Sunday, 23 November 2014

Book Review : The Mahabharat Quest


THE MAHABHARAT QUEST : THE ALEXANDER SECRET
By Christopher C.  Doye


About the Author : 


Before he finally embarked on the journey of achieving his childhood dreams, Christopher pursued a career in the corporate world, graduating from St. Stephens College, Delhi with a degree in Economics and studying business management at IIM Calcutta. Over the course of his corporate career, he has worked with leading multinational organizations like Coats Viyella, Hilton Hotels, IBM and The Economist Group, before setting up Dynamic Results India, a strategic consultancy in India in partnership with Dynamic Results LLC which is based in the US.





THE PLOT

As the title itself hints, this is a book that is based on two totally unconnected historical events in India : The Mahabharat, and Alexander's invasion. The plot interleaves two parallel stories - that of ancient Greece, and the modern-day story running in parallel. In ancient Greece, events unfold rapidly, as Alexander first decides to go on a secret quest for something buried deep in the story of The Mahabharat; and subsequently, after his death, the events rapidly become an effort to conceal that secret...

In the Modern Day, two stories intertwine : an ancient papyrus is found by an American scientist; leading to his murder; a group of American Archeologists open an ancient tomb, only to be ambushed; only one survives, escapes and lives to fight another day. She is hunted ruthlessly for the secret contained withn the tomb; only problem is she herself hasnt any idea what the secret is! In a parallel story, a pharmaceutical lab accident in an American company reveals several dead bodies, and hints of clandestine research; the investigation into which is being conducted by the IB, with the collaboration of the US...this seemingly unrelated set of events, with no apparently logical connect, forms the base plot of the story... what is the connect? How are the connected? Read the book to find out!




THE ANALYSIS

First, let us get the negative out of the way; this is another of the books that is approximately in the Da Vinci Code style. This is not exactly a true negative; Dan Brown was the creator of that Genre - others are now giving depth and breadth to this new genre with their skill. The interleaving stories has also been tried by Ashwin Sanghi earlier - but then again, that is neither here not there. This is a narrative style and plot outline that has been used by this Author. Question is, is it a me-too, or does it have sufficient points of variance to enable a classification as an original work of writing? Yes, it does. The similarity stops right there; the story, plot, treatment, development are all independent, and interesting. 

The book is a fast-paced historical thriller; the story develops quite rapidly, fast and is yet easy to follow. This is important - since there are 3 plots you have to follow {most books of this style have 2} - the life threat on the archeologist; the pharmaceutical angle, and the ancient greek past. This has been done quite skillfully; it must have been difficult, with 3 plot-lines. Well done, Christopher! 

Character development could have been better; but here, the author has chosen to sacrifice detail for the sake of the pace of the story. This is an understandable choice, given the complexity of the plot layout. Having said that, a little more filling in would have elevated this book to another level entirely. As it currently stands, the level of detail is enough to take the story forward at speed without any distractions.

The  book is a fast, engrossing thriller that keeps you glued to its pages. It has been written by an Indian - so there are no bloopers or ludicrous cultural pronouncements, unlike western books concerning India, which are frankly outlandish to say the least. This is a book that provides you with an entertaining read; is fast & engrossing. It is an enjoyable, rapid read that can easily be rated 4 stars, or even 4.5 stars out of 5...



This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Blaming Nehruji - Part 1; The 1948 War

The modern Indian - regardless of political dispensation {IMHO}, has a rather disturbing propensity to blame Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru for a variety of errors of omission and commission. A simple glance at a normal Facebook page, newspaper coverage, political utterances by a select few politicians etc all convey this rather sad fact; sad because this is done on the basis of incomplete facts. 

It is not my position that Panditji did not make mistakes; he was human, and was thus prone to error. But what were those errors? Under what situation were those erroneous decisions taken? And is every "error" that is blamed on him an error? Was he the one who actually committed that error, or are we in error in blaming him? 

