Posted in Books

Review: Points of Entry – Nadeem Farooq Paracha.

Well, I am just done with this one, I took all the time I could to read it because I live with my books for days. If I finish a book too fast, I forget it fast. To let a book seep deep into my psyche I read it ever slow. That way I retain its pages and memories for days and months to come. Over time you forget details, but slow-reading helps keep what you read fresher in mind and for longer.

This is my second book by the author. Frankly the first one to me sounded amateurish. Understandable, as the author was stepping onto new tarmac, writing books. But I have been reading the columns by the author for long, may be some 10-12 years now, that I have developed or acquired a taste for this style of writing. What made me come back for more in those days was the political satire and trademark sarcasm. I never expected such a firebrand from our neighbours who I always imagined to be dour and boring lacking inspiration and mirth!!!

So from journalism to authoring on research is a natural progression I guess. I think in my mind, I gave nicknames to the author in his prime blogging days: postmortem specialist (!) (for the way he analyzed matters throwing everything threadbare especially about Cricket). His blogs were winding!

But I would like to now commend the author for keeping the book short and sweet. Just the right volume, crisp writing and good finishes. Nice correlation to the subject or theme of the book. Different approach.

The language is an awow! I love the prose, the flow, the grammar, the idioms and phrases, the metaphors, the simile or whatever! In fact I try to copy from the author (i am amateur and very private blogger)! In my early blogging days, the author was my psychological guru (of which he may have had no idea)! Anyway, who am I here to review any book. Just a housewife me past my prime with too much time in hands. But books take my mind off a lot of matters and give me a strange sense of peace. And this is one of a kind.

As for the book, I guess the author has come of age. May be this is his third? So what did I miss. I read the first in my kindle. This one I got as hardcover edition in India.

Normally I don’t subscribe to Pakistani views (!) in many matters because, there is this conflict of interest in anything of India-Pakistan nature. But the author is neutral kind of. Rational. This I have inferred over years reading him. I think I can go with him.

I like the lucid prose as I said. I like the precise narration interspersed with personal touches here and there to the right measure to add spice and credence to the story. Here is one window into contemporary Pakistan history and culture on broader spectrum. May be a bit unofficial, if I must add. The author could have drafted the volume in more official form editing parts, had he wished to make it a text book for young Pakistanis in near or far future. How about building this aspect into future works? This can do for a nice non-detailed read for English literature (and not history) for standard 11 & 12 in my opinion. Or even class 9 and 10. I mean, by Indian standards. I would want the drug details to be edited. And I would ask for more specifics.

My particular love is Indus Raga. Indus raga is the raag called Sindhu Bhairavi literally in classical Hindustani/Carnatic, the native or traditional music of India. It is also a raag very close to my heart. I liked the sync the author made with the chapter and the raga that took the name of the magnificent Sindhu nadhi, albeit unwittingly. Anyway loved the sindhu folk music and thanks a ton for the reproduction of the verses. Of particular interest was also the entry from the west on Pakistan pop and sufi pop in specific. This one authentic Pakistan music/art form has millions of followers from India and I am one among them even if I am not as knowledgeable. If I can have a say on this matter, I would like Pakistanis to master the Hindustani classical. The old doyens must have done that, but the current crop may not be keeping up with the classical. You will lose the sound base when you don’t take care of the foundations, in my opinion. Western music is totally a different scene. And dear author, don’t call it eastern music please. Have a heart and courage and intellectual honesty to call Hindustani classical by its name. You have every right to stake a claim in undivided India’s Hindu cultural past. You cannot write Pakistan history without mentioning India. You are Pakistan only from 1947. For 4000 years you were India and for 3000 years or even 3800 years you were Hindu. You are muslim and Pakistani only for a decimal fraction of Hindu Indian history. Of course, this is the point the author has been trying to score in his entire book. And unlike southern India, what constitutes Pakistan was prone to multiple foreign invasions. Has it ever struck any Pakistani that, had the British been like the mugals spreading faith by sword, they would all be christians today?! You can ask the Filipinos. They were muslims first, but with Spanish conquest, they converted from Islam to Christianity. 200 years or so of being muslim and then becoming fanatical christians. Yes, this is also history. This is the history of the vanquished. Now there are no pious catholics like our filipino brothers and sisters. Soon they will grace the world with a pope!

My favourite Pakistan pop was Junoon that I was crazy about in my Malaysian days. Not a day went without listening to them. I love the deepthroated base voice of the Pakistani male vocalists.

I wish I can visit Mohenjo Daro someday. Otherwise I have to satisfy myself only with the Bollywood flick with our desi Hrithik Roshan hahaha! King Porus was actually the Hindu king Purushotham who Alexander defeated. A word here. I had this ‘de javu’ reading the book as the content sounded familiar to me from the author’s columns in their national newspaper.

