Monday, 30 September 2013

Book Review: The Kill List

1.5 stars out of 5 from my side; had I not been a Forsyth fan, I would have rated it 2.5 stars, perhaps 3... that rating should explain the book in short and sweet. Simply put, avoid if you are a die-hard Forsyth fan, read it otherwise. It is worth one read - and one read only. It lacks the gel, the pulling power that will make you want to read it again and again. And, for the price, it is just not worth it. At  399/- (330 +/- a few online), it is waaaaay too expensive; at that price, I would much prefer to go in for a book that has a factor that makes me want to return to it. Spending that money for 2 hours is not justified. 

To those who have read my book reviews before, the beginning to the review itself would have made it clear how much of a let-down this book has been to me; to be very honest, I regret the purchase. My money was wasted on this; I could have done much better with it. The current book is not what you expect from a Forsyth, straight and simple. 

The plot, unlike other Forsyth novels, is, at least to me, incomplete and underdeveloped at best and flawed at worst. This is about an online terrorist, who preached Jihad through online sermons, converts one-off Muslims into Jehadis, and exhorts them to kill influential people. Net result is that this guy is declared a public enemy number one in the USA, and a man-hunt is launched, with executive orders to kill him. Flat out, I dont believe the plot: unlike most of his other novels. It seems way too far-fetched, contrived and unreal. The concept is interesting, but its development leaves a lot to be desired for. The punch and the believability is totally lacking in this novel. 

Frankly, Forsyth seems to be far more at home in the Western Hemisphere, and the Cold War and/or spy thrillers genres. This new genre - that of Islamic terrorism - is simply not his cup of tea. As an example, I cannot recall any details from the Afghan - while I recall the characters from The Fourth Protocol, The Dogs Of War, or The Day Of The Jackal with crystal clarity even today.  As a matter of fact, even in the current novel, I cannot recall many characters. 

Character dvelopment - one of the hallmarks of a Forsyth - leaves a lot to be desired for. While the principal protagonist has been well developed, the antagonist lacks punch. The stamp of class in character development is just missing. My best guess is that the author is not fully at home in this new genre he has entered - which could be the reason why I cannot connect with the characters from this book. 

The pace of the book is good and nicely paced; the readability is also of a very high order. The actions sequences, the flow of the story etc is all pretty much effortless. The book, as I pointed out earlier, makes for a good fast read. While it is not unputdownable, it still does manage to hold the interest of the reader till the last page, plot weaknesses notwithstanding. Problem is that the story does not grow on you, and pull you in. You read not as an involved person, but as a detached bystander. You dont wonder what happens next, you dont bite your nails in anticipation...

At 300/- plus in cash, avoid. Not worth it, at least in my opinion...

Coming Reviews
1.      Operation Red Lotus – (The Real Story Of The First War Of Independence) by Parag Tope
2.      Asian Juggernaut: The Rise Of China, India And Japan by Brahma Chellaney
3.      What India Should Know by V Lakshmikanthan / J Vasundhara Devi
4.      The War Ministry – Krishan Partap Singh
5.      Bankerupt – Ravi Subramanian

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Book Review: THE GREAT DIVIDE - INDIA AND PAKISTAN by Ira Pande


The mere mention of the word Pakistan is enough to drive an Indian to extremes of behavior: ranging from a devout hoping for peace and brotherhood, to outright hatred. This is a subject that is fraught with bitter memories, blood and betrayal; a subject that is extremely hard to deal with sans emotion – at least if you are either an Indian, or a Pakistani. Therefore, for the above reasons, the book under review is a special surprise, a treat and a treasure; an experience to be savoured, a moment to be treasured – and a lesson to be learnt. A book which is head and shoulders above any I have read on this topic… a true delight; a collectors’ item. 

This book is a collection of essays by various Indian and Pakistani personalities on this subject. If you were expecting fireworks, think again. The book is singularly devoid of any fireworks; and in fact comprises a remarkably controlled and informed set of essays, which are well thought out, with the subject matter well presented. The book deals with the issue very delicately – and in a mature manner; yet fully, leaving nothing out.  And that is quite a tremendous achievement, given the nature of the  subject at hand. 

Every single facet of the India-Pakistan relationship finds a mention here: comparisons of growth, Kashmir, the art and culture scenario, journalistic comparisons, history, terrorism etc. I cannot offhand find a single point which has been left out. This gives an in-depth look at the entire relationship, as well as gives a fairly good idea of the road towards normalcy, and the challenges that lie ahead. The piece de resistance of the book is the presentation by both Indians as well as Pakistanis; which gives a 360-degree look at the problem. 

Through this book and its component essays, one gets a look at the situation inside Pakistan; for the primary focus of the book is Pakistan. You begin to form a basic idea of the pulls and pressures within that country, its multiple power centers and the scale of the challenges it has created for itself, largely due to its own short-sighted approach. And from that realization comes the realization of the true face of the problems that are bedeviling this relationship, and consequently us Indians. For example, the myth that the people at large want freedom, and that the politicians don’t, has, to my mind, been well and truly shattered.   This assumption does not take into account the increasing radicalization of the society, as becomes evident from the various essays  that deal with Pakistani History. This factor indicates that while at present, the educated elite may want peace and friendship, but there is no guarantee that this will continue, given the radicalized educational set-up and POV presentation. 