In this series, I shall attempt to examine a few of his more popular errors, and attempt to present a more complete picture, basis the more than several books I have studied and reviewed on my blog. Further, this is not a political comment on any political party, or the present party in power. This is just an attempted factual examination of the sequence of events. 

In the first part, let us examine the war of 1948. I am not a military expert, and thus cannot comment on the specifics of the war per se. But it is a common statement that I have been hearing for years that had we fought on, we could have won back Kashmir. Or that Nehruji stopped the war; or that he went to the UNO; or some other such thing. Is this based on fact? In the following paragraphs, I shall lay down some facts that I have come across in my readings that certainly queer the plot for people who blame Nehruji.


{This is by no means  a complete picture; I cannot summarize in a blog post something that has taken authors in excess of a 100 pages to put across. My only attempt here is to kindle the thought process of my readers, and kindle a desire to know more about what exactly transpired. References can be found, as is my habit, at the end of the post alongwith a link to the relevant book review}


First, what was the British attitude towards the JK dispute? They werent disinterested and innocent bystanders, or kind and helpful gentlemen. Let us look at a couple of incidents - with documented proof, to establish that :

1) It would have been natural for Kashmir to eventually accede to Pakistan on agreed terms - British Secretary of State of Commonwealth relations in a top-secret communique to the high commissioners of Delhi and Karachi, 31 October 1947, 5 days after the accession of Kashmir to India

2)  Second, why was this critical? Answer : Gilgit, which was considered strategically important. India would not allow defence movements by external forces from within its area, whereas Jinnah had already agreed to cooperate and allow defence moves from within Pakistan. Nehru, Patel et al where specific {yes, including Nehruji} : India would never allow foreign troops on Indian soil. This remains as the most important principal of our policy structure. I have previously established, with proof - in other blog posts - that US-UK preoccupation with Russia, as was made clear in the July 1945 post-war meeting, wherein CENTO was visualised, with Pakistan as a founding member. Please remember that in 1945, the UK was ostensibly trying to forge a united India, whereas in its top-secret papers, it was planning the reverse. The other aspect is that Jinnah had alreaady committed cooperation on the 3rd September 1939! 

3) "The broad post-partition plan had been discussed by [Major] Brown and the Colonel [Bacon] in June 1947. And after Mathieson arrived in Gilgit, the two British officers refined contingency measures, should the Maharaja take his state over to India..  On 2nd November, the Major raised the Pakistani flag, and announced that they now served Karachi." 

Being British, they should have been neutral, or asked for a transfer. Major Brown was conferred the Most Exalted Order Of The British Empire in 1948. This is proof positive. With the local Gilgit scouts firmly pro-Pakistan, delivering Gilgit to Pakistan was a guarantee, almost. This needed one other support, which knocked the sails from the Indian side almost totally. 

The question remains, why was Gilgit so critical? This can be seen in one statement by Ernest Bevin, The British Foreign Secretary, To George Marshall, The American Secretary Of State : "The main issue was who would control the main artery leading into Central Asia..." 27 October, 1948


4) The other area that the British definitely wanted to go to Pakistan was the strip from Naushera to Muzaffarabad."

Bucher admitted to Gracey, the Pakistan C-in-C, that he had no control over Cariappa but hit upon an intriguing scheme to now stop the advance of his own army. Graffety Smith, British high commissioner in Karachi, reported to London the arrangements reached privately between the commander-in-chiefs of the 2 dominions. General Bucher indicated to General Gracey that he had no wish to pursue an offensive into what is effectively Azad-Kashmir controlled territory i.e. to Mirpur and Poonch sector... the object of these arrangements is to reach a situation in which each side will remain in undisputed military occupation of what are roughly their present positions... An essential part of the process... is that 3 battalions of the Pakistan Army should be deployed opposite the Indian forces at Jhangar, in or around Poonch and at Uri..."

