Sunday, July 13, 2014

Truck Signage - Wives and Families

As far as truck signages go, this one attempts to combine messages on marital fidelity, family planning, and female figure consciousness, and of course, spiced with patriarchal seasoning.
बीवी रहे टिप टॉप, दो के बाद फूल (sic) स्टॉप |

© 2014, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Photo - Barren Tree

It's a long, hot, scorching summer.
The monsoons are supposed to be here.
It is supposed to be raining.
It's supposed to be cool.



© 2014, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Accidental India, by Shankkar Aiyar

My review of Shankkar Aiyar's book, "Accidental India", was published in the DNA on May 22nd, 2014. Except for the review's title and sub-title - "Should I Be Stupid Just Because the Government Is?"
Funnily enough, in India that was a fact of life and not an absurdity for several decades. - the review was published in its entirety.

This, below, is the review as it appeared in the DNA:

The opportunities that India has squandered, either through indolence or apathy, either individually or collectively, are far too many to be counted. Then there are the quirks of fate that have convinced Indians that perhaps the gods had it in for India – like Lal Bahadur Shastri’s untimely demise just when it seemed India would break free of the socialist straitjacket that had been imposed on the nation, or Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel being asked to make way for Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as India’s first prime minister despite being the more qualified and better person on every count, or the most unexpected loss of the NDA in the 2004 general elections just when the nation had found a new, confident, and resurgent voice. The list goes on. Perhaps the most public of all humiliations would have been the shipping of Indian gold reserves to England as surety for a paltry loan of $400 million from the Bank of England. But as in every dark cloud, there proved to the silver lining. An accidental silver lining of sorts.
Shankkar Aiyar’s book, Accidental India, has even more relevance in today’s environment, given the trend towards consumption of real-time information in an abbreviated manner (read social media, especially Twitter) which encourages an almost junk-food style of an information diet – quantity without much value. This book looks at seven “accidents” that shaped India’s post-independent socio-economic landscape, for the better, and substantially so.
The nationalisation of banks in 1969, the Green Revolution of 1964, Operation Flood that started around 1949 but took off only in 1970, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme of 1982, the software revolution that traced its roots to 1990, the Right to Information of 2005, and the economic liberalisation of 1991 – each owed their origin to happenstance for the most part.
The most known and the most accidental of these seven has to be Verghese Kurien’s case. Kurien received a scholarship from the government of India to study dairy engineering at the Michigan State University (MSU), but studied metal casting, metallurgy and nuclear engineering instead. On returning to India, he was required to serve out a bond at Anand in Gujarat as part of the scholarship, where, by his own account, he whiled away much of his time, and almost left after the bond period.
Kurien stayed back in February 1950 back at the request of Tribhuvandas Patel, and ended up staying for the rest of his life. The results? The triumvirate of Kurien, Tribhuvandas Patel, and Harichand Dalaya – with Maniben, Sardar Patel’s daughter, as their “spiritual compass, philosopher, and guide” – would see India’s annual milk production rise from 17 million metric tons in 1950 to 66 million tons in 1996. The nationwide replication of the “Amul” model in Kaira would be undertaken at the behest of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who asked Kurien to create a national grid of “Amuls” across the country – “Make this your mission and whatever you need for it, the government will provide.”
It can be said at least three of the “accidents” – the Green Revolution, economic liberalisation of 1991, and the software revolution – owed their beginnings to the socialist straitjacket that was cast on to the Indian economy after Independence. The stifling and overbearing intrusion of the state and its bureaucrats into every sphere of the economy made any large-scale innovations next to impossible.
Indian businesses spent more time lobbying for permits and quotas in Delhi and devising ways to circumvent arbitrary limits on production than optimising their manufacturing processes or building the scale to compete globally. Consequently, “between 1960 and 1979, the per capita income of Malawi grew by 2.9% while that of India grew by an abysmal 1.4%.” Despite being an advocate of the poor, it was “the Congress party’s conviction that any initiative to improve agricultural growth should not lead to the enrichment of the rural rich” that led to the impoverishment of the rural economy, where three-fourths of India lived for much of the period post-Independence.
While the economic liberalisations took birth during the waning days of the under-appreciated Chandra Shekhar government, and the ever resourceful Subramanian Swamy, it would rest upon the Congress leader Narasimha Rao to nurture these reforms through the turbulent early years. He was assisted by Manmohan Singh, who “owed his survival to his ability to make a distinction between his opinion and the expediency his political masters expected of him.”
