest Malayalam Stories Ever Told</b></p> <p><b>Selected &amp; translated by A.J. Thomas</b></p> <p><b>Pages 438</b></p> <p><b>Rs 899 (hardbound)</b></p> <p><b>Aleph</b></p> Sat Dec 16 22:26:59 IST 2023 chitra-govindrajs-new-poetry-collection-essence-speaks-to-universality-of-human-condition <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Chitra Govindraj’s poetry collection, Essence, is a tribute to the universality of the human condition. We are all different, yet in some ways, we are all the same. All of us are searching for meaning, happiness and purpose. Voltaire once said that God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. No matter how joyful, sad, conflicted, or questioning we individually are, collectively we are all part of Voltaire’s audience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why Chitra’s poems – alternatively contemplative, wise, whimsical, and hopeful – will speak to each of us. Because we are all on this adventure called Life together. It is not many people who will give you an all-access pass to their innermost fears and convictions. But deep calls to deep. Some of the most charming poems in the collection are the ones where we get glimpses of her vulnerability. In the poem ‘Honesty’, for example, she writes, “Do we all have our own truths and different versions? How do we know which is the right one for certain?” In ‘Social Media and Me’, she writes about the deceptiveness of social media, and the way it weaves a “web of lies”. But the clincher for me was the last line: “I need to find out if I am who I am.” The depth of that sentiment goes beyond the boundaries of social media. We are selling so many versions of ourselves to the world that we are in danger of mixing up our real self from the counterfeits.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The poems address an array of other contemporary issues as well, from addiction, overparenting and binge-eating to domestic abuse and depression. Life does not always come with a ‘how to’ manual, and too often, we are left to make sense of it alone. So, it was refreshing to navigate these issues through another person’s perspective. It helped that they were in the form of poetry, with a measured rhyme and cadence that gave them levity, even as the subjects they addressed had a core of seriousness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Essence was written during the pandemic, when an uncle would share his collection of poetry on Chitra’s family WhatsApp group. It inspired her to write one and post it on the group as well. It was well received and encouraged her to write more. Chitra says the poems “intuitively moved towards the human values” that she was taught during the Bal Vikas classes she attended between the ages of eight and 15. It was in these classes that she was taught that the universe is a manifestation of the five elements – earth, water, air, ether and fire. These five elements are present in a person in the form of five life principles or values – prema (love), shanti (peace), dharma (right conduct), satya (truth), and ahimsa (non-violence). To give the collection a “purpose and direction”, Chitra has divided the poems into these five values.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of the poems are in the form of stories. For example, ‘My Love’ is about a soldier who returns home to his lover, who now has a child. ‘Forgiven’ is about friendship between two boys and how the friend forgives the narrator even though he punched him. “I punched him in the eye, but I’m hurting bad,” writes the narrator. In some of the other poems, like ‘Unbeaten’, it is unclear whether Chitra is writing about herself or another. But it does not really matter. The poems touched a chord, no matter who they were referring to. Good poems show us something of the poet. Great poems show us something of ourselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Essence</b></p> <p><b>By Chitra Govindraj</b></p> <p><b>Published by Authorspress</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs295; pages 161&nbsp;</b></p> Tue Dec 12 12:24:16 IST 2023 courting-india-england-mughal-india-and-the-origins-of-empire-review <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“Courting India: England, Mughal India and the origins of empire” by Nandini Das (published in May 2023) is a fascinating read for those interested in the history of the British entry into India.</p> <p>As a former diplomat, I enjoyed reading about the experience of Sir Thomas Roe, the first British ambassador to India to the Mughal court of Emperor Jahangir. His mission is a case study for Economic Diplomacy.</p> <p>When East India company started exploring India for business in India in the late sixteenth century, they needed approvals and favours from Emperor Jahangir. They sent to the Mughal court some merchants but they were not taken seriously. So the British decided to send an ambassador to reach out to the emperor. They nominated Sir Thomas Roe, a 35-year old, as ambassador of King James I. His diplomatic Instructions clarified that while he represented his king’s ‘honour and dignity’, he had to use all means possible ‘to advance the trade of the East India Company’. Roe’s salary was paid by the East India company. He got 600 pounds as annual salary. He took some advance from which he spent over one hundred pounds to buy dress for himself and livery for his servants.</p> <p>Roe set out on his voyage on 2 February 1615 and reached Surat after six months of voyage. He had brought fifteen people in his retinue which included a chaplain, a doctor, cook, secretary and even a couple of musicians.</p> <p>His first challenge was to establish his authority as ambassador and get special privileges and protocol respect. He had to fight for these starting with the landing in Surat. When he reached Surat on 25 december 1615, they made an announcement to the local authorities about the arrival of an ambassador. But the locals laughed at the title and did not take it seriously. The customs authorities wanted to search his luggage. Roe put his foot down and refused to allow the search claiming special privilege as ambassador. He wrote to Zulfiqar Khan, the governor of the Surat area. Khan replied that customs search was standard procedure but he would make an exception in recognition of Roe’s status</p> <p>The ambassador set foot for the first time on Indian soil, welcomed by a volley of shots from the cavalry. But there was another diplomatic tussle. The thirty cavalry men who were to lead the procession to his place of stay were sitting under an open tent and did not rise to greet him. Roe said he would not go until they stood up and did the honours.</p> <p>The governor invited Roe to pay him a visit. But Roe declined the invitation saying that according to protocol ambassadors could not visit a foreign official first before presenting themselves to the King. Then the governor wanted to meet the commander of the English ship. Roe wrote to commander Keeling, forbidding him from receiving the governor. Finally, Zulfiqar Khan visited Roe at the latter’s residence.</p> <p>On 30 October 1615, Roe received Emperor Jahangir’s farmān acknowledging him as ambassador and inviting him to the court as well as commanding Mughal governors on the route to offer all assistance to the ambassador. On the way, Roe stopped in Burhanpur ruled by Parvez, the second son of Jehangir. When he went to see him, the courtiers asked him to bow and offer the customary kurnish (ritual salute) or sijda (full ceremonial prostration). Roe refused. Then they asked him to stand but he demanded a chair to sit. The courtiers then told him politely that ‘as a courtesy’, the prince granted him permission to lean against a nearby pillar.</p> <p>Roe's biggest challenge was that the powerful, large and wealthy Mughal emperor and his court did not take England, the English King and his ambassador seriously. Emperor Jahangir was far more broadminded and progressive in his outlook in comparison to the protestant ambassador who was belittling the catholic Portuguese.</p> <p>Roe had brought gifts for the Emperor and the Mughal dignitaries. But these were looked down as insignificant and poor in comparison. Jahangir’s own ambassador to Shah Abbas, the ruler of Persia, had given gifts of elephants, gold and silver. The Persian ambassador gave gifts of horses and camels besides precious stones to Emperor Jahangir. Roe’s only gifts Emperor Jahangir and his son Prince Khurram (later..Shajahan) enjoyed were the wines.</p> <p>During his posting for three years as ambassador, Roe had managed to get some trade concessions from the Mughals for East India company. Roe had attended Jehangir’s court regularly and cultivated some senior advisors and family members of the Emperor. He tried hard to advance the English interests at the expense of Portuguese and Dutch but the Mughals were ahead in the game. They made the Europeans to compete with each other for favours.</p> <p>Roe wrote about his daily activities, success and failures in his diaries as well as in his letters to the Company and to his friends. Some of these, reproduced in the book, are interesting.</p> <p><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b></p> Sun Nov 12 17:32:12 IST 2023 mystics-and-sceptics-in-search-of-himalayan-masters-review-anthology-essays-diverse-as-himalayas <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>They shrunk in Agha Shahid Ali's poetry. “The half inch Himalayas’’ turned Ali’s home Kashmir into a neat four by six inches in his poem. Historian John Keay trekked through these blue bruised mountains in his new monumental book, <i>Himalayas</i>, offering glimpse of its flora and fauna and history. And now Namita Gokhale has expanded them adding another dimension—one rarely explored—essential to their myth in <i>Mystics and Sceptics—in search of Himalayan Masters</i>.</p> <p><i>Mystics and Sceptics—in search of Himalayan Masters</i> is an anthology of 25 essays and is the best kind, a landscape of spiritual that is as diverse as the Himalayas—and crammed with different traditions. And it comes at a time when this journey across the Himalayas is most needed. The book has been translated into Hindi and will be out in a new avatar later this year.</p> <p><i>Mystics and Sceptics</i> is as much about masters as about faith, fate, fakir and in a way, fakiri. There are many who find their way into the book—Guru Nanak, Yeshe Tsogyal, a consort of Guru Padmasambhava who as Holly Gayley writes in her essay “she is not just an active figure from a distant past, she remains an active and enduring presence’’, Lal Ded, Swami Vivekanada, Neem Kalori Baba who inspired Mark Zukerberg and Steve Jobs, Paramhansa Yogananda and the Dalai Lama. What binds these essays is, as Gokhale writes, that they “carry the spirit of the seeker of the search and the continuing journey’’ . But more than just intellectual connection the real meaning between these 25 essays goes deeper.</p> <p>The accounts are fascinating, and the chroniclers too. Rene Von Nebesky-Wojkowitz—a Czech ethnologist and Tibetolgist—who died at 36 writes a fascinating account of witnessing a Tibetan trance. His own life is similarly fascinating. His early death is believed to have been caused by the “wrath of the protective deities whose esoteric and mystic secrets he had presumed to write about,’’ writes Gokhale. Rene writes about the Mighty Thunderbolt entering the body of an oracle priest, Lhangpa Tondup. This usually does not happen in front of a foreigner, so he is very lucky. Vividly described, the essay offers a ringside view into the trance. “His face turned red, and once again assumed the terrible demonic expression I knew from the first trance,’’ he writes. At the end of the ceremony, the priest’s clothes were soaked with sweat and staggered out of the room supported by two men. The trance, as he writes later, is induced with a little help from hashish and red pepper.</p> <p>If Rene’s essay is about a faith and spirited leaps into it, Swami Rama’s essay on <i>The Sage from the Valley of Flowers</i> about his encounter with Gudari Baba is control of mind. Swami Rama, is himself a seeker.</p> <p>As Swami Rama follows Gudari Baba to the Valley of Flowers, he is asked to carry his blanket. “I agreed, but when I put the blanket on my shoulders, I stumbled under its weight,’’ he writes. What follows is his journey to the Valley of Flowers he is disoriented with the fragrance of the flowers. And Baba tells him, “Your joy was because of the influence of the fragrance of the flowers. You were no meditating. That’s what marijuana and hashish do to peoole and they think they are in meditation,’’ writes Swami Rama.</p> <p>“The education given to modern children is very superficial,’’ he says. “Without any discipline, control over the mind is not possible—and without control of mind, direct experience is impossible.”</p> <p>But what makes the book so haunting is that it is personal for Gokhale and comes from her own journey. “I am personally both a mystic and a sceptic, reluctant to yield any rationality,’’ in her essay on Neem Karoli Baba and Siddha Ma. And this is a theme that is explored beyond just her essay. But more than just about the existing between both these polar opposites, the book is also a testimony to faith and devotion. It is also about wisdom.</p> <p>“Sometimes people say faith is the opposite of doubt, but I don’t think that is true,’’ Gokhale quotes Larry Brilliant, who worked at the World Health Organisation and played an important role in eradicating small pox from his book, <i>Sometimes Brilliant</i>, as saying. “To me, the opposite of faith certainty. Doubt is the true companion of true faith; like God, it is more verb than noun. Faith is the ride, not the station as Indians describe it.”</p> <p>Gokhale is offering her reader a ride to this journey. If you jump it, you will never return the same.</p> <p><b>Title: <i>Mystics and Sceptics—in search of Himalayan Masters</i></b></p> <p><b>Edited by Namita Gokhale</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Harper Collins India</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 326</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 699</b></p> Sat Nov 11 15:58:25 IST 2023 how-prime-ministers-decide-review-gripping-account-of-key-political-decisions <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India’s political history can be decoded through the stories of its prime ministers. Their decisions changed the course of our history. Even their indecision, too. Not all decisions were prompted by the reasons they gave out in the public.</p> <p>Senior journalist Neerja Chowdhury’s book, <i>How Prime Ministers Decide</i>, provides an interesting account of the tenures of the six prime ministers starting with Indira Gandhi. Packed with anecdotes, insights, revealing details, and interviews with primary sources, the book reveals behind the scene activities which influenced the manner in which prime ministers decided on some of the pressing issues of the times.</p> <p>The author also picked up former prime ministers Rajiv Gandhi, V.P. Singh, P.V. Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajapyee and Manmohan Singh to chalk out their personal profiles, their strategies, pressures, personal struggles and short term political gains which influenced their actions.</p> <p>Before Narendra Modi came on to the scene, the current generation had little experience of powerful PMs who were elected with big mandates. Three decades back, Indira Gandhi ruled with decisive authority. She was routed in the polls held after she lifted Emergency. However, her comeback is a tale of political acumen and deft manoeuvring, which holds lessons for the political class.</p> <p>The book says Indira had thought of retiring to the mountains after the stunning setback of losing her own constituency, Raebareli. A few years before that, she was hailed as Durga after the 1971 war when Bangladesh was created. But when the Janata Party government decided to go after her son Sanjay Gandhi, she decided to fight back. There began a counteroffensive. While out of power, She met her most fierce opponents, Jai Prakash Narayan and Raj Narain, which led to the latter to tone down their criticism. There are no permanent enemies in politics. In 2019, when the Congress aligned with Shiv Sena, they must have been reminded of Bal Thackeray’s support for Indira.</p> <p>The chapter on Rajiv Gandhi takes the reader through the era when “waffling” over Shah Bano and opening the locks of Babri Masjid with an intent to please the faithful in both religions had an opposite impact. The chapter on VP Singh’s Mandal gambit brings to life the machinations during the Janata era which was to change the country’s politics forever. The Mandir politics was also gaining traction during the time.</p> <p>The minute details of the P.V. Narasimha Rao tenure especially during the demolition of the Babri Masjid makes for an engrossing read. The chapters on Vajpayee and Narasimha Rao provide clues to their soft corner for each other and mutual respect. They helped each other during the crisis. Rao had briefed Vajpayee on his nuclear programme and asked him to go for the test which the latter eventually did and also ensured his place in the history books.</p> <p>The author who had spent four decades in covering various prime ministers and politics says she finds incumbent Prime Minister Modi’s decision-making style totally different from his predecessors. As Modi’s tenure is still in progress, people close to him may still be shy of speaking up so the actual details of key decisions may take a few more years. Some estimates put that nearly 500 books have already been written on Modi. Many more will be needed in future to lift the veil off some of the key decisions of his tenure.</p> <p>The racy and crisp writing style makes the book immensely readable. The fascinating stories throw light on the political environment of the time and will take the readers on an engrossing journey. Chowdhury’s book is a valuable addition to the literature on our former prime ministers and their contribution.</p> <p><b>How Prime Ministers Decide</b></p> <p><b>by Neerja Chowdhury</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Aleph</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 999;&nbsp;</b><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">&nbsp;578 pages</b></p> Mon Oct 16 15:50:42 IST 2023 how-business-storytelling-works-review-a-captivating-self-help-book-that-is-fun-to-read <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Who doesn’t like a good story? At the movies, the story, and plot line, is the essential driver that helps us gravitate towards selecting one film over the other. The same for web series and paperbacks, and possibly, every other mode of entertainment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But have you ever wondered, every human being probably needs a story to stand apart from the crowd?