This was a tell-tale interlude between the Pakistani Army chief and Indian Army chief in 1947-48. A paragraph that strips naked the United Kingdom, exposes fully and finally how it was playing a dangerous double game... and shatters all pre-conceived notions about parition! The Indian Army Chief, a Britisher, is advising the Pakistani chief, also a Britisher, what to do, and sharing his plans as well. 

Thus, it seems to me that the result of a military solution to this problem was a foregone conclusion -  it was never going to deliver all of Kashmir to India. In either case, there is enough documented and authentic evidence available for us to stop blaming Nehruji, and instead attempt to read up a little more to understand precisely what transpired, which was very different from what is generally understood. 


Next, Panditji. I wish people would stop blaming him for everything, without reason. Firstly, Nehruji did NOT approach the UN out of the blue; the first suggestion was made to Jinnah by Mountbatten on 1 Nov 1947. He did not have GOI approval for this. Second, because of the support to India in the matter of the princely states, Mountbatten enjoyed the complete trust of everyone in the cabinet. Third, we know from hindsight how we were double-crossed; they didnt. Fourth, the newly independent India was new to matters of state and international duplicity and diplomacy. Fifth, we have no idea of the kind of international pressure that was being brough to bear. Read this little gem,  to get an idea of the kind of international pressure on Nehruji : 

"There was no alternative to the UN approach; if war came, the world would blame India because Pakistan was seen as too weak to seek belligerency; war would mean the Indian Leaders abandoning all they have stood for; if the UN declares India an aggressor, even India's best friends would have to conform to the world body's decision; war would result in a communal carnage inside India; and finally, India did not have the means to prevail on its own. What have you got? A few old Dakotas..." - 15th August, 1948

The key aspect here was Gilgit; which was strategic, as also the corridor to Muzaffarabad. Gilgit was transferred to the British by the Maharaja in 1935 in a lease agreement effective for 60 years. This led to an erratic Indian position, in 3 communiques, one omits any reference to Gilgit; this lease also proves the strategic importance of this land to the West, as subsequent history has proven. India's only fault : not taking a firm position on the Gilgit lease, and that erratic wavdering communiques, which did nothing to ease the problem. And remember the pressure being brought to bear on India by international powers, and the strategic vitality of the regions of Kashmir under dispute. But that is another story, not relevant to this question. 

Regardless, Gilgit was already in Pakistani hands, firmly so. Furthermore, every international hand as well as the British Officers of the Indian Army were clear : Gilgit and the strip should not go to India. Pakistani Army was aware of Indian attack plans. In this scenario, a military victory was never a guarantee. Quite the opposite, in fact. And the icing on the cake, this was just at the end of the WW2, in an atmosphere when the predominant focus of what I like to call The Great West was on Russia; and the overarching, most vital Western objective was ensuring the presence of a military option against Russia. As history subsequently proved, this came in handy during the Afghan campaign. 

Please stop blaming Nehruji. Due to the incomplete picture presented in front of us, we just do not know the entire story, nor do we know what kind of problems he had to deal with - some of which I have highlighted above. We tend to ignore the British role in this episode, which I have proven quite clearly. We further tend to ignore The Great Game, and the use of Pakistan in that Great Game against Russia. Fact of the matter is, our only fault was naivete; which is excusable given that we were newly independent. 

He stands tall as one of the strongest, most far sighted and most powerful  architects of Modern India. Yes, he did make mistakes; but that made him human. Blame him all you want, but do so after studying in depth the situations under which he operated, and understanding the full nature of the decision and the underlying parameters. For that, you will perforce have to abandon the internet, and go back to books - pedigreed books that have analysed these matters in considerable detail, based on documented facts and irrefutable proofs. 

In conclusion, in this atmosphere wherein we {or a few of us}, are blaming Nehruji for lots of things, I would like to say :

Thank You, Sir. Thank You, Panditji. I shall never forget what you did for India, and under what difficulties you did it! India owes you a deep debt of gratitude. Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Main aapki poori kahaani apne bete ko zaroor sunaoongaa...


