Books en Wed May 20 10:38:11 IST 2020 lockdown-reading-in-search-of-klingsor <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Jorge Volpi is one of the five young Mexican writers who founded&nbsp;the Crack Movement in the mid-nineties. These rebels, called as the ‘Crack Generation’ wanted to break with the regional trend of Magical Realism dominant in the twentieth century. They issued a Crack Manifesto in 1996, setting out the groundwork for a new path for writing. Ignacio Padilla, one of the founders of the Crack Movement said, “It is the crack novel’s role to renew the language inside of itself, that is, feeding it with its oldest ashes”. Another cofounder Ricardo Chavez Castenada said, “The crack novels create their own codes and take them to their last consequences. They are self-centred cosmos, almost mathematical in their buildings and foundations”.</p> <p>Volpi himself is focused less on the language and more on the actions of characters and research into academic topics especially science and history. Although the Crack Movement did not get a region-wide traction in Latin America, it was a source of inspiration for many young writers who felt burdened by the magical expectations of readers.</p> <p>With this introduction, I tried Volpi’s novel <i>In search of Klingsor</i> with much curiosity. &nbsp;Until this, I had been thoroughly soaked in Magical Realism by many of the “Boom” writers such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa, whom I adored. Volpi did not disappoint me. He has, in fact, exceeded my expectations. I enjoyed the novel savouring it from the beginning till the end. It was so entertaining and engrossing that I could not stop till I finished it. It was a novel of intrigues, suspense, romance, ideas, philosophical provocations, scientific explorations and mathematical analysis. None of the characters in the novel is Mexican. Nor is there any link or reference to Mexico.</p> <p>The story is about an American scientist Francis Bacon from Princeton who is recruited by the US army and taken to Germany to search for and interrogate the leading German scientists who were developing weapons for the Nazi regime. His main goal is to identify Klingsor who was the chief advisor of Hitler on scientific research, especially on atom bomb and who had the final authority for financial approvals for the projects. Klingsor is not a real name but a code name. It has been taken from the name of the magician in Richard Wagner’s opera Parsifal. He was a mysterious figure and was not known to the public or even to most of the scientific community. So there were only rumours and conjectures.</p> <p>Bacon takes the help of Gustav Links, a German mathematician who gives various clues and leads Bacon to meetings with a number of scientists. Links was arrested for his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler in 1944. The judge, who was about to pass sentence, was killed when the ceiling of the court building fell on him from Allied bombing. Links survives and lives to tell Bacon, the stories of other scientists. Bacon falls in love with Irene, a Soviet agent looking for the same Klingsor. She convinces him that it was Links who acted as Klingsor and persuades Bacon to hand over Links to the Soviet agents who smuggle him to East Germany and detains him in a mental asylum.</p> <p>Volpi has mastered physics and mathematics and has given lessons by taking the readers through the labyrinths of Theory of Relativity, Theory of Infinite Sets, Theory of Transfinite numbers, Set Theory, Continuity and Irrational numbers, Theory of Variables, Uncertainty Principle, Quantum Theory and other such theories. He has included life stories of famous scientists such as Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Otto Hahn, Erwin Shrodinger, Max Planck, Von Neumann, Johannes Stark and Werner Heisenberg. The book should be even more interesting for the students of maths and physics.</p> <p>&nbsp;Volpi has weaved the theories and scientific debates into the stories of love, betrayal, loyalty, politics, war, morality and history. The scientist characters use their mathematical calculations and theories of physics to analyse day to day affairs besides the larger issues of state policies, religion and global affairs.&nbsp;</p> <p>Volpi has described how Nazism had infected the scientific community and divided them based on their religion and political affiliation. The pro-Nazi scientists advanced their careers by denouncing Jewish scientists and driving them out of Germany or into concentration camps. They had unleashed a vicious campaign to eliminate the “Jewish elements” from German science. Since Einstein, an eminent Jew, had escaped and gone over to the American side, he was vilified and his theory was questioned. &nbsp;Those supporting the Theory of Relativity were labelled as disloyal to the Fatherland and slandered as “white jews”. Some great scientists had stooped to very low levels as malicious men.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;Volpi has portrayed a vivid picture of the German society under Hitler as well as the atrocities of Nazis based on actual persons and events. He has narrated German legends, folk tales, literature, music, schools of philosophy and history which had influence on Hitler and his henchmen. He uses typical German phrases and words to emphasise the authenticity of the German characters.</p> <p>Volpi has narrated the love stories of Bacon and Links through the chaos of Nazism and violence of the war. Bacon loses both his American lover and fiancée in Princeton. He falls in love with Irene in Germany but disillusioned to find that she is in fact a Soviet ‘honeytrap’. Bacon is initiated into romance by his friend Heinrich who introduces his girlfriend Natalia and her friend Marianne. Bacon marries Marianne and both of them fall in love with Natalia after Heinrich goes to serve in the army. Later, Bacon switches his love to Natalia from Marianne. Himmler executes Heinrich for his role in the assassination plot against Hitler and does not spare even Natalia’s life. Bacon’s wife commits suicide. Poignant stories of love, betrayal and tragedy in which the two brilliant scientific minds of both Bacon and Links get lost in the mysteries of love.</p> <p>There is one similarity between Volpi and some of the writers of the “Boom Generation”. He also got a diplomatic assignment like many of the magical realism writers. The Mexican government posted him as cultural attaché at their Paris embassy. This is an interesting tradition of the Latin American governments who have honoured many writers by posting them as cultural diplomats and ambassadors. Octavio Paz, the Mexican poet, was ambassador to India in the sixties.</p> <p>In the end, I cannot help but feel a bit of irony. Volpi had chosen to write about Europe in this novel as part of his Crack Movement’s aim to break free from the Latin American Magical Realism of dictatorship, killings, torture and exile. But in this novel, Volpi narrates the monstrous atrocities of Nazis and the traumatisation of Europe. This tragedy is infinitely much worse and incredible than what happened in Latin America. Munich suffered longer than Macondo which faced rains lasting for four years, eleven months and two days. The Nazis sold more fantasies to the Germans than the gypsies did in Macondo. So, Volpi has just exchanged one magical realism for another, at least in this novel.&nbsp;</p> <p><b><i>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</i></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><a href="" title="Like">&nbsp;</a></p> Sat Jun 20 16:39:48 IST 2020 lockdown-reading-origins-latin-american-guerrilla-movements <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The book <i>Latin American Guerrilla Movements: Origins, Evolution and Outcomes</i> is the latest, published in December 2019, on this fascinating subject. It gives a comprehensive overview of the guerrilla movements with regional and sub-regional (Central America, Andean and Southern Cone) perspectives besides case studies on individual countries in the region. It brings out the Zeitgeist, the ideas, beliefs and sentiments which motivated and inspired the young guerrilla fighters.</p> <p>The book has been edited by Dirk Kruijt, Eduardo Rey Tristán and Alberto Martín Álvarez who have impeccable research expertise on the guerrilla movements in Latin America. Local experts in the individual countries have given authentic account with their first-hand knowledge and face to face interaction with some of the guerrilla leaders. The 19 scholars who have contributed the articles, have maintained objectivity and neutrality, avoiding the partisan passion which is still polarising some parts of the region.</p> <p>Of course, rebellions and revolutions have been the leitmotifs of Latin American politics throughout its history. First, it was the indigenous who resisted the Spanish conquistadores. Then the Creoles fought for independence from Spain and Portugal. After independence, the leftist guerrilla movements aspired to overthrow dictatorships and even democratically elected governments in order to establish Utopias of socialist nature. The guerrilla movements proliferated from the sixties to the nineties.</p> <p><b>Sources of inspiration</b></p> <p>There were four principal sources of inspiration for the revolutionaries: Dependency Theory, Liberation Theology, Che Guevara and the triumph of the Cuban revolution. Besides these regional sources, local and national martyrs as well as external sources from outside the region had also influenced the guerrilla groups.</p> <p>The Dependency Theory awakened, opened the minds and instigated the university students and professors to rise against exploitation and imperialism. Some poets and writers added fuel to the revolutionary fire. Marti (Cuban poet Jose Marti who fought for the independence of Cuba) was invoked more than Marx in the revolutionary discourses.</p> <p>The Liberation Theology of the clergy gave a new radical interpretation of the Bible and justified recourse to arms to fight social injustice and exploitation. The Latin American Episcopal conference in 1968 in Medellin (Colombia) endorsed Liberation Theology. Although the Vatican was against it, the Latin American priests at lower levels working in poverty stricken areas embraced Liberation Theology as a legitimate way for the poor to seek social justice. Camilo Torres, the Colombian priest who joined the ELN guerrilla movement and died in combat in 1966 said, “ If Jesus were alive today, he would have been a guerrillero”. The Nicaraguan priests, the Cardenal brothers (Ernesto and Fernando), recruited young catholics to the Sandinista struggle.</p> <p>The universities, churches and Bible reading groups became the breeding grounds of revolution and principal centres of recruitment.</p> <p>Che Guevara stood out distinctly as the icon for the young revolutionaries of the region. His ascetic devotion to the ideal, selfless sacrifice and martyrdom had romanticised the revolutionary fight against injustice and imperialism. Che had fought wars going beyond his country and continent. This had inspired a number of other Latin Americans who joined voluntarily and enthusiastically in the wars outside their own countries.</p> <p><b>Cuba</b></p> <p>The victory of the small group of Cuban guerrillas against overwhelming odds and in defiance of the mighty US intoxicated the imagination of the Latin American youth. Mythology and legends were built around the heroes and nobility of the cause. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara proved that it was possible for guerrillas to militarily defeat a regular army and bring about a socialist revolution overcoming the opposition of the capitalist imperialism of US.</p> <p>Cuba gave support to guerrilla groups in 14 countries out of the total of 19 in Latin America. They gave arms, training, advice and logistic support. It was the Cubans who brokered unification of the many guerrilla factions into one solid country structure in Nicaragua (1979), El Salvador (1982) and Guatemala (1982) and helped them at the crucial time.</p> <p>The exceptions which did not get Cuban support were the Colombian FARC, Peru’s Sendero Luminoso and the Mexican insurgent groups. Cuba had, of course, supported ELN and M19 of Colombia. Cuba did not support the Mexican guerrillas as a mark of respect to the Mexican governments which always had a soft corner and sympathy for the Castro government.</p> <p>While everyone knows the failure of the US-sponsored notorious Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, one should note that there have been a number of failures of Cuban supported guerrilla invasions into Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Hundreds of young fighters lost their lives in these adventures. There were six attempts of incursion by guerrilla groups into Dominican Republic between 1947 and 1973. But all of them were crushed by the Dominican government.</p> <p>It is amazing that despite its own severe shortage of resources and the constant struggle for survival against the unrelenting threat and sanctions from US, the Cubans had gone out of their way to inspire and support revolutionary groups in other Latin American countries and even in Africa.</p> <p><b>Others</b></p> <p>The communist theories of the various schools (Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist) and the success of the Soviet, Chinese, Algerian and Vietnamese revolutions also had their share of influence in Latin America. Some of the Latin American guerrillas went for training to Russia, China, Vietnam, Algeria, Lebanon and North Korea.</p> <p><b>Evolution</b></p> <p>Some countries saw a brief guerrilla activity for a few years while others had experienced long periods in different phases. The first wave ‘of rural guerrilla foquismo’ was from Castro’s campaign starting in 1956 till the death of Guevara in 1967. The second was of urban guerrilla warfare in the Southern cone countries. The third was the wave of political-military organisations from early 1970s onwards in Central America and Andean countries. Even before these phases, in December 1947, under the auspices of progressive Guatemalan president Juan José Arévalo, exiles from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed the Pacto del Caribe, which pledged to overthrow the dictators ruling those and other Caribbean nations.</p> <p>The guerrilla fighters believed that political, economic and social transformation would only be possible through the use of political violence rather than via the ballot box. They included students, intellectuals, professors, school teachers, priests, peasants, militant communist party cadres, trade union activists and a few army officers too. Most of them were young, idealistic and with the noblest intentions for a better society. They had sacrificed their personal lives, careers and families for a larger cause.</p> <p>The revolutionary movements proliferated with different ideologies, dogmas, inspirations and circumstances . Many of the original groups split and splintered due to schisms, doctrinal differences, personality clashes between leaders, external support and local situation. The groups chose names and acronyms starting with E (Exercito - army), F (Frente or Fuerza) and M (Movimiento) and numbers for historic dates and in the name of martyrs like Marti, Sandino and Che Guevara.</p> <p>Here are some examples:</p> <p>ELN, EPL,EPLUA, EPS, ERP, EGTK and EIM</p> <p>FA, FACS,FAL, FALN, FAP, FAR, FARC, FARN, FAPU, FAU,FDCR, FDR, FECCAS, FIR, FGEI, FLN, FMLN, FPL, FPMR, FRAP, FRIP, FSLN and FULNA</p> <p>MAS, MIR, MIRE, MLL, MLN, MLN-T, MMLM, MNR, MOE, MPP, MPD, MRO, MRP, MRTA, MRO and MRTA,&nbsp;</p> <p>MI26M, MR13, OPR-33, M19, M26J, LC23S and 1J4</p> <p>Colombia faced the longest guerrilla war for 70 years (still going on a smaller scale) followed by Guatemala with 36 years and El Salvador for 20 years. Cuba had the shortest guerrilla war of just two years.&nbsp;Colombia suffered the largest number of killings, followed by Guatemala and Peru.Mexico had around 40 armed groups in different points of time. Colombia had about 30 guerrilla groups.</p> <p>There were a number of similarities and commonalities in the evolution and operation of the revolutionary movements which had similar world view, ideological framework, shared reportoire and methodology of action. But there are four cases which do not fit the common pattern and stand out distinct. These four had no Cuban inspiration or support. These are the Colombian FARC, Mexican Zapatista insurgency in 1994, and the two Peruvian guerrilla movements in the 1980s and 1990s Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and Tupac Amaros (MRTA). FARC, the largest guerrilla group of the region, rose from the period of “La Violencia” following the assassination of Leftist presidential candidate Jorge Gaitan in 1948. The Sendero Luminoso group was unique with their leader Abimael Guzman having built a personality cult around him as the “fourth sword of Communism”, after Marx, Lenin and Mao.</p> <p>The revolutionaries from the southern cone had joined together and formed Junta Coordinadora Revolucionaria (JCR) with the guerilla movements from Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Bolivia. The JCR made a public appearance with a press conference in February 1974 after the failed attack on the Argentine army barracks at Azul. They had plans to expand to the whole region and even reach out to the rest of the world. The Cubans kept away from this group seeing it as a rival for regional influence. The JCR faded out by 1978.</p> <p>The mainstream communist parties in some of the countries refused to support the armed revolutionaries since USSR pursued peaceful coexistence with the governments of the region.</p> <p>Sierra Maestra was a symbol of the Cuban revolution which started in the mountainous jungles of Cuba and worked through villages before reaching the cities and capital. But there were no such mountains and jungles in Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina and so the manuals had to be changed in the southern cone countries for urban guerrilla warfare. Guevara’s campaign to use the Bolivian jungle as the transit point for starting guerrilla wars in Argentina and Peru ended up as a disaster with his death in 1967.</p> <p><b>Outcome</b></p> <p>The main objective of all the revolutionary movements was to take over power and bring about social justice and utopia. The only cases where they succeeded were Cuba and Nicaragua. The special circumstances of the two countries facilitated the success. The decadent, corrupt and discredited dictatorships in both these countries had lost the support of their own people. Even the US had abandoned them at the crucial time towards the end. These had caused the collapse of the regimes unable to stand up against the determined and popular revolutionary movements which had built up support in both the urban as well as rural areas.</p> <p>But unfortunately the revolutions in these two countries have outlived their glory and are crying out for democratic liberation now. The Cuban people are tired and exhausted by the meaningless revolutionary rhetoric while they struggle every day with shortages, queues, poor infrastructure and suppression of freedom.</p> <p>The Sandinistas, who came to power in 1979 after shedding more blood than the Cubans, set an excellent example by embracing democracy. They held free and fair elections in 1984 and came back to power. Their government survived despite the brutal Contra war unleashed on them by the CIA. Besides killings, the Contras pursued scorched earth policies destroying the economy, farms and factories. The Sandinista government had to spend over fifty percent of their precious resources on the war for survival. The Sandinistas left power peacefully and gracefully after losing the elections in 1989. They sat out in the opposition for 17 long years and then came back to power through the ballot in 2006 and 2011. Daniel Ortega won a third term in the 2016 elections, by constitutional manoeuvrers to bypass the two-term limit and amidst accusations of rigging of the elections. Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo, who is the Vice President, are now running the country like a family franchise. There have been protests against their corrupt and authoritarian regime.</p> <p>Thousands of the young guerrillas were killed, tortured and forced into exile by the brutal counter insurgency forces of states and paramilitary units with support from the anti-communist campaign of US. The indigenous communities of Guatemala and El Salvador had suffered disproportionately large number of massacres by right wing death squads besides the armed forces. Hundreds of thousands were forcibly uprooted from their villages and displaced on the ground that they had given refuge and support to guerillas. At the same time the revolutionaries had also caused death and destruction in the pursuit of their cause. Some of them had resorted to kidnappings, extortion, hijackings and bank robberies besides bombings and attacks on security forces and government buildings.