Books en Sat Mar 06 12:43:41 IST 2021 czar-of-star <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>I</b>n the 2000s, it was not uncommon to find a female Star TV executive primping at a beauty salon during duty hours. And on company tab. For head honcho Peter Mukerjea, workplace atmosphere and ethos were significant parameters, and he spared no expense. “Quite often I compensated people more than what they expected because only then could you get them to constantly deliver great results,” Mukerjea told THE WEEK.</p> <p>This anecdotal reveal, and many other insights that pepper Mukerjea’s just-released memoir <i>Star Struck, </i>help shed light on his rather legendary run in India’s corporate echelons. Helming Star India from 1997 to 2007, Mukerjea transformed the then also-ran TV network, and its flagship Hindi entertainment channel Star Plus in particular, into an industry leader.</p> <p>Of course, mum’s the word when it comes to those problematic travails in his later life—like being implicated in the Sheena Bora case. There is not even a whiff of a mention of the ‘mum’ in question. Instead, Mukerjea’s book focuses, very much in a horse-with-blinders-on mode, on his days at Star TV.</p> <p>“It would not be an honest response if I said this was not intentional,” he admits, adding, “I was very clear in my mind that this was about my professional life and nothing else.”</p> <p>Not that it is such a bad thing. Mukerjea’s nearly decade-long stint heading Star India was not just a corporate success story; it literally transformed India’s television industry, and in the process, India itself.</p> <p>In <i>Star Struck</i>, Mukerjea takes readers on a fly-on-the-wall trip through this momentous evolution. From the moment he realises he is up for the plum post while in a taxi in Hong Kong to flying into Mumbai, the umpteen meetings, recruitments and strategising—all goes into an amorphous whole as he works on reinventing the Star juggernaut in India. The brief from global media mogul (and boss) Rupert Murdoch is succinct—break into the top slot, and make a tidy profit while at it.</p> <p>It was not going to be easy. When he took over, Zee TV ruled the roost in the Indian television firmament and the Star network, despite its early-mover advantage, huge coffers and brand equity, remained a distant third in the lucrative Hindi language category, with Sony coming second. While he dwells a little on the other channels under his brief, the ‘main course’ in this book is very much Star Plus. Or rather, how he helmed its transformation from an urban channel beaming international soaps like <i>The</i> <i>Bold and the Beautiful</i> to sindoor-and-sari sagas like <i>Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi</i>.</p> <p>Not to forget the crore craze he let loose. Mukerjea takes the reader behind the scenes to the board meeting where Rupert Murdoch upends his plans for <i>Kaun Banega Lakhpati</i> by raising the prize money a hundred-fold.</p> <p>Mukerjea’s very Brit subtlety, fortified with an intellectual sharpness, comes through in the way he narrates the many crises which peppered his stint at Star. The incidents are detailed and crisp, the recounting in reported speech leaving no doubt as to it being his version of events. In trying to downplay the momentous issues he faced—right from getting government permissions, dealing with the cable and distribution lobby and, most vexing for him perhaps, getting the overlords at the Star headquarters in Hong Kong on board his many plans—Mukerjea’s apparent aversion to dramatising the events is amply evident.</p> <p>Now that his professional life story is done and dusted, will he get around to writing about the truth behind the infamous murder? “Personal elements of my life, I believe, should be privately held anyhow,” he suggests. “There are a couple of thoughts in my mind which I have yet to crystallise completely and to see how they evolve.” Then he says tantalisingly, “You never know, it may be sooner than one imagines.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Star Struck: Confessions of a TV Executive</b></p> <p><b>By Peter Mukerjea</b></p> <p><b>Published by Westland Business</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs699 (hardcover); Pages 278</b></p> Wed Mar 10 19:25:31 IST 2021 dark-and-daring <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>All those lives that we do not experience are just tall tales to us,” wrote Benyamin in his famous novel <i>Goat Days</i>. After reading <i>The Sickle</i>, this would probably be the first thing that would come to your mind. That we live in a country of extreme inequalities; that our ruling class is not ready to see or believe the sufferings of the impoverished. Written by acclaimed Bengali writer Anita Agnihotri, <i>The Sickle </i>is a highly political novel that empathises with the unprivileged in this country. Agnihotri places the novel in the drylands of Marathwada. The novel starts with the plight of farmers forced to migrate from the drought-prone Marathwada and work for low wages in the sugarcane fields and mills of Satara. Many go there with nothing but their sickles, and the payment to them are made at a “per sickle” rate. The title of the book thus becomes a reference to the dehumanisation and exploitation faced by the farmers. But the novel does not just stop with the farmers’ crisis. It presents a series of overlapping social problems—female foeticide, rape culture, internal migration, feudal power relations and casteism—in its narrative. The novel underlines the fact that it is women who have to suffer the most whatever the social evils are.</p> <p><i>The Sickle</i> makes incisive political and sociological observations about contemporary India. For instance, it takes a swipe at the ultranationalism in the country when it says, “The bigger the statue you can build, the more of a patriot and a devotee of valour you are.”</p> <p><i>The Sickle</i> is a daring novel, considering the growing intolerance against writers, filmmakers and intellectuals who portray the darker sides of India. The novel was originally published in Bengali and translated to English by Arunava Sinha.</p> <p><b>The Sickle</b></p> <p><b>By Anita Agnihotri</b></p> <p><b>Published by Juggernaut</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs479; Pages 260</b></p> Wed Mar 10 19:20:24 IST 2021 blood-gun-money-brings-out-symbiotic-relationship-guns-drugs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Ioan Grillo’s book is about the trafficking of illegal US guns which wreak havoc in Latin America killing innocent people and making monsters out of teenage kids. Grillo maps the flow of the “iron river” of illegal guns from the US to cartels in Mexico, Central and South America. It is estimated that more than 200,000 guns are trafficked over the US-Mexico border every year. According to the Mexican law enforcement agencies, about 2.5 million guns had been smuggled into Mexico from US in the first decade. The illegal US guns are the main factor in the gruesome violence in the "Northern Triangle of Violence" in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.</p> <p>Grillo has brought out the symbiotic relationship between guns and drugs. The two fit together like a lock and key. The gun black market is thriving and working in tandem with drug trafficking. Illegal flights which take drugs to US return with guns to Mexico. The business is highly profitable, thanks to the elastic prices of both products on the black market. One could exchange a few wraps of heroin with a junkie in Maine for a $500 handgun which could be sold to a Mexican for 2500 dollars. The gun black market provides a tool that allows gangsters to control those drug profits. The two products are often bartered. </p> <p>United States has an estimated 393 million guns in civilian hands. The gun industry adds at least a million more every year with production and imports. The American gun companies profit from the black market in guns. The gun lobby has fought the policing of the gun black market, defending the loopholes and achieving limits on law enforcement of firearms. The result is that it effectively defends the criminal market in guns which are illegally supplied to Latin American cartels</p> <p>Mexico has only one gun shop for the entire country of over one hundred million population. It is run by the Mexican army and is located in a defense department building in Mexico City. There is rigorous background check of the applicants for guns.&nbsp; The shop sells about nine thousand guns a year to the public. Of course, a few more thousand (both from their stocks as well as those seized in raids) are sold illegally by the army and police officers. But this is very small compared to the 200,000 arms which come into Mexico illegally from US.</p> <p>Across Mexico’s border, there are about 23,000 gun shops in the four states of US. The state of Texas alone has 10,810, the highest in US.&nbsp; California has 7,530 shops and Florida 7,201. These are the main sources of illegal supply to Mexico and Latin America. The total number of Federal Firearms Licensees across the nation is about 135,000. To put this in perspective, the US has 10 gun shops to every Macdonald.</p> <p>There is hardly any restriction on arms purchases in US. There is no legal limit on the number of firearms one can own. A buyer named Uriel Patino had purchased 723 guns for a total of $575,000, according to a document of the Department of Justice. In 2000, a firearms dealer in Ohio sold 182 guns to a man, including 85 in a single purchase. These straw purchasers ( buyers on behalf of others) get paid $70 per pistol, $100 per rifle, and $500 for each .50 caliber. It is estimated that the sales to Mexican gangsters made $127 million a year for the U.S. firearms industry. So, the last two decades of Mexico’s drug war could have meant well over a billion dollars in revenue.</p> <p>The gun control laws do not apply to private sales.&nbsp; No paperwork or background check necessary. According to an estimate, over 20 per cent of gun sales are through such private transactions. One can walk into the gun shows held every week in the border states and buy an AR-15 with no paperwork.</p> <p>The US has strict laws against drug trafficking and routinely arrests and puts in jail hundreds of thousands of small-time vendors. But it does not have specific law against gunrunning. There are gaping loopholes and bizarre restrictions on policing arms, making important parts of gun law unenforceable. This is exploited by the black market to maximum effect. The Department of Justice states, “There is no federal statute specifically prohibiting firearms trafficking or straw purchasing.” Instead, the law has dozens of smaller firearms offenses, such as “engagement in firearms business without a license,” “knowing sale to prohibited person,” and “knowing shipment or transport of a stolen firearm.” American gun culture has helped forge a bizarre labyrinth of gun laws in which the black market thrives.</p> <p>There is no searchable database for guns in the United States because the law won’t allow it. If a car is in a hit and run, a police officer can type the license plate into a computer and get the name of the owner. But the gun code prohibits “any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or dispositions be established.” So, they can’t put those records into a database. The gun lobby has been working relentlessly against proposals for databases.</p> <p>The US government and the public wake up on the gun issue only whenever there are mass shootings in schools and malls. There is some noise and calls for gun control. But soon the issue is forgotten and the guns continue to flood the market. There does not seem to be hope for any effective controls for gun trafficking, given the power of the gun lobby and the entrenched gun culture.&nbsp; This means the continuation of trafficking of US guns which will keep killing of thousands of Latin Americans. Unfortunately, the Latin Americans do not take up the issue with US publicly and forcefully.</p> <p>But the US continues to force Latin Americans to take actions to prevent production and supply of drugs. They have made some Latin American governments to resort to aerial chemical spraying of coca farms. The Latin American farmers protest that the aerial spraying affects other crops and pollute the soil. But the US does not care. They also force the Latin American governments to prioritise drug interdiction with deployment of police and army and other resources. The US infiltrates the Latin American security forces and intelligence agencies in the name of the Drug War and through supply and aid of helicopters, arms and equipment. But the US refuses to acknowledge the ‘supply side’ in the case of the deadly gun trafficking.</p> <p>There is a Latin American conspiracy theory which holds that the US is deliberately allowing gun trafficking to cartels to make Mexico weak and unstable, and so easier to control. The theory was articulated in a Mexican newspaper editorial headlined “Guns to Destabilize Mexico.”</p> <p>The US War on Drugs is a failure and it has become more as a game of deception. It has failed to reduce the American consumption of drugs. The only gain for US is that it has managed to stigmatise Latin America and destabilise the region. The US government, Hollywood and media have misleadingly portrayed Latin America as the cause of the drug problem by focusing exclusively on the supply side.&nbsp; They blame Pablo Escobar and El Chapo as the villains for production and trafficking of drugs into US. But the truth is that drug is basically a consumer driven business amounting to an estimated 150 billion dollars a year. It is the continuing American consumption which drives the drug trafficking.</p> <p>What the US does not talk about is the trafficking of illegal guns from US which kill more Latin Americans than the number of Americans killed by drugs. These illegal American guns have made the Mexican and other cartels in Latin America as deadly forces traumatising the societies in the region. The US does nothing to stop this arms trafficking.</p> <p>Ioan Grillo’s book reveals to the readers the ugly truths covered up by the US government and the dangers posed by the gun lobby beyond the American border. Bolsonaro and his sons, who are admirers of NRA, are said to be taking the advice of NRA to lose gun control in Brazil. Grillo, who is a British journalist, has given an authentic and unbiased account of the gun trafficking, based on his coverage of Mexico in the last two decades. He has witnessed first-hand police and military operations, cartel killings, severed heads and bodies and mass graves. He has interviewed cartel assassins, drug and gun traffickers, gun manufacturers, security officials and political leaders. He has written two more books: <i>El Narco: The bloody rise of Mexican drug cartels</i>; and <i>Gangster warlords: Drug dollars, killing fields and the new politics of Latin America.</i></p> <p>One cannot but agree with Grillo’s comment “Drugs are consumable—they go away. Guns don’t go away.”</p> <p><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b></p> Thu Mar 04 15:40:31 IST 2021 a-well-laid-plan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>2020 will be remembered by most of us as the ‘Year of the Virus’. Everyone is talking about Covid-19, but the irony is that no one seems to know much about it conclusively. This is where Dr Vishakha Shivdasani’s new book, <i>Covid and Post-Covid Recovery</i>, might be of help. She charts out a six-point plan to expedite recovery from the virus and reduce chances of complications from it.</p> <p>Shivdasani (popularly known as DoctorVee) says that one of the causes for complications arising out of Covid-19 is chronic inflammation. It is the “common denominator in patients with comorbidities, be it obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease or other lifestyle ailments”, she writes. Most of her recommendations in the book are lifestyle modifications that are designed to reduce this inflammation and thus fight Covid-19 and its complications.</p> <p>Shivdasani has helped countless patients reverse lifestyle diseases, like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, through this plan, which covers diet, gut health, sleep, exercise, stress management and enhanced healing with supplements. So does it work for Covid and post-Covid recovery? “Considering the volume of patients I see, it was easy for me to connect the dots,” she says. “To reverse chronic lifestyle diseases, we take care of inflammation. I found remarkable success among patients when I extrapolated it for Covid-19.”</p> <p>But the true utility of the book might be that it is not just applicable to Covid-19 patients, but to all of us who want to improve our lifestyle and take care of our health. She teaches you things like the right technique to do slow breathing, how to stimulate the vagal nerve—the longest nerve in the body—as an antidote to stress, how to ensure undisturbed sleep and which food have anti-inflammatory properties. The book is a veritable encyclopedia of useful information like this. As Shivdasani says, if you can make your body more resilient, you can fight whatever is out there, whether it is Covid-19 or something else.</p> <p><i><b>The author can be contacted on or on her Instagram handle @doctorvee</b></i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>COVID and Post-COVID RECOVERY: DoctorVee’s 6-Point Plan</b></p> <p><i>By</i><b> Dr Vishakha Shivdasani</b></p> <p><i>Published by</i><b> HarperCollins</b></p> <p><i>Price (ebook)</i><b> </b>Rs<b>99; </b><i>pages</i><b> 55</b></p> Thu Feb 25 14:50:40 IST 2021 oh-mizoram-of-solitude-lessons-from-nature <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mizoram Governor P.S. Sreedharan Pillai is known for his copious literary output. A lawyer by profession and a politician by passion, he has authored 120 books on varied subjects ranging from politics to legal issues and even the arts. While he has penned 14 poetry collections in Malayalam since 2004, the year of the pandemic saw him dabbling in English verse. The result is a slim volume dedicated to his current posting, titled <i>Oh, Mizoram</i>. It is Pillai's first collection of English poems.</p> <p>Attuned to the natural wonders of the northeastern state, Pillai summons the historical hills of Lushai in his titular poem 'Oh, Mizoram' and how he gathered fortitude from the mystic Mizo hills, calling to mind the restorative powers of nature poetry. In the 'Raj Bhavan Garden', the poet-politician in his brief moment of solitude at his official residence envies Thoreau's life in the woods until the still, slumberous afternoon is set abuzz with roving bees again. The quietude of nature coexists with enlightenment which is more immaterial as in the poem North-East Calls, "Cast aside the clouds of darkness/Break the night and enjoy the silver dawn!"</p> <p>While the poems amply illustrate Pillai's deeply felt enchantment with his immediate surroundings, it is also worldly wise in the way it zooms out to touch subjects as diverse as the coronavirus and 'broiler chicken' politics. This expansive range is unavoidable as Pillai wears multiple hats; he's been a successful lawyer, a noted orator, philanthropist and thinker. The foreword in the book compares his love of nature to be as compassionate as that of Shelley, Keats and Wordsworth. Taking time to reflect, organise and express one's interior landscape after a day's hard-headed political commitments is no mean achievement and <i>Oh Mizoram</i> attests to that discipline and commitment.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Wed Feb 24 14:08:14 IST 2021 all-sparkle-no-spunk <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Never judge a book by its cover is a maxim for anyone who is serious about reading. Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s memoir Unfinished is, however, the exception to this principle. On the cover, her name in bold and her picture loom larger than the actual title, making no pretence about what lies inside: a brand with flash and little else.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book is vain, vapid and, worse, dull. In the past few years, memoirs have acquired a much coveted place on a publisher’s list. Always in-depth, often revealing, even the reluctant politician has realised that to sell, you must tell. No longer just an air-brushed Insta version of life, a book with meat has almost become a rite of passage for a celebrity. Everyone does one. Sharon Stone is writing one. Karan Johar’s sold briskly. Chopra’s, however, is like seeing glossy holiday pictures on Facebook. Captured carefully, where the lighting is great and everyone looks happy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A superstar actor, Chopra has displayed spunk in her acting, but her memoir offers none. It is also written for an American audience. Chopra helpfully explains why she stayed with her grandparents when she was young, and with her aunts and uncles while in high school in America. “I know this may seem strange to some, but it is simply a cultural thing. In India, taking care of one another’s children is just part of who we are. It is seen as duty and a responsibility, not an imposition,” she writes. Her explanation of India—a sort of tweet-style simplification—is peppered through the book. There is also the not-so-subtle message of gender disparity, which she weaves in as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfinished focuses heavily on Chopra’s growing-up years, her relationship with her father, her family life, being sent to “sort of Ivy League boarding schools with a touch of posh finishing school” to learn discipline and the Miss World experience. She also describes her American high school experience where she hid a boy in a cupboard—her only description of her love life apart from that with husband Nick Jonas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her growing-up years are brought alive in minute detail, but again, the story is told through rose-coloured glasses. As is the first step she took towards becoming a celebrity—applying for the Femina Miss India pageant. The call to come to Delhi comes at a time when she is to take her pre-board exams. No one quite knows how to tell her father. Till her mother comes up with a plan—to put on some music, be nice and open champagne. “Champagne was always involved whenever Mom had to convince Dad to agree to something, and this night was no exception,” she writes. Growing up in 1990s India, where coffee shops were still rare, champagne on demand seemed like a fairy-tale existence. Yet, Chopra’s story has this dreamlike quality of an escapist Bollywood film of the past.