“The common belief in Pakistan is that Islamic Radicalisation is a problem only in FATA, and that  madrassas are the only institutions serving as Jehad factories. This is a serious misconception. Extremism is breeding at a ferocious rate in public and private schools within Pakistan’s towns and cities. Left unchallenged, this education will produce a generation incapable of co-existing with anyone except  strictly their own kind. The kind of mindset it creates may eventually lead to Pakistan’s demise as a nation-state… “ :  Pervez Hoodbhoy, in Newsline,  January 2009

And yet, the very fact that such bold words can appear in the Media, from the pen of a Pakistani, holds out hope that perhaps, given the chance, the forces of positive change and peace may win out. While on the one hand, it serves as a warning to us not to relax, on the other hand, it underscores the need for patience and peace – not rhetoric and diatribe. A Pakistani contributor has gone so far as to state that India may have to absorb some more terrorist attacks before things stabilize – as Pakistan internally struggles to cope with the serious internal threats it faces to its own existence. The alternative, as the essay points out bluntly, does not bear contemplation. I agree. 

One of the most powerful and enlightening essays is the interview of a terrorist, with the police officer a muslim and the interviewer also a muslim. This is an eye-opener; read it to experience it. The book also covers the art, culture, music and related scenarios, with poignant lamentation at the loss of a once highly-regarded tradition as a form of music suffers under the new dispensation post-independence. The food habits and specialities, reminiscent of a time gone by; and the memories of partition not heard before – the good ones; as shared in another essay just add spice as well as dimension to the book, giving it a complete 360-degree approach. 

In conclusion, it can be gleaned from  the book that the assertion of some people  - Pakistan is not paranoid about India, and does not harbor envy   - is just hogwash. This is evident in the war-game story, wherein Indian and Pakistani retired generals played a war game; while Indians attacked the terror training camps, the Pakistani side attacked Infosys! Reason: symbol of India’s growth! This is also borne out by the views of a general of the ISI! At the same time, this book is one of the most powerful presentations of peace that I have ever read; as it brings you face to face with the internal contradictions within Pakistan, its multiple power centers and its serious self-created issues; as well as the inescapable fact that there are some within that country that desire development, growth, and most of all… peace. The learning is that we, the elder, more mature society and people, had best not react – for our own sakes, as well as that of the younger child of Mother India…

Can we ever be friends? I somehow doubt it. But can we co-exist? As to that, only time will tell… or, rather, only Pakistan and its future will tell. For the ball is firmly in Pakistan’s court; and is likely to remain there for quite a bit of time… the road is long and arduous, and the challenges huge, and varied.

Coming Book Reviews:
1.      Operation Red Lotus – (The Real Story Of The First War Of Independence) by Parag Tope
2.      Asian Juggernaut: The Rise Of China, India And Japan by Brahma Chellaney
3.      What India Should Know by V Lakshmikanthan / J Vasundhara Devi
4.      Kill List – Frederick Forsyth
5.      Bankerupt – Ravi Subramanian

Monday, 16 September 2013

Values & Teamwork in Business and Education

To the Naval Officer with whom I had this discussion: If you are reading this, please accept my thanks for your Armed Forces training and job insights and our comparisons with organisational life and trainings; this idea came to me while we were engaged in our discussion, as you will hopefully recall...

As previously noted in earlier articles on my blog, corporate India has been shaken to its core by a recent series of scandals and scams that have cut across the entire spectrum almost; with the bad news coming from Mining, Pharmaceuticals, Banking, Telecom, Coal etc. I have previously argued in my blog of the need for introspection within the hallowed corridors of power in Corporate India, and of the need for a re-visit to the the basics to set things right. In the course of this analysis, we looked at the external environment, which has changed quite significantly, with very, very heavy competition and the resultant pressure becoming the norm of the day; I further argued that the internal processes are simply not keeping pace with the the on-ground scenario. 

To this, let me add another albeit highly contentious variable - Values. Call it what you will; Values / Ethics / Morals / Code of Conduct, or any other suitable term. (I am not being theoretically rigorous here). Values are our guiding spirit; they help us in living our lives; they help in guiding us, setting targets and directing us on the right path towards the achievement of those targets. They are the DNA on which our lives are built.

It is an inescapable conclusion that the values displayed by the list of financial scams, scandals and corporate exposes are not those we would like to see in our children. It is also true that none of us tries to develop such personality attributes consciously. And yet, the perpetrators were people like us: people from within us; people who grew up in the same systems and processes we were exposed to in our corporate lives. Where and how did they go bad? And how did things come to such a pass that no one even speaks out for fear of being victimised? These are very pertinent questions that should occur to us on reading about these scandals

It is also equally true that organisation after organisation has failed to spot the errors that have set in; the scale of the problems may be small in some and large in others - but it is there. The victim organisations span a list ranging from behemoths to small organisations. Blaming society is useless; we are the ones that make up the same society. Neither is blaming the external environment a satisfactory escape for it does nothing to change the status quo, and does not look for a solution to the tough questions being posed to Corporate India

The above was the rough gist of my argument to the Naval Officer, who was on his way to an IIM for a one-year course in management. He then made a few interesting observations during the discussion, a couple of which are highlighted below... 
a) In the Armed Forces, during our training, if one of the team fails, the entire team is punished and vice versa. This enables group thinking and teamwork. The focus is on performing as a unit, as a team - and not as an individual
b) I cannot believe that you cannot voice your opinion forcefully and truthfully; If I do that, I put the entire ship, along with the hundreds of people on it, at grave risk. Thus when I receive orders that I observe to be potentially harmful, I make it a point to object and point out the inherent dangers

Now look at the corporate sphere; it is easy to spot parallels. Perfect parallels. Group Thinking, Teamwork, Organisation above self are not on overt display anywhere. The argument that "the Organisation does not care, so who should we" also does not hold water, for our long-term career prospects are determined as much by the quality of the organisations in your career profile as by your individual achievements. 