The roots of what perhaps can be called the single biggest economic planning disaster of the 20th century could be traced to India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Nehru, who believed it was “inevitable” that “the State which will survive, not that group which represents the profit motive in industry in its pure essence.” This, despite the (yet again) prescient warning of Sardar Patel, just months before his death, that “a government which engaged itself in trade would come to grief.”
Few would know that the Industrial Policy Resolution, moved by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, “the minister for industry and supplies,... the first week of April 1948, some six years after the Bombay Plan was first presented to the Congress,... restricted the role of the State to just three sectors – munitions, atomic energy and railways.” This itself represented a significant reining of the “hardline socialists”, who wanted a much more substantive role for the state, and was in no small part due to the “influence of Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.”
However, quickly and inexorably, the State, under Pandit Nehru and his chosen “high priest of planning”, PC Mahalanobis – described by industrialist GD Birla as a “statistician devoid of a sense of economic organisation” – would extend its reach deeper into industry. The American economist Milton Friedman would wryly observe, “One gets the impression, depending on whom one talks with, either that the government runs business, or that two or three large businesses run the government.”
The results were wretchedly predictable. India faced its first foreign exchange crisis in 1957. From 1950 to 1965, there was “only modest improvement in average living levels, and virtually none in the Third Five Year Plan.” Truly a generation brutally sacrificed at the altar of socialism.
Each chapter in Aiyar’s Accidental India provides one with not only an engrossing and fast-paced account of the “accident”, but expertly intertwined in the narrative is a succinct commentary of the political backdrop that influenced events as they happened – none more effectively than in “Das Kapital”, the chapter on the nationalisation of banks in 1969. Or even with “The Da Vinci Code”, the chapter on the origins and long drawn out birth of the Right to Information law. Though the developments are relatively recent, people will be surprised to learn of some of its lesser known facets, like its Indian origins from a lost in the mists of time “jansunwai” in Kot Kirana in Rajasthan 20 years before the birth of the first ever Freedom of the Press Act in Sweden in 1776 – the battles to obtain the right to freedom has been a painful one.
Despite having an inglorious, though some may say well-deserved, reputation for being the most somnolent of PMs India has seen, it was HD Deve Gowda who appointed a “Working Group headed by HD Shourie [father of Arun Shourie] ... to examine the feasibility and the need to introduce a full-fledged right to information bill” in January 1997. Metaphorically speaking, one’s eyes may pop out on reading that Digvijay Singh, then chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, was one of three influential CMs to speak out in support of the Right to Information as a means of checking corruption. The NDA government dragged its feet, despite some exhortations by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and some maverick interventions by the likes of Ram Jethmalani, for six years. The Freedom of Information bill received presidential assent in 2003, but the NDA government delayed formulating the guidelines needed to make the bill operational. It fell upon the newly elected UPA government to finally pass a modified and much strengthened Right to Information bill, which became an act in June 2005. This act has been used to shine a light on corruption and misdeeds all over the nation. Whether it has succeeded in curbing corruption remains a debatable question, but the act has been a welcome start.
In summary, this book packs a punch. I recommend this book for several reasons. It has an innovative selection of “accidents” as the underlying theme of the book – which in my opinion is a first. I don’t remember coming across any other book with a similar leitmotif. While the themes by themselves are excellent, the author has blanketed these with a superbly researched and in-depth look at both the politics and economics of the time.
It may be of interest to many that despite Nixon’s almost psychopathic antipathy towards India, it was during his regime that “Indian officials negotiated with Ambassador Daniel Moynihan and got interest payments due to the US—to the tune of over $4 billion—written off. This creation of money, studies by economist BR Shenoy have revealed, fuelled inflation and amounted to 35% of the deficit financing between 1962 and 1971.” Or that it was Morarji Desai who was a staunch opponent of the nationalisation of banks, while Chandra Shekhar – one of the “young Turks” – was in favour. Yet it was Chandra Shekhar who initiated the economic reforms of 1991. Such is life in politics and economics! The book is sprinkled with such nuggets. A must-have for anyone wanting to understand India’s erratic journey towards economic salvation.