</p> <p>After the end of dictatorships and restoration of democracies in the region in the eighties, some of the guerrilla groups have reinvented themselves as political parties and some fighters have become political leaders. The Pink Tide of the region in the first decade of the new century helped in the insertion of the ex-guerillas into power through the ballot. In El Salvador, the FMLN guerilla group became a legal political party and came to power in 2009 and returned in 2014. In Colombia, FARC became a political party, although it had done poorly in the 2018 polls.</p> <p>Jose Mujica the Uruguayan guerrilla fighter, who spent 14 years in jail, became President in 2010. He did not show any symptoms of rancour or thirst for revenge. He was pragmatic, progressive and balanced in his policies. Even as President, he lived an austere and simple life refusing the ostentations of the office. Dilma Rouseff, a guerrilla leader who survived the tortures of military dictatorship, became President of Brazil. But unfortunately she committed a series of political errors and got impeached by the corrupt and crooked congressmen on a trivial excuse. President Sanchez Ceren was the first guerrilla leader to become president of El Salvador in 2014. Before the peace agreement, he was Commandante Leonel González, his pseudonym.&nbsp;Some guerrilleiros became vice presidents (Alvaro Garcia in Bolivia under Evo Morales), ministers (Ali Rodrigues oil minister under President Chavez, Nilda Gare defence minister of Argentina under president Cristina Kirchner Fernandez), mayors (Gustavo Petro in Bogota), legislators and governors in the new democratic era of the region since the 1980s.&nbsp;</p> <p>The Colombian ELN (National Liberation Army) is the only large (about 2000) guerrilla group active in Latin America now. They held peace talks in 2014 and 2017 but without result. Now they are keen for negotiations but the government has rejected talks till the guerillas stop their violence. The group had declared a temporary ceasefire in April this year due to the corona virus emergency. Some of their top leaders were killed by military bombing in the second week of May. In response, the group has announced resumption of attacks against the government.</p> <p>One thing missing in the book is the role played by literature. Poems and writings had provided food for the revolutionary souls. Roque Dalton, the famous militant poet of El Salvador became a member of the People’s revolutionary Army (ERP). Tragically, he was murdered by his own comrades because of internal dispute in 1975. His poems were banned by the dictatorship till 1992. Since 2013, El Salvador has honoured him by declaring his birth day on 14 May as “National Poetry Day”.</p> <p>Another missing thing is the role of US in the counter insurgency operations. I guess this will need a separate and even longer book.</p> <p>I recommend the book to Indian scholars and students of Latin America. It would also be useful to compare with the Indian insurgent groups such as the Naxalites who are still active and control significant territories in the tribal areas.</p> <p>For Indian readers, the book is available only on Kindle. Hard cover and paperback editions will have to wait till the end of the coronavirus restrictions.</p> <p><b><i>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</i></b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Thu Jun 18 16:57:42 IST 2020 the-coronavirus-what-you-need-to-know-about-the-global-pandemic-book-review <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is hope. A new book, <i>The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know about the Global Pandemic</i>, might not be what spells comfort. But it is exactly what the doctor ordered. Written by Dr Rajesh M. Parikh, India’s first neuropsychiatrist, his son Dr Swapneil Parikh, a doctor who focuses on lifestyle diseases, and Dr Maherra Desai, a clinical psychologist, it comes with just the right medical weight to be read.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>"We will prevail," says Rajesh. "I can say that with absolute certainty.” There is precedent. "Our ancestors survived the Spanish flu,” he says. “It wiped out 1.8 crore people in India—about 6 per cent of the population. That is what happened then. Everyone who is alive today, is because their ancestors survived the pandemic, natural disasters and famines in India.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bringing together data, facts, history and details of vaccines, the book reads like a thriller. The idea of the book struck Rajesh during a tranquil boat ride with colleague Ram Ranganathan in the Sundarbans. "As we were drifting along in the Ganges delta, Ram and I were saying, 'It looks like we have a big problem,'" says Rajesh. They were discussing about Covid-19, and the lockdown of Wuhan hit home. "The enormity of it all struck me," he says. "It did not make sense. If the Chinese maintained it was not so bad, why would they lock down a huge city?"</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What began as an intellectual exercise on a boat, became a personal mission for Rajesh. He suggested that a standard operating procedure be implemented in Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai, where he is director of medical research. "I could sense some people wondering what I was getting so worked up about," he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More than just being one of the first books in India on the topic, The Coronavirus makes compelling reading. It talks about the ancestors of the virus and what we have learnt from them, and the doctors who have been forerunners in this battle. Like Dr John Snow, a 19th century English physician and a founding member of the Epidemiological Society of London, who discovered the link between cholera and bad sanitation. Or, Dr Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian obstetrician, who could not understand why the clinic he worked for had a higher mortality rate than those that were staffed by midwives in 1846. The reason? The doctors did not wash their hands.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But beyond making sense of medical jargon and providing answers, the book also ends in a question that the virus has made obvious. "I am reasonably sure we will find a vaccine," he says. "[But] here is the big question. How are we going to ensure the equitable distribution of the vaccine? How will we make sure it is as available for a person in the slum as it is for person in a colony?"</p> <p>The virus, which is always a step ahead, is forcing the world to look at itself closely, Rajesh believes. "It doesn't respect your GDP or your military arsenal. This virus is a great leveller," he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i><b>The Coronavirus: What You Need to Know About the Global Pandemic</b></i></p> <p><i><b>By Maherra Desai, Rajesh Parikh and Swapneil Parikh</b></i></p> <p><i><b>Published by Penguin eBury Press</b></i></p> <p><i><b>Pages 224</b></i></p> <p><i><b>Price Rs299</b></i></p> Fri May 22 23:25:17 IST 2020 of-latin-america-world-war-2-tango-war <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The book, <i>Tango War</i> by Mary Jo McConahay, has given a fascinating account of the battles for the hearts, minds and riches of Latin America fought by the Allies and Axis powers before and during the Second World War. There are so many engrossing stories, incidents and anecdotes, not well known to the world.</p> <p>The Latin Americans of German, Italian and Japanese origin were caught in the crossfire. Germany and Italy, in particular, tried to brainwash their communities with propaganda and mobilise their support. The region was a hunting ground for recruitment of agents by both Allies and Axis powers. German companies such as IG Farben, Bayer, BASF, Agfa, Hoechst provided cover for agents in their Latin American branches. Hilda Kruger, the German actress was believed to be a spy during her long stay in Mexico. She had high level contacts in the Mexican government and society. She even acted in some Mexican films.</p> <p>Many of the Latin American authoritarian regimes were sympathetic admirers of Fascism and Nazism in the beginning. They had flourishing trade with Germany, supplying commodities, minerals and vital materials such as platinum, tungsten and manganese. On the other hand, the US blacklisted of Latin American companies suspected of aiding the enemy or simply owned by ethnic Germans, Japanese, and Italians.</p> <p>The US committed yet another injustice to Latin Americans in the name of its own security. It forced the Latin American governments to extradite several thousands people of German, Italian and Japanese origin and detained them in concentration camps in US. More than four thousand ethnic Germans and two thousand (1800 from Peru) Japanese including families and children were taken by force from fifteen Latin countries.  Some were temporarily detained in panama canal zone and used as slave labour before the onward journey to US. On arrival at US ports, the US authorities took away their passports and arrested them on the false charge of illegal entry. Some of these prisoners were exchanged with the Japanese and German governments for the release of American prisoners of war. The US could not use the Japanese and Germans living in US for the exchanges since the American law did not allow it. So they simply helped themselves with the Latino prisoners.</p> <p>Just as President Bush used the lie of Saddam Hussein’s ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to start the Gulf war, another US President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried a false excuse to join the Second World War. On October 27, 1941, the US President made a statement, “I have in my possession a secret map, made in Germany by Hitler’s government by the planners of the New World Order,” he told a national radio audience. The map showed the South American continent and part of Central America carved into four large vassal states to be administered by Germany at some undetermined date. “That map, my friends, makes clear the Nazi design not only against South America but against the United States as well,” said the president. The map was a fabrication by British to get US to join the war. But this lie did not matter after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour attack in December which forced the US hands.</p> <p>Before the Second World War, the German communities in Latin America took the lead in setting up airlines and many of them used German pilots as well. The airlines made use of the German air force pilots who were unemployed after the end of the First World War. Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was banned from having an air force. That ended the careers of many military pilots who went on to South America. The Germans had established the first carrier in South America with SCADTA (Sociedad Colombo-Alemana de Transportes Aéreos), the Colombian airline in 1919. The money behind SCADTA, its pilots, and management all came from Germany. Some of the pilots maintained their commissions in the Luftwaffe reserve. Later, the prosperous German community in Bolivia started the airline Lloyd Aéreo Boliviano (LAB which linked Bolivian cities to points in Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and southern Brazil. Another airline Sindicato Condor, a subsidiary of the German company Luft Hansa, provided flights from Rio. Luft Hansa also took a controlling share in the SEDTA (Sociedad Ecuatoriana Alemana de Transportes Aéreos) line of Ecuador, operating it exclusively with German pilots. When the Bolivian LAB and the Brazilian Condor airlines joined forces in 1936, German hegemony in southern skies took another leap. In the 1930s, German lines often used airplanes that were simply better than the competition in Latin America,</p> <p>The Americans wanted to put an end to this German domination of South American airways. In 1939, the American ambassador Braden tried to persuade the Colombian President Santos to get rid of the German pilots of SCADTA. But the President did not agree. But he did not know that Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan American Airways, had secretly bought 85 percent stakes in SCADTA from its Austrian owner, who later became a Colombian citizen. In 1940, the Ambassador worked with Trippe secretly and smuggled into Colombia 150 US pilots and dozens of maintenance technicians. The next day the management of SCADTA fired all its German pilots and technicians replacing them with Americans. The Colombian President Santos was outraged but could do nothing. The US Treasury cushioned the costs of firing the Germans by providing some financial help to Pan Am. Some of the German pilots and technicians were among those taken to internment in camps in the United States.</p> <p>According to another story, the wily British intelligence got the Italian airline LATI thrown out of Brazil by provoking the Brazilian president angry with the Italians on the basis of a forged letter. LATI was carrying secret funds to South America from Germany and Italy and bringing back precious commodities such as platinum and tungsten.</p> <p>Mexico made use of the time of rivalry between Axis and Allies by nationalising its oil industry. When the American and British oil majors boycotted Mexican oil, Germany and Italy bought 94 percent of Mexico’s petroleum exports between the crucial months of March 1938 and September 1939. The Axis achieved a powerful head start on the war thanks to Mexican oil. Germany had a six-month supply of oil at the start of the war. The Germans, who did not have sufficient foreign exchange, had paid in kind with machinery and manufactured goods. Mexico declared war against the Axis in May 1942 after U-boats sank two Mexican tankers.</p> <p>Mexico helped US by sending more than three hundred thousand agricultural workers annually to the United States to aid the wartime agricultural economy which needed to produce food for the troops besides the population. The US growers faced a sudden and urgent need for manpower to replace men who had gone on war duty. Meant to be temporary, the Bracero program saw some 4.5 million Mexican workers take part until it ended in 1964.</p> <p>At one time the US had a plan to occupy the northern part of Brazil. After Pearl Harbor, the US military had prepared a “Joint Basic Plan for the Occupation of Northern Brazil” with amphibious landing to take key cities and ports as well as to access the resources of Amazon including rubber. The secret operation’s nickname was Plan Rubber. Fortunately, there was no need to implement the plan after Brazil shed its neutrality and joined the Allies. Later Brazil became the only Latin American country to participate in the war with 25000 troops in Italy. Out of this, there were 800 of German origin who fought against the German army in Italy.</p> <p>Ford took over a large area of 14,000 sq kms in Amazon to grow rubber trees and produce rubber in the style of the famous Detroit assembly lines. The place was called as Fordlandia. But it failed and had to be abandoned due to poor planning and management.</p> <p>There is the historic story of the Battle of the River Plate in 1939. Hans Langsdorff, the German captain of Uboat ‘Graf Spee’ destroyed nine Allied merchant ships with more than fifty thousand tons of shipping in twelve weeks in South Atlantic. He managed to do this without loss of life among his crew or opponents. Langsdorff behaved honourably by helping the crew from the sunk vessels to evacuate safely. Eventually, the Allies hit and damaged his boat killing a few crew members. Langsdorff took his boat to Montevideo, a neutral port. There was a standoff between him and the Allied warships waiting outside the harbour in the La Plata river. Langsdorff got his boat blown up and buried the dead crew in a public ceremony, watched by thousands of Uruguayans and live coverage by the world media. He and his crew were later evacuated to Buenos Aires, where he committed suicide.</p> <p><b><i>The author is an expert in Latin American affairs</i></b></p> Thu Jun 18 16:58:19 IST 2020 beheadings-and-backstabbings-galore <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Beheadings at the Tower of London seem to have been the bread and butter of medieval England. Thomas Cromwell is thinking of his breakfast, on the first page of Hilary Mantel’s magisterial tome, as he supervises the beheading of Anne Boleyn, the second of Henry VIII’s several wives. Ever the blacksmith’s son despite his high offices, he admires the superb sword of Toledo steel that does the job, leaving the queen’s “narrow carcass” swimming in a “pool of crimson.” By the time the book ends, it is Cromwell’s own head that rolls in the dust, chopped off by a more business-like axe. The pain is the same—“acute, a raw stinging, a ripping, a throb”. His cheek, too, “rests on nothing, it rests on red” and his heart continues to “writhe in his chest, trying to breathe”, because no one has told it that he is dead.</p> <p>Between these two gory scenes, Mantel weaves her unique magic that rips open five-centuries-old history and tells it as the throbbing drama that is life. Having already related the incredible rise of Cromwell from humble beginnings to the highest offices in the land in her two Booker prize-winning novels—<i>Wolf Hall </i>and <i>Bring Up the Bodies</i>—she is occupied here, in the final part of the trilogy, with his last four years: 1536-1540. A lot happens in these years—England pitted against Europe, Henry against the pope, the North up in arms, the monasteries under threat, the bones of saints like Becket no longer safe in their graves. Cromwell is at the heart of it all, scheming and plotting, dealing with the king and his own rivals with Machiavellian skill. The king is not an easy man, given to extreme vanity and maniacal swings, obsessed with getting a male heir from a legitimate marriage, tiring of one queen after another even as he fights his own inadequacies. Amongst his other responsibilities, Cromwell has to enable the king’s marriages. He pushes Anne of Cleves as the king’s fourth wife in order to forge a new power equation between England and the German Protestant states. But the marriage does not work: the bride is less than fascinated with her ageing, bloated spouse and the king’s pride is dented. The shadow of blame falls on Cromwell, adding to evidence of kingly ambition, and his powerful enemies close in for the kill. From there it is only downhill, all the way to the Tower.</p> <p>Mantel has reinvented the historical novel, a genre in which the facts and the denouement are known, into an artifice of suspense and mystery. Several factors contribute to this: her point of view is consistently from inside the mind of Cromwell; the reader moves with Cromwell and hence is unaware, from page to page, of what will happen next. The past is always present, like in any human mind; the dead never really leave the world, their ghosts accuse or rejoice from beyond the grave. The delicious dark detail of medieval England is there in plenty; the writing moves from the allusive and lyrical to the witty and wry. There are no weighty paragraphs as evidence of immense research, no historical lacings to set the context. It all comes into the story through what the characters—lords and ladies, bishops and knaves—say and do. Mantel demonstrates that you do not win two Bookers, and then produce a credible candidate for a third, without prodigious talent and skill. If there must be a caveat it is that at nearly 900 pages, the book is too long, but I suppose no editor had the guts to pick up a red pen. The reader will need perseverance, though in the end it will be well rewarded. And a lockdown helps.</p> <p>—<b>The author is a former envoy to the US and the UK.</b></p> <p>THE MIRROR &amp; THE LIGHT</p> <p>Author: Hilary Mantel</p> <p>Publisher: 4th Estate</p> <p>Pages: 883</p> <p>Price: Rs799</p> Thu Apr 23 14:29:10 IST 2020 past-is-present <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>History, they say, repeats itself. Ever wonder why?</p> <p><i>The Alchemy of Secrets</i> begins with a dash of nostalgia “in a Bangalore that now exists only in faded newsprint and memory”. It then travels through time and space, but at a pace that does not leave you dizzy.</p> <p>The book is centred around the Murthys, and tells their story across three generations. So, the backdrop shifts, in period (from pre-independence and partition to Emergency and what seems like the recent past), place (Malehalli, Bengaluru and California) and people, too—each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, starting with Mira, her Ajji (grandmother), aunt Vimala, and later moving on to others connected with them.</p> <p>Reading the book is like wading deep into the past only to come face to face with the present. For instance, when, soon after independence, news of women being assaulted and children being killed along the border with Pakistan reaches Ajji and her husband, a freedom fighter, her mother-in-law remarks, “It is the kind of food they eat up there. All that meat and wheat, it heats the blood.” It reminds you of the news reports that blamed the eating habits of the Chinese for the coronavirus outbreak, bringing to the fore our ‘othering’ tendency. Then, there is the instance of Mira and her friend, Anisa, who would go “Ganesha visiting” to houses together, being advised to not go to the temple following an altercation there. They are cautioned so because of what the adults call “Hindu-Muslim business”, but a then teenaged Mira is aware that a mosque has been pulled down in Ayodhya. It is an unfinished business even today. And, there is victim-shaming following a rape during the Emergency—the woman so brutally assaulted that she dies, her #MeToo moment shrouded in silence. But silences eventually break, and secrets, long held and suppressed, tumble out.