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her career in the Hindi film industry, too, is firmly in the safe zone, with no names and no juicy details. Her stand against sexism and her career highlights, like Barfi, have been barely mentioned. Her acting in Quantico is fleshed out in more detail. In the long list of people to be thanked, she names not one co-actor. She does thank filmmakers who have shaped her. For her fans in India, it is deeply disappointing. But for those who are beyond just her fans, Unfinished lives up to the title. It does not do justice to an actor who has ambition and a real story to tell.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Unfinished</b></p> <p><b>By Priyanka Chopra Jonas</b></p> <p><b>Published by Penguin Viking</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs699; Pages 244</b></p> Fri Feb 19 11:45:36 IST 2021 poet-and-private-eye <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This is Raza Mir’s first novel. But it will not be his last. Plotted over a decade ago, Murder at the Mushaira arrives at the beginning of a year that has the unbearable weight of defining the new normal. Mir’s book, a historical thriller with Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib as an amateur detective, is a joy to read.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is close to midnight in New Jersey when Mir gets on a Zoom call to speak to THE WEEK. Speaking from his booklined workspace that he shares with his wife and two kids who attend school virtually, Mir is perky and alert. The book has already garnered seven offers to be adapted into a film. “There was a book that came out titled Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2010),” he says. “Reading the title of the book crystalised something in me that maybe I could use a character I knew something about and turn him or her into something else. Ghalib was a character I was becoming familiar with.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vividly described and richly imagined, Murder at the Mushaira is set in May 1857, just before the match is lit for the first uprising against the British, which is sumptuously told. Sukhan Khairabadi, a “poor poet” and a British spy, is found stabbed to death in Iftikhar Hasan’s haveli after a mushaira. The investigating officer, Kirorimal Chainsukh, is young and in a spot because the British are jittery with the murmurs of unrest brewing in the ranks. He chooses to enlist Ghalib’s help to navigate the world of mushairas, shayars and Dilli nawabs. A delightful journey into 1857 India with its snobbery, flavour, customs, history and colour, the book reads like a thriller but is written like a ghazal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If you are into Urdu and poetry, there is no way to avoid Ghalib,” he says. “It is a very weird and unnecessary fact, but Ghalib died the year that Gandhi was born. Having an understanding of nationalism, I thought Ghalib lived through this period… [in which] colonialism not only lost its dominance but also its legitimacy. Sahir Ludhianvi had written the poem Gandhi ho ki Ghalib ho. I made the connection in my head and I can see Ghalib as the character proceeding through the country’s history.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each chapter of the book begins with a verse from Ghalib. The poet makes the perfect guide to understand 19th century Delhi at the decline of the Mughal empire, the shift of power towards the British and the gradual fading away of the genteel world that once was. Mir grew up in Hyderabad with Urdu poetry, and so he conjures up the flavour of Ghalib’s city vividly. Though written in English, it has the feel and depth of Urdu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Filled with colourful characters, it is easy to sink into his world—to imagine the mushaira, catch a waft of biryani and taste the sweetness of the mangoes that Ghalib craves. “I had plotted my [next] novel in the 21st century, but the publisher said, ‘I want one more, if there is another historical novel in you.’ I hope that I will write another one and go back to contemporary times.” There are books that you want to hold on to and never wake up from. Murder at the Mushaira is one of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Murder at the Mushaira</b></p> <p><b>By Raza Mir</b></p> <p><b>Published by&nbsp;Aleph Book Company</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs799, pages 344&nbsp;</b></p> Fri Feb 19 11:41:34 IST 2021 retelling-ranis-story <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Her name sprung into public memory in 2018, when an auction house sold her jewellery for more than £62,000. The story of Rani Jindan Kaur, the last wife of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of Punjab, had been systematically written out of history by the British. However, Indo-American author Chitra Divakaruni now offers a compelling account of her life in her new book, <i>The Last Queen.</i></p> <p>The daughter of a kennel keeper, Jindan was not even 16 when she fell in love with Ranjit Singh. It is an impossible love story made possible by her tenacity. Singh waited till she was 18 to marry. It is a whirlwind romance—she charms his horse, Laila, with gur (jaggery), he teaches her how to ride, and she can read his mind. For all the sweeping-off-the-feet feeling, Jindan is practical and realises that she cannot navigate the world of palace intrigue—she made an enemy of Mai Nakkain, the eldest among Ranjit Singh's wives. There are plenty of attempts to trip her up, but Jindan manages to thwart them all to finally become a regent for her son, Dalip Singh when he is barely five.</p> <p>Written in the first person, Divakaruni lives up to her ability to create the inner world of women and their dilemmas, and the pulls and tugs of family and children, brilliantly. Narrated like a thriller, <i>The Last Queen</i> is the story of erstwhile Punjab, too—the politics that engulfs the court of Ranjit Singh after he dies to the final blow when the British gobble up Punjab. Jindan, who distrusts the British, like her “Sarkar”—as she refers to Ranjit Singh—fails to keep them out of his kingdom.</p> <p>Jindan's story begins when Sarkar dies leaving her vulnerable. She is wily, and realises the power of symbolism, as she steps out of the cloistered world of the zenana to play the role of a regent for her son. She outwits seasoned politicians to secure her safety—and her son's. She also acquires herself a lover. When the British finally takes over, and she continues to scheme using her son, she is imprisoned. She manages to flee in disguise to Nepal.</p> <p>She fought the empire till her dying breath. And, to punish her, the British tried to taint and erase the memories of her. Dubbed “Messalina of Punjab”, she had been banished into oblivion. But Jindan’s story is something to be told, re-told and read out aloud. Not only for her courage, but for what she symbolised: a woman who chose to play palace intrigue; who was wonderfully real and far ahead of her time. Read the book before it becomes a film.<b></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The Last Queen</b></p> <p><b>By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: HarperCollins India</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs599 Pages: 354</b></p> Thu Feb 11 15:00:14 IST 2021 resurrecting-a-maverick <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>According to legendary filmmaker Mike Nichols, he was born at the age of seven, on a six-day boat ride from Germany to America in 1939. He did not even own his name—which was Michael Igor Peschkowsky. Years later, when his brother found this out from the ship’s records, Nichols looked at him and said: “Maybe. Maybe it was.” As Mark Harris writes in a new book, “It did not matter. Whatever his name [was] when he boarded the ship, it was gone by the time he got to New York.”</p> <p>He shed Igor—"a horror movie name”—and assumed Nichols, an all-American one. But it was not easy for him to grow into his name. A whooping cough vaccine he received at the age of four had left him permanently bald, which led to unending bullying in school. In a constant endeavour to overcome the discomfort of being himself, he sought refuge in the comforts of the world. At the age of 35, after a string of successes like <i>The Graduate</i> (which won him an Oscar) and <i>Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?</i>, he lived in a three-story Central Park West penthouse, drove a Rolls-Royce and collected Arabian horses.</p> <p>In Nichols, Harris has found the perfect muse—a high-strung narcissist whose life was as rollicking as his movies. He might not have made it to the canon of legends like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, but only because he did not have a signature style or repetitive motifs. You could not identify him with his work, and that might be indicative of a greater genius.</p> <p><b>Mike Nichols: A Life</b></p> <p><b>By Mike Harris</b></p> <p><b>Published by Penguin Press</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs3,105 Pages: 686</b></p> Thu Feb 11 14:56:10 IST 2021 hades-argentina-review <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Hades, Argentina</i>, the just published novel by Daniel Loedel, is about the killing, torture and “disappearance” of thousands of leftists during the brutal Argentine military dictatorship in the 1970s.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tomas Orilla, the main character in the novel, is a medical student who moves from his hometown La Plata to Buenos Aires in 1976 to be closer to his teenage sweetheart Isabel. He discovers that she has become a member of the Montonero leftist guerilla movement. She seeks his help to infiltrate the government agencies involved in the detention of opponents of the military regime. With the help of Colonel Felipe Gorlero, his guardian in the city and a senior official in the military intelligence, Tomas gets a part time job in a secret and illegal military detention centre. His job includes drugging the detainees to induce confession, revive them when they pass out after torture and provide minimum medical help to keep the prisoners alive until information is extracted from them. Thereafter, they are transferred for “disposal”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tomas is traumatised seeing the macabre methods of torture, screaming of the victims and their suffering. The torturers carry out their gruesome work coolly and casually while listening to football match commentaries, joking about colleagues and making cruel comments on the victims. Eventually, he is caught for espionage and helping some detainees escape. He becomes a detainee himself. But the Colonel Gorlero comes to his rescue and helps him escape to Rome. However, in exchange for the colonel’s help, Tomas had to give out information on Isabel’s hideout location.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From Rome, Tomas moves to New York where he marries an American. But the marriage breaks down since Tomas is unable to settle down, haunted by his nightmares.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1986, he travels to Buenos Aires to see Isabel’s mother in the hospital with a terminal illness. During his stay in the city, he is haunted by the ghosts of the colonel and Isabel. He returns to the sites containing his darkest memories and most profound regrets. He wanders in the Recoleta cemetery and in the streets of the city lost in the labyrinth of memory, guilt and loss. He realizes how hard it must be for those Argentines who hadn’t left the country, having to go about their daily lives with the possibility of bumping into their torturers at train stations and random intersections or having to wonder, because they’d been blindfolded back then, if the man giving them a funny look on the bus had raped them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are Dantesque dialogues between the colonel and Tomas on death, sin, hell, purgatory and redemption. The two carry on their long conversations, alternating between real life and the after-life, during their wanderings through the Recoleta cemetery and long hours of sitting in cafes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Loedel’s novel is based on the real life story of his own half-sister Isabel Loedel Maiztegui, a Montonero activist, who was murdered by the military dictatorship in January 1978, when she was just 22.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Loedel was born and has lived in New York, where his father had moved from Argentina after the coup. Loedel travelled to Argentina in 2018 for DNA confirmation of the identity of Isabel from the bone and skull remains in the forensic lab. He buried her remains formally in a ceremony in 2019 in La Plata next to the others who were also killed during the Dirty War of the dictatorship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The author reflects on his identity crisis as a US citizen of Argentine origin. His father refused to let him visit Argentina because of the bitterness over the loss of his daughter. It was only at the age of 22 that he visited Argentina for the first time. He connected to the extended family and friends of Isabel and collected information for the novel. His father translated the novel into Spanish, adding authenticity to the spirit and language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the character of Argentines, the author comments aptly, “we Argentines are so particular, no one else would put up with us. The Porteños (residents of Buenos Aires city), who fancy themselves so European, turn up their noses at anyone from the rest of the continent. The country is one of the vainest in the world. So many of our problems stem from that. ‘Have to be better than the Brazilians, have to be pretty, have to be European’. These are comments I have often heard from my Argentine friends themselves who would express the same more colorfully, with the choicest abusive words.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the capital city of the country, the author comments, “Buenos Aires never showed its scars, never let its surface be ruffled; it was a city made for forgetting as much as for nostalgia”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The author has an interesting definition, “Peronism is like poetry—it can’t be explained, only recognized.” He says, “Peronism was the ideal vehicle for those like Isabel who wanted change but didn’t necessarily possess a full-fledged ideology or agenda. After Peron himself was booted from the country in 1955 and his party proscribed, their right-wing aspects were widely forgotten and the label evolved into a catchall for populism of every stripe, a handy banner for anyone who wanted to step on the battlefield. (Indeed, the Montonero guerrillas originally took up arms to bring Perón back from exile, before growing into a broader insurrection against state oppression.) The word almost had spiritual connotations now; for some, it was a moral lifestyle as much as a fight against injustice”. Peronism continues to divide the nation vertically even now. There is a constant and strong Peronist voter base which is seduced and cultivated by the politicians. On the other side, there is a significant part of the population who hate Peronism and blame it for all the problems of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The military has gone back to the barracks irreversibly since 1983. But the civilian governments since then have mismanaged the economy periodically causing tragedies of hyper inflation, debt default, foreign exchange shortage and misery for the common people. Argentina, which was one of the top ten richest countries in the beginning of the 20th century, has regressed and is in the middle of yet another cycle of financial crisis at present.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Hades, Argentina</i> reminds me of another Argentine novel <i>Purgatory</i> by Tomas Eloy Martinez. This is a similar story in which Emilia, the protagonist, is haunted by the memory of her husband who “disappeared” during the dictatorship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Argentina seems to be still struggling to come out of the shades of Hades and purification in Purgatory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b><br> </p> Sun Feb 07 17:39:15 IST 2021 novel-take-on-the-new-normal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Why would one need to go through a gargantuan non-fiction title to hear the same message that has been repeated several times over the past few months across newspapers, magazines and social media—how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought in ‘the new normal’, how you have to transform yourself to survive in this new reality, and so on and so forth…</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer comes in the form of the big ticket names behind this new book, <i>Transformation in Times of Crisis</i>—a veteran Fortune 500 entrepreneur presently heading one of India’s biggest IT services companies, as well as a marketing master often cited as one of the predominant authorities when it comes to organisational behaviour and marketing strategy.&nbsp;<i>Transformation in Times of Crisis</i>&nbsp;is the brainchild of&nbsp;Mphasis CEO Nitin Rakesh and Wharton academic Jerry Wind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And no, it is no mere repeat of what you have been reading in newspapers of professionals and companies racing to digitise themselves, become nimble in operations and transform themselves to meet the new reality thrown up by the pandemic. As they write in the beginning, “This might be a new reality but that does not mean we should surrender to it. We can transform any crisis into opportunities.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But unlike the umpteen articles that tell you to ‘re-skill’, but remains vague on what one is supposed to actually do, this book wades in, leisurely and in detail, with excel sheets and tools on what you could try. It all boils down to eight principles that will do the trick, the authors say.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the book is copiously peppered with ‘re-’ jargons (‘reimagine’, ‘reinvent’, ‘redraw’), the good thing is that it explains each of the eight principles thoroughly for whoever cares to read through. The principles include:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <ul> <li>Challenge your mental modes and always stay ahead</li> <li>Reimagine and reinvent your approach to customers and stakeholders<br> </li> <li>Speed up digital transformation and design for personalisation at scale<br> </li> <li>Reinvent your talent strategy and embrace open innovation and open talent</li> <li>Seize the need for speed and design for ability, adjacencies and adaptability</li> <li>Innovate, then experiment, experiment, experiment</li> <li>Redraw your timelines and build a portfolio of initiatives across all innovation horizons</li> <li>Deploy idealised design, recreate your organisational architecture</li> </ul> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book delves into crunching each of these principles in detail, with explanations and anecdotes galore, along with a complete set of tools to help with the implementation, including what to do and how to do it. There will be a dashboard to monitor the progress real-time, and a future app (the co-author is a software tycoon, remember?) which will help as a strategy worksheet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is also a peeve one could harbour against this book—its heaviness. It is no airport read, nor is it for the bibliophile (it might look good on your bookshelf as a Zoom backgrounder, perhaps!), but a serious syllabi for the serious professional (or corporate) earnest about their future. Filled with anecdotes, case studies, infographics and even ‘Ask Yourself’ sections at the end of each chapter, this is as good a lesson in re-skilling as may be the refresher course need of the hour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Transformation in Times of Crisis: Eight Principles for Creating Opportunities and Value in the Post-Pandemic World</b></p> <p>By Nitin Rakesh and Jerry Wind<br> </p> <p>Published by NotionPress</p> <p>Price: Rs 899 &nbsp;(Hardcover available for Rs 791 from</p> <p>Pages: 549&nbsp;</p> Sat Feb 06 19:18:27 IST 2021 humour-in-stilettos <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Meher Castelino—renowned fashion journalist, former model and India’s first Femina Miss India—knows the world of fashion intimately. So when she writes about its inner workings, you better sit up and take note.