Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Westin Gurgaon, New Delhi

Photographs from The Westin Hotel in Gurgaon. This is a relatively new hotel, and came up only in 2011 (or late 2010), and is strategically located just off the Delhi Gurgaon Expressway, at the Mehrauli Gurgaon Marg, popularly known as MG Road, and the site of literally dozens of malls. What used to be a sleepy road connecting Gurgaon to Mehrauli till as recently as 15 years ago is now a picture-perfect example of chaotic unplanned urbanization.

A most peculiar design decision that baffles, nay boggles, the mind is the decision to have this huge glass partition separating the bedroom from the bathroom, instead of the usual solid wall or partition. This may well appeal to the honeymoon couple out on a romantic rendezvous away from home, or to the flirtatious executive looking to bring, err... work, back to the hotel. But to the family looking for a comfortable room this  poses challenges to say the least.

 I shot this photo below from my hotel room at 7AM. Within the next half an hour or so this road would become completely clogged with cars trying to get on to the expressway, get off the expressway, and in general create a chaos.

And this photo below was taken at 7PM. Good luck if you work in this area and need to travel back home, or to the airport for that matter. It is therefore not surprising that prices of residential properties near this place are astronomical. I mean obscenely astronomical. More than a crore rupees of apartments is the norm. And some run as high as 5 crores - that is one million US dollars. For a 2000 sq ft apartment.

View Larger Map

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - Review

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (Amazon.comI Am Legend (Movie), Kindle Edition) - my review
4 stars
More nuanced and complex than the movie
Reviewing a book by comparing it to its movie is not the ideal thing to do, but I did watch the Will Smith movie first, which itself was not the first movie adaptation of the book - The Last Man on Earth and The Omega Man both were based on the novel and came out more than 30 years ago, and only more than a year later read the novel.
Robert Neville's character in the book is more complex, more prone to weaknesses, and more fallible than the movie character.
In a post-apocalyptic world where a bacteria has killed most of the world's human population and turned the survivors into blood seeking vampires that stalk Neville's house at night, Robert Neville must live and survive, though seemingly without purpose. He frequently succumbs to bouts of drinking, frustration, and rage. He wages a lone, sometimes gruesome, and what often looks like a pointless battle against the vampires. Company comes in the form of a dog, that brings back to him a modicum of humanity he had long forgotten he had, and then in the form of a young woman who has just lost her husband to the vampires. The end is bleak and quite unlike the movie.
This book is supposed to have inspired such legends, so to say, of the field as Stephen King and Dean Koontz. Not to mention its influence on a whole genre of gore-filled zombie infested movies of the 70s and 80s.

Kindle e-book excerpt:

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Boomerang by Michael Lewis - review

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis
My review: Monkeys and posteriors do not mix. Except when governments start doing financial planning.

Money and morals also do not mix. Lewis captured this in "Liar's Poker", and he travels to Europe to find the same holds true for countries too. A morbidly funny disaster-financial tourist's travelogue.

And oh yes, who would have thought that Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Governor of California, would turn out to be a far, far better governor than actor, not that that bar was too high to begin with. Nonetheless, who woulda thunk?

The financial meltdown of 2008 didn't just end with a massive bailout of Wall Street. Its origins had spawned similar disasters, waiting to happen elsewhere also. And a couple of years later, the disasters began to strike. One by one, across Europe, in Iceland, Ireland, Greece, and elsewhere. The stickler-for-rules, overly trusting Germans were left holding the bag. To round it all off, Lewis returns to the United States to observe that California can serve as a microcosm of things to come. Of bad things, lurking in the darkness. Whereas financial shenanigans had sunk only banks and crippled the financial system in 2008, the second apocalypse now threatens to bring down entire countries and their economies.

The origins of this book lie in the author's earlier book, "The Big Short", and the enigmatic hedge fund manager Kyle Bass, who made a fortune by betting on the venality and avarice of Wall Street. In 2011, Kyle Bass remained as optimistically bullish in his belief that the worst was still to come. He opined that "...the financial crisis wasn’t over. It was simply being smothered by the full faith and credit of rich Western governments." How so? Well, consider the numbers. "Ireland, for instance, with its large and growing annual deficits, had amassed debts of more than twenty-five times its annual tax revenues. Spain and France had accumulated debts of more than ten times their annual revenues. Historically, such levels of government indebtedness had led to government default. “Here’s the only way I think things can work out for these countries,” Bass said. “If they start running real budget surpluses. Yeah, and that will happen right after monkeys fly out of your ass.”" [bold-emphasis mine]

And so starts the author's travels around the world, observing first-hand the travails that greed has wrought upon European economies. It begins with Iceland, and ends up in California.