</p> <p>These are not realisations that come crashing like waves; they are more like soft undercurrents. And that is the beauty of debut novelist Priya Balasubramanian’s writing; it is simple yet evocative. A gastroenterologist and transplant hepatologist in California, Priya does not preach; all she does is hold a mirror to our past in these polarised times.</p> <p>History, they say, repeats itself.... Do we ever learn?&nbsp;</p> <p>THE ALCHEMY OF&nbsp;SECRETS</p> <p>Author:&nbsp;Priya Balasubramanian</p> <p>Publisher: Tranquebar</p> <p>Pages: 303</p> <p>Price: Rs399</p> Thu Apr 23 14:24:34 IST 2020 duality-of-music <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Any talk on Mahatma Gandhi’s engagement with music invariably begins with the mention of ‘Vaishnav jan to tene kahiye’, one of his favourite bhajans. The deeply resonant devotional song was originally written by a 15th century saint-poet from Gujarat and compiled as a song in Ashram Bhajanavali, the prayer book used at Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram. You could say that Ashram Bhajanavali is Gandhi’s playlist—a personal selection of morning prayers, recitations, scriptural chants, devotional songs and hymns drawn from the Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jain and Sikh traditions. Gandhi made sure that these hymns and songs were part of the daily morning routine at the ashram, and they needed to be expertly sung by a trained musician.</p> <p>In Lakshmi Subramanian’s <i>Singing Gandhi’s India: Music and Sonic Nationalism</i>, the historian decodes Gandhi’s thoughts and impressions on music, how he effectively used it as a tool of political communication, the centrality of bhajans in building the moral fibre of the ashram community and the “sonic nationalism” that played a defining role in the 20th century public sphere leading up to India’s independence. Often, the narrative stutters with the turgidity of academic prose and points get belaboured. But the author is working with scant resources on an understudied subject. Subramanian gives us many consistently Gandhian ways of approaching music—something worth reading in these politically charged times when a respectful Ram dhun (in praise of Lord Ram) can become a murderous chant.</p> <p>Interestingly, for Gandhi, ‘Vande Mataram’ never quite represented a “national song”. It was, at best, a powerful political slogan. And singing it mechanically was equal to rote learning. For Gandhi, music was never an independent creative pursuit but could be used for “self-purification” and “self-cleansing”. Although Gandhi did not have much to say about classical musicians, he made an exception for M.S. Subbulakshmi, who sang his favourite bhajans in his later years. But his most favourite, ‘Hari tum haro’ took some time for Subbulakshmi to learn and send as a record to Gandhi, as the story goes. It was played by All India Radio for the first time following the announcement of Gandhi’s assassination.</p> <p>Some of the sharpest insights on Gandhi’s engagement with music are presented in the last two chapters of the book titled, ‘Amplifying politics and spinning the wheel’ and ‘Spinning in silence, praying in public’, spanning the arc of non-cooperation, Quit India Movement and his final years staring at a real possibility of partition. Gandhi feared “acoustic aggression” and recognised how sound and its communalisation was exacerbating tensions between Hindus and Muslims. The author finds out that at almost every swadeshi meeting or conference that Gandhi’s addresses after 1918, he references the music of the spinning wheel—how it is superior to even sung music. He often demanded that his followers listen to him in silence; he emphasised that music can be a metaphor for order.</p> <p>In a letter to Rabindranath Tagore’s son in 1945, Gandhi wrote: “The music of life is in danger of being lost in the music of the voice. Why not the music of the walk, of the march, of every movement, of ours and of every activity.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singing Gandhi’s India: Music and Sonic Nationalism</p> <p>By Lakshmi Subramanian</p> <p>Published by Roli Books (Lotus)</p> <p>Pages 222, Price Rs495</p> Sat Apr 04 10:46:54 IST 2020 MM <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>History may have begun to judge former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh kindly. As the economy takes a hit, many are looking to what the economist-turned politician, who was blamed for indecision during the last few years of his tenure, has to prescribe. A new book, by his long-time associate Montek Singh Ahluwalia, gives a peek into how Singh steered the country for 10 years and unleashed economic reforms that shaped current India.</p> <p>Ahluwalia, the former planning commission deputy chairman, has for long shared a common economic vision and a love for blue turbans with the former prime minister. <i>Backstage—The Story behind India’s High Growth Years</i> charts Ahluwalia’s journey as an economist and a bureaucrat since he left his cushy World Bank job in 1979 in Washington, DC, to return home. Ahluwalia makes it clear that it is not his memoir. But his intimate and understated style makes the book immensely readable.</p> <p>He says his aim was to help India break out of its low growth trajectory and, thereby, help the poor. It was in June 1990 that he penned a policy paper for Prime Minister V.P. Singh on restructuring India’s industrial, trade and fiscal policy, which later became a debating point as he talked about liberalising the economy. Though Ahluwalia never publicly took credit for the paper, it came to be known as the ‘M Document’. A year later, when Manmohan Singh became finance minister in the Narasimha Rao government, many of these policy interventions were formally adopted.</p> <p>While the book narrates the success stories of the UPA rule, be it poverty reduction or food security, it is also the first authoritative account of what went wrong during the last three years, when the government was marred by corruption scandals.</p> <p>He explains the government’s position on issues such as the 2G spectrum allocation—he says the CAG’s faulty calculation of loss led to a negative narrative against the government, which intensified after Rahul Gandhi tore the ordinance, brought to save convicted legislators, when Manmohan was on a visit to the US. This exposed an important fault line, writes Ahluwalia.</p> <p>He recalls how Manmohan reacted when shown a scathing piece the former’s brother, Sanjeev, had written. “He read it in silence and, at first, made no comment. Then, he suddenly, asked me whether I thought he should resign,” he writes. Ahluwalia advised against it.</p> <p>He also makes a key observation, which has recently been the bane of the Congress—the lack of an effective communication strategy. The Congress never took credit for poverty reduction, nor did it put it forward during elections. Manmohan’s communication strategists, too, could not devise means to deal with the BJP onslaught. “I raised the issue with him informally at one stage. The PM said he has already explained his position in the Rajya Sabha,” Ahluwalia writes. This was a crucial mistake in the age of social media. The BJP rules social media; its foot soldiers propagate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policies, an advantage Manmohan Singh never had.</p> <p>The soft-spoken Ahluwalia ends his book with his prescription for the economy, and by analysing the Modi government’s six-year term. He calls it: “Beginning with a bang and ending with a whimper.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Backstage: The Story behind India’s High Growth Years</p> <p>by Montek Singh Ahluwalia</p> <p>Pages 464, Price Rs595</p> Sat Apr 04 10:44:04 IST 2020 between-the-lines <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Ramcharitmanas, a shorter version of Ramayan, was written by Tulsidas in the Awadhi language during the reign of Akbar. Tulsidas wrote it in the language of the people, instead of the classical language Sanskrit, thus democratising the epic. He was not the only one during the Bhakti period to do so. Many writers penned prose and verse in the languages of the people, like Braj Bhasha, which Surdas popularised. Tulsidas, however, wrote this ode to Ram at a time when Krishna was the more popular Vishnu avatar. In his book,<i> The Greatest Ode to Lord Ram</i>… Pavan K. Varma writes: “Tulsidas single-handedly made Ram—the subject of his devotional ardour—the greatest object of personal veneration in the popular mindset.”</p> <p>In his book, Varma explores the greatness of the Ramcharitmanas. There is not much original writing by the author, however. His skill is seen in identifying the best verses, the elegance of the poetry and the skill with which Tulsidas used various characters to communicate philosophies, many of them his own. For instance, Tulsidas uses the voice of Angad to express a personal opinion on the kinds of people who are no better than corpses, which included the destitute, the ill, the secretive tantrics, the lustful, the enemies of Vishnu and those who are opposed to the Vedas. Varma employs the easy style of selecting the verse, in both Devanagari and Roman scripts, with a translation in English (and in Hindi in the appendix), along with his own explanations and elaborations. The translations have been taken from Gita Press, which, Varma writes, “stand out for their fidelity and linguistic quality compared with other such publications”.</p> <p>The verses Varma has chosen are illustrative, but given the richness of Tulsidas' work, almost any verse will lend itself to as much literary appreciation. Much of the verse selection is along the chronological path of the narrative itself, though Varma, in certain chapters, focuses only on dialogues between two characters, such as between Mandodari and her husband Ravana, in which she describes Ram's magnificence to his foe. There are entire chapters dedicated to the description of the seasons, thus highlighting both Tulsidas's love for nature as well as his mastery in description. At various points, Varma flags Tulsidas's personal opinions, such as his obvious veneration of the Brahmanical class. But he doesn't pass much comment himself, stressing instead that a lot depends on how a reader chooses to interpret the lines.</p> <p>The book is an effort to bring out the beauty of a text, which was once written in the language of the people, but a vast swathe of urban north India itself cannot comprehend Awadhi, let alone the rest of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Greatest Ode to Lord Ram: Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas; Selections &amp; Commentaries</p> <p>By Pavan K. Varma</p> <p>Published by Westland Books</p> <p>Price Rs699; pages 349</p> Thu Mar 26 15:32:36 IST 2020 bolivar-review-epic-life-of-the-man-who-liberated-south-america <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>This is the second biographical book I have read on Simon Bolivar, my Latin American hero. Marie Arana, an American author of Peruvian origin, has made the biography more as an interesting story with her skills as writer of novels. It is different from the biographies written by historians. Arana’s portrayal of the real life of Bolivar in a magical way fits in with the tradition of Magical Realism of Latin America. The colourful and eventful life of Bolivar has come out vividly in the literary style of Arana.</p> <p>The book <i style="font-size: 0.8125rem;">Bolivar</i> starts with the arrival of Bolivar on the afternoon of 10 August 1819, after having spent 36 days of traversing the flooded plains of Venezuela, six days marching over the vertiginous snows of the Andes and after crossing the icy pass at 13,000 feet at Paramo de Pisba. In this risky and most arduous journey, he had lost a third of his troops to frost and starvation. Bolivar had shown extraordinary stamina to withstand hunger, sleep deprivation and suffering in the battlefield. He had traversed 75,000 miles of hard terrain during all his campaigns with his legendary capacity for endurance. He was called 'Iron Ass' for his capacity to withstand long horse rides. He had suffered defeats, betrayals and setbacks many times in his military and political ventures. There were many attempts on his life. But he managed to bounce back with strong determination, inimitable courage and strong resilience of spirit.</p> <p>Bolivar had a personal magnetism around him and aroused his troops with inspiring oratory and made them follow him blindly. Besides showing courage in leading his troops in battles he was equally comfortable in ballrooms as a dancer and spirited conversationalist quoting Rousseau in French and Julius Caesar in Latin.</p> <p>He had single-handedly conceived, organised and led the liberation of five (Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia) South American nations. He dreamed of a united Latin America based on democracy, development and justice. But his vision was far ahead of his times and was not shared by others.</p> <p>Despite coming from a rich family with assets and after having become the president of the five countries he had liberated, he died a pauper. He did not have the money even to buy a passage by ship to Europe or proper medical treatment and recovery.</p> <p>Bolivar was a hero of convictions and high moral principles. He gave speeches, drafted documents and wrote letters in a fiery, lyrical and moving way. At the same time, he was a man of contradictions with serious flaws. He was dictatorial, impulsive, ruthless and a womaniser. His talent as a brilliant war-time commander was not useful to build democracy during peace time.</p> <p>In the end, Bolivar died as a frustrated, betrayed, disappointed, disgruntled and sick man disowned and unwanted by the countries he had liberated. During the end of his life, he made bitter statements such as “America is ungovernable”, “He who serves a revolution ploughs the sea”.</p> <p>Eventually Bolivar was forced into exile, the eternal theme in real life and the literature of Latin America whose history is filled with the exile of many presidents, poets and revolutionaries.</p> <p>Many years after his unceremonious death in a remote corner of Colombia, he was reinstated by Venezuelan presidents as an icon and glorified as Liberator. Chavez immortalised Bolivar by renaming the country as Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. He tried to imitate Bolivar with his own brand of 21<sup>st</sup> century Socialism and made a mess of Venezuela pushing the country from democracy to dictatorship and from prosperity to poverty.</p> <p>Besides Bolivar, the colourful character of Manuela Saenz has also come out well in the book. Manuelita deserves the title “La Libertadora del Libertador” with her audacious bravery and uncompromising commitment and unconditional love to Bolivar. She had inspired Bolivar when he was depressed and saved him from an assassination attempt. She added more colour to the life of Bolivar with her boisterous parties, wearing of military uniform and uncommon courage while standing up to her critics. When she heard about the death of Bolivar, she said: “ I loved the Liberator when he was alive. Now that he is dead, I worship him.”</p> <p>Arana’s book is a useful addition to understanding Bolivar and Latin America.</p> <p><b style="font-size: 0.8125rem;"><i>The author is a former ambassador to Latin American countries</i></b><br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Mon Mar 02 14:20:17 IST 2020 in-search-of-home <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The latest novel by Isabel Allende <i>A Long Petal of the Sea</i>&nbsp;is about dictatorship, persecution and exile, familiar themes in her novels. It starts with the civil war in Spain and the Franco dictatorship which causes death, destruction and exodus of people. Roser and Victor from the Dalmau family from Spain escape first to France and then to Chile. They are nostalgic about their home in Catalonia while trying to establish roots in Chile. But their misfortune follows to Chile which falls under Pinochet dictatorship. The Chilean regime detains and tortures Victor for his leftist sympathies. Roser manages to get Victor released with the help of Venezuelan embassy and takes him to Venezuela. But in Venezuela they miss their home in Chile. Eventually, they return to Chile when democracy is restored after Pinochet loses the plebiscite in 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was curious and puzzled about the scale and intensity of inhuman tortures and killings by the Pinochet’s military goons against their own people who were also white Christians like the rulers. It seems that it is in their Spanish blood. Franco was much more ruthless in Spain in killing, torturing and persecuting the leftists. Pinochet and other Latino dictators looks like a pale imitation in comparison to the monstrous atrocities of Franco.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Isabel Allende has weaved into the story themes of love, survival, relationship, valour, ideologies, sacrifice and old age through the many characters and their experience from Catalonia, Spain, France, Germany and Chile who are caught in the deadly battle between fascism and socialism. Allende has brought out the conviction and courage of so many foreigners from US, Europe and Latin America who fought for Republicans in Spain voluntarily and sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom and democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The title of the novel <i>A Long Petal of the Sea</i> is from one of the poems of Pablo Neruda which describes Chile. Allende has quoted Neruda’s poems in the covers of each chapter. The novel is based on the real life story of Neruda’s rescue of thousands of Spaniards through ships organized by him from France to Chile. He did it much against the resistance from right wing elements in the government and in the Chilean embassy in Paris where he was posted at the time of the Spanish civil war. Neruda had personally interviewed and selected those for rescue. The government wanted only those with skills for which there was shortage in Chile and did not want writers, artists, communists and other potential trouble makers. But Neruda managed to include some of those such as Victor and Roser.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, Neruda, who was a communist, himself had to flee the Chilean dictatorship in 1948 seeking refuge in Argentina. There is suspicion that his death in 1973 was actually a murder by Pinochet dictatorship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dictatorship, persecution and exile are the dominant themes in the novels and poems of many Latin American writers who were also among the victims. Isabel Allende herself suffered exile from Chile to Venezuela from where she emigrated to US.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The themes which influenced Allende’s novel are replaying now in Latin America but in reverse. In the past, Venezuela had provided asylum to many Latin American political exiles and economic immigrants. But now, over three million Venezuelans have taken asylum in the other Latin American countries including Chile to escape the Chavista dictatorship and economic misery in Venezuela.&nbsp;</p> Sun Feb 23 17:41:03 IST 2020 exploring-the-hospitality-industry-bloom-from-watsons-to-oyo <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai may be India's go-to gold standard when it comes to a landmark luxury hotel, but it really wasn't the first. India's first ever hotel was Spence's in Kolkata (then Calcutta), which opened way back in 1830. Many reckon it could have been the first hotel in Asia as well, with famous visitors like Jules Verne, author of the classic <i>20,000 Leagues Under The Sea</i>. Years before JRD Tata opened Taj in 1903 there was actually the whites-only Watson's Hotel in Mumbai's Esplanade, replete with ornate Victorian architecture, card and billiards rooms, India's first steam-powered lift, English waitresses in the ballrooms and luxury even beyond the then-European levels. The tales of how JRD thought of starting an Indian luxury hotel after being denied entry to the 'whites only' Watson's is probably just a popular myth.</p> <p>These captivating nuggets form only a juicy appetiser as one checks in to a journey deep into the recesses of India's massive, yet rather amorphous hotel industry in the just-launched book From 'Oberoi to Oyo' by Chitra Narayanan. And yes, it is so much more than a historical journey into India's chequered hotel industry.