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Glamour is a snarky world—full of tit-for-tats and dog-eat-dogs. That is why the snark in Castelino’s words matches the world she is describing. There is the head buyer of a fashion house whose “personality does not match her job profile”, who hates maths, travelling and is paralysed by enochlophobia, or the fear of crowds. There are the “fro queens”, or the page 3 regulars and movie stars who occupy the front rows at fashion shows. They are the trend-setters and the proud owners of the best dresses from the designers’ latest collections on the ramp. There are the couturiers who are great with resort wear, but bring out bridal wear collections that are a mish-mash of swimwear and sheer lehengas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Castelino is a mistress of irony, and when she picks out certain “quirks” of the fashion world, such as the ever-increasing categories in beauty contests (best grey matter, Rummy champion, Tombola queen), you cannot help but smile. She is often ruthless, and no one is free from the fiery darts of her drollery, from the showstoppers who are tutored on how to talk, to the celebs who launch paediatric wards in Red Carpet gowns. The question-and-answer format in which the book is structured makes it a breezy read. And gives her leeway for some hilarious one-liners.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If some of the characters who unwittingly waltz into her line of fire are turned into caricatures, one must excuse the irreverence. After all, satire demands sacrifice of some form, and the fashion world seems to have taken the jibes in the right spirit. It is great that some of the biggest Indian designers, like Tarun Tahiliani and the late Wendell Rodricks, have chosen to endorse the book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A designer might be nimble with his needle, but what a dud he would be if he cannot poke some fun at himself with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Fashion Musings</b></p> <p>By Meher Castelino</p> <p>Published by Meher Castelino</p> <p>Price Rs295; pages 160</p> Thu Feb 04 16:30:14 IST 2021 powerful-evocative <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I found poetry in a pandemic, says Sneha Bhura, senior correspondent, THE WEEK, about her first poetry chapbook. The lockdown brought many lives to a standstill. As work from home became the new normal, people found outlets to release their pent-up energy—writing, running, cooking, singing, painting—leading to discovery or re-discovery of hidden or buried talent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Sneha was busy reporting during the lockdown, she started to write for herself when work was long over. “It took a pandemic-induced lockdown combined with a desperate bid to save one hope-instilling event from melting into inconsequence to heave out my fear and anguish into midnight poems. Since then, there has been no looking back,” she says in the introduction.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her collection of 31 poems is intimate and evocative. They speak of heartbreak and loss, hope and happiness. From purging the past to igniting new fervour, the poems touch upon different relationships and their emotions. Friends, family, flatmate, life back home in Kolkata and in Delhi, and even cooking during a pandemic inspires poems.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is longing, anxiety, laughter, events and also a pen drive full of memories. Sneha has written about everything she felt before and during the lockdown and ends on a note of acceptance and understanding.</p> <p><br> Velvet Grapes is honest and simple and, if, as the book says, it is drunk midnight poetry, it is of fine quality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Velvet Grapes: Drunk Midnight Poetry</b></p> <p>By Sneha Bhura</p> <p>Published by Hawakal Publishers</p> <p>Price Rs250, pages 56</p> Thu Feb 04 16:26:25 IST 2021 inside-kalam-world <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After the Kargil conflict in 1999, three service chiefs briefed prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee about the inadequacy of modern weapons and the delay in development of systems by the Defence Research and Development Organisation. This put Vajpayee under pressure to ask DRDO chief A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to step down. Vajpayee, who had great respect for Kalam, instead made him principal scientific advisor to the government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr A. Sivathanu Pillai, architect of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, has narrated many such anecdotes in 40 Years with Abdul Kalam: Untold Stories. Pillai shared many iconic moments with the former president of India over the four decades they worked together. Besides stories about ISRO, DRDO and BrahMos, the book gives insight into the evolution of national security technologies over the years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pillai says Kalam was a man without ego and could adapt himself to any situation. Kalam once told Pillai that Vajpayee had even requested the president to travel less as he had become more popular than the prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the first four chapters talk about Kalam’s early days as a scientist, the chapter on strategic industries gives insight into how India has steadily progressed in the defence sector.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While assessing Kalam’s life, Pillai counts the upsets, too. When Kalam failed in his ambition to become an IAF pilot, he landed up at Swami Sivananda’s ashram in Rishikesh. He learnt to deal with the disappointment and the experience changed him. Kalam would go on to become commander-in-chief of the Indian armed forces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>40 Years with Abdul Kalam: Untold Stories</b></p> <p>By A. Sivathanu Pillai</p> <p>Published by<br> Pentagon Press</p> <p>Price Rs795; pages 230</p> Thu Jan 21 15:22:12 IST 2021 colaba-chronicles <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shabnam Minwalla is an amazing writer. So much comes through in each of her sentences—detail, description, research.... Above all, she puts her soul into her writing. So, when she writes about Colaba, that southern nub of Maximum City—that little corner where her world begins and ends, even though she may have travelled far and wide—one knows, even before opening the book, that it will be an intense read. She knows this place, and how.</p> <p>Colaba is that Mumbai locale which is so quintessentially Mumbai. It is from where the BEST's Bus No 1 plies. It is sometimes wrapped in the past—with those old houses with Italian-tiled floors and ancient lifts and ancient people who are still dressed in styles from the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, it still remains one of the most happening places in the city, even though the action may now have shifted to the queen of suburbs, Bandra, and beyond. It retains top spot in every tourist's itinerary, and has the most recall value internationally, for both good and bad events, the last being the terrible 26/11 attacks, where three Colaba spots—the Taj hotel, Cafe Leopold and Nariman House—were targeted.</p> <p>Minwalla's book has something special for every reader—history and legend for the passing tourist, and what might be surprising discoveries for the veteran Colabawallah. On the one hand, this is a personalised account of her family's Colaba roots, and on the other, she shows how intrinsic Colaba has been to global developments, even perhaps influencing history. Like it did when Winston Churchill got injured at Sassoon Docks, resulting in him using a pistol instead of a sword in the Battle of Omdurman in Sudan, which saved his life.</p> <p>As interesting is the number of well-known figures who have lived in Colaba at some point. This includes Mohammed Rafi; Kawas Nanavati (whom she refers to as the most famous Colaba killer); Ramaiah Naidu, who helped set up the Tata Memorial Hospital; his daughter, actor Leela Naidu; and her husband, poet-author Dom Moraes. Minwalla also writes about the people who were part of her life—teachers and tailors, for instance—whose stories add colour and detail to the Colaba mosiac.</p> <p>Even though the book is an engaging read, there is something the reader would crave, especially one like me, with a naval background. Minwalla's Colaba chronicles stop at the beginning of the military station, though she does touch upon some landmarks there—like the Afghan Church and the Parsi Agiary. The naval community, however, adds much of the colour and variety to Colaba, giving the locality two added dimensions—its continuing maritime and military importance. She has also given a miss to the infamous Geeta Nagar slum, which gave Shabana Azmi one of her first brushes with activism. She has not even mentioned the Naval Kindergarten, said to be Asia's largest. Or the weather station and the famous football-shaped radar atop a residential building. And while she has described the residents and buildings of the Causeway in detail, she has barely craned her neck upwards to comment on the Adarsh building scam. Then again, this is a personalised book. Where Minwalla leaves off, another Colabawallah could pick up the story. Or perhaps, she could think of another book?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Colaba, The Diamond at the Tip of Mumbai</b></p> <p><b>By Shabnam Minwalla</b></p> <p><b>Published by Speaking Tiger</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs499; pages 177&nbsp;</b></p> Fri Jan 15 11:17:20 IST 2021 a-translation-tribute <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Chandrasekhar Kambar, one of the leading figures in contemporary Indian literature, is known for his works rooted in the rural lore of north Karnataka. The very fact that his works carry a rich folk idiom from his land makes their translation a tough job. Krishna Manavalli, however, has triumphed in providing a faithful translation to his mesmerising works, <i>The Bringer of Rain: Rishyasringa</i> and <i>Mahmoud Gawan</i>, in the book <i>Two Plays</i>.</p> <p><i>The Bringer of Rain: Rishyashringa</i> is a spin-off of Kambar’s long poem <i>Heleatini Kela</i> (Listen, I Will Tell You). Both the poem and the play are set in a fictional village, Shivapura.</p> <p>The play starts with the famine-struck Shivapura waiting for village chieftain's son Balagonda; there is a prophecy that his homecoming would bring rain. But it becomes evident that his mere presence will not bring rain. The correction needs to be done to get rid of the “bundle of old karma”, and Balagonda has to confront his father for that.</p> <p>As a play, <i>Mahmoud Gawan</i> is very different from <i>Rishyashringa</i>. The “rural” Kannada in Rishyashringa makes way for a “neutral” Kannada in <i>Mahmoud Gawan</i>. As musician Rajeev Taranath notes in the foreword of <i>Two Plays</i>, Manavalli “was able to create a language which can handle these two extremes of the source language”.</p> <p><i>Mahmoud Gawan</i> is a historical play that portrays the life of an Iranian merchant who comes to India and later becomes diwan of the Bahmani Sultanate. As diwan, he treats people with compassion and promotes equality and religious harmony, but the treacherous political atmosphere in the sultanate causes his tragic death. Kambar's plays are layered at multiple levels, and Manavalli has produced the best translation—and thereby an apt tribute—to Kambar’s works.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Two Plays</b></p> <p><b>By Chandrasekhar Kambar</b></p> <p><b>Translated by Krishna Manavalli</b></p> <p><b>Published by Penguin Books</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs299; pages 212</b></p> Thu Jan 14 13:41:33 IST 2021 understanding-power-dynamics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There have been three opportunities since 1960 in resolving the border dispute with China, writes Singh. The first was when Zhou Enlai offered an east west swap—Aksai Chin in lieu of Arunachal Pradesh—when he visited India in 1960, but India's reluctance to equate the two sectors saw this offer being rejected. Then, in 1979, Deng Xiaoping offered the package solution to the then foreign minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, an offer repeated several times subsequently. Indira Gandhi did briefly consider this offer, but it fell through because of disagreements in her national security team. A third opening came in 2005, with the Political Parameters and Guiding Principles agreement which declared the package solution as the only way forward. This time, however, China pulled back.</p> <p>Singh, in this book, traces the history of the border dispute with China, explaining the messy arrangements India inherited from the British rule, and how subsequent geopolitics worked into making a border—so beautifully and clearly defined by the great Himalayas—into an unresolved problem that is drawing blood even 70 years later. He weaves in the changing dynamics of the world with the growing stature of the two countries, explaining how the two simply cannot afford to be engaged in conflict especially when the Asia of 2030 is shaping up, an Asia that is more like it was for 1,800 years of the last two millennia—flourishing on its own and not being simply as assembly hub and export powerhouse for the west, as he puts it. “One cannot fit into the Asian economy by completely sealing off China from the Indian economy,'' he argues.</p> <p>As Singh traces the events of recent history, elaborating on every opportunity missed, he also looks at the reshaping of the world, and explains the efforts of the two big Asian nations to stamp their imprint on this emerging multipolar wold order, as he terms it. There is depth and detail in this book, making it a ready reckoner for any scholar or researcher wanting to understand the dynamics at play between dragon and elephant, whether military, geopolitical or economic.</p> <p>He makes a strong argument for peace, emphasising that conflict and bloodshed are to the advantage of neither country and their growing global ambitions. He argues for competitive co existence in a common neighbourhood. He points out that both Beijing and New Delhi engage with smaller states in the neighbourhood , yet neither side is under the delusion that India's neighbours can be rallied against it (with the exception of Pakistan), or that India can rally southeast Asian states to balance Chinese power. Another discernible trend, he points out is that neither country seems to be pressuring smaller south Asian states to make hard choices that run contrary to the interests of each other.</p> <p>He discusses if the “present negotiation structure is leading to an endless scramble over regularising conflicting LACs, can the overall approach be amended?'' According to him, that will need political will on both sides, and the give and take would involve the Akshai Chin- Arunachal Pradesh swap. This however, requires strategic trust and sensitivity to each other's security perceptions. That trust and sensitivity, he says has dissipated since 2017.</p> <p>Singh says the next opportunity for a border settlement might emerge as unexpectedly as it did in the past. “If history teaches us one insight, it is that opportunities to solve this question last for brief windows before the cycles of uncertainty rear their impact on India- China relations. It would require bold leadership and geopolitical acumen to convert fleeting moments into an enduring settlement.''</p> <p>These are strong arguments he makes, and he writes them with much insight and clarity of thought, making the book a very engrossing read. With China dominating India's mindspace right now, Powershift is a recommended pick up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Title: Power Shift</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Author: Zorawar Daulat Singh</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Publisher : Pan Macmillan India</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Price: Rs 650</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Pages: 335</b></p> Sat Jan 09 20:34:31 IST 2021 of-love-and-poetry <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Busy right now with my precious bamboo flute,</p> <p>my delicate fingers on the holes.</p> <p>Darling, can't snuggle you now,</p> <p>I'm lost fiddling this melodious flute.</p> <p>Chill out—have some chilli!</p> <p>Can't squeeze you right now.</p> <p>Busy with my precious little bamboo flute,</p> <p>my delicate fingers on the holes.</p> <p>This anonymous poem in the Gondi language is as casually titled as 'Chill Out'. Amongst all established names in Indian poetry cataloged 'The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems', highlighting this nameless little one only reinforces the speciality of this collection. Poet-diplomat Abhay K. has traced an arc of Indian love poetry spanning 28 languages over 3,000 years in this anthology conceived and put out in the world in 2020. This includes verses in Kokborok (from Tripura), Khasi, Gondi and Mising, Tibetan, Oriya, Sindhi, Nepali, being truly reflective of the multilingual social fabric of the Indian subcontinent.</p> <p>“While I was editing my series on 100 Great Indian poems, I found out that many of them were actually love poems. There I got this idea that why not do an anthology of love poems," says Abhay, who has also edited 'The Bloomsbury Anthology of Great Indian Poems' (2019). Abhay knows Hindi, English, Russian, Nepali, Portuguese and Sanskrit.</p> <p>When English poet Simon Armitage's poem Lockdown, published last year in March, mentioned a reference to the Kalidasa's epic poem Meghadūta, Abhay was put on a path of delving deeper into the ecstatic stanzas of Meghadūta and Ritusamhara—extracts from both the classics in Indian love poetry find a place in this collection. In fact, there is a profusion of Sanskrit love poems here, from Rigveda to Bhavabhuti and Bhanudutta, alongside classic Tamil and prakrit love poems. English verses from Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Das, Pritish Nandy, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra to Tishani Doshi, Ranjit Hoskote and Arundhathi Subramaniam round off a captivating list of contemporary poets.</p> <p>Although Indian love poems have been extensively anthologised from Tambimuttu's 'Indian Love Poems' (1967) to Amrita Narayanan's 'Parrots of Desire:3000 Years of Indian Erotica' (2017), Abhay would like to distinguish his collection as more expansive and diverse; some of his translations are also an attempt to make them more accessible. "I felt we needed newer, more contemporary translations of these classic love poems, so it can speak to the current generation."</p> <p>Savoured slowly and surreptitiously, this cornucopia of love, longing and desire should easily resonate with the young and the old.</p> <p><b>The Bloomsbury Book of Great Indian Love Poems</b></p> <p><b>Edited by Abhay K</b></p> <p><b>Page 200</b></p> <p><b>Price: 399</b></p> Fri Jan 08 23:00:31 IST 2021 a-new-poetry-anthology-shimmers-light-for-the-road-ahead <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sueyeun Juliette Lee, a Korean-American poet, once expounded on the poetics of light through her meditations on Salpuri, a traditional Korean dance. By recalling the origin story of the shamanic dance form—performed by a solo practitioner, whirling in a long white robe—she sought to reveal how one can 'speak the light', heal and restore.</p> <p>So a long, long time ago a calamity reared its ugly head when two suns rose in a sky. To dispel this excessive stream of daylight, the king called a philosopher who composed a poem as a possible remedy. To this curative poem, he danced his first salpuri. One of the suns dimmed and the kingdom was cured. In the same essay for the Poetry Foundation, Lee writes, "This ugly era will end. And how are we being human and alive in its midst. What lights are you leaning into and casting out; what is your body’s heat murmuring with every breath you draw in, draw down, release.'</p> <p>As we flip open the next chapter in 2021 in a virulent world outside, what kind of lights are we going to inoculate to stay "human and alive"? Barring the most obvious one, a glittering volume of poetry could also offer much solace. Especially if it's about light pixeled across time and space, light acquired and transmitted by a cross-section of writers in a global anthology. Such is the radiance of 'Shimmer Spring', edited and curated by award-winning poet, editor, translator and publisher Kiriti Sengupta.&nbsp;</p> <p>Featuring 39 emerging and well-known poets, including Mamang Dai, Akhil Katyal, Sudeep Sen, Rochelle Potkar, Joan Kwon Glass, Alan Britt, among others, the prose and poetry in this collection are all sparklingly new and urgent. Lavishly produced, with a rich mosaic of abstract illustrations which unfurl on a white backdrop, the album is a glowing mixtape of art and poetry. Sengupta was keen on studying luminescence in poetry, or how writers derive and disperse light. "Light need not always connote something positive; there is no linear interpretation. To&nbsp; me light is synonymous with enlightenment or realisation. I always wanted to gauge how my contemporary writers perceive light, what is the source of that light in their lives," says Sengupta who was awarded the 2018 Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize.</p> <p>Author of eleven books of poetry and two books of translation, he has co-edited six anthologies. His poem 'Troth' (which means faith or loyalty) opens the collection and is a touching reaffirmation of a marital pledge.&nbsp;</p> <p>In 'An Evening Walk', Delhi-based poet Katyal remembers student and activist Natasha Narwal, arrested in connection with the Delhi violence which erupted in February and who continues to remain in jail under the stringent UAPA simply for expressing dissent.&nbsp;</p> <p>The sandstone heat</p> <p>near your home.</p> <p>The way the sun eats&nbsp;</p> <p>the South Block dome.&nbsp;</p> <p>The inevitability&nbsp;</p> <p>of your freedom.&nbsp;</p> <p>All the ordinariness&nbsp;</p> <p>belongs to you.</p> <p>In Anu Majumdar's 'Seed', there is a sense of an awakening, a kernel which has revolted. It may struggle to sing and love, it is "Hidden but resonant/ A sun-chant of dreams".&nbsp;</p> <p>Poet and novelist from Arunachal Pradesh, Mamang Dai, ruminates on rain which is "trying to transform some sad absence/into the patience of green" in a piece titled 'The Tree With a Thousand Flowers'.