Sunday, 29 July 2012

70% think cheating is ok.... HT survey

Catch them young - Hindustan Times:
'via Blog this'

"Consider this: when asked if dishonesty was acceptable for success, 70% said yes. The response to whether it is fine to cheat one friend for another was split almost midway — 43% said 'yes' or 'sometimes', while 43% said 'no'. The rest were unsure"

The results of this survey are by themselves quite shocking; but far more than being just shocking, they are also a  call-to-arms (as it were) for all of us, a wake up call if you will. What is even more worrisome is that this is not the first wake-up call that we are receiving... we have studiously ignored each and every indication and wake-up call that we have received so far.

What kind of society are we building - one in which the large majority of citizens think it is ok to be dishonest? It is acceptable to cheat? Far more pertinent is the question as to the source of their "learnings", if you could call it that. Schools certainly don't teach students to cheat or be dishonest. There are 2 sources: one which nearly everyone will be able to point you accurately. This is the external environment: the interactions of students with their environment exposes them to visible signs of people mortgaging their morals for a better standard of living, for enabling routine tasks, for simplifying and removing obstacles on a daily basis. This will certainly have a discernible impact on the more impressionable among them, and affect their behaviour. Their initial experiments with dishonesty bring results; thus it is that the new behaviour translates into a habit... and from there, it transmutes into the value system and core behaviour patterns of the individual.

But the second one is by far the more dangerous... in their formative years, they are largely exposed only to family; and here they see their parents indulging in dishonest behaviour.. like paying a bribe - or accepting it. This is bound to leave an impression on the young child; it teaches him that dishonesty is ok. Then we complicate matters and further compound them with advise and dialogues like "if he is bullying you , why dont you fight back? Dont come home crying like a cry-baby"; or "arre he is a child: masti kar rahe hain. Aur tum toh bade ho:he is cheating because he wants to bat. Let him!" Each and everyone of these interactions drive home one solid point: it is ok to cheat, it is right to be dishonest. Each and every such instance- howsoever small - teaches the child how to behave... whenever the child observes you paying a bribe, for instance - it drives home a point: My Dad thinks it is ok.. so it cant be bad.

It is a combination of the above 2 factors: I cannot say which is more important; but that question seems to me to be immaterial. What is important is the original question I have asked:

What kind of society are we creating? What kind of example are we setting our kids?

Do we care??????

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Book Review: The Ares Decision

Robert Ludlum / Kyle Mills
(A Covert-One Novel)

The eighth novel in the Covert-One series, featuring Lt Col Jon Smith, Randi Russell and Fred Klein

The Covert One Series is about a special intelligence unit, directly reporting to the President of the USA, bypassing all existing intelligence set-ups. The series is built around Jon Smith, A Lt Col and a bonafide top-notch medical scientist who became an agent when he lost his fiance to a bioweapon; Randi Russell – CIA Agent and Jon’s fiance’s kid sister. The hallmark of the series is that the theme is built around high-tech and bio-weapons

A US special forces team is wiped out in Uganda by unarmed farmers; this special team was equipped with the latest weapons and technology, were highly trained and battle-hardened soldiers… yet they were decimated by just a few farmers and village folk. This inexplicable event forces the president to call In Fred Klein, the head of Covert-One. The reluctant Fred tasks Lt Col Jon Smith with the investigation. What makes matters so interesting is that the doomed US team was hunting a notorious terrorist Caleb Bahame; and that this was not the first time that a hunt for Caleb Bahame had been shorted by villagers. The investigation by Smith and his team take them deep into the jungles of Uganda, amid treachery and double cross

On a parallel, things are coming to a boil in Iran, with the existing regime not being liked by Uncle Sam. To make things worse for the Iranians, they also have to deal with internal dissidents led by an man known only as Farrokh. The only thing known about Farrokh is that he is young, educated and extremely tech-savvy.

Mixed up in all this is everyone’s favourite whipping boy: Caught-In-The-Act : yes, you got it, CIA! Apparently the CIA has been withholding information from the powers above them – and that brings in Randi Russell, who is approached by a fellow agent who begins to feel the pinch of his conscience

The 3 plots get inevitably intertwined, with one leading to the other; and, as is the norm in the Covert-One series, posing a grave threat to both world peace as well as the USA… and it is upto our team of heroes and heroines to stop the bad guys.   