Iceland turned, almost overnight, from a nation of fishermen, to a nation of bankers and hedge fund managers. And they had the United States to look upto for inspiration. "An entire nation without immediate experience or even distant memory of high finance had gazed upon the example of Wall Street and said, “We can do that". ... That was the biggest American financial lesson the Icelanders took to heart: the importance of buying as many assets as possible with borrowed money", which resulted in a couple of things happening. On the one hand, "By 2007, Icelanders owned roughly fifty times more foreign assets than they had in 2002.". On the other hand, when disaster struck, you had "Iceland’s 300,000 citizens ... bore some kind of responsibility for $100 billion in banking losses - which works out to roughly $330,000 for every Icelandic man, woman, and child." When you looked at the people running the country's finances, you had to just know that a full-blown, unmitigated disaster was just round the corner. "The minister for business affairs is a philosopher. The finance minister is a veterinarian. The Central Bank governor is a poet. Haarde, though, is a trained economist—just not a very good one. The economics department at the University of Iceland has him pegged as a B-minus student."

The biggest Greek tragedy, was perhaps fittingly, to be found in Greece. Reading about Greece, the average Indian may well be tempted to think that they were reading about India. Consider these snippets offered as evidence:
The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses.
Where waste ends and theft begins almost doesn’t matter; the one masks and thus enables the other.
It’s simply assumed, for instance, that anyone who is working for the government is meant to be bribed.
Government ministers who have spent their lives in public service emerge from office able to afford multi-million-dollar mansions and two or three country homes.
“This wasn’t all due to misreporting,” he says. “In 2009, tax collection disintegrated, because it was an election year.” “What?” He smiles. “The first thing a government does in an election year is to pull the tax collectors off the streets.”
an estimated two-thirds of Greek doctors reported incomes under 12,000 euros a year—which meant, because incomes below that amount weren’t taxable, that even plastic surgeons making millions a year paid no tax at all.
“If the law was enforced,” the tax collector said, “every doctor in Greece would be in jail.”
In short, "the banks didn’t sink the country. The country sank the banks."

Ireland is different, but only in the palette of colors used. The painting is still a mix of the macabre and grotesque.
Even in an era when capitalists went out of their way to destroy capitalism, the Irish bankers had set some kind of record for destruction.
Germany is the country everyone has been looking up to bail these economies out of the doghouse. And Germans were obsessed with rules, and believed, incredibly enough and naively enough, that others did too.
Germans longed to be near the shit, but not in it. This, as it turns out, is an excellent description of their role in the current financial crisis.
The author finally ends in California, where there is a surreal bicycle ride with the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and an even more surreal visit to the city of Valejo. As with the economies of countries, California has perhaps itself to blame for the mess it finds itself in. Its laws, that make it almost impossible for the government to raise taxes, is further compounded by the behavior of its citizens themselves, who, when given a chance to effect some reform, stood up and said no.
In November 2005 he [Arnold] called a special election that sought votes on four reforms: limiting state spending, putting an end to the gerrymandering of legislative districts, limiting public employee union spending on elections, and lengthening the time it took for public school teachers to get tenure. All four propositions addressed, directly or indirectly, the state’s large and growing financial mess. All four were defeated;
And that was pretty much the end of any hopes of reform that California had.

Kindle Excerpt:

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A King Cobra's Summer, by Janki Lenin - A Reading

"A King Cobra's Summer", by Janaki Lenin - A reading 
(Buy from Pratham Books, Flipkart)
5 stars
Gorgeously Illustrated, educational, informative, entertaining - four books in one!

On a bright Sunday morning on Dec 18, at 9:30AM, our small apartment complex library opened up, and the kids started trooping in - seven of them. All excited by the prospect of a story-telling session and the chance to do some drawing too. At the very outset I had to remind the kids, gently, without dashing their hopes, that we would "try to draw" something from the book after the reading, and that I could not guarantee any sort of decent results. I have the equivalent of "two left-feet" when it comes to drawing. I also have two left feet when it comes to dancing, so both abilities sort of complement each other. Kids being kids, all they wanted a good story and an opportunity to spread color on canvas.

