Posted in Books

Sebastian & Sons – TM Krishna

First of all before I go into review let me caution:

I am not at all musical, music though brings me peace in whichever form: carnatic vocal or instrumental, bhajan or even filmy songs. Partial to latino foot-tapping beats hahaha! So I am hardly fit to review this masterpiece of TMK but as I have loads of time in my hands and I really want to review this book, I am doing just that here.

Anyway I keep playing music all 24 hours that when my hubby returns home from work, the moment I open the door when he presses the calling bell he tells me, ‘down the shutters of your Nair tea kadai please!’ so that’s how my playing music the whole day is viewed by my workaholic worst half who relaxes with Ilayaraja music. I think keeping open the Nair tea kadai is qualification enough for me to review this gem of a book (although prescisely it is this caste prejudice TMK is resisting)!

Lots of emotion and personal perspectives mixed in any review of mine.

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A woman/housewife/mother, many view me as sort of rebel but I found the best in the town in TMK. So very grounded, oozing with knowledge in and out, expert in his chosen vocation (vocal carnatic), his compassion for fellow humans and anguish at the apathy of the society for the inhuman ways some of us are treated initially took me by surprise (given his birth privilege). I haven’t identified empathy as one of the chief characteristic traits of most of my countrymen. I guess Hindu gene is defunct of this DNA. Not that I am unaware of the author’s past history. In such an young age, he has carved a niche for himself not only in the carnatic music world but also in social work (and media). I came across his posts in Twitter years back when I was there to read interesting tweets. Then I closed my account and lost touch.

But TMK, there is no need to self-deprecate yourself as you have done in the book. You are good enough. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Turning into a meat eater, denying this sense of repulsion in abattoir and confessing to not being moved by the death of a maker of Mrdangam, were not necessary. Unscientific? Says who? You surprise me with your forced meat option that I find frivolous. It is perfectly okay to feel squeamish in the literally bloody environ. You don’t have to become one of your subjects to talk or write about them. You can stay who you are, what you are without a compromise. Or do you think, only by embracing meat eating habits will you sound convincing.

I believe, the tormented atma of the killed cattle/goat still gets trapped in their skins that we use in leatherware. Same holds true of silk. A Jain friend told me. Then what is the use of being a vegetarian from birth. Given your background, I can’t believe you didn’t bat an eyelid when the animal went under the butcher’s knife in the abattoir. This is my only peeve against you. But in a way you seem to agree, with the atma staying residual in the leather skin. You wonder whether the animal comes to life through the vibrations/beats from the mridangam in a musical way.

Your talk of keratin and collagen really got me though! Makes me kind of sad. This lingo I am familiar with from my salon visits. To associate the terminology with butchered animal is shocking. The javvu you are talking about must be gelatin under the skin.

I am neither a voracious writer or reader, I am mostly into fictions even then. Rarely go for non-fictions. But I guess this time I picked gold. Local authors are always a delight. Their proficiency makes me proud that a son/daughter of the soil is coming up with something so very substantial. In case of your book, I guess this is one of a kind. That’s what made me go for it. With my layman acumen, I can still certify that this material could be thesis subject for PhD. What an in-depth on-field research and analysis, hands-on approach and complete know-how. I particularly loved your prose. Such a simple styling with effective use of language. No effort to glamorize your text with superlatives or hollow jingoism. Where is the need for such a window-dressing. Nothing cliched. Stark naked reality. So neat and precise and honest and profound from heart. Honesty. This kind of intellectual honesty is rare even in seasoned authors (in my half-baked knowledge).

I learned quite about Mrdangam, my favourite native percussion instrument. I have been like a blank sheet until now. Tabla and Tavil come close second. To mention that the book is informative is such an understatement. It is an encyclopedia not only on Mrdangam making but also on the makers of the most sacred percussion instrument of Hindus. Valandhalai, Toppi, Varu, Ul Sattai, Veli Sattai, Pinnal, Sadam, Kottu hahaha … various Thattu…. Never imagined so much complexities went into making this divine instrument that finds pride of place in Hindu temples and festivities. The skin part is common knowledge but the kind of expertise and manual work that goes into creation of the instrument really came like a bolt out of the blue. Never prepared for this bit of info. The wooden body of the Mridangam is a craft as well. The semi-mechanised process of turning out the shell is well illustrated. I did lose my way though through the maze of pull-heave-tug part of bringing the toppi and valandhalai together with the Kattai. When I emerged out, I felt dizzy but could appreciate what a fine work of art Mrdangam indeed is. The search for Kittankallu seems like an adventure. Your sense of humour comes through when you say the sadam part resembles idli with its concavity! Dig at the nightie being south Indian leissure wear is another point scored! Reference to C V Raman was punctuated with the erasure of the creator of the experimental mrdangam from the scene. This is what I would term ‘vaazhai pazhathla oosi etharadhu’ in your language.