Why is the CIA withholding information? What is the Iran angle? How can a few villagers kill a highly trained and armed army team? How does this pose a threat to the citizens of the USA? How does Iran benefit from this set-up? To answer these questions... read the book!


The Covert-one series is known for the presence of a credible bioweapon or high-tech weapon that can cause mass deaths in the public at large; an international hot-spot; a holier-than-thou, decent, above board USA (Sorry, couldn’t help myself there…. What an incongruity compared with the real world) that cannot do anything without proof; an international leader who is willing to go to any lengths to achieve his objective; and a lack of sufficient time for a proper above-board strategy to be employed.

The above is what makes a Covert-One novel unique – and all of these are present in this book. The previous book (The Arctic Event) was an aberration in that it did not adhere to one or two of the above hallmarks – but this one follows the series norm strictly. The narrative is fast-paced, the interest is held throughout the book. The flow is logically consistent and captivating. 

Since the series has been written by different authors, characterisation is a huge challenge: and this is where  I feel that this book has missed out. The character of Col Smith has been altered; his personality traits have been significantly altered. While one may say that with time, the Col has changed (time does change a person), to me it seemed as though it were a very different Col Smith. Gone was the compassionate Smith who would think as a doctor even in the middle of war; in his place there is a far more controlled person. Similarly, the character of Russell has also undergone subtle change that makes it inconsistent with the original series. This does make a difference in the overall experience

All in all, it is a good book – a page turner, a book that you would want to have in your collection; and book that you can read again and again. It stands comparison with the original series; you can identify the central actors (despite the subtle changes in the characters plots). The relations between the original characters have also been taken forward, a forward movement if you will that is to be expected in any relationship. The series takes the next step and integrates Russell in Covert-One at the end of the novel, which is logically consistent with the progression of the series over the past 8 books. A definite yes from my side for this book… despite its minor flaw in the character sketch!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Book Review: In Spite Of The Gods

It is sad if an author does not understand India; it is worse if the author has a partial understanding.... and it is ugly if an author thinks he understands India. But if the author has both a partial understanding combined with a liking for the country - the book gets elevated to the category of highly dangerous, because the combination of the 2 makes for convincing prose; there are several contradictions and inaccuracies that get hidden by the warmth of the tone; the arguments are sufficiently lucid to draw in most people. This book is in this latter category… one of the most diabolical write-ups on our country. 

Diabolical because it identifies most of the problems accurately; it does a superb politico-economic analysis. Any student of India will accept that; the problem lies in the historical analysis of the stated concern areas, and in cultural pronouncements that have no place in a tome on Economics or Politics. It looks at Indian Culture with an ill-disguised colonial or western mindset, presents inaccurate facts or dangerously partisan interpretations of normal events and cultural habits. The author could have wound up the book in less than half the 391 pages he took by cutting out the bullshit. It seems to me that he has tried to play to established western ideas and misconceptions. And coming from a man married to an Indian lady, a man widely travelled in India – the combination of the above lends authority to the tome in western eyes. That is what makes this book so diabolically dangerous. Not to put too fine a point to it – it is one of the most dangerous books I have read on India! Sample this: a full 50% of the reference sources listed in the notes section are western books!  

It is chock full of cultural and political misrepresentations. For example, you have a reference to the "Erotic" activities of Shri Krishna!!!! Another example: The Bhagwat Gita preaches speech not practice!!!! A third example: an examination of the sexual habits of teenagers!!!! A fourth example: Indian housewives serve food  to the males and eat the leftovers afterwards. Fifth: the sacred cow is a BJP invention, as per the author!  May I ask what the heck does any of the above have to do with the Indian Economy, or poverty alleviation? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! The book is full of statements which have nothing to do with the subject at hand. Furthermore, the sweeping generalizations stated make it sound as if all of India is like this. First off, who gave the author the right to refer to Shri Krishna as Erotic? Doesn’t he understand he is talking about a God? Second, The Bhagwat Gita: if you do not understand the Gita, please don’t make idiotic comments! The Gita preaches action and duty! Third, does the author have any idea why? Most wives prefer to serve food so as to give their family hot rotis; afterwards they eat fresh food with equally warm rotis, not leftovers! The cow: did the respectable author either try to understand Hinduism, or ask common people their opinion about cow slaughter? Yet again, the western mindset manifests itself! What comes through is a highly opinionated author who has only a partial exposure to Indian Culture, and utter disdain for our religion. The book is full of similar misrepresentations -  and besides, how is this related to the topic? 