</p> <p>Naryanan, a Delhi-based journalist, pulls in her years of experience reporting on the hospitality industry into this book, detailing right from the origins of boarding and lodging in the country, how hotel chains came up sporadically more by accident than by design in the hesitant post-Independence years, the post-liberalisation boom when international chains came aggressively marching in, and how new economy brainchilds like online travel portals and the likes of Ritesh Agarwal's Oyo upended the market after the turn of the century.</p> <p>While there are a plethora of books on Indian food, most books on hotels in India have generally had a narrow focus, either singing paeans to one of the 'big three '(the three traditional local biggies, Taj, Oberoi and ITC) or coffee table extravaganzas captivated on the luxury or design specifics. Narayanan's attempt, on the other hand, is expansive and ambitious in its scope, even while sounding observant and matter-of-fact in a straight-forward, unpretentious manner. Her frills come from cool facts, details of owners, companies, how the business works, the ancillary players, the trends and innovations that have shaped the field and what we may look forward. It is a pocketbook of resource that every hotel industry professional, or hospitality institute student, should do well to ruffle through.</p> <p>At some points, Narayanan's greatest strength, her years of up close coverage of the very same industry, becomes her handicap, too. Her writing style often tends to slip into the arena of 'pink paper reportage' rather than racy storytelling one would have expected in a paperback. While the historical gems about Watson's, the early Calcutta hotels and what room tariffs were when present-day Taj Connemara in Chennai originally opened in 1854 (Rs 10 with breakfast and Rs 17.80 inclusive of all meals) do enchant, they are too few and far in between, as she oft tends to take refuge in hard facts, figures and news-style interviews to put her point across, rather than anecdotes or behind-the-scenes peek. A small peeve about an otherwise detailed read that would delight anyone curious about the nuts and bolts of one of the more glamorous industries around that fascinates all of us at one point or the other.</p> <p><b>Title</b>: From Oberoi To Oyo: Behind the scenes with the movers and shakers of India's hotel industry</p> <p><b>Author</b>: Chitra Narayanan</p> <p><b>Publisher</b>: Penguin Random House</p> <p><b>Prize</b>: Rs 399 (Paperback)</p> <p><b>Pages</b>: 319</p> Sat Feb 22 20:31:05 IST 2020 learning-some-more-about-isro-space-through-rare-images <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>All three authors of 'Ever Upwards: ISRO in images' are former officials of ISRO— P.V. Manoranjan Rao retired as group director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC), B.N. Suresh was director of VSSC and member, Space Commission, and V.P. Balagangadharam was VSSC scientist in-charge of outreach and intellectual property rights. So the story here is as authentic and as much of an inside view as one can get.</p> <p>While there are enough of the early pictures from ISRO in the public domain—satellites being carried atop bullock carts and bicycles—this book offers other, rarer pictures from that time. There is, for instance, one of fishermen at work in Thumba, the site which was finally developed for the launch of the first sounding rocket. Another picture is one of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam from his early years, when he sported a tie and a regulation hair cut. Needless to say, if you don't read the caption, you will not recognise him. There is another of a group of boy scouts watching the launch of the first rocket flight from Thumba, their necks craned up, the look of excitement and awe on each face captured beautifully in that black and white picture.</p> <p>From those early days to the fantastic images of India that ISRO satellites have captured, the journey is phenomenal and also a treat to the eyes. One particularly arresting image is that of the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna at Allahabad. Moving on to the age of exploration are images that probes to the moon, and Mars, as well as the space observatory Astrosat have taken. The clarity of the images of Mars, in particular a 3-D view of the Ophir Chasma canyon, are impressive.</p> <p>The accompanying text may not be high prose, but is precise and informative. It certainly is a book that anyone interested in space sciences and specially ISRO should read, and more importantly, see.</p> <p><b>Title</b>: Ever Upwards: ISRO in images</p> <p><b>Author</b>: PV Manoranjan Rao, B N Suresh, V P Balagangadharan</p> <p><b>Publisher</b>: Universities Press</p> <p><b>Pages</b>: 300</p> Sat Feb 22 18:07:44 IST 2020 sixteen-stormy-days-when-nehru-decided-to-amend-constitution <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>“It is impossible to hand up urgent social changes because the Constitution comes in the way,” Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to his chief ministers in early 1951. “We shall have to find a remedy, even though this might involve a change in the Constitution.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was an exasperated and somewhat angry Nehru who had decided that amending the Constitution was the only way out of a situation where the Congress party's flagship programmes had almost ground to a halt. And the story of this first amendment to the Constitution is retold in Tripurdaman Singh's <i>Sixteen Stormy Days</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The exasperation of Nehru was well evident when he thundered, as he moved the Constitution (First Amendment) Bill to be referred to a standing committee in Parliament on 16 May 1951: “Somehow, we have found that this magnificent Constitution that we had framed was later kidnapped and purloined by lawyers.”</p> <p>Singh writes in the book that Nehru had every reason to be angry. Land reform, zamindari abolition, nationalisation of industry, reservations for 'backward classes' in employment and education, a plaint press— these were the shining new schemes of social engineering that were going to remake the social and political fabric of the new nation, and Nehru moved to remove the constitutional roadblocks that held back his grand plans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Declaring that the courts stressing fundamental rights over Directive Principles of State Policy and resultant social changes were hindering the 'whole purpose' of the Constitution itself, the prime minister introduced the Constitution (First Amendment) Bill in Parliament on May 12, 1951.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The amendment was profound indeed, and in historian Upendra Baxi's words, it amounted to being 'the second constitution' or 'the Nehruvian constitution.' The changes included new grounds on which freedom of speech could be curbed, enabling caste-based reservations, circumscribing the right to property and validating abolition of zamindari. It also introduced a special schedule under which laws could be placed to make them immune to judicial challenge even if they violated fundamental rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book brings out the furore that the amendment gave rise to. Putting it in perspective, it details how the two weeks, during which the Bill was debated and passed by Parliament, represented the first battle of Indian liberalism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The battle raged for two weeks, in Parliament and outside, across the columns and opinion pages of newspapers, in bar associations and courtrooms, through protest meetings and angry letters to editors. The bill was eventually passed after a bitterly acrimonious debate on 2 June 1951, with 228 ayes, twenty noes and a large number of abstentations, the final numbers obscuring the intensity of the battle,” writes Singh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And as the writer puts it, interestingly, in this battle, the first great defenders of our individual rights and freedoms included the unlikeliest of characters—Hindu nationalists like S.P. Mookerji and M.R. Jayakar, Gandhian stalwarts like Acharya Kripalani, committed socialists like Shibban Lal Saksena and Jayaprakash Narayan, conscientious Congress rebels like H.V. Kamath, Syamnandan Sahay and K.K. Bhattacharya, jurists like Pran Nath Mehta and M.C. Chagla, press associations, editors, lawyers and businessmen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Nehru and the Congress bent on pruning fundamental rights, Mookerji and the RSS batting for individual freedom and civil liberties— it was a truly dramatic period in Indian history,” says Singh, very aptly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sixteen Stormy Days – The Story of The First Amendment to the Constitution of India</b></p> <p><b>Written by Tripurdaman Singh</b></p> <p><b>Published by Penguin Vintage</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 599; Pages 268</b></p> Sat Feb 22 16:29:01 IST 2020 drafting-a-nation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A few months before India became independent, a distressed Lord Louis Mountbatten called for his senior-most Indian civil servant, Vappala Pangunni Menon. The Viceroy's proposed plan to facilitate India's independence had thrown Jawaharlal Nehru into a rage. Menon, the Reforms Commissioner, was given precisely four hours to produce a draft compelling and comprehensive enough to determine the future of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his own words, as quoted by his great-granddaughter Narayani Basu in her biography of him, Menon said, “I know people have said of me that VP always had the Plan ready. But at that time, what did I have? I had nothing."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India's political future had been decided in a matter of three hectic hours, between 7am and 10:30am that morning, writes Basu in her book, V.P. Menon: The Unsung Architect of Modern India. “By 6 o'clock that evening, he had chain-smoked his way through nearly every packet of cigarettes he had bought, he had a splitting migraine and he was nearly faint with hunger and exhaustion. However, in his hand, VP held a draft—the first official draft of the terms of India's independence, and of the future of South Asia: The Menon Plan."</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Basu's biography of Menon—whom she describes as someone who played a central role in the process of India getting independence, but who was best known as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's right hand man—has the historian deploy her skills as a researcher to explore his life and times.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In what has already resulted in a political controversy, Basu quotes Menon saying that Nehru did not include Patel in his original list for independent India's first Cabinet. This claim was rebutted by historian Ramachandra Guha and senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who have tweeted screenshots of Nehru's letters from 1947 in which Patel topped the list of his Cabinet ministers. Guha also had a Twitter face-off with Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, who said that what Basu wrote about Patel was a revelation to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Basu, Menon was aghast when he learnt that Patel was not on the list. “I went straightaway to Mountbatten,” Menon apparently said. “I told him if you do this, you will start a war of succession. Congress will be split in two. Have no doubt about it." What makes the book special is the seamlessness with which Basu has combined her quest for the unknown facets of her great-grandfather's life with a larger perspective on the Independence movement and fresh insights on the period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>V.P. Menon: The Unsung Architect of Modern India</b></p> <p><i>By Narayani Basu</i></p> <p><i>Published by <br> Simon &amp; Schuster</i></p> <p><i>Price Rs799; pages 440</i></p> Sat Feb 22 12:08:49 IST 2020 the-state-of-indias-public-health-system-a-view-from-ground-zero <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In India's public health story, states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar almost always stand out for their poor performance. For instance, at 3.2, Bihar has the highest the total fertility rate (the number of children that a woman is likely to have in her lifetime) in the country. In the discourse of population stabilisation, Bihar's TFR is in deep contrast to that of a more developed state such as Kerala (1.7). Understanding this contrast, however, is no rocket science—the flagging public health systems, coupled with low levels of literacy, prevent women from accessing services such as contraception and abortion. And for those who end up giving birth, too, the situation remains grim, as Dr Taru Jindal found out during her stint at a government hospital in Bihar's Motihari district.</p> <p>Jindal, a young gynaecologist from Mumbai, determined to see the “reality” of public health in India, chose to take up an assignment as a trainer for senior doctors at the district hospital in 2014. The realities of the hospital's maternity ward where sweepers managed deliveries and stitched up vaginal tears, where four unsterilised instruments were used to manage 40 deliveries a day, and where a doctor's visit is a rare one, shocked Jindal. But it didn't deter her from attempting to change the 'system'. Jindal started the training, dealing tactfully with both her seniors and , and along the way, managed to impress upon them—and the district officials—that when it came to maternal and child health, too much was stake for the mothers who depended on government hospitals.</p> <p>Soon, though, Jindal realised that merely upgrading the skills and the infrastructure of the healthcare systems was not enough unless the community – the men and women themselves – were not involved. They had to be made aware of information ranging from their nutritional needs during pregnancy to the importance of seeking a trained doctor when they fell sick.</p> <p>'A doctor's experiments in Bihar' maps Jindal's journey of discovering the state of India's public health system from ground zero, and her struggles to make some change in a state confronted with lack of resources and trained manpower. At the end of her journey, Jindal manages to provide her readers with a glimpse of how away from the metros, India's poorest still don't have access to basic healthcare. The government's focus on making healthcare affordable through an insurance-based model such as Ayushman Bharat PMJAY might help a certain section of the poor, but unless the broader effort is to boost the state of public hospitals, the laudable objective of universal healthcare will only remain a pipedream.</p> <p><b>Book: A Doctor's Experiments in Bihar: The Story of an inspiring struggle to transform maternal and child healthcare</b></p> <p><b>Author: Dr Taru Jindal</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 294</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 499</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Speaking Tiger&nbsp;</b></p> Mon Feb 17 23:03:54 IST 2020 of-cricket-captains-and-leadership-skills <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>No, don't judge the book by its name alone. Those who thought that 'The Winning Sixer—Leadership Lessons to Master', authored by W.V. Raman, former India opener and currently head coach of the Indian women's cricket team, is just another book about cricket are in for a surprise. For, the author blends his vast experience as player and coach to bring out a book on leadership lessons that is both relatable and engaging.</p> <p>With 'The Winning Sixer', Raman has hit another sixer, explaining the nuances of leadership skills through examples from cricket instead of resorting to boring jargon and big words.</p> <p>Raman is a man with a wry sense of humour and quick repartee, and you will find the book smattered with the same. The book is in the form of conversations between Raman and his journalist friend Ramesh Kanan, who is set to take up a leadership role in his new job and has many questions regarding the challenges posed to a team leader and how to deal with them.</p> <p>Captains like Tiger Pataudi, Sourav Ganguly, M.S. Dhoni, Virat Kohli has had their own set of leadership skills which reflected on their approach to the game. However, what does it take to be an exceptional team captain? Who according to Raman are the best captains in Indian cricket, especially in the vast domestic landscape? The book answers these questions and more.</p> <p>He cites examples of not just Indian cricketers, but cricketing legends from other countries as well to explain his definitions of leadership, motivation, team building, determination, clarity, focus and vision. Raman reveals in detail what made West Indies's Clive Loyd and Australia's Alan Border exceptional captains. One of their main qualities was self-sacrifice—they placed the team before self. He talks of how Border, as the captain of the unfancied Australian team marshalled it to win the 1987 World Cup. Border did not allow the players to have even a sip of beer 48 hours before one match. Such was the focus and determination the captain brought in. Those were not days of Yo-Yo tests and team curfews, and under such circumstances to stay away from their most cherished drink was a big ask of all players.</p> <p>Raman is a self-effacing, low profile cricketer who has worked silently to make champions out of teams and players. In his book, he gives a detailed insight into how he instilled self-belief in Tamil Nadu player and India all-rounder Vijay Shankar, which saw him being a surprise pick in the squad for the 2019 World Cup. There are many more invaluable nuggets and instances in the book. He has watched keenly how players develop to graduate into greats, Team India players. He has even observed how some fall by the wayside after showing much promise. But this is not a book on Indian cricket. Its about all the things that make you a better professional and leader.</p> <p>Hailing from the times when there weren't many formalities between players and journalists or hyper player managers, Raman has many journalist friends with whom he has strong bonds. Conversations with him are not only about cricket but on a wide ranging subjects outside it—films, music, current affairs, books, and other sports. His journalist friend in the book who asks him numerous questions on a range of wide subjects involving leadership is indeed curious. But is he for real? Take a guess.</p> Fri Jan 31 20:43:55 IST 2020 dimensions-of-dedication <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For most people, God is inerrant and infallible. Once, doctors were also considered akin to God, and that provided them protection. Times have changed. On one side, the baggage of “divinity” on doctors has reduced. But on the other, doctors are now routinely facing assault and hospitals are getting vandalised.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dear People, with Love and Care, Your Doctors, edited by Dr Debraj Shome and Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker, is a genuine attempt to tell the strain and strength in doctor-patient relationship, from the perspective of doctors. Through its 34 articles, the book reminds readers that “doctors are also humans”. With simple language, Dear People... covers various facets of a doctor's life—both professional and personal. Each article is rich with emotive anecdotes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book does not shy away from the dark secrets of the Indian medical field. For instance, in the article The Night I Nearly Killed My Patient, Dr Aniruddha Malpani—an IVF specialist and founder of HELP, the world's largest free patient eduction library—points out that most medical colleges in India are run by inexperienced and unsupervised junior residents. Malpani describes an incident where he, as a junior resident, made a terrible mistake that worsened the condition of a patient. For that, he was publicly berated by his senior surgeon and professors, and was treated like pariah as that event could have affected the hospital's reputation. Long working hours, taxing medical training and the pressure of saving lives are pushing many junior doctors to the brink. According to a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 30 per cent of Indian resident doctors suffer from depression and 17 per cent have contemplated suicide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are observations that most doctors often suffer from “God complex”, and so making an error is extremely shameful for them. The book suggests that medical errors will continue if doctors do not come forward, talk about their errors and learn from them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A 2015 survey by the Indian Medical Association suggests that around 75 per cent of doctors in India have faced some form of violence. The book gives special attention to the issue. It makes an interesting observation that in an event of a discord between doctors and patients, the root cause will be money, most of the time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book features futuristic fiction, too. Written by Dr Marcus Ranney, Health Story 2033 imagines the nuances of doctor-patient relationship in a technologically advanced world. Another interesting article that explores the interpersonal relations of doctors is The Mr behind the Ms by C.B. Bhasker. A management consultant, Bhasker talks about what it means to have a doctor as one's life partner. With a pinch of humour, Bhasker writes how his perception of doctors has changed, and also how he improved his medical vocabulary over the years. Overall, Dear People... is a comprehensive book which offers relatable anecdotes to doctors and new insights to laymen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Dear People, with Love and Care, Your Doctors</b></p> <p>Edited by: Debraj Shome &amp; Aparna Govil Bhasker</p> <p>Publisher: Bloomsbury</p> <p>Price: Rs499</p> <p>Pages: 294</p> Fri Jan 10 15:25:01 IST 2020 Eternal-Sathya-Sai-Baba <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Before Sathya Sai Baba attained <i>samadhi</i> in 2011, millions of devotees from across the world thronged his ashram at Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh to sing praises of the tiny man with a beaming smile. The mystic inspired his followers with supernatural powers, and was revered as the reincarnation of Sai Baba of Shirdi.