I have a point to add here. The lingo lapses to chaste Tamil when it comes to Mrdangam terminology naturally. Is there a way this can be made adaptable to international readers. This can be a dampener to even other state readers. I am reading you on Kindle. I went through the glossary in the end. This list will not do. The book will go places and may be contending for serious national and international awards. While the local vocab may make it sound very realistic, too much of its usage without apt/spot translations can dispirit interested readers. But I have to give it to the author for making the work standout with this kind of vernacular approach, not trying to anglicize the book for wider audience. The tamil terms seem to reaffirm the solid and indisputable authenticity and nativity of the very instrument Mrdangam. My recommendation: go for a 100% Tamil edition. It will benefit even the makers on whose behalf you have taken up the cudgels. The reach will be up to grassroots level.

Neither have I given thought to the resonance of Mrdangam. I never knew the toppi part was reserved only for bass effect but after reading about it, it all rushes back to me from various concerts I have watched over years. Music to me is sweet pastime nothing more. More like an addiction. I have loved Drums Sivamani hahaha in the past! Hereafter NOOOOO !!! (Fine-tuning of the percussion instrument is no cakewalk as I get it now. Once again a thorough learning process when it comes to the nuances of the bass-beat-stroke emanating from the traditional percussion instrument that has evolved over decades to its present form. The finesse of a master’s stroke is the outcome of dozens of variables and components, permutations and combinations as you have shown.

There is a little confusion over how the author goes back and forth with the Thanjavur family tree names and the Madras Muttu makers. Establishing characters in mind and relating to them exactly is proving difficult. Then I spaced out reading the book so that I would remember everyone. Finally still I resigned to the fact of losing track and settled for mere identification with Thanjavur family by names. Parlandu and Selvaraj and Melgies and Antony and Soosainathan are like Rajni and Kamal to me now 😀 However, I don’t find such an instant kinship when it comes to the shell makers such as Somu Asari. The skin workers are the ones who move me. To me they seem to be doing the actual work.

You could have added one more index detailing Mrdangam parts for the benefit of those who have no inkling on the subject. The local Tamils who are on familiar terrain may get along. However, non Tamil/international readers can do with a good illustration of Mridangam with parts neatly earmarked. I didn’t find one such in the Kindle edition. Let me recheck.

Having been born and brought up in Mylapore, I was shocked to learn there are still avenues that I never knew existed! Appar samy kovil street for one. It is in the northern end of Mylapore so I may have missed much about it (i have known it), coming from southern Mylapore closer to Mandaveli. Plus I was put off by your spelling for my fave deity of Mylapore. She is Mundagakanni Amma, please correct it in your next edition.

Neither have I given thought to those living in the fringes. May be being on the spot gives you access to something not visible to most of the general janata. Still, unless you have a big, big heart and sheer will to go about it, you just can’t be doing it. What it takes to think the way you did, pour down your heartfelt thoughts into words and bind everything into this volume – i feel difficult to imagine. I am lost for words. Caste buried the dignity of labour sadly. Its one of the cruelest offences that can be committed by humanity – this denial of dignity and respect to fellow humans. No apologies can mend it in a 1000 years.

Kudos to the author for bringing to light the extensive and backbreaking backend work that is never known to the outside world. Commendable. Where credit is due, it has to be accorded. We cannot snatch others’ glory just like that trivializing their contribution to anything majestic as mrdangam. Such a shame! This story needs to be told, no doubt. Someone has to do it, and it is puzzling why none took the initiative until now. The human aspect of the any good work needs to be not only recorded to posterity but also be retold and appreciated. The glaring insensitivity in some of us is deplorable.