This whole episode had started a couple of weeks earlier, when I had emailed Pratham Books, asking them whether I could volunteer to be a book reader for their soon-to-be-launched book, "A King Cobra's Summer", written by Janki Lenin and illustrated by Maya Ramaswamy, and be what they call a "Pratham Books Champion", an honor to be sure, since I lay no claim to being a champion. They readily accepted. Maya from Pratham Books called back and spoke with me, and a few days later the book had arrived by mail. The first order of business was for me to read the book. Which I did. In half an hour I had gone from cover to cover. I was quite taken in by the high-quality printing, the gorgeous use of colors, and the easy-to-understand prose, and how the story weaved a rich tapestry of information about the king cobra within its pages.

On the Sunday, after the children had all gathered, over the next 45 minutes we spent a very interactive 45 minutes (see - no point in wasting even a single minute) going over the book. Rather than make it a one-way aural street, I had breaks every five minutes or so, asking the children questions about Kalaa. Of course, the kids had questions of their own that couldn't wait even those five minutes! Right on the first-page, where we are told that king cobras grow to over 15 feet in length, one way to bring this length alive for the children was to tell them that 15 feet would have meant placing four kids on top of another - give or take a few feet. Or that 15 feet would have been almost the entire length of the library room. You know that children have 'got' it when you hear the appreciative 'ooh' and 'aahs' from them!

The part where Kaala gulps down the python elicited a few 'eews', and rightly so. One should peel the skin before eating it, right? Don't we peel the skin of a banana before wolfing it down? See, right there there was a distinction to be made between humans and animals, or in this case, reptiles.

A swift 45 minutes later, it was time to start with the drawing, and to bring out the Raja Ravi Verma in all. Or so went the wistful hope.

The portraits of Kaala on pages 2 and 20 were quit similar, and in the end we selected the one on page 2 to draw. It also looked the easier of the two. Once the outline had been drawn, the children went about tracing the outline with a black sketch pen, and then started filling in the colors.

What you see on the whiteboard down is my own attempt at fleeting artistic immortality. The book lies at the foot of the whiteboard with its pages opened to the pages.

By about 11AM or so we had decided to wind up - the children had shared a very enjoyable 90 minutes listening to, participating, and then drawing from the lovely book, A King Cobra's Summer.

Kudos to Pratham Books and their amazing team for everything. Their books are informative. They are educational. And they are entertaining. And they are cheap. I kid you not. And that's not even a pun. The books are very affordable, and here's to them coming closer every single day to their aim of getting a book into every child's hands.

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai  (Kindle, Flipkart, my user review on
4 stars
The Journey Is In the Evocative Stories, Not the Climax As Such
After reading these three stories, I felt a bit disappointed. After thinking a little bit, I realized that I was mistaking her novellas for some crime thrillers, that needed to have some nailbiting, cliffhanger climactic end. That is not the case. These novellas satisfied my need to read good quality writing.

There are three novellas here - "The Museum of Final Journeys", "Translator Translated", and "The Artist of Disappearance" - eponymous with the title. For my money I enjoyed the second story the most - the story about a middle aged woman who faithfully and lovingly and successfully translates the work of an Oriya language writer, but for the second translation casts a more critical eye ("more professional perhaps?") - "I began to wonder if publishing such a disappointing novel would be good for Suvarna Devi's reputation, which I had worked hard to establish."

The third one is the most abstract, so to say, but not without its moments of levity - "... there was no way they could carry their equipment down there: it was unfortunate that Nakhu was only partially and not completely a donkey." The prose is also sort of reminiscent of RK Narayan's writing perhaps...

Yes - I think I enjoyed the book as a whole. Satisfying in the way that stays with you after you have finished reading the book.