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More so with business entrepreneurs and professionals, but literally everyone, as Sandeep Das’s captivating book ‘How Business Storytelling Works’ pans out. It is the No.1 skill you need to succeed in your professional lives amid all the noise, competition and massive technological disruption all around us. As Das himself says, his management teachers focused on logic, analytical skills and rigour. But as it turns out, a successful leader needs more than analysis — a product or brand needs to be accompanied by a powerful story for it to be successful in the marketplace.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Storytelling is indeed a crucial skill in contemporary business, but it has always been, as Das essays, pointing to the origin of history, of concepts that got humans working together for a common goal, be it religion or nationalism. What takes this paperback a step further is when he brings these principles closer home, suggesting how important they are for personality and vocation building, just as much as it is for a religion or a political party. Storytelling is not only for CEOs, it is for everyone, from a corporate professional to even a terrorist trying to create global havoc (his words, not ours)!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Das, being a columnist, guest speaker and YouTuber of course knows a thing or two about grabbing reader/viewer interest, and that comes through the simple, yet succinct, flow of the text — a self-help manual peppered with anecdotes may not exactly be groundbreaking, but it is indeed refreshing (and fun to read on) when the many examples stem from popular culture, right from cinema to OTT shows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Das’s latest elevates itself from simply being an airport bookstore staple mainly due to its narrative ease — the chapters feel like a TED talk for dummies, with a smooth-paced, flowy ‘being-talked-to’ feel that is comfy, especially considering the many contemporary and PLU references that pepper virtually every other page. The fact that the insights and takeaways could well add value to your career or business, is indeed an extra bonus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Book: How Business Storytelling Works</p> <p>Author: Sandeep Das</p> <p>Publisher: Penguin Business</p> <p>Pages: 247</p> <p>Price: Rs 399</p> Sat Sep 30 17:12:31 IST 2023 tacit-birds-review-an-ode-to-the-bangladeshi-spirit <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the pages of <i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Tacit Birds, </i>former Bangladeshi Brigadier General Abu Bakar Siddiquee brings to life a collection of profound moments in tales of a land where dreams, struggles, and destinies intertwine.</p> <p>Siddiquee's stories are more than narratives; they are living canvases painted with words. With poetic precision, he captures fleeting times and emotions of life his country, weaving them into the very fabric of powerful prose.</p> <p>His stories begin energetically exploring the people and diaspora of the land of lush river deltas formed by the Ganges and Brahmaputra; he puts the stories of their journeys and days in elegant, often exquisite prose.</p> <p>Siddiquee excels in portraying the ephemeral, in creating tantalising images within reach that often recede for the reader providing at once and intimate and distant gaze at the moment. In discrete gossamer threads, Siddiquee's stories become entangled in the mind of the reader by beautiful design and poetry connected through mind tunnels that give the impactful narratives an indelible intensity and, at times, an awe of the immense power that a succession of short stories can hold.</p> <p>The former military man is careful with his words, his prose is a touchstone of brevity and economy of terms. &quot;I serve for bread and butter. You serve for honor and prestige.&quot;</p> <p>He possesses the rare ability to convey deep emotions and complex themes in a few carefully chosen sentences; you get the sense that to Siddiquee, every word matters: &quot;I am a poet. My work is to feel the emotions and to express them poetically. This is my urge, and this is my morality.&quot;</p> <p>Despite their brevity, the people in Siddiquee's stories are vividly drawn and multi-dimensional. He often uses subtext and minimal dialogue to reveal the inner workings of his characters' minds, allowing readers to connect with them on a profound level. Here he is describing the loss of a fortune-teller's ring: &quot;Abdus Sobhan and the fortune-teller were taken aback. They gaped at each other. Ignoring their wide open eyes...&quot;</p> <p>His short stories come across softly, but pack a powerful emotional punch. Here, Siddiquee stories evoke a wide range of emotions, from intense joy to profound sadness. The brevity of his format intensifies the emotional experience for the reader. &quot;Cold! Fear! Or the reaction of my mortified conscience!&quot;</p> <p>There is a kind subtlety in his writings, In a few words, he paints vivid scenes, creates mood, and captures the essence of a moment. &quot;In the morning hours the farmers are found tilling the field...the fishermen remain busy in the tricks of fishing; the boys and girls pluck the violet flowers of water hyacinth; village women collect the stalk of water lily or leafy vegetables...&quot;</p> <p>Over two decades ago, already a noted poet, Siddiquee was in the 11th century city of Ohrid in North Macedonia in the Congress of World Writers Organisation as a poet, essayist and international novelist, a laureate event held amid Saint Sophia's ornate religious frescoes.</p> <p>It took place in the context of the Poetry Evenings festival in nearby Struga which showcases both national and international poets and has become one of Europe's preeminent literary events that has had the participation of Nobel laureates, along with notable international writers who found in it a rare platform during repressive eras.</p> <p>The international air and relevance of Ohrid and Struga in literary and poetic circles continues to grow. Among distinguished participants over the years were Joseph Brodsky, Pablo Neruda and Seamus Heaney.</p> <p>For the past six decades, Siddiquee has been a poet, playwright, literary figure, and accomplished storyteller. Renewed focus on his work <i>Tacit Birds,</i> originally written in Bangla and now available in English, Siddiquee continues channeling the power of the written word to create wonder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Tue Sep 19 16:57:07 IST 2023 when-ardh-satya-met-himmatwala-review-an-encyclopedia-on-hindi-cinema-of-the-80s <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the initial pages of his book <i>When Ardh Satya Met Himmatwala: The Many Lives of 1980s’ Bombay Cinema</i>, Avijit Ghosh writes, “The Eighties was a time of disruption and change in Hindi cinema…The Eighties acted as a hyphen between the past and the future. It was also a decade that tasted the future.” These few lines sum up the essence of journalist Ghosh’s encyclopedia on the '80s era cinema<i>.</i></p> <p>The birth and death of new trends, the parallel workings of paradoxical forces made the 80s the decade that acted as a bridge between the classic old-school 70s and the thriving fast-paced 90s. Ghosh, in his book published by Speaking Tiger Books, breaks down the decade of the 80s Hindi cinema and its many influences and flavours that made it a decade of contradictions and change.</p> <p>Ghosh closely digs into the maturity of parallel and the 'massiness' of masala cinemas, the rise of new stars and the decline of the reigning superstars, the case of launching star sons and promise of new outsiders. He further breaks down the marriage of the northern and the southern cinemas (rather the influence of the latter on the former), the era of cheesy double meaning and suggestive dialogues (Shakti Kapoor in <i>Mawaali</i> says <i>Tumne meri phaadi thhi…pant, Ab main teri phadoonga…pant</i>) and the era of art cinema dominated by the fantastic four – Shabana Azmi, Smita Patil, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri.</p> <p>In doing so, the author exposes several commonalities between the Hindi cinema of the 80s and that of the present times. He writes: “The mainstream Bombay film industry often found ways to laud the government…In Narendra Bedi’s <i>Mahachor</i> (1976), the hero (Rajesh Khanna enlightened the viewer on how the government’s policies will make the country a ‘sone ki chidiya’ again…Those who dared to differ were dealt with sternly” – making the move symbolic of the current wave in the Indian film industry.</p> <p>Like the 80s witnessed an explosion of newer formats of media and film viewing like television, DVDs, VCRs and plagiarism that posed threats to film collections, the 2020s saw OTT platforms pose a stiff competition to theatres. Like the tussle with the censor board that continues till date (A film like <i>OMG 2</i> that dealt with sex education in schools was given an A certificate, leading to exclusion of an important set of audience for whom the film was intended – teenagers), the 80s saw the censor board get into a serious chopping mode.</p> <p>Ghosh writes on how <i>Ram Teri Ganga Maili</i> was cleared without getting censored. “The system was rigged to favour the big cats’ while ‘Manoj Kumar’s <i>Kalyug Ki Ramayan</i> was changed to <i>Kalyug Aur Ramayan</i> to avoid hurting religious sensibilities,” he states.</p> <p>Ghosh who has extensively written on Hindi cinema has a knack for understanding the world of Hindi films and presents a keen study on this subject, contributing significantly to film literature. Each chapter is a comprehensive study into the cinema of the period and details a unique aspect of the time. <i>When Ardh Satya… is his ode to Hindi cinema and reads into the many lives of Bombay cinema.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><br> <br> </p> Fri Sep 08 17:01:52 IST 2023 when-the-super-cop-talks <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>John Wayne, the Hollywood icon, was known as the big guy on the side of the right. He was strong, could hit hard and would unfailingly stand up for moral values, fair play, justice, etc. The only other person I know who answers to that description is former police chief Julio Ribeiro. While John Wayne fought the baddies in the unreal world of cinema, Ribeiro had to do the same in a world rife with politicians, big money and the force of public opinion. He threaded his way skilfully through the minefield. It would have been tempting to settle issues by pulling out a gun and letting it speak in the language the bad guys understand. Cops who take that short-cut become folk heroes. Ribeiro did become a folk hero but he took the long and more difficult route: he dealt with criminals while staying within the four corners of the law.</p> <p>Across the years, the articulate, affable, sometimes avuncular, Ribeiro has come to represent all that is good about the police. He has expressed his views frequently. His latest and second book, ‘Hope for Sanity’, is a collection of his published writings from 2002 to 2021. It covers a wide spectrum of issues and is drawn from a plethora of newspapers because Ribeiro could shame a journalist with his speed. You get his views on the dismal story of the rookie policeman who was made Salman Khan’s bodyguard. When the crap hit the ceiling, it was the young cop who lost his sanity and his life. In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput, the actor’s death set off a tug-of-war between warring political factions. Ribeiro talks as dispassionately about police brutality as he does about the hardships that the rank and file face.</p> <p>Above all else, there is the issue of Punjab. He was appointed to lead the police force as DGP in a state pushed to the precipice by militancy in the 1980s. Ribeiro was then given sage advice. He was told the methods he had used to tame Mumbai’s underworld would not work against terrorism. But he proved them wrong. Refusing to change his methods, he soldiered on until we began to see light at the end of the tunnel. As if to reward him for his efforts, the authorities gave him a deputy: the quick gun K.P.S. Gill. In the chapter which describes interactions between the duo, readers are advised to concentrate on the message between the lines. A lot more is said there than in the lines themselves, because Gill was the antithesis to Ribeiro. But together the hastily cobbled partnership succeeded in ensuring that sanity returned to the troubled state.</p> <p>Viewed in its entirety, the collection of Ribeiro’s articles brings out one characteristic clearly: his steel-plated integrity. He is on nobody’s side and his opinions are based on unchanging values.</p> <p>Finally, a word about the title: ‘Hope for Sanity’ is plaintive, wimpy title for a book about a super cop whom even the ungodly respected. I wish this book goes into a second edition, and next time, I hope they then call it something in which John Wayne could have acted; something with the ring of Rio Bravo.</p> <p><b>Title: Hope for Sanity - Selected Writings of Julio Ribeiro</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Yoda Press</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 158</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 499</b></p> Sun Sep 03 11:13:33 IST 2023 a-man-from-motihari-review-gripping-narrative-of-muslim-lives-in-contemporary-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Flipping through the last few pages of Abdullah Khan’s <i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">A Man From Motihari </i>may remind one of <i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Everything Everywhere All At Once</i> (Academy Award winner for Best Picture in 2022). And not because of the former’s multi-dimensional and layered plot but because Khan tries to pack a lot into his narrative—politics of religion, caste and class, a failed marriage, real political events and their impact on Muslims in India, a majoritarian government, the struggles of an aspiring writer and certain supernatural elements.</p> <p>With the narrative of the story swinging between multiple issues and themes, the geography of the plot oscillates between the protagonist and the author’s hometown, Motihari, to several small towns, Mumbai and eventually ends up in the US.</p> <p>“I was born in a haunted bungalow. And the midwife was a ghost,” writes Khan as he opens his novel, setting the tone of his plot and marking the beginning of protagonist Aslam’s story. But the <i>Patna Blues</i> author is quick to add “Or, so says my family,” leaving it upon the reader to either believe in the djinn/ghost element or consider it a fragment of his imagination as he grew up listening to his aunt’s story of his miraculous birth and the chilling presence of a ‘lady in white’.</p> <p>The ‘lady in white’, as Khan addresses her, appears throughout the narrative, often guiding the protagonist on which direction to take in life, blessing him when he needs it and acting as a guiding light. It is through the ‘lady in white’ that Aslam begins to believe that he was George Orwell in his previous birth and so begins his long journey to authorship.</p> <p>Khan follows an Orwellian philosophy as he places the political events particularly pertaining to the Hindu-Muslim conflicts of the last three decades in the backdrop of Aslam’s story. From the demolition of the Babri Masjid and its aftermath and impact on people of both the communities (Aslam’s father collapses as he hears of the demolition and they are forced to move out of their homes), the use of propaganda techniques over the years – from pamphlets to the controlled media houses, to the Gujarat riots and the brutal unjustified killings based on religion in which Aslam loses his dear friend, the coming to power of a majoritarian government led by a Hasmukh Shah, and their subsequent re-election in 2019, the CAA-NRC bill and the protests that continued, the references are too obvious to miss—the only change reflects in the slight variations in the names used.</p> <p>Like in <i>Patna Blues</i>, Khan addresses the Muslim identity and, in this case, being a Muslim in the contemporary conflicted times. Khan gets autobiographical while talking about Aslam’s career trajectory and his struggles as an aspiring writer – the constant rejections, the drafts and re-drafts, the writer’s bloc and beginning afresh. He has revealed in an interview earlier that to publish his debut novel <i>Patna Blues</i>, he faced 200 rejections and almost lost the confidence.</p> <p>Stacked tightly with a multitude of issues and themes, the narrative becomes overwhelming when the author addresses and stresses a tad too much on Aslam’s toxic marriage to Heba who takes control of him life and dreams, stops him from writing and engaging with his family, abuses him and even controls his finances.</p> <p>Another surprise element springs from Aslam’s sudden meeting and love at first sight with former porn star and actor Jessica and the plot shifts entirely to Los Angeles where they begin afresh. At some point while in India, the new couple finds themselves in the middle of the CAA-NRC protests which sends Aslam into a deep coma, after a brutal attack by a cop.</p> <p>While Abdullah Khan carries on his Muslim identity in contemporary India narrative from <i>Patna Blues</i> to <i>A Man From Motihari</i>, the latter, a fiction published by Ebury Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, tries to be everything all at once and in the process, wins some and loses some.</p> <p><b>A Man from Motihari</b></p> <p>Author: Abdullah Khan</p> <p>Publisher: Ebury Press</p> <p>Price: Rs 399; Pages: 304</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Aug 26 15:15:30 IST 2023 it-rained-on-a-moonlit-night-review-a-thought-provoking-short-story-collection <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>It Rained on a Moonlit Night, </i>a collection of short stories by J. George Pottenkulam, connects with readers at a personal level as the author brings in elements from our inner worlds, as well as the outer.</p> <p>Pottenkulam tries to leave a message of sorts, a moral if you will, in almost every story. While it is outright clear in some stories, it is subtly present in the others. The stories are quite engaging and hard to put down once you begin reading. Some of them, however, seem unevenly paced, especially while recounting an incident or describing a past experience to create a set-up for further progress.</p> <p>The book holds together many interesting tales—each with its individuality, while also maintaining a certain sense of consistency. While these stories are fictional, they manifest a sense of reality, taking on either issues that we face together as a community or as individuals. From debating the necessity of a president and all the pomp involved in visits they might make, to the ever-present debate on gender equality, the author finely treads on both sides of every argument, whilst his biases are somewhat visible.