Then on foreign policy, the book is holier than thou - advising India to stop supporting rogue regimes. Excuse me, but hasn’t supporting and setting up rogue regimes been the exclusive preserve of the west? What about the Arms supplies to Pakistan? Do the governments in the west not know that the same arms are being used to kill Indians? Who set up Pakistan with free weapons, and started the Arms race in the subcontinent? We started our heavy militarization only after 1962, and especially 65!  Or what about Iraq? Afghanistan? Libya? Panama? I could go on and on. In each case, a people who were at least living reasonably well have been reduced to penury and despicable conditions, because the oh-so-honourable west thought that they were in bad government! Frankly, reading this book is like attending a moral science class... lectures on our sexual habits, foreign relations, culture... Which rogue regime do we support? Iran? Fine; kindly supply us with Oil. Then we’ll talk about this! And how have we – aah – “supported” Iran? Are giving them weapons, or training them in genocide classes, or advising them how to become even more authoritarian etc etc... Talking about rogue states,  what about Iraq – where are all those WMDs that Iraq was supposed to have developed? Right – the west was soooooo right in ensuring the wholesale destruction of a nation. The west is the best, isn’t it? And Afghanistan?  Of course, they like to die. Afghanis have only one desire – they love it when foreigners come to kill them.  Gloryosky! Who in his right mind would want to live when you can have a westerner come to kill him, right? Pehelaa Patthar Woh Maare Jisne Paap Naa Kiyaa Ho...  (Only the person who has never sinned can blame others)

The book is also full of incorrect assumptions and misrepresentations, manipulations especially with regard to suppressed information - perhaps  unintentionally. Truth presented with only one side; the other most conveniently forgotten for whatever reason. BJP-baiting, for one. Did you Indians know that the BJP is the worst party in India? Don’t believe me? Read the book. A rank outsider has just opened my eyes! And yes, did you know that it was Nehru who airlifted troops to Kashmir in ’48, and that the UN brokered a ceasefire? Glory Be! And I thought it was Sardar Patel who engineered that; and the UN was called in by Nehru. Silly Me. After all – that splendid western invention, the UN (Savior of the world; witness the incredibly lucky Iraqis and Afghanis) saved us poor poor Indians. (Look hard enough, Mr  Author – you’ll find that the UN was instrumental in our independence as well. Who’s Gandhi? ) And on Kashmir, I am speechless… Another example: I want India and Pakistan to be one country. Don’t laugh: a majority of Indians want union. (Funny, I don’t recall thinking this? Wow, this guy is good –he can read my mind). Oh, by the way, who pushed us into Soviet arms? Does the author recall that the west refused to give us the technology for Steel Plants? No? Of course, right – you can make Nuclear Bombs with Steel Plants, right? It is ok for the west to v-e-r-y kindly send us wheat in our times of need (The author has generously reminded us of western food aid) ; but not on technology? Kind of forgot that steel plant bit, isn't it? Wasn’t it shortsighted of the great, great west to refuse technology to India? Is it ‘cause the west wants to be seen as the kindly helper? Or was it since Nehru was socialist? So tell me, how kindly and human is it to refuse technology to a nation in need on such a flimsy basis?  Russia gave it to us : so we still honour the Russian connection. Little wonder then that it took us so long to trust the west. Simple- but perhaps too simple for the west. 