</p> <p>Known for his philanthropic work, Sathya Sai Baba built scores of free hospitals and schools for the poor, including a super specialty hospital in Puttaparthi. In The Most Incredible Sathya Sai Mission: Post Mahasamadhi, rheumatologist Dr Hiramalini Seshadri mentions how, since 2011, Sathya Sai Baba has been leading a service through his faithful student Madhusudhan Sai, who communicates Sai Baba’s discourses to the world. She has detailed the work undertaken by Sathya Sai Baba, through 'Brother Madhusudhan' post 2011. This includes setting up more than 30 campuses offering free education, conducting more than 10,000 paediatric cardiac surgeries free of cost, offering free daily breakfast for lakhs of schoolgoing children and holding free medical camps abroad.</p> <p>In the initial chapters, Seshadri narrates the influence that Sathya Sai Baba has had on her and her family. She recounts the days in 1999 when her father K.C. Sankaranarayanan, a former Kerala cadre IAS officer, was hospitalised with pneumonia and was on the ventilator. Sathya Sai Baba, who knew her father well, sent a written message to the family that said Sankaranarayanan would be discharged in a few days. And that actually happened!</p> <p>Sathya Sai Baba’s principal message is love, and Seshadri painstakingly informs readers about all the humanitarian work that his followers have carried out after his <i>samadhi,</i> across the world. Like how in 2018 doctors from Shri Sathya Sai Sanjeevani in Naya Raipur, Chhattisgarh, went to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital to perform surgeries free of cost on Nigerian children with congenital heart disease. Like how a second paediatric cardiac heart hospital was set up in Delhi in 2015, and “the unthinkable”—a multi-speciality tertiary care hospital sans billing section is all set to come up in Mississippi in the US.</p> <p>In one instance there is a mention about how former Karnataka minister and Congress leader T.B. Jayachandra had an encounter with Sathya Sai Baba when Jayachandra fell ill. And that Sathya Sai Baba helped him in recovering fast, so that the minister could push through the papers relating to the Sri Sathya Sai University for Human Excellence in Gulbarga. The institute came into being in June 2018.</p> <p>The divine missions of Sathya Sai Baba are continuing, and Seshadhri explains all of that lucidly, while picking relevant anecdotes relating to Baba and his followers. The youth in the Middle East, she says, have won Sathya Sai Baba’s heart by regularly plunging into seva at every opportunity. And, in Kuala Lumpur, volunteers conduct free tuition classes every evening on weekdays and also feed more than 150 poor children.</p> <p>Madhusudhan Sai, the book mentions, will groom Prema Sai, who as per discourses given by Sathya Sai Baba, would be the third and the final incarnation of Sai Baba.&nbsp;Prema Sai, the book says, is already born and Sai Consciousness will manifest when he is around 14 and fully blossom by the time he is 19 or so. He will study in the institution set up by Sathya Sai Baba who will groom him as guru through Madhusudhan Sai.</p> <p>The Most Incredible Sathya Sai Mission—post Mahasamadhi makes for an enjoyable read and throws in a lot of insight into the services rendered by Sathya Sai Baba’s followers across the world. The devotees of Sathya Sai Baba will like the book even more. Seshadri, who also composes and sings, has already authored four books on Sathya Sai Baba. Surprisingly, there aren’t many photographs in the book, which would have been a value addition. Overall, The Most Incredible Sathya Sai Mission—Post Mahasamadhi is an honest attempt by Seshadri at redefining our understanding of Sathya Sai Baba and his sacred missions to date.</p> <p><b>Book</b>: The Most Incredible Sathya Sai Baba Mission—Post Mahasamadhi</p> <p><b>Author</b>: Dr Hiramalini Seshadri</p> <p><b>Publisher</b>: Xpress Publishing</p> <p><b>Pages</b>: 275</p> <p><b>Price</b>: Rs 285</p> Tue Jan 07 22:12:57 IST 2020 the-legend-himal-nagrai-reviving-kashmir-folklore <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>Traav kuntrehan seeth</i>. Or "leave it at the 29th" is a Kashmiri idiom for something that is no longer relevant. Or something that has become peripheral or unimportant. It is usually reserved for someone who is fussy and is best left alone. The piquant expression might have tiptoed into Kashmiri language since the days when one was not sure if a month in the lunar calendar had 29 days or 30.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Onaiza Drabu—Kashmiri anthropologist, author and co-curator of the popular newsletter<i> Daak</i>—kuntrehan or "29" is also the number of stories collected in her book on Kashmiri folk tales, <i>The Legend of Himal and Nagrai</i> (Speaking Tiger, Rs 250, 222 pages). In fact, the 29th story in the book—'Soda Byor, Boda Byor'—is her own creation unlike the previous 28 which are translations from oral narratives passed down through generations. "The number of stories in the book is a metaphoric play on the idiom. As a way of saying how most people just do not think folklore is relevant anymore. So yes, you leave it at the 29th," says Drabu whose last primer on Kashmiri culture came as a Children's book in July,<i> Okus Bokus: A-Z for Kashmiri Children</i>.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Assembled from the annals of childhood memories, re-tellings by family elders and housekeepers (kakas), references by academics and folklorists, the idea for the book was birthed in 2014 when Drabu was collecting Kashmiri folklore and proverbs and was mostly complete as an edited manuscript in October 2018. That the book released last month at a very crucial juncture in Kashmir's political history, Drabu says, is "purely coincidental". <i>The Legend of Himal and Nagrai</i> is meant to evoke the illustrious tradition of fables and bedtime stories one grows up listening; to emphasise the art of personal storytelling, where the voice carrying the tale always adds extra elements, making folktales a living, breathing entity; and the syncretic world of Kashmiri storytellers in whose imagination the <i>peris</i> of Persian folklore, the <i>nagas</i> of Sanskrit stories, recounting of Persian <i>dastaans</i> and Sanskritic Panchtantras coexist in harmony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the stories translated in this collection are narratives which are heard and told to—the ones which Drabu or her parents grew up hearing, fables which have not been translated in English. This is what distinguishes Drabu's book from the already existing collections of Kashmiri folktales by the likes of Sir Aurel Stein, J.H. Knowles, Somnath Dhar or Bani Roy Choudhury. The really famous folktales—like the macabre <i>daastaan</i> of Akanandun where a mother is forced to cook a meal with the flesh of her son—is given little importance, restricted to less than four pages. But more interestingly, Drabu has attempted to capture the voice of the teller in each story by weaving in elements of folk belief, specific typologies, figures of speech, superstitions which are very palpable and alive in everyday Kashmir. She is literally telling the stories in her own voice rather than translating it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a delectable dictionary at the end of the book. And every story trains the reader to enter and feel the magical, mystical world by first going through a list of untranslatable Kashmiri words. So "Ama" is an interjection as in 'I wonder' and 'Is that so', dapaan for 'it is said' and 'Kaminis zuh' is a place of trials and tribulations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the most relevant story which you literally hear while reading is Drabu's own 'Soda Byor, Boda Byor'. It should have been placed right in the beginning. It follows the device of a tooti-lambukh—tales within tales and uses the trope of two guides, Soda Byor and Boda Byor, who are familiar characters from other stories. The two mischievous guides perched on a tree-top in a dense forest chance upon a child and his housekeeper who are lost in the woods. The guides know the stragglers had gone to the grocer's but arrived at the baker's, to use another popular Kashmiri idiom. Telling stories is the only way out of the forest. "Stories, after all, show the way, don't they? It is said: a tale lives on only if it is retold," reads a line. It is perhaps the most poignant line which resonates beyond the book as Kashmir continues to reel under an internet shutdown in most parts of the valley.&nbsp;</p> Fri Jan 03 13:11:30 IST 2020 inside-murky-world-india-kidney-transplants <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In April 2018, kidney transplants in India made news when former finance minister Arun Jaitley underwent one at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi. Apart from the politician's health issues, there was some criticism about how he had “jumped the queue” for a transplant—at the time, at least 400 patients, who had also managed a live donor, were on the waiting list of the premier hospital. Going by the need for organs—especially kidneys—transplants in India, and the long waiting lists for getting a procedure done at AIIMS, that number might not have changed significantly even more than an year later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the heart of renowned nephrologist and Padma Bhushan awardee Dr Ramesh Kumar's book, <i>Kidney Transplants and Scams: India's Troublesome Legacy</i> is this skewed demand and supply ratio of those who need one, and those who are fit to 'donate' one. Kumar, a pioneer in the field of nephrology, performed the first 'living related' kidney transplant in 1973. In his book, he traces the history of transplants in India, the pitfalls of lack of regulations, as well as the challenges that lie ahead given the huge need for patients requiring a spare kidney.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kumar, who is also credited with introducing the procedure of chronic ambulatory peritoneal dialysis (for those over 65 years, patients with poor cardiac function, limitation of vascular access and some patients who do not want maintenance dialysis and kidney transplant) in the same year while working at AIIMS, also details the events that led to a law regulating organ transplants in India, before which only a related donor could give away his kidney to the ailing. Kumar details how in the absence of the law (that came well in 1993), the country had become a haven for illegal harvesting and transplants, the poor were duped and India became a 'kidney bazar'. The law, he recounts, was a turning point in the history of organ transplants in India, as it recognised “brain death” for the first time, and allowed doctors to harvest and transplant organs from a cadaver, for a living recipient.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Besides details of the kidney scams that flourished in the 70s and 80s and even now, the book also provides insights into prevailing social biases. The rich could buy themselves a kidney, the need of boys for a kidney was privileged to that of their sisters', and kidneys of wives were sold by husbands to make-up for dowry. The book also has several other touching anecdotes—of mothers getting cold feet just before they were to donate a kidney for a child, and of the tragic series of deaths in a family, set off by a young man's death in an accident while on way to donate the organ for his brother. As the brother waits for his donor to arrive, the family learns of their other son and donor's death in an accident, and his wife kills herself upon hearing of her husband's death—a case that haunts Kumar even now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the end, Kumar raises the issue of harvesting organs from those who die unfortunately in accidents, and raising awareness on organ transplants so that some of the huge demand-supply gap can be bridged. One can only hope that the government, doctors and hospital managements will pay heed to Kumar's timely and pertinent advice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Title: Kidney Transplants and Scams: India's Troublesome Legacy</b></p> <p><b>By Dr Ramesh Kumar</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Sage Publications</b></p> <p><b>Rs 495; 227 pages&nbsp;</b></p> Wed Jan 01 14:52:00 IST 2020 a-blend-of-reality-and-reasoned-optimism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The unequal distribution of wealth as a result of haphazard globalisation, the ease of communication afforded by social media, and the sharpening of ethnic differences has given rise to desire for “strongman politics” around the world. Political mobilisation often fails to respect democratic norms and procedures .</p> <p>If you thought Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran, the authors of 'The New World Disorder and the Indian Imperative', are talking about Narendra Modi's India, just wait. For, they say that there is a global desire to embrace leaders who can carry out the 'will of the masses' – often in a manner that defies traditional markets.</p> <p>The book is more than timely, as it comes out when there is chaos all around us as we enter the second decade of this century, and even as the West views the rise of the East with skepticism and fear. Globalisation is being challenged by protectionism or economic nationalism. The “global village” concept of a few years ago is now being reversed. Why is this so? That is what Tharoor and Saran look into and explain.</p> <p>New actors and ideas will emerge from the remnants of the old dispensation, and they will script the architecture of the 21st century. And according to the authors, India has a major role to play in shaping the future. What makes it so is our sustained commitment to democracy–look at the protests on the streets now. And the fact that India is a non-hegemonic global power. All this and all the rich views and logic adduced in the book make Tharoor and Saran conclude that India may “well be the only country with the credentials and capability to script an equitable ethic for a new international order”.</p> <p>All that looks turned on its head, seemingly in a crisis situation, have raised questions about what this century has in store. The book examines those—the crisis is global governance for once. They look to India for answers and alternatives. Because, they argue, “A soon-to-be relatively wealthy, democratic, multicultural state with an instinct that privileges multi-lateralism and rules-based order, is the perfect antidote to the increasingly parochial and unilateral mood defining global politics”.</p> <p>The authors think it is time for a New Delhi Consensus, which is about a more inclusive and participatory world order.</p> <p>The book is a must read for everyone interested in a real blend of reality and reasoned optimism. Not just in the context of India today, but the world at large.</p> <p><b>Title: The New World Disorder And the Indian Imperative</b></p> <p><b>Authors : Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran</b></p> <p><b>Publisher : Aleph</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 292</b></p> <p><b>Price Rs 799</b></p> Tue Dec 31 18:48:40 IST 2019 A-playbook-for-the-world-weary <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>They talk about the benefits of waking up early, being mindful, what Krav Maga can teach you about life, or how useful the Japanese concept of Ikigai or the 'reason for being', can be in dealing with small and big challenges of modern day existence.</p> <p>Corporate couple Eika and Siddharth Banerjee's book, '52 Red Pills' is a prescription for those caught up in the whirlwind of modern life, and are struggling to cope with it. The book, written in 52 crisp chapters, speaks to a generation whose challenges are both material and spiritual—from individual health and well-being to dealing with the real and present dangers of climate change.</p> <p>Eika and Siddharth Banerjee, management graduates and successful corporate honchos, who describe themselves as 'hyper-learners', seem to have encountered these questions in their lives, spoken to several people about them, and come up with their own 'playbook' of life. In the short, through these 52 capsules—some of which have rather useful insights into wide ranging issues such as nurturing and managing meaningful social relationships, 'powering' your mornings, and the benefits of cinnamon—the authors bring together myriads of thoughts and offer readers practical tips, too. The journey of learning something about each these subjects – finding and keeping in touch with friends in the real world, preventing a heart attack by following a healthy lifestyle, sparking your inherent creativity – and current spiritual trends, is recounted in an anecdotal and intimate conversational style. The authors delve into certain concepts from ancient philosophies such as Hinduism and Buddhism, and transform them into modern day lifestyle tips such as developing an idea by visualising it first.</p> <p>After each chapter, the reader is invited to reflect and pen down their own experience on the subject in an effort to make the learning process interactive, and help the reader embark their own journey of self-discovery. The core idea is to direct the gaze towards the self, and harness the transformative power of one's thoughts to achieve individual life goals.</p> <p>'52 Red Pills' is an engaging, uplifting read, and for those looking for some quick answers to the deeper meaning of life, it's just what they ordered.</p> <p><b>52 Red Pills: A new age playbook to become healthy, wealthy and wise</b></p> <p><b>Author(s): Eika and Siddharth Banerjee</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Pan MacMillan India</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 350,</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 326</b></p> Sat Dec 28 21:11:00 IST 2019 a-history-of-violence <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The more things change, the more they remain the same. Not many believe this any more, but former journalist and author Kalpana Sharma in her new book, 'The Silence and The Storm: Narratives of Violence Against Women in India' says that is what she finds in the context of 30 years of her observing and writing on women's issues. “The cord of violence that binds women's history in contemporary India seems almost indestructible,” she says in her introduction.</p> <p>While the political and economic factors surrounding violence against women are all too well known even though hardly addressed in any significant way—the Nirbhaya case verdict and subsequent amendments to the CrPC notwithstanding—Kalpana breaks an untrodden ground when she says sexual assault and rape are not the only forms of violence. The development policy and environmental destruction also wreaks violence on women, their health, workload and mobility, she argues.</p> <p>The stories she recalls have an impact, for the scar remains, possibly not visibly on the skin, but deep in the heart of society, and its conscience keepers. The custodial rape of 16-year old Adivasi girl Mathura is as heart-wrenching as the rape and murder of the eight-year old in Kathua last year. And the impact of communal violence is reinforced with the story of not just Manorama and Sharmila from Manipur but Bilkis Bano's as well.</p> <p>Many young readers may not know the story of Bilkis. For their benefit, it will be worth culling out the relevant paragraphs from Kalpana's book.</p> <p>Bilkis Bano's story is one of those stories from the 2002 Gujarat carnage that few can forget. A young Muslim woman, six months pregnant, runs for her life from village when rampaging mobs attack it on 28 February. She has with her a three-year-old daughter, her mother and other relatives. They move out of their village under the cover of darkness and hide in a field, hoping to escape. Instead, the next morning they are confronted with a mob of twenty to thirty men carrying swords and sickles who assault and gang-rape the four women, including Bilkis and her mother, kill many of the others, and kill her three-year-old daughter by “smashing” her on the ground. Of the seventeen who left the village, only three survived, the bodies of eight were found and six are still missing.” As Kilpana 's next line says, “The horror does not end there”.