The Tyranny of the License-Permit-Quota Raj – An Excerpt:
By definition, a small-scale enterprise could not install machinery worth more than 10 lakh whereas the cheapest import cost 12 lakh. So the first step the entrepreneur had to take was to under-invoice his imports. The second challenge was to manage the problem of scale. The number of cassettes that a small-scale unit could produce was capped at 20,000 a year while the machine actually produced 20,000 in a week. So what did one do with the machine for the rest of the year or fifty-one weeks? The way around the problem was tedious, explains Mumbai-based Shravan Kumar Sharma, financial consultant and auditor. The entrepreneur would lease licences, under various names, to put his installed capacity to full use. He would approach the regulatory authority that issued the permit—in this case the Department of Electronics in Delhi—and choose a place designated as a destination by the State for small-scale electronics, say Chiplun in Maharashtra. He would then obtain a Small Scale Industries (SSI) licence. The next steps would entail renting a place in Chiplun, which is near Ratnagiri, driving to Ratnagiri, and registering the business to get a provisional SSI certificate. This would then be stamped by officials in Chiplun, following which the stamped copy would be sent to Delhi with a fee of 100. The entire process would take from six weeks to three months. He would then have to repeat the process fifty-one times, under different names, even though the address for the manufacturing unit would remain the same in order to acquire licences to produce 20,000 cassettes every week. A very high duty—330 per cent—was imposed on imported video cassettes. So if the entrepreneur could work the system, he could make a lot of money very quickly. In fact, the accumulation of SSI licences in itself became a small-scale industry.”

Buying Information:
Amazon: US, India, India paperback, Kindle e-book
Flipkart: book, ebook
5 stars

Kindle Excerpt:



© 2014, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mahabharata, Vol 8


Mahabharata - Volume 8, Translated by Bibek Debroy

5 stars
I wrote a short review of Dr. Bibek Debroy's volume 8 of the translation of the Unabridged Mahabharata. It was published in the DNA newspaper's website, at Book Review: 'The Mahabharata' Volume 8 translated by Bibek Debroy | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis (DNA tweet). My thanks to Harini Calamur.


The full text of the review:

“Impose taxes so that both the king and the producer have a share in the outcome of the work.” Sage words, one would say. What would you say if I told you these words are from the longest parva of the Mahabharata, and not from Kautilya’s Arthashastra, as you may have been tempted to guess?

Few people know that the longest parva in the Mahabharata is the Shanti Parva. It, along with the subsequent Anushasan Parva, is also the most ignored in most retellings of the epic. Even Devdutt Pattanaik’s excellent Jaya gave short shrift to these two parvas – which together add up to more than 19,000 shlokas and form almost a quarter of the unabridged epic. Without getting into the reasons, this alone makes the eighth volume of Dr Bibek Debroy’s ongoing translation of the unabridged Mahabharata, published by Penguin India, and based on the Critical Edition published by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, a must-read. It is also the longest volume of the series thus far – clocking in at more than 700 pages. It covers the entire Souptika and Stree Parvas, and from the Shanti Parva it contains the entire Raja Dharma and Apad Dharma upa-Parvas (sub parvas), and 1,000 shlokas from the Moksha Dharma Parva. This book then contains a whopping 8,500 verses.

When Arjuna was faced with a dilemma on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, he had Krishna as his charioteer, who imparted the profound wisdom of karma in a concise 18 chapters known as the Bhagvad Gita. Arjuna’s dilemma happened before the war, when he could see the terrible cost that would have to be paid for the victory of dharma over adharma. Yudhishthira found himself in the horns of a similar dilemma after the war. Indeed, during the war, he even berated Arjuna for what he perceived as cowardice, leading to a potentially fatal altercation between the two brothers. It was averted only through the deft intervention of Krishna. This is described in chapter 48 of the Karna-vadha Parva (covered in volume seven). Even when Duryodhana wanted to give over the kingdom to Yudhishthira and leave, Yudhishthira was clear that this was a fight to the finish, stating, “If, between the two of us, both of us remain alive, all beings will be uncertain about who has emerged victorious.” This is described in the Tirtha Yatra Parva (volume seven).

After the war however, Yudhishthira did not want to ascend the throne over the bodies of his relatives who had lost their lives in the war. Such was his adamance that even the combined entreaties of Arjuna, Bhima, Droupadi, the other Pandavas, and even Krishna could not budge him. And this thus is the start of the longest parva in the epic Mahabharata – a gargantuan 13,000 shlokas, most of which are in the form of lengthy question and answer sessions between a dying Bhishma and the newly anointed emperor Yudhishthira.