The book is an insider view of Pakistan in 1980s. My first memory of Pakistan was about Bhutto hanging. It was in the Tamil daily ‘Dhina Thanthi’ and even ‘the Hindu’ I guess, that my granny read aloud. That was the first time I heard the name or word called Pakistan. I don’t remember the year. I remember my parents discuss this though I cannot recall the finer details. I do recall the fireworks going up in my neighbourhood when the Zia plane crash news was out. I too jumped up and down with friends in celebration! I think we friends assembled in our terrace celebrating the demise of the monster. The last moving news was Benazzir’s assassination which felt as worse as Rajiv’s. I am not lying when I say whole of India wept for her. We did mourn her in our holiday resort for the year end. It spoilt our picnic mood. It was a moment to reckon for me and most of us in India the way the shock permeated us. At that time, we felt a connection. But why should that happen with a tragedy of such mammoth proportions. Why can’t we just be friends.

To my knowledge, Indians in general see Pakistanis like siblings in spite of cultural differences. India is naturally protective about the entire Indian subcontinent and we may feel responsible for the SAARC nations. You will understand this only when you are Indian by birth. For us the other five to six nations carved out of one landmass Bharat Varsha – Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka will always stay Bharat or extension of Bharat. But gladly there is no India anti-thesis in this book. I am weary of Pakistani writing for this one thing. They all implicate India in some manner for something. It was a relief reading the book with no reference to India mostly. Not even the Nazia-Zoheb connection to India through Qurbani made it to the book. That is very thoughtful on part of the author. Nazia Hassan was my mother’s favourite before she passed away in 1982. I could sing Nazia’s and Runa Leila’s in that year in the generally non-Hindi speaking Tamil Nadu procuring cassettes. This demonstrates the reach of Pakistan pop in India.

What is my general take on reading the book and on Pakistan: you need to work a lot more hahaha! I do sometimes find the flair missing, please don’t get me wrong; I mean, the flair is missing about the nation. I find this in amateur video edits, news bulletins, etc., where I find the finishing not upto the mark. I find the professionalism lacking. I find the same issue with Pakistan produce that I come across in middle east. The packaging and even the substance leave a lot to be desired. I can’t pinpoint reasons. May be there aren’t many motivational heroes. Inspiring personalities. See, it is not about the size or ethnicity of a nation. You must have that spark. If you don’t have it, light one up.

I may not have traveled as widely as the author but I am also an NRI (non resident Indian) on and off for over a quarter century. We meet Pakistanis in our everyday life in the middle-east. Our men work together in the same professions. Generally we are polite and civil towards each other. North Indians especially enjoy such a bonhomie with Pakistanis as they speak the same language and even share similar cuisine. Every time I pick a Pakistani produce such as fresh green peas or green tea or a kurti, I think of the Pakistani farmers and not of Musharraf or Kashmir or the nuclear missiles or even Modi! I see Pakistanis buy lots of Indian stuff. There is presence of Indian manufacture and even Indian automobiles in middle east, but never have I come across a made-in-Pakistan industrial product. Brand building is not an easy exercise. India did not have it cheap or easy.

Traveling does open avenues of your mind. But the essence of you always stays with you wherever you may go. I agree with the author that their economy is in doldrums, far worse than Indian. I have heard of widespread corruption putting even India to shame! But the pot cannot call the kettle black. So I stop here!

The book is a breezy read – like even a coffee table book. Refreshing perspectives. Is it too much to have expected pictures?

Its okay, enjoy being called an Indian, buddy! I am happy you are mistaken for one! You are after all Nadeem = mitr = mitwa = dost = snehidhan(e) !

Posted in Books

Dear Jeffrey Archer.