&nbsp;</p> <p>In Tim Kahl's 'Excelsior', light in all its blazing brilliance becomes the exterminator shooting off animal carcasses in the dark, that "light was a hunter they should fear". Pakistani poet and filmmaker Ammar Aziz poignantly presents a mujawar (caretaker in a Sufi shrine), bemoaning the "darkling courtyard" of a dargah with its broken lamps and "fragments of the invader's young flesh".&nbsp;</p> <p>Neera Kashyap's 'Incandescence' gets to the heart of the matter, the necessary rebirth born out of a "blaze" which "commands self-destruction". But the redemptive power of light is never too distant as Usha Akella envelops both the sun and the moon in one poem to make us see how "the anemic moon is red-hot with fertile myths" and how light can be "A luminescent sword/ splitting blackness in two" in Vinita Agrawal poem.&nbsp;</p> <p>In a year of mostly groping in the dark, 2020 hasn't been entirely devoid of light for Hawakal Publishers, the bilingual publishing house behind 'Shimmer Spring'. Started in Kolkata in 2009 by story writer, translator, and editor Bitan Chakraborty, the independent publishing house has been bringing out books in English and Bengali literature with a special emphasis on poetry. They set up an office in the capital in a pandemic year which saw major disruptions in the publishing industry, including closure of small, independent bookstores and restrictions in delivery and movement of books. Hawakal released 38 titles in the traditional publishing format in 2020, among which 29 were put out between April and October.&nbsp;</p> <p>Three were poetry anthologies, conceived and released in 2020, in a market which is hardly receptive to this form of literature in normal circumstances. Their highest selling English book this year is also one of these anthologies called Hibiscus: Poems That Heal and Empower.&nbsp;</p> <p>"The way we have been releasing books in a pandemic year is quite noteworthy. We are not a big publishing house, yet we have come out with a hardcover poetry anthology in a coffee table format. We have practically raised the standards of a poetry anthology with Shimmer Spring," says Chakraborty about their latest anthology of poems.&nbsp;</p> <p>2020 also saw the passing away of the noted poet and literatuer Akkitham, considered the doyen of Malayalam literature and recipient of the Jnanpith in 2019. One of his most resonant lines also draws upon light: 'Light is woe, darkness is bliss'.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Book: Shimmer Spring&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>Hawakal Publishers&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>Pages:124, Price: Rs 2,500</b></p> Thu Dec 31 22:03:53 IST 2020 a-fitting-tribute-to-a-great-poet <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This is no ordinary autobiography. 'Akkitham: A Pictorial Autobiography' chronicles the life of the doyen of Malayalam poetry Akkitham Achuthan Namboothiri, but isn't written by him. Filled with his sketches, pictures and poetry lovingly put together by Bhaskarmenon Krishnakumar, the book is an intimate look at one of the towering figures of Malayalam literature.</p> <p>There is no a better time to remember the poet. Akkitham passed away in October this year at the age of 94. Known for his simplicity—even when he was writing complex thoughts— Akkitham authored over 40 works, including short stories and plays. His most famous work is <i>Irupatham Noottantinte Ithihasam</i>.</p> <p>Akkitham was eight when he wrote his first Sanskrit sloka: “If you irresponsibly draw such figures in the temples, the almighty god will bring everything to naught.’’ He wrote this on the wall with a coal, after he saw a lewd graffiti on the sanctum at Harimangalam temple.</p> <p>Exposed to Rigveda from when he was a toddler and to <i>aksharaslokam</i>—literary pastime of those days where people sat in circles and reciting slokas “beginning with the first syllable of the third line of the shloka recited by the earlier participant’’—poetry came naturally to him.</p> <p>He was 11 and emboldened by cashew fruits—forbidden to Namboodiris as they were ‘firangi’—he wrote six or seven shlokas. “I was delighted. Indeed amazed. But whom do I show these shlokas? I went to a knowledgeable lady in the neighborhood. She was well versed with Ezhuthachan’s works and Puranas. She could just not believe that I had composed those shlokas,’’ he writes.</p> <p>Littered with anecdotes from his childhood—“My classmates and most elders took me for an imbecile,’’—including his love for drawing, him discovering poetry after reading Amarakosha, the unique thesaurus in verse, the book makes for a fascinating reading. “It was then that writing poetry turned out to be a not too difficult task,’’ he writes.</p> <p>Going beyond just his life, the book also offers a glimpse into his thoughts, his beliefs, Communism—why he was attracted to the idea but didn't become a party member—and his philosophy. And more importantly, the reason he wrote poetry. “Why do I write poetry? To serve the society?,’’ he writes. “That there’s an intense desire to do so is true. But if it were only for that, why is it that I’m unable to write when everything is set? Or is it for my pleasure? If so, I should be able to write whenever I feel like. But that’s not done. And on many occasions poetry gushes out uncontrollably, when I plan to defer it. This is what it’s in brief. Guess what you will.”</p> <p>The book is for anyone who has ever wanted to understand him better and even for those who just want a glimpse into the world of a committed poet. It is a tribute well deserved.</p> <p><b>Book: Akkitham: A Pictorial Autobiography</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Rupa</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 272</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 2,500</b></p> Wed Dec 30 18:43:58 IST 2020 veterans-insights <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With a long career in the civil services before eventually moving to politics, N.K. Singh’s life story is also a chronicling of the few crucial decades in the life of the nation. <i>Portraits of Power</i>, his autobiography, is much more than a ringside view of how India has evolved socio-economically. Singh’s humorous and anecdotal style enriches the retelling of both the personal and the political.</p> <p>Singh writes about how his formative years were shaped by the contrasting influences of academic rigour on his paternal side and the Zamindari affluence of his mother’s family, with the highly feudal Bihari society forming the backdrop. He narrates the amusing scene at home when he got selected as a civil servant at 23. While most debated whether he should opt for IAS or IFS, his headmaster grandfather insisted that he go for the legal profession.</p> <p>Singh, who was secretary to the prime minister, notes that the prime minister’s office became a powerful entity during Lal Bahadur Shastri’s tenure, unlike the popular perception that it was during Jawaharlal Nehru’s time. “Nehru’s prime minister’s secretariat was not significant since he believed in the institutional structure of the cabinet office, which he had inherited,” writes Singh.</p> <p>When Shastri appointed Laxmi Kant Jha as the first secretary to the prime minister in 1964, it brought a “spectacular difference in hierarchy”, he notes. Singh adds that with the arrival of P.N. Haksar under Indira Gandhi, the practice of committed officers came into vogue and meritocracy took a back seat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Portraits of Power: Half a Century of Being at Ringside</i></p> <p>By N.K. Singh</p> <p>Published by Rupa Publications</p> <p>Price Rs595; pages 472</p> Thu Dec 24 15:23:39 IST 2020 an-ode-to-the-brave <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is a cruel joke. Soldiers, who would lay down their lives to defend us all, are almost always taken for granted. Their sacrifices get converted into statistics and are diluted. In our misguided haste to paint them as superhuman, we often forget that they are fellow human beings, albeit exceptional ones. Lieutenant General (retired) Satish Dua’s book—<i>India’s Bravehearts</i>—is a necessary reminder.</p> <p>It is a moving tribute to soldiers from a soldier who rose to command. Lt Gen Dua’s writing is fresh because of its honesty and simplicity. He transitions easily from the action-packed narration of an operation to his grief at the death of the first soldier he lost as a commanding officer. He boldly opens up about his guilt and fears, and his realisation that so many heroic deeds in the world were also tragedies.</p> <p>Lt Gen Dua describes the surgical strikes, which he oversaw as corps commander, his methods as a commanding officer, the close shaves and his learnings. His accounts about reactions to situations which emerged during operations are most fascinating. He also mentions that the greatest satisfaction for him was the remarriage of the widows of two of his bravehearts who had died in operations.</p> <p>There is much to learn from <i>India’s Bravehearts</i>, and much to be grateful about.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>India’s Bravehearts: Untold Stories From The Indian Army</i></p> <p>By Lt Gen Satish Dua (retired)</p> <p>Published by Juggernaut Books</p> <p>Price Rs299; pages 224</p> Thu Dec 24 15:20:35 IST 2020 the-many-reasons-to-read-its-all-in-your-head-m <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This year saw anxiety become an unwelcome guest in houses across the world, one that refuses to leave. In 2020, a time when mental health and the fragility of emotional well-being made headlines, Manjiri Indurkar's personal story in&nbsp;<i>It's all in your head, m&nbsp;</i>makes for essential reading.<br> </p> <p>Not for her honesty—laying herself bare about her struggle—but for her voice: Incredibly powerful, laugh-out-funny, warm, poetic even, compelling and addictive.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>It is a rotavirus attack that leads to Indukar's self-discovery into childhood secrets that she has kept hidden. The virus usually hits young children and not adults. Hospitalisation followed and she soon realised that her body was reacting to something deeper than just an infection.&nbsp; “This pain that was hiding in my gut, rotting slowly, coming out in the form of stinky, disgusting bodily fluid had to be cured. It was time,'' she writes.</p> <p>In the book she maps her journey to self-discovery, the therapy to finally let go.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>Abused when she was a child, Indurkar writes about being taken from playing hide-and-seek by “Ajit'' and her clothes being taken off. It happens frequently. Her grandmother Aaiji witnesses it, keeps quiet and never does anything to help her. She writes about her shame, her confusion, her betrayal, even her best friend discovering it. She writes about the trickiness of memory—and how she digs out her childhood photographs for this chapter. “Does it hurt, she says. I nod, it does hurt. How many times? Is it only Ajit? I say no. I tell her about Mogambo,'' she writes. The incidents are vividly described, matter of fact, desperately sad, but she doesn't write with a sense of victimhood. In her retelling her story, she does so with dignity, vulnerability and certain defiance, she makes the reader part of the pain of her struggle—and lingers long.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>It is this core of resilience, a spark—and her courage—her sense of survival that stays even longer. The book is also about family, the complexity of it, its secrets, beyond just the ties of love. The bonds of pain that bind people even closer. The relationship with her grandmother, her boyfriend's Avi's relationship with his mother. But beyond just a memoir of deep secrets of childhood, it is also a book about heartbreak, finding a voice and letting go.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>It is also about love. She writes about love beautifully, with awareness and not sentimentality; the thrill of falling in love, the courting, the slow cementing from friendship with long evening walks, reading together, the buying of books and shelves, the total all-consuming overwhelming aspect of love. &nbsp;“I had gone home to Jabalpur for Diwali, when I returned to Delhi after a week, Avi came to pick me up at the airport. We kissed in front of the Arrivals Gate of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, Delhi, while people watched us. Some even made judgmental faces. But it was an important kiss. My inner small-town M wanted trademark big city moments, and this was that for me. Later on, picking each other up from the airport became our relationship ritual,'' she writes.&nbsp;<br> </p> <p>More than just a memoir of her unravelling, the book is a book about coming together, being broken and hope. Grab it. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Book:<i>&nbsp;It's all in your head, m</i><br> </b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Westland Tranquebar</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 218</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 399</b></p> Wed Dec 23 21:14:06 IST 2020 murder-mayhem-and-mirth <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This is not so much a novel as a riot. It’s a wildly funny, extravagantly inventive, no-punches-pulled, no-expenses-spared tale of a kitty party veteran, viz., Kannan Mehra (Kay, for short) who takes to moonlighting as a private detective for a bit of extra income, and a loads of extra excitement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gods conspire to keep our sleuth busy 24 x7. When she is not hot on the trail of presumed murderers and suicide abetters (how topical is this!), Kay is called upon to referee what she believes are wife-beating bouts, and bust a gang which purloins wedding gifts. The scene of the crime – or rather crimes, since Satan never takes a day off, is one of those apartment towers common to upwardly mobile cities. It’s where uber snobbery and self-centeredness are sheathed in faux courtesy. Its inhabitants are at that tantalizing mid-life stage when love is no longer in the air… and yet <i>yeh dil maange</i> more.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The narrative swings like a rollercoaster, and at the controls, author Kiran Manral seems to be having a whale of a time. Her humour is on uppers so frequently, it will make Bollywood starlets look like novitiates in a particularly severe order of Sisters. Manral is prolific with her punch lines and there are such a plethora of them, that one wonders anxiously if she will have anything left for the end. But the storehouse is large, and stocks last the last page and beyond.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The author is a fan of P.G. Wodehouse and, as a detective would say, the legend’s fingerprints are on practically every page of the book. Wodehouse was justly famed, among other things, for his outrageously funny metaphors. It is clear that Manral loves metaphors too, but does she love them not wisely but too well? Perhaps, just perhaps, the self-restraint that our heroine advocates at the buffet table would have been in order even as her creator was belting out the lines.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the swagger and panache of the book and its manic energy levels help you gloss over its excesses. Indeed, casting a critical eye on <i>The Kitty Party Murder</i> would be almost as bad form as taking the proverbial spade to Wodehouse’s soufflé.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who’s the villain of the piece? For amidst all that high-octane humour, we mustn’t forget this is a murder mystery. Who-dun-it? I am not giving out any clues for that would spoil the ball that you are going to have reading this.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Book: </b>The Kitty Party Murder</p> <p><b>Author: </b>Kiran Manral</p> <p><b>Publishers: </b>Harper Collins</p> <p><b>Pages: </b>243</p> Sun Dec 13 16:58:23 IST 2020 a-promised-land-obama-delves-deep-into-the-grand-political-issues <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Barack Obama could have made a career as a successful writer, if he had chosen writing instead of politics. This is evident from his book <i>A Promised Land</i> in which he has displayed his creative language skills, gift of storytelling, poetic sensibility, intellectual depth, and philosophical ruminations. Obama attributes his learning to a number of authors who had influenced his own writing and inspired him. He keeps the readers interested throughout the thousand pages of its length with his stories, analysis of events and cerebral reflections. He delves deep into the grand political issues while at the same time paying attention to small details and giving graphic description of people, places and situations through his observant eyes and rich imagination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Obama has approached his life of achievements with a deeply introspective and detached manner in his signature style of self-criticism and self-deprecating humour. He is a rare politician who openly admits his weaknesses, limitations, dilemmas, gaffes, flaws and failures. He tries ‘constantly taking stock to make sure I wasn’t buying into the hype and remind myself of the distance between the airbrushed image and the flawed, often uncertain person I was’. He has not been carried away by the glamour and power of the POTUS (President of the United States). He concludes, ‘for all its power and pomp, the presidency is still just a job and our federal government is a human enterprise like any other, and the men and women who work in the White House experience the same daily mix of satisfaction, disappointment, office friction, screw-ups, and small triumphs as the rest of their fellow citizens’. He confesses, ‘The work, I loved. Even when it didn’t love me back’. For him, ‘each day had its share of aggravations, worries, and disappointments. I’d stew over mistakes I’d made and question strategies that hadn’t panned out. There were meetings I dreaded, ceremonies I found foolish, conversations I would have rather avoided’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here is an example of his self-criticism, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low. But my care with words raised another issue on the campaign trail: I was just plain wordy, and that was a problem. When asked a question, I tended to offer circuitous and ponderous answers, my mind instinctively breaking up every issue into a pile of components and subcomponents. If every argument had two sides, I usually came up with four “e lede!” Axe (his advisor) would practically shout after listening to me drone on and on and on”. He then started making his statements brief and go with the absorption capacity of the audience.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has not filled the book with just about himself. He has given generous credit to numerous people who inspired him, supported and advised him at all levels including his butlers, security men, secretaries, drivers and gardeners with whom he had sincere conversations and shared experience and jokes. He shows genuine interest in the lives of others and expresses appreciation for other people’s achievements and sacrifices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Obama gives pen portraits of people describing their face, body and appearance with apt descriptions such as ‘tall and angular, with a jutting jaw, deep-set eyes’, ‘face of an Irish boxer’, ‘ long, hangdog face and throaty midwestern drawl’, ‘ruddy-faced with a whisk-broom mustache’,  ‘voices soft as the patter of rain (Japanese emperor and his wife), ‘smile brushed with melancholy’, ‘raspy-voiced, lip-biting Arkansas charm (Bill Clinton), ‘the man was all muscle, sinew, and bone, with a long, angular face and a piercing, avian gaze’,’ broad-shouldered and sturdy with a Roman nose’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here is his take on some of the world leaders he had met:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>British PM David Cameron – ‘possessed an impressive command of the issues, a facility with language, and the easy confidence of someone who’d never been pressed too hard by life. With a youthful appearance and a studied informality (at every international summit, the first thing he’d do was take off his jacket and loosen his tie)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>German Chancellor Angela Merkel – ‘I found her steady, honest, intellectually rigorous, and instinctually kind. But she was also conservative by temperament, not to mention a savvy politician who knew her constituency’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>French President Nicholas Sarkozy – ‘was all emotional outbursts and overblown rhetoric. With his dark, expressive, vaguely Mediterranean features and small stature he looked like a figure out of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sonia Gandhi – ‘striking woman in her sixties, dressed in a traditional sari, with dark, probing eyes and a quiet, regal presence’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul Gandhi – ‘has an unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PM Manmohan Singh – ‘a gentle, soft-spoken, wise, thoughtful, and scrupulously honest and uncommonly decent man’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the substantial political issues faced by him, he gives clinical and comprehensive analysis approaching the issues from all angles besides his own. He gives meticulous details of the issues, the various options to deal with them, the challenges in finding solutions and the compromises he was forced to make by the Republicans and other players.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Obama reveals the powerlessness of POTUS on three issues: impunity of the Wall Street bankers, the all-powerful Israeli lobby and the multi-billion dollar military-industrial complex.