It is a veritable storehouse of statecraft, fables, while also shedding light on cultural mores prevalent at the time. More than anything, readers will find the animal stories embedded in this parva the most informative and entertaining, and would have encountered these in other books and collections. The Amar Chitra Katha series come to mind. Like the story of Lomasha the cat and Palita the rat, who came to spend one night together because of hunters, a mongoose named Harika and an owl named Chandraka. This story alone is perhaps worth the price of the book. It uses this fable to elucidate who should be treated as an enemy and who as a friend, and the value of partnerships, even those formed in times of distress and compulsion – “If someone wishes to cross a deep and great river with a piece of wood, the wood takes him across, and he takes the wood across too.” And while political parties may find much to rejoice in this particular statement – “There are well-wishers in the form of enemies. There are enemies in the form of friends.... there is no friendship that is permanent. There is no enmity that is permanent” – the tale was stating a pragmatic fact of life.

Similarly, it came as a revelation of sorts to read that the book has more than a line of advice for rulers on how to deal with whistleblowers. Their identity should be protected and their safety guaranteed. This sage piece of advice would not be out of place in manuals for modern administrators. That it is from a 3,000 year old book makes it that much profounder. The advice to the king is straightforward – “Whether a person is paid or is not paid, if he comes and tells you that the royal treasury is being destroyed and depleted by a minister, you must hear him in secret and protect him from ministers.” As is the warning that such whistleblowers are at grave danger from the ones they seek to expose – “Ministers tend to kill such informants. All those who destroy the treasury work collectively against the one who protects the treasury.”

I could go on and on about the book, but I will end with two pieces of advice. First, do not be daunted if you have not read the first seven volumes. The story of the Mahabharata is not likely to be unknown to you. You will not lose much by picking up this eighth volume. Second, the animal fables, the stories, the advice on statecraft - all make the book quite an enjoyable read. It is a Mahabharata that you have probably not encountered before. Be prepared to be surprised, yet again, by the most epic of epics.
Book details:
ISBN-13 9780143100201
ISBN-10 0143100203
Publisher: Penguin India

Amazon US | UK | CA | IN
Kindle e-book US | UK | CA | IN
Indie Books, Powell's, Flipkart

My reviews of: Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4, Vol 5 (and also this), Vol 6 (and this and this too), Vol 7

Kindle Excerpt:



© 2014, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Indus Valley (Smart Green Civilizations)


Indus Valley: Key stage 2 (Smart Green Civilizations)
2 stars
Kid-friendly introduction, but marred by selective omissions. Also leaves out the truly spectacular achievements of the people

One-line review: Parents are advised to read out and share this book with children, but are also forewarned that they will need to spend considerable time in correcting the several errors - of commission and omission - in the book.

Longer Review:
The Indus Valley Civilization, more accurately known as the Indus Valley Saraswati Civilization, was the largest and most advanced ancient civilization that existed. This short illustrated book does a good job of introducing the reader - children - to this civilization. It tells us that the Indus people were the first to develop the concept of urban town planning, and were the first to trade with the world. The generous availability of wells meant that people were never far away from access to clean water. Children will like the simple and full-colour illustrations in this book, and the easy style of writing. At the bottom of each page is a short line that has a lesson on environmentalism.

However, this book also falls into the trap of sticking with discredited falsehoods for the sake of political correctness. A few examples will suffice. While the book briefly touches upon the discovery of the pashupati Shiva at the site, it fails to mention that the Indus Valley civilization was the birthplace of Hinduism, and that most likely the Rig Veda was written during the heydays of this civilization.

The book does not mention that more than one-third of all sites of the civilization have been unearthed near the banks of the now dried up Saraswati River. Any book, even one for children, that leaves out this fact does its credibility little good. Evidence pointing to the existence of this river, long suspected on the basis of literary, archaeological, and scientific facts, has opened up a valuable new chapter in the understanding of the roots of Indian civilization. This book owed it to its children audience to have brought this up.