Dear Jeffrey Archer,

You are one of my hot favourites. But I am disappointed this time in you for having included a cheap Bollywood episode in your work ‘Cometh the hour.’ I have not yet finished the book. I have enjoyed all the sequels so far. I love your simple language. I guess I have read all your fictions and even nonfictions and short stories to date. Only thing I can’t help observing is that, I sense you are a bit nostalgic about what we may call the British Raj days when there went a saying, ‘the sun never sets in the British empire’ – from the way you glorify that age which is rightly befitting too. Well, the Great Britain you so vividly write about is now a spent force as you know. I haven’t so far toured UK but I would like to once the covid surges run low. The adventurous and analyzing spirit of the English is still something I admire. How the British surveyed and mapped every square inch of Indian geography and drew up our census cataloguing every single of the diverse Hindu community is a stupendous task undoable today. I don’t want to go into British conquests in India or wherever. They may have hunted down our wildlife, with some exotic species driven to even extinction, yet their contribution to identifying our flora and fauna is another area that is unparalleled. They even dug up our oldest manuscripts for us and scriptures and archeological sites. To some of us like me, the British were godsent unlike the Moguls who ravaged India. But even the moguls I view these days as the necessary antidote to wring the sting of the communal poison that was fed upon some unfortunate classes of Hindus. Finally everything will balance itself and social justice will prevail. There is a lot for you to write about India. I would suggest you begin with the Mullai Periyar dam history in the south. I missed you Sir when you visited Chennai as part of book tour. I was aware and I was in the city, and I was thinking of you as well imagining you answering questions and signing books in Landmark some years back. I don’t want to review your fictions (and in any case who am I) (but whether i matter or not I review some authors hahaha). Just wanted to address this note to you. Now India and UK share a very polite and good relationship. For decades now the Indian grads were going to the US for masters. Of late however I see interest again in the UK. India steel magnet is a billionaire in your country and Indians have been faring extremely well there as we all are aware. Indian industrialists have carved a niche for themselves in your country. Indian medicos serve in NHS in droves. Hundred years back who would have imagined this scenario. Before I close I want to comment on the Bollywood chapter in your book. It sounds fake. Did you just lift it out of some Hindi picture. It is unlike you to script anything like this. I am just continuing reading from Priya’s death in Bombay airport. Yes, this is quite probable even today in India but I must say this is like some 0.1% possible today in my country. We have come a long, long way. Now Indian boys and girls especially Hindu young men and women look like hotcakes in international stage. I have an American bahu myself. I am Hindu. Loved all your books that set a kind of standard. I am not a voracious reader, but I like your prose and your dignified elegant characters. This is old world goodness. I have never noticed disrespect in your characterization. Even the perverts and the cunning are not portrayed cheap but treated well by you. I guess, this is because you belong in my parents generation. I also like your ‘all is well that ends well’ kind of finish: the final fairytale ending. Looking forward to more from you, Sir. Take care.

Posted in Books

Review: Sapiens – Yuval Noah Harari

Finally finished this lengthy book, thank god last 40 pages were glossary! Pretty dry, especially for me the regular fiction reader. However, I picked this book as it is critically acclaimed. The book traces the evolution of Homo Sapiens and the proliferation of the species as dominant living organism on Planet Earth before rounding off with wonderment at what lays ahead for these so-called self-made Gods! Much of the thesis though must be predictable to most of us but we have to credit the author for laying it all down in a way we can identify patterns and come clear on fuzzy issues. Some ideas are though a lot like original – or perhaps sound new to us. For instance, treating Communism like a religion. Creating an order. I have never thought of an arrangement like that all these days. A willful political agreement. The book opens with how it all started, how from Cognitive revolution, human beings or homo sapines in the word of the author, advanced to the agricultural revolution and then galloped to the scientific revolution. So far so good. The rambling sets on after this.

I would like to recollect some gems from the book:

Homosapiens killed most other species without merging with them. (Like how mules are born infertile when horse mates with donkey. The genetic mutation plays a part here). This theory clearly proposes how Neanderthals etc., from the same human family could have gone extinct. In my opinion, this is a very valid point, food for thinking.

I wish I really could get back to the hunter-gatherer carefree days, the way the author sounds buoyant about them! The limitations forced by agricultural revolution on such a nomadic species sound pathetic! I liked this about wheat domesticating us and not the other way around!

Domestication of the bovine, canine and the fowl follows. Of the fowl, i would like to draw a point from the last couple of chapters: of how the chicken or poultry of today with slow demeanour and stocky build was probably genetically engineered by the ancient man (from the days of agricultural revolution)! So it is not that all the harm is caused by the current generation of homosapiens. The destructive streak caused by selective breeding of crops and animals and birds has been a part of human evolution.

One more gem that makes you think loud: how a species that may be going extinct like rhinoceros for instance, is still happy and living a good life in the bush, compared to machine-copied like poultry, bred miserably for slaughter, even if the chicken can go on to survive millennia after millennia long after the last of the rhino is gone off the face of earth.