References : The Shadow Of The Great Game - The Untold Story Of India's Partition by Narendra Singh Sarila {Reviewed here}

This book is written by the ADC to Mountbatten in 1947-48; it has further been researched extensively in 3 countries national archives, libraries, communications and documents : USA, UK, and India. It is based  on solid documented evidence,  and each claim is solidly referenced and annotated, even to the extent of dates, photographs etc.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The Experience Of Life...

Life... Volumes have been written on this topic, and by far more qualified and knowledgeable writers than myself. I dont profess to understand or explain life; this post is more a mirror of my mind, and an attempt to come to terms with the range of conflicting emotions that rage through my mind every so often; an attempt to understand myself... with the fervent hope that others who are going through the same thoughts can draw some inspiration and learnings

This chain of thoughts was triggered on my Father's funeral pyre, on the 29th of September 2007. As Dad was consigned to the flames, in between the tears and the memories, the one thought that crashed through my mind that all we had left were his memories; in that moment, his plot of land, his money and his worldly possessions meant nothing to me. His achievements, considerable though they were; were of no importance. This realisation, this experience {I cant call it anything else} hit me hard; it flashed through my mind like a lightening bolt...

It has been 7 years since then; I still haven't gotten over Dad's death. An year later, I lost my Mom; much the  same realisation hit me with double force and impact. That, and one additional thought : in the end, both went as they came; alone, and with empty hands. On that last journey, Dad and Mom went alone. All alone. As the pyre burnt, my mind wanted to be in that burning wood, with my Dad. As the waters closed around my Dad's ashes at Rajendra Prasad Ghat at Varanasi, I wanted to be there with him... but he  went alone. All alone... as did Mom. 



MOVING ON...

As time passed, these feelings were suppressed; my life restarted . The daily grind of my life took over... the job, the KRAs, the performance... the salary and the daily needs of myself, and my family. For, as Sai Baba has rightly said, as long as we are in this body, the needs of the body and the world are a real and present fact, and it is our duty to do our duty to our family and ourselves. Further, beyond salary - the needs of pride, and of growth are also real, and vital - they fuel confidence, and ability - in ourselves as well as in our families.  Not only that, as you grow in abilities and position, the dependence, trust and confidence of your staff and their families also rests in you, as their team leader. You become far more than an individual, and more of a leader who drives the hopes and lives of your teams, howsoever small or large may these teams be. Thus, these real-world issues cannot be forgotten; one cannot and should not run away. 

Time continues to pass; but the memory, that startling lightening bolt, was never far from my mind; I would always recall that pyre where Dad went up in flames; those waters where I last saw my Dad vanish form sight.They would come back to me every so often; perhaps once every few months. And I would recall that they left everything behind. It lies till this day, by and large, the entire inheritance.

And, slowly but surely, I began to notice the real world around me : as I noted in my earlier series The Curse Of Poverty {The Curse Of PovertyThe Curse Of Poverty 2The Curse Of Poverty 3The Curse Of Poverty 4}. I began to notice both the good - {our achievements as a nation, my achievements, those of the people around me, the good in my family, the people at large} - as well as the bad - {corruption, the two-faced nature of people, crime, rampant lawlessness, excessive materialism, self-centered attitudes}. This last bit - both in myself as well as in others, to be honest. And I began  to ask questions. 

Questions to which I had no answers. Still dont. 