As regards the rest, the book has identified the problems and challenges in front of the country; the problem is in the approach. I have been heavy in my criticism; I shall be profuse with my praise as well – credit where credit is due. The highlight of the good points are the analysis of our coalition politics, Our corruption problems, the analysis of the congress party, the movement of the casetes, US-China-India;

The Book is divided into independent chapters that look at each aspect outlined above; It looks at the unsustainable development model currently on evidence: with the rich-poor gap widening. The author quite rightly points out the Mahatma Gandhi’s call: India resides in its villages – and emphasis the need to ensure wider participation in progress. (Sorry to get back to brickbats, but the solution proffered won’t work in India – he is seeing through his western eyeglasses again). The problems of Indian agriculture have been highlighted, but the solution is hopelessly impractical: I don’t blame the author. He has simply no knowledge of the science of agriculture, so that is forgivable

The ugly scepter of caste has been superbly covered, with numerous interviews and insights. The chapter covers the ground and examines the related politics very well. Another chapter looks at the coalition politics and its role in modern India: in this, the author is in his element, making a forceful argument – entirely logical; party agenda have been examined, and explained. The north-south divide has been correctly pointed out, and examined. He looks at the how and why of better governance in the southern states vis-à-vis the northern states, and is truly worth a read, no doubts about that.

Indian Bureaucracy has been honestly and brutally taken apart in an entire chapter devoted to them. Both the good and the bad aspects of governance are pointed out fairly. The nepotism and corruption have been brutally stated, and will act as eye-openers in some cases. But the chapter that takes the cake is the systematic dissection of the Congress Party, with its dynastic tendencies and inherent sycophancy being ruthlessly picked apart in a very skillful chapter. As regards India-China-US, while the chapter is loaded with inaccuracies (but then, almost every chapter is) – the fact remains that the Chinese approach towards India over the years has been superbly analysed – the book is worth a read for this alone. The changing US stance over the years, its reasons and possible repercussions have also been well put, and make for interesting reading. The Indian energy scenario makes an appearance in this chapter, alongwith a very insightful and correct analysis of the urgency of the situation facing India

Should you buy this book? It has several good points that make it worth a read; the problem is the glaring inconsistencies and misrepresentations that go alongwith it. From start to finish the author holds the Hindus squarely responsible for all rioting, with everyone else being blameless despite evidence to the contrary . Hindus destroyed Nalanda (which is historically unacceptable); caused riots etc. Everyone else has been shown to be the victim.  Our Gods have been shown no respect whatsoever, with unsubstantiated statements like the majority of Hindus today regard Ram to be fictional (Really? How many Hindus has he spoken to?), There are some passages that are so glaringly blasphemous that I dare not state them here, so inflammatory is the content and so totally inaccurate. On reading the book, you get a hopelessly inaccurate overall picture of India as it is today. Buy it if you can ignore the inconsistencies…  

I do not deny the problems; indeed most educated Indians realise them, and a good many are beginning to address them, The problem is when someone from outside indulges in pontification without realising the true extent of the problems and the precise reasons for their genesis. This stands true for nearly 80% of the book. For example,agriculture. It is not possible to implement cooperative farming in the Indian scenario. Further, mechanisation will not yield the desired results in the ground situation as it is in India. Mechanisation can have an impact when other factors are present, which they are not in India.  The core problem in agriculture is irrigation, scientific agronomical practices, seed issues, pest management and nutrient supplies. The problem has various shades of complication: for example, subsidy structure has ensured greater use of Nitrogen, to the detriment of other nutrients. Then there are other related problems - market access, storage etc. Point is, mere mechanisation will not have a favourable impact: in fact, it will only serve to exacerbate existing problems, with the large scale displacement of labour - who have no other skill to fall back on. 

Similar is the analysis on foreign policy: the motives behind why we behaved as we did have been ignored, one example of which has been given above. (Interested people can refer Pax Indica by Shashi Tharoor, a book that concentrates exclusively on our foreign policy - my next book) Child labour: yet another simplistic moralistic analysis. No parent would want their child to work... the entire depth of the issue has not been touched upon! Why does this happen? At the core of the issue is crippling poverty - which distorts perspective. You will have to look at the problem in its entirety. Remember: laws are not the solution. They can only be one cog of the solution. In some cases, children work simply to eat; in others to provide food on the table for their family; in other cases, they are forced to work... the problem is gargantuan, and cannot be legislated away. Remember: Alcohol is freely available despite it being prohibited in some areas. How much will you legislate? We are talking about 300 million people - impossible to effectively police without converting the state into an authoritarian police state. 