Perhaps the most egregious act of political correctness is when the book mentions the Aryan Invasion Theory as one that enjoys mainstream acceptability. Worse, there is an entire two-page illustration with hordes of these mythical "Aryan" invaders massed outside an Indus Valley settlement. The Aryan Invasion theory has long been discredited, and even Western and Communist historians have had to, albeit grudgingly, abandon the Aryan Invasion Theory. This theory today has as much credibility as the Flat Earth theory. For this book to include it as a plausible explanation for the decline of the Indus Valley Civilization is a shocking act of negligence, ignorance, or worse.







© 2014, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Motilal Banarsidas, Bangalore

I had reason to be in Jayanagar a few months back, with 15 odd minutes to spare. I was across the road from the Motilal Banarsidas bookstore, and my feet found their way, along with the rest of me, to the store. I have been to the store a few times before, and every single time have exited the store with a book in tow - that is also the story of my ingress and egress from most other bookstores I frequent, come to think of it. I had posted photos of the store in 2007 (blog post), so I am not going to write about its history or stuff...

Since I have started reading Dr. Bibek Debroy's translation of the unabridged Mahabharata, I have been fascinated more and more by this book, An Index to the Names in Mahabharata by S. Sorensen, 8120820118, 9788120820111 at Mlbd Books. For a book written more than a hundred years ago, it is a stupendous work that has not been rivaled or surpassed. As far as I can tell, there is no other book of its kind attempted since. If you may be wondering why should there be a book on the names in the Mahabharata, then you should take a close look at the unabridged epic.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mahabharata Ch 61-65, Adi Parva, Sambhava Parva

[Ch 59-60 « Ch 61-65  » Ch 66-70]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Sambhava; Chapter:61; Shlokas:102
Janamejaya now wanted to hear from Vaishampayana about the divine origins of the warriors. Vaishampayana told him that the danava Viprachittihad became Jarasandha, Hiranyakashyipu Shishupala, Prahlada's younger brother Samhrada as Shalya, the asura Bashkala as Bhagadatta, the asura Svarbhanu as King Ugrasena, and so on.

Vaishampayana continued, and said that Drona was not born from a womb, and was a part of Brihaspati, while his son Ashvatthama was "born from three parts of Mahadeva that merged into one - yama, kama, and krodha." Kripa was born from the group of rudras, Satyaki, King Drupada, Kritavarma, and rajrishi Virata were born from parts of the divine maruts. Duryodhana was born from Kali's part, while his brothers were born from Pulastya's sons.

Mahabharata Ch 59-60, Adi Parva, Sambhava Parva

[Ch 57-58 « Ch 59-60  » Ch 61-65]
This chapter marks the start of the Sambhava Parva. This parva contains 2394 shlokas and 65 chapters.
"The word sambhava means what can originate or be in existence. Hence, this parva is about the origins of the core story. It is one of the longest parvas."
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Sambhava; Chapter:59; Shlokas:54
Janamejaya asked Vaishampayana to recount to him, "from beginning and in detail," accounts of the births of the gods, gandharvas, etc... Vaishampayan said that Brahma had six sons. One of them, Marichi, was the father of Kashyapa. Daksha's daughters were Aditi, Diti, Danu, Kala, Anayu, Simhika, Muni, Krodha, Prava, Arishta, Vinata, Kapila, and Kadru.
"From Aditi were born the twelve adityas... Dhata, Mitra, Aryamana, Shakra, Varuna, Amsha, Bhaga, Vivasvana and Pusha. In the tenth place was Savita, the eleventh was Tvastha and the twelfth was Vishnu."

Mahabharata Ch 57-58, Adi Parva, Adi-vamshavatarana Parva

[Ch 54-56 « Ch 57-58  » Ch 59-60]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Adi-vamshavatarana; Chapter:57; Shlokas:106
In this chapter Vaishampayana primarily describes the birth of Satyavati and her son Dvaipayana. He described Uparichara, also known as Vasu, and a descendant of the Puru lineage, who conquered the kingdom of Chedi, and then retired to practice austerities in a hermitage. This caused a fearful Shakra to try and "wean the king away from his austerities." Indra praised Vasu and offered him many things, including a flying chariot that among mortals only he would be able to fly in, and a garland known as "vaijayanti", and also a "staff made of bamboo to protect the good and the peaceful." Thus Uparichara continued to rule Chedi. Uparichara had five sons - Brihadratha as king of Magadha, Pratyagraha, Kushamba, Macchilla, and Yadu

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Blood Telegram, by Gary Bass


The Blood Telegram, by Gary Bass

Warning: graphic language. Discretion advised.