From one of the above posts : {And my heart screams - why, God, why? Why has it got to be so? What have we done that is so wrong, so brutally amoral that generations of Indians have to suffer this terrifying curse of abject poverty? What have we done to deserve this? My mind deserts me, and my heart goes vacant... for a moment - just for a moment - I can think of nothing else. At that point, I feel no rage, just a queer emptiness and a total helplessness in the face of such insurmountable odds

The evidence of poverty is to be found everywhere: on the roads in the form of the roadside hutments, the labourers in the sun, the carefree and scantily clad children playing around doing nothing, the poor and bare hutments in villages, the kuchha roads in the villages, the series of villages with landless peasants, villagers lounging about the chai shop with nothing to do, women with a old faded sari, the malnourished and famished children and adults both, the beggars in cities and towns alike... and my mind wonders... when will we be free of this terrible scourge? 

Raasta bahut lamba hai... manzil milon door hai, aur jaanaa kis taraf hai abhi toh yeh bhi maalum nahi hai. Magar tabhi- doosre kshan, mujhe kuchh aur dikhai detaa hai...

Har chehre par muskan; a smile on every face; the joy on the children's faces; the sheer delight as the mother gives them what she has to eat; the laughs of the men on the chai shop, the animated discussions of the labourers, the happy faces of the women as they talk while going about their chores, the carefree delight on the children... and I wonder in admiration at these people's spirit... }. 

From another post : "An old lady had spread her "padar" in front of me, looking for alms. I was about to brush her off, but something stopped me. I dont know what it was, but I was halted in my tracks. I looked at her, and recalled that I routinely spend far more on personal effects... I can spend 100+ for my pleasure, but cant spare even a single rupee for the needy. Just that thought came to me, and I automatically opened up and gave her some money. I wasnt much, but it was a rupee. It was several rupees - enough for her to get a vada paav

I wont claim lofty idealistic claims like "My heart felt nice on giving" or such sentimental drivel. Truth be told, my heart was heavy even after giving, as I realised I cannot do anything of any real value, neither can I give to everyone who approaches me. Truth be told, there was even a fleeting thought in my mind : "I did something nice today" - which takes away any credit that I might deserve : true giving means you do it out of your feeling for the destitute- not for any good-feel for yourself"



THE POINT OF THE ARTICLE

With the passage of time, with age and experience, with team leading and level-up experiences and the attendant ups and downs, I learnt to come to terms with these barrage of thoughts that cascaded in my mind every so often. Life moved on. And the moment I came to terms with these strong overpowering emotions rising like a tide within me - a new and far more enriching view of life came in front of me. I still haven't fully come to terms with this; so I cannot be very specific; but I shall try to put my point across. 

When I learnt to put it all together, the ups and downs of my life, my positive and happy attitude throughout both the ups and downs, the inconsistencies of life, the inequalities, the achievements and the challenges, the crippling problems around us - and the smiles and cheer  in the midst of these problems : one glaring inconsistency, or paradox occurred to me slowly and surely. A realisation that both is a path  forward as well as a challenge, a key to peace and stability of mind and mental satisfaction. 

In the end, there is nothing, Nothing, except your memories, your words, and your nature that people recall. What then, is the purpose of life? Earning far more than what we need - not stating vairagya here - referring to more than we need for a comfortable existence? What is the point of growing in your career, if you cannot benefit your team, and the society at large? Especially, since on your death, nothing will remain yours, except your deeds?


What is the point of challenging and breaking laws just to earn money? Is it not far better to grow while benefiting people? To do deeds that add value to society, and to the community? Is it not possible to both grow in comforts, stature and position, while also being a benefit to society? To do something that will give something back to  society? To do something that put some meaning into the mundane experience of life? To do something that will make life, your job and your time on earth meaningful?

I am not a communist; or a socialist. Capitalists help the economy grow, help feed the stomachs, growths and ambitions of millions of people in India and the entire capitalist world. Neither am I trying to change the world; these are questions that I still havent answered. My point is : if when we die, we leave behind nothing that is ours - except our words, our nature and our deeds, then why not concentrate on doing deeds that ensure that we are remembered when we are no more?