That is why I used the term pontification for the book: to quote the dictionary: "to speak or write and give your opinion about something as if you knew everything about it and as if only your opinion was correct

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Satyamev Jayate!

It is with a considerable degree of surprise that I have been reading some articles criticizing the iconic show Satyamev Jayate and Aamir Khan, which are frankly way beyond my comprehension. There are views being expressed that the show is pure showmanship, commercialisation of problems, will Aamir return to these problems once show is over, the show is just Aamir, Aamir and Aamir... do they (the critics) do justice by their comments? Let us examine it in 2 parts: Aamir Khan, and Social Change

Aamir Khan

No television show has created as much of a buzz as Satyamev Jayate, the iconic show anchored by Aamir Khan. To a nation used to a diet of game shows, movies, soap operas, reality shows it was unthinkable that a television show based on something as serious as Satyamev Jayate could be a resounding success - but that is precisely what has happened. It is far beyond both my knowledge as well as the scope of my blog to analyse the precise reasons for its stupendous success, so I shall leave it at that. My concern is more towards the reactions - specifically negative reactions - it has generated, and its supposed role in our society.

First of all, let us get one thing straight: The anchor has placed himself quite literally on the firing line by highlighting various unhealthy habits of society. He ran a very real risk of doing serious permanent damage to his brand equity (The Aamir Khan Brand) - which would have meant an erosion of his earning potential. What the show was attempting was actually very risky. We have the benefit of hindsight: we know how it turned out. He, when he took the decision to do it, did not. That took courage - far more courage than anyone from his industry has ever shown. That is beyond dispute. We have to look at things from that perspective.

Secondly, Aamir Khan was getting into uncharted territory; in his line of business, his stock-in-trade is a combination of his face-value and the combined impressions of his performances & associations that is formed in the audience mind. His paycheque is derived from what the people think of him. Therefore, the attendant risk of attempting Satyamev Jayate was of a very high grade for him. Further, you also have to take into account one additional point: Aamir Khan's movie career is far from over. That apart, he is spending a good deal of his time on this project. He does not need to do television yet: he could be doing production or acting; but he chose TV. If for that he has to be well compensated, I do not find anything objectionable in that. Especially since the end-product is an awesome production with the capacity to jar you to the deepest part of your soul.

Third, as we have seen over the past few weeks, he even had to take personal risk: with several affected power-groups, professionals etc threatening to take him to court. He knew what the content of the show was; he was also mature enough to understand the repercussions of the content. Despite that, he went ahead. His commitment has been held up to scrutiny in the face of allegations and threats - and he has not backed down.

Fourth, let us all not forget that he is also a member of the production team!

Social Change

Fifth, the show is creating a buzz, and it is also leading to a spotlight on some issues that have been on the backburner. It has to be understood that these issues being taken are deep-rooted habits, and are embedded deeply in our society. The agenda undertaken is social change: and one man cannot change a society. It requires concerted effort by a variety of change agents, one of whom just happens to be Aamir Khan. He is a change agent - only thing is, he is just one of the catalysts to change. Instead of panning the show, we should welcome it! How does one change a society? Is everyone so naive as to believe that it will happen automatically? Or that change will happen overnight?

Sixth, just how are societal and cultural norms formed? They are formed by countless social interchanges within members of a particular culture or sub-culture over a long period of time - time that may extend to hundreds of years. Honor Killing, Female Foeticide, Dowry etc all have their roots in the overly patriarchal structure of our society. These social attitudes were not built overnight: they have their roots deep, deep in the past. Other problems also were developed over a period of the past 50 - 100 years, and have now become endemic. How are these to be removed? Someone has to make a start. I certainly do not have an issue with a celebrity lending his name to these issues: it serves the dual purpose of highlighting them as well as acts as a multiplier.

And the clincher: this concept could have been thought of earlier: these points could have been highlighted forcefully earlier. No one took the trouble of doing so, and now people are panning the one team (Team Satyamev Jayate) that is doing a fantastic job! At least they are doing something - which makes them far, far better people; far far better professionals than those of us who choose to sit in the comfort of our environs and pass comments.