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is of the view that ‘Wall Street really did increasingly function like a trillion-dollar casino, its outsized profits and compensation packages overly dependent on ever-greater leverage and speculation. Its obsession with quarterly earnings had warped corporate decision-making and encouraged short-term thinking. Untethered to place, indifferent to the impact of globalization on particular workers and communities, the financial markets had helped accelerate the offshoring of jobs and the concentration of wealth in a handful of cities and economic sectors, leaving huge swaths of the country.’ He was outraged when the AIG executives pocketed 170 million dollars of bonus after the company was saved from collapse by the 70 billion dollar rescue by the Treasury department with tax payers’ money. These were the same executives who had caused the subprime lending crisis with their reckless greed. The regulatory system and legislation was gamed by the Republican leaders and lobby to ensure impunity for the fat cat bankers. Obama expresses his anguish saying, “many of the people most culpable for the nation’s economic woes remained fabulously wealthy and had avoided prosecution mainly because the laws as written deemed epic recklessness and dishonesty in the boardroom or on the trading floor less blameworthy than the actions of a teenage shoplifter”. The all-powerful POTUS could not touch them except expressing his anger in private.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was equally helpless with the immunity enjoyed by Israel which got away with inhuman atrocities against Palestine because of the unconditional solid support by the US under the power of the Jewish lobby. The Israeli PM Netanyahu simply ignored Obama and went over his head to the Congress to get whatever he wanted. With his offensive tactics, he put Obama on the defensive and made POTUS powerless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The generals and the arms manufacturers pushed for more wars and intensification of the ongoing wars for billions of dollars of profit and trillion dollar business. The military-industrial complex did not care for the peaceful and non-violent diplomatic methods preferred by Obama. This reminds me of the interview in which the Chinese tech billionaire Jack Ma was asked about for his opinion on the loss of US jobs to China. He said, “The US had spent around two trillion dollars in the destructive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, If the money was used for constructive domestic development, the US would not have had any unemployment problem”. Obama reflects, “I found myself imagining what America might look like if we could rally the country so that our government brought the same level of expertise and determination to educating our children or housing the homeless as it had to getting bin Laden; if we could apply the same persistence and resources to reducing poverty or curbing greenhouse gases or making sure every family had access to decent day care”. He admits, “we meddled in the affairs of other countries, sometimes with disastrous results; we had invaded Iraq, broken that country, helped spawn an even more virulent branch of al-Qaeda”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since the right wing Republicans constantly attacked and teased Obama as incapable and unsuitable for being a commander in chief, Obama had to prove to them that he could also do what Bush did. This explains Obama’s regime change war in Libya and killing of Qaddafi as well as the raid and killing of Osama Bin Laden.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Obama has handled the ‘black man issue’ upfront in some places and subtly and discretely in other contexts. He preferred to send his vice president Joe Biden to negotiate with the Republican leader Mitch McConnell because of his ‘awareness that in McConnell’s mind, negotiations with the vice president didn’t inflame the Republican base in quite the same way that any appearance of cooperating with (Black, Muslim socialist) Obama was bound to do’. Obama has analysed and come out with the reasons for the backlash in the ugly form of Trump and right wing extremism. According to him, the anti-intellectual and anti-reason movement started with Sarah Palin when she campaigned as vice presidential candidate along with John McCain. Unable to match the intellectual discourses of Obama, she took to trivializing and trashing Obama’s wisdom and erudition. Trump took it from where Sarah Palin left and made a career out of attacking the black man. Obama says, “antipathy had migrated from the fringe of GOP politics to the center—an emotional, almost visceral, reaction to my presidency, distinct from any differences in policy or ideology. It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted. Which is exactly what Donald Trump understood when he started peddling assertions that I had not been born in the United States and was thus an illegitimate president. For millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Obama clarifies, ‘I recognize that there are those who believe that it’s time to discard the myth—that an examination of America’s past and an even cursory glance at today’s headlines show that this nation’s ideals have always been secondary to conquest and subjugation, a racial caste system and rapacious capitalism, and that to pretend otherwise is to be complicit in a game that was rigged from the start’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book ends with the chapter on the daring raid and killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. I look forward to reading the second volume of the memoir Obama is working on.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have read and reviewed his earlier books which were also equally inspiring:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The Audacity of Hope</i>: <a href=""></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Dreams from My Father</i>: <a href=""></a></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He wrote those two before he became president. But in this book he wanted to offer readers a sense of what it’s like to be the president of the United States. He has done it candidly and lucidly. Still I like better the part of his story before he became president. His narration of his emotions and feelings in chasing his dream and the struggle he went through are more fascinating and poignant than his writings on his presidential years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the last four years, President Trump has made US as a laughing stock and insulted the intelligence of people with his shameless, wicked, indecent, racist and juvenile statements and actions. It comes as a relief and a source of confidence and optimism that the same US which disgraced itself by voting for Trump, had elected and reelected a black man with a Muslim name. Obama’s success becomes even more admirable and amazing after seeing the disastrous presidency of Trump who had unearthed the ugliness from under the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Obama could not have achieved the success alone by himself. He could have become a successful lawyer or writer with his talents and skills. But to become the president, he had to move the whole country, which has a built-in system to discriminate the blacks even from voting, let alone get voted. He had to get past the torturous systems of primaries, no-holds barred debates, dirty tricks of the opponents, scrutiny of the media and above all the formidable candidature of Hillary Clinton. Obama was supported, helped and guided through the process by thousands of Americans who believed in him and worked hard much before he became famous. He also got the votes of many Republican states and whites. Most importantly, credit is due to the old rural white folks of Iowa who elected him in the very first primary giving him the much needed critical moral boost in the beginning of the game. This is why Obama calls the country as “A Promised Land”.</p> Sun Dec 13 16:00:51 IST 2020 making-of-a-general-insightful-account-army-life <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>From the start of the Kargil war, the Pakistan Army was in a denial mode—that the insurrection was the work of Kashmiri insurgents ('mujahideen' in their lingo), and that the Pakistan Army had nothing to do with it.</p> <p>The charade almost convinced the world till the Indian Army picked up the military I-cards and Army pay books from the pockets of a few 'mujahideen'. The evidence proved to the world that several of the 'mujahideen' were Pakistani soldiers in disguise.</p> <p>Ironically however, the operation that led to the first such capture of military papers from the enemy dead is still not recognised as part of the Kargil saga “on the grounds that the battle was beyond a line marked by the staff as the area of Kargil war.” (That's military bureaucracy for you.)</p> <p>Consequently, the unit, its officers and men who took part in the operation remain unrecognised. An officer for whom the unit commander, the author of this book, recommended Param Vir Chakra was given only a Sena Medal.</p> <p>All the same, Col. (later Lt.-Gen) Konsum Himalay Singh who commanded the unit, the 27 Rajput, has no rancour. “I remain ever proud of my officers and troops and the fact that we played our part well in the war,” he writes in this account, a diary of his military life.</p> <p>Konsum Himalay Singh had got his first diary in 1967. The first thing he scribbled in it, on January 26, was: “One day I shall become a brigadier in the Army.” Brigadier was the highest rank to which anyone from the northeast had reached in the Indian Army those days. Himalay, who was named so by a great aunt who believed that naming children after mountains would bring good luck, grew up, joined the army and became a brigadier, and then climbed two more steps to become the first lieutenant-general from the northeast.</p> <p>This book, however, is not just about how this Manipuri officer reached those professional heights, but also an insightful account of various aspects of army life and major operations of the Indian Army through the 1980s and 1990s—the working of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the northeast, the Mizo rebellion and accord, the operations against the Naga Underground in his own home state of Manipur and elsewhere, the insurgency in the Kashmir valley, the frozen war in Siachen, and of course the hot war on the Kargil heights where the author commanded the 27 Rajputs in one of the least reported operations which was the capture of Point 5770. Incidentally, the capture of Point 5770, was “a daylight attack, a silent assault where not a single artillery ... shot was fired just before or during the attack. This was one attack in the entire Kargil war where no artillery guns were used and where no casualties to own troops occurred...”</p> <p>A month after the operation, the author was asked if he had the body of a Capt. Taimur Malik of the Pakistan Army's 3 Northern Light Infantry. When he said yes, he was asked to exhume it and hand it over to Pakistan Army. Himalay Singh refused, insisting that he would do it only if Pakistan would accept the bodies of all the four soldiers who had been been killed by his unit. Pakistan had to own them up.</p> <p>The book is full of such first-hand stories of military life. The author has taken care not to test the patience of the reader with too many details of his personal life, except those which would give an insight to the reader about life in the military and life in the northeast.</p> <p><i><b>Making of a General: A Himalayan Echo</b></i></p> <p><b>By Lt.-Gen. Konsam Himalay Singh</b></p> <p><b>Published by: Konark Publishers, Delhi, 2020</b></p> <p><b>230 Pages; Rs 800</b></p> Fri Dec 11 16:32:07 IST 2020 janaka-and-ashtavakra-an-ambrosia-for-the-freedom-seekers <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When it comes to a book under the genre of mythology, there is a niche crowd of mostly the grey population who fancy reading it. While this generalisation might be false like all others, Ashraf Karayath’s <i>Janaka and Ashtavakra―A Journey Beyond</i> proves that mythology may not be just something of the past; these tales draw parallels to our present stories. Especially considering the fact that the world is in a state of uncertainty, thanks to the global pandemic. The turbulence, the confusion and, most of all, the in-betweens where everything is looked at as a conspiracy theory, political propaganda or, going by the myths, wrath of the gods. At a time like this, reading a mythological tale, dating back to the 5th century BCE, might seem thoroughly depressing. However, Ashraf takes a journey beyond these false notions and introduces the tale of the less-spoken Janaka (Sita’s father) who is in a quest for knowledge, spiritual liberation and enlightenment. He calls it one of the most gripping yet unknown episodes from the Ramayana. Interestingly, the author feels that the book is a pandemic read as this is the time that people should keep their negative emotions at bay and strengthen their quest. This, he believes, would elevate one’s immunity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The mythological tale, like any other book, starts with a detailed prologue. From the walls to the dusty ground to the elephant shrieks and the tortured screams of men. Flipping through the initial pages of the book, one wonders how a king can go on a quest when there is an impending war in his kingdom. And who is Ashtavakra? A divinely intelligent boy who later goes on to disciple king Janaka. Unaffected by the scoffs of the courtiers for his deformed body, Ashtavakra lets his intellect do the work and triumphs over some of the most learned sages in the kingdom. After Ashtavakra’s victory, Janaka, awed by the boy’s extraordinary intellect and obsessed with his quest for spiritual liberation, submits to the sage’s guidance. While most people think the novel revolves around Janaka and hence his name comes first, there is a school of thought that firmly believes that Ashtavakra is the lead man.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon, the war horns blare and intensifies on the horizon of Mithila, but Janaka, unperturbed by the turbulence, stays on the path of spiritual enlightenment. At the end, he steps into a new realm that alters the reality for him and his kingdom. In the epilogue, the author quote Ashtavakra Gita: “Like a leaf in the wind, the liberated one is untethered from life—desireless, independent, free.” Surely, these three attributes are, in all ways, synonymous with spiritual liberation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Published by Rupa Publications, the novel uniquely answers some of the reader’s existential questions on the realities of life. There is an element of drama in the initial chapters as the story of the king, his kingdom politics and secretive conspiracies unfold but the vibrant and descriptive style of writing has the reader hooked till the last page. Imagine, waking up in a different realm of mind and asking yourself, ‘Is what I see real?’ But what is true, the dream world or the conscious world? Ashtavakra says both of them are untrue. Maybe asking ‘why so?’ is not required; maybe, that is all we need to know. Maybe, this is what it means to be on a journey beyond; a journey beyond questions and set answers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Book: </b>Janaka and Ashtavakra―A Journey Beyond</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Author: </b>Ashraf Karayath</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Pages: </b>218</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Price: </b>Rs 295</p> Fri Dec 11 16:05:14 IST 2020 tales-of-men-in-khaki <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Senior Indian Police Service officer Amod K. Kanth hates sensationalism. For a police officer whose career spanned some of the most critical and sensitive incidents of history from 1980-1991, he could not avoid being privy to sensational incidents which he documented in personal diaries, that were more an “aide memoire” at that time since he was on duty those days. But these have now become historical sources, important enough to be documented in historical records.</p> <p>Kanth’s sensational book 'Khaki in Dust Storm'—the first of his series of police diaries—documents assassination of Indira Gandhi, 1984 Delhi anti-Sikh riots, killings of Lalit Maken, Arjun Das, General A.S. Vaidya; multiple bomb blasts in Delhi and the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Other crimes like human trafficking and drug based crimes are only some of the topics of the stories he has shared from his real life experiences.</p> <p>The man in khaki was the deputy commissioner of police in central Delhi in 1984 when he was stepping out of his house on a day that has gone down in history as Delhi’s darkest moment, as dark as the Partition’s massacres. Kanth recalls how the small police control room of the Central Delhi police district got its biggest shock when a wireless operator rushed towards him after cross checking his information with the control room located near Daryaganj police station, next to the road between his house and the office.</p> <p>“He spoke in an urgent and choked voice, and said that the Prime Minister madam had been shot at in her residence,” wrote Kanth . “A lingering premonition, a subconscious thought from deep within the recesses of my mind and the knowledge and experience from my days in security at the Prime Minister’s house at Safdarjung Road surfaced immediately.” I reacted, ”Was it a policeman?”</p> <p>The police briefing that followed after all officers assembled in his office for discussing law and order in the city, is still considered by Kanth as the most significant meeting in his entire police career. Kanth‘s book is a unique documentation of challenges before a police officer who rises above his duties as a law enforcement officer to someone who grows to turn into a social worker and a globally celebrated cop praised by the US government for his work in combating human trafficking.</p> <p>This journey wasn’t easy for a cop, yet Kanth‘s brush with emotional events like the anti-Sikh riots in the early part of his policing career had taught him to look at issues from a socio-political perspective. This ability to understand the fine contours of Indian society went on to motivate him to become one of the pioneers of “ community policing" in the country.</p> <p>A book replete with facts, sensational investigations, brilliance of policing and anecdotes of hard decisions of men in khaki, Kanth gives a gratifying read in the form of the first part of police diaries, making the readers want to turn the pages once more .</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Book: Khaki In Dust Storm: Communal Colours and Political Assassinations ( 1980-1991): Police Diaries Book 1</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Author : Amod K Kanth</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Publisher : Bloomsbury India</p> Fri Dec 04 23:12:30 IST 2020 sex-and-chiffon <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I didn’t choose Srilaaji, Srilaaji chose me,” writes Shobhaa De in the acknowledgments section of her book. According to De, she was finalising a deal for a non-fiction book when Srilaaji “appeared before me and demanded to be the heroine of my next book. It was an order, not a request.... She is for real, even if I imagined her.”</p> <p>For a real woman, this sex-addicted, D-cup sized, high-born Marwari has a rather unbelievable life, comprising mainly of a string of various liaisons. Unlike most other novels, this housewife is neither bored nor ignored by her husband. Indeed, the couple has genuine affection for each other. Yet, Srilaaji is driven by some force within, and often even aided by her husband, as she breezes through the social swathe of Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi in her floral chiffons, and hops from bed to bathroom floor.</p> <p>De gives a peek into the world of rich Marwari households, where characters dripping in Basra pearls and sparkling diamonds flit across the corridors of their mansions to top-notch hotels and clubs, munching on <i>kachori</i> at home and crab outside. In her inimitable style, she creates some convincing side characters, whether it is the matriarchal Buaji or the no-nonsense <i>maalishwali</i>. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the lead characters, including the heroine herself. Why, for instance, does a woman, who has as many coital encounters as Srilaaji, need to have the kind of sexual fantasies that she has? The only peek into her vulnerability comes in her interactions with her mother. For the rest, Srilaaji is little more than the sum total of her intimacies. This, even when the character is breaking out of her hypocritical Marwari shell and discovering herself.</p> <p>Of course, one can always argue that the strength of the characters is not the mainstay in a book of that demeaning literary niche referred to as ‘mummy porn’. However, when there are so many books in that category, including the <i>Fifty Shades</i> trilogy, the reader does expect a little more substance in the plot between the various sexual encounters.</p> <p>De writes in her typical breezy style, peppering her narrative with lots of <i>desi</i> lingo, and one gets a flavour of various cities as Srilaaji peregrinates through them. You cannot help but smile at her turn of phrase. That, in her own style, is total <i>paisa vasool</i>, and what her fans will be looking out for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Srilaaji</i></p> <p>By Shobhaa De</p> <p>Published by Simon &amp; Schuster India</p> <p>Price Rs399; Pages 263</p> Thu Dec 03 14:43:04 IST 2020 crime-and-punishment <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>To purge his mind of the demons of his past, former gangster Rahul Jadhav went on a 60km run down the Mumbai-Pune highway. As Rahul remembered his victims (“the men who lay bloodied on the floor as the gangster walked away, proud”), his imprisonment, torture and his family’s penury after giving all they had to secure his bail, he ran like a madman, “his loud, piercing cries reverberating through the mountains”. According to Puja Changoiwala— award-winning crime reporter and author of Gangster on the Run, the story of Rahul’s life—the 60km run built courage in him to repent of his crimes and build a new life. Thus began his truly inspirational journey of recovery from a lifetime of murder, addiction and ultimately, madness.