The house will be transferred to your children's name. The money will go to their accounts, and get spent. The trophies will adorn the mantlepiece or the showcase for a period of time, then get packed or junked. The records you make will be erased with time. The world will move on; but your good deeds and your contributions to people will be remembered long after you are dead and gone. 

Isnt it a far better deal to do something that will make you immortal? Isnt it far better that you utilise your talents, as well as the benefits you have enjoyed and earned in positive ways, giving meaning to your life, and your time on earth? The needs of the body and the family- all the way from food to prestige - will still need fulfillment; but cant there be a middle path, a way to do something that will help alleviate the unfortunate? Or help to benefit people {not necessarily just the poor - students, or science - as per the individual talent and capability}


Does my life have a meaning? A real meaning? If so, what is that meaning? This is as far as I have got in my thinking... till life, salary needs, KRAs, family intervenes, bringing me back to reality... this is a post written from my heart; so please ignore if it sounds a bit disjointed... this post is a mirror, a window into my heart, and my soul... 


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Book Review : God Is A Gamer


GOD IS A GAMER


BY RAVI BUBRAMANIAN


The king of the financial thriller is back... in full strength. Ravi Subramanian is an MBA from IIM by Education, and a banker by profession with nearly 2 decades of work experience in the field of Finance spanning some top financial houses. Ravi uses his extensive experience in the financial world to create some scary scenarios and plots, which seem very very real... The current book is yet another in the same lines, with its focus on the hot topic of the day - the elusive and indefinable world of bitcoins




THE PLOT


God Is A Gamer is based on four or five hot topics in the current times : Bitcoins, Shady side of ECommerce, Outsourcing & BPOs, Hacking & Security Concerns, Online Gaming, and ATM Frauds. He has very skillfully woven all of these into the basic storyline, and created a novel of sheer class. Given his banking expertise, the story is flawless; I have worked in financial field {albeit at a much lower level than Ravi} before and I at least could not spot any flaw.

The story is played out in two nations - The USA and India; and on three major entities - New York International Bank, eTios and its sister concern, and the FBI, with our CBI & Local Police in a supporting role. I am not going to give away the plot : figure out for yourselves how something as far apart as BPOs and Bitcoins can be connected into one; or read the book to find out more. { No, this is not repeat not a paid review; and I have spent the money from my pocket to purchase a book :) }! Let me just drop a hint : mixed up in all of this is a murder - more than one in fact; as well as political intrigue stretching across 2 nations. Another hint : it starts with two factors in 2 nations :  an ATM fraud in the USA, and an Online Gaming Company in India, which is trying to improve its games'  performance in the cyberworld. How does this connect? How does this involve murder? Read the book to find out more! Sorry! No hints from me! 



THE CHARACTERS


Aditya : He's back. The mentor of Swami and Sundeep; and one heck of a tough businessman. Excellent man-manager. Watch out, though. 

Swami : Straight as an arrow; smarter than most. Sad. 

Sundeep : Subdued, very subdued. And jealous. And Angry. 

Tanya : Wants blood as she loves her mom...

Malvika : ditched by one and all; CEO; anti Swami; and the Home Minister's... you never do know... wants the RBI top job

Matt : Class-A idiot, period. No brains, no guts, no knowledge. How this fool ever rose to the corner office is beyond me. Best suited to be a politician, or an asshole, or both

Adrian : tough, but humane. 360-degree thinker. 

Varun : Mystery man. Gaming Man. Son. Lover. Techie. Digital Marketing Ace. Not necessarily in that order.  


And many many more...



THE ANALYSIS


This is as near a flawless book as you are ever likely to find. While it delves into some relatively esoteric topics, the treatment is par excellence - the material is easy to grasp, and is presented in a simple language . The topics mentioned in the plot are central to the novel, and are presented in a fascinating explanatory style that takes nothing away from story, rather actually enhances the novel. 