I am not stating that all of us are armchair commentators: for all I know a good many may be equally  - or more active: as indeed countless social workers are. My point is that let us support efforts like Satyamev Jayate rather than pan them; by panning them we run the very real risk that henceforth no one will attempt any such effort...which will be catastrophic for us as a society. If that happens, the current focus, and the multiplier effect and the attendant positives, will forever have been lost. Such efforts act as force multipliers: it is upto us to encash them!

Monday, 9 July 2012


Observations on life in Mumbai...

Mumbai, a city that is famed for its night life; for its entertainment avenues; for its business environment; for its "happening nature" etc. Well, it has been nearly 24 days that I have spent in this lovely city, and I can now state definitively - first, the night life and the entertainment does not exist - after leaving home early in the morning, and returning late at night you kind of tend to forget anything except dinner, home and bed! Fact, no exaggeration there. There is no social life in this city: this is a city that offers lots of things - but nothing, absolutely nothing in the way of entertainment. You get only Sundays for fun - and those you would rather spend with family or sorting out some essential home work. There is simply no opportunity for fun in this city. Life is simply too busy. So you can debunk any notions about the supposed fun avenues and malls etc. Unfortunately, this is the one aspect for which this city is fabled... well, it does not exist. Not for people like me- professionals who come here to work! Second, it is known as a land of opportunity - no arguments there!

But the saddest part is that Mumbai is not known for what truely defines life in this city. The sense of order, the civic sense of the people of this city is something to be praised. A simple thing like catching an Auto from the station has been made into a thing of beauty... people stand in lines - and if anyone tries to break the line - the whole line will object. Contrast it to what is the norm in Central and North India as a whole - if anyone tries to break a line - all the rest will keep silent and shrug it off. Result? Total chaos at queues. People simply couldnt care less!

Unlike other cities, you wont find vehicles parked in the middle of the road, or road romeos chatting in mid - highway : even in this there is a precise order. I am deliberately pointing out such factors which have absolutely nothing to do with city planning; rather, these points have everything to do with human behaviour. Furthermore, I have also observed that the same person who displays carelessness elsewhere will show a markedly different behaviour in this city. Why? 

I dont have a precise answer to that; but I can hazard a guess. When we are in an environment that is orderly, peer pressure modulates our behaviour. In a place with no order, we automatically calibrate our response accordingly. Besides, in an orderless scenario, the fear is that if you display order, you will be left behind. This irrational thought process forces a change in our behaviour patterns.  In reality, waiting will only cause a delay of a few minutes... That leads us to the next question: how do we instill a sense of order in some of our more disorderly cities? 

You cannot claim that it has to do with the distances people travel. This is something I have observed even in ticket queues, at isolated residential stands, shops etc. There is a definite order about things here - which is a sea-change in attitude from what is observable in Indore, for instance. By and large, people here at least adhere to basic rules of civic sense - something that is conspicuous by its absence in other places I have stayed in or visited

This leads me to a simple question: why cant cities like Indore, Delhi, Varanasi, Agra, Bhopal, Raipur et al be like this? This is basic Civic Sense; and believe me visitors from outside can observe these small, tiny details. This translates into a positive image for the state. I am a frequent visitor to Gujarat - and my observations are much the same for that state. The moment you enter Gujarat, you will find a definable sense of order and direction that is evident. Little surprise then that the 2 states are the best performing states... 

Another observation about this city is its people mix: I have heard 2 languages used in free conversation here in equal measure. And no, one  of them is not Hindi. They are Gujarati and Marathi. It is a curious mix - the business class is largely Gujarati while the normal lingua fraca is Marathi. Lucky I can understand both - I am a Marathi, and can at least get the gist of what is being said in Gujarati! I am not insinuating that the sense of order is because of Gujarati population presence; I have observed the same phenomenon in Pune and Nagpur. As I observed earlier, these small points - or rather, seemingly small points -are the ones that give the first defining impression of any city to a visitor. And people do observe these minor points.... as I have learned from reading various authors. Besides, as I also stated earlier, these 2 states are among the best performers. Again, I am not making a direct link between these 2 parameters; but it has caused me to pause and think... about myself as well as my home town....