But the reason for such a work not making it to public sphere so far is guessable. This is greasy work. Not many have appetite for what the author has managed to pile forth. Standing ovation for the meticulous research and untiring efforts and zeal and enthusiasm to tell the story in the first place. How did such an idea even germinate ??? What an inspiring read! At times, your simple but profound words that pack truth brought tears to my eyes. Like how you relate the makers shrugging off mistreatment, taking disrespect in their stride. When dignity is stamped over for generations with such a brutality and souls get tired and bruised, this has to happen right? Passive aggression. This can be killing.

The gender bias is covered nicely with the Kappi and Kuchchi distinction. News to me again but no surprise. Mridangam has held forte in entire south. The Vizhianagaram, Bangalore and Peruvemba angles open fresh vistas that might otherwise have remained unknown to most of us. The snide gender remarks are there from bank jobs to stage kutcheries. Kerala work being neat is on expected lines as well. Same holds for enterprising Keralite women.

But TMK must have ruffled the feathers of some stalwart mrdangists who may or may not be around. Naming and shaming somehow I am never comfortable with. I agree there is no shaming but naming is damaging enough. I concede there is no other way out. Still, one has to be real brave to mention names. The book might not be going down well with everyone connected to Carnatic. You threw caution to the winds TMK! I am proud of you yet concerned at what you have done to yourself. You are already an outcast. No bother I know. Still.

But you did go on to highlight the geniuses of the mrdangam artists if that can count as any solace for them. Hope Palghat Mani Iyer and Palani Subramanya Pillai are not turning in their graves! You have brought to life Parlandu in such a vivid manner that I want to go see him and shake his hands!

It is interesting to read anyway about generations of musicians of Tamil Nadu. How the music culture was cultivated and bred. No surprises about Thanjavur being the epicenter of classical carnatic. Spellbound by the intricate details and versatility of the carnatic music. I wish there had been no collateral damage when it came to Carnatic achieving this supreme greatness in world music arena though. After viewing You tube uploads of the author, I can understand why he is up in arms against classical status conferred to carnatic. To him social justice about EVERYTHING matters. Street art is equally worthy and appreciable which I can’t deny. I loved TMK’s Narayanaguru renditions and the Ashoka inscriptions being brought to life with carnatic. A contribution to society like none other. One of a kind. Road less traveled. TMK seems to back up his genius authoring with real life music.

Was there so much casteism in Mylapore. I am not sure on this. I agree the middle level non brahminical communities were the worst perpetrators and practitioners of divisiveness among us. Even in present times, who is committing honour killings in Tamil Nadu. In friends’ circle they call me ‘lady kamalahasan (actually I don’t see eye to eye with Kamal at all in many issues) so I have toned down a lot of my usual rhetoric. One reason for leaving Twitter is that. As a woman, i found that it is easy to be threatened. (Now I think I have a new ‘naam ke vaaste’ kind of twitter account).

To hold your pen and author such a heart-tugging tale, you have to be blessed and gifted … is all I can say. At the end of the day I am just a housewife with too much free time in my hands, what else. My words may mean nothing to you. Never has someone left such an impact on the way I think. I guess I have been somewhat right all along when it comes to certain social issues.

I look forward to reading more of this author.

Salvation truly lies in this. How many will agree with me. This book is true Nirvana with its sincere attempt to restore dignity to those who are denied that, and respect and credit to truly where this may be overdue.

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PS: Where is that villa in Goa 😀

Posted in Books

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

Ken Follett has done it again. This is the last time I am reading this arrogant haughty fellow. Lost all respect for him. I doubted he must be racial for the way he wrote about World war II painting the US and allies like saints and trivializing the Hiroshima Nagasaki bombing in Japan by the US (Winter of the world). Such a fellow can never be trusted, I must have known.

For someone who glorified the democracies and villainified communism, it is therefore natural not to write a page about how the USSR remained a reason for PM Indira Gandhi to crush the nefarious designs of Nixon and Kissinger who sided and plotted with Pakistan. Mrs. Gandhi taught the duo the lesson they never forgot in life. Mrs Gandhi was there lot before Margaret Thatcher became UK’s PM. She bifurcated Pakistan into two and created Bangladesh out of the eastern half. The terror supporting elected governments of the US always favoured Pakistan over India that remained neutral (as a non-aligned nation at least officially). The looming threat of USSR which was India’s ally thwarted any US mischief from fighting/invading India on behalf of/along with Pakistan.