The pace is decent - this is not a particularly fast-paced novel. Further, it weaves between India and the USA in alternate chapters. Having said that, the interleaving of location and sub-plot switches from one to the other is fabulously handled & is of a very high order. You do not lose the storyline in the constant changes from USA to India and back. 

The characterization is simply unbelievable; absolute best. The book reintroduces Swami, Aditya and Sundeep after a long time - and yet, the character treatment is flawless and in line with previous novels. This is, any way you look at  it, a tremendous achievement. As regards the others, the characterization is sufficient - just enough without being minimalist in any way. Characterization is an art - it has to be just right - too much detail {with respect to the base plot}, and you end up spoiling the show. This where the book scores : it establishes the character outline through reference, decisions and actions taken, building up a basic outline in your mind. It was a pleasure to note this in the book. 

There are no obvious  negatives - except one, which is a personal observation. Vulgarity, or sexual matter, seems a bit out-of-place in a couple of instances, which do nothing to take the story forward. In other places, they do contribute to the plot; but it has been overdone in one or two cases. Having said that, there is a complete absence of vulgar language. 

All  in all, I rate the book 5 stars out of 5. This book belongs in your collection...

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Book Review : The Garud Strikes by Mukul Deva



This book review is dedicated to the Indian Armed Forces, and its brave personnel, who sacrifice their all for our nation...




THE GARUD STRIKES

BY MAJOR MUKUL DEVA {Retd.}


The True Story Of The Officers and Men of The 4 Guards And Its Indomitable Commanding Officer - Lt Col Himmat Singh {later, Lt Gen Himmat Singh PVSM Retd}. The 4 Guards were among the first units to enter Dhaka during the 1971 war. This is their true story and history - told by the people who created the aforesaid history!


  • Lt Col Himmat Singh
  • Major V Uppal
  • Major Chandra Kant
  • Major S.P. Marwah
  • Major I. P. Kharbanda
  • Major A. S. Chouhan
  • Major V. K. Dewan
  • Captain Surinder Singh
  • 2nd Lieutenant B. B. Midha
  • Guardsman Nahar Singh
  • And many others... 

This is their story... embellished, teased out and filled out by the skill of Mukul Deva, himself an ex-Army Major...

The narrative is controlled by Major Mukul Deva {Retd}, and is a deeply moving and brutal account of the war as seen through the eyes of the men who fought it... this is a tour-de-force from the pen of the author, who is much better known for his fiction works. Well, this is a book that reveals a lot more about the man Mukul Deva, as well as  the retired Major. I guess it is true - you can take a man out of the Army, but you cannot take The Army out of a man...

The book is a very important contribution in the literature on Indian Wars - there are very few, with the only other mainstream book that I recall being Kargil penned by Gen VP Malik. This is a rather unfortunate reality, that there is a dearth of quality literature on our contemporary military history - a fact that is just plain indefensible! I shall explore that aspect more fully in a subsequent blogpost, so let us continue, for the moment, on our journey into the experiences of 4 Guards during 1971

The book focuses on the wartime exploits of one battalion - The 4 Guards, commanded by Lt Col Himmat Singh, an officer who subsequently rose to the rank of Lt Gen. It takes a unique approach - one which is laudable as well as exceptionally powerful. It tells the story through the memories of the soldiers who actually fought the war. The  plot is unfolded in a meeting of the war veterans, who reminisce about the sequence of events, interspersed with a normal story-telling style. The combination is powerful - it takes you into the trenches of the war, and into the minds of the soldiers. For the first time, you get a glimpse of the mind of a soldier as he rushed towards what may be certain death!

For the first time in my life at least, I have got a glimpse of what it takes for a man to go to war. For the first time, I get a glance into the mind  of a soldier. And this is done in what I can only call an extraordinarily adroit fashion, which takes nothing away from the pace of the story, and in fact adds to the story as well as helps in creating the right atmosphere. I have read other war books - Russian, and Western; but not one comes even remotely close to this one. Not even close. 

