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: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide, by Gary Bass

Warning: graphic language. Reader discretion advised.

One-line review: Shines a light and lays bare an ugly passage in American diplomacy.

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

Note: since I first wrote this and other reviews of Devdutt Pattanaik's books, I have gained a better understanding of Hindu texts and scriptures. I believe Devdutt Pattanaik's writings are influenced heavily by western frameworks and agendas on the one hand, and introduce subtle and sometimes outright distortions in the interpretation of these texts. A small sample of the kinds of outright errors and distortions that would shame any scholar of Hinduism can be found in this blog post.
I therefore do not recommend any of Devdutt Pattanaik's books that I have reviewed on my blog. - Abhinav, Nov 3, 2017.

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

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". 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

India's Iron Man - Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, by Balraj Krishna

Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel: India's Iron Man (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

Photos from Diwali 2013

Diwali - the festival of lights.
Some photos of firecrackers taken over two days.

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

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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mahabharata Ch 16-20, Adi Parva, Astika Parva

[Ch 11,12,13,14,15 « Ch 16,17,18,19,20 » Ch 21,22,23,24,25]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Astika; Chapter:16; Shlokas:40
Continuing, Souti described the dimensions of Mount Mandara as 11,000 yojanas above and below. The gods failed to uproot the mountain, and approached Brahma for help. Directed by Narayana at Brahma's behest, Ananta (Sesha naag) uprooted the mountain, and the gods took Mount Mandara to the ocean. The lord of the rivers agreed to let the gods churn the ocean but demanded his share in return for bearing the churning. After which the gods and demons went to Akupara, the king of the tortoises to bear the mountain on his back. Akupara agreed and using instruments, Indra fixed the mountain to the tortoise's back, and using Vasuki as the rope the churning began. As the head of the naga Vasuki was raised up and down repeatedly, "black smoke and flaming winds issued from his mouth." However, this smoke gave rise to rain filled clouds, bringing relief to the gods.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Make Time for the Work That Matters

Make Time for the Work That Matters

"Make Time for the Work That Matters" is an article from the Sep 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review, written by Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen. For the time being, the full article is available on the HBR site, and not behind a subscriber paywall.
The article promises to shed light on a problem that has defied a workable and lasting solution - how to spend more time on the really useful things. While the article does a good job of articulating the pressing need for to save time in the workplace, the proposed solutions however fall short of what would qualify as meaningful or workable.

Mahabharata Ch 11-15, Adi Parva, Pouloma,Astika Parva

[Ch 6,7,8,9,10 « Ch 11,12,13,14,15 » Ch 16,17,18,19,20]

Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Pouloma; Chapter:11; Shlokas:17

The dundhuba told Ruru that he once had a brahmana friend named Khagama. Out of "juvenile playfulness" (क्रीडता बाल्ये) he once scared Khagama senseless with a snake made out of blades of grass. An angry Khagama cursed him to turn into a powerless snake for having used a powerless snake (made from blades of grass) to mock him. A penitent dundhubu asked for mercy. A softened Khagama prophesied that he would be freed from the curse on seeing Ruru.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati, Michel Danino

The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati, by Michel Danino

The Lost River: On The Trail of the Sarasvati, by Michel Danino

 Kindle IN, Amazon US, Amazon IN, Kindle USFlipkart

One-line review: Remarkable book that tells the remarkable history of a remarkable river that sustained a remarkable civilization!

Short review: It is rare that a book flows with the same ease and felicity as the river it seeks to describe. This is that rare book. The river Saraswati, when it flowed some five thousand years ago, gave birth to the most massive and advanced ancient civilization that existed. The almost million square kilometers of land that formed the Indus Saraswati Civilization saw the development of the most advanced urban planning in the ancient world, a system of standardized weights and measures that boggles the mind, a social order that was more egalitarian than has ever existed anywhere since. When the river stopped flowing - severely depleted by the "double desertion" of the Sutlej and Yamuna - it caused a massive abandonment of the Indus Saraswati sites, with its residents migrating to the Gangetic plains and elsewhere, giving birth to a new phase in the evolution of the Vedic dharma which saw its birth amidst the fertile plains of the Indus Saraswati. That the existence of this once mighty river is in dispute is itself a sordid tale of ideologies polluting academics. Michel Danino writes fluidly, engagingly - makes this book a page-turner.

Long review:

Friday, August 30, 2013

Interview with Bibek Debroy on the Mahabharata

Icing on a Delicious Cake

People following my blog will know that I started reading and writing about Dr. Bibek Debroy's unabridged translation of the Mahabharata in 2012. Some time ago I asked Dr. Bibek Debroy if he would be willing to answer some questions I had on the Mahabharata and its unabridged translation he has been doing. He graciously consented, and soon enough I typed out a list of fifteen questions. Within a couple of days I got his detailed response to my questionnaire.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Mahabharata Ch 6-10, Adi Parva, Pouloma Parva

[Ch 1,2,3,45 « Ch 6,7,8,9,10 » Ch 11,12,13,14,15]
Parva:Adi; Upa-parva:Pouloma; Chapter:6Shlokas:13

Puloman carried away Puloma, but this angered her unborn son, still in her womb. He fell down, and thus got