What kind of author is this man who seems to be suffering from selective amnesia for the only reason that he wants to show only US/West in good light. He underplays the work done by communists and overplays the democracy card (read America). Communism has had its advantage. Indian state of Kerala is a standing example. China, even if India’s dire adversary, has developed uniformly because of communist principles only. Is democracy a panacea for all. Capitalists are bloodsucking leeches basically. They are no better than communists who are the polar opposite.

This Follett fellow must write about the British atrocities as well if he is so bent on writing from pages of history. How about starting with Jallian Walah Bagh. Queen Elizabeth shamelessly sports the Kohinoor diamond stolen from India. If UK is to be stripped off all the stolen wealth from native people and nations some day, then they will go bankrupt before sundown. Gives me ample satisfaction that the Pakistanis are now taking over the UK. Soon England will become the first ever caliphate of Europe. Serves them right.

Day is not for when all Brits will be on welfare. Karma is best served cold. Asians are ruling the roost everywhere. We need no certification from these racist fellows. How many native human races/aborigines as well as wildlife these Brits have rendered extinct. Ethnic cleansing.

There wasn’t an iota of sympathy in the book for the blacks – it is mere superficial and inaccurate recording of events. It is a coincidence that the Black Lives Matter movement is gaining momentum now, with Trump losing the US elections. Follett’s racial reference to Saudi diplomat referring to Indian servant is deliberate racial slight.

US invading smaller nations is open secret. How many countries destroyed. How many economies devastated. How many societies plundered for gain. All in the name of Democracy I hope? Who made with the oil and gas in Iraq or Syria. Who stands to gain from fallen nations. UK is the main ally note.

DON’T READ. DON’T WASTE A PENNY ON KEN FOLLETT. How he even saves the face of Germans from Nazi era portraying them as decent (Franck) family! Sickening. This guy is not bothered about values. He is only for making money. He will touch any low.

India is now a heaven for good writing including in English language. Such a rich literary culture we have. Soft power that never lived sucking others’ blood and making a living on the grave of native races. Proudly an Indian, proudly a Hindu. Churchill was No.1 scoundrel who bled nations and shamelessly built his country stealing from hapless defenceless Asian African nations. And if this Churchill is portrayed as kind of hero in UK, then we will have scum like Follett only, what else.

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I was not even in standard 5 (in 1970s) when I heard my granny and my mom discuss Kennedy’s assassination (which happened before my birth). My granny read the Warren report. She was born in 1926. Our relative took our copy and never returned.

One more snippet from such an innocent pre-teen age. My granny told me, Jackie Kennedy threw her wedding ring into Kennedy’s grave which meant she ought not to have (re)married Onassis! My god, she (my granny) hardly studied upto third standard! Years later may be in 1990s, there was a news in local media that one of the Kennedy children and Jackie happened to live anonymously at Mahabalipuram near Chennai in a seaside villa. After an year or a couple of years they were found out when they flew back to US. This is unconfirmed report. I don’t know how my brain has retained this kind of information from my very young years to this day! Especially such very specific details!

My political interest i owe therefore entirely to my granny. She read both the Hindu (English paper) and the Tamil newspaper Dina Thanthi every single day. She showed me once a photo and lead story in Tamil newspaper and told me about Bhutto’s hanging. That was the first time I heard about Pakistan/started taking note of Pakistan. My granny told me Zia hung Bhutto.

My little women! My granny and my mom were very intelligent, sharp women. I take immense pride in that, my mom was working in 1965-66 a good half century ago. Very strong unflinching character. The kind of info they processed and the books they read! Clearly women in sari donning a bindi in forehead are not as naive as some fools in the west think. Yet our women were very homely and devoted to family.

In 1999-91 I was doing my masters in Econometrics in Madras University (final year) after graduating with a degree in Maths in 1989. So my economics knowledge was not too great but I tried best to learn. With Math background, economics was like greek and latin to me.