</p> <p>But for more one has to read the book, full of real stories, with facts and without bias.</p> <p>Cut to 2019, and the protests against the CAA and NRC. There is no Bilkis story, but the anger and the fear are the same.</p> <p><b>Title</b>: The Silence and The Storm: Narratives of Violence Against Women in India</p> <p><b>Author</b>: Kalpana Sharma</p> <p><b>Publisher</b> : Aleph</p> <p><b>Pages:</b> 200</p> <p><b>Price</b>: Rs 599</p> Fri Dec 20 21:45:44 IST 2019 life-and-times-of-ramanand-sagar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A 14-year-old mother has to give up her firstborn to a childless relative, because her 16-year-old husband had made this rash promise, and was determined to live up to his word, whatever be the cost. Fulfilling the father's promise took a toll on the young boy, scarring him emotionally for life. It also took the life of his young mother, who became mentally disturbed and died in her mid-20s.</p> <p>Ramanand Sagar, who breathed colour and motion into an ancient epic, led a life that was a saga in its own right. Prem Sagar, his son, brings alive the tears and triumphs of his eight decades in this biography, giving such peeks into Sagar's personal emotions that the reader almost feels she is encroaching into a very personal space.</p> <p>The author uses a very simple narrative. His words are stark, there is no literal cloaking in imagery, alliterations or smart phrases. He is not even into adjectives. And yet, he tells the story very poignantly. He brings out the pain of separation again and again. There was Ramanand's separation from his mother. Then, there was Ramanand fleeing his home state, Kashmir, in October 1947, with a young family and pregnant wife in tow and arriving at Safdarjung Airport in New Delhi, the first of Kashmiri refugees. There is Chittranjan, Ramanand's younger brother, who never received a mother's love, as she had already lost her mental balance with the separation of the first son. Chittranjan is doomed again as he falls in love with a Muslim girl, something that could never have met a happy end in that communally fraught times. She hung herself, he remained unmarried all his life.</p> <p>The book is as much a biography as it is the chronicling of a changing India on celluloid—from the time of Partition to the success of the tele-serial Ramayan, which changed the fortunes of Doordarshan, and how. Ramanand began his Bollywood career with the script of <i>Barsaat</i>, Raj Kapoor's super hit film. He had earlier worked with the Lahore cinema industry too, but <i>Barsaat</i> was his first Bollywood hit.</p> <p>The author gives inside views of the interaction between cinematic luminaries on the sets and off, too, as he traces the makings of his father's string of successes—<i>Paigham</i>, <i>Aarzoo</i>, <i>Aankhein</i>. He recalls that when Arvind Kejriwal was first sworn in as chief minister, he sang the lines of a song from <i>Paigham—insaan ka insaan se ho bhaichara, yehi paigham humaara</i>.</p> <p>Sagar, who took on this <i>nom de plume</i> after seeing the sea for the first time in erstwhile Bombay, was among the first from the world of cinema to foray into television, something unheard of then. His <i>Vikram aur Betaal</i> was like a beta testing for <i>Ramayaan</i>. The author once again takes us backstage, where the entire crew worked on a tight deadline, enacting scenes even as Sagar wrote them, so that the episodes were on schedule. Sagar had been denied a mi-season break by Doordarshan, which felt the public would not welcome this.</p> <p>I could write on and on. But then, this is only a review. The book is a must be read. At a time when books about Bollywood characters are flooding bookshelves, this one stands out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Title</b>: An epic life: Ramanand Sagar , from Barsaat to Ramayan</p> <p><b>Author</b> : Prem Sagar</p> <p><b>Publisher</b>: Westland Publications</p> <p><b>Pages</b>: 277</p> Fri Dec 20 21:20:50 IST 2019 a-brief-account-of-indias-wars <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>George Tanham once said India has no strategic culture. Most Indians did not agree, and promptly came up with the pointers to battle formations (vyuhas) described in the <i>Mahabharata</i>, and quoted a few lines from Chanakya's <i>Arthasastra</i>. Let us admit it, those were by no means study or employment of grand strategies of doctrines, but only descriptions of battlefield tactics.</p> <p>Beyond those? Apparently there has been little intellectual exercise in India in terms of actual strategic doctrinairing, though modern India has been making up for the deficiency through intense strategic think-tanking post-Pokharan-II.</p> <p>Reading the accounts of the 42 battles described in this book, one does tend to agree with Tanham. As the author Ajay Sungh makes it clear in the preface itself, “Indian warriors were invariably skillful and individually very brave and courageous. But military leaders neglected the organisational structure of their armies. They often did not adapt to new concepts of warfare and often remained rooted in the past. Nor did they embrace technology....”</p> <p>Strategic doctrines are evolved over years of study and practice of the art and science of war, but it would appear that most Indian commanders didn't even bother to learn from their own previous battles. Look at how the much-toasted Prithviraj fielded his army in the second battle of Tarain. More or less in the same manner as he had deployed them in his first battle against Ghori. Ghori, on the other hand, had learnt from the mistakes he had committed in his earlier round, and came with a more dynamic battle plan by which he used his heavy cavalry to scythe through the disorganised Rajput ranks.</p> <p>The author has used virtually every medieval battle to argue this point—that Indian rulers “relied on individual skill and courage instead of modern tactics and doctrines. They were always too busy battling each other instead of an outsider. And that was the cause of their defeat and for the centuries of subjugation that followed.”</p> <p>Even the celebrated heroes were no different. The author says Rana Sanga sent a letter in 1525 to Babur “asking him to attack Ibrahim Lodhi and even promised to attack Agra during the battle, but backed down.” No wonder, Babar turned his hostile attention to Sanga after defeating Lodhi at Panipat.</p> <p>Most of the 42 battles described in the book give out one singular message: victory favours the one who employs mobility in warfare and innovates over old concepts. That exactly is the secret behind the successes Indian armed forces scored in the 20th century. Employment of tanks at Zoji-la, the swift by-lane march towards Dhaka, using even para-elements to drop behind enemy lines in 1971, the use of airpower in Longewala, Kargil and recently in the surgical strike at Balakot—all contributed to victory after victory.</p> <p>Not that there have been no setbacks—the non-use of airpower in 1962, and the induction of forces without even understanding the terrain in Sri Lanka led to major military disasters.</p> <p>One major attraction of the book is the simple language that the author has employed. There are hardly any military jargons, no attempts at pontification—only simple and straight narration.</p> <p>The book is not claimed to be a wholesome account of India's military history. Rather, it is only an episodic study of individual battles. Indeed, readers can agree or disagree with the list of the battles chosen. For instance, this reviewer would have liked the book to include—at least for the study of tactics and also for their historicity—the battles of Wandiwash 1760, Assaye 1803 (which the Waterloo-winner Wellington once admitted was the toughest he had ever fought), Lord Lake's capture of Delhi 1803, and of course the two Anglo-Gurkha wars of 1814-1816.</p> <p><b>Title</b>: India's Battlefields: From Kurukshetra to Balakot</p> <p><b>Author</b>: Ajay Singh</p> <p><b>Publisher</b>: Pentagon Press, Delhi</p> <p><b>Pages</b>: 242</p> <p><b>Price</b>: Rs 995</p> Thu Dec 19 18:54:47 IST 2019 Celebrating-the-real-heroes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>S. Giridhar's ode to India's government school teachers makes its intentions clear right from its title. It is a book about ordinary people who turn into extraordinary teachers to bring about a difference. The founding registrar and COO of the Azim Premji Foundation, and COO of its university, Giridhar spent the past two decades of his life documenting the public education system. Meeting with hundreds of government school teachers in many remote parts of the country, Giridhar came back impressed with the commitment and dedication shown by the educators who defied all constraints because, as he points out, “of a burning belief that every child can learn.”</p> <p>Teaching at a government school, Giridhar discovers, makes a teacher play a multifaceted role. Beside the evident lack of facilities in many remote areas, teachers also have to work at establishing community level rapport, something crucial to the success of a local school. They also have to navigate their way through bureaucracy, local politics, and not the least, the rising competition from 'private' schools. As the book notes, while the number of private schools in India rose by 75 per cent, government schools grew only by 15 per cent. “In contrast, the number of children studying in government schools has gone down by over seven per cent,” he writes.</p> <p>But those seem minor peeves, as the book focuses on celebrating the sheer tenacity and resilience of the system, as exemplified by the one hundred plus schools he visits as part of his work, noting intricacies and practical solutions teachers come up with at their own initiative. Right from how at one place, classrooms double up as night hostel for students whose parents migrate seasonally, to how teachers themselves arrange text books and other teaching material, often at their own expense, to many more. By humanising an amorphous whole we often deride as 'substandard', using case studies from Uttarakhand to Karnataka and then unabashedly celebrating their little successes, Giridhar establishes his aim pretty succinctly – get off your high horse, urban peeps, and see how change is being brought about by real heroes at the grassroots level.</p> <p>Don't go to this book for any balanced analysis or verdict on the Indian government education system. Amidst the usual stream of bad news and ineptitude that media seems to oft celebrate, Giridhar would rather focus on the silver lining. And those are stories of ordinary people who perform an extraordinary role, going against all odds and all the conventional notions to bring about a difference. For him, that alone suffices to make this a book about real heroes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Book: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Teachers: The Heroes of Real India</b></p> <p><b>Author: S. Giridhar</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Westland</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 275</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs. 499</b></p> Tue Dec 17 17:50:29 IST 2019 asuras-antariksh-journey-through-maze-of-bureaucracy-scams <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At a time when Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan are making news, comes this fictional work around an imaginary space research institution in India, and a scam therein.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dr Maharishi Nath, chairman of the Indian Space Agency, Dr Martin Georges Chairman of Oriont Telecom, USA and Dr Vidyasagar, Managing Director of Gagan Yagu are all fictional characters in <i>The Asuras of Antariksh</i> by Veena S. Rao. Veena sets her fiction in the labyrinth of bureaucracy in New Delhi and the country's space research institution. Towards the end, the three receive daily bulletins from their agents in India—for they are in New York!</p> <p>To know them and the other characters, and how they interact amongst themselves and with the system, one has to read the fast-paced book that kindles the reader's curiosity, almost at the end of every paragraph. It might suffice to say that a government contract with a foreign company is cancelled when a scandal erupts.</p> <p>Georges, the American says he is amazed “at the efficiency of your investigation system”. His view—they can achieve anything, even the impossible. Maharishi puts in that in India, we always say, “let the law take its course”, which it always does. And if it doesn't, we say, “we have full faith in the judiciary”. They enjoy their dinner at an exclusive restaurant by the side of the Central Park in Fifth Avenue.</p> <p>At the end of an “investigation” into the corruption around an international contract in the space research institution, the bureaucrats who were on anticipatory bail return to work. The journey of the government contract from start to finish is narrated in a simple but gripping way by the author, who is a retired IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre, besides being a fiction writer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Name: The Asuras of Antariksh</b></p> <p><b>By Veena S. Rao</b></p> <p><b>Published by: Vitasta</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 311; Price: Rs 395</b></p> Tue Dec 17 15:33:05 IST 2019 the-panama-papers-dive-into-untold-india-story-brilliant-investigation <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Crime, corruption, wrongdoing, secret offshore companies of the who’s who tucked away in tax havens around the world—all these elements make way for a mind-boggling investigative journey. But wait, there is more. When such expose comes in the form of the largest collaborative investigations by journalists across the globe, it becomes history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><i>The Panama Papers,</i> authored by award-winning journalists Ritu Sarin, Jay Mazoomdaar and P. Vaidyanathan Iyer of <i>The Indian Express, </i>documents this history as they give an unrelenting, gripping account of the unprecedented giant leaks and the probe that was carried out by the three member Indian team which collaborated with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The Panama Papers shook the world, woke up governments and showed what investigative journalism could achieve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The India story of this mega investigation has been penned down by the trio in the book, <i>The Panama Papers</i>, to tell the backstory of hot leads and cold trails, of open denial and veiled intimidation. The journalists take you to their newsrooms, grip you in their excitement, anxiety and run you through nine months of painstaking investigation whose outcome is nothing less than an explosion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The final line-up of The Panama Papers' Day one package had two stories on former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his predecessor Benazir Bhutto. Along these were slotted reports on the involvement of the Russian president, Iceland president and footballer Lionel Messi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book tells us how Ritu Sarin, Executive Editor (investigations ) with the<i> Indian Express, </i>cautioned against a potential overkill. But the chief editor would rather err on that side and was not in the mood for any half measures. At the evening editorial meeting that day, the consensus was that there was enough ammunition to run the campaign over five days and no rationing or firepower was required on day one .</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rest is history as they say. Ritu Sarin, one of India’s finest investigative reporters and a member of ICIJ, not only led her team to uncover how offshore puppets are run, round tripping is done and share secrecy is maintained. The Panama Papers gave the Narendra Modi government an opportunity to fulfil the big promises they had made about recovering black money during the 2014 election campaign. The government announced setting up of a Special Investigation Team to implement the decision of the Supreme Court on large amounts of money stashed abroad by evading taxes or generated through unlawful activities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Prime Minister wanted the Panama Papers to be scrutinised by an exclusive probe team. Vaidyanathan, who had pieced together how the Panama papers had impacted India’s highest seat of power—the Prime Minister's Office located in South Block—was requested by a top PMO official for a meeting. The expose had just hit the stands. More was to follow but Ritu and her team were ready.</p> <p><b>Book: The Panama Papers: The untold India story of trailblazing global offshore investigation&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>Authors: Ritu Sarin, Jay Mazoomdaar and P. Vaidyanathan Iyer&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>Published by Penguin Random House India&nbsp;</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 599</b></p> Fri Dec 13 20:32:33 IST 2019 tracing-the-history-of-indian-madrasas <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Madrasa Aliya in Rampur in Uttar Pradesh was unlike many others. In the Islamic month of <i>Shabaan</i>, there was always a graduation day—may not be the kind the Americans have given the world, but believers in the religion, nevertheless, gathered and cheered the new graduates, the new <i>hafiz</i>. And the rush to send their wards to this over 200-year-old madrasa was always there. For reasons that will surprise many. It was widely believed that Raja Ram Mohan Roy, had studied at the Madrasa Aliya. Nobody asked how and when he arrived there or what he studied there, but the fact of a historical association with the cherished social reformer was magnetic enough.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It transpires Ram Mohan Roy actually went to a Madrasa Aliya in Bengal! And later he went to Madrasa Mujibida in Phulwari Sharif in Patna. In these madrasas, he learnt Persian, and mastered Arabic to the extent that he could read the <i>Quran </i>without a maulvi's help. He studied the works of medieval Sufis, and the Arabic translations of Aristotle and Plato.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is another matter that the Rampur madrasa that pulled students because of Roy's association with a namesake was pulled down six years ago following a dispute between the members of the madrasa trust and the then local MLA—now Lok Sabha MP—Azam Khan of the Samajwadi Party.&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ziya Us Salam and M. Aslam Parvaiz in their book, <i>Madrasas in the Age of Islamophobia&nbsp;</i>trace the history of madrasas worldwide and zero in on those in India. They say that while they have been charged by the BJP with breeding terrorists, their tumbledown facilities ensure nothing can be taught there, with many of those who are to teach often out with their bedsheets or towels spread out seeking funding, supposedly to run their madrasas. These, however, remain the only schools that the poor in the community could afford. And no evidence has yet been adduced to substantiate that any madrasas has bred terrorists.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before independence, it was the British divide and rule policy that resulted in there being no convergence of the regular public schools that taught a different curriculum, and the madrasas which taught the Quran and Arabic. Salam and Parvaiz point to the pathetic state of the madrasas, and seem particularly upset over the way the young minds are trained just to learn by rote, without understanding the Holy Book.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, as the authors trace the decline of the madrasas in the north, they are all praise for those in the south, particularly in Kerala where Islam reached during the lifetime of the Prophet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Here, they write, knowledge is not confined to the <i>Quran </i>or the <i>Hadith</i>, but is all encompassing—including medicine, engineering and language.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the word “madrasa” itself evokes many shades of understanding, this&nbsp; paperback puts the Indian madrasas in a historical context and 360 degrees perspective.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Name: </b>Madrasas in the Age of Islamophobia</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Authors: </b>Ziya Us Salam and M Aslam Parvaiz</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Publishers</b>: Sage</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Pages</b> 180</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Price </b>Rs 395</p> Thu Dec 12 19:16:28 IST 2019 in-service-of-the-republic-the-art-and-science-of-economic-policy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Long ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and we must find our way out of these dark woods. The most important question in Indian economics and policymaking today is that of diagnosing and addressing the sources of under-performance that have arisen from 2011 onward.