The focus is never on genuine team performance; the focus is rabidly individual, rather than spotting performing teams. This is easy to spot in the behaviours within teams, where there is little sharing of best practices; in fact, quite the reverse. Each team member is looked at more as a rival than as a support system and as a team member. Group thinking is permeated with scoring browny points with the boss, rather than any genuine efforts at adding value. 

We corporate guys willingly and enthusiastically implement strategies that we know will lead to doom and sales disasters; and we do so without even a whimper of protest. Competitor feedback - even of seminal events - is usually tepid, and controlled. No one wants to rock the boat, no one wants to be highlighted. We willingly get into unethical practices (no point beating around the bush; we do do so) without a single second thought. And the system is simply unable to check this habit. Indeed, in some ways the system actually reinforces it, as, for example, those who rock the boat are more often than not the first to get jacked. And the biggest challenge for the Organisation -any organisation - is how to tackle this issue; how to get employees to be forthcoming; how to engage employees, and make them feel part of the larger picture. 

Where are we going wrong? Why is the inability to engage employees such a serious issue? The answer is within ourselves - as I have previously argued. Short and sweet  - this happens as we focus on results, and not the means. We focus on the short-term, and not the long-term especially in tactical execution of long-term strategies. This may explain the unethical behaviour; but it does not fully explain the lack of group and team approach. This explanation also does not fully explain why some employees choose to stay honest even at great personal cost to themselves and their families

The only possible solution, the only answer that occurs to me is that at no point during our professional lives - right from MBA - do we focus on values, the morality of our actions, the aspect of teamwork, the aspect of Organisation first. Critically, the Naval Officer I spoke to was unequivocal: He did not recall a single value-based query, question or case during the entire selection process - which is at complete odds with my experience  in the services selection board

Food for thought; that little tit-bit of wisdom. True: at no point in the entire MBA degree do we genuinely focus on team enhancement. Values are only theoretical points to be mugged up; rare is the exposure to genuine cases where value decisions are required; where the task comes into conflict with your values. The entire focus is on self, or on inhuman strategies. Same is the case in the organisation: 100% of the focus is on performance, meeting numbers: never on the basic fundamentals. And equally, there is precisely zero focus on decision making in conflict scenarios, on value decisions, on emphasising laws of the land; on the human cost of decisions etc. Even in interviews I have given and taken, the focus is on performance - never on the values that make up a person, and what makes him or her tick. It is almost as if we are hiring machines-  not human beings that think and feel. 

Where are we going wrong? And far more pertinent is the query "How to sort this mess"? I do not have answers. Not yet, anway. As I said earlier, the purpose of my articles is to engender a questioning attitude in people, and encourage them to question the status quo in their own minds...

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Narendra Modi and The USA... Just Ignore!


Having said that, a part of me wants him to become PM just to see what the US response will be. It will put them in a pretty pickle... the mere thought of that sets my brain neurons racing with excitement! 

The USA - first of all, as of today morning, we were sovereign. Have been with family all day, so have no real idea if USA has annexed India or not. If they have, then NaMo is disqualified since he is not eligible for a US Visa. Sorry, old boy. (PS: If USA has annexed India, can I have my salary in Dollars, please?)

Just googled. India Still Sovereign. 

(Pity, that... salary in dollars meant... well... U know what I mean)




And since we are sovereign as at 8:45 PM today evening 15th September 2013, the question of a US Visa impacting our decisions does not arise. 



On a more serious note, the USA is not exactly a paragon of Justice and Righteousness; their deeds would fill an encyclopaedia of causing trouble in the World. They have supported some highly shady characters and evil personalities in the past with total impunity when it suited them. So they dont have any right to call Narendra Modi (also known as NaMo) anything. As a matter  of fact, it places NaMo on a much higher pedestal than the USA. Compared to some of the - aah - gentlemen who get Visas and have gotten US support, NaMo is quite literally a saint. 

Furthermore, remember that NaMo has been cleared by our Supreme Court. Read this : SIT finds no proof against Modi, says court.The SC's recent record should place this above all doubt. It is certainly all the proof I require. Furthermore, note that any Indian Citizen disagreeing has the right to appeal; this is not available to a sovereign foreign power. That tantamounts to intervention in internal politics - at which USA is a past master. It is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black. By the way, the said kettle in the example is a clean aluminium kettle, not your black iron kettle!

I can only surmise from this that the USA has some powerful reasons for not wanting NaMo - which have absolutely nothing to do with the riots. What the USA is doing is very divisive and deadly dangerous; pandering to disaffected segments of both Khalistani as well as Gujarat riots. Regardless of the truth of the allegations - it has absolutely no right to intervene. This it is regularly doing in every spectrum: NaMo, Sonia Gandhi, Retail FDI rules; Pharmaceuticals; preferential treatment to Indian Manufacturers etc. Note that in each and every case, it (USA) has no locus standi whatsoever. Recently, it has also started making noises along the lines of "quantify damage in monetary terms due to Indian policies". Its courts have allowed lawsuits against Indian Politicians regarding riots held in India - where they have no legal or moral right in intervene, like in the recent Sonia Gandhi case. Anyone wanting to complain is welcome to India and seek redressal from the Indian Courts. And, if you are a naturalised American Citizens, you will have Big Daddy with you. 