What I cannot forget from my PG days is the visit to my department by a professor from University of Kiev, Ukraine. He was on a tour of India and for his last leg, he was visiting Madras. He spoke to us for 2 hrs. In 1990/91, India was not even in globalization phase. Yet, even I remember how rich India was. The professor told our class, he was bedazzled by the kind of foodstuff (vegetables, fruits), spices, handicrafts, wealth (gold, silks etc) and merchandise that India boasted. All local made. No shortages, no queues anywhere. He did tell us how they in USSR had to stand in queue for even buying their daily bread which was their staple food. He couldn’t believe that India was portrayed a poor country in USSR or elsewhere in the west including in Europe. On contrary he found that everything was in abundance in India. He said, he just couldn’t have enough of India. He saw big hoardings of the Hindi film “Brashtachchar’ starring Rajnikanth in the metros and asked the hosts the meaning for the title of the film. When he was told the meaning was ‘corruption’ he couldn’t believe Indians had this kind of liberty to make film on govt corruption to be screened for masses. He was moved relating this story to us. He said he was shopping at Raymonds, shopped for all things made in India, crafts, silver, whatever. He was dumbfounded by the quality of merchandise, the textiles, the spirit of India, the magnetism and spirituality of the Hindu dharma.

This professor came visiting to lecture us on communism and Russian model economy but he found that India had a robust mixed economy from grassroots level. He said he was taking back home lessons from India. From India model.

He also told us about Gorbachev who was their president then. I vaguely remember the words Perestroika and Glasnost from newspapers in those years. He asked us whether we knew about it all. It amazes me only now that we had firsthand information on the Balkanization of the Soviet Union right from the horse’s mouth. Perfect timing. Right then, I must say I did not appreciate that I was one of a kind of witness that day to history unfolding in our very times, in front of our very eyes. My department was lukewarm but hopefully the story in Delhi campuses was different. In that age when information was not spread like wildfire, we were aware of only the bringing down of the Berlin wall, not much else. Besides, India is always consumed first by our own domestic events and happenings. A lot was happening with Rajiv Gandhi gearing back for midterm elections. My personal life went for a toss. Last on my agenda was interest on Soviet Union matters. The Kiev professor said soon Ukraine would be a free independent nation. But he also was concerned about those like Lithuania, Estonia etc., that he doubted may not be faring well without help from Russia. Despite myself I enjoyed the long interactive session although we were all being lulled to our inevitable daily dose of afternoon siesta. Our classroom faced the Bay of Bengal and the gentle sea breeze was blowing sweet.

After the Ukranian left, the cold war came to an end and the USSR broke up into handful of independent nations that started looking towards west.

I was thinking about this professor whose name I cannot recall as I toured Georgia and also Azerbaijan in last 3 years that look like poorer cousins of European countries. I had a firsthand view of the Russian infrastructure that looked perfectly fine to me.

As far as I am concerned, these breakaway nations from the erstwhile USSR are not yet commercialized or corrupted because, they were under the protective wings of Russia. Even if supposedly human rights may have been stifled by the Russians, the kind of REAL development we have in these countries is astonishing. Marvelous. My husband is an engineer by profession and he has decades of rich experience in industrial engineering including in O&G, expressways with flyovers and underpasses, even reservoirs. I value his views therefore. I loved even the soviet cabs. They were roomy and unlike anything you might ever have seen in US or Europe or Middle East or India. Automobile engineering of a different but sophisticated kind. Highways are another league no way inferior to US. All other European nations (that i have toured) are like beggar nations really compared to the truly wealthy Georgia and Azerbaijan that are rich in mineral resources, nature and beauty not yet corrupted or stolen by the greedy west. Rivers are lush. Population is less. No absolute poverty. Ideal and idyllic lifestyle. If given an option, I would rather choose to live in Georgia over Switzerland or Austria! Simple but heartwarming peasant lifestyle still with a good standard of living. Hundreds of Indian medical aspirants attend universities in Georgia. I hope these breakaway Soviet nations remain cautious and don’t let their guards down. Let it not be the case of frying pan to fire. Azerbaijan highways omg! Totally a different level of engineering and technology including when it comes to oil & gas! Georgian wine! Even food is native not confined to mere burgers and fries. The west is fake. Dear Soviet block nations, do not trust America or UK. Never.