4 stars
One-line review: While it shines a light and lays bare an ugly passage in American diplomacy, it also somehow disappoints a bit. The true horrors of the East Pakistan Bangladesh genocide are somewhat missing.

Short review: The forced exodus of ten million Bangladeshis in 1971 - ninety percent of whom were Hindu, the genocide of an estimated three million Bangladeshis, and the rape of close to half a million women - were all small prices that Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon paid in exchange for the opening of bilateral ties with China, and in the process getting their names enshrined as visionary statesmen. Henry Kissinger would go on to win a Nobel Peace Prize - a more damning indictment of the elaborate farce that is the Nobel Prize would be hard to find. Archer Blood, consul general in Dacca (as Dhaka was then called) and the "ranking diplomat of the United States in East Pakistan", would protest in the strongest possible diplomatic terms the atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistan army on the citizenry of East Pakistan. He would be ordered to "request home leave and transfer back to the State Department - in other words, unceremoniously sacked" - just one step short of being fired - spend the next decade in a desk job - hiding from an omnipotent Kissinger, his career finished for all practical purposes.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Canada, US, India - Indulging a passion for photography

Three photos, three countries, same year.
The first is from the Canadian city of Fredericton, which also happens to be the capital of the province of New Brunswick. I have a couple of posts on the town, where I spent two months. A most interesting period of time I spent, in what was one of the most eventful years of my life thus far. Spending January and February in Canada means braving lots of cold weather. Cold as in 20 degrees below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, that's close to -30C. Cold as in wind chills of upto -45C. It is a whole different world of cold at those temperatures. Like hell-freezing-over kind of cold. But it makes for gorgeous photographs.


Friday, December 13, 2013

The Best of 2013 - Reading and Reviewing Recap

I list here the ten best books that I read and, or, reviewed in 2013. Along the way, I have also mentioned some other books that I read and, or, reviewed.

The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati, by Michel DaninoLet us start with Indology. I was supremely gratified that I not only got serious - or at least semi-serious - about the topic but also got to read about half a dozen really, really, finger-licking good books. Note to kids: do not try this at home; the finger-licking, that is. Reading? By all means. Not all books were equally awesome, but many were very, very good. Land of the Seven Rivers, by Sanjeev Sanyal was the single best book in this genre that I read this year. I say "this year", because The Lost River: On the Trail of the Sarasvati, by Michel Danino is even better, and by far the best book I reviewed this year. I say "reviewed", because I read this book in January of 2012, but got down to reviewing only this year. And while on the topic of the Saraswati River and the Harappan Civilization, I would be remiss if I didn't mention The City of Dvaraka, by S.R. Rao - perhaps the single most important excavation in the twentieth century, and written by the famed archaeologist who led that excavation - India's first marine excavations to uncover the four thousand year old ancient port city of Dvaraka (modern day Dwarka). Sanjeev Sanyal's Land of the Seven Rivers was on its own a wonderful book, and more so when you compare it with his first book - The Indian Renaissance: India's Rise after a Thousand Years of Decline - that had its heart in the right place, but was dry and unengaging.
Then there was India's Bismarck, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, by Balraj Krishna, a short but lucid account of the great Sardar Patel's immeasurably invaluable contributions to a unified India. This book's review was perhaps my most read review of 2013, gathering close to 300 Facebook "Likes" on Centre Right India.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana, by Devdutt Pattanaik

Sita: An Illustrated Retelling of the Ramayana, by Devdutt Pattanaik

4 stars

One-line review: Enrichening, but not as spectacularly successful as 'Jaya'.

Review:
In recent times, Devdutt Pattanaik has been the most prolific and successful mythologist-author in India. For almost a decade now, he has explored almost every facet of Hindu mythology, from a rapid-fire look at the spectrum of Hindu mythology in "Myth=Mithya" - that became his most successful book, to gods and goddesses in books like "7 Secrets of Siva", "7 Secrets of Vishnu", "7 Secrets From Hindu Calendar Art", to even dabbling in fiction in "The Pregnant King", and more recently to books targeted specifically at children - "An Identity Card for Krishna", "Shiva Plays Dumb Charades", etc... In 2010, he plunged into a very imaginative and well-researched retelling of the Mahabharata - "Jaya - An Illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata". The results were spectacularly successful. The book became a blockbuster bestseller.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

India's Bismarck - Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, by Balraj Krishna

India's Bismarck Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, by Balraj Krishna

One-line review: His stupendous achievements dwarfed only by the apathy of an ungrateful polity and dishonest historians.