In each of the above cases; the common thread is that the USA has no business intervening. Their own internal record is much worse.
They would do well to remember: pehelaa patthar woh maare jisne paap naa kiyaa ho, jo paapi naa ho... let the person who has not sinned throw the first stone. Frankly, by US standards, NaMo easily qualifies for national hero status, given the ugly US past record. That USA is not giving him a Visa is an award, a badge, a mark of tremendous respect. By comparison, NaMo is a veritable saint; and even the allegations against him are just that: unproven allegations. And do remember that these words are being penned by a man who has gone on record disavowing both NaMo and RaGa. (Rahul Gandhi). 

Why should we give credence to the frankly stupid views of a country that does not understand India? Why should we give it any importance at all? When it suits them, they will do anything to achieve their ends. This is the same nation which displayed collective national amnesia when it went from ban-India-on-nuclear-issue to Yay,-Indian-Nuclear-Sector in the twinkling of an eyelid! This is the same nation that all of a sudden became a champion of the war on terror when the terror reached its shores - again displaying collective amnesia when they clean forgot that they looked hard the other way all the years India complained regarding arms misuse by Pakistan, as well as on Pakistan Nuclear issue. This is the same nation which glibly ignores repeated Pakistan Nuclear threats to India (the latest being the recent security meet in Pakistan when tactical nukes were reportedly discussed: Pakistani political leaders meet to discuss national security, and goes after Iran and North Korea hammer and tongs. So long as we have our house in order, the size of our country will ensure that the USA will yet again display its trademark collective amnesia - and change its colours yet again. Rest assured. 

A reminder: The USA isnt, and has never been, a friend. It is furthermore an outside power. Let us all Indians stand united on this; regardless of our personal feelings. Whether NaMo becomes PM or not is for all of us to decide through our vote in 2014; that is where we have to talk. Whether or not NaMo is guilty, it is an internal matter, to be decided by Indians - not USA. Let us all tell the USA, mind your own bloody business. Go to Hell with your Visa! We dont butt into your politics, you stay the hell away from ours - be it Retail FDI, IP rights, NaMo, Pakistan or whatever else. You are not welcome in our internal matters. Stay Out, Uncle Sam! 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Is this Justice? 28 Months for Rape and Murder?

Someone participates in wanton rape and murder – gangrape at that; and then murders the helpless woman; mercilessly beating and torturing her, and committing unspeakable deeds – and the best our justice system can do is meet out  a punishment of 28 months for one of the most brutal culprits? Is this justice? Just because the most brutal animal of the lot is a few months short of 18, he is let off with a light sentence – a sentence that does a mockery of justice?In 3 years (a little less, actually) this person, this poor excuse for a human being will be let off to roam the streets again.

What is the guarantee that this person will be reformed? Where is the guarantee that these 3 years will not harden his resolve to be more careful – and not be caught? 3 years later he will be roaming the streets again – having tasted blood once. 3 short years is what he pays for raping, torturing and killing a young lady in the prime of her life. The victim loses her honour as well as her life; the perpetrator goes on to enjoy life to the fullest after paying for just 3 short years for a deed that is too horrifying to even mention! And this is our justice system! Well done, well done indeed! What an exemplary lesson for crime!

The message that will go across to all such youngsters in this age range is that ladies are fair game; even  if caught, we get off lightly. To a certain category of people, to whom lawlessness is a way of life, this might even be an open invitation! I may be sounding melodramatic, but this sounds logical to me at least. The law has totally failed to set an example and provide a deterrent. To a person already on the wrong side of the law, and a history sheeter, for example, 3 years is nothing.

While I admit that attempts to reform are laudable, and should always be the first priority; this should not and cannot be extended to all cases. Logically, a certain class of crimes can and should be expunged from this forgiven category for the good of society as a whole. I am not concerned only with revenge for the hapless soul; I am also concerned with setting up a deterrent. And the justice meted out in this case does not qualify for that category – that of a sufficient deterrent. This is not about revenge; it is not about blood for blood. It is about exemplary treatment to such criminals, which would act as a deterrent to further such incidences. And even if the punishment does not act as a deterrent, at least it should not send the wrong message to all other youngsters in the juvenile category.

And on both these counts, the law has failed us Indians. I am not a lawyer, and am not aware of the finer points involved; but this sentence makes no sense. Absolutely none.  Justice has not been done; the society has not been served; the family of the victim have not yet managed to bury their past. This sentence is likely to haunt them for a long time; as it is the family intends to fight this verdict. To them, there is no closure. This verdict has actually sentenced an entire family to a life of fight and despair. Instead of punishing the guilty, the law has unintentionally caused considerable pain and continual suffering to the family of the victim. 3 years later, this man – who was the most indescribably cruel of the lot – will roam the streets a free man; while the family of Nirbhay will suffer in silence, fighting a hopeless case in the courts of the land.