A lot of discussion (hypothetical) on Babylon, Egypt, China, Mexico etc., but a big hole here missing out ancient India and Hindu race. Hinduism is mentioned for caste system nothing more. India/ Hindu culture and civilization could be the only surviving continuous civilization uninterrupted for over 10000 years. Parallel to the Indus valley was the Thamizh culture down south where we had structured grammar and literature penned before the birth of Christ. Such a language as Tamil has not gone out of usage like Latin or even Sanskrit. Tamil is still a spoken language and is touted the world’s oldest language. A big miss by the author here. Or was it deliberate by overstressing isntead on Buddhism, an offshoot from Hindu Dharma. Hinduism also spread to south east Asia without violence. Pretty interesting to be told that the meditation techniques are Buddhist. Of course they are, but after they were and are first Hindu. The first legal perfecter, owner, practitioner of meditation could be Hindus. Yuval tell me who founded Hinduism. You know who founded Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Communism. You know who founded these when. Where exactly. You have written volumes on Sumeria, Greece. Why have you failed to do justice to Hinduism. Realization of self and mind control without a mention of Hindu Dharma sounds hollow.

To Yuval I would say, if for Jews Auschwitz could be holy pilgrimage site, then Taj Mahal could be the image for representing the majority Hindu India by the same logic.

To Yuval I ask: why should God have to come only from Middle East. For Hindus God comes down from the Himalaya.

Ok I get it. Yuval picks up Buddhism, Islam and Christianity for suppositions nothing more.

Discovery of ignorance: This is too good that prompted the scientific revolution when pushing limits became the order of the day for the Homo sapiens.

Some great information from the founding of Peugeot as limited company in France for the first time to launching life insurance by two Presbyterian clergymen in Scotland, Alexander Webster and Robert Wallace in the year 1744.

Masterstroke by Yuval: in one shot he says why we have the adage in the world that the sun never sets in british empire:

“The Chinese and Persians did not lack technological inventions such as steam engines (which could be freely copied or bought). They lacked the values, myths, judicial apparatus and sociopolitical structures that took centuries to form and mature in the West and which could not be copied and internalised.” (Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens (p. 314). Random House. Kindle Edition.)

I started laughing at this because, that day finally arrived in the 20th century with the chinese turning tables on the west. Looks like, each one of us has a different timeframe when it comes to evolution of our mental faculties.

The conquest of the Americas and Australia are poignant. In this context I want to refer the quote from the author in the book:

Rudyard Kipling’s words, ‘the White Man’s burden’:

Take up the White Man’s burden – Send forth the best ye breed – Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild – Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child. (Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens (p. 336). Random House. Kindle Edition.)

This is a gentle reminder to all of us colonials of what return gift we received from our occupiers.

The author conveniently washes his hands off slave trade that he terms an economic enterprise that got nothing to do with politics. Sad. Aren’t the invaders given a similar benefit of doubt with Rudyard Kipling.

I loved the part about the standardization of working times, industrial hours, school days etc., in a structured pattern starting with the arrival of the steam engine pulled passenger trains. The gun powder and the energy-force through distance made the difference. This is a big takeaway from the book for me.

I do agree with the author that perhaps we live in the best of earth’s times: we have lasting peace and a kind of universal empire now. More common interests than glaring differences which are a reason for sustaining peace. It is only in this century that we have running water in our kitchen faucet and women need not have to rush to the river to fetch drinking water in a pot over their head day after day (at least in developed countries of the world).

The book closes with the chapter on bionics and cyborgs which held the potential to transform homo sapiens into organically different species and that the future sapiens could find us the last few generations very much the way we found the neanderthals! Will the tinkering with bio-engineering actually pull the Frankenstein out of thin air? Who knows wonders Yuval on the finishing note.

Worth reading. Old wine in new bottle, but this is good brushing up of facts that were right before your eyes but that you missed making connection with.

Posted in Books

Review: The Elephant Whisperer – Lawrence Anthony.

My awareness of Lawrence Anthony’s work was purely incidental. I would be looking out for elephant news and he was always there in You tube in a time when we still did not have whatsapp or google. I am sure i have watched the video of elephants mourning his demise. What a blessed life. He could have lived longer, but the stress of running the reserve must have told upon his health. This we understand as we turn page after page of his book ‘the elephant whisperer.’

As Anthony makes it clear at the outset, the elephant whisperer is not him but the elephant in question that spoke to him. This book has been on my reading list now for years. Finally got my hands on it (kindle version). Comes second to Tanya James’ ‘the tusk that did the damage’ on the elephant scene in India that centers around the menacing poaching issue we have in the country for the precious tusks of the elephants. (Same is true of Indian single horned rhinos as well in the state of Assam, similar to the precarious situation of the double horned rhinos of Africa that are nearly hunted down to extinction already. Anthony’s ‘the last rhino’ is on the rhinos). Until this book happened I believed, the Indian wild elephant escaped poaching even if unhealthily domesticated at an alarming rate.