The Artist Of Disappearance

Kindle Excerpt

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

About Me - Photography 1

I got interested in photography in 1999. Till that time I had had a point-and-shoot 35 mm Canon film camera, and I would, like most people I knew, carry the camera to places I went, take a few snaps, get them developed, and stick them into an album. In case you are wondering, and this is most likely to happen if you don't 'go' back to the 90s, then this whole talk about '35mm' and 'film' cameras will seem quaint and odd. Let me clarify. The first thing to clarify is that in 1999 digital cameras were far and few in-between. A megapixel was a big deal, and most digital cameras were sub-pixel in resolution and no match for even the most basic of 35mm point-and-shoot cameras when it came to quality. And they were costly. Digital cameras. Things would change rapidly in just a few years. But in the reality of digital cameras that existed in 1999, 'affordable' was not a word you would find in its dictionaries. A digital camera was therefore not on my mind at that time. The second point follows from the first: shooting on 35mm negatives meant you had to get them processed and then printed. This usually happened at the local K-Mart of Wal-Mart. There you generally got two options: one was to use the store's in-house processing and printing capabilities, the second was to use Kodak processing. Kodak processing was about a dollar or two costlier than the in-house option for the entire 35mm roll, but gave much better results. Since I was not shooting that much anyway, it did not make much of a difference, and I would go for the Kodak processing option. 

The photos that I did want to share via email, or put on my website, I would scan using a flatbed scanner, and then upload them. Even the scanning had to be done at low resolutions, and the resulting image file no larger than a 100KB in most cases. This also had its origins in the cost of storage. Email providers like Hotmail, Yahoo, and others usually provided 2MB or 4MB of free storage space. You could purchase a massive amount of 25MB for something like $25 a year, but most did not. I did not. Lest you wonder, Google mail (Gmail) did not exist at that time. Google the company itself was a year old. So you could not send large images to your friends and relatives. You ran the risk of overwhelming their entire email quotas, which would make you rather unpopular with such friends and relatives. Hosting space was at a premium - especially the free one, and hard drives in those days maxed out at under 10GB or so. External hard drives were costly. Flash drives were almost unheard of - and their capacities was measured in KB and not MB. USB had just about made its appearance in consumer PCs a year or two earlier, USB2 was a few years away. External storage, for the most part, came in 3.5" floppy diskettes. You could also buy CD writers, but these ran at a few hundred dollars, and the CD-R discs were themselves about a couple of dollars each. So you see, there were limitations imposed on storage.

Till 1999 I had little idea about either film speeds or exposures - the basics of photography. You see, automatic cameras took care of all that - auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto-forward, auto-everything. All I had to care about was to make sure that the film had been properly inserted into the camera. You really did not want to shoot an entire roll of film, pop out the lid at the back, only to discover that the film leader had somehow not latched itself quite properly into the camera, and all you had been shooting were blanks, so to say. I was photographing, but I knew next to nothing about photography.

In 1999 I decided to invest a little money in a better camera than I had. The reason I came to this decision was actually quite silly. I had gone to San Francisco to visit my cousins, and there, in bright San Francisco daylight, under the open skies at the Golden Gate bridge, I had shot photos with ISO 400 speed film. The others had used Kodak ISO100 film. And when I compared the prints, I realized mine were not as saturated in color as theirs. Mine sucked, to put it simply. The short of it was, and I of course would not want to admit that even if I had known it, that I knew nothing about photography.

To remedy my less than desirable results I had to take a decision. Providing impetus to the decision was a realization that I had started taking more pictures than before. I had refused to accept that photography was becoming a hobby for me. Now I could continue to stumble on as before, take mediocre photographs with a mediocre camera, and exult at the occasional good photograph, pat myself on my back on a job well done, more the result of accident than design, and continue taking mediocre photographs. That was certainly a course of action that required little to no effort on my part. It was the status-quo. It was the path of least resistance. But what was clear was one thing: taking more photographs was not making me a better photographer.

This is the first post in this series. I am also posting this to a page I have added to my blog, About. As this year progresses I too intend to make progress in adding to this page.

Live long and prosper.

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Camel Club by David Baldacci - Review

The Camel Club, by David Baldacci (, Kindle e-book, Flipkart, my user review on Amazon) - my review
5 stars
Thrilling fast-paced page-turner. A few holes in the plot. And yes, Mahatma Gandhi could have written the ending!