</p> <p>There are also stories on love, humour, friendship, and courage and they describe to the reader, how one does not need to scour the whole world to find inspiration, but it can be found sometimes in the daily lives of people. From playing pranks on long-time friends to a rat aristocracy of sorts that tries to solve a cat problem and from finding love to losing it or maybe just the spark of lust, these stories are all based on human nature and how we behave, which the author recreates pretty accurately. Pottenkulam also does not shy away from discussing so-called heavy topics, like the state of the world and the true way to serve God.</p> <p><i>It Rained on a Moonlit Night, </i>the story from which the book gets its title, is one of the most interesting ones in the collection<i>. </i>Easily the longest story in the book, it deals with the relationships one has, not just family but with society too. The beautifully crafted story is filled with surprises that keep you intrigued till the end. Though at one point, the twists seem a tad bit overwhelming, especially for a short story. This brings us to the pacing of the book. In order to create a plausible situation while giving depth to characters, the author tends to portion his stories unevenly, tending to rush certain parts, especially while setting a situation, but then drags through certain other areas, like while trying to share an anecdote or a back story.</p> <p>The characters are relatable and diverse. Though the author portrays people from various walks of life, the influence of the author's culture and background shines through, giving it an authentic touch as Pottenkulam connects the stories to his hometown and lived experiences. The book is an interesting read and a quick one at that, which might also lead you to question different aspects of your life while reminiscing about it.</p> <p><b>Book: </b>It Rained on a Moonlit Night</p> <p><b>Author: </b>J. George Pottenkulam</p> <p><b>Publisher: </b>Portrait India</p> <p><b>Price: </b>Rs 345/-</p> <p><b>Pages: </b>172</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Tue Jun 27 15:51:31 IST 2023 vasquezs-retrospective-captures-the-emotional-struggles-of-guerrillas <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Juan Gabriel Vasquez's <i>Retrospective</i> is a novel about guerilla wars, revolutions, dictatorships, communism and ideological fanaticism with many heroes and villains in three continents. It starts with the Spanish civil war and goes on to cover the Trujillo dictatorship in Dominican Republic, Colombian guerilla wars, the Soviet communist outreach, the Chinese cultural revolution and the 1968 student protests in Paris.</p> <p>The Columbian guerilla war is the centre-piece and Sergio Cabrera is the protagonist. The wars, struggles and movements are woven into the story of the family of Sergio Cabrera, whose grandfather is a Spaniard who fights against the Fascism of Franco. He escapes to Dominican Republic but the Trujillo dictatorship is as bad as Franco’s. He moves on to Colombia where he settles down. The violence unleashed by the deadly conflict between the Colombian liberals and conservatives is as deadly as the Spanish civil war. Sergio’s father is attracted to communism and jumps at the opportunity to teach Spanish in China.</p> <p>After some years, he returns to Colombia and joins the EPL (Popular Liberation Army) the Maoist guerilla group. His wife from a rich and respected family helps the guerilla group secretly. Cabrera leaves his teenage son Sergio and daughter Marianella in China to continue their education in Beijing. They take fancy to Maoism and volunteer to work with peasants and factory workers and eventually undergo even military training with the Red Army. They are caught up in the cultural revolution but they are not discouraged by the atrocities committed during the cultural revolution. They return to Colombia and join as fighters in the Colombian jungles for the EPL guerilla group. Their day to day life in the jungles is marked by hardship, diseases and dangers. This is aggravated by the petty rivalries, jealousies and dictatorial decisions of the EPL commanders who mistreat and punish the cadres according to their whims.</p> <p>Ultimately, the two leave the guerilla group disappointed and disillusioned. Marianella gets married to a fellow guerrillero and settles down to a normal life. During his return to Bogota from Beijing, Sergio stops for some days in Paris and witnesses the student protests against the Vietnam war among other issues.&nbsp; After leaving his guerrillero career, he studies film making in London and becomes a celebrated director of films in Colombia. He goes to Barcelona for a retrospective show of his films when he gets the news of death of his father in Colombia. During this time, Sergio looks back on the adventures, misadventures, sufferings and idealism of his family members.<br> &nbsp;<br> In Beijing, Marianella, the teenager falls in love with Carl Crook, the son of David Crook &nbsp;a British communist. He joins the fight for the International Brigade &nbsp;against Fascism in Spain. There the Soviets recruit him as spy to report on the Trotskyites, which included George Orwell. Later they send him to Beijing on a spying mission. He settles in China as an English teacher and marries Isabel, the daughter of Canadian missionaries. Isabel is born and brought up in China. During the cultural revolution Crook is arrested and jailed for some years and eventually released. While the Chinese Communists welcome and encourage foreigners to learn and spread the Chinese model, they also cultivate a strong anti-foreigner sentiment among their people and cadres. The families of Cabrera and Crook are caught in this contradiction and the Crook family becomes &nbsp;victims despite their fluency in Chinese, adaptation to Chinese culture and unswerving loyalty to Mao.<br> &nbsp;<br> The author Vasquez has based his novel on the real life stories of the families of Sergio Cabrera and Peter Crook. He has interviewed Sergio Cabrera himself besides members of both families. He has quoted from their biographies and archives. While fictionalising the actual stories, Vasquez has given vivid details and political and social comments on the resistance against Fascist Franco in Spain, the Colombian guerilla wars and the upheaval in China during the cultural revolution. He has brought out the emotional struggles and personal feelings of the guerrilleros and fanatic party cadres who are manipulated and controlled &nbsp;by ruthless guerilla commanders and communist leaders.&nbsp;<br> &nbsp;<br> Here are some examples of Vasquez’s vivid narration..<br> <br> <i>-The Red Guards consider the red colour as their symbol and that of the Cultural Revolution. For them, red is the colour of progress. They argue,“the red of our flag symbolizes the blood of our heroes, don’t you? The blood of millions of comrades who gave their lives for the Republic. Think about what a revolutionary feels when he sees that someone else, in another country, has decided on a whim that the colour red, the colour for which we are ready to give our lives, should become an order to stop. And if we accept it, if we accept that red should be the signal for cars to stop, we would also have to accept that pedestrians should stop at red . . . at pedestrian crossing lights. And we are not just pedestrians, we are revolutionary combatants! And we cannot accept foreign interference in the Revolution!”. So they change the traffic lights to red for ‘go’ and green for ‘stop’.</i><br> <br> <i>-Marianella writes in her diary, “ Oh, great Chairman Mao! Your ideology has thrown a brilliant light on my heart. Oh, beloved Chairman Mao! You really are the reddest red sun of my heart!!!! I am determined to always obey your words! To take your great ideology to Colombia. To propagate it, because it is the greatest truth, our Colombian people will never turn away from it!!! Chairman Mao, I love you most! I can do without my father and mother, but I cannot do without your great ideology!”.<br> </i><br> <i>-Colombia was sinking in a sea of blood. The guerrillas were killing, the paramilitaries were killing and the army was killing. When the 1992 peace negotiations in Mexico failed, a guerrilla leader stood up from the table and said, &nbsp;“We’ll see you after another ten thousand deaths.”</i><br> <br> The real life Sergio Cabrera is a successful filmmaker after quitting from EPL. He was also an elected member of the Colombian Congress. He has made some remarkable films on the guerilla wars and social issues of Colombia. I enjoyed seeing one of his films<i> Golpe de Estadio </i>in which the guerilleros and the police forces agree to a few hours of ceasefire in order to watch a football game between Argentina and Colombia.&nbsp;<br> &nbsp;<br> Sergio is now the Colombian ambassador to China since 2022, appointed by President Gustavo Petro, another ex-guerrillero.&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b></i> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Jun 23 15:29:31 IST 2023 coorg-stories-and-essays-review-a-dive-into-little-known-history-of-coorg <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Queen Victoria’s reign marked the massive expansion of British rule, also big political and socio-economic changes in the United Kingdom. After East India Company was dissolved, the control was taken over by the British and she was proclaimed as the Empress of India in 1876.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eight months later, the first Delhi Durbar took place with pomp to mark the occasion. The rule exerted racist colonial power over India, however, she had a soft corner for three Indians in her court: Victoria Gowramma of Coorg, Maharaja Duleep Singh of Punjab, and Abdul Karim, who was sent by East India Company to serve the queen but went on to became her confidant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eleven-year-old Gowramma had reached England in March 1852 along with her father, Chikka Veerarajendra, the ousted last ruler of Coorg. Duleep Singh was 16 when he reached England. Both received western education and adopted Christianity. Both youngsters were regular invitees to royal events and socialised with the royal children. Queen Victoria who had stood sponsor to Gowramma and announced herself as Godmother, even gave ‘Victoria’ to the Indian royal. Queen and Prince Albert tried to bring about an alliance between two Indian royals who had converted to Christianity, which in turn could have popularised the religion in the British territories. How the history of the continent would have been shaped had that marriage taken place?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike the Maharajas of Punjab, the Coorg royals’ legacy is not well known. An alluring hill station in the Western Ghats, rich in its natural beauty and history. The pristine land bears the footprints of its mysterious inhabitants as some of the pre-historic stone structures dating back over 3,000 years have been found here. Its documented history details the advent of Lingayat rulers, who accorded the region a royal patronage before the British took over and remained there, till India became independent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fascinating tales of Rajas, Sahibs and freedom fighters of the region come alive in the eponymous book written by C.P. Belliappa. The land of brave Kodavas was out to have a separate identity in independent India, and did have it till 1956, when it was merged with Karnataka. Beliappa has extensively researched and written about the land and its people. In his latest offering, he carries on with the tales of the region, the enticing story of Gowramma, her father Veerarajendra and his 13 wives, well-known British persons including Sir Mark Cubbon - after whom the iconic park is named in Bengaluru (His statue was shifted several times, finally arriving in the eponymous park), author’s own great great great grandfather, Dewan Chepudira Ponnappa- dewan during Veerarajandra’s regime. One of Ponnappa’s great-great grandsons C.M. Poonacha (author’s father) was elected as chief minister of Coorg, also served as former railway minister and governor. Dewan Ponnappa’s great-great-granddaughter’s son K.S. Thimayya was the third Chief of Army Staff of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book has three parts: the first one chronicles the history of Coorg; second, details the life of Gowramma and about further links the author established with the descendants of Veerarajandra, since the publication of his earlier book – Victoria Gowramma: The Lost Princess of Coorg. The third part is devoted to events that took place during the freedom struggle and other political developments, including the merger of Coorg with Karnataka.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book is rich in anecdotes and research shines through its pages. Belliappa had done a great service by thoroughly investigating the story of Gowramma about not much was known. The succinctly written book makes for an engrossing reading and it will fascinate history buffs. Do read this book before you head to Coorg for a vacation, it will be an enriching journey.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Coorg Stories and Essays</b></p> <p>Author: C.P. Belliappa</p> <p>Publisher: Rupa</p> <p>Price: Rs 395</p> <p>Pages: 250</p> Mon Jun 12 20:20:22 IST 2023 a-detailed-chronicle-of-india-africa-relations <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There’s a reason why Africa specialist and former ambassador Gurjit Singh has named his book on India-Africa economic partnership ‘The Harambee Factor’. The word Harambee, in Swahili, means ‘to pull together’ and has its origin in Indian porters who were brought in by the British during colonial times to work on the Mombasa Kisumu Railway. While picking up heavy loads or rail tracks, the Indians used the term Hari (referring to Lord Vishnu) and Amber (Goddess Shakti) as an invocation that soon became part of local lingo.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Put in the larger context, ’Harambee’ is a longstanding African tradition, deeply ingrained in the moral compass of the region (it even appears in Kenya’s coat of arms) and signifies people getting together to help out one another. And just the perfect term to symbolise India’s engagement with this great continent, for, as the author declares right at the beginning of this book, ‘Africa’s time has come!’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Adding how the twenty-first century, labelled as the Asian century, is now also becoming an African century, he then sets out, extensively and in much document-and-statistics-backed detail, the contours of India’s relationship with this 54-nation geography, which history, economics and even chemistry, have had a role in shaping.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The author’s long chequered career as an ambassador to Ethiopia and the African Union, his stint at the external affairs ministry’s Africa division, his role in organising the three India Africa Forum summits (2008, 2011 &amp; 2015) all means this is one man who can bring in a first person perspective to India’s engagement with this crucial link of the emerging economy jigsaw. All the more so in the post-Non Aligned Movement era where the Modi government has been trying hard to capitalise and develop India’s stature as a beacon for the ‘global south’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Africa remains more complex and more like an evolving young beauty who’s increasingly hard to get if you play by the old rules. And that has been India’s flaw perhaps for some time, as the relationship was guided more by the shared history of colonialism, the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and people-to-people contact over centuries — the links have been as tenuous as even the monsoon winds between the east coast of Africa and India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Singh writes, “in the twenty-first century, the winds must be guided so that the partnerships become more fruitful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the more so when Africa is poised on the verge of becoming the new focal point for superpower manoeuvres, with its rich resources that nations across the globe, and not just China, seem to be coveting. The diplomat in him limits Singh from calling out this new-found stature of the continent and Beijing’s great game at play, though.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While that would have made this book a racy read, instead Singh ensures his focus sticks to India’s engagement with the African countries, considering the ringside view he has had across the past few decades. He supports it with facts and figures, on the various bilateral and multilateral engagements, as well as the informal and private sector partnerships that have seen India emerge as the African continent’s third biggest trading partner after China and France, ahead of the likes of the US and UK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is not a book for those who are hoping for some inside info on India’s soft gloved shadow boxing with China and other powers in this second biggest of all continents (though the book refers to Africa as the world’s largest continent at one point) or the race for new age ‘white gold’ minerals that may just set off a new race here, much like colonialism more than a century ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, this book is more a detailed chronicle of India’s connect with Africa — while including in grave detail the many governmental and diplomatic initiatives sometimes makes this book laborious, one has to realise it would well be a handy handbook in the years to come for anyone from an individual migrant to bureaucrat, scholar or entrepreneur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>THE HARAMBEE FACTOR</p> <p>India-Africa Economic and Development Partnership</p> <p>By Gurjit Singh</p> <p>Pages 438</p> <p>Price Rs 2,950</p> <p>Macmillan Education</p> Sat Jun 10 19:35:21 IST 2023 tracing-the-journey-of-a-word-that-is-eternal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was here first. The first sound of creation from where life begins, 'Aum' is a deeply powerful sound or a mantra. The word is deeply embedded in Indian spirituality, philosophy, language, and even culture. In 'The Journey of Aum' artist Kalpana Palkhiwala has chosen to undertake a daunting task by attempting to depict Aum—visually and across language and culture.<br> <br> The book—in black and white—is as much personal as it is philosophical. “From childhood to this day, Aum has been a constant,’’ she writes in the book. “It was a syllable sound entering my ears. However, it was only after 33 years, post-retirement that I took up my brush and pencil and made an effort to put Aum on paper.” <br> <br> The book, in a way, is her life’s work. &quot;At the age of sixty, I finally gave life to Aum that lay deep in my subconscious for many years.