My introduction to the Zulus and Bantus, the native tribes of South Africa happened in my ninth standard I guess, when I read for the first time a James Hadley Chase novel ‘the vulture is a patient bird.’ It is because of the content i remember the title and the tribes. I can say this may have been a chief reason for my interests in Africa including its wildlife. Later on of course, there was Wilbur Smith. Literally every single trilogy or whatever of his I read with, mainly for the wildlife info even if it was all fiction. ‘The elephant song’ of his was special. The matriarch comes through in Smith’s works. I would like to skip his latest works that I wouldn’t attribute to him, probably penned under his name by someone else (like in the case of Sidney Sheldon). They don’t carry the same Smith stamp. If you have been reading Wilbur Smith, you must be familiar with entire Africa from Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia to Congo, South Africa, Zaire and Zambia (both of erstwhile Rhodesia) and more. You learn of the languages such as Swahili. You discover the native tribes, the shortest men, the yellow men, the spear throwers, the trackers etc. You develop a deep respect for the dark continent that has been mindlessly exploited and now made a complete mess. I agree with Anthony on the violence aspect about Africa which has to keep with its wild nature. Apartheid is long since over. Afrikaners and the other remaining whites are doing a wonderful service to the conservation causes in Africa in the present, even if it was their ancestors who nearly brought the native wildlife to the brink of extinction in the first place. Still the current conservation efforts must not be underestimated or disrespected. This is very much the need of the hour.

Unlike fellow Indians, I am totally against domestication of our Indian wild elephants for Hindu temple service and for gala events like Navaratri-Dusshera celebrations in Mysore palace grounds in the name of culture, heritage and traditions. I have been vociferous over this capturing and taming of wild Indian elephants from the jungles, earning quite a few adversaries in the process. But here end my feeble protests. NGOs for wildlife and elephant lovers have to take the mantle from well-wishers and whistleblowers (!) like me at this stage.

My piece on temple elephants in India captured from wild for domestication, inspired by Lawrence Anthony’s ‘the Elephant whisperer’

I wish India has someone like Lawrence Anthony to save our wild elephants from poachers, regain the lost elephant corridors and conserve the population from going to extinction inevitably in a century or two.

wild Indian elephants faring no better…

The book is a treat to elephant lovers and naturalists and conservationists. It is enjoyable and good learning guide for anyone for that matter. Those of us who are keen on safaris must know what it takes to run a show.

Lawrence Anthony confirmed what I had read about the pachyderms over years: that the elephants communicate very intelligently in a unique way both physical and metaphysical, with their stomach rumblings in a very low frequency inaudible to human ears that therefore fail to pick up the jumbo communication. So that way, quite like the whales, the elephant community too may be much more evolved than us homo sapiens when it comes to tele communication. It is not without a reason that these giant mammals have survived and roamed planet earth many millions of years. The other way the elephants communicate is by tactile contact in the bush. The infrared waves of elephant whispers probably serve as transmission conduits to reach over herds spread across entire landmass of Africa which is stunning! Science may prove theories in labs but here was this dauntless conservationist living the experience to relate his story to the world. To me his well lived life and real time observation suffice as authentic proof to elephant telepathy we talk about including the long elephantine memory. The tuskers’ moving vigil for two days on Lawrence’s demise is the testimonial ultimate for what Lawrence recorded in his book: “The most important lesson i learned is that there are no walls between humans and the elephants except those we put up ourselves.

Anthony also in the course of his writing introduces us to the lush and rich spectrum of his natural reserve Thula Thula:

  • mongoose, warthog, tawny eagle, martial eagle, impala, zebra, wildebeest, kudu, nyala, baboon, black mumba, black python, bark spider, leguaan (african monitor lizard), duiker, southern white rhino, honey badgers, crocs, barbel (fish), cape buffalo … and of course elephants
  • (noctural creatures): bush pigs, giant eagle owl, vondos, bush rats, nightjars, bats, bushbabies, hyenas, leopard, lynx, serval
  • reptilians: Black mumba, puff adder, mozambican cobra
  • trees native to Africa: Acacia robusta, marula, boerbeen, fig, umbrella thorn tree
  • the winged nesters: plum coloured starlings, european rollers, bush shrike, narina trojans, gwala gwala, vultures

What a spectacular life Anthony lived! Added bonus was his elephants whispering to him accepting him as one among them. Nana and Frankie, the matriarchs in particular shared a wavelength with Anthony, able to reach him. Here i have to mention Anthony’s intention of keeping the wildlife feral and so his deliberate breaking up of connection with the tuskers so that the herd moves deeper into the bush far from human contact for their own sake. This was also necessary as Anthony felt that this way, the elephants will stay wary of poachers (or any humans for that matter).