After having read two disappointing Baldacci novels (The Winner and Hell's Corner) that flattered to deceive, this one is a much better read. Graded on a curve, yes, this is a five-star read.
Oliver Stone, fka John Carr, is still very much a man of mystery here. His past is decades behind him and we are not given much background there. The Camel Club has already been in existence for years. What we do get to learn is that there is a very sinister plot being, err.. plotted, to assassinate the President of the United States, and too in his hometown. Arabs, Pakistanis, Iranians, and well, basically, it looks like Islamic terrorists may be involved. That cannot be a good thing. And then there is this killing of an NIC operative that is witnessed by the Camel Club. The plot makes it way through the book in an unhurried though gripping manner. The climax is fast-paced, and the denouement takes place in a former CIA and now abandoned facility named "Murder Mountain".

Having read two of Baldacci's novels, The Winner and Hell's Corner, both promising but ultimately disappointing, The Camel Club is much better. The plot, and especially the ending, when fully revealed, is still fantastical, and I will note again, one that could have been written by Mahatma Gandhi - without saying more. Read the book to find out. Parts of the plot are still a little implausible, but that is excusable here.

In short, gripping fast-paced turner that doesn't ask for much thinking from the reader.
My review post of "Hell's Corner"
My review of "The Winner"

Kindle Excerpt:

© 2012, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hudson News at Changi Singapore Airport

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Review of India's Culture and India's Future by Michel Danino

Indian Culture and India's Future, by Michel Danino 

(,, my user review on
5 stars
This is a notable book I read and reviewed. Click to see more such books.
Ready reckoner for the confused Indian and the misinformed rest.
A book that attempts to put forward the vast richness of India's culture, its contribution to the world, and the crossroads the country and its culture finds itself at.

Indians have long been accused of looking at their past with rose-tinted lenses and a sort of smugness about their superiority. A lack of knowledge about their past means most Indians have no objective perspective of their present, nor are they able to cogently argue why India's contributions to the world have been so often and so grossly misrepresented. This book attempts to put together, in one short read, a guide on India's past, its achievements, its thinkers, its contributions, and also tries to identify the causes that have led to this strange sense of dissociation and lack of pride that so many Indians have for India and its culture and heritage.

The first part of the book, titled "A Thousand-Branched Tree" covers the history of India's scientific minds and scientific discoveries, the vast reach of India's culture that pervades most of the world today, its contributions to art and culture, and its deep sense of respect for nature - yes; green was cool in India a few thousand years before the rest of the world discovered that annihilating the environment was, to put it mildly, not a good idea.

The second part then treads ground close to the present, and is titled, "Indian Culture at the Crossroads". This section covers the problems facing India and its cultural identity, and its causes.

The final section is "India and the World". This section looks at the distortions, stereotypes and outright lies that have been used to malign India.

Note that there is enough material that is likely to be offend people with sensitive sensibilities. Leftists, liberals, and communists for one - the historical kind, the ones in the media, and the ones with pretensions to intellect, since they have been at the forefront of the admirably successful campaign over the past several decades to run down India and its culture. However, when arguing with the wind of facts at your back, the proper response should be introspection from those so offended, not invective. There has also been a concerted effort by some in western media - a very smartly choreographed drama - that utilizes oft-repeated lies, a selective use of distortions, and a glib overlooking of evidence and contrarian evidence. The most pernicious example is the persistent perpetration of the fiction that there was a so-called Aryan invasion of India. But more on that in a future post.

This book can be read from cover to cover in three hours or so. I recommend that people interested in and who care for India would be well advised to spend these few hours in this book. They will be amply rewarded and enriched by that time.

"Blaming India's present degradation on her ancient culture or civilization is not merely ignorant, it is dishonest." [pg 20]