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Book Review: The Taj Conspiracy


Author: Manpreet Sodhi Someshwar
The author is an engineering, IIM-Calcutta Alumnus with several years work experience in Marketing, Advertising and Consulting. She has been previously honoured for her writing by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. Her articles have appeared in The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, South China Morning Post as well as several Indian Publications

The Characters
Mehrunissa Khosa – Intelligent, Sharp, Erudite and Brave, she is a woman in search of her roots, hailing from an Indian father and Persian Mother. Her expertise in the Persian Language combined with expertise in the Taj Mahal is invaluable, as its leads to the unraveling of a very complicated plot
CBI Officer JCP R. P. Singh: Brilliant Officer – no other description can do justice. How I wish all police officers were like him….
SSP Raghav: Reasonably intelligent, but with some of the trappings of traditional police officers. Complete honesty is his saving grace, as also his awesome commitment
Professor Kaul: Bhishma Pitaamah! That is self explanatory…
Raj Bhushan: The Enigma…  ASI Director who does not believe anything presented to him; dismissive, arrogant, opinionated
Arun Toor: His Corpse started the whole affair
Pamposh Pandit: Mehrunissa’s childhood friend and niece of Professor Kaul. Quite unlike her uncle, though
Jara: the doer, if you get my point!
Mangat Ram: Right and Left Hand, as well as manservant of the professor…

The Plot
The first few pages of the plot are reminiscent of the iconic “Da Vince Code”; but don’t fret – the novel is anything but an indianised Da Vinci! It takes off on its own track within a few pages- and the take off   is not on a tangent but on an independent track of its own. A man is found dead on the floor of the Sanctum of the Taj Mahal, with enough hints on the tomb as well as on the body to suggest a hindu origin of the famous monument. The investigation into this murder and its remifications form the rest of the story as Mehrunissa, singlehandedly at first, tries to solve the murder of her friend and helper. Why was the calligraphy on the monument altered? Mehrunissa is the only one who knows about the alteration, being fluent in Persian. Why did the body disappear? With the police being uncooperative and unnnimaginative, the girl finds herself all alone, with only the professor to turn to for advice… At this juncture  enters JCP R. P. Singh – a police officer with imagination, a high degree of intelligence and drive. The investigation acquires pace from here onwards as the 2 join forces to unravel one of the most diabolical challenges to security that Agra – and by extension India has ever faced…

The Analysis
In one phrase: A cracker of a book! Unputdownable from page 1 till page 399. The story is original, reasonably fast paced, believable and convoluted. Despite being convoluted, it is also deceptively simple to follow. At no point do you feel that there is anything outlandish or unreal in the basic plot. It flows in an even pace, does not take any unwarranted de-tours. There are no sub-plots or dalliances of any kind anywhere in the story. One scene effortlessly blends into the next, the changeovers are relatively smooth ; it all blends into one nice fast paced novel – one that you would want to read again and again. 
All the characters have been well-developed; adequate space has been devoted to each characters’ development. This is important: there is almost no unnecessary detail regarding each character. This of course adds to the pace of the story; It also helps us equate better to each character, understand the motives and actions stated. Some characters have been intentionally left under-developed; saying more would reveal too much – so let me leave it at that. The writing style is lucid and fluent and – most importantly – decent. Too many of the recent Indian authors use expletives . Happily, this is one nice and clean book – and that makes it a double pleasure to read!
Yes, there are negatives – significant ones. But these have nothing to do with the story which is a near-flawless taut narrative; the said negatives have to do with some portrayals and phrases that I find inexplicable. I find it strange that a half Indian girl – and hindu at that – should mention (or think) “hindus have 3 million gods and goddesses”!! There are a couple of such instances that do not gel with the overall character. No Hindu –even an NRI Hindu will think that way. Then, who calls ones uncle by surname? Does my niece call me Kale Mama or Kale Kaka? No! They call me Vishal Mama / Kaka. By first name. The use of the surname in one instance- while it does not interfere in any way with the story – is confounding. I find it strange that an author born and brought up in India should state such things (“Kaul mama or 3 Million Gods!!!!!!). To be honest I have yet to find a single hindu or Indian  to state either.  If the author is reading this post, I would like to understand, for I am quite frankly astonished. No one in India calls a relative by surname, for example. Luckily for the author, these misses-  while they are glaring- are very few and far between (not more than 3-4), and do not take anything away from the story. Had they occurred more frequently - it would have rendered the character seriously flawed and unbelievable. As things stand now, we can dismiss these as aberrations in an otherwise perfect novel!
There are other, more serious inconsistencies.  One is that you have an SSP – Senior Superintendent of Police – on a motorcycle, and with 2 constables in his force! I do not know much about the police, but that is just plain ludicrous! Flat out, I don’t believe it! I have seen even a thanedar in a police car, yaar. And an Anti Terror Squad with a strength of 3???? With revolvers? And in a place like Agra? Come on! Get real! Next, at times you do feel that some background development is needless, that the novel could have been made even more taut – but luckily it all comes together in the end. On closing the book, the only thought is that you have just read an excellent thriller and whodunit, one you would love to return to again!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Hindu : Opinion / Lead : A step away from corruption is anarchy