When I was reading about the way Anthony was spending long and perilous nights in the bush to safekeep the elephants in the boma when they were traumatized, rowdy and tyrant, i couldn’t stop myself from admiring the man for not only his courage but also for his big heart that did not hesitate to sacrifice creature comforts to settle down the disturbed gang in his reserve. The herd mistrusted human beings having been subject to witnessing massacre of their family members. The move by truck and darting (with tranquilizers) had dazed them and made them more violent and edgy. Anthony however focused only on rehabilitation of the elephants on their new home winning their confidence and trust gradually. In the process he did not lose his patience or hope even for a minute. He believed sincerely, the elephants deserved a chance. It was a painstakingly done work worth its rich dividends. You have to be gifted for sharing such a compassion for wildlife to be going this extra mile. As Anthony himself says, one has to probably grow up in the bush with the right mindset to be able to work or live in this kind of nature’s setting. It is a tough but rewarding life for those with a passion for conversation. Only that, your physical fitness must match the demanding conditions of the life in the veldt. And African tribes like the Zulus of warrior blood naturally fit in their roles as armed rangers of the reserve. Having to share their living space with Africa’s rich wildlife and having a history, they are the natural choice for the maintenance and running of the Zululand sanctuary in the heartland of South Africa.

Anthony speak:

  • Living rough in the wilderness is a salve for the soul. Ancient instincts awaken; forgotten skills are relearned, consciousness is sharpened and life thrums at a rich tempo.
  • No matter how heart-wrenching the situation, we never interfered with nature. Brutal as the food chain is, that’s the balance of life in the wild.
  • Interesting observation on fright-flight distance, innovative game keeping methods, round the clock alertness and an equally enthusiastic team of rangers, merit a mention. Bush piloting and crane lifting on darting are familiar with us in India where latter methods are employed when it comes to dealing with the tuskers.

    What I consider firsthand research material about Anthony’s work may be the elephant communication information and Askari (male elephants led by an ageing patriarch) observations in particular apart from breeding habits of different fauna. Valuable input for future wildlife studies and conservationists. Kudos to his diplomacy with the native tribes. In today’s highly jingoistic egoistic material world, we need this kind of trendsetter. In another part of the book, Anthony says, it is the elephant who is the tone setter for the relationship shared between him and the herd. He goes on to narrate how each and every member of the family enriched his life and added dimensions to his perspective on the African elephant.

    Serious poaching threats from armed gangs and sharpshooters fitted to their teeth, the uneasy relationship Anthony shared with Nkosi Biyela and the Indunas in general whose ancient zululand is the reserve, the epidemics waiting to devastate wildlife if unchecked, the brutal forest fires, the rogue beasts on prowl (like the male elephant Mnumzane in musth that had to be put down) endangering not only safaris but also other wildlife (with Mnumzane shearing white female rhino to death with his tusk), natural disasters such as river flooding and breaking banks, the maintenance of full length electric fence with low voltage just to stun the wildlife from crossing over but not kill, the challenge of balancing the wildlife population that ensures the survival of the fittest in accordance with the food chain, nerve wracking dealings with the superstitious African tribes not antagonizing the sons of the oil, the law and order issues to be taken up with law enforcement, the follow up with KNZ of whatever, the wildlife departments and reserve sanctuaries of South Africa, … and much much more need to be addressed on day-to-day basis running a wildlife reserve as vast and teeming with diverse wildlife as Thula Thula.. And if the reserve is to boast of a safari lodge like Thula Thula, the challenge is many more time magnified, keeping in view the safety of the tourists. The days start well before dawn for a safari and end with the last of the tourists hitting the sack as Anthony explains. Lawrence’s wife Francoise now in charge of Thula Thula seems to have lent a French touch to the holiday resort with her exotic cuisine, a big draw with the visitors naturally. Game sighting is adventure like nothing else. Only those who have sampled this heady brew of thrill will know why nature and wildlife can be such a humbling and invigorating experience at the same time, making one even spiritual. You connect with your basal instincts when you confront all forms of life from the millipede, centipede and scorpions and spiders to the crocodiles and rhinos and bucks and antelopes and the giant elephants under trees as ancient as you can imagine, with their gnarled roots and spread branches sporting myriad coloured winged nesters. A profusion of life in the natural element. Nightlife in the wild is another symphony. What a welcome break from the cacophony of our urban materialistic life.

    birth control not for Indian wild elephants…

    Hopefully land acquisition for expansion of Thula Thula is now done with, which can provide the wildlife in the reserve more of room to amble about. Anthony also gainfully employed the local manpower which is mutually beneficial. Let’s see. I have always dreamt about a Kenya or Tanzania or even an Uganda or Zimbabwe safari, but never South African. My interest in South Africa got piqued with the Netflix serial ‘the penguin town.’ Now I have ‘Thula Thula’ too in my bucketlist! Hopefully i can make it with my entire family there in a couple of years, along with my grandchildren in tow! How i would luv to show my grandkids Nana and Frankie!