India's Scientific Mind
In the space of 121 concise, sometimes cryptic verses, Aryabhta, born in 476CE, possibly the greatest mathematician ever, gave us the following advances:
. a proposed value of pi (Π) equal to 62832/20000 or 3.1.416 ... and a surprisingly perceptive explanation that this value is only 'approximate';
. an ingenious method for the extraction of square and cube roots
. a succinct and precise table of sines (or jya), in the form of just two lines of coded syllables, giving sine values of angles up to 90° (in twelve increments of 3° 45')...
. a statement that the earth is a sphere with a diameter of 1,050 yojanas, which comes fairly close to the actual figure;
. a prescient observation that the earth's rotation is what causes the fixed stars to appear to move. (... Aryabhata's system remained basically geocentric; heliocentricism appears first with Parameswara and more clearly with his disciple Nilakantha Somayaji (1444-1545), two celebrated Kerala astronomers who predate Copernicus.)
. a correct understanding of the basic mechanism of solar and lunar eclipses, which he attributed to the moon's disc and the earth's shadow respectively;
. a notion that the moon and planets are not self-luminous but actually reflect sunlight.
But this is not all. Aryabhata's work on yugas led him to "a contemplation of the infinite which was a hallmark of Indian savants: 'Time is without beginning or end,' said Aryabhata. From this 'contemplation' flowed insights which our rational mind can only regard as 'coincidences': the value of a 'day of Brahma', 4.32 billion years, 'happens' to be almost exactly the age of the earth.' [pg 27]

In contrast, "In the seventeenth century, Archbishop James Usher revised those calculations (not the Indian calculations) and proposed that the universe had been created in 4004 BCE, a belief that prevailed until Darwin." [pg 34].

Lest the enlightened mind think that Aryabhata was a lone flash-in-the-pan  in the wilderness of Indian scientific thought, there is more.

The single greatest mathematical concept of all time has to be the decimal place value notational system, and it was developed in India.
The 594 CE incscription from Sankheda (near Baroda) is the oldest dated Indian document containing a number written in the place-value form. ... [pg 62]
Sayana and the Speed of Light
As far as we know, it was measured for the first time by the Danish astronomer Ole Roemer in 1675, with an error of 25 percent, and more precisely in the nineteenth century. But there is a curious comment by the fourteenth-century Vedic commentator Sayana on a hymn of the Rig Veda addressed to Surya, the sun-god. Sayana records a tradition associated with Surya:
   Thus it is remembered:
   [O Surya] you who traverse 2,202 yojanas in half a minute.
In much of ancient literature, the yojana is equated to 8,000 human lengths, or 13.6 km taking an average height of 1.70 m. ... And the nimesha's value is generally 16/75th of a second. With these values, Sayana's statement yields a speed of 280,755 km/s, remarkably close to the known velocity of light (299,792 km/s, thus some 6 percent too small). [pg 35]

Quantum physicist Edwin Schrodinger counted the Bhagavad-Gita and the Upanishads among his favourite readings (and named his dog 'Atman'!):
This life of yours which you are living is not entirely a piece of this entire existence, but in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in this sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: tat tvam asi, this is you.... [pg 70]
Speaking of medicine, the notion of "invisible creatures" finds mention in Indian texts:
Thus the Ashtangahridayasamhita refers to blood corpuscles that are 'circular, legless, invisible, and coppery in colour' - strangely reminiscent of red blood cells... [pg 39]
India's contributions were not limited to contemplations on the universe and the world. They extended to outside India too, in the form of commerce for instance.
... cowrie shells originating form India or the Maldives were used as currency in Kenya and Egypt in the third millenium BCE
... Recent excavations at the Egyptian Red Sea port of Berenike have confirmed that an extensive sea trade existed between India and the Middle East from the third century BCE onward... [pg 52]

From about 500 BCE, the celebrated 'wootz' steel produced in south India was exported to the Middle East and Europe; it was called 'Damascus steel' as it was there that it was made into sharp swords
The ancient Iranian port city of Siraf (modern Taheri) was entirely built with Indian teakwood.
[pg 67-68]

One firm evidence for the spread of Hinduism comes to us from Armenia in the second century BCE. This region then included a part of Turkey and a part of Iran, and two Indian princes had travelled there from Kannauj, bringing with them a cult of Krishna and founding a city called Veeshap. They were killed in some quarrel, but their descendants built two temples...  The temples, which contained two brass statues about five and seven meters high of a god called 'Kissaneh' (Krishna, obviously), were destroyed about 301 CE by 'Saint' Gregory the Illuminator, amid the slaughter of over 1000 resisting Hindus, including the temple priests; the survivors were forcibly baptized. [pgs 53, 54]
In the eighteenth century, for instance, Voltaire pointed out that the Christian use of holy water had its origin in the sanctity attached to Ganga water. [pg 54]