My heart goes out to the hapless family, abandoned in this dark hour by the state; their justified fight forgotten at the altar of juvenile justice. My heart trembles to think of the lesson this is sending out to other such people in our society who might be willing to risk 3 years of their lives. Is this justice? No sir, beyond any shade of doubt, this is not justice; the needs of justice have not been served. Society has not been served; justice lies denied to both society as well as the family of the victim. Especially for the family of the victim, there can be no closure!

If the law is not upto the mark, change it! That is why we have elected leaders into parliament! What are they doing? Nothing, that is what. My complaint is not against the Supreme Court; it is against the  ladies and gentlemen who run the parliament, the people who make the laws. Change the law; change the juvenile age. Alternatively, you can exempt certain crimes from this protection. If the constitution is a problem, bring in an amendment. Countless amendments have been made; some senseless. At least, at the very least the Government can amend the constitution for a just cause. The Government owes this to society; in fact, it is their solemn duty. I can only say that just as the family does not intend to keep quiet - we, the people, should also keep this case alive, and keep up the pressure on our lawmakers to change the laws, and make that man pay!

Is anyone listening?

Monday, 9 September 2013

Book Review: Young Turks




Book Review: Young Turks
Author: Krishan Partap Singh

(This is the first book of the Raisina Hill series. The second part  - Delhi Durbar – has already featured on my blog earlier)

THE PLOT
This story is about 3 friends – who are as alike as Chalk and Cheese. You are not likely to find a more varied set of best friends than Azim Khan, Karan Nehru and Raj Mehra; three people differing in just about everything to do with life, everything! And yet, somehow, they become friends – a friendship which turns out to be a defining one for India in the fullness of time. The staid, hardworking idealist Azim Khan, the incorrigible & rambunctiously exuberantly aggressive Karan Nehru, and the balanced & smart go-getter Raj Mehra grow up into 3 men, and get into 3 careers as different as their natures. One a financial wizard and business king, one a decorated Army Officer, and one a high-flying international journalist of considerable repute and formidable skills in political analysis and news . 

Strange are the ways of the world; equally strange, if not stranger – are the moods of fate. Who would have thought that these 3 gentlemen would get into careers that intersect? Finance, Psephology and Armed Forces… and yet, that is precisely what happens, as Ms Fate and Mr Luck meet, get married, and cause a right royal whirlpool in the 3 gentlemen’s minds and lives. One gets affected by rioting; one gets affected by homesickness, and one gets affected by a war wound… leading to their career paths intersecting in the due fullness of time. Young Turks is about the evolution of these 3 interesting, absorbing, and fascinating characters' development into seasoned Indian movers and shakers in the political arena. One gets an elevator, one decides to do it the hard way – with decency and unity as planks, while the third – Raj – gets back home, where he feels he belongs, and gets into Indian Media. A defining intersection, this – for it paves the way for many an eventful happening in their lives, propelling them, and India, into topsy turvy times, periods of meteoric rise as well as despair, as they rise in fame in the political world… India will never be the same again…

THE ANALYSIS
First off, the series is a one-of-a-kind for reasons I cant even hint at, as it will spoil your fun; I have never read such a beautifully intertwined set of stories as this. Park this thought at this point: I shall connect it up in the review of the 3rd book – The War Ministry. The beauty of the first 2 books lies in the fact that they are standalone novels, and complete in their own way. Yet, the commonality of the intersecting characters make it clear that the events in the second book happened during the first book; this enables us to truly understand, after reading both, as to what the political atmosphere was in New Delhi as our Young Turks were rising – and this is what gives a deep insight into the story. All loose ends are connected up in the third book, which is why I say – park this thought here. Suffice it to say that the plot is unique – absolutely unique. 

You are taken deep into the dirt of politics, where only survival matters; and in such a brutal atmosphere you have our young turks with their idealist viewpoints and approaches battling it out. To make matters more interesting, Azim and Major Karan’s views are the exact opposite on all matters political – which is not a recipe for a healthy friendship. Not in politics, at any rate. And it is in this awesome byplay that you can spot the brilliant and perfect character development; each persons views, attitudes and opinions come across as a logical extension of their mental make-up and life experiences- there is not a jarring note anywhere in all the 3 novels. The author has made a profile of a person, and stuck to it throughout without deviations – through 3 full novels, which is a tremendous achievement. You can see Raj, Azim and Karan maturing, and developing; and yet, their development is along the lines  of their basic constitutions – a balanced Raj; an aggressive Karan and an idealist Azim.

The book is a page turner, unputdownable. You will want to read it again and again; I myself have read it twice already – and want to read it again! Adding spice to this is the sporadic sprinkling of genuine sarcasm and humour that will bring a smile to your lips. The story, the plot and the characters grow in you; and you start to identify with them. The flow of the story and the twists therein create a suspense in your mind; and you end  up wanting to peek ahead to see how it turns out. A word of advice: don’t. Don’t take a peek! You will regret it.  This is an engaging and thrilling political ride, with a powerful message at its core – the one borne by Azim Khan : Ek India, Ek Desh, Ek Log. Savour this ride; it tells a tale… a tale of rising above caste identities and religious affiliations… 

It tells a tale of success of idealism, of strategies and planning, of unity and of courage through Azim Khan; it tells a tale of aggression, attacking, loyalty and exuberance through Karan Nehru; it tells a tale of balance, out-of-the-box thinking, of Media-Poltics  connections and of sheer presence of mind through Raj Mehra.  It tells a tale of international politics and terrorism – and how it can be , as well as cannot be fought; it tells a tale of the utility of pride in a nation, as seen in the dealing with China and the US