    My first ever elephant write-up. The original draft may be from over 10 years back…

    Anthony not a serious contender for Noble prize in lit still his south African lingo is something! Good sense of humour there. That supersized vacuum cleaner of an elephant trunk! Menopausal rhino!

    Rounding up with Lawrence Anthony quote: THE BEST CAGE IS NO CAGE. Om Shanthi!

    Posted in Books

    Review: The Spirit Of Enquiry: Notes Of Dissent : T M Krishna

    Recommendation: Buy this book, read this book!

    In the spirit of the book ‘The spirit of enquiry’ by TM Krishna, I feel obliged to make the following enquiries with the author:

    • Since you are so brash and bold, and are such a hi-fi social activist, may I expect you to take up the matter of liberating the temple elephants held captive in Kerala please? Your communist friends and none less than CM Pinarayi Vijayan may come to your aid here. You may take up the issue right from your next concert in a Kerala temple be it Vadukkunatha temple in Thrissur or Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram! Please start a campaign to this effect because it looks like a lost cause already. I am willing to make a decent contribution. I shall sponsor your team’s t shirts and logo expenses plus others. Only Aug 12 we observed the World Elephant Day bro. Observed, not celebrated, because what is there to celebrate. Our elephant population is dwindling at lightening speed that for next generation, we might be able to show elephant only in museum or biology book. And when the elephants go, they will take away with them the bees and the trees, do you know that Krishna.
    • Since you are against Guru Shishya Parampara and at the same time also against institutionalizing music with a set syllabus and university and text books, would you please research and educate us how to go about both imparting and learning Classical music to enthusiastic aspirants. Or more specifically Karnatic music.
    • Is there anyone preventing by legal means or by physical means the general janata from learning or mastering carnatic music or instrumental? You can name and shame the parties here for further action by concerned authorities!
    • Is there anyhing sacred to you at all? You don’t respect or probably recognize national anthem, notion of nationality… in short anything that is an arrangement or discipline or institution. How about the institution of marriage? Should this also be dismantled by mankind. Already it is being done just that in many parts of the world! Wait it is coming to India!
    • Answer this: How many islamic nations are there in the world? How many christian nations are there ? How many Hindu nations are there officially as of today.
    • From Jerusalem, what stopped you from meeting with the Yazidis on your way back to India??
    • Who told you World war II or the year 1947 is the defining line for everything. That we cannot change anything after that. When did Bangladesh come into being. How many temples got razed in Pakistan after 1947. How many temples got razed even in Malaysia. If you are to quote the constitution, let us make some amendments then.

    Having said that, let me add some salient points from this fine book. Let me make it clear, i am just a housewife past my prime, and I am here only for timepass.

    At the outset, I have to give the author a standing ovation, for the way he has thoughtfully constructed each and every sentence with such a depth, insight, meaning and essence to leave a lasting impact on the reader. Exceptionally articulate and versatile, I have never read such a profound writing in my life, especially coming from an Indian author. I must confess I am not much into non-fictions. Even so, I can vouch this is one very fine assessment of so many, many faculties of human brain and behaviour. I share many of the author’s abstract views that he has so artfully captured into precise words, phrasing them just exactly as I would have wanted them to be and working out unimaginable permutation of ideas and possibilities with that skillful penmanship of his. Proud that he is a fellow Chennaiite, a Thamizh, and a local Alwarpet Andavaa 😀 I really feel like adopting this fine young man as my kutti brother!

    Now when I finally finish the book, i get his formula. He is like, proposing an idea, treats it to various interpretations pro and anti, discusses it thoroughly inside out with his self-confessed spirit of enquiry and then tries to deliver a balanced judgment. Or I must say, which side he thinks is heavily favoured. Judgment is one word anathema to this author! The author has paid attention to the voice of the dissent that we seldom get to hear in every single idea he discusses chapter after chapter. That treatment deserves respect and commendation. The spectrum of the debates is varied and priceless covering Karnatic to Kashmir.

    I liked the way he discussed how and why Karnatic music came to be the classical and not the vintage folk or tribal for instance that also may have a matching antiquity. The same words that come to his mind when he thinks of classical Karnatic also keep coming to my mind: ancient, hoary, superior, intellectual, elevating, traditional, religious, complex, difficult, subtle, sophisticated. So that sets apart Karnatic from the rest. Like Kamal Hasan the author never gives a definite conclusion! I had to keep looking at TMK the way I was looking at the limping man fading away in ‘Anbe Sivam’ as the screens went down! Anyway, that was one brilliant way of thrashing a point and closing the chapter. Kudos!