</p> <p>Changoiwala painstakingly charts his life, from his childhood when he loses his best friend to suicide, to his 12 years as a gangster and murderer. After his arrest in 2007, he becomes a shell of his former self, falling prey to alcohol and drug abuse. Three years later, when his family secures his release after borrowing heavily from friends and neighbours, he abuses his mother’s anti-psychotic pills, consuming three of them daily. He was ultimately diagnosed with schizophrenia. “Rahul’s health deteriorated to the extent where he could not tell morning from evening,” writes Changoiwala. “He could not cross the road without help....,” He gets admitted six times to the Muktangan Rehabilitation Centre in Pune before finally pulling his act together and finding redemption in running ultra-marathons. Today, he has run nearly 10,000km—including a 2019 run from the Gateway of India to India Gate.</p> <p>Changoiwala, who has previously written the true crime book, The Front Page Murders: Inside the Serial Killings That Shocked India, has a no-frills style of writing which works fantastically. Rahul’s story is so powerful that it needs no additional adorning. But Changoiwala’s real triumph is in her ability to tease out the minutest details of Rahul’s life. “I first met Rahul to interview him for a long-form news feature,” she said. “Those six hours told me that the man was walking around with a book in his belly.” Rahul’s account of his life combined with inputs from his family, friends, co-accused, former gangsters, counsellors and investigators in anti-extortion units, who helped her dig out old documents, make the book a riveting read. It begs to be made into a movie. Anurag Kashyap, are you listening?</p> <p><b>Gangster on the Run: The True Story of a Reformed Criminal</b></p> <p><b>By Puja Changoiwala</b></p> <p><b>Published by HarperCollins</b></p> <p><b>Price 1260; pages 296</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Fri Nov 13 11:18:46 IST 2020 review-life-and-culture-northeast-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are picture books, and there are books to read. This book, however, is that rare offering which has both, eye-catching visuals and a very informative text. The authors have covered the history and geography, the biodiversity and the people of the north eastern flank of India through over 300 photographs, 12 detailed maps and a compelling narrative.</p> <p>North east India initially referred to the seven sisters: Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura. However, now Sikkim is also included in this grouping. The north east is an exotic place. It remains largely untouched even now, for reasons like difficult terrain, political unrest and insurgencies and a general apathy. Thus, even now, it is not the top destination on the domestic tourism circuit, and in many areas, there are restrictions on foreigners. The scene is slowly changing, with political outreach and the need for travellers to find new locations. Yet, there is still not enough knowledge about this region in the rest of India.</p> <p>The authors, through this coffee table book, present the phenomenal diversity of these lands. There are more ethnicities here than perhaps in an other region of the country. From the Lepchas, Bhutias, Ahoms, Bodos, Naga, Maiti, Kuku and Mishim —each ethnicity is unique and has its own rich history and culture. There are also many diverse faiths co existing—Buddhism, Islam (Assam has the famous Pao Mecca mosque of 1657, known to have a quarter of the sanctity of Mecca itself), Christianity and various forms of Hinduism—Tantricism, Shaktism, Shaivism and Vaishnavism.</p> <p>The authors take the readers on a journey through time and space, bringing out amazing nuggets from the histories of these places, which remain largely untold by CBSE text books. In a region which boasts of three UNESCO world heritage sites, there is no dearth of opportunity to take brilliant pictures. The wildlife side of the region comes alive as the camera move from snow clad dwellings of the yak and snow leopard to the tigers and rhinos of the plains. Myriad butterflies and birds of brilliant plumage flit through the pages, bringing out gasps of “wow” and “ooh” from the reader.</p> <p>The authors have done their research well, whether they discuss the history or the demographies. One realises how easily India could have lost this land, since the British were thinking of handing over Assam as part of East Pakistan, and how some intense diplomacy by Gopinath Bordoloi helped India retain it. Unfortunately, having got it as part of India, the Centre has ignored development in this north eastern region for decades. This book is an appreciation of what we have.</p> <p>The only bit missing in the book, however, is what the modern day north east looks like. The unplanned urbanisation, the new aspirations of the people, the new North East India, as such, isn't there in any of the pages. A little bit of everyday exotica could have been injected into the visuals and narrative.</p> <p><b>Title: Life and Culture in Northeast India</b></p> <p><b>Authors: Dipti Bhalla Verma and Shiv Kunal Verma</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Mapin Publishing</b></p> <p><b>Pages : 259</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 2,950</b></p> Wed Nov 11 17:59:18 IST 2020 review-azim-premji-the-man-beyond-the-billions <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Quick. If I mention "Azim Premji" what immediately comes to your mind? Billionaire entrepreneur? Trailblazer and part of the Indian IT services boom in the nineties and beyond? Gives away a lot of money to noble causes?</p> <p>And what else?<br> </p> <p>That is the very curious question that journalists-turned-authors Sundeep Khanna and Varun Sood hope their just-launched book,&nbsp;<i>Azim Premji: The Man Beyond the Billions</i>, will answer. After all, despite the fact his name is one of the best known in Indian business for decades now and with the country’s second highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan, adorning his mantelpiece, Azim Premji has remained diffidently reclusive as much as he is known to be irritably thrifty.</p> <p>The latter trait is pretty well-known. Keeping the purse strings tight, be it his company’s or his own is something the billionaire has practiced over the years, even if that has meant senior executives got miffed at not getting fat bonuses or his insisting on driving cars like his ‘lucky mascot’ Premier 118NE (and later an Innova) much to the chagrin of even his accounts guys. This writer himself encountered Premji across the aisle in cattle class on a flight from Bengaluru to Delhi a few years ago (he finally gave up his insistence on travelling economy just a few years ago, the book informs us).</p> <p>While he refused the inflight meal as I noticed, a love of food is one of the few indulgences the man has. But, according to the authors, it is not Michelin-starred restaurants or exotic culinary delights from top luxury hotels that delight him—his penchant is for street food, be it a potion of chaat in Indian cities or a falafel at a New York curb.&nbsp; And chocolates.</p> <p>These tidbits about the man who is a public figure but about whom the public knows very little, raises this biography into a smooth and interesting read. This is an authorised biography, and while Premji did not grant an interview to the writers, several former and present Wipro officials shared anecdotes and information with the writers, helping scope out a family legacy right from his father being selected by Mohammed Ali Jinnah in the mid-1940s to head the planning committee of the Muslim League, to Azim’s rude initiation into business (he had to drop out of Stanford when his father died suddenly in 1961), the diversification of Western India Palm Refined Oil Limited, or Wipro as we know it now, into IT business, and significantly, Premji’s ‘Wipro values’, the ethical path he had laid out for himself and his employees, as well as his philanthropic initiatives.</p> <p>The good thing with this book is that it does give oodles of tidbits about the personality behind the public persona, even if one comes away getting a feeling that it is not satisfying enough. While enough ground is covered regarding his love for street food, his love of dogs, his back problems etc, his personal life is skipped right over. His brother moving to Pakistan, his wedding and family life (though the book informs us that the wedding was a simple affair of less than 100 people, with no photographer!) and the problems with his son (the authors mysteriously write "his youngest son Tariq struggles a bit to find his way in life" but then offer up no explanation to it) are all chapters an authoritative biography could have dealt with for that deeper human element.<br> </p> <p>But, the book is indeed on more solid ground while dealing with the progress of Wipro, including all its successes, as much as its failures. The company’s chequered growth through the first two decades of this century, including the by-now in-famous sacking of joint-CEOs a few years ago, are dealt with at length. Even more ink has been spent detailing his philanthropic endeavours. And rightly so, for the two ideals that the man flaunts on his sleeves, running a business in an obsessively ethical manner, as well as the lofty idea of giving away your immense corporate wealth to help others (beyond CSR tax saving), are both lessons more Indians business leaders could do well to pick up.</p> <p><b>Azim Premji: The Man Beyond the Billions</b></p> <p><b>By Sundeep Khanna &amp; Varun Sood</b></p> <p><b>Harper Business</b></p> <p><b>224 pages; Rs699 (Hardbound)</b></p> Tue Nov 10 21:39:26 IST 2020 thirukkural-and-india-way-of-diplomacy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>India, as a civilisational power coming back on the international stage, must draw inspiration from its own ethos and epics and express itself in a distinct ‘India Way’, says External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in his book <i>The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World</i>. He has made this clear in the preface itself with a couplet from Thiruvalluvar, the ancient Tamil poet: ‘Wisdom is to live in tune with the mode of the changing world’</p> <p>From <i>Thirukkural</i>, Jaishankar goes on to <i>Mahabharatha</i> which holds lessons to deal with the complexities of the uncertain world. The dilemmas of statecraft permeate the story, among them taking risks, placing trust, and making sacrifices. It gives the most vivid distillation of Indian thoughts on statecraft with a graphic account of real-life situations and their inherent choices. The courage required to implement policy is, perhaps, its most famous section – the Bhagavad Gita in which Krishna provides strategic guidance, diplomatic energy and tactical wisdom in navigating challenges. Focusing on the importance of the sense of duty and the sanctity of obligations, it is also a description of human frailties.</p> <p>Jaishankar emphasises that brand differentiation is especially important for a rising and aspirational power. He calls for introduction of our own diplomatic terms into the discourse as it is intrinsic to the process of India’s international emergence. </p> <p>He sums up the foreign policy strategy in one sentence, “India should engage the US, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, bring back Japan into play, draw neighbours in, extend the neighbourhood and expand traditional constituencies of support”.</p> <p>The India Way includes among other things:</p> <p>- pursuit of multiple approaches and multiple alliances and partnership with global interests</p> <p>- keep up the many balls up in the air and reconcile commitments to multiple partners with skill. There will be convergence with many but congruence with none. In this world of all against all, India’s goal should be to move closer towards the strategic sweet spot. India must reach out in as many directions as possible and maximize its gains in the new world matrix of many sides, many players and many games.</p> <p>- respond with engagement than by distancing; deal with contesting parties at the same time with optimal results; engage a broader set of partners more creatively; forge convergences and manage divergences taking advantage of the opening of a world of multiple choices at different levels; assess the disruptions underway and the trends that accelerate, mitigate or counter new directions.</p> <p>-make many friends, few foes, great goodwill and more influence with a stronger competitive spirit and a sharper strategic sense.</p> <p>- Constant advancement of goals and interests, using all pathways that the world has to offer. And since that often means plunging into the unknown, it requires both judgement and courage. </p> <p>- take on global responsibilities and act as a constructive player</p> <p>- move over from the Delhi Dogmas of passivity and pessimism stuck in the past history and dilemmas of defensive and argumentative mindset.</p> <p>With his experience as Ambassador to China, he says that India should learn from the rise of China which should sharpen India’s competitive instincts. China has risen as a formidable global power drawing on its own cultural attributes. China Way has elevated dissimulation to the highest level of statecraft. This is exemplified by popular aphorisms such as, ‘Deceiving the heavens to cross the ocean’ or ‘making a sound in the East to then strike West’ or ‘decking trees with false blossoms’. Unlike in India, there is neither guilt nor doubt in dissembling in the Chinese mind. In fact, it is glorified as an art. Its virtues are repeatedly lauded in the Three Kingdoms epic, where many of the decisive encounters are won by trickery rather than by force. Using the above strategy China has been winning without fighting, while the US is stuck in fighting without winning in recent years.</p> <p>Some of his prescriptions for specific foreign policy issues:</p> <p>China: In dealing with China’s might, India should use “ Nimzo-Indian Defence”, moving from the past strategic posture similar to the “ Indian Defence” in chess. The border and the future of ties cannot be separated. India should not give free pass to China to make use of the open Indian market while keeping its own market protected. One of the ways to deal with China is try to create multipolar Asia with a stable balance.</p> <p>US: The playbook of dealing with US needs rewriting in view of the new priorities and problems of US and its growing tensions with China. India has to maintain a narrative of its value in the US and customise it for the President of the day.</p> <p>Pakistan: There is no one-time fix. A mix of fortitude, creativity and perseverance with prompt Uri and Balakot responses to counter mischiefs. It is important to note the minimal space Jaishankar has devoted for Pakistan which has become a disproportionate morbid obsession for the Indian media and TV talking heads. India needs to focus on the larger picture without being distracted too much by the Pakistani nuisance.</p> <p>Policy towards neighbours: simple answer in two words—generosity and firmness.</p> <p>Non-alignment: it suited India in the days when the country was weaker and was caught in the cold war between the two potent super powers. There was comfort in group mentality and non-involvement. But multi-alignment is the new India Way. It is more energetic and participative.</p> <p>Policy towards the West: India has both the ability to work confidently with the West when required and differ with it when its interests so demand. As India goes up in the international order, it will advance its own narratives, and, on occasion, question Western ones.</p> <p>Jaishankar has avoided a favourite and passionate foreign policy subject of many Indians: permanent membership of United Nations Security Council. Some in India get carried away with the outrage at the injustice of keeping India outside this organ of power. Even the Ministry of External Affairs has wasted energy on this issue by sending special envoys to the capitals of Belize and Haiti seeking their support. Big powers such as France and UK take India for a ride promising support and getting return favours, sure that that the day of reckoning is very very far. India should keep strengthening itself and wait for the day of disruption of the world order when it should be ready to kick open the doors of UNSC.</p> <p>In the past, India’s foreign policy has made some mistakes or missed opportunities due to passivity, delays and dilemmas in decision making. Jaishankar draws attention to Satyajit Ray’s movie “Shatranj ke kilari” (chess player) in which two Indian nawabs are engrossed in a chess game while the British are taking over their Awadh kingdom.</p> <p>The new India has to be alert to the changes in global politics and be prepared to make its own moves promptly as a proactive player.</p> <p>Jaishankar ends the book with a chapter on the Chinese-origin corona virus which has made the world even more uncertain than the disruption caused by China’s rise in the world. In its systemic impact, the corona virus may be the most consequential global happening after 1945. It adds to global turbulence by encouraging policy departures across geographies. This opens up opportunities for India whose value to the world will probably increase even further after the virus. He concludes the book with an optimistic and diplomatic message, “Let us take it as a sign of the (coronavirus) times that the world has discovered the virtue of Namaste, the India Way of greeting with folded hands”</p> <p>The 'India Way' is a timely message to the new India which is becoming stronger and is seeking its due place in the world. The book is not a mere academic analysis or erudite exercise. It is the call of a serving External Affairs Minister with experience of four decades of distinguished career as a diplomat. He has a unique opportunity to practice what he has preached in his book. He is lucky as a policy maker to have the confidence of a politician as prime minister who shares his vision for India’s future in the world.</p> <p>Jaishankar argues that as India rises in the world order, it should not only visualize its interests with greater clarity but also communicate them effectively. That’s what he has done in the book eloquently and authoritatively. The book will be read carefully by the foreign ministries and think tanks around the world. He has not shied away from commenting on sensitive topics such as the Trump phenomenon, American parsimony or the Chinese strategic deception.</p> <p>Jaishankar is the first Tamil to become External Affairs Minister of India. He had made use of his mother tongue in interactions with the Tamil Tigers when he was posted in Sri Lanka during the crucial period of IPKF operations. His father K Subramanyam, from Tiruchirappalli, served as IAS officer in the Tamil Nadu cadre. After shifting to the Central government in Delhi, he became the leading defence and security expert and was known as the doyen of India's strategic affairs community. Jaishankar’s son Dhruva is also a brilliant expert on international affairs.</p> <p>Jaishankar’s bold, dispassionate, candid and clear articulation fits the description of diplomacy by Thiruvalluvar in his poem: “Diplomacy is articulation according to the need of the time with profound knowledge and without fear.”</p> <p><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Tue Nov 10 14:09:38 IST 2020 review-ramayana-revisited-an-epic-through-a-legal-prism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The test of a classic lies in its ability to transcend the limits of time, be retold in a thousand ways and lend itself to myriad interpretations. The Ramayana is a perfect example of this, its numerous versions and retelling is proof of the epic's lofty position in the classical canon.<br> The mythological classic has been revisited yet again, and this time, it has been analysed using modern jurisprudence and seen through the lens of the Indian Penal Code.<br> <br> Senior journalist Anil Maheshwari and his nephew Vipul Maheshwari, a lawyer in the Supreme Court, have undertaken an innovative exercise of narrating the Ramayana through the processes provided by modern legal systems.<br> <i>'amayana Revisited – An Epic Through A Legal Prism</i>&nbsp;presents various situations and debates in the epic through the modern legal set up. For example, the book discusses the case of Manthara, Queen Kaikeyi's attendant, and argues if she is guilty of treason on account of her role in the banishment of Rama from Ayodhya, which eventually resulted in the untimely death of King Dashratha.<br> <br> The case against the hunchbacked retainer and confidante of Queen Kaikeyi is argued in the format of modern court proceedings, and her defence is also presented. The prosecution seeks suitable punishment against Manthara for conspiring against the state and abetting the death of King Dashratha. Her defence counsel, however, argues that she is not responsible for King Dashtratha's demise. “There needs to be an act intending towards death or an intention of causing bodily harm that could result in death to be liable for murder u/s 302 or culpable homicide not amounting to murder u/s 304 of the IPC. This kind of causation is too remote to be punishable,” is Manthara's defence.