Most of all, it tells a riveting tale of building a new India, a new, aggressive, shining and united India from where we are today – not by fighting the system; but by trying to change it in incremental steps from within…  when an idealist, a “practicalist” (for want of a better word) and a fighter from a political family get together – or are bound together by circumstances and history – and create something new, a new way and a new approach… this is the tale of Raj Mehra, Azim Khan and Karan Nehru!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

HISTORICAL DISTORTIONS - AND THE MODERN REPERCUSSIONS

From the days of our early schooling, we come across innumerable references to our glorious time of the ancient past; we are subsequently exposed to the Arab and Mughal conquests, and thence to the independence period during the course of our schooling. As we grow into our teens and the early twenties, various external sources also fashion our understanding of our past, which we eventually come to accept as the absolute truth, without questioning anything. Rarely do we question anything; rather, we accept it at face value as more often than not, it comes from sources that we consider above reproach: namely, western sources, school books and Media – international as well as Indian. 

Take a look at a few instances of modern distortions that are materially impacting us in some ways – both small and large:
1. Most people in the West consider our distance from them largely due to our pro-Russian tilt, and defend their pro-Pakistan posture due to this. However, the correct historical record shows the exact reverse: India approached the West first, but was spurned – and spurned royally, as my previous posts have shown. It is a matter of documented   record that Pakistan was on the western radar  since at least 1945, due to their imagined Russian fears. Then the security deal with Pakistan, denial of steel and other technology to India all predate our Russian tilt…
2. Indians still blame solely Nehruji for the entire Kashmir imbroglio, when an impartial reading of the account throws up an entirely different story… the double game played by the UK, Mountbatten’s statement to Pakistan, India’s intentions, the international scenario wherein the western powers were clearly and unabashedly pro-Pakistan are all ignored by the historical record; the fact that Kashmir was singularly calm during the terrible riots, and that fact that the chances of Pakistan winning a referendum being remote, is never mentioned. 

The combination of these 2 tends to give a slightly defensive posture to the normal Indian citizen even in the modern day. Take Kashmir; instead of blaming the West and Pakistan, more often than not we curse Nehruji, who was at best peripherally involved, and can be counted as one of the victims of the entire game – a game which he was powerless the control! This is brought out clearly by the MOMs between the Chief of both armies – who in 1947-48 were both Britishers, and clearly discussed their plans with each other, when their soldiers were fighting a war! The result: we, as a people, heap ridicule on Panditji, and grow angry and defensive – when there is no need to be defensive whatsoever!

Similarly, in the case of US relationship, instead  of putting a strong face forward, we are apologetic for our so-called leftist tilt! This despite the fact that our leftist tilt was because of the prevalent international scenario, wherein we had no choice but to go to Russia for help and technology – technology the great west was refusing to provide; and for our existential security concerns, as is manifest from the US’ reprehensible behavior by sending a submarine to pressurize India despite having clear knowledge of a genocide in Bangladesh. We have no reason to be defensive; we are the victims, for God’s sake! This translates to a collective defensive posture; which does massive harm to our national self-image and ego – essential factors in any nation. 

Most of us would consider it a waste of time, or at the most an indulgence to feed our national ego or self-image; most of us would not give a second thought to the political aspect of writing history. Even the most cursory glance will show how politics has gotten intertwined with accepted history, and how vested interests of various hues vociferously defend the status quo, without exhibiting any sign of inquiry towards the alternative viewpoint. The result is that the national image suffers at the cost of feeding a few egos and reputations…

 The  fact of the matter is that a positive, aggressive and confident self-image and national ego is a powerful driver of a people. It has a very material impact on how we conduct ourselves, and how we project ourselves to the world. Pride is a known driver and motivator; it has a positive impact when taken in the right amounts. As a corollary, defeatism is a poison and a cancer that eats into our own competitiveness and fighting abilities. A positive national image binds a nation together; and drives it to further great deeds. Defeatism breeds discontent, resulting a outflux of talent – which can be seen in India, albeit in small amounts. 

What it does is it changes the attitude and behavior of a people, who come to believe that they are what they are purely due to their own faults; this tends to suppress talent – resulting in the more talented wanting to break out and reach for greener pastures. The national attitude changes from a positive outlook to a negative and defensive outlook. This seemingly esoteric factor is in reality a very pertinent driver of growth – personal as well as national. For example, a people with pride in their past, will not back down from active promotion of their indigenous arts and culture. The vibrant outlook naturally translates into a positive image in communication, marketing etc other activities. And the driving factor ceases to be ‘protection of the indigenous crafts’ and moves onto the far more positive ‘marketing of art and culture; the positive outlook creates an internal market as well – as the people are far more amenable to what they perceive as class in their consumptive choices. 

That is why a correct knowledge and understanding of History is so important. There is a lot in our history that has been ignored; as it was largely compiled in its present form by westerners. As we shall see in the coming book review of Operation Red Lotus, this was at times deliberate. In point of fact, we have no reason to be defensive about anything in our history; except perhaps that dark period of the license raj from the late 60s. We further have no reason to be in derision about the more seemingly unexplained claims made by some historians – for example, the First War of Independence, or even casteism, or sati, or our ancient past… none of which have been adequately covered in the popular discourse. A confident and aware people will be more at ease with their own selves;  lessening to a large degree the fawning of the west that is so apparent in India. 