    I never so far distinguished between stage art (live rendering) and, the kind of art where the art object seems to be independent of its creator at the point when it is received (as in the case of an oil painting or cinema). Thanks for reminding us of this quintessential difference. This is the reason I have started reading TMK. He draws my attention to things I took for granted all this time that I forgot their existence. I do remember this point from his last book ‘Sebastian and sons’ when receivers of art (such as musical instrument Mrdangam for instance) have this disconnect with makers of the art. But is this not true of every profession. Do teachers and doctors and builders exercise proprietary rights over their produce. I am at loss to know why the author cannot make that professional distinction. That detachment or sense of separation for the creator from his object or art is necessary in some sectors (but not all). In this digital age when the stage concert can come to our living rooms, even Karnatic classical is being packaged an art that can be delivered like celluloid cinema. Covid has altered many equations. As TMK avers, this may be a step in evolution of Karnatic.

    The author has a valid point on computer generated music that can do serious damage to the musical sense in humankind once and for all. In his words, “The composer today has become more of an arranger, a choice-maker, a compiler …. The composer in gaining technological mastery is losing musical relevance ” Which is kind of sad. I made up my mind never to enjoy the sax music or keyboard in future. Or even the steely sounding ear-piercing drums. This is very educative to layman like me although I had had an idea.

    Hard-hitting truth: ” .. most of the time it is the item number that musically echoes the subaltern sound, further polarizing musical understandingIt is also true that the section of the population that will probably for certain have ‘Kolaveri’ on their list will never be asked their all time favourites.

    On an entirely different tack now: Zero tolerance for plagiarism of traditional, native, ancient Karnatic music which is divinely Hindu by heritage. Let TMK not confuse appropriation of art with inspirations of art.

    Loved the use of metaphors and simile comparing original Karnatic compositions with variations to the handblock handmade textile prints and dyes and weaves of India that come with a human error which is charming. On this, I have to agree with the author cent percent. Such a rich tapestry of choicest words and eloquence. Masterpiece. And cute!

    In any society the dominant class determines authenticity, quality and standard.” The author simply drove home a brilliant point, point blank. The ensuing paras need a careful contemplation from the book.

    …. Nada… is metaphysical…. . The idea of nada is not interpreted only as an abstract experience of transcending sounds, it is considered also a sound that unifies man with the paramatma.” Can’t put it in better words. A layman can make out what classical is all about or get clear picture about its components from this dissection on Karnatic.

    So is Hindustani more refined than Karnatic. May be. It could be the difference between the sweetish bhasha Hindi and the tongue twister called Thamizh.

    The technicality of the raga, kriya/laya/tala is fascinating to layman like me. Thanks for this explanation. I think the quality of my understanding of music can get better with this. Raga not to be bottled up in any one context representing a particular emotion? This is tough. Because I always associated Todi, Mukhari to despair and despondency and meloncholy thanks to our T Rajender !! But classical is definitely an emotion. No two opinions on that. The chapter on classical is too good even if its too technical.

    Classical is abstract. I find this abstract thing always a curious thing that I can’t figure out. True of abstract form of art (oil on canvas) as well. Without deep thinking, I just imbibe the honeyed melody and move on. To me personally carnatic is…. peace? harmony? calming? soothing? balm? divine?

    The author has laid specific emphasis on the state of the Isai Vellala community which gave the finest classical art forms of Bharat Natyam dance and Karnatic music to Thamizh Nadu, India. He does have a valid point here. I must say that from the community which is now engaged with economic emancipation via university education, we can expect a flowback into Karnatic as socially forward generations will have more time and resources to take up art once again among them. And this time, they shall command respect and attention.

    The author’s take on the concert scene is also realistic. Let us hope things will change for the better in future.

    The book is too technical in places and a bit rambling (!) but all is well that ends well! With TMK the prose is matchless and authentic and inspiring and motivating and even enquiring! He opens up avenues of my mind that hitherto remained closed to introspection. Intense and heavy, saturated with dense inside information, this print is a collection of previously published articles of the author in media, with or without edits.

    I am leaving out the political discussions here AS WELL AS THE CONTROVERSIES as our author is known for his penchant for mischiefs. This post in winding! Many stalwarts will be reviewing this gem of a book of his. Still I thought I must also review it hahaha whether the author likes it or not!

    I will close with this personal note to the author: Even the intention can go a long way when it comes to a good deed which may or may not materialize. To borrow from Paul Coelho, ‘when you want something , all the universe conspires in helping with you to achieve it!’ Best of luck, but do not forget the Indian wild elephant and the temple elephant.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.