Short review: Unless we learn the path we took and who led us down the path, we can never truly hope to correct course and tread towards a brighter future. Blind hero-worship of flawed frauds and idolatry of insidious ideologies cannot ever be the basis of writing history. That is hagiography. This short book on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the iron man of India, is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding what was, what happened, and why we are here. If we today breathe in a united and independent India, we have one person - Sardar Patel - to thank more than anyone else.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Mahabharata Ch 54-56, Adi Parva, Adi-vamshavatarana Parva

[Ch 51-53 « Ch 54-56  » Ch 57-58]

This parva tells the story of the "partial incarnations" (from "vansha" and "avatarana") of the characters in the Mahabharata.
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Adi-vamshavatarana; Chapter:54; Shlokas:24
Upon hearing of Janamejaya's presence at the snake sacrifice, Krishna Dvaipayana, the son of the virgin Kali and Shakti's son Parashara, went there. Krishna Dvaipayana, once born, mastered the Vedas, Vedangas, and Itihasa, and was the first to divide the one Veda into four parts.
When he entered the sacrificial arena, Janamejaya offered a golden seat to Vyasa and paid him his respects. After that Janaejaya asked Krishna Dvaipayana to narrate the story of the Kurus and the Pandavas, the reason behind their quarrel, and the great war. Krishna Dvaipayana asked his disciple, Vaishampayana, to "relate in full, exactly as you had heard it from me, the account of the ancient quarrel between the Kurus and the Pandavas."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King


Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King

4 stars

One-line review: Ghastly ghosts and a Good Old Western Shootout

Review: (minor spoilers)
One of the most anticipated sequels in recent times, Stephen King's "Doctor Sleep", a sequel to "The Shining" thirty years in the making, is one good yarn - better if read on its own merits. If compared with the iconic "The Shining", it will fall short. This one does not match the sheer claustrophobic terror of the original.
"I ain't got any relatives. Unless you count the ex, and if I was on fire she wouldn't piss on me to put me out” 
Dan Torrance, the boy with the double-edged gift of the "shining" - that allowed him to look into people's minds as well as into the future, though somewhat hazily, had escaped from the Overlook Hotel with his mother, and with help from the Overlook's chef, Dick (Richard) Hallorann.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn


Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

4 stars

One-line review: Girl gone, be gone, bygones be bygones?
Review (minor spoilers): Amy goes missing on her fifth marriage anniversary, and as the police start investigating, suspicion begins to zero in on her husband, Nick. There are signs of a struggle in their house, overturned furniture that looks like it was overturned after the fact, broken glass, and later the police even find evidence of a sloppily cleaned-up blood stain in the house. Nick lies to the police, one lie after another, to cover up for the fact that his marriage with Amy had been on the rocks for some time. Things get worse when Nick's sister, Go (Margo), finds that he has also been having an affair with one of his students for over a year. Amy had, it seems, made one last attempt to resuscitate their marriage by leaving several clues in the form of letters, like she used to do, on the eve of their marriage anniversary. Nick figures these clues out, one after the other, but they bring him or the police no closer to cracking the case. Circumstantial evidence mounts and the rising evidence of a motive all point to Nick. Then there is the huge life insurance policy that would accrue to Nick in the event of Amy's death.

Mahabharata Ch 51-53, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 41-50 « Ch 51-53  » Ch 54-56]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:51; Shlokas:23
Janamejaya was impressed with Astika, who, while still a child, spoke "like a wise old man", and wanted to grant him a boon. The sadasyas agreed with the king, "but not before Takshaka" had been consigned to the sacrificial fire. Janamejaya asked the hotar to speed up the sacrifice so that Takshaka came there without delay. The ritvijas informed Janamejaya that the shastras had revealed, and the fire confirmed it, that Takshaka had taken refuge in Indra's palace. Suta Lohitaksha informed Janamejaya that Takshaka was was protected by Indra and that the fire would not be able to harm him. An angry Janamejaya asked the priests to continue with their sacrifice. Soon enough, Indra himself arrived, with Takshaka hidden in his garments. Janamejaya told his priests to hurl Takshaka along with Indra himself if Takshaka was hiding in Indra's palace. Soon, Takshaka's "terrible roars and fearful cries" could be heard, and the priests informed the king that Takshaka had been abandoned by Indra, his body "disabled through our mantras", and that it was now "proper for you to grant a boon to this best of Brahmanas." Janamejaya agreed.