Our Georgian cab driver presented us with a big bottle of home brewn red wine from his cellar. As we were flying back to Doha where we could not bring liquor, we polished off every drop right there in Georgia! I relished the vegetarian Georgian cuisine that was so authentic, and their homemade energy bars with local dryfruits and nuts. Unforgettable holiday! Cheap and best! Highly recommend! Georgian villages were charming. The leeside of the Ural mountains is awesome. This country is underexplored and not high on tourist radar. Do it before it becomes one more sore tourist spot. Slightly affluent Azerbaijan is dangerously inclined towards Iran which is not healthy. So far so good, but we have to wait and watch. Big bro Russia kept everyone in check no doubt.

Dear Georgia and Azerbaijan, kick capitalist trademarks Marks & Spencers, Burger King etc., out of your nations and close your doors to the west even if you do not want to be with Russia. These are no saints but wolves in sheep clothing. You will be fine on your own. Don’t be in a hurry to sell yourselves to US for peanuts.

Posted in Books

Review: ‘Gandhi Before India’ by Ramachandra Guha

Making of the ‘Mahatma’

Took me a solid 45 days to 2 months to read up Ramachandra Guha’s ‘Gandhi Before India.’  The author has taught at Yale, Stanford, Oslo and also the London School of Economics. Winner of Sahitya Academy and Bharat Bhushan awards in India among others, featured in Prospect magazine’s list of world’s most influential thinkers, it is a tad too much for me to even attempt reviewing the outstanding work the book is.  If at all I am doing it, it is because I want to spread the word, make more people read the class writing of the author that befits the matchless and inimical social life and works of Mahatma Gandhi.  I am trying my hand at non-fictions only from very recently. They are kind of difficult to hold your interest – so the author has a huge responsibility of sustaining the flow in readers (like me who are bred on staple diet of English fictions).

And most certainly I have not read up the ‘Collected Works’ of Gandhi which is a compilation from various archives in India, South Africa and England. Neither have I read Raj Mohan Gandhi,  one of Gandhi’s well known biographers and his grandson. Yet I can imagine the extent to which Mr. Guha pushed  himself with research to dig up archives ranging from as far as Haifa in Israel unearthing evidences that eluded other resourceful eyes, I bow to his brilliant professionalism first over even Gandhi!

Such an accurate recording of history is of great relevance in today’s world of Donald Trumps, in the light of Paris and Brussels from recent times. Another category that must not miss the detailed study is the widespread Indian diaspora that has made every nook and corner of the globe their home. The NRIs need to know how they came to earn their respect in their adopted  homelands on fair and equal footing with the white races and how and where and why the story began. Last but not the least is India’s younger generation who have lost touch with anything concerning Independence movement. The trails have turned cold now and there is nothing by way of inspiration to motivate them ahead. Highschoolers get to learn bare outlines in history text books which is insufficient in my opinion. This hardly does any proper justice. I for once until now never knew Gandhi the way I do now. I have come to know what we are missing.

Schools can stock Mr. Guha’s book in library. Or if I am the Education minister, I would like to make it a part of the curriculum – the Non-detailed English subject.

The book traces Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s early life in South Africa which constitutes the part I of his social life nonetheless. The India part is clearly like an after-thought. Gandhi was already an established social activist in South Africa before he returned to India for good in 1914. A barrister by profession who graduated at the Inner Circle of London, his first broad based association is with the Vegetarian Society in London where he pursues a degree to become attorney-at-law. A chance offer to represent a Gujarati Muslim client in South Africa in a court battle takes him to the African nation where he spends a good 20 years of his life, his 30s and 40s, starting his profession as the first qualified lawyer representing the Indian community in the continent.

As the book unravels, it is impossible to dismiss the conclusion how South Africa shapes the Mahatma like India could never have. From Porbandur to Rajkot and Mumbai and London to Durban and Johannesburg, Gandhi turns out to be a well-traveled and enlightened man, not confined to the narrow spectrum of castes and regional prejudices of India of a bygone era. The peculiar circumstances Gandhi is thrown in, the expat Indian melodrama which is fairly new in foreign soil, friendship with foreigners of varied hue from different backgrounds, his firsthand experiences with the proletariat classes, the trader community and others alike, his correspondence with Tolstoy who sufficiently influences his thought process…  all chisel a young lawyer intent on building a lucrative legal practice on alien soil into one of world’s foremost social reformers of the century. The books he reads, the health practices he preaches, the strict code and ethics of life he adheres to, the editor he is of a press over a 100 years back, the quiet but persistent rebel  yet just and fair he metamorphoses into, Gandhi rides many horses as the author rightly words.