Mr Shanti Bhushan has raised the sceptre of corruption yet again in this article on The Hindu... to summarise, he is stating:

  1. Something drastic needs to be done, or the country will descend into ungovernable anarchy
  2. Corrupt Government bodies, police, adminstrative services et al
  3. The PM's honesty is of no use to us, if he does not attend to corruption within his own government
Yes, it is a fact that corruption is endemic in our society.... it is nearly impossible to get anything done without the attendant "lubrication', if you get my point. This is indeed sad; but what is even more dangerous to us as a nation and as a society is that very, very few people define the problem in its total 360-degree  perspective. The lack of acceptance that corruption extends beyond just the government; that corruption is endemic in every sphere of life and in our thoughts is dangerously absent from any discussion forum. Each discussion on this problem narrows down to the government, as though the government were an entity unto itself; that it exists in a veritable vacuum as it were. 

The fact of the matter is that the government is just the visible end of a large system, comprising its universe: the people of India. Unless you look at it in this perspective, unless you include the citizens of this country, no real progress can be made on this issue. The government is formed by the people; its constituent elements are drawn from within our society. Hence, rather than blame the government, it is high time that we started pointing fingers at ourselves. If corrpution is endemic within the government, it is because the people who comprise it are corrupt. And where do the people in the government come from? From among us, that's where. That being the case, who then is the real problem? The Government, or we the people? 

Corruption is not possible unless there are 2 parties to the suspect transation: one, a bribe giver - and the other, the bribe payer. Corruption arises when one person either approaches - or is approached by - the person in authority for easy money in order that a short cut to some issue may be found. Point to be noted: unless you have someone willing to pay a bribe, corruption is not possible. Corruption is not a reflection of the quality of governance; it is far more a reflection of the lack of moral standards in our society. The index of corruption is a mirror of our moral values; the increase in corruption a report on the fall in our moral standards. 

This is in reality an indictment of society - it is not, it cannot be an indictment of the standards of governance. If we had been a autarchy or a dictatorship, then we could have gotten away with blaming the government of the day, and lamenting our ill-luck in having such an ineffectual system. We, in India, pride ourselves in our democracy... remember, we elect the government. The buck stops with us, the blame has to be shared by us. We are the final arbiters of the government's status; we are the ones who have complete power over the fate of the people in power. Unfortunately, we do not understand, or realise, or accept, or indeed appreciate the value of this power. 

How to eradicate the problem? Frankly, I haven't the remotest idea. I do know one thing: the lokpal - even in the form advocated by the Janlokpal team - will only have a peripheral effect. At best, things will improve to some extent. But it will not eradicate corruption. It cannot do so; when prohibition was not able to prevent the inflow of alcohol, how do you seriously expect a lokpal body to solve corruption?

Do we need the lokpal? Yes, we do - it is absolutely vital. Can it solve the problem? No - at least, not on its own. It needs awareness in the people that giving a bribe is morally wrong; that it is not done! It needs a reluctance on the part of the people to participate in a suspect transaction; it needs a willingness on the part of the people to speak out; it needs a willingness to take to long route to success rather than short cuts. We need both, the lokpal and a cooperative citizenry! And that, my dear friends, is a very tall order indeed...