<br> <br> There is an interesting look at the story of Ahalya, and it is debated whether she is an adulteress or a victim of sexual assault. Ahalya points out that her marriage with Sage Gautama was illegal as she was a child when she got married. “Such a marriage is prohibited under law. Second, Sage Gautama shouldn't have agreed to marry me as he had raised me as his child.”<br> <br> On the abandonment of Sita by Rama, the book states that he should have, in fact, punished the dhobi who had raised questions about her fidelity. It says that the launderer should have been punished for rumour-mongering under the defamation law.<br> <br> </p> <p>Ramayana Revisited – An Epic Through A Legal Prism</p> <p>Anil Maheshwari and Vipul Maheshwari</p> <p>Bloomsbury</p> <p>Price Rs 499; Pages 262</p> Sat Nov 07 14:24:41 IST 2020 finding-balance <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Right in the introduction to ‘Breathe Believe Balance’, Shayamal Vallabhjee makes an unabashed confession: “I have been honest, transparent and emotionally vulnerable. If somewhere in your heart, you are holding on to the dream of a better life, I am going to give you the tools…. I have held nothing back. I know what pain feels like, and this is an honest attempt at giving you a chance to heal your pain.”</p> <p>Stirring stuff, isn’t it? It’s the kind of appeal that can move even a frumpy old cynic like me. Unlike me, if you are better disposed towards those who promise to heal your heart and mend your soul, Vallabhjee’s emotive lines should have you leaping towards your favourite book portal. As it turns out, your tribe is growing at a faster clip than mine.</p> <p>Lord Byron once said while it is possible for a woman to have no lovers at all, it is rare for a woman to have only one. In a sense, that holds for the self-improvement literature too. There are many people who have never read a self-help book, and appear none the worse for it. But there’s hardly a soul who’s read only one. He or she who reads one and is taken up with it will find the therapeutic effects wearing off after a while, and will soon be on the lookout for fresh supplies. This has kept self-help industry chugging for close to a century with every year seeing a new harvest of the genre.</p> <p>This year brought us Vallabhjee’s effort to systematically, and perhaps scientifically, transform yourself into a happier human being.</p> <p>Vallabhjee is a man of many parts – and startlingly different ones at that. By turns, monk of the Hare Krishna movement, performance coach, scientist (by his own admission) and the technical analyst who was part of the support staff of the Indian cricket team in the 2003 Cricket World Cup in South Africa. (You will remember it as the one where an inspired Sachin Tendulkar tore apart Shoaib Akhtar).</p> <p>Vallabhjee’s first step on the road to the triple ‘B’ is to unravel the self – excavating emotions buried deep in the subconscious. That’s a long and tricky journey by itself, and Valabhjee guides us with a series of exercises. Doing them is hard work, but you need to stay the course. Your rewards along the way are a number of fascinating anecdotes drawn from books on psychology, philosophy, the works.</p> <p>There are many performance truths to be re-learnt. These include the discipline of sticking to something long enough for change to be visible. You revisit the lesson that ‘it takes 3,000 repetitions to transfer a skills from the conscious to the sub-conscious mind’, and build muscle memory. You also get tips on ‘getting into your zone’ – that magical space where everything flows your way, and you can achieve your best.</p> <p>There is certainly good stuff – pearls of wisdom if you like – in ‘Breathe Believe Balance’ but you need to dive deep into turgid waters to find them. Also, it is not easy doing all that Vallabhjee recommends. But then nothing worthwhile is ever a cake walk. If you really want to improve yourself, you shouldn’t find it too difficult to plough through 300 odd pages, and turn into a happier version of yourself.</p> <p><b>Breathe Believe Balance</b></p> <p><b>Author:&nbsp; Shayamal Vallabhjee</b></p> <p><b>Published by: Pan Macmillan India</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 350</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 293</b></p> Mon Nov 02 20:23:17 IST 2020 what-stopping-india-becoming-super-power <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In July 2019, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman created a flutter while arriving in parliament to present the budget. Instead of the trademark briefcase, she carried a bahikhata, the traditional Indian ledger. Her move was lauded as yet another effort to shun the baggage of India's colonial past and to adopt the Indian way of doing, appearing to do, things.<br> <br> Aparna Pande, in her latest book, <i>Making India Great: The Promise of a Reluctant Global Power</i>, uses this episode as an illustration of the “confusion about India's desire to be a great global power and the means to get there.'' She argues that instead of focusing on building economic and military strength, the country's leaders believe that symbols and slogans demonstrate India's great power, or soon to be superpower status.<br> <br> Pande is forthright in her writing, as she examines India's potential and the gap between the actuality and this potential. She delves into India's record with social development, its foreign policy and military outlook, as well as its economy, and highlights the big gaps everywhere, even as she points out the political bombast in every sector.<br> <br> She compares India's progress with its immediate neighbours, as well as similarly developing nations across the world, and shows, through statistics, just where and how India lags behind. For instance, she points out that while the literacy rate may be 74 per cent, India ranks second, after Malawi, in a list of 12 nations wherein a grade two student could not read a single word of a short text. She shows another survey which reveals that 95 per cent of Indian engineers are not fit to take up software development jobs in India. She stresses on the need for the country to invest in human development.<br> <br> She is critical of the political move of free electricity and other subsidies which burden the government treasury and limit India's capacity for large scale production. Pande draws frequent comparisons with China in every aspect of India. She writes that while China used the last four decades of peace with India to create its economic miracle and modernise its military, India's economy did not grow consistently and its military modernisation is decades behind what its should be. In fact, she points out that while India sees China as a match with regard to civilisational heritage and potential, China does not see India as an equal.<br> <br> Pande concludes that India's foreign policy challenge is in reconciling its realism with tis idealism. She stresses that there are two immediate priorities -- balancing China's influence in the region, and find ways to work with the United States.<br> <br> Her opinions may be too critical, but she bolsters every argument with well researched data. She also gives a historical perspective to every issue she has taken up in the book. As such, this is a good book for someone who needs to understand what India is, right now. A book that a foreign diplomat, investor or policy maker will find handy. At the same time, it is a book that provides some good insights for Indians, themselves, whether they agree with her or not.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Title: Making India Great: The Promise of a Reluctant Global Power</b></p> <p><b>Author: Aparna Pande</b></p> <p><b> Publisher: HarperCollins<br> Price: Rs 599<br> Pages: 208</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Wed Oct 21 16:57:44 IST 2020 decoding-national-education-policy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The National Education Policy 2020 has dominated discussions ever since it was announced a few months ago. The policy brings about sweeping changes in the way India has approached education so far from KG to PG. It has enclosed nursery schooling into the formal school programme, using the pedagogical approach. It has made vocational subjects on par with the non-vocational ones. It is introducing a flexible, liberal arts degree programme with multiple entry and exit options.</p> <p>The policy is timely, given that India is going through a very important stage in its demographic progression, with the demographic dividend to be availed of during the next decade.&nbsp;</p> <p>Narendra Jadhav, in this book, discusses the need for the right policies and approach, whether it is in further increasing female participation in education or developing the right skill enhancement programmes, to harness the benefits of the demographic dividend.</p> <p>The book is well researched. It traces the history of the country's education policies since independence, flagging important markers, such as a near 100 percent enrollment at primary level (the mid-day meal scheme being the game changer), the decreasing gap between male and female participation in education, and the Right to Education Act.</p> <p>It does a detailed critique of the Kasturirangan Committee's draft on the National Education Policy. However, since the policy itself came out a few months ago, the author added a few hasty chapters, analysing the policy itself, and comparing it with the draft.&nbsp;</p> <p>As such, it is the first book on the Indian Education System after the policy was announced and the first book to discuss the policy itself.</p> <p>The author, however, should have edited certain parts of the chapters on the draft, specially where he makes recommendations for their inclusion or total removal from the policy. Such arguments are dated when the policy itself has been announced.&nbsp;</p> <p>The bits where he compared the draft with the actual policy, on the other hand, are insightful.&nbsp;</p> <p>Jadhav says the policy has the potential to be a great game changer, taking the country's education into a world class standard. He, however, points out the missing bits in the policy. One of this is an inadequate approach to tackle the "Out of School Children" problem. Another is that the policy falls short of transition to Education 4.0, along with the industry's transition into the fourth industrial revolution, with not enough focus on subjects like blockchain technology, internet of things and additive manufacturing.</p> <p>&nbsp;"The New Age Technology ought to find a place in the curricula right from high school education," argues Jadhav, who is a former member of the Planning Commission and currently a visiting professor at Ashoka University.</p> <p><b>Title: Future of the Indian Education System</b></p> <p><b>Author: Narendra Jadhav</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Konark Publishers</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 332</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 900</b></p> Sat Oct 17 17:19:57 IST 2020 sonnets-of-hope <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In her new book for children, <i>C is for Cat, D is for Depression</i>, Kairavi Bharat Ram, 22, uses a number of metaphors to describe depression. She compares it with a movie “full of colour and so bright, that loses all vibrancy, and is now black and white”. Or with walking around with a dark cloud over your head. “Around you it is sunny, but on you, there is a storm instead,” she writes. Bharat Ram says she has only ever been able to write in verse, and that, too, when she is very emotional. When she was diagnosed with depression in Class 12, her chaotic feelings lend themselves beautifully to poetry.</p> <p>In the waiting room outside her therapist’s office, she used to see children as young as five or six needing counselling. She wanted to help them express their feelings, so came up with these metaphors that describe “a treasure chest of different emotions”.</p> <p>The book works, and not just for children, because it is honest. It captures the essence of depression in a way only poetry can, because poetry lends itself so beautifully to emotions which prose struggles to pin down. The writing also has a pleasing effortlessness to it. Priya Kuriyan’s illustrations accompanying the poems are spot-on and give them sparkle.</p> <p><i>C is for Cat...</i> ends on a note of hope. “The only thing you cannot control is that things change,” says Bharat Ram. “No matter what you are feeling today, tomorrow will come.” Perhaps that is the reason for the pages beginning in black and ending in yellow. Because when the sun comes out in the morning, it will bring its paint box with it.</p> <p><i>C is for Cat, D is for Depression</i></p> <p>By Kairavi Bharat Ram</p> <p>Published by Scholastic</p> <p>Price Rs495; pages 65</p> Thu Oct 15 18:35:13 IST 2020 life-as-trespass <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is very little Devaki Jain, 87, has not done. She once drove a Land Rover from London to Kabul, eloped, lived with her lover for a year before they got married, worked with freedom activist Vinoba Bhave and befriended women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem. One of the leading economists of her generation, the Oxford-educated Jain’s memoir, <i>The Brass Notebook</i>—a twist on Doris Lessing’s <i>The Golden Notebook</i>—is worth its weight in gold for younger women, and not just because of her academic accomplishments.</p> <p><i>The Brass Notebook</i> begins with a quote from Moroccan feminist writer Fatema Mernissi: “To live is to look outside. To live is to step out. Life is trespassing.” Jain has done plenty of that. The book is a powerful testimony of that wonderfully freeing idea of life being a trespass.</p> <p>Jain writes engagingly—and incredibly honestly—about her life. Her lessons in gender started young. She was eight when her sister had her first period. Her aunts decided it was important to celebrate her entry into womanhood. “Thus, as the day of her first period arrived she was put into a room where she was completely isolated,’’ writes Jain, who was chosen to live with her for four days. “We were like animals in a zoo.”</p> <p>There are very few books that come endorsed by Amartya Sen, Desmond Tutu, Romila Thapar and Steinem—all of whom she knows personally. But that is not reason enough to read the book. <i>The Brass Notebook </i>is essential reading because it chronicles her life beyond her achievements. It is her adventures—and she has many—which make the book engrossing.</p> <p>Her relationship with her husband, Lakshmi Jain, began while he was engaged to someone else. “He was ‘my man’, even though he belonged to the inconvenient caste….’’ she writes. “I plotted to be with him on our way to a wedding.” The story of their romance, in the face of opposition from her father, is thrilling. The power couple of that time, Jain writes about their public life and their contribution to the cooperative movement.</p> <p>Along with writing passionately about passion—a rarity in the field of academics—Jain also brings alive the dream of India. There are her interactions with global stalwarts like Sen and her work for the Indian Cooperative Union. But more than that, the book is the story of a woman who is idealistic, determined, courageous and in love with life.</p> <p>Not squeamish, she writes about her abortions during her live-in relationship with Lakshmi, about desire as well as pleasure. It is this candid, almost brutal honesty—a trespassing of forbidden boundaries—that makes the book extraordinary.</p> <p><i>The Brass Notebook: A Memoir</i></p> <p>By Devaki Jain</p> <p>Published By Speaking Tiger</p> <p>Price Rs599; Pages 215</p> Thu Oct 15 16:41:33 IST 2020 t-is-for-tharoor-and-tour-de-force <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Under-secretary general at the UN, writer, politician, Union minister, charming socialite, and now, a fledgling stand-up comedian, Tharoor comes close to the ideal of the Renaissance man—except that he has a splendid sense of humour, something I don’t think Da Vinci was famous for. And of course, Da Vinci had little occasion to speak English, while Mr Tharoor, like Amitabh in <i>Namak Halal</i>, can leave the ‘<i>Angrez’</i> behind. He can talk English, he can walk English, he can laugh English, and it’s that last characteristic that turns his new book <i>Tharoorosaurus</i> into a tongue-in-cheek tour de force.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Tharoorosaurus</i> is the author’s first book where he decides to step down from the high pedestals of fiction, history (read Brit bashing), social analysis or faith, and decide to have fun. This book is a dictionary of 53 long and complex words—in Tharoor’s own words—one for every week of the year ahead, plus a bonus for staying the course. The origin of the words and the process by which they evolved into their current avatar are lucidly spelt out.&nbsp; Few of the words are likely to be useful to us in everyday conversation, and the book could have turned into a musty anchor for cobwebs in your grand-uncle’s library. But Tharoor is a good story-teller and the pages are bright with wit and whiplash satire.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excellent as his vocabulary undoubtedly is, I have always believed that if Dr Manmohan Singh was the ‘accidental Prime Minister’, Tharoor is an accidental artiste of the long word. Indeed, his early forays into this domain were not entirely happy. He burnt his fingers at the barbecue, so to speak, with his ‘cattle class’ comment. Not being twice shy, he soon came up with ‘interlocutor’, and all hell broke loose. Tharoor was not at fault but in these matters, it is not so much right or wrong but perception which carries the day. In the perception of the general public, the ‘inter’ prefix put ‘interlocutor’ perilously close to ‘intermediary’, and as is well known, any form of mediation regarding Kashmir is our red rag. The fires were doused only after Tharoor gave us all an English tutorial. Gradually, the number of Tharoor-isms and their popularity increased, and amplification through social media soon made him the prince of the polysyllabic expression.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this book, Tharoor makes no attempt to hide his political affiliations. So the 300-odd pages throws up plenty of opportunities to take a swipe at the ruling party and its leader, and he doesn’t miss a trick. Perhaps a more objective lexicographer would have cast an equally critical eye at the Opposition (such as it is) too. So, ‘V’ for Vigilante talks about the brand of justice that <i>gau rakshaks</i> deals in. ‘G’ is for goon, e.g., the goons who assaulted students at JNU. Both these contemptuous references are undoubtedly well deserved. But then, ‘D’ is for ‘Defenestrate’, and not ‘Dynast’ or god forbid ‘Dunderhead’. Yes, Tharoor has his biases, but to paraphrase Churchill, it’s the kind of biases we admire.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Enlivened by Mihir Joglekar’s delightful illustrations, <i>Tharoorosaurus</i> is the ideal book to leave on your coffee table, and kindle a conversation. From the words that the author uses, the conversation will gather steam to develop into a spirited debate about the many lives that he leads. You can be sure there is not going to be dull moment after that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A couple of weeks ago, Tharoor had complimented Chetan Bhagat for an op-ed piece written by the mass-selling novelist. Bhagat being Bhagat requested Tharoor to load his compliments with some heavy-duty words, and Tharoor duly obliged. Now, it’s up to Bhagat to rustle up a story about a boy who serenades his lady love in words not less than sixteen letters drawn from <i>Tharoorosaurus</i>.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> Sun Oct 11 18:02:59 IST 2020 capital-contest-tracing-aap-journey <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There has been a lack of clarity over whose idea it originally was that the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement should lead to the formation of a political party and whether social activist Anna Hazare wanted the campaign to remain apolitical and did not favour the creation of the Aam Aadmi Party in 2012.</p> <p>A new book <i>Capital Contest – How AAP and Kejriwal won Delhi</i> by AAP leader Deepak Bajpai and journalist Sidharth Pandey claims that it was actually Hazare who suggested that the IAC could be taken forward in the form of a political party.</p> <p>The book quotes an account made by Ankit Lal, who is the social media in-charge of the AAP, of Hazare's hospitalisation in Medanta, Gurgaon in January, 2012. Hazare had taken ill during a protest in Delhi. Lal was in the hospital with Hazare when journalist Punya Prasun Bajpai called on the activist.</p> <p>“While Lal says he was outside the room, it was at this meeting that Hazare and Bajpai apparently discussed the formation of a political party,” says the book.</p> <p>The AAP was born in 2012, with several members of the IAC joining Kejriwal in the political outfit. There were many others who felt that the campaign against corruption should remain apolitical.</p> <p>This turn of events has been much debated over the years. The writers note that there have been competing versions of the exact sequence: was it Kejriwal who came up with the idea of forming a political outfit or Hazare or someone else?</p> <p>Journalist-turned-AAP leader Bajpai claims it was Hazare who had first asked him how others in IAC felt about forming a political outfit and whether this was the way to proceed. “Bajpai had told Hazare that IAC had achieved what it could, but as it wanted to change the political system from within, that would only be possible through a political route. Hazare also seemed convinced and agreed,” according to the book.</p> <p>Bajpai says that when he came out of Hazare's room and informed Kejriwal and others of what Hazare had said, they almost lifted him up on their shoulders and said that he had done the impossible.