Gandhi’s published book(s) in English and Gujarathi ‘The Home Rule’ and ‘Hind Swaraj’ make him one of India’s foremost established and well-read writers. His editing and publishing of ‘Indian Opinion’ from late 1800s in South Africa again makes him a pioneer in print-media, for ahead of his contemporaries easily. His writing style (as evidenced from his published letters quote unquote Mr. Guha) is fluent and classy and flawless.  There is a slight subordination which irritates the 21st century Indian Me when Gandhi addresses his British administrators. May be the deference has to do with protocol he couldn’t do without but it could also be because Gandhi strikes you basically as a very earnest man who wants to solve issues rather than complicate them. As the book flows, we can summarize how Gandhi wants to avoid controversies, make peace, is willing to go submissive and yield, is averse to treading confrontational paths.

It is in South Africa Gandhi spearheads the ‘Satyagraha’ or ‘Passive Resistance’ movement for the first time in 1907 as the local government gets tough with immigrant population like Indians and coloureds. When Gandhi coins the word, he is still unaware of the Passive Resistance spoken of by Henry Thoreau. The Transvaal Indians unwittingly become the first Satyagrahis in south African/Indian/world history.

Thereafter Gandhi carries forward the nonviolent struggle with the help of a host of Indians of all castes and creed as well some Europeans especially Jewish friends like Henry Polak and family, Kallenbach, Sonja Shlesin, Doke and others. Among Indians he interacts with Tamils, Gujarathis, Parsis, Muslims, Christians and others in the same wavelength. The exposure educates him on the plurality and melting pot that India is which is a reason for his pan-India approach to things (to come later).

The South African odyssey is not easy in that the Satyagrahis who are plantation workers to traders and housewives, all Indians come together irrespective of their ethnic background, to seek voluntary arrest and throw themselves into gaols to shame their cruel administrators into submission.

Gandhi is an exceptional leader in that he practices what he preaches. The way his sons court arrest and difficult times he gives his family and his wife in particular sheds light into the kind of selfless man who is born to lead.

I have always wondered about his ‘brahmacharya’ and the books seems to dwell on a few points for me to dispel certain doubts. In fact the book enables me to even understand WHY MODI?

After prolonged struggle that stretches the Indian community’s mental strength and economic ability, Gandhi is able to successfully secure a repeal of the draconic Asiatic Law by General Smuts that which enforced a $3 tax on Indians and made the Asian weddings null and void.

During the entire course of time, the original and majority inhabitants of South Africa, the blacks, seem to have been brushed under the carpet not merely by the British-Boers but also by expat Indian community including their leader Gandhi. The leader of the Indian masses in South Africa belatedly gives them the due recognition which the author smartly records into his writing (fair enough). John Dube and other African leaders do not seem to be chummy with Gandhi like the way some Europeans seem to have managed to.

Indian history makes a mention of Dadabai Naoroji, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and his mentor Ranade along with V D Savarkar, but we never knew who to place where. Thanks for the clarifications, Mr. Guha! There is a Ranade library in Luz, Mylapore and I was aware Ranade was a freedom fighter but never pushed myself to learn  who he was.

The other real life characters like Raichand Bhai, Pranjeevan Metha, Parsee Rustomjee, Thambi Naidoo etc., have also been suitably highlighted by the author. You bet this is the first time I have heard of them.

Interesting to find a mention of Dr. Annie Besant of Home Rule movement in India after whom Besant Nagar is named in Chennai with its beautiful beach stretch. J. Krishnamurthy is also a thinker and philosopher many of us follow until today. Thanks for shedding some light on the Theosophical Society of Madras, Mr. Guha.

India owes a lot to the Tata name but it comes as a surprise that (the senior) Ratan Tata was already a great contributing figure to India’s glory and a philanthropist   The story continues to date. The Ambanis and Adanis of today can draw a lesson or two from the Tata values.