</p> <p>Though the two sentences are part of the concluding chapter in 'In Service of the Republic: The Art and Science of Economic Policy' by Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah, the book itself represents their attempt to understand what happened, and present their ideas for changing it—meaning, addressing the under-performance.</p> <p>The book, in seven parts with a total of 40 essays –never published before—looks at the art and the science of policymaking, which happens at the intersection of economy and politics. The names of the essays tempt readers to dig in and go straight to a particular page without starting at the very beginning. For example, 'A country is not a company', 'Test Match, not IPL'.</p> <p>Kelkar and Shah, in their search for what has caused the under-performance, say a lot of government intervention and the license-permit raj, remains in place. There is a great deal of arbitrary power in the hands of the government. While liberalisation sent out the “rough idea” that there should be less state intervention and that the “light touch economic regulation” should be done by a new breed of economic regulators, these turned out to be central planners.</p> <p>The questions raised are very pertinent. Why do we need state intervention? Why is the state capacity low? What is the right approach to public policy?</p> <p>In the course of their essays they touch the very crucial and contentious issues of using public money to bail out some. Should the state be doing all that it is doing? And above all, is the state capacity being spread out far too far and far too thin?</p> <p>Both, Kelkar and Shah are not only well-known economists, they have had played a key role in designing and implementing economic policy. For that reason, this readable collection of essays should be in the hands of as many lay people as students of economics and public policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Title</b>: In Service of The Republic: The Art and Science of Economic Policy</p> <p><b>Authors</b>: Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah</p> <p><b>Publishers</b>: Penguin Allen Lane</p> <p><b>Pages</b>: 425</p> <p><b>Price</b> : Rs 699</p> Thu Dec 12 15:20:36 IST 2019 communication-is-key <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Words can cut deeper than a scalpel, and sometimes no suture can close those wounds.</p> <p>Doctors have come to realise the power of words and effective communication in health care over a period of time. “My aim was to become a perfect operating machine and, in that plan, interacting with the patient did not matter at all, since surgical skill was the only thing that was important,” writes Dr Devi Shetty, chairman, Narayana Health, in the foreword of Communicate. Care. Cure. Though legally bound to interact with patients and to take their consent before surgery, he saw it as a mere formality. “However, when I started work in Kolkata, I would see nearly 100 patients a day, but hardly anyone turned up for an operation,” he recalls. “This made me realise the importance of effective communication.”</p> <p>Edited by Dr Alexander Thomas and Divya Alexander, Communicate. Care. Cure. dissects the many ways of communication in hospitals—a complex setting that involves various stakeholders. A first-of-its-kind book that focuses on health care communication, it offers practical solutions to breakdown in communications, with each chapter addressing the challenges faced by patients, their kin, health care providers, administrators and support staff.</p> <p>And, it is not just about verbal communication. Gestures matter, too—we have all been to that doctor who refuses to make eye contact while listening to our litany of discomforts. Listening, the book states, is important for good communication, as is paying attention to nonverbal cues. The book cites an instance of a nurse detecting the anxiety of a young cancer patient through his artwork, and changing his care plan accordingly.</p> <p>The chapter that touches a deeper chord though is on breaking bad news to patients. In the medical profession, states the book, there is no way to avoid this task. And, it is not as simple as mouthing a filmi dialogue—“inko dawa ki nahi, dua ki zaroorat hain [he needs prayers, not medicine].”—and moving on. The doctor has to compartmentalise his own emotions and discuss every aspect of the illness and treatment with the patient and his family, and be kind and not too clinical about it. Grace under pressure, they say. There is another chapter that addresses the elephant in the room—medical errors—and details how and when to apologise.</p> <p>The book was first published in 2012, and opened up discussions on the impact of communication on the quality of care. Now in its third edition, which came out this year, it has two new chapters—on communication for nurses and for medical students. It is interesting to note that it was only this year that a module on attitude, ethics and communication was included in the curriculum of medical colleges.</p> <p>As the chapters are written by health care professionals, from nurses and doctors to administrators and policy makers, various voices come through. And, the writers stay true to the advice they give: no jargon. Each chapter is illustrated with examples and has a ‘take-home message’ at the end. Since the theme is communication, there are certain points, though they need to be emphasised, that are repeated across chapters. A few repetitions could have been avoided or kept short. The book, however, effectively communicates the message it sets out to give, and lives up to its title and more.</p> <p><b>Communicate. Care. Cure. A Guide to Healthcare Communication</b></p> <p>Edited by Dr Alexander Thomas</p> <p>Published by Wolters Kluwer (India) Pvt Ltd</p> <p>Pages: 234; price: Rs499</p> Fri Dec 06 16:16:29 IST 2019 pure-healthy-helping-to-sculpt-a-healthier-self <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>You don't need your nutrition fix from an incessant blur of snappy, blink-and-you-miss cooking videos online. That is the kind of feeling one gets when they breeze through Vidhu Mittal's calming and no-fuss<i> Pure &amp; Healthy</i> published by Roli Books.</p> <p>Much to the delight of vegetarian weight-watchers, the coffee-table book offers simple, sumptuously arranged recipes, from drinks, soups and salads to desserts. Written in collaboration with celebrity nutritionist Radhika Karle, there are analyses and calorie counts for each of the recipes.</p> <p>According to the book's meal plan, if you are looking for a menu for general well-being on a Tuesday or Saturday, eat roasted rice cake (paniharan) with sambhar for breakfast, stuffed pointed (bharwa parwal) gourd for lunch and black chickpea soup with spicy lentil rice (bisi bele bhaath) for dinner. Similarly, there are weekly timetables for people with heart-disease, hypothyroidism and diabetes.</p> <p>The whole point of the book is to rediscover natural ingredients eaten since the time of our grandfathers and which are easily available. That fresh, seasonal and local food is an infallible argument for a healthy lifestyle. Besides, one must have ghee, rice bran oil, all kinds of lentils and millets apart from spices as indispensables in the pantry.</p> <p>Mittal, known for books like <i>Gourmet Indian Vegetarian Cuisine</i>, liberally uses pumpkin, sunflowers and Amarnath seeds in her cooking. Enlarged in high-definition picture clarity and set against a plain white background, the often far-fetched kitchen improvisations like green banana cutlets and fenugreek savoury cake (methi muthia) assume delectable contours.&nbsp;Here are two recipes which might induce a visit to the local grocer for a desi dinner which isn't rich and elaborate.&nbsp;</p> <p><b><br> 1. Baby Bok Choy &amp; Onion Soup (<i>Pattidar Shorba</i>)</b></p> <p><b>Ingredients</b></p> <p>4 heads of Baby bok choy</p> <p>4 Spring onion (hara pyaz) bulbs</p> <p>1 tsp Rice bran oil</p> <p>1 tsp Ginger (adrak) paste</p> <p>1 tsp Garlic (lasan) paste</p> <p>2 tsp Coriander stems, finely chopped (kache danthal)&nbsp;</p> <p>2½ cups / 500 ml Water</p> <p>Salt, to taste</p> <p>Freshly ground Black peppercorn (sabut kali mirch), to taste</p> <p>Lemon (nimbu) juice</p> <p><b>Method</b></p> <p>Separate the leaves and the stem of the bok choy. Keep leaves aside. Cut the stem into 1½-inch slant pieces. This should make ½ cup of chopped bok choy.</p> <p>• Peel the onion bulbs and cut into thin, round slices. This should make ¼ cup of sliced onions.</p> <p>• Heat 1 tsp oil in a broad pan for 30 seconds over medium heat. Add the ginger paste, garlic paste, chopped coriander stem, chopped bok choy stems and onion slices. Sauté for 10 seconds.</p> <p>• Add the bok choy leaves (2 cups) and cook for 30 seconds. Now add 2½ cups / 500 ml water, salt and black pepper. Bring this mixture to a boil. Add the chopped coriander leaves and lemon juice, and serve hot.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>2. Lacy Rice Pancake (<i>Chawal Ka Dosa</i>)</b></p> <p><b>Ingredients</b></p> <p>¼ cup / 40 gm Rice (chawal) flour</p> <p>¼ cup / 30 gm Onion (pyaz), finely chopped</p> <p>¼ tsp Green chilli (hari mirch), finely chopped</p> <p>2 tsp Curry leaves (kadhipatta), finely chopped</p> <p>1/8 tsp Cumin (jeera) seeds</p> <p>¼ tsp Salt</p> <p>½ cup (100 ml) Water</p> <p>1 tsp Rice bran oil</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Method</b></p> <p>• In a bowl, mix rice flour, onion, green chilli, curry leaves, cumin seeds and salt with ½ cup of water. Prepare a batter of pouring consistency and set aside for 30 minutes.</p> <p>• Heat a griddle (tawa) over medium heat for 40 seconds. Mix the batter well. Pour half the batter with a deep ladle in the center of the griddle creating a web. Drizzle ½ tsp oil on the edges of the pancake. Cook until the edges begin to brown, flip and cook for another 20 seconds. Flip again, fold and serve hot.</p> <p>• Check the pouring consistency of the batter and, if required, add an additional ½ Tbsp water. Repeat the same process for the other pancake.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Book: Pure &amp; Healthy: Healthy Indian Vegetarian Cuisine</b></p> <p><b>Author: Vidhu Mittal</b></p> <p><b>Publisher: Roli Books, Lustre press</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 232; Price: Rs 1,995</b></p> Sat Dec 07 15:16:17 IST 2019 reflections-on-religion-literature-and-more <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At a time when Mahabharata is known more as a television serial and the Bhagavad Gita is reduced to being just the inspiration behind many classroom lectures and projects at B-schools, K. Satchidanandan, winner of the National Sahitya Akademi Award among dozens of others, puts the focus of his essay titled 'Strategies of Subversion' on the Mahabharata by 15th century Odia writer Sarala Dasa.</p> <p>Dasa has let the Bhagavad Gita pass with no more than two light references. This even as many believe that Gita, being a highly philosophical and metaphysical discussion, is the heart and soul of the Mahabharata.</p> <p>The award winning poet-literateur also writes that Dasa's Mahabharata has lots of Odisha, incidents of Oriya life and history. And most importantly, Satchidanandan points to the fact that Dasa writes that “The Mahabharata war took place not once but 73 times, and each time the same Kurukshetra became the scene of the battle where the naked Kantani danced in ecstasy”.</p> <p>All this subversion from the original because of Dasa took the “Sramanic” worldview, whereby human beings are responsible for their actions and cannot avoid their moral consequences. This is distinct from the view that God is responsible for their actions.</p> <p>Satchidanandan's new book, 'Positions: Essays on Indian Literature' is a compilation of his essays and keynotes written over the past 25 years. The subjects that he covered are as contemporary as 'Sex, Text, Politics' on women's writing in India, 'Mother Tongue, The Other Tongue' on Indianising English and 'The Modern and the Democratic', on Indian poetry after democracy.</p> <p>There are essays on the works of many authors, including Ghalib, Kabir, Tagore and Sarojini Naidu. The corpus of literary studies in India is growing, but according to the author, it is insufficient. This one will be a good addition to it, and will interest anyone interested in Indian literature.</p> <p><b>Title: Positions: Essays on Indian Literature</b></p> <p><b>Author: K. Satchidanandan</b></p> <p><b>Publishers Niyogi Books</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 367</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs.795</b></p> Wed Nov 27 18:35:18 IST 2019 exploring-hidden-tales <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Books about colonial conquests are usually filled with stories of greed and battles. However, India and the Netherlands—Past, Present and Future written by India’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, Venu Rajamony, moves away from this regular formula. The book is filled with tales of art, culture, animals, chintz and poetry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajamony’s research for the book got the greatest help from the National Archives of the Netherlands. In the book, he brings out interesting details such as those about visits of Rabindranath Tagore and Vivekananda to the Netherlands as well as little known facts about acclaimed Dutch painter Rembrandt’s Mughal connection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rembrandt did 25 paintings inspired by Mughal-style miniatures. He also had a collection of Mughal miniatures. Rajamony found that upon Rembrandt’s bankruptcy, an inventory was drawn of his diverse personal collection of art and artefacts. The Mughal paintings were described as “curious miniature drawings” in this inventory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the unique Indo-Dutch connections like these—rather unknown but important—that makes Rajamony’s book interesting. The reader encounters characters like Jan Huygen Linschoten, a merchant, trader and historian, who in pursuit of adventure came to India in 1583. Linschoten becomes a secretary to the viceroy and with the access to the confidential information he has, he publishes an itinerary—Discourse of Voyages into East and West Indies—about the safe navigational routes to India and his observations of Indians. It became the bible for Dutch adventurers who wanted to set sail to India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book offers a tragic love story, too—of Dutch writer Jacob Haafner and a devadasi named Mamia. Haafner arrived in India in 1771 to work for the Dutch East India Company (aka Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie). He travelled across India, learned Hindi and Sanskrit, and wrote the book Travels in a Palanquin. In the book, Haafner describes Mamia as a “faithful, sweet, loveable, virtuous and charitable girl”. She met an untimely death while saving Haafner from drowning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India and the Netherlands gives a fair detail about the activities of the VOC in India. “The company began as a commercial venture aiming to trade spices,” writes Rajamony. “For the Dutch republic, however, it was also an instrument of war. The VOC was granted the sovereign right overseas to build forts, wage wars and conclude treaties on behalf of the Dutch state general.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During research for the book, Rajamony got a chance to see the works of Johannes Vingboons, a cartographer and water colourist who never travelled to India, but produced accurate realistic paintings by thorough research. He also had access to the secret maps kept in the East India House in Amsterdam. These maps were once guarded zealously, as the VOC wanted to outdo their rivals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajamony also touches upon a little known aspect of the Dutch slave trade in his book. “I had no idea that the Dutch had indulged in slave trade out of Kochi,” he says. “The fact that there was slave trade out of India is little known in the Netherlands. Normally, people associate the slave trade with Brazil.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>INDIA AND THE NETHERLANDS—PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE</b></p> <p>Author: Venu Rajamony</p> <p>Publisher: Bombay Ink</p> <p>Pages: 252</p> <p>Price: Rs5,000</p> Sat Nov 23 16:19:26 IST 2019 ballad-of-a-maverick <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Elton John is a devout father, husband, rights activist and pop superstar; a knighthood, no less, stands as a testament to his contributions to society. He has the biggest selling song in chart history to his credit (Candle in the Wind, 1997) and a sustained track record of five decades at the top of his game.</p> <p>That is the boring part.</p> <p>He is also a man who has had a starring role in the excesses of rock music’s glory years of the 1970s and 1980s. From drug-fuelled orgies up in Hollywood Hills to watching the porn classic Deep Throat with his mother aboard a private jet to repeated suicide attempts, there is nothing much John’s own ‘Circle of Life’ has not witnessed. And that is what the musician lays bare, that sardonic and campy British humour firmly in place, in his autobiography, simply titled <i>Me</i>. It is written with the help of British music journalist Alexis Petridis.</p> <p>His success story is nothing but extraordinary. Born Reginald Dwight, this British lad sang in supper clubs and worked the back-end of music companies in the 1960s, before changing his name (“Reg Dwight... that’s not a pop star’s name.”) and embarking on a music career when his eponymous sophomore album cracked the charts in 1970. Since then, through hits and misses, John is a byword for longevity in the notoriously fickle world of pop music.</p> <p>But that almost pales in comparison with the personal journey county dork Reg Dwight undertook on his way to become rock music royalty Sir Elton John. It involves a self-realisation that dawns slowly, be it with his sexuality, his late-dawning pangs to have children or his own perception of his insecurities and how he clumsily tries to overcome them. His over-the-top stage costumes, for instance, slowly percolated down into everyday wear. “Wearing them, I felt different, like I was expressing a side of my personality that I’d kept hidden,” he writes.</p> <p>There are multiple suicide bids, mood swings, sexual peccadillos and an almost two-decade long drug addiction battle, all detailed graphically. But by no means is this a dark book. Quite the contrary, the raconteur in him takes over right from the first chapter, taking the reader on a thrilling ride inside the world of John’s A-list contemporaries—from Bob Dylan, whom he once mistook for a gardener, to John Lennon, with whom he spent days in a New York hotel suite snorting drugs, and his string of fallouts and make ups, be it with Princess Diana or Madonna. There are mentions of other members of the royal family, too, including Queen Elizabeth II winking at him when he spots her chiding her nephew. It is a juicy tell-all, but more than being vicarious, it is a delightful detour into an age when music stars were larger-than-life gods, with platform heels of clay. And they did not bother to hide it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Me</p> <p>Author: Elton John</p> <p>Publisher: Macmillan</p> <p>Pages: 376</p> <p>Price: Rs999 (hardback)</p> Sat Nov 09 13:05:01 IST 2019 new-rules-of-cool <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>FROM COCA COLA,</b> blue jeans and rock ‘n’ roll to Star Wars, disco and soap operas, America’s stranglehold on global popular culture has been steadfast since World War II. American pop culture—with its superpower prestige, inherent coolness and libertine and flashy appeal—spoke to aspirational classes around the world. It first hypnotised the third world’s elite and, eventually, cast its spell on the rising middle class of the global South.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Maybe not for much longer. There is now a disparate, yet vast, pop culture movement that threatens to subsume this gharbzadegi, a rather derogatory Persian term for being enamoured with western culture. From Bollywood to K-pop and Turkish soap operas, eastern pop culture going international poses the biggest challenge yet to America’s ‘soft power’ hegemony since World War II.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Plummeting American prestige, the belated rediscovery that local cultures are valuable in and of themselves, and the rise of classes with different tastes and backgrounds emerging out of the turbulence of globalisation have marginalised the old guard of ‘Westoxified’ elites and created a vast new landscape of cultural power,” writes Fatima Bhutto in her latest book, New Kings of the World. Yup, the same talented scion of Pakistan’s de-facto political first family, whose previous works include Songs of Blood and Sword, a book on her father’s life and assassination.The subject of that book may seem vastly different from this one, yet, at some level, they intersect on the plane of geopolitics, social upheaval and changing mores.