&quot; <br> <br> Depicting this sound across languages, whether it is in the curvy Hindi with the crescent moon with a dot arched delicately or as trianka, triyanka or triratna which is one of the oldest forms of Aum in Buddhism, Palkhiwala takes the reader on a journey of the word that was there before there was a word. <br> <br> There is also Aum in Grantha, which has been derived from the Pali script in the third century CE and went through many transformations before it reached the modern form used in Tamil and Malayalam. In the book, Palkhiwala shows Aum with plants and motifs that are found in South Indian temples. &quot;Looking at its spread, I searched the language of a range of Asian countries and found it everywhere. It is assimilated in people's lives, their cultures and their way of living. It embodies divine energy,'' she writes.<br> <br> The book is an attempt to depict just how deeply enmeshed Aum is in language culture and life. She also includes Siddham, the Brahmic script which is derived from the Gupta script in the late sixth century CE as well as Kashmiri, Tibetan, Lepcha and Thai. Palkhiwala also tries to root the sound in culture. So, her Aum in Maithili is decorated with nature and flowers as it is in the Madhubani art that comes from this region. And in Odiya, she has chosen to use the spokes of the famous Konark temple dedicated to the sun.<br> <br> Her works make the reader expand their horizons as they see Aum written across languages, each intricately sketched.</p> <p><b>Book: The Journey of Aum</b></p> <p><b>Author: Kalpana Palkhiwala</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 700</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 150</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Zen Opus</b></p> Fri Jun 09 18:28:54 IST 2023 the-stolen-necklace-review-gripping-tale-of-man-trapped-in-broken-system <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What do you do when the people who you are meant to trust your life with, are scarier than the ones who are after your life? It is incredible how stubborn people can be, even when they are wrong. It is even more incredible how the vanguards of our legal system will not change their ways even after being called out. When they become a legal nightmare, one must resign to the fact that our democracy has lost its plot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The Stolen Necklace</i> chronicles the real-life story of V.K. Thajudheen – a man wrongly accused of robbery, and who had to endure 54 days in prison and, till today, has not been compensated for the mental, emotional, and physical trauma he was subjected to. The book has been jointly authored by Thajudheen and Shevlin Sebastian – a seasoned journalist who had been following the case from day one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Law enforcement in India is notorious for being quick to mete out punishment. Pressure from higher authorities often makes it impossible for policemen to act impartially. But it is the ordinary bystander who suffers because of this. He becomes the pawn who must be sacrificed in order to close the case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this novel, the cops from Chakkarakkal, a small town in Kerala, accuse a man of chain-snatching, based on the evidence of a single CCTV screen grab. They seem to be hell-bent on not letting him go without a bribe. In a single moment, the life of the middle-aged father of three, with a newly-wedded daughter, is turned upside down. He becomes a criminal caught in the cross-hairs of bruised egos and unjust tactics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In simple language, one is taken through the trials and tribulations of the protagonist. At the Thalassery prison, uncertainty and loneliness become constant companions. In a place where everyone is treated as sub-human, it is a struggle to maintain his humanity. As the days bleed into each other, memories become a less painful companion. “Every night ends in dawn” becomes a constant refrain, as Thajudheen vows never to give up, even as hope slowly starts dwindling.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book provides rich insights and highlights other cases of the police wrongfully accusing innocent people, while the actual perpetrators go scot-free. The story does not end with Thajudheen being proved innocent before the law. The irreversible damage caused by the reckless investigation and brutal misuse of the law does not simply disappear in a few days. A man once convicted will live the rest of his life in fear, constantly looking over his shoulder. Everyone deserves justice, but when the system that is tasked with providing it is faulty, it ends up being an unattainable dream for many.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Stolen Necklace</b></p> <p><b>By Shevlin Sebastian and V.K. Thajudheen</b></p> <p><b>Published by HarperCollins</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs 399; pages 249</b></p> Mon Jun 12 14:30:42 IST 2023 wanderlens-rajasthan-review-rajasthan-in-a-new-light <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>More than a book of photographs, <i>Wander.lens Rajasthan</i> is a documentation of life in the state. Sudhir Kasliwal is an extremely skilled photographer, and it is clear from the wide range of photographs that fills this book – there is documentary, street, portraits, landscape, and abstract. He started photographing scenes from Rajasthan over 50 years ago. So, there are wide-angle shots of forts, fairs and palaces. Of colourful murals and busy tea stalls. Of camels framed against a<i> khejri</i> tree, of a community <i>yajna</i> in Pushkar, of people celebrating at a festival. These are not just visually stunning, but they also have a narrative brilliance to them. They are the photographer’s love story<b> </b>to his state. &nbsp;</p> <p>But then you would expect nothing less from Kasliwal, who first took to photography during his school days at St Xavier’s in Jaipur. Since then, he has won several awards and laurels, including the World Photo Contest organised by the UNESCO and the National Photo Contest organised by the Indian ministry of information and broadcasting. His aerial photographs of Jaipur featured in a special brochure gifted to former American president, Bill Clinton. More recently, he was presented with the Maharaja Sawai Ram Singh II Award, for having “internalised Rajasthan through his lens”.</p> <p>Kasliwal’s real triumph lies in his portraits. He has a knack to breathe life into them. The detail in some is so sharp that it lends them an acute realism. His people are not static, you can sense the movement even in their stillness – the leaves rustling, the <i>pallu</i> of a sari fluttering in the wind, glass bangles rubbing against each other…. For example, there is a picture of a woman pulling her ochre sari around her after a bath. As she splashes her way out of the river, each droplet is caught in mid-air, as though serenading her. Shown hugging herself, you can almost feel the shiver coursing through her.</p> <p>There is also the joy of discovery in some photographs. Sometimes, the things that strike you the most are the things that take you by surprise. So, there is a photograph of a goods carrier bulging with people. But instead of chaos and clutter, what you find is fellowship and order – as though the villagers are enjoying being crammed together, as though space is an alien concept to them.</p> <p>You feel like you know what Kasliwal meant when he said that his effort was “to capture things as they are”. Because there is something in us which recognises truth when we see it, and is hungry for more. So, you want to know why the smile of the beautiful girl in the canary yellow skirt is tinged with sadness. And why is the woman balancing the golden pot on her head looking so belligerent? And what is the story behind the young couple so caught up in each other as they wait for the camel cart to take them home?</p> <p>Kasliwal has captured a wide spectrum of human emotions – diffidence, contemplation, confusion, laughter, playfulness, sorrow….&nbsp; It is like the cosmos has disrobed for him, exposing the humanity cradled in its bosom, in all its bravery and all its vulnerability.&nbsp;</p> Wed Jun 07 10:27:31 IST 2023 reflections-review-tracing-events-and-moments-that-shaped-financial-landscape-of-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Banks and financial institutions have played a pivotal role in fuelling India's economic growth. But, the journey has been full of ups and downs, from the nationalisation of banks under prime minister Indira Gandhi in 1969 to establishing of large development financial institutions in the 1980s to the emergence of private sector banking behemoths in the 21st century.</p> <p>One person who perhaps had the best vantage point into this evolution was Narayanan Vaghul. Born in Chennai in 1936, Vaghul started his career as a probationary officer in State Bank of India in 1957, became the youngest chairman and managing director of Bank of India in 1981 when he was just 44 and would later become the chairman and MD of Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI).</p> <p>Under his leadership over two decades, ICICI transformed from a development financial institution to one of the largest commercial bank in the country.</p> <p>The Padma Bhushan recipient has had an illustrious career and the book, Reflections, penned by him gives a sneak peek into the life of the eminent banker that he was. He never wanted to write a book; the task of writing a memoir was an &quot;anathema&quot; to him, says Vaghul. But, Ajay Piramal, the chairman of Piramal Group, eventually persuaded Vaghul, who had been on the board of directors of Piramal.</p> <p>The book carries a vivid account of pivotal moments that shaped the financial landscape of India. Vaghul doesn't bore the reader with mundane write up of events like a history book. The banker becomes a story teller here and shares many anecdotes through which the readers gets a glimpse of the hot and cold relations between bankers, politicians and bureaucrats. The pressures that public sector bankers faced from their political masters and well connected clients flows through the book.</p> <p>He narrates an incident where a borrower was aggressively pursuing a proposal to set up a chemical project. ICICI executives discussed the project, and were not happy with the borrower's credentials and decided to turn it down. The chief minister of the state where the project was planned called him up several times and even sent the personal secretary to Mumbai to persuade Vaghul to reconsider the decision.</p> <p>There are several instances in the book, where we read about chairpersons of PSBs, including him, getting called directly by bureaucrats in the finance ministry and sometimes finance ministers themselves to reverse decisions taken regarding certain loans to certain people.</p> <p>Barring a few instances, though, Vaghul doesn't name the people involved, and that is perhaps disappointing.</p> <p>Vaghul said he decided to use his discretion and avoided naming them if the incident reflected &quot;poorly&quot; on them.</p> <p>&quot;I do not wish to hurt anybody's reputation, and I do not carry any ill towards them. I also do not wish to be judgemental about other people's conduct... My aim is to illustrate a point rather than to convey a holier-than-thou attitude,&quot; wrote Vaghul.</p> <p>In some cases where he does name names, we see that not all politicians are painted in bad light. One person he especially mentions is Madhu Dandavate. The former Union finance minister had defended Vaghul and ICICI in the Parliament in a high-profile case.</p> <p>The book also has a few humorous incidents. One incident talks about an annual conference of ministers of industries of state governments, where one minister ended up reading the speech of the other.</p> <p>&quot;The comic nature of the situation, where a minister had unwittingly read out the speech of another, which did not even concern his own state, and that the rest of us had not even noticed the mix-up slowly dawned on the participants.&quot;</p> <p>Vaghul also doesn't shy away from talking about mistakes that led to lost business opportunities. Once an industries minister called him and introduced his friend's son, who had a project proposal. The ICICI Bank executive told him it was not worthy of support.</p> <p>&quot;I merely saw it as an affirmation of my belief that proposals routed through political system were ab initio flawed. I did not bother to look at the proposal myself, but told the minister that it would be difficult for ICICI Bank to consider the proposal favourably,&quot; he narrates.</p> <p>The said client managed to raise funds from another bank and became very successful. Later on when Vaghul studied the appraisal note on the basis of which the proposal was rejected, he found serious flaws in the way it was processed.</p> <p>&quot;This experience taught me an important lesson - it was foolhardy to approach an issue with preconceived notions.&quot;</p> <p>There are instances in the book that do show Vaghul's ability to deal with pressures, convince even ministers and bureaucrats and get things done, by sternly, albeit politely putting across his arguments.</p> <p>As one reads the book, it will also be clear that Vaghul was a man of principles. Once when his wife and two children arrived from Chennai to Mumbai by train, a ticket examiner started arguing that the daughter who was travelling on a half ticket, appeared older than 12 years old. Vaghul could have settled the matter by paying Rs 20 to the examiner. But, he paid the penalty, which was double the fare and then made half a dozen trips to the railway headquarters to get Rs 60 refund.</p> <p>The entire book flows through such stories and episodes, and the incidents are not necessarily in order.</p> <p>Vaghul fostered a gender-neutral meritocracy at ICICI Bank. Under his mentorship many women like Kalpana Morparia (who was joint MD at ICICI Bank and later became chairperson of JP Morgan South and south east Asia), Shikha Sharma (who later became the MD and CEO of Axis Bank), Lalita Gupta (retired from ICICI Bank as joint MD) and Renuka Ramnath (now the founder of Multiples Alternate Asset Management) went on take leadership roles. A few incidents and anecdotes during those times at ICICI would have been interesting.</p> <p>Vaghul also was the one who introduced the concept of credit rating in India and established CRISIL in 1987. More details on what went behind this move and how things unfolded would have also been fascinating.</p> <p>The way Vaghul narrates the various incidents, the anecdotes, the humorous episodes, make for exciting reading. Reflections by Narayanan Vaghul is published by Piramal Enterprises.</p> <p><b>Book: Reflections</b></p> <p><b>Written by: Narayanan Vaghul</b></p> <p><b>Published by: Piramal Enterprises</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 950</b></p> Mon May 22 17:16:31 IST 2023 optic-nerve-an-art-novel-by-argentine-writer-maria-gainza <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Argentine writer Maria Gainza in her novel “Optic Nerve” offers a kind of art lesson and appreciation for the readers. The protagonist is an art connoisseur, critic and guide. She frequents the art galleries and shares her feelings from seeing the paintings and art works of Argentine, European, Japanese and American artists. She weaves narratives connecting the beauty of the art with its power over emotions.</p> <p>Gainza has filled the novel with real life stories of many artists and their adventures and eccentricities. She narrates the story of Argentine artist Candido Lopez who paints bloody scenes of the Triple Alliance War (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay against Paraguay in the 1860s resulting in the killing of two thirds of the Paraguayan males) after he loses his right hand while fighting in the war himself.</p> <p>According to Gainza, “all of art rests in the gap between that which is aesthetically pleasing and that which truly captivates you”. Besides the artistic protagonist, Gainzo has created some fascinating characters who are colourful, funny and intriguing.</p> <p>Gainza explores the impact of art on life through her own experience and the way it is felt by other characters in the novel. Here are a few examples of the emotions evoked by some paintings:</p> <p>How does it feel seeing a painting of Courbet? One is being gripped by the urge to go running off down the streets, to incite the people, to have sex, or to eat an apple. The viewer is sent into a pictorial fever. Pictures which saturate the senses. When you stand before his painting “The Stormy Sea”, art disappears and something else rushes in: life, in all its tempestuousness.</p> <p>Alfred Dreux’s works pulses with atavistic symbolism: the struggle between good and evil, light and dark.</p> <p>The works of Hubert Robert are like a premonition: a painter seeing what’s on the horizon and transferring it to the canvas in loose, open-ended brushstrokes.</p> <p>Rothko’s works give “a sense of work that seeps into you bodily, not so much through your eyes as like a fire at stomach level. At points it even seems to me that Rothko creates not so much works of art as smouldering, endless blocks of fire; akin to the burning bush from Exodus. Something inexhaustible”. Gainza goes on to say, “often the most powerful aspect of any work of art is its silence, and that – as they say – style is a medium in itself, its own means of emphasis. Perhaps there is something spiritual in the experience of looking at a Rothko, but it’s the kind of spiritual that resists description: like seeing a glacier, or crossing a desert. Rarely do the inadequacies of language become so patently obvious. you might reach for something meaningful to say, only to end up talking nonsense. Standing before a Rothko, All you really want to say is ‘fuck me’.</p> <p>Forget about standing before The Dream, one of Rousseau’s great works in MoMA which is capable of making the earth move.</p> <p>Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto in Monterchi, Italy would apparently cause a German governess to emote.</p> <p>El Greco creates a struggle with oneself. As teenagers, we fall for him. As we become more informed and cynical, El Greco's unwavering dogmatism and his sensuality exasperates us. We have difficulty accepting their coexistence in a single image; the mutual exclusivity of flesh and spirit has been drummed into us by now.</p> <p>Gainza has enriched the novel with interesting quotes of a number of writers, poets and artists. She quotes T.S. Elliot, &quot; The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind that creates&quot;</p> <p>It is interesting to know that the translation of this novel from Spanish to English (by Thomas Bunstead) has been done with the support of the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs.</p> <p>Gainza, like most Argentine novelists, goes deep in analysing the psychology of human beings intricately and intellectually. It is a typical characteristic of Argentine writers as well as the Argentine public in general. Every Argentine is a psychiatrist by nature and economist because of the periodic cycle of economic crisis. Argentines are the most well-read in Latin America. After reading, they sit in cafes for hours reflecting over what they have read and debating fiercely and loudly with others. Argentines have solutions to all the problems of the world, except to their own dear Argentina.