Mahabharata Ch 41-50, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 36-40 « Ch 41-50  » Ch 51-60]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:41; Shlokas:30
The story now returned to Jaratkaru. He had been constantly on the move, "having adopted the vow of sleeping at night wherever he happened to find himself in the evening." Thus one day he came upon his ancestors, in a cave, hanging upside down, "hanging on to a single thread of grass" and even "that single strand was being eaten away by a rat that lived in the cave." A distressed Jaratkaru asked these "wretched ones" who they were and if he could help them, by giving a quarter, a half, or even all his austerities. The ancestors replied that they were in this state because of austerities. They "were descending into this hell because of lack of offspring." They said that they were rishis named "yayavaras". The single strand that bound them and prevented them from falling headlong into the cave was the last one in their lineage, someone named Jaratkaru, but who "in his greed for austerities, ... had reduced us to this state."

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mahabharata Ch 36-40, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 31,32,33,34,35 « Ch 36,37,38,39,40 » Ch 41,42,43,44,45]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:36; Shlokas:26
Shounaka now wanted to know from Souti why Jaratkaru came to be famous, and what that name meant. Souti replied that "Jara" meant decay and "karu" meant gigantic. "The sage had a gigantic body, but he decayed it slowly through severe austerities." It was for the same reasons that Vasuki's sister also had the same name.
Even though Jaratkaru had promised his ancestors that he would take a wife, even as he placed severe conditions on that promise of his, he continued with his austerities, and "[E]ven in his thoughts, he showed no desire for a wife."

Monday, September 30, 2013

Lost City of Dvaraka, SR Rao

Lost City of Dvaraka, S.R. Rao

4 stars
One-line review: Mythology excavated, history re-incarnated.

Short review: Arguably the single most important archaeological excavation of the twentieth century, the offshore marine excavations off Dvaraka began with a humble eighty thousand rupee grant. It helped plug in a thousand-year hole in India's ancient history - of what happened after the decline of the Harappan civilization and before the advent of the Buddha in the fifth century BCE. In the process was also established the historicity of a certain gentleman named Krishna Devakiputra - also known as the eighth incarnation of Narayana, Lord Vishnu. These two stunning implications of the excavations have not yet been fully appreciated, thanks to a benign neglect of archaeology by the government, the warped revisionism practiced by Marxist historiographers in India, and the Indian's general apathy to history.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Mahabharata Ch 31-35, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 26,27,28,29,30 « Ch 31,32,33,34,35 » Ch 36,37,38,39,40]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:31; Shlokas:18
Shounaka now asks Souti to tell him about the names of the snakes (the sons of Kadru). Souti lists the main names. The first to be born was Shesha, followed by Vasuki. Then came others like Airavata, Takshaka, Kaliya, Elapatra, Padma, Pindaraka, Aparajita, etc... Souti ends by saying that there are too many snakes to be listed.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Mahabharata Ch 26-30, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 21,22,23,24,25 « Ch 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 » Ch 31,32,33,34,35]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:26; Shlokas:47
As soon as Garuda landed on the tree, its branch broke, and as Garuda caught the falling branch, he saw the valakhilyas (वालखिल्य) ("Rishis who number 60,000 and were generated from the creator's body. They are the size of a thumb and precede the sun's chariot.") hanging upside down from the branch. Anxious to avoid hurting them, Garuda soared into the sky, looking for a safe place to set the branch, but couldn't find any. He then made his way to the Gandhamadana mountain.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mahabharata Ch 21-25, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 16,17,18,19,20 « Ch 21,22,23,24,25 » Ch 26,27,28,29,30]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:21; Shlokas:17

Garuda arrived and lived with his mother. A few days later, at Kadru's bidding, Vinata took Kadru on her back, while Garuda carried her thousand naga sons on his back to the "lovely abode of the nagas situated in the heart of the ocean." Garuda rose so high that the the snakes became unconscious, "scorched by the rays of the sun." Kadru started to invoke Indra with hymns in his praise, asking that he save her sons with his showers.

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:22; Shlokas:05

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...