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bhutto attributes this shifting of the cultural axis to rapid urbanisation and globalisation, not all of it happening cross-border. For example, she painstakingly details how urbanisation has impacted Bollywood, the post-independence idealism of Raj Kapoor giving way to the cynicism of the ‘Angry Young Man’. And how the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War led to an unabashed worship of nouveau riche and neo-liberal ideals in Indian entertainment. “If you have a BMW, neo-liberal Bollywood seemed to suggest, you can do whatever you want,” she writes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though a lion’s share of the book is devoted to Bollywood—Bhutto even travels to faraway Lima, in South America, to meet kids enamoured by Shah Rukh Khan and Bollywood dances—she also delves into other eastern trends surfacing in this Netflix era. Specifically, the rising popularity of Turkish soap operas or dizi and Korean pop music (K-Pop).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the in-depth focus on these three pop culture phenomena is welcome, the book does not encompass the full scope of ‘eastern pop culture’, which it claims to. Then why no mention of Chinese cinema, Japanese anime, middle-eastern pop or internet stars from other eastern countries? Even Indian pop culture does not extend beyond Bollywood, with no reference to regional voices or other forms of art and entertainment. Widening its scope could have raised this lucid read into a cultural lodestar for future reference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>NEW KINGS OF THE WORLD</b></p> <p><i>Author: Fatima Bhutto</i></p> <p><i>Publisher: Aleph</i></p> <p><i>Pages:165, Price: Rs499</i></p> Fri Oct 18 12:30:26 IST 2019 flipkart-more-than-a-business-success-story <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For a regular Indian cybersurfing at home or on their mobile phones while commuting, the word ‘Flipkart’ lights up their brain with visions of shop-till-you-drop, fuelled by ‘deep’ discounts and a range of options on almost everything under the sun that runs into crores. Of course, the Flipkart story is much more than a business success story. It is the journey of ‘India’s biggest internet startup’, as its publishers put it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All journeys start with a small, single step, and it is to writer Mihir Dalal’s credit that he has dug extensively into the background to get to the origins of the Bansals, Sachin and Binny (no relation to each other) in the new book <i>Big Billion Startup: The Untold Flipkart Story</i>. Then he straps in, taking the reader along as the Bansals take their small Bengaluru online book-seller to the top of the heap as India’s biggest e-commerce success story. And in the process, redefined India’s (and the world’s) start-up touchstone, kicking into high gear an era where terms like unicorns, billion dollar valuations and angel investors became common lingo, including the term ‘Flipkart’ (the Bansals wanted an inexpensive domain name, and hoped that the term ‘kart’ would register the idea of shopping and shopping cart with customers).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just like any story of ambition, big money, power and hubris, this tale is red-hot material. But this masala plot does not have a Bollywood ending, rooted as it is in the harsh reality of life and business―even though it craves for one at many points as the story graph progresses. From the Bansals' IIT days to when they launched the site from a Koramangala apartment, Dalal tries his best to maintain his objectivity, to separate the wheat from the PR-chaff.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For an eager-beaver business historian (if that’s a thing), this is golden material to possess a deeper understanding of how things transpired as the Bansals aimed for the sun. As a read, it is interesting enough, even if Dalal’s constant detour into irrelevant back stories and half-baked attempts at peppering the book with catchy anecdotes end up like Bengaluru traffic and its endless one-way detours. For example, the starts with an entire chapter detailing the origin of its rival Amazon in India. A mere reference to where Amazon’s office in Bengaluru is located is enough for him to promptly detour into a history lesson about the man the road is named after.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Those minor peeves aside, where this book scores is in giving the reader a racy ringside view of a corporate story that went beyond the wildest dreams of its founders―though naked unbridled ambition soon made it hurtle spectacularly out of control, prompting the entry of a whole set of global big guns that transformed it forever, an ironic testimony to its success. That’s the kind of comprehensiveness the pink papers often don’t do enough justice to. This book is no Steve Jobs-like idol worship. It is a story rooted in extensive research and objectivity. It’s not just a ‘dream-come-true’, but also an elegy to what could happen when your dreams comes true.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book will be available from Sunday, October 6.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Big Billion Startup The Untold Flipkart Story</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Author: Mihir Dalal</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Publishers: Pan Macmillan</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Pages: 272</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Price: Rs 699 (Hardbound)</b></p> Sun Oct 06 13:47:53 IST 2019 leftover-novel <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Surely I deserve a gold medal? A laurel wreath, a gilded trophy, a Nishan-e-Haidar, a Param Vir Chakra, a best-in-show ribbon? I have ploughed doggedly through all of Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte and emerged at the other end bloated as a thesaurus, reeling from an overdose of literary, musical and trash TV references, with my vocabulary enriched and my grey cells severely depleted. What a ride! When it ended, I staggered out of the expensive hardback vehicle I had been strapped on to, fell on my knees and kissed the ground hard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Quichotte is a rambling, shambling road-trip novel within a novel, written by a Rushdie-esque author called Sam DuChamp, who has been writing mediocre spy thrillers for years, but who now, perhaps because of his estrangement from his son, called Son, and his sister, called Sister, feels moved to write something different. So, he creates an ageing travelling salesman called Quichotte, a riff on Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, who works for a shady pharmaceutical company. Quichotte, because his brain is addled from watching too much trash TV, falls in love with an American daytime talk show star called Salma R., who is also a daughter and granddaughter of Bollywood royalty. And, just like Quixote, he sets off to woo and win the lady, who is addicted to opioid medication.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Riding shotgun with him is his son Sancho, who springs to life entirely from Quichotte’s imagination, in the tradition of the progeny of the ancient Greek gods who often spring to life from their parent’s head or thigh. Sancho starts off black and white and fuzzy around the edges, but as his father’s hunger for him intensifies, or something else magical-realismy happens, he becomes technicolour and fully-formed one morning. I liked Sancho a lot—he was such an authentic teenager, constantly asserting his independence from his uncool parents, but at the same time sullenly clinging on to them while sucking his thumb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Anyway, Quichotte and Sancho drive though six—or was it seven?— figurative valleys together to arrive in New York, which is where Salma lives. Along the way, they encounter the ugliness of ‘flyover’ America, which is full of obnoxious red-necked white people constantly asking the father-son duo where they had hidden their beard and turbans. The larger point of this was lost to me. It felt thrown willy-nilly, as though the great author was cooking a hot-pot dinner, throwing in all the leftover scraps he had been storing in his enormously clever head for other books.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are more leftovers to come—characters who feel as flat as a carrom board, to use a term Quichotte and Sancho use to describe small-breasted women. There is a gent called Evel Cent, a bastardisation of Awwal Sant, a James Bond villian-ish sort of guy meant to evoke fascinated dread, but all he evoked in me was an intense desire to put the book down and take a well-deserved snack break in the form of Bikaner-ki-Bhujia. Then there is Sister, and her husband, the Judge, who likes to dress in frocks and drink fancy wine once he is home for the day. And, lurking somewhere in the background—in either Quichotte’s or Sam DuChamp’s life, I forgot which because by then I was thoroughly confused—there is Babajan, an ancient horndog, who likes to kiss his prepubescent granddaughters while laughing his signature ghostly, creepy laugh. He was kind of fun actually.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are puns galore—Ismail and ‘a smile’, Evel Cent and ‘evil scent’, Quichotte and ‘key shot’. But instead of making one gurgle with appreciative laughter like they did in, say, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, all they do here is remind me of purist English teachers tsk-tsking about puns being the lowest form of wit. It is like Rushdie has graduated from being tremendously clever to just plain old tedious.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The themes of the novels seem to be about reality versus illusion, about how fiction is really just thinly disguised fact, about how writers use their own experiences to inform their writing. DuChamp/Rushdie notes people walking around with “the end days in their eyes”; he is concerned about racism and gun control—there is a talking gun in the book, which is a nifty, beautifully unhinged device; there is much musing on the father-son bond; there is the loneliness of celebrities; there is worry about drugs meant for sufferers of extremely painful cancers being used as recreation drugs. But, it all feels scattered. And superficial. Like a trail mix of pearls and pebbles scattered slightly contemptuously before us literary swines. A leftover novel, a not-so-great book from a writer who has so often delivered great, a Shaan after several Sholays, or Sachin Tendulkar’s final, faded 100th 100 against Bangladesh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>QUICHOTTE</b></p> <p><i>Author: Salman Rushdie</i></p> <p><i>Publisher: Penguin <br> Random House India</i></p> <p><i>Pages: 416</i></p> <p><i>Price: Rs699</i></p> Thu Sep 26 19:19:02 IST 2019 courting-greatness <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair is one of those people whom history has garlanded with immortality. He was born in the year of the Mutiny of 1857. A brilliant man, he became a lawyer, a member of the legislative council, the president of the Indian National Congress, and the first Indian member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. However, it was not a position he was destined to hold for long.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, he resigned his post in protest against the atrocities of General Reginald Dyer. Later, he fought a case in England against Sir Michael O’Dwyer, who was the lieutenant governor of Punjab when the massacre happened. Although he lost the case, he brought British atrocities to the world’s centre-stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nair was also the great-grandfather of the book’s co-author Raghu Palat. He had grown up seeing the life-size portrait of Nair in his grandfather’s house. The book, however, happened when Palat and his wife Pushpa came across a plaque honouring Nair at the Jallianwala Bagh museum in Amritsar. “After our visit… both my wife and I realised that his was a story that we wanted to share,” writes Palat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Case that Shook the Empire is meticulously researched. Although mostly a tribute to Nair, the authors have not shrunk from laying out the negative shades of his character in the form of entertaining anecdotes. He was, for example, a proud man, “deeply sensitive to any kind of disrespect”. He was once invited to be the principal speaker at an important event. When he arrived at the venue, he was asked for his admission card, which he did not have. As he was refused entry, he returned home. When the governor of Madras, Lord Pentland, who was presiding over the event, profusely apologised and asked him to come back, he refused, replying coolly that he had started an oil bath.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The book culminates in the case he fought in England. For the most part, the courtroom drama plays out like a racy thriller novel. Towards the end though, I found it slightly long-winded and felt the narrative could have been tauter. Nevertheless, Nair’s story is impressive and one that needed to be told. He might have lost the battle but he certainly won the war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>THE CASE THAT SHOOK THE EMPIRE</b></p> <p><i>Author: Raghu Palat and Pushpa Palat</i></p> <p><i>Publisher: Bloomsbury</i></p> <p><i>Pages: 187</i></p> <p><i>Price: Rs499</i></p> Thu Sep 26 17:11:12 IST 2019 Climate-change-The-kids-are-alright <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is January 6 and the air quality index in Mumbai is a rotten 149. Amni, 12, is terribly late for school after a fitful night of sleep, thanks to a strange concoction of coffee ice cream and khus soda. Hurriedly stuffing her school bag with textbooks and diary, apart from Shabnam Minwalla Bird-Sense and the latest edition of Sanctuary Asia, Amni looks out of the windowsill of her 21st floor house. The regulation 'piece of sky', pigeons "roosting and pooping", and the mango-less mango tree are not to be seen.</p> <p>Instead, "a brown cloud glowered in the sky, whirling like a top." Amni had never seen anything quite like this "swirling mass of sooty greys, muddy browns, burnt yellows, gases that collided violently and restlessly into each other". It is possibly the brownest cloud anyone has ever known. The hyperventilating newscaster calls it 'Bhura Cloudus', much to the annoyance of Amni. The grownups around her certainly do not seem to have things under control. And this murky brown monster is out to choke the life out of every living thing.</p> <p>How will Amni and her friends Mithil, Tammy and Andrew join forces and drive out this gaseous colossus from their beloved city?</p> <p>To find out, you need to get a copy of 'A Cloud Called Bhura', published last month by Speaking Tiger's children's and young adult imprint Talking Cub. This delightfully simple and rousing piece of fiction is a much needed primer on the looming climate crisis—a wake-up call by the young who are going to bear the brunt of climate change apathy and denial.</p> <p>On September 21, the United Nations Headquarters in New York is hosting the Youth Climate Summit where young leaders from around the world have gathered to drive action and showcase solutions. Some 100 green champions have been chosen by the UN and offered “green tickets” to join 500 young climate leaders in this first-ever summit which is taking place at a time when young climate activists in 150 countries are demanding an end to the use of fossil fuels in a week-long Global Climate Strike, ending September 27. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, has become the ubiquitous face of the increasingly vocal youth, awakening around climate change in the last one year. To reach New York last month, Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic in a zero-emissions sailboat. On Friday, she commanded a crowd 2.5 lakh demonstrators at Battery Park in New York.</p> <p>Bijal Vachharajani, senior editor of Pratham Books and author of 'A Cloud Called Bhura' spoke about the need to prop up new heroes for children on the sidelines of Neev Children's Literature Festival in Bengaluru, “Greta Thunberg and her counterparts across the world are truly climate champions. They are inspiring a generation of young adults and children, while reminding grownups that change can happen,” says Vachharajani, who has also written a non-fiction book on climate science 'So You Want To Know About the Environment', an explainer offering actions and observations to young readers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How will her latest book on the ominous brown cloud help young climate warriors in India? Says Vachharajani “'A Cloud Called Bhura' is inspired by the children I have met, who have been staunch defenders of wildlife and the environment. My school and bookstore visits constantly reinforce my belief that children listen, challenge and ask questions. And then they agree that they want to change there are so many heroes, like Greta Thunberg, who are already paving the way. So the kids are alright.”</p> <p><b>A Cloud Called Bhura</b></p> <p><b>Published by: Talking Cub</b></p> <p><b>Pages: 256</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs. 399</b></p> Sat Sep 21 20:09:44 IST 2019 Understanding-data-and-what-it-means-for-India-future <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If the quest for gold, spices and oil sparked off wars and colonisation and thereby changed the course of world history, it is logical to wonder if data could cause the same in the coming days. Day in and day out we see evidence supporting the oft-repeated recent saying 'data is the new oil' around us—right from the billion dollar fortunes built up by tech giants like Google and Facebook, to the strident reactive movement for privacy online.</p> <p>By now, we all know of the raging issue of how a person's data can be accessed with or without his/her knowledge (or control) and be used to influence his/her own behaviour and decisions. But what the book 'Data Sovereignty: The Pursuit of Supremacy' does is to go beyond it and link it what this means for India's future, and all of us. It delves into the dynamics of data economy and stridently vouches for the importance of data localisation, something the Indian government has been pushing tech and financial giants to comply with in recent months, but without significant success.</p> <p>The authors do this shrewdly, linking the many hundred years of India's colonial past—how the once 'Sone ki Chidiya Bharat' had become an economically weaker nation when the British left in 1947 and how history needs to be prevented from repeating itself in the 21st century with 'data colonisation.' To quote from the book, “With the world's prosperity so linked to internal and external trade, data analytics play a savoury crucial role in trade related decision-making. It explains the relevance of the statement 'whoever controls data controls everything'....the concept of storage of data within the local boundaries has taken significance. The reason is that governments and commercial organisations are wary of this data falling into other hands, as they realise that they could lose the commercial, scientific, security and military advantage they presently have if the data is beyond their geographical and legal boundaries.”</p> <p>Through chapters that detail the importance of data centres, the opportunities and the risks that data offer, the legality and vulnerability, and interestingly enough, how India could pivot itself as a global data centre hub, the writers lay down the agenda, and its importance. To further accentuate it, a bunch of curated articles—from business publications to interviews given by the likes of Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad—have also been included in the book.</p> <p>While the language of the book is simple enough for anyone to quickly grasp and comprehend the subject and issues at hand, it also has some handy reference material included for anyone with a deeper curiosity, including a copy of the draft national e-commerce policy as well as the Reserve Bank's circular on storage of payment system data within India. You expect nothing less from a book jointly authored by the very men working behind the scenes to ensure India's sovereignty in this modern-day 'gold rush' over data.</p> <p><b>Data Sovereignty: The Pursuit of Supremacy</b></p> <p><b>by Vinit Goenka, Lt. Gen V.M. Patil, Lt. Gen Dr D.B. Shekatkar, Lt. Gen Vinod Khandare, Lt. Gen Vinod Bhatia, Jayadeva Ranade &amp; Bharat Panchal (Foreword by A.S. Kiran Kumar, former chairman, ISRO)</b></p> <p><b>Published by: Penman Books</b></p> <p><b>No of Pages: 257</b></p> <p><b>Price: Rs 599 (Hardbound)</b></p> Sat Sep 21 17:04:14 IST 2019