<br> <br> <b>Capital Contest – How AAP and Kejriwal Won Delhi<br> By Deepak Bajpai and Sidharth Pandey<br> Rupa Publications<br> Price Rs 195; Pages 148</b></p> Thu Oct 08 15:57:25 IST 2020 plot-clot <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At nearly 1,000 pages, <i>Troubled Blood</i> is a wrist-breaker. And the longest you get to spend with the author’s famous characters—private detective Cormoran Strike and his assistant, Robin Ellacott. Still, one wonders, is it a tad too long? J.K. Rowling, writing as Robert Galbraith, loves stories with diverse characters and side-plots. Her latest is cluttered with them. Each character, even the minor ones, are etched out in great detail with elaborate back stories, even if red herrings.</p> <p>It all starts with a cold case. At a pub in Cornwall, a woman asks Strike to find out what happened to her mother, Margot Bamborough, a doctor and former Playboy Bunny who disappeared 40 years ago. Bill Talbot, the first investigator in the case, was attacked by the serial killer Dennis Creed, who tortured and murdered several women. Margot’s daughter, Anna, was only a year old when her mother disappeared. Now, she wants closure. Anna’s partner Kim—this is the first time Rowling is introducing a lesbian couple, after facing flak for her comments on the transgender community—is not too keen. Strike, too, is hesitant, what with the cold trail, dead witnesses and an imprisoned Creed.</p> <p>You do not turn to Rowling for fast-paced thrillers. Her stories are for those who love wonderfully eccentric characters and rambling plots, but even for the most enthusiastic Rowling fan, this book is tedious. The messy lives of the characters and the different threads in the story are too much to keep up with. The thrill of the first two books in the series, including the delicious chemistry between Strike and Ellacott, fizzles out in <i>Troubled Blood</i>. They spend most of their time bickering or being grumpy. Consequently, instead of a sinfully-satisfying experience, Strike’s fifth outing is a let-down—not fun, frothy or eminently sinkable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>Troubled blood</i><br> </p> <p>By Robert Galbraith</p> <p>Published by Hachette India</p> <p>Price Rs899 Pages 929</p> Thu Oct 01 14:45:29 IST 2020 game-of-thrones <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is not a story of true love, but there are lovers aplenty. <i>The House of Jaipur: The Inside Story of India’s Most Glamorous Royal Family</i> is a tale of romance, opulent palaces, infidelity, scandal and princes who lived large—all wrapped up in an irresistible fairy-tale with no happy endings.</p> <p>Author John Zubrzycki traces the history of the family that truly put Indian royalty on the international map. The book is the delicious tale of the most glamorous couple in India, who dined with the Kennedys and counted the Windsors as their friends—Gayatri Devi, or Ayesha as she is referred to in the book, and her husband Sawai Man Singh II, or Jai.</p> <p>Zubrzycki has written about opulence before; <i>The Last Nizam</i> was a fascinating glimpse into the intrigue around the world’s richest man. Here, too, he is wonderful at blending fact, gossip and history into a heady cocktail. He vividly recreates an almost impossible-sounding world—of champagne, cocktails, <i>shikars</i> and parties—that existed at the cusp of Independence. It is also an ode to Gayatri Devi. Zubrzycki makes no bones about where his sympathies lie. She is the heroine of the story, but he also peppers it with the delightfully eccentric characters who surround her.</p> <p>While the story of the royal couple’s whirlwind romance is well known, Zubrzycki paints it as an unequal relationship, with Jai continuing to have affairs with other women. But more than just the romance, glamour and wealth, that might seem straight out of The Arabian Nights, there is also a glimpse into the kind of turbulent times in which these characters grew up. Jai, who was adopted by Sawai Madho Singh II, was just nine years old when he ascended the throne. The fear of him being murdered was so real that his meals (sampled beforehand by food tasters) were served in special poison-detecting plates.</p> <p>The extent of British control over the princes’ lives included even their sexuality. When Jai got married to 24-year-old Marudhar Kunwar, they were not permitted to consummate the marriage until he became more mature. In 1927 came the disturbing news that she had intoxicated her 15-year-old husband with wine, slept with him and was now pregnant. This turned out not to be true as each of his visits had been chaperoned. But the paternalistic attitude of the British to Jai’s sexuality reached its peak in the summer of 1927, writes Zubrzicki, when it was recommended that he not sleep with his wife until he turned 17. The reason was his alleged interest in boys and her propensity to drink. During his last year at the Mayo College for Indian Chiefs, however, he was allowed conjugal visits once a fortnight.</p> <p>Peppered with fascinating stories and characters, the book is a compulsive read. Jai’s second wife, Maharani Kishore Kanwar, or Jo, was lively and struck a firm friendship with Virginia Cherrill, her husband’s lover. Jo and Virginia wrote to each other regularly. While Jai was busy writing love letters to Virginia, he was also wooing Ayesha, who later became his third wife. Then there was the powerful Roop Rai, or “the female Rasputin”, Madho Singh’s favourite concubine, who, according to British intelligence, had “hypnotic power” over the Maharaja and had convinced him that she could speak with his dead wife.</p> <p>But perhaps the most fascinating character he writes about is Indira Devi—Ayesha’s mother, who spurned the Baroda Maharaja to instead marry Jitendra Narayan, who later became the Maharaja of Cooch Behar. She brought chiffon into fashion, had several affairs and was close to Jai. One of her paramours was Khusru Jung, the dashing Hyderabadi nobleman who was private secretary to the crown prince of Kashmir, Hari Singh, and with whom she had a daughter. Thrilling, deeply satisfying and engaging, the book is a must-read.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The House of Jaipur: The Inside Story of India’s Most Glamorous Royal Family</i> </p> <p>By John Zubrzycki<br> </p> <p>Published by Juggernaut</p> <p>Price Rs599 Pages 358</p> Thu Oct 01 14:41:47 IST 2020 pk-rosy-the-mother-of-malayalam-cinema <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Back in the 1920s, Malayalam cinema's first ever heroine, P.K. Rosy, experienced art in its purest form in <i>Kakkarissi Natakam</i>—a folk musical drama enacted in Malayalam and Tamil, usually plotted around Shiva, Parvathi and Ganga descending on earth to decimate the demons and the bandits. This night-long theatrical form was not allowed to be performed in high-caste temples of the time.</p> <p>In the book, <i>The Lost Heroine: A Novel</i> (Speaking Tiger, 176 pages, Rs 299), when Rosy is taken to see her first ever <i>Kakkarissi</i> play, she is enamoured by the character of Parvathi who denounces the heathens to turn into cats, lizards and owls, whose dancing and singing were as dainty as they were divine in Rosy's eyes. So, when she learns that neither Parvathi, nor Ganga or the Queen in the play were female actors, she wonders in surprise, "Can the men transform themselves to become such beautiful women?"</p> <p>The first ever English biography on the life of Rosy, translated from Vinu Abraham's <i>Nashta Naayika</i>, goes on to recount two important transformations—much more significant than men transforming into beautiful women: Rosy went on to become the first woman to perform in a <i>Kakkarissi</i> play. And later she became the first Dalit girl to transform into an upper-caste Nair woman in the first ever Malayam film made in 1928. In fact, she is the first Dalit girl in Indian cinema.</p> <p>Just that in this fascinating story of firsts, the heroine from a poverty-stricken Pulaya family has to succumb to vicious caste violence, forcing her to flee town to save her life and honour. The tragic story of Rosy is well-known in Kerala, but for non-Malayali readers 'The Lost Heroine: A Novel' is an enlightening primer on the sexual abuse and discrimination that women from poor Dalit families faced at the hands of rich upper castes through the prism of the making of <i>Vigathakumaran</i> (The Lost Child), the first Malayalam feature film, released in 1930.</p> <p>In a matter of weeks, Rosy, a poor Dalit Christian girl of the Pulaya caste, was transformed into Sarojini—the beautiful Nair girl who lived in a grand <i>tharavad</i>, wore <i>mundus</i> and blouses of the finest silk and gold jewellery from head to toe. Sarojini, with whom the handsome Jayachandran falls in love at first sight as she sits at her window playing the veena in <i>Vigathakumaran</i>. But when the film is screened at the Capitol Theatre in Trivandrum, stones are pelted when the handsome hero kisses the flower he removes from Sarojini's hair. At the premiere, a nervous, excited and demure Rosy, sitting in a corner of the hall with her proud parents, is gheraoed and condemned as in a witch-hunt. Later, her house is set on fire by a rampaging mob. Rosy narrowly escapes death while fleeing town. She goes on to marry the truck driver who saves her life, Kesava Pillai, and spends the rest of her life in anonymity. It is only in a forgotten roll of film that her story lives on. This is the origin story of the Kerala film industry. She could aptly be called "the Mother of Malayalam Cinema".</p> Tue Sep 22 16:31:18 IST 2020 lockdown-reading-the-divine-boys <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>The Divine Boys&nbsp;</i>(Los Divinos in Spanish) is the story of five boys who form a gang called Tutti Frutti in school. The boys—Muñeco, Tarabeo, Duque, Pildora and Hobbo— are into pranks, games, alcohol, drugs, girls, and the nightlife of Bogota.</p> <p>Inspired by “One for all and all for one” they have a pact “One for Tutti and Tutti for Frutti”. Their common code: Worship of drink, the dominance of females and scorn for the weak.&nbsp;They carry on their boyhood bonding even in their thirties by getting together to relive the nostalgia and push the social boundaries.<br> </p> <p>The hero of the gang is Muñeco, also known as Mi-Lindo, Ken and Baby-Boy. He&nbsp;is handsome, wealthy, athletic, stylish, charmer, talker and party animal. He is short-fused, prone to rages and gets into brawls ending up sometimes with black eyes and broken bones. His appetites grow wild and twisted. After having exhausted a vast repertoire of sexual deviations and perversions, he goes after a little girl, rapes and kills her. He seeks the help of his brotherhood to help him out after the crime. But he is caught and convicted.&nbsp;</p> <p>The other four members of the brotherhood are: Tarabeo (aka Dino-rex, Rexona, Taras Bulba) is a playboy and master of the art of seduction. He makes plans and decisions for the group. He and Muñeco are known as the Divine boys; Duque (aka Nobleza, Dux) is a perfectionist. He is the wealthiest and has a country home where the Tutti Frutis meet for poker and drinking binges; Pildora (aka Pildo, Pilulo, Dorila) is the errand boy. He does whatever he is asked to do: shopping, driving, picking up things for others and supplying party drugs to the gang from his mother’s pharmacy; Hobbit (aka Hobbo, Bobbi and Job) is an introvert who is into literature and has a phobia against physical touch by others.&nbsp;He does not belong to the rich class of the other four. But the others take him in for his complementary qualities missing among themselves. There is a girl who joins the boy's group occasionally. She is Alicia (aka Malicia), the girlfriend of Duque&nbsp;but she has a secret affair with Tarebeo&nbsp;and flirts with Hobbit.<br> </p> <p>Laura Restrepo, the author makes the characters come alive with her graphic descriptions and&nbsp;elaborate&nbsp;narratives.&nbsp;She develops each character with their own phobias and fetishes, craziness and creative talents, inner demons and outer appearances. She describes how an individual is shaped as a monster in brotherhood gangs.&nbsp;She gives a glimpse of the Colombian society through the adventures and circumstances&nbsp;of the characters.&nbsp;Hobbit exclaims, “This country of ours has had so much war—so very much, borne for too long a time—that we the living have grown inured to it”.&nbsp;Colombia has suffered so much violence and death from ideological conflicts, guerilla wars and drug trafficking. Much more than any other Latin American country.</p> <p>The only disappointment is that after building up the&nbsp;characters and the story&nbsp;so steadily and elaborately,&nbsp;the author&nbsp;finishes the novel fast at the end. The reader who is settled in for a long journey is woken up and asked to get off the train before the imagined destination. But I had enjoyed long fantastic journeys in her&nbsp;other novels&nbsp;such as <i>Leopard in the Sun,</i>&nbsp;<i>Delirium</i>, <i>The angel of Galilea</i>, <i>The dark bride</i>&nbsp;and <i>Too many heroes</i>.</p> <p>Laura Restrepo is a gifted writer and guide to Colombian and Latin American society. Her works are not just pure imagination. Some of them are based on her own political experience and personal witness to violence, crime and wars. She combines the facts and fiction seamlessly and creatively in her novels. Her life is as interesting as her fiction. She has seen life from different angles as an academic, journalist, political leader, member of the guerrilla movement, writer and novelist. As a journalist, she was in the frontlines covering the US invasion of Grenada and the Contra war in Nicaragua.&nbsp;</p> <p>When she was working for a Colombian TV channel, she wrote the script for a miniseries on the theme of a deadly feud between two families involved in drug trafficking. But the channel did not air it since they received the visit of a lawyer who " mentioned about blowing up the office building of the TV channel"<br> </p> <p>In1982, President Betancur of Colombia nominated Restrepo as member of the commission to negotiate peace with the&nbsp;<a href="" title="19th of April Movement">M-19</a>&nbsp;guerrillas.&nbsp;She received death threats after voicing her loud opinions and comments on the peace negotiations and the guerrillas. She was forced to go on exile to Mexico for six years. During this time she wrote the novel " Isle of Passion" about the Mexican revolution after which an army group is stuck in an island off Mexico.<br> </p> <p>She started her career as a professor of literature at the National University of Colombia. She worked as editor of the popular magazine <i>Semana</i>&nbsp;for twelve years. and was later involved in the politics of Colombia and was a member of the Trotskyite party. She became a member of the Socialist Workers Party of Spain where she lived for three years. She was in Argentina for four years as part of the underground resistance fighting against the military dictatorship. This experience comes out in her novel,"No place for heroes". She was briefly married to an Argentine politician with whom she had a son.&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</b><br> </p> <p><b>&nbsp;</b></p> Sun Sep 13 19:29:06 IST 2020 consumerist-encounters-understanding-the-psyche-of-the-consumer <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is not clear if author and academic Sreedeep Bhattacharya approves of Rhea Chakraborty, despite their common ‘Bong’ness. But they do have a certain T-shirt connection, as it turns out.</p> <p>The actress, who was the epicentre of a media storm the past few weeks over the investigation into the death of her former boyfriend Sushant Singh Rajput, had famously worn a T-shirt deriding patriarchy on her last day of interrogation with the CBI and NCB. In his new book just out, titled ‘Consumerist Encounters’, Bhattacharya spends an entire chapter crunching down the socio-economic connotations of the humble T-shirt. After going through various examples ranging from text to colour to shade to genre (no, feminist tropes did not find a mention), he gives his opinion, “T-shirt captures the ephemeral tendencies of consumers to whimsically pick up ready-to-wear things and discard them soon, too. The T-shirt…is not eternal but ephemeral - till it lasts the wash.”</p> <p>This new book dwells deep on the various facets of post-liberalisation culture of consumerism in India. But before you groan, hear us out. This is not another celebration of MTV and Levi’s jeans, or all the shopping malls that everyone’s scared to go in these pandemic days anyway. Bhattacharya’s approach is much more in-depth, as he looks at various aspects of our culture that have been transformed, and defined by the economic changes brought about by (and since) the 1991 Union budget.</p> <p>For example, beside the just mentioned reference to T-shirts and how they went up in popularity despite (or because of) their apparent ‘ordinariness’, he narrates the ordinary individual’s relationship with commodity (product, item, object, whichever way you want to look at it), the importance of images in popular culture, how the need for ‘identity’ as defined the evolution of Indian society even from colonial times and how consumer culture has fundamentally changed in the last three decades. Somewhere right at the start of his discourse (it is difficult to call this a book, as many chapters have been individually presented as lectures at various forums), he comments, “Ephemerality ensures the rapidity of choosing, usage, and disposal of things and their images. That pace of moving on is unprecedented as the basket of choice has increased and the lifespan of things has shrunk.”</p> <p>The biggest strength, and weakness, of this book is the fact Bhattacharya, a sociologist and associate professor at Shiv Nadar University, uses a lingo normally found more in doctoral dissertations than in paperbacks. Every analysis is jazzed up with complex ‘academese’, with dutiful references and footnotes offered on every page for the more-curious. And that’s a pity, since a more reader-friendly text could have taken his incisive observations on anything from the nature of advertisements, how they have changed us a consumerist society and the milestones we’ve crossed in popular culture and its representation, to a much bigger, and appreciative, audience.</p> <p><b>Book: Consumerist Encounters: Flirting with Things and Images</b></p> <p><b>Author: Sreedeep Bhattacharya</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Oxford University Press</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 292</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 1,599 (Hardcover, on</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Sep 12 19:32:19 IST 2020 parveen-babi-unraveled <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When Parveen Babi, yesteryear's glamour diva in Hindi cinema, went to college in Ahmedabad in the 1960s, her hostel friends didn't really consider her an 'ideal roommate'. Babi's corner of the room was always a cluttered mess of unwashed clothes, books and loose sheets of paper. Babi's friend Mala recalls, however, that on rare occasions when Babi did clean up, her drive to sort out the mess would border around the obsessive.</p> <p>When the tall, slim, cigarette-smoking cool Babi was betrothed in college to a Karachi-based pilot, she would doodle his name in pillowcases and notebooks. And then on her wrists with a pin pressed hard on her skin, mesmerised by the trickle of blood oozing out and persisting with it to carve out the perfect initials of her long-distance beloved.</p> <p>Karishma Upadhyay, in her sumptuous biography of the glamorous star, situates this fanatical trait as an ominous warning. "One wonders if what might have passed off as the ultra-romantic gesture of a girl pining for her first love was, perhaps, the earliest marker of an obsessive mind. Later, the same disturbing behaviour would later manifest itself in Parveen's obsession with her co-star of many films—Amitabh Bachachan."</p> <p>In her biography of the actor, 'Parveen Babi: A Life', Upadhyay opens the book with the mentally broken starlet returning from a stage show in London engulfed in melancholy. She had left for the London tour excited and full of hope because Bachchan, her co-star from several films, was also part of the performing group. But she wasn't the centre of his attention there. After her return from the show, a scene of complete meltdown unfolds in that first chapter where Babi starts attacking her mother like a psychotic person.</p> <p>Upadhyay, a seasoned film journalist, unpacks the life and legend of the bold and beautiful Babi with meticulous research and care. She traces the journey of a shy, curious-eyed girl from an aristocratic family in Junagadh to an unconventional showstopper in the 1970s and 80s Hindi cinema who broke the "pious, nice girl" template to carve her own niche in over 50 films in a career spanning 15 years, with great commercial success in films like <i>Deewar</i>, <i>Shaan</i>, <i>Kaalia</i> and <i>Amar Akbar Anthony</i>. A complete outsider who blazed like a comet, defining her own rules. Paced easy with simple, flowing language, the gritty and gregarious subject herself with her glittering tale takes the plot forward without much effort.</p> <p>A free-spirited boheme, she was the darling of gossip columns in her time. The author unveils lesser-known facts about the actor's doomed romances, her delusional attachment to a spiritual mentor who counseled her to quit films, and her struggles with mental illness. Friends, former lovers, co-stars, parents and relatives have all been roped in to reconstruct the life of an extraordinary public figure whose rollercoaster ride of finding fame, love, money and losing it all is the stuff of great cinema history and lore.</p> <p><b>Parveen Babi: A Life by Karishma Upadhyay</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Hachette</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 299</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 599</b></p> Wed Sep 09 11:50:54 IST 2020