This is a story whose narrative is controlled by the author - but is told by the men who actually fought the war. This is a story of the war as it was fought, as it happened - not as a post-mortem, or a statement of historical events told in an impersonal manner. This is a first-person account, nostalgic yet racy and fast-paced, full of emotions, feelings, rage, honour, disgust and nostalgia all rolled into one. That is what makes this book a tour-de-force; the style adopted by the author has many, many advantages, a few of which have been mentioned above. The author lets his feelings, his  thoughts, his emotions and his analyses seep into the narrative in places, strategically chosen in the plot; these act as powerful punches that hit you straight in the gut, leaving you at a complete loss for words or response. 

Yet another factor that hits you - and hits you very, very, hard - is the blunt and factual telling of wartime wounds, deaths, killings etc in an unedited form, as is. At that time, you realise what war really is - unlike the other honour and glory-filled movies and books.  This is not a sunday morning walk through the park; this is war. Real war, brutally narrated in all its glory as well as gore. The justification for the war is also present; making it a complete picture. 

The difference in the two armies - our Indian Army and the Pakistani Army has been clearly brought out in a few telling episodes, and a few authors' thoughts. The stark difference in the two makes for chilling reading from the POV of  a civilian. For instance, sample this thought from the author, in the context of a short but graphic description of the brutalities carried out by the Pakistani Army in Bangladesh : 

"The anguish in his voice was raw to this day. I tried to visualise what he had described, and failed. My mind could not grasp such a reality. I tried to understand the pain and horror they must have experienced, but in vain. But then I correlated it with the news of the day, when Pakistani soldiers beheaded an Indian soldier, and I could easily see that the Pakistani Army had lost its soul a long time ago. This is not the way soldiers behave. Warriors the world over live by a code of conduct, and such animal behaviour is not part of it. There can be little hope for the nation when its Army {its pride and glory} stoops to such bestial behaviour"

The book is filled with such brutal indictments of the Pakistani Army, which are nearly impossible to refute. And yet, they are narrated in a manner that fail to ignite anger; only an indefinable sadness. The picture you get is of an amoral and soulless force without any link to human decency, as even recent events like the torture of Capt Kalia and his men bear testimony to. It also lays bare the hatred that the Pakistani Army has for India, as well as the fact that this is not a new post-1971 phenomenon. It lays bare in no uncertain terms what our India has been through - for no fault of ours. Just because we have a neighbour filled with rage and amorality!

This is a book that will shake you to the core of your existence with its powerful narrative, and force anyone with any notions of peace with Pakistan in the near future to face the reality that is the Pakistan Army, its animal instincts and inhuman behaviour, its lack of control and honour, and its soullessness. This is not something you will  find in other books, especially western books with their toned-down and one-sided narratives. 

Coming back to the narrative, this books helps you understand how India pulled of what the London Sunday Times called : "It took only 12 days for the Indian Army to smash its way to Dacca, an achievement reminiscent of the German Blitzkrieg across France in 1940. The strategy was the same : speed, ferocity and flexibility". Although this is not a story of the 1971 war, you get a fuller appreciation of how the Indian Army pulled off the impossible, through ingenuity, courage, leadership, camaraderie, raw guts and inhuman hard work. You understand this through the stunning exploits of this battalion during the war. It is a story of how Indians overcame the numerous shortcomings that faced them, and, with classic Indian ingenuity and bravery, achieved the impossible. For that is what is was : Impossible. 

Read this book to understand how The Indian Army made the impossible, possible. Read this book to understand the sky-high standards of honour, valour, integrity, decency and professionalism that define The Indian Armed Forces. Read this book to truly feel what they go through for us... and, in the epilogue, read to find out just how atrocious is our treatment of these heroes and their families... something documented only recently by NDTV as well, in another case!

But, most importantly, read this book to understand how The Indian Army made the impossible, possible

This is a book that can be the core of a superb war movie script...