And please remember: all successful nations in the Modern World have made it by being themselves; not by wanting to be someone else. That is a hard truth… one we as a people cannot afford to ignore!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

THE BUTCHER OF JHANSI

We shall look at the 1857 War in greater detail at a later date; in this post, I shall attempt to introduce an aspect of the 1857 that has been left untouched by recorded history, which simply does not do justice to the entire heroic and horrendous affair that was the First War Of Independence. Today, let us take a look at a man honoured by the civilized britishers with the Victoria Cross, and was also knighted by the Queen. This man’s name was Hugh Rose, about whom Captain F. W. Pinkney writes : “The example made at Jhansi will, I have no doubt, have an excellent effect in facilitating the tranquilizing of Bundelkhand”…

We in India can refer to him as the Butcher Of Jhansi…

He is the same man who choreographed a terrifying dance of death spread over 4 days – a dance of death that is so horrifying in its detail, so brutal in its scope and so evil in its scale, that it ranks as a genocide as far as I am concerned. This was the Genocide of Jhansi…

This should also give you some idea as to why Rani Lakshmibai is famed throughout The Sovereign Democratic Republic of India… but that is a story that deserves a full blog post in itself…

In the town of Jhansi, all the people that could be caught from young children to men over eighty were massacred. Women, fearing rape, jumped into wells. The English started entering houses demanding money, gold… if a person was spotted, he was killed… “The entire town had turned into a cremation ground… the town was ablaze… as some people tried to hide in the hay, the English set it on fire… as people ran and jumped into the well to escape, the English chased them to the well… and shot them as their heads bobbed above the water” – an eyewitness account

“After he was arrested, a Senior Military Officer ordered the young children of Dulaji Singh aged 5 - 25 (Dulaji was the Regimental Commandant of the Town Guards) to be brought from his house. Thery were lined up in front of him and shot in front of his eyes. Dulaji Singh was then  beheaded. “

“The 2 white soldiers went straight into the Puja Room and saw a couple of baskets… the kicked the baskets… and saw ash… suspecting treasure, they put their hands in… and burnt their hands. The English soldiers, flaming with anger, killed all the members of the Agnihotri family – including women and

I could go on in this vein for quite a bit more  - but you get the drift. The town of Jhansi paid a heavy price for its desire for freedom from oppression; and they were butchered, massacred and looted bone dry. The survivors were in no physical or psychological condition to do anything  of note; such   was the sheer ferocity of this   genocide, that it had a material impact on the entire surrounding areas. To this day, Jhansi is a small hamlet, and on one can imagine what it once was… you have to read the description of Jhansi in its resplendent glory to understand; its bazaars, its palace and its magnificent and famed library… and even then, you will probably fall short: well short.

“Most of the citizens and all of the Queen’s soldiers in Jhansi were killed; the streets were left thick with blood slush. Vultures darkened the skies of the city. Hugh Rose had given strict orders not to allow the Indians to perform the last rites of the dead. After 7 April, when the entire city was stinking, and jackals and vultures roamed greedily in search of decomposed bodies, did he grant permission for the last rites. – Mahashweta Devi

And for this, he was given the Victoria Cross! And Knighted, as well. May I remind everyone that the Victoria Cross is highest award for valor in The United Kingdom. Contrast this with our own Paramvir Chakra, and the people who have won it and their deeds. Truly, his deeds were indeed brave: butchering women and children, killing civilians… The Butcher Of Jhansi. And we Indians are blissfully unaware of the true horror of those 4 days…

In the entire historical record, the above does not find a mention. The record shows a humane and tolerant treatment to the people; the record was, after all, written by The Butcher Of Jhansi himself. According to Rose, even the heavy shelling and cannonading targeted only men!!!!! (Wow, what technology: and this was in 1857!). Remember that they were attacking an entire town… further, Rose makes the claim that it was the Indian Men who killed their women! And this found its way into the official record! -

Why is it that the English records to this day teach of the Black Hole etc where the English died: but is totally silent on these atrocities? Even in the modern day, the Westerner is blissfully unaware of the scale and scope of the horrors and genocide perpetrated in India from 1757 to 1857! The general consensus seems to be that they brought order to India, introduced Railways, laws, education etc! Unfortunately for them their own meticulous records lay bare their claims – as we shall see in my next post: The Distortions of History – And Their Modern Repercussions… you will readily find details of Europeans being massacred in India – but no mention is made of the people they massacred – even today; in the internet age… That, my dear friends, is that hard truth… as I always say, Jaago, Sonewaalon

References: 
1) Operation Red Lotus - Parag Tope
2) 1857: The Real Story Of The Great Uprising - Vishnu Versaikar

Monday, 2 September 2013

Book Review: Ashok The Great


BOOK REVIEW: ASHOK THE GREAT
Edited by: Monika Khanna

Mahaan Ashok… the Emperor whose name is drilled into our heads, our thoughts and our very being as Indians; Mahaan Ashok – the greatest among Indians; Mahaan Ashok… the only Indian to be honoured with a Title of Mahaan meaning Great; Mahaan Ashok…. Who has now become synonymous with Modern India through the Lion Capital; Mahaan Ashok… the man who first brought India under one yoke; Mahaan Ashok… The Mauryan Emperor of worldwide renown and fame; Mahaan Ashok, or Ashok The Great, the only known emperor (in my knowledge, at least) to renounce war as a state craft during his lifetime, and since… 