On The Bhagvad Gita
Chapter 7 is titled, "The Gita and the Problem of Action". This holy song of the Lord has inspired Indians to action and has acted as a guiding light for millions over the millenia. The Independence movement was no different.
Indeed, the revolutionaries in Bengal and Maharashtra drew such inspiration from the Gita that the colonial authorities came to regard it as a 'gospel of terrorism', and it became one of the most sought-after pieces of evidence in police raids. It is also one of the chief influences cited in the 1918 Rowlatt Sedition Committee Report, side by side with Swami Vivekananda's works. [page 146]
It is then little surprise to read what so-called Indologists like Wendy Doniger have to say about the Gita.
Witness this statement made in 2000 by Wendy Doniger ... : 'The Bhagavad Gita is not as nice a book as some Americans think,' she informed her audience. 'Throughout the Mahabharata ... Krishna goads human beings into all sorts of murderous and self-destructive behaviors as war ... The Gita is a dishonest book; it justifies war.'
Genuine philosophers like Sri Aurobindo, Swami Vivekananda, and countless others, on the other hand, saw in the Gita much enlightenment.

The Gita had a profound impact on the US philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson:
I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-Gita. It was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy... It [Vedic thought] is sublime as night and a breathless ocean.
As an aside, J. Robert Oppenheimer, often called "the father of the atomic bomb", remarked that the first atomic bomb test "brought to mind words from the Bhagavad Gita: "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.""

Emerson's disciple, Henry David Thoreau, spoke no less highly of Hindu thought:
In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmological philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seems puny. [pg 59]
India and the World
In the third section, the author points out several incongruities that arise if you compare Indian literature and the doctrine of hatred and division sowed by English colonialists, missionaries, and more recently by communist historians.
Nowhere in the Sangam literature (the most ancient in Tamil) do we find a hint of a cultural clash with the North or with Vedic culture. Quite the contrary, we find the Vedas and the recitation of Vedic mantras praised from the earliest layers of this literature. [page 170]
It is perhaps so often overlooked that "distinctiveness is not separateness."

Again, the terrible lies that "India's numerous tribes never had anything to do with Hinduism until it was 'imposed' upon them by Brahman 'missionaries'" is not borne by facts.
Not only is there no trace of any such 'imposition', Hinduism is in reality the result of a long and fruitful interaction between Vedic culture and tribal cults, with many tribal deities enrichening the Hindu pantheon and tribal practices, rituals, and art forms getting absorbed - a wholly organic process controlled by no authority or clergy. [page 171]
It perhaps does not require repetition that the problem is not with the religion, but with those who have misused and misrepresented religion and the name of religion for their own selfish ends.
"Francis Xavier had this to write in a letter to his fellow Jesuits at Rome's Society of Jesus in 1543:
When all are baptized I order all the temples of their false gods to be destroyed and all the idols to be broken in pieces. I can give you no idea of the joy I feel in seeing this done, witnessing the destruction of the idols by the very people who but lately adored them." [page 172]
The author also laments the ubiquitous practice of self-censorship followed by historians in India. This is supposedly done "for fear of offending today's Muslim Indians. Yet the latter are no more responsible for them than today's Germans are responsible for Nazi atrocities."

Yet another blow against India's struggle for truth is wielded by Marxist historiographers like Bipin Chandra, who in his textbook on Modern India "used the words "terrorism" and "terrorists" seven times in just two pages to describe revolutionaries in India's freedom struggle, no doubt aware of how the word's connotation has shifted in recent decades. ... there is no excuse for using it in a modern textbook without a suitable explanation: India's freedom fighters did not explode bombs in public places with a view to causing as many deaths as possible, nor did they take hostages or use suicide bombers..."  [page 181]

In the words of the author, "Marxist historiography is in many ways the inheritor and continuer of the colonial, Eurocentric view of India, although in a new garb. ... it finds no intrinsic or endearing value in Indian civilization or in its contributions to humanity."

This book, as I said at the beginning, is a short read. The writing style is engaging and simple. The organization of the chapters is logical and each chapter is focused on a theme or single topic, and therefore easy to follow. There is a rich list of references at the end of the book. This book should help educate Indians about the unsurpassed richness of their culture and heritage, its scientific spirit that has fostered innovations for thousands of years, and also of the challenges facing Indian society, which is under stress from several quarters. The need of the hour is to raise awareness among the youth to these issues.

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© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.