Most of us Tamils grow up underrating ourselves for not doing enough for the nation – be it during the independence struggle or even in securing and safeguarding the Indian nation in present times by way of impressive enrollment in our armed forces. For the first time, I feel better on learning of the Tamil involvement in south African struggles even if we are generally aware of the Tamil interest in African soil.

Tamil diaspora is spread around the world thanks to the British who took the able-bodied Tamils of South India along with the Chinese and planted them as indentured labour in not just South Africa but also in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Mauritius etc. Today’s ethnic issue in Sri Lanka is a direct result of this thoughtless act. While granting independence to the island nation of Sri Lanka, the British discounted the Tamils who had made Sri Lanka their home for over 2 centuries as ‘minorities’ who were reduced to fighting for their voting rights on the departure of the whitemen.

The circumstances are similar in Malaysia with the exception that Malaysian Indians (predominantly Tamil) have a healthy company in (mainland) Chinese who were brought to the south east Asian nation to work in tin mines when the Indian labourers were working the rubber plantations. The British administered the same ‘divide and rule’ policy as in India and Sri Lanka and Malaysia is simmering even today thanks to the mischief. Leong Quinn of China is the Chinese face of the south African Asiatic struggle. After Gandhi returns to India, the nation and China take to two different paths to affirming their political and social status in emerging world scenario.

Neither of the two have it easy though.

Fortunately it is not India or China or Malaysia or Sri Lanka that the occupiers wanted to make their home. It’s unfortunately Africa that was geographically in the temperate zone and not in hot and sultry tropics like Asia did. For the same reason, the Americas became their next home where (native) Indians turned out to be lame ducks like African tribes in the Dark continent.

What bothers is, Gandhi never seeks equal footing for Indians with Europeans in anything in South Africa. Given the point of time, probably this was a pragmatic approach by him that satisfied every quarter and let peace prevail. But the infinite patience he suggests for waiver of $3 tax on Indians following protocols via councils and cabinets makes us wonder whether the same virtue is also Gandhi’s Achille’s Heel. To those of us Gandhi critics who grew up skeptical of his ways, it sounds so not without a justifiable reason.

The self-interest of the British is amazing. What a greed. They have had a jumpstart in a visa-free era but were still shrewd enough to put one into practice when it came to immigration to their own native lands. What we see in France or Belgium today is not even 1% of what the Europeans did to the natives of Asia and Africa and even Americas over centuries when we had no wifi internet to telecast the ethnic cleansings live 24 hours.

Being a Hindu thus places you in a neutral position – of not belonging to either of the Abrahamic faiths that are both anathema to the ancient Bharatiya culture of India spanning over 10,000 years.  Gandhi was blessed with the rare ability of seeing only the good thing in others but the doctrine of his won’t see us through 21st century if we are to close our eyes to injustices and imbalances of the present day.

The book is an exceptional read that not merely Indians but also scholars worldwide must make a point to assimilate and meditate upon, it is also a treasure-house of information on the Father of the Nation that even his ‘Collected Works’ is reported  to have missed (by way of some important mails, etc).

Good research Mr. Guha. Like Gandhi, you are also a skillful writer though I cannot say the same about your speeches that I have listened to in You Tube ! Excellent indexing of the proofs (mails), newspaper clippings and other correspondence, hats off to you for the depths you have plunged to extract valuable information. There is not an extra word and every claim of yours is appropriately validated with a documentary evidence thereof. There is virtually no page turning without citations here or there, referenced by books, quotes, newspapers, photos pertaining to the era.

I shall be passing on the book to my son Mr. Guha – although I am not sure if he will have the ‘housewife’s patience’ that I so freely and readily nurture!

As a concluding note I can say, there is no statesmanship without personal suffering and sacrifice, without the gift of patience and perseverance. In times of one-man-up-ship with regards to armaments and defence strategies and technological feat and material well-being, the book on Mahatma Gandhi reiterates and reserves the primitive rights of natives to scoff at the so-called civilization which does not measure more than westernization.  Unlearning certain modern day methods will go a long way in restoring long lost peace in the world. 200 years later and 100 years after Gandhi preached simple and basal way of life, things have changed to beyond redemption levels but there are checks we can introduce in places to make the world a better place to live in.