</p> <p>When the protagonist sees painting of a girl who looks like herself, she feels like throwing her arms around the picture. She then asks herself, &quot; Isn't all artwork a mirror? Might a great painting not even reformulate the question 'what is it about to what I am about'? Isn't theory also in some sense always autobiography?</p> <p>The heroine in the book goes to teach Spanish to a Japanese woman living in the twentieth floor of a building overlooking the Hippodrome (race course) in Avenida del Libertador in Palermo area of Buenos Aires city.. Hmm.. I stayed in the 40th floor of the same building for four years and watched races through the front windows and polo matches from the windows on the right side. The wandering of the protagonist in the elegant parks and avenues of the city and her frequenting of the famous bars, cafes and restaurants made me feel nostalgic for Buenos Aires, the best city in Latin America.</p> <p><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b></p> Sun May 14 19:36:06 IST 2023 roopali-mohanti-new-cookbook-makes-even-simple-recipes-magical- <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Servings: Simple yet Exotic </i>is the kind of cookbook you will want to curl up with on a rainy day, sipping a hot cup of tea. It engulfs you with warmth and the fragrance of sumptuous food, especially if you are one who loves turning even the simplest of recipes into something magical.</p> <p>Mohanti is big on creating meals with a balance of colour, flavour, texture and consistency – what she calls the process of creating the perfect synergy between dishes. Her inspiration comes from eating at the Navy official mess, where she admired the emphasis on the right combination of dishes.</p> <p>The book covers a wide variety of recipes, from breakfast, appetisers and <i>chai</i> time delicacies, to dishes from different regions of India, with a smattering of world cuisine thrown in for good measure.</p> <p>But what Mohanti takes pride in are the suggested menu plans that bring together recipes from across the book. Her attempt is to create wholesome, flavourful meal plans that tick all the right boxes.</p> <p>Going back and forth the 500-odd pages of the book to refer to the recipes can be a tad exasperating; however, the recipes themselves are delightfully easy to follow.</p> <p>With interesting names for dishes, personal anecdotes, thoughtful curations of recipes, and eye-catching photographs and illustrations, Servings is a book you will enjoy running your fingers over and going back to when you want to try something ‘simple yet exotic’.</p> <p>It will also make a valuable gift for a novice, or a charming one for a seasoned cook, who’d enjoy going over timeless recipes on a lazy afternoon.</p> <p>Servings: Simple yet Exotic</p> <p>By Roopali Mohanti</p> <p>Publisher: Rupa &amp; Co</p> <p>Price: 2,500 (hardcover)</p> <p>Pages: 496</p> Sat May 13 15:07:07 IST 2023 how-to-tackle-climate-change-a-new-book-has-answers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Last year, Pakistan struggled to stay afloat in what was its worst floods ever. India, earlier in the same year, was burning, owing to the most severe heat wave it had witnessed since the Indian Meteorological Department started keeping records. Both these extreme events had a common link—climate change.</p> <p>Clearly, climate change is no longer a mirage—something so far away that sceptics among us believe it was hallucinated into existence by the ‘woke’ crowd. Its impact is visible and tangible even for those living under a rock. It has made its presence felt through wildfires, flash floods, heat waves, drought, rising sea levels, water scarcity and global hunger—all of them damaging and deadly, mostly for the poorest communities. Climate change was identified as a global problem by the United Nations General Assembly more than 30 years ago, in 1988. Yet, here we are.</p> <p>Anilla Cherian, an independent global climate change and clean energy expert, looks at why we have found little success so far in her new book—<i>Air Pollution, Clean Energy and Climate Change</i>. The book argues that while the link between the three is well-established, there is no integrated approach to tackle the same; it is all happening in silos. “The core of what is being argued is that it is time to look beyond the confines of intergovernmental negotiations,” writes Cherian, “and to ask what can be done if access to clean air and energy is considered integral to responding to climate change by NNSAs (non nation state actors) including cities/local communities.”</p> <p>Cities, believes Cherian, will be on the frontline for clean air and climate action. And, the future of integrated action on clean air and clean energy lies with India and its cities. Why, you ask. India is third in greenhouse gases emissions, after China and the US. In 2018, 14 of the 15 most polluted cities of the world were in India. Seven of the top 10 cities with the worst air quality were in India. “In the most congested and polluted cities in the world, curbing air pollution has not been responded within the context of climate change and clean energy, in part because global goal and partnership silos translate into fragmented policy agendas [at] the national level,” writes Cherian.</p> <p>The book is no breezy read, neither is it dense like the smog that hangs heavy over Delhi’s wintry mornings. It is packed with information and statistics. There are repetitions, perhaps for emphasis, but some could have been avoided. The book has a matter-of-fact tone, not alarmist yet thought-provoking.</p> <p>Last December, California was drenched. It had seen a decade of drought, and the rains brought with them blooms, in hues hidden for long. Many of the seeds reportedly were lying dormant for a decade or so. A reminder that earth will reclaim what was once its. Only, it won’t always be this pretty.</p> <p><i><b>Air Pollution, Clean Energy and Climate Change</b></i></p> <p><b>Author: Anilla Cherian</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Wiley</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 271; price: $134.95</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Mon May 15 14:59:17 IST 2023 this-new-book-seeks-to-unravel-ambedkars-personality <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are now more books being written about Dr B.R. Ambedkar than grand statues erected in his memory, a phenomenon the Constitution drafter may have himself preferred. Writers and scholars are trying to unravel more about the man and his philosophy, whose influence is only growing and being acknowledged. But can something new about his life, in fact be discovered?</p> <p>The latest book on Ambedkar by Aakash Singh Rathore provides some of the missing links in the dalit leader’s life, and more significantly, corrects the anomalies and inaccuracies which had crept in relied upon by researchers and biographers. In the first part of the two-part biography, <i>Becoming Babasaheb— the Life and Times of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar</i>, Rathore unravels the man in flesh and blood. While most books on Ambedkar chart out his intellectual journey, the author has kept his focus on Ambedkar’s life and personality.</p> <p>Majority of the previous books on Ambedkar sourced a great deal of insights from two of his earliest biographies by Dhananjay Keer and C.B. Khairmoday. Rathore regrets that he, too, relied on standard biographies in the past, which in fact were full of inaccuracies, and he was now correcting them, be it from the change in Ambedkar’s name, key dates to sequence of events in his life.</p> <p>Rathore has done a great service with his detailing and academic rigour to flesh out the man through cross referencing material. Ambedkar is no longer a staid figure as he appears on his statues; he comes alive in these pages. Through descriptive and crisp writing, Ambedkar’s struggle and personal scholarship shine through the pages. The author says he merely doesn’t want to recount what Ambedkar did, but understand who he was as he was doing all of it.</p> <p>The book is divided in 15 chapters charting his life, education, discrimination at various stages, and finally transition from being a scholar to an icon.</p> <p>The first part of the biography sketches how harsh experiences were shaping his personality and views, the second half his transition. It was through Ambedkar’s speeches in Bombay Legislative Council and writings in two newspapers he edited – <i>Mook Nayak</i> and later in <i>Bahishkrut Bharat—</i>that the world started to notice the transformation of a scholar into a leader. As the writer says, the last work widely available to the people was his 1925 book on provincial finance in British India. Two years later, he was publishing writings in <i>Bahishkrut Bharat</i>, of outright social revolt.</p> <p>His extensive touring, lecturing, and engaging with people of his caste was bringing change, certainly of attitude. His editorials charted out the shift in the attitude of the dalits, after the Mahad agitation: “Until Mahad we agreed with Mahatma Gandhi that untouchability was blot on Hindu religion. But now we have changed our views: untouchability is a blot on our own body....Non-violence wherever possible; violence whenever necessary.’’</p> <p>By 1927, Dr Ambedkar had turned to Babasaheb as his future biographer, Khairmoday, reverentially referred to him.</p> <p>The biography will enlighten the new and young readers amid renewed interest in Ambedkar, and of course those politically and ideologically inclined, and the academic researchers who have been missing out on the crucial details while referring to the older biographies.</p> <p>Perhaps, it is time for the scholars to update their notes on Ambedkar.</p> <p><b>Becoming Baba Saheb: The Life and Times of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar</b></p> <p><b>Volume 1: Birth to Mahad (1891-1929)</b></p> <p><b>By Aakash Singh Rathore</b></p> <p><b>Published by HarperCollins Publishers</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 272, Price: Rs 699</b></p> Mon Apr 24 17:04:36 IST 2023 the-guru-guru-nanaks-saakhis-review-the-compassionate-courageous-and-undeterred-guru <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Age has nothing to do with ability or wisdom. It holds true in Guru Nanak’s case, who was born over 500 years ago and inspired many around him. Since his childhood, he was “wise, rational and humane,” suggests Rajni Sekhri Sibal in her book ‘The Guru – Guru Nanak’s Saakhis.’&nbsp;</p> <p>While Nanak asked difficult questions and the logic behind everything, he was a content soul who donated his brand new clothes to a group of wandering monks on the occasion of Diwali. His mother scolded him for this act but he pacified her by saying, “Mata ji, so many times, you have urged us to share with others.” The author mentions the incident in the chapter titled ‘Care to Share.’&nbsp;</p> <p>Nanak understood&nbsp;<i>sachha sauda</i>&nbsp;as an act of helping the needy, unlike his father, who wanted to teach him how money needs to be utilised to gain materialistic things. “What is better&nbsp;<i>sacha sauda</i>&nbsp;than buying food for the hungry, water for the thirsty and medicines for the sick?” he tells his friend Bhai Mardana in one of the chapters.&nbsp;</p> <p>How did the author get interested in Nanak’s life? Well, a little after her eighth birthday, Sibal asked her grandmother for the first time to hear a saakhi (story) about Nanak. She agreed and narrated the saakhis to her granddaughter, which were truly life-altering for her.&nbsp;</p> <p>“The philosophy of Guru Nanak Dev is rational and wise and his core values are humane: truthfulness, compassion, respect for equality and a firm belief in the unity of mankind,” says Sibal, a retired IAS officer and recipient of the Indian of the Year Award 2013 who has authored several articles and books.</p> <p>Sibal’s book has 10 chapters that talk about Nanak’s birth, his days in school and his journey towards experiencing and understanding the power of ‘One Supreme Almighty.’ The chapters reveal these awakenings within his heart and mind.&nbsp;</p> <p>The author’s simple and effective narration keeps the reader hooked till the last page. She explains Nanak’s life in a way that one can see, listen to, and travel with him, while flipping through the pages. He was a curious soul, who believed in the power of ‘Ikk’ (one). He visited Haridwar, Puri and Mecca, among other religious places and found God to be omnipresent (present everywhere at the same time).&nbsp;</p> <p>As for human beings, every person was special for Nanak irrespective of the path they chose to walk. He believed in equality and in respecting the dignity of all, no matter the caste, class, colour, religion or gender.&nbsp;</p> <p>Why do we talk of Nanak today? Kailash Satyarthi, a Nobel peace laureate, has the answer. “The Saakhis narrated in the book are thought-provoking and imbued with a depth of wisdom, and provide a direction to the reader to help lead a purposeful life,” he says in the foreword.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Book : The Guru – Guru Nanak’s Saakhis</b></p> <p><b>Author :Rajni Sekhri Sibal</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: StoryMirror Infotech</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 349</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Mon Apr 17 21:55:02 IST 2023 mahagatha-review-an-engrossing-collection-of-myths <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Author Satyarth Nayak has always been drawn to the allure of Puranas and Hindu scriptures. So much so that he dedicated five long years sifting through 36 Puranas (18 Mahapuranas and 18 Upapuranas) to bring out his latest work, <i>Mahagatha.</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An impressive assimilation of 100 mythical tales, <i>Mahagatha</i>, published by Harper Collins, is an epic narrative that connects the dots of Hindu mythology like never before.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each chapter unfolds the greater myths of gods, demons, sages and kings. They revisit the mythical world that shaped our religious, cultural, social and political milieu and collective unconscious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As eternal and complex as the world in <i>Mahagatha</i> is, Satyarth, whose last work was a biography on actor Sreedevi, says this wasn't a chore but a joyous journey of a lifetime. It did feel like a daunting task initially.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;The intention was always to create an epic collection of 100 greatest mythological tales. But, once I entered this universe, there was no looking back. It became a joyous process of discovering these fascinating stories and absorbing the wonderful wisdom they offered. My core love for mythology ensured that the process felt like a journey of a lifetime across the four yugas. The process did take five long years, given the immense corpus I had to sift through. Also, the original list of stories was almost 200, and I had to handpick the 100 best ones out of those through a set of filters I had created in my mind,&quot; he added.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Mahagatha</i> transcends through four yugas, set in motion when Brahma begins creation. It moves on to the emergence of Shiva and Vishnu, the creation of the mankind before touching on Vishnu's multiple avatars and culminating in the start of Kali Yuga.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is more than just a random collection of tales, though. The chronological narrative connects each story to the other. Each has a past and a future or a cause and effect.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some are widely popular, others lesser known. While the tales of Prahlada, Vamana avatar and Ravana seizing Lanka are those most of us grew up listening to, Mahagatha takes us through a few others not widely known but deserve to be. Like, how Ganga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi fought over Vishnu.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the chapter titled 'Ganga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi fight,' the author narrates the tale of this brawl. The competition between the godesses for Vishnu's affection ends in a spree of curses. This tale explains the myth of Ganga's stature as the holy river that absolves the sin of mankind and the secret of tulsi becoming a sacred plant.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, there are tales where the line between demonic and divine blurs. Vishnu, in the chapter 'Vrinda curses Vishnu,' shows the preserver debasing the chaste of Vrinda. Another chapter talks about Sita spewing curses on a cow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&quot;The fascinating aspect about the Puranas is that they inhabit a gloriously grey zone. Where boons can often create chaos and curses can often lead to good. Where the Ocean of Milk that bestows amrita also spews halahal. Where Rama upholds but Krishna uproots,&quot; says Sathyarth.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He confesses that the nature of our scriptures gave him the liberty to re-interpret the tales. This has contributed to the book's readability. It is a carefully-crafted and brilliant page-turner.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, Satyarth says it did come with its own set of challenges. &quot;There were times when I paused to find the exact words to express what I was trying to convey. The Puranas are a complex and magnificent universe and I wanted to present it in a befitting language. Every story evoked intricate emotions that had to be captured and communicated. I was also conscious that this was a material that demanded utmost reverence,&quot; he adds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite the creative liberties, the core purity of these tales remains undiluted. The book, priced at Rs 599, has already gone into reprint twice and has been delared a national bestseller by Harper Collins.</p> Thu Mar 23 13:49:22 IST 2023 in-victory-city-rushdie-takes-the-reader-on-an-eventful-journey <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Victory City</i> is the latest novel of Salman Rushdie. He jumps straight into ‘magical realism’ with the opening line itself: “On the last day of her life, when she was two hundred and forty-seven years old, the blind poet, miracle worker and prophetess Pampa Kam-pana completed her immense narrative poem about Bisnaga and buried it in a clay pot sealed with wax in the heart of the ruined Royal Enclosure, as a message to the future. Four and a half centuries later we found that pot and read for the first time the immortal masterpiece named the Jayaparajaya, meaning ‘Victory and Defeat’, written in the Sanskrit language, as long as the Ramayana, made up of twenty-four thousand verses, and we learned the secrets of the empire she had concealed from history for more than one hundred and sixty thousand days.”