The current book under review is a collection of facts and articles about this legendary Indian, a name who evokes a tremendous feeling of pride in Indians of all hues and religions. The main scoring point of the book is that It looks extensively at the historical & archeological as well as the literary record, which is critical – since the Historical record may be incorrect (either due to deliberate misrepresentation like the First War of Independence in 1857; or oversight) – and corroborating literary references can be critical proofs – or can raise some damned uncomfortable questions. This is a vital point, as I shall connect up later

This is a book that covers almost the entire life of Devanampiya Piyadassi, also known as Ashok – the man who went on to achieve international acclaim as Ashok The Great, reconstructing his antececents, the dynastic line, his early childhood and his growing up years. It goes on to cover the period of his rule, as well as his personal relationships and descendents. It also covers in extensive detail the entire archeological record – his rock edicts and his pillars, give a translation of each, as well as the historical background. 

The massive extent of his empire is also covered, which extended into Afghanistan in the north-west, and almost the entire deccan plateau in the south, reaching upto what is now modern Bihar and Bengal in the east. The good part is that rather than focusing on military conquests, it touches upon the highlights of the military aspects, with detailed attention to the one military event that all of us know very well: the Kalinga War. This is what makes the book a fast and fun read; it is not a boring historical account – but rather a combination of a reference book on everything to do with Ashok The Great, and a fast and light account of his life. The book brings out hithero unknown aspects of his empire, and the international links and references that he had. For example, his emissaries visited Antioch, Athens, Alexandria, Bactria, Sri Lanka and Burma among others. He is known to mention several famous rulers in his edicts : for example Antiochus I of Syria; Ptolemy I of Egypt

The most interesting – and important part of the book is the extensive coverage it gives to the literary record, which brings out some minor inconsistencies with the historical record. The book looks at The Ashokaavadaan, The Mahaavamsa and The Dipavamsa among others. For starters, The Ashokaavadaan does not make any mention of the Kalinga War when describing Ashok’s conversion; The Ashokaavadaan is a first century Sanskrut work which brings to light a completely different version of Ashok. This does raise questions; for logically – any theory that does not answer all of the facts and events cannot be rightly called correct. 

This brings me to yet another book from my collection – What India Should Know – which makes a claim one would think to be impossible. And yet, the questions in the accepted version remain. In the words of the editor – “A very different Ashok comes to us in the Ashokaavadaan”. Is the Ashokaavadaan a complete fabrication? Or is it based on truth? Why is the Kalinga War not mentioned at all? The book will raise questions in your mind – who was Ashok really? Having said that, it will also answer a good many questions – you will come to know a lot more about the legendary Mahaan Ashok

The questions raised by the book in my mind may be fanciful; or they may be spot-on: but it cannot be denied that Indian History has been significantly altered by the Europeans. While there may be those who still contest the aging of the Ramayan and The Mahabharat; or indeed hold the Aryan Invasion as true – a look at The First War Of Independence will remove all vestiges of doubt. (This is the subject of one of my next 2 posts – The Butcher Of Jhansi). Thus, we cannot hold that whatever has been written is 100% accurate. 

But it is undeniable that the Literary record does not tally amongst itself, or with the Historical and Archeological Record. Interestingly, the current book also clearly mentions that no edict has clearly mentioned Ashok as Buddhist. Where, then, does the truth lie? Perhaps we shall never know – at least not in scientifically provable a form.. Moving on, the current book under review also examines the role of The Lord Buddha, and gives a fascinating direct quote by Him: “A hundred years after my death there will be an Emperor named Ashok in Pataliputra, and adorn Jambudveepa with my relics building 84000 stupas for the welfare of the people” ...

All in all, the current book Ashok The Great is an excellent compilation of all known facts of Ashok; it is inexpensive  @125/-; and is made interesting by the extensive black-and-white photographs of Ashok Sculptures, Edicts, Pillars, a Map etc which give it a lively feel. The fair and frank coverage of alternative viewpoints is also noteworthy, as is the detailed and non-judgmental mention of all literary records. All too often people tend to disregard the literary record – when in fact, it is equally important, as these books were being written as history was being created (Like Versaikar in Maazaa Pravaas – The Real Story Of The Great Uprising - 1857) or within a hundred or so years of the actual event, as the referenced works in Ashok The Great. As my next couple of posts will prove, all too often the literary records from those days trump established and accepted history. But that is another story, to be taken up at a later date…

Sad part is, we might never know for sure who Ashok really was. Personally, my initial response of “What India Should Know” is turning, albeit very slowly, to grudging respect, as this is the second area where their theories find eerie echoes in my mind.  And let me put on record: I read “What India Should Know” after Ashok The Great; the questions above occurred to me while reading the current book. Perhaps I might decide to review that book “What India Should Know” on my blog as well - perhaps this September itself…

Coming Book Reviews:
1. The Great Divide: India and Pakistan by India International Center; edited by Ila Pande
2. Operation Red Lotus – (The Real Story Of The First War Of Independence) by Parag Tope
3. Asian Juggernaut: The Rise Of China, India And Japan by Brahma Chellaney
4. Young Turks By Krishan Partap Singh
5. What India Should Know by V Lakshmikanthan / J Vasundhara Devi