</p> <p>Rushdie takes the reader on an eventful journey through the 300 years (1336-1646) history of Vijayanagara empire in which he has woven magic imaginatively and entertainingly. Kampana, the protagonist, throws seeds which become the Vijayanagara (Bisnaga) empire with cities, palaces, walls and markets. She then whispers into the ears of the rulers and the people who come alive in the new empire. At the end, when she is blinded by emperor Krishnadevaraya and the empire is ending, the descendants of the original inhabitants start whispering their lives into her ears helping her to complete the writing of history. Things go into reverse, as if rivers had started flowing upstream.</p> <p>Rushdie revels in magical realism with passages like this: “In the city of Zerelda, time flies. Every day the citizens, who know that life is short, rush about with large nets trying to capture the minutes and hours that float around just above their heads like brightly coloured butterflies. The lucky ones who capture a little time and gulp it down – it’s easily edible, and quite delicious – have their lives elongated. But time is elusive, and many fail.”</p> <p>Rushdie teases the readers saying: “This is that story, retold in plainer language by the present author, who is neither a scholar nor a poet but merely a spinner of yarns, and who offers this version for the simple entertainment and possible edification of today’s readers, the old and the young, the educated and the not so educated, those in search of wisdom and those amused by folly, northerners and southerners, followers of different gods and of no gods, the broad-minded and the narrow-minded, men and women and members of the genders beyond and in between, scions of the nobility and rank commoners, good people and rogues, charlatans and foreigners, humble sages, and egotistical fools.”</p> <p>Rushdie pronounces and provokes on contemporary political and social issues of India. While describing the conflicts between the Hindu empire of Vijayanagar and the Muslim sultanates, he dives into religious intolerance, puritanism and fanaticism. He has made references to the stories of<i> Mahabharath</i> and<i> Ramayana</i>. But after having learnt his lesson from the reaction to <i>Satanic Verses</i>, Rushdie has avoided danger this time by his subtle narratives and subdued language.</p> <p>Throughout the novel, he has thrown pearls of wisdom here and there</p> <p>- History is the consequence not only of people’s actions, but also of their forgetfulness.</p> <p>-The miraculous and the everyday are two halves of a single whole, and that we ourselves are the gods we seek to worship, and capable of mighty deeds.</p> <p>-The truth of the world is that people act according to their natures, and that is what will happen.</p> <p>Here is the memorable ending of the novel:</p> <p>She was two hundred and forty-seven years old. These were her last words.</p> <p>I, Pampa Kampana, am the author of this book. I have lived to see an empire rise and fall. How are they remembered now, these kings, these queens? They exist now only in words. While they lived, they were victors, or vanquished, or both. Now they are neither. Words are the only victors. What they did, or thought, or felt, no longer exists. Only these words describing those things remain. They will be remembered in the way I have chosen to remember them. Their deeds will only be known in the way they have been set down. They will mean what I wish them to mean. I myself am nothing now. All that remains is this city of words. Words are the only victors.</p> <p>I enjoyed this book in the way as I did in the case of most of his other novels. I admire Rushdie’s extraordinary talents as a writer and story-teller. I believe he deserves the Nobel Prize.</p> <p><i><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b></i></p> Mon Mar 20 16:14:04 IST 2023 all-those-who-wander-review-time-travel-and-horror-make-a-gripping-tale <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>&quot;A story,&quot; said Jean-Luc Godard, &quot;should have a beginning, a middle and an end, but not necessarily in that order.&quot; Author Kiran Manral follows that bit of advice to the hilt. Her ‘All Those Who Wander’ is awash with beginnings, middles and ends, so entwined they could be a plate of noodles. It is not ‘once upon a time’ any more. It’s ‘once upon many times’ and all of them together. The book’s protagonist is sometimes Anna, sometimes Nayana, sometimes neither and sometimes Sue aka Sukanya. It’s as if time has been dropped carelessly into an egg-whisk until you can’t tell today’s happenings from yesterday’s memories. All this could have been maddeningly perplex but it is par for the course. Manral immerses you in multiple stories so completely that you feverishly turn page after page to find out what happens at the end – the real end.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This book carries Manral’s trademark enthralment, her ability to dally deliciously, dangerously with unconventional ways of telling a story and her infectious infatuation with the paranormal. And when you, like Anna or Nayana, begin to wander, you are rooted by the mesmeric quality of her prose. It covers a wide arc. She can be taking you into mysterious realms of the unknowable one minute. The next minute, you are brought down to earth with the acuity of observations of a middle class housing complex with solicitous but unabashedly inquisitive neighbours. She even gets the maidservant’s vernacular right who fears that some ‘galat kaam’ was afoot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the sunless world that the characters inhabit, happy times must necessarily be fleeting because the past – with all its ‘galat kaam’ - is waiting to catch up. Death and dismay stalk the pages. Sometimes people die, and they are the lucky ones. Else, they will live and remember, and memories can be more terrifying than nightmares. They last longer and waking up is no longer an option.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As in many of Manral’s books, the central characters are women, etched in fine, almost obsessive detail. They are vulnerable and fragile, but they seem to know their own minds until the burden of knowledge becomes unbearable. They make for normal housewives with the standard baggage of infuriating toddlers, frumpy husbands and occasionally ardent lovers. When they are not fighting losing battles with their private demons, they are engaged in everyday domestic concerns. There is neither the time nor space for gracious romance. Lust is sheathed but seems to be waiting for opportunity. When the time does come, it is uninhibited. So the quiet and reserved Anna whips herself into frenzied sex even before she asks the man his name. Sue has a mother who sends her out on an errand to get samosas while she herself consumes a youth who is – who else but – Sue’s girlhood crush.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Writers for whom telling a story comes easy tend to get self-indulgent, spinning riveting yarns because – what the heck - they do it so well. Manral sometimes teeters on the brink but never trips over. The story is propelled forward all the time, with eerie echoes of contemporary events to give it immediacy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is this time travel on steroids, is this horror? I am still undecided but it is certainly a gripping read. It is hard enough to walk this tightrope between past and present. But Manral has chosen to pirouette, and the spectacle is well worth a watch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Title: All Those Who Wander</b></p> <p><b>Author: Kiran Manral</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Amaryllis</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 270</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 399</b></p> Fri Mar 03 15:24:55 IST 2023 fiscal-policy-for-sustainable-development-in-asia-pacific-is-an-inspiring-read-on-gender-budgeting <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Until recently, fiscal policy and government budgets were thought to be matters that had no differential impacts on the lives of women and men. Dr. Lekha Chakraborty has been at the forefront of scholarship that has challenged this notion. In the last two decades, Chakraborty has generated a formidable amount of research on gender-aware fiscal policy, specifically the design and implementation of a public finance management tool called gender budgeting. I had the pleasure of interacting with her early in her journey, when we were both instructors in the 2004 training workshop of the “International Working Group on Gender, Macroeconomics and International Trade” (IWG-GEM) at the University of Utah (U.S.)—she on public finance and I on international economics.</p> <p>Chakraborty’s book is a compilation of her contributions on the plausibility of incorporating gender concerns in public finance, drawing evidence from the Asia Pacific region, with special reference to the Indian context. Gender budgeting (GB) is an innovation that seeks to guide fiscal policy by evaluating public expenditures, public revenues, and transfer of tax revenues to states through the lens of gender. GB was initially adopted as a tool for promoting gender equality by feminist researchers and advocates in Australia, South Africa, and the Philippines, but now has been widely embraced, including by international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).</p> <p>The book starts from the premise that women and men are differently situated in the economy, and women, in particular women of lower-income or lower-status ethnic, caste groups may be disadvantaged relative to their male counterparts. These disadvantages are often invisible to fiscal and monetary policymakers, principally because standard macroeconomic models do not count the unpaid work of caring for family members in the labor force and raising the next generation. When a large domain of economic life is statistically invisible, policy may exacerbate gender inequalities is society. Chakraborty provides a comprehensive study of GB efforts to show how this tool has been (or may be) implemented in the Asia-Pacific to address gender inequalities.</p> <p>Chakraborty’s deep expertise is on India, where she was instrumental in getting the government to adopt gender budgets to earmark expenditures either exclusively or primarily to improve the well-being of women and girls. The book engages in cutting-edge debates concerning public finance in India from a gender perspective. She highlights the challenges of budgeting and cautions how even well-intentioned policy interventions to address women’s disadvantages through public budgets may miss their targets due to inefficiency or corruption.</p> <p>Chakraborty presents insightful analyses to illustrate the role of fiscal policy (paired with GB) to address persistent disadvantages faced by women and girls in India. In the particularly accessible Chapter 4, Chakraborty reports results of her analysis of India’s first national time-use survey of 2019. She documents the wide gaps in unpaid work hours of women and men in rural and urban areas, nationally, and in 6 selected states. She estimates the monetary value of women’s unpaid work to be between 23 and 41 percent of the gross state product in 6 selected states, which is many times higher than the value of men’s unpaid work (3 and 12 percent, respectively). Chakraborty argues that fiscal policy can address intrahousehold inequalities by reducing the time allocation of women to unpaid work through public infrastructure investments. Focusing on public water infrastructure, she provides new evidence that improving water infrastructure is associated with less unpaid labor, rise in school enrollment of girls (who will spend less time fetching water) and would also increase women’s employment. Chakraborty suggests that the smartest and fastest way to increase GDP of a country is to reduce gender inequality in education and increase women’s labor force participation rates by designing programs to alleviate their care burdens using GB.</p> <p>For Chakraborty, human development, not solely GDP growth, is the goal of macroeconomic policy. Her analysis in Chapter 5 indicates that GB may be effective in girls achieving parity with boys in school enrollments. She further argues for the use of GB as a potential public policy tool to address the worsening the relative life chances of girls compared to boys in many Indian states. She rightly argues for the use of the state’s child sex ratio (0-6 age group) as one additional criterion in determining the allocation of tax revenue from the central government to the states, so as to encourage states to take discrimination against girls seriously.</p> <p>The book is an inspiring read on groundbreaking research on GB. It is timely as many governments are preparing post-pandemic fiscal policy strategies and gender budgeting is an appropriate public finance management tool to address the mounting inequalities.</p> <p><b>Book: Fiscal Policy for Sustainable Development in Asia-Pacific: Gender Budgeting in India</b></p> <p><b>Author: Lekha Chakraborty</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan</b></p> <p><i>The reviewer is teaching at Utah University, and is a scholar in international macroeconomics and gender studies</i></p> Mon Jan 30 16:27:04 IST 2023 indian-christmas-review-care-to-see-santa-in-a-lungi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I thought only Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan had to keep proving their bonafides every now and again, and confirm that India is indeed very dear to them. Now, it looks as if Santa Claus, too, will have to pass that test. If he flunks, we may well see the red suit replaced by pyjama-kurta and achkan or, if he ventures south, a lungi. Okay, things have not gone quite that far yet, but we certainly have got on to the slippery slope.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That’s why I wasn’t too surprised when Jerry Pinto and Madhulika Liddle mustered a group of people of whom most (but not all) are Christians to give us Indian Christmas. If it didn’t look like a book, I could have sworn it was an application for anticipatory bail lest someone discovers that putting up a Christmas tree is a nefarious, anti-Indian activity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I will come back to the probable ideological reasons behind the book a little later. First, the book itself: it is like Christmas cake, rich in plums and assorted goodies, with a charming, home-baked air about it. Obviously, it’s been made by bakers who had a walloping time on the job, and hope their bubbling delight would become contagious. The anthology takes you from the dimly lit but enchanting nooks and crannies of the northeast to the more familiar stomping grounds of Kerala and Goa. I didn’t know there were so many Christmases, and the best part is that there is no SOP. If you are doing it with gaiety, you are doing it right.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anthologies call for skillful orchestration, and Pinto and Liddle make fine conductors. Pinto is Mumbai’s ex-officio poet laureate, a poet even when he is writing prose. His disarming, friend-next-door tone is a delightful sleight of hand. The felicity is, I suspect, the product of painstaking effort. (On a larger canvas, and possibly at a higher level, I can think of only Khushwant Singh who would wear his erudition so lightly.)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Liddle has established herself as one of the country’s leading women writers. There are other too - like Mudar Pathereya – Kolkata do-gooder, advertising maven, and most relevant here, a buster of the Muslim stereotype. There is a choir maestro, unflagging and inspirational, students, housewives, poets … all of them chip in with a level of enthusiasm that moves even a card-carrying cynic like me to sentiment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Much of the book consists of reminiscences – with the inevitable undertone of melancholy, as if looking back at a golden age that is lost forever. But surely that’s not what festivals are all about. This festival is supposed to be about miraculous birth, joy, magic and infinite possibilities. What then explains a sense of foreboding? It’s possibly the ‘patriotism test’ casting its dark shadow over the Christmas party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is sad, because it strikes at the heart of what makes our country special, and unravels our much-wonted unity in diversity. I see communalism, provincialism and other ‘isms’ as the first steps to an unstoppable ‘othering’. To stop the virus in its tracks, we need to celebrate our differences, not cancel them. So, while I deplore the political and social circumstance that seems to have occasioned such a work, I applaud the effort. Read this gentle and lovely book to reboot the Christmas spirit and stretch it deep into the new year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Title: Indian Christmas</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Speaking Tiger</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 242</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 699</b></p> Mon Jan 09 14:55:06 IST 2023 india-from-latin-america-takes-a-fresh-look-at-indias-economic-development <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Latin America and India have been emerging as significant trade, investment and political partners to each other since the beginning of the new century. The old assumption that these two are marginal to each other because of distance and other barriers is no longer valid.</p> <p>India exports more to the distant Guatemala than to the nearby Cambodia. Brazil takes more exports from India than Thailand or Japan. Latin America is the destination for one third of India’s global exports of vehicles. Mexico is the second largest market for India’s car exports while Colombia is the number two destination for motorcycle exports. India’s trade with Latin America was 45 billion dollars in 2021-22 and is poised to reach 100 billion in the next five years. India was the third largest market for Latin America’s exports in 2014 and was the seventh in 2021. A Mexican company Cinepolis is the fourth largest operator of multiplexes in India and another Mexican firm Grupo Bimbo is one of the top bread makers in India. UPL, the largest Indian agrochemical company does more business in Latin America than in India. Latin America and India have many common development challenges and aspirations. The two sides work together on many global issues of interest to each other.</p> <p>But the Indians and Latin Americans have been getting information and opinion about each other through western media such as CNN, BBC, <i>New York Times</i> and <i>Financial Times</i> as well as through books and article of western authors who give biased and condescending picture. There is need for direct study and exchange of opinions about each other. It is in this context, I welcome the book <i>India from Latin America: Peripherisation, State Building and Demand-led Growth</i> by Manuel Gonzalo, the Argentine author and Professor of Development Economics. Gonzalo gives a Latin American perspective of the history of India’s economic development.</p> <p>This is the first academic work of its kind. Gonzalo has seen India with his own eyes and read Indian books. He has direct experience of having lived in India and working with Indian scholars. He was visiting researcher at the Centre for Development Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Kerala. Gonzalo’s book has a Foreword from Dr. K.J. Joseph Director, Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation and President of Globelics, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala.</p> <p>Gonzalo’s view of India is shaped largely based on the Latin American Structuralist theory of a fellow Argentine economist Raul Prebisch, who was also known for the Dependence Theory of the 1950s. Gonzalo has looked at India from three angles: Peripherisation, State Building and Demand-led growth. He has narrated the development path of India comprehensively with extensive research and detailed data. He has placed the economic development within the context of historical, political and social history as well as the foreign policy of India.</p> <p><b>Peripherisation</b></p> <p>Centre-Periphery divide is the essence of the Latin American Structuralist theory with focus on the consequences of the external sector constraints: the relevance of terms of trade, the structural inflation dynamic and “import” inflation and the challenge of achieving industrial competitiveness.</p> <p>India was the second-most important manufacturer with 25% share of global manufacturing and the main textile producer of the world. The British reduced India into a periphery during the colonisation. But since independence, India is moving steadily back to the centre with increasing emphasis on manufacturing. On the other hand, Latin America has been turned peripheral since its independence by a process of forced peripherisation. India’s per capita endowment of natural resources is extremely low unlike Latin America which has pursued an export-led model of growth</p> <p>During colonisation, the European powers had structured the global trade network determining the peripheral role of the Southern Hemisphere in line with their financial and trade needs. They inserted Latin America into their global trade network as a mineral exporter. These minerals went first to Europe but were then re-oriented in the form of bullion to Asia, to pay for the Chinese tea and porcelain and the Indian textiles. it was silver from the Americas that greatly contributed to the making of Asian trade. The Spanish conquest had made silver cheaper in Europe than in Asia. These events, together with the almost inexhaustible demand for silver from India, made it possible to continue the purchases of Asian goods until the mid-eighteenth century.</p> <p><b>&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>State Building</b></p> <p>The second part of the book analyses the emergence of the Indian state and the Indian National System of Innovation.&nbsp; These are divided into three phases: Nehruvian phase, Indira Gandhi’s phase and the third by her son, Rajiv Gandhi.&nbsp;</p> <p>The author has highlighted the direct interest taken by Nehru in science and innovation. Nehru had created the Ministry of Scientific Research and Cultural Affairs in 1948 and took on the portfolio himself. The building of Science and Technology infrastructure with new universities, science agencies and national laboratories came under the control of this ministry. Nehru had used his annual full-day attendance at the Indian Science Congress every year to strengthen his association with the scientific community. Some of the main science agencies created and expanded were the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), with a network of 38 national laboratories in physical, biological, mechanical, and chemical sciences; the Department of Atomic Energy; the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). Gonzalo says, quoting some experts, that such large number of institutions for science and technology had no rival in the third world and even among several developed countries.</p> <p><b>Demand-led growth</b></p> <p>The third part deals with the period since liberalisation of 1991. The author has done a scholarly analysis of the different dimensions of India’s higher growth based on consumption, global capital inflows and government and private investment in infrastructure factors. He has also highlighted the revolution in the IT and Telecom sectors and their contribution the economy.</p> <p><b>More India-Latin America studies</b></p> <p>Gonzalo’s book is an eye-opener for Latin American policy makers and academics to see India based on their own experience and perspectives. It would be good if it gets translated into Spanish and Portuguese to reach out to a larger audience. I hope this book would inspire more Indian books on Latin America and vice versa. India and Latin America, faced with many common developmental problems have much to exchange experience and learn from each other. For example, India could learn from Brazil’s success with the use of sugar cane ethanol as fuel and the country’s iconic firm Embraer which has become the third largest passenger aircraft manufacturer in the world. Latin America could get inspiration from India’s space research and IT success.</p> <p><b>Global South</b></p> <p>Gonzalo hopes that his book will help not only to a better understanding of India by Latin Americans but will also contribute towards the development of a common economics development research agenda oriented to the Global South. The Ukraine crisis has highlighted the need for a louder neutral voice of the Global South in these days of repolarisation of the world by US, Europe, China and Russia. The election of Lula in Brazil and India’s G-20 presidency are timely for the Global South to advance its own agenda.</p> <p><i>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</i></p> Wed Dec 14 11:19:45 IST 2022 lights-wedding-ludhiana-review-ludhiana-caper-with-whiskey-wit-and-voyeurism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Jas Kohli’s book is a guidebook to Ludhiana – not about the touristy parts of the city, how to get there or what to do. You can Google all such trivia. Rather, this book is about people - the city’s inhabitants, or, more precisely, the richer part of the populace. Except for the protagonist, nobody would want to be seen in anything less than a Merc or a BMW. The hearty, almost compulsive good cheer, seems viral. In sum, Kohli’s Ludhiana is paradise with Punjabi subtitles, flashy, loud and intensely brand-conscious, with everyone intent on being as larger than life as possible.</p> <p>It is the story of Kushal and Reeti. He is rich – but not rich enough for his wife. She is beautiful – so beautiful, her husband says, that when she walks on the road, motorists get distracted. That should have been good enough for the couple to pull on till a beautiful forever. Nevertheless, the serpent enters paradise in the shape of an ex-flame threatening to stage a comeback, and the action starts.</p> <p>At the beating heart of the novel is a wedding reception. That’s because weddings are not where boy and girl are united in holy matrimony – that’s almost a sidelight. A wedding is a reality show, a brand-building advertisement for the stature of the parties involved. Or, to call a spade a spade, it tells you what the guests are dying to know, viz., how much money the parents have stashed away, and are prepared to spend. Apart from an index of income, weddings are also the platform for both hosts and guests to flaunt their, ahem, other assets. So, women compete fiercely for attention, and the men willingly yield to their instincts for whisky, wit and voyeurism.</p> <p>Alas, Kohli’s Ludhiana is populated by stereotypes. All the wisecracks about Punjabis that you have ever heard in your life, find their way into the book, fighting off other, less sturdy stereotypes. So, you have a character ‘gulping down five large pegs of whisky every evening and trying to balance them by walking five kilometres in the morning.’ At parties, guests are expected to ‘shake a leg, high on a peg’. Green as Punjab is, every good household is expected to look for greener pastures. ‘If a family in Ludhiana doesn’t have a family member settled across the seven seas, they are labeled lethargic’.</p> <p>As for the plot, you get most of it in the blurb at the back. So, while the suspense is taut, it is about who will be wearing the cutest <i>lehenga.</i> The most calamitous disaster to strike a wedding party is for two guests to discover that they are wearing the same outfit. As for the raging questions of the day, they are along the lines of: Will he, won’t he roll up in a new car.</p> <p>Is all this for real? Of course not, it was never meant to be. Caricature must suffice as portrait. We may like to find the truth behind the bluster or look for subtle nuances of character. But that would have to wait for another day, another novel. Ballycumber is the Shashi Tharoor way of describing a book that remains half-read. Well, that’s the one thing that <i>Lights! Wedding! Ludhiana</i>! won’t be. You will read it because it asks for little effort from you. All you need to do is, like the guests at the wedding reception, go with the flow and live life Ludhiana size.</p> <p><b>Lights! Wedding! Ludhiana!</b></p> <p><b>Author: Jas Kohli</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Rupa</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 193</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 295</b></p> Thu Oct 13 21:28:56 IST 2022 tracing-the-genesis-and-aftermath-of-arab-uprisings <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This was a historical event during our own lifetime. The Arab Spring, as the Western media called it, was a wave of people's movements in 2011, which started in Tunisia, and swept across the Arab world—Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The uprisings against their respective governments toppled an old guard of leaders like Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi. It was seen as a wave of democracy sweeping through the Saharan and Arabian deserts.</p> <p>Though most consumers of news read about the big developments like the toppling of leaders, storming of presidential palaces, and the exodus of expatriates and citizens from these prosperous economies, most have little idea of the genesis of these uprisings. And with the interest having waned after the first news dispatches, many of us today do not even know what a regime change meant in these countries.</p> <p>K.P. Fabian, a former officer of the Indian Foreign Service, in this book, delves deep into the histories of these countries, and the events that led to the uprisings in 2011. Fabian has immense knowledge of this part of the world. He was posted in Iran in 1979 at the time of the Iranian Revolution. Then, during the Kuwait war, he was in the ministry of external affairs' team for coordinating the evacuation of over 1.76 lakh Indians. After his retirement from the service, he was on the faculty of the Gulf Studies Center of Jawaharlal Nehru University.</p> <p>Fabian's book goes into back histories of these countries, and gives a detailed account of what really happened in each of their individual revolutions. He discusses the role of the West, and raises questions on just how much they helped topple dispensations. In the case of Gaddafi, he notes that the leader was willing to surrender, but that is not what the French wanted.</p> <p>The author the explores the aftermath of the uprisings. Has this part of the world become more democratic post 2011? What is the state of human rights in the countries now. Has the West lost a golden opportunity to bring about a new change, or was that even the intention, ever?</p> <p>An interesting book for those who are interested in the region.</p> <p><b>Title: The Arab Spring That Was and Wasn't</b></p> <p><b>Author: K.P. Fabian</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Macmillan Education</b></p> <p><b>Price : Hardcover - Rs 1,650, Paperback- Rs 685</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 308</b></p> Mon Aug 29 23:05:06 IST 2022 colonial-justice-chauri-chaura-sheds-light-forgotten-incident <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In a year of unprecedented shows of patriotism, Subhash Chandra Kushwaha’s book <i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Colonial Justice on Chauri Chaura</i> is perhaps one of the most relevant books to be published.</p> <p>This is Kushwaha’s second book on the subject. The first, English translation being,<i> Chauri Chaura Revolt and Freedom Struggle</i> (the Hindi book was out in 2014 and its translation in 2021). While the first dwelt on how a neglected incident of our freedom struggle was planned and its aftermath, his second book delves into archival material on the incident.</p> <p>Chauri Chaura has been a neglected and deliberately overlooked chapter in our history. Despite it being the reason for the Non-Cooperation Movement being called off, it has merited no more than a sentence and a half in most history books. The only other writer who has penned a fascinating account of the incident and of how ‘approvers’ were made is Shahid Amin whose <i>Event, Metaphor, Memory: Chauri Chaura</i> was published in 1925.</p> <p>Yet, in the last year Chauri Chaura became political currency. The revolt of the little people—mostly poor peasants of the humbler castes—was sought to be reclaimed and refurbished by the government as part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations. This when, many of the names of the martyrs at the Chauri Chaura memorial are also faulty and the dates on which 19 freedom fighters were hanged are lost.</p> <p>Kushwaha’s first book shone a light on many of these lapses. For instance, the hangings took place at different dates in different jails and not on one date as previous material had noted.</p> <p>Kushwaha’s biggest strength is his persistence. Hence in the current book he presents a wealth of archival material which he has accessed even from overseas to give a glimpse into how the powers of the day perceived the event.</p> <p>One of the most fascinating reads in the book is the chapter titled, ‘Story of the Chauri Chaura Revolt: In Judge Theodore Piggot’s Words’. Piggot was the High Court judge who handed out the sentences. He was presented with a case from the Sessions Court that had condemned 170 peasants to death.</p> <p>That Piggot must have been deeply conflicted by the sentence which came up to him is borne out by his words, ‘…the widest possible amnesty must be extended to their (the leaders and organisers) deluded followers, coupled with earnest investigation of the grievances, whether real or imaginary, which had roused them to action’.</p> <p>The action being referred to is the burning of a police thana on February 4, 1922 wherein 22 policemen and village guards were killed. In another chapter of the book which reproduces the High Court’s verdict, one notes that despite the despicable reputation that the peasants of Chauri Chaura achieved, there was just cause for the sequence of events. The verdict reads, ‘…If their (the volunteers) resolution had failed them and they had scattered, after suffering a number of casualties from the muskets of the Police, the fact that they carried no weapons would no doubt have been used to support a story of the wanton massacre of peaceful demonstrations by the agents of a ruthless Government’. But of course, the volunteers did not disperse for they had cause to believe that the police would harm them, and hence the tragedy that followed.</p> <p>Other vital documents reproduced in the book include the verdict of the Sessions Court and international reaction, the appeal in the High Court and the debates in the House of Commons (UK).</p> <p>The appendix of Kushwaha’s book has two pages of thumb impressions of the martyrs of Chauri Chaura. It is a numbing sight. Just as numbing as the certificates of death of executions.</p> <p>Kushwaha’s book must be read with its predecessor. Both are important books that shed light on an almost forgotten incident which led to huge repercussions on the course of the freedom struggle. It is also important as it brings to us the many unsung, unknown heroes of our struggle for independence. They came from the weakest, poorest sections of society and hence their stories have not merited much attention- except of course when political exigencies demanded that the story of the ‘little people’ be appropriated for electoral gains.</p> <p>Kushwaha deserves praise for his persistence and expansive research. His books on Chauri Chaura are a valuable contribution to understanding the true nature of this country’s fight for independence.</p> <p><b>Colonial Justice on Chauri Chaura</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Authors Pride Publisher</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 196</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 300</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Aug 18 10:52:50 IST 2022 our-india-captain-gopinath-essays-eminently-readable <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“My grandmother told me once, if you have to hit someone with a chappal, wrap it in a shawl,” says Captain G.R. Gopinath. “I've actually wrapped a fine pashmina shawl!” he quips.</p> <p>The man who pioneered low-cost aviation in the country with Áir Deccan then adds seriously, “You should criticise, but also admire the good things.''</p> <p>By now, the good captain must have mastered the art of saying exactly what he wants without ruffling feathers. Not only is the book<i> Our India</i> his second collection of essays, his long years of serial entrepreneurship where he's brushed shoulders with the high and mighty should stand him in good stead.</p> <p>Luckily, that has not stifled his innate sense of asking the right questions, in the most lucid manner possible. “The most difficult thing to achieve is simplicity in writing,”he says, adding, “like bureaucrats, who can make even the simplest thing complex.”</p> <p>While bureaucrats are at the receiving end of Gopinath's pen, their political masters rightly take the lion's share. The essays are those Gopinath contributed to various magazines and newspapers over the past three years, and touch upon topics ranging from China relations to Tata to GST to the pandemic.</p> <p>“I wove it with my personal experiences, what I have seen of business people, villagers, people I have talked to plus my own experiences,”he says about the book. “Every article has a personal anecdote.”</p> <p>Beside his utterly unputdownable recounting of the agonising days when he sold off Air Deccan (disguised for some strange reason as a take on the Air India sell-off), Gopinath is at his incisive best when he talks about politics and Indian society – and the dramatic changes sweeping through both. From being posted at the nation's borders in the army to running businesses from aviation to agritech and even dabbling in politics for a while, his sense of passion and objectivity form a uniquely dextrous combination, and they come through by posing the right questions and calling out the wrong answers.</p> <p>The book is divided into four parts—enterprise (on business), society and governance (on courts and social flux), politics (from China to intolerance) and musings (primarily personality recounting as well as feature highlights). The best part is that the essays are short, crisp and eminently readable.</p> <p>Interestingly, though they were written in the backdrop of a particular event or issue for a periodical, they don't appear dated at all. Instead, with the value of hindsight, they form an opinionated, and incisive, 360-degree viewpoint on the whole issue.</p> <p><b>Our India: Reflections on a Nation Betwixt and Between</b></p> <p><b>By Captain G.R.Gopinath</b></p> <p><b>Published by: HarperCollins Publishers India</b></p> <p><b>239 pages; Price: Rs 599/- (Hardbound)</b></p> Wed Aug 17 16:30:51 IST 2022 gold-oil-avocados-review-a-deep-dive-into-neoextractivism-latin-america <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Gold, Oil and Avocados: A Recent history of Latin America in Sixteen Commodities</i>—this is the title of a book by Andy Robinson, published in August 2021. Robinson is a fan of the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano who wrote <i>Open veins of Latin America</i>, a legendary book (published in 1971) which was a bible for the Latin American leftists and nationalists.</p> <p>Galeano wrote about how the export of Latin America’s natural resources generated wealth for Europe and US while exacerbating poverty for Latin Americans. One of his famous quotes was, “We Latin Americans are poor because the ground on which we tread is rich.” Galeano had given illustrations to the Dependency Theory of Latin American development economists which was about the flow of resources from the periphery of poor and underdeveloped countries going to enrich the core of wealthy nations at the expense of the former.</p> <p>Robinson is an ardent fan of Galeano. He says, “I felt inspired once again, as I had been in my youth, by the young Galeano’s desire to write about political economy in the style of a novel about love or pirates”.</p> <p>In this book, Robinson has written about the contemporary “Neoextractivism” practiced even by the Pink Tide governments of the twenty-first century besides the multinational corporations and their local counterparts. After all, the success of the pink tide governments was partly due to the high international prices and demand (especially from China) for Latin American commodities. Robinson says, “ I witnessed fierce debates between those appalled by the pink-tide governments’ embrace of “neoextractivism” and those who dismissed the anti-extractivists as romantic.</p> <p>Robinson’s choice of the sixteen commodities are: gold, diamond, silver, copper, lithium, niobium, iron, coltan, beef, oil, soy, avocado, potatoes, banana, quinoa and hydropower. He has travelled extensively in the remote areas of mining, cattle ranches, plantations and indigenous areas. He has undertaken arduous and courageous journeys through the Amazon forests, Atacama desert and dangerous territories controlled by drug cartels and illegal mining mafias. He has revisited some of Galeano’s iconic destinations of colonial plunder and pillage such as Potosí, Minas Gerais, and Zacatecas. Robinson has met local activists, farmers and miners and given a graphic image of the situation on the ground. So his impressions, analysis and comments are valuable to understand the issues at both micro and macro levels.</p> <p>He has brought out the links between the extractive interests and the coups, protests, assassinations and overthrow of democratic governments by the US. He has given examples of the American regime change operation in Brazil for iron ore, Chile for copper, Guatemala for bananas and the attempts to overthrow the government in Venezuela for oil. He has pointed out the hypocrisy of Canadians who pose as one of the global champions of sustainable development while their mining companies exploit the gold and other resources of Latin America unscrupulously with the least concern for environment or for local inhabitants.</p> <p>Robinson has juxtaposed the miserable conditions of the places of extraction with the end use of those raw materials in a world of conspicuous consumption and excesses. The diamonds extracted by the Brazilian garimpeiros in an inferno of mud and violence, processed in Surat, India, and bought in swanky Swarovski stores in Dubai. The prototypes of hypersonic missiles assembled in California or Shenzhen with the niobium extracted in the primitive areas of amazon. The conversion of potato, the sustenance to the great pre-Columbian civilizations in the Andean highlands, into addictive potato chips of Frito-Lay (PepsiCo), and its contribution to an epidemic of obesity in Latin America. Mexico and Central America, with the highest obesity rates in the world, are the worst hit by the cross-border invasion of salty and crispy snacks. A global fashion of guacamole that has turned the Mexican region of Michoacan, cradle of the Purepecha Empire, a more complex society than the Aztec’s, into a monoculture of avocado run by organized crime.</p> <p>Robinson has brought out the dilemma which confronts the region and its second Pink Tide: how to generate equitable growth and reduce poverty and inequality while avoiding the curse of dependence on export of raw materials which affect the environment. He calls for a new development model in Latin America with a radical change of philosophy, beyond the simple extraction of raw materials. But it is a tough call and a long road for some of the Latin American countries to get over the easy and short term gain from extraction and export of raw materials. This is evident from the case of Bolivia which has one of the largest reserves of lithium but unable to get it off the ground since the government has stuck to its policy of not allowing export of raw lithium and insistence that factories should be set up in the country to produce batteries.</p> <p>The multinational companies, who have the bargaining strength with their capital and technology have avoided entry into Bolivian lithium sector and focused on other business-friendly countries with lithium such as Chile, Australia and Argentina. Bolivia’s large iron ore deposit in El Mutun is stuck in the ground for the same reason. The Bolivian government’s condition that the iron should be used to make steel within the country is not acceptable to the companies. So the Latin American governments need to be realistic and pragmatic in their policies of ‘resource nationalism’.</p> <p><i><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b></i></p> Tue Aug 02 12:41:09 IST 2022 the-ace-of-shadows-review-gripping-account-of-secret-spy-operations <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Counter-intelligence wars are often more gripping than conventional wars when penned down by spies who have fought them at times and places, neither seen nor heard of, except in passing references with wry smiles and innocuous code words known only to a handful who walk the shadowy corridors of secret spy buildings in the national capital.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These wars are fought during the daily hustle and bustle with no newspaper headlines screaming victory the next day. Who emerges as 'the ace of shadows'? Only the enemy knows his defeat, and that is the victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The Ace of Shadows</i> authored by Balakrishna Kamath, a former Intelligence Bureau officer, is a gripping account of secret spy operations. It takes the readers to this battlefield, where there are no weapons and operations are less about valour and more about stealth, thrill, suspense and grit as the game turns perilous for the agency's operatives who pit their wits against the relentless Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is set in the 1989-1990 period, when espionage and intelligence collection still overwhelmingly relied on human intelligence. The ISI team is desperate to execute its military doctrine - to bleed India with a thousand cuts and the high stakes game of smoke and mirrors, is centred around the ace Indian spy Yashwant Narayan Godbole, who draws up an unconventional and risky plan. The plan is to allow a suspected ISI agent escape from Agra jail, only to bust one of the biggest and most sinister plots of the ISI - Mission Blackrock - that could have had ominous internal and international ramifications for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kamath, who spent close to four decades in counter-espionage, leaves readers spellbound for most part of the book when Godbole sets off on his mission, criss-crossing through several Indian cities on a thrilling, long and hot chase that takes him to the most unlikely places, only to realise how ISI's network has penetrated deep into the tiny bylanes where a regular tailor or a sweet shop owner could be part of a murky terror plot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The counter-intelligence operation led by some of the most powerful yet unassuming sleuths uncovers some of the deep dark secrets of the ISI officers browbeaten by the Pakistan Army Brigadiers who rap them for ''brash streaks of adventurism'' .</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>''When it comes to serious operations against India, the ISI are led by an inflated sense of hubris rather than realistic and calculated actions. They have put this nation to great embarrassment on many occasions,'' said Major General Mohammad Ghafoor, who is the handler of the spy Damji Bhai Savla, a tailor in Agra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But was Godbole's action of freeing Savla from Agra jail a calculated risk? Was Savla a dispensable Pakistani agent or a bigger asset of the ISI? To know more about Godbole's extraordinary skills as a spy and Kamath's rare insight into counter-espionage operations, go for <i>The Ace of Shadows</i>. It is a must-read for those who love fiction based on spy and intelligence operations, and cherish racy writings. Kamath's first novel <i>The Velvet Gloves</i>, a thriller published in 2018, was a big hit and is being adapted into a web series.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Kamath, “Deception is one of the most potent weapons in security and intelligence manoeuvers. To make it look real, you have to play along with perfection. A small sacrifice for a big cause.''</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>''When it comes to appreciating the essence of espionage and counter-espionage in our part of the world, there cannot be a better canvas [than the Indo-Pak rivalry],” he writes. Rightly so, both sides will agree.</p> <p><b>The Ace of Shadows</b></p> <p><b>By Balakrishna Kamath</b></p> <p><b>Published by Leadstart</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs 349</b></p> <p><b>Pages 310</b></p> Wed Jul 20 20:30:23 IST 2022 the-anatomy-of-loss-review-punjabs-bitter-harvest-since-1984 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the grisly aftermath of the Noakhali massacre, Gandhi was reportedly approached by a grieving father who had lost his little boy in the conflagration, burnt alive by the ‘others’. The Mahatma’s advice: ‘Beta, go out and adopt a child of the same age from the ‘other’ community. You will then overcome your sorrow and hate and find a reason to love.’ As antidotes to trauma go, it is top-drawer stuff. Question is how many of us have the moral fibre to take such strong medicine. So, lesser mortals must look for other ways to sublimate rage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It has not been such a long time since bloody sectarian violence overran large parts of Punjab. So, it says a lot about the endearing large-heartedness and native ebullience of the Sikh character that the community has by and large been able to move on from anger and despair. But while the inferno may have been doused, with every change of the political climate, the old embers flare up. The quest for what social psychologist Arie Kruglanski called ‘closure’ continues, therefore, to be relevant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Novelist Arjun Raj Gaind essays an answer by tracing the story of 8-year old Himmat, a Sikh boy who witnessed violence and humiliation at close quarters. Before his eyes, his childhood hero, his grandfather, shrivels into abject ordinariness, and gushing admiration turns into contempt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaind does not dwell on the larger causes of what drove asunder two fraternal communities bound for decades by kinship and friendship. That has already been done to death by a gaggle of writers, sociology pundits and retired army officers. Within five months of Operation Bluestar, for instance, a fusillade of five books hit the stands, and many more followed, including by Khushwant Singh and Kuldip Nayar. Almost all of them blame the usual suspects—fire-breathing demagogues, self-serving netas and, of course, the British. Few have dared to suggest that perhaps the fault lies in ourselves that we are so easily carried away. As Max Beerbohm once pointed out, all that Hitler did was to ‘amplify the secret murmurings of the German soul.’</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The blurb tells us that the incidents in the novel are based on facts. One presumes this refers to the events described in the first part of the book. In the latter part, one can allow for greater artistic licence as a traumatised Himmat decides to put physical and mental distance from the events he witnessed. He runs away from battle and takes refuge in England. But he cannot run away from his mind, and so the battle remains part of his baggage. In England, the young man tries the predictable remedies—alcohol, sex and wilful amnesia. Equally predictably, none of them deliver.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaind knows how to tell a story, and the pages keep turning almost by themselves. He is an explorer of inner worlds and is at his best describing events from mid-distance, and then graphically re-playing them in the protagonist’s troubled mind. Most of the incidents in the narrative are deeply felt and the lines singed by self-loathing, doubt, despair and, most of all, fear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gaind is less sure of his ground when he has to describe his characters conversing with each other in Punjabi, and make it sound natural. It is a slippery stretch where the best of writers have floundered. In <i>Sita—Warrior of Mithila</i>, for instance, Amish Tripathi had the protagonist express surprise with a trendy “Gosh!” Gaind, in turn, has a rustic police inspector sounding like the head boy in a convent school play, as he tells Himmat’s grandmother: “Do not force me to undertake a course of action that we will both regret.” Luckily, beyond Punjab, Himmat is speaking largely to himself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Books that move from trauma to redemption travel a familiar route. It is like boarding a tourist bus at a safari park. You know where it is all headed, and can more or less anticipate the sights on the way. Yet, the journey is worth the ticket, and so is <i>The Anatomy of Loss</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Anatomy of Loss</b></p> <p><b>By Arjun Raj Gaind</b></p> <p><b>Published by Bloomsbury</b></p> <p><b>Pages 251</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs 599</b></p> Mon Jul 18 22:17:23 IST 2022 rasheed-kidwai-book-delves-deep-into-lives-50-people-influenced-politics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fifty personalities, many of them intrinsic to the Indian political arena and some of them having influenced the polity while not being integral to politics. But all of them have left a mark on the popular imagination. The lives of these 50 remarkable people form the substance of eminent journalist and author Rasheed Kidwai's latest book.</p> <p><i>Leaders, Politicians, Citizens: Fifty Figures Who Influenced India's Politics</i> provides more than a sneak peek into these 50 extraordinary lives that have left an indelible mark on the post-Independence years. The book is in fact a unique exercise in recollecting the life and times of these public figures in the style of obituaries.</p> <p>The anthology of 50 personalities chooses the obit style but goes beyond the usual biographical sketches to provide an insight into the exceptional lives through anecdotes and observations. It brings to the fore their role, motivations, strengths and weaknesses as public figures and also delves deeper to take an empathetic look at the personal vulnerabilities or doughtiness of these eminent people.</p> <p>Among the leaders and influencers whose lives are retold in brief in this book are the likes of Indira Gandhi, Jyoti Basu, Rajiv Gandhi, J Jayalalithaa, Sheikh Abdullah, Dilip Kumar, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Bal Thackeray. Almost all of these names provide material and reason enough to write full length books dedicated only to them. However, Kidwai has succeeded in tweaking the obit genre to focus on some fascinating nuggets from their lives rather than stick to the cradle to grave format.</p> <p>The presence of personalities such as the controversial godman Chandraswami or bandit queen Phoolan Devi or the Bachchan matriarch Teji or Dev Anand as the cinematic superstar who failed to recreate the same magic in the political arena add variety to the mix.</p> <p>The anecdote about Chandraswami's meeting with Margaret Thatcher in London before she became prime minister is priceless. Told through the recollection of former union minister Natwar Singh, who has made a first hand account of it in his book <i>Walking With Lions: Tales From A Diplomatic Past,</i> the incident is about Thatcher, in her pre-prime ministerial years, falling for Chandraswami's prophecy about her political success. Incidentally, the prediction made by Chandraswami that she would become prime minister did come true.</p> <p>There is also an endearing account about Phoolan's visit to Paris, when her host arranged a six-door Mercedes limousine to take her around the city. And she had fun, Phoolan style. She persuaded the chauffeur to connect her to her sister Munni in Delhi on the satellite phone and had a long chat with her. Then, she noticed a roadside fruit shop selling muskmelons and asked the chauffeur to bring one to her. The shocked French chauffeur watched Phoolan squatting on the leather upholstery of the limousine, cutting pieces of the melon with his swiss knife as drops of the fruit juice fell on the seat and the floor.</p> <p>Kidwai excels in bringing to the fore the human side of the larger than life figures.</p> <p><b>Leaders, Politicians, Citizens: Fifty Figures Who Influenced India's Politics</b></p> <p><b>By Rasheed Kidwai</b></p> <p><b>Published by Hachette India</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs 499</b></p> <p><b>Pages 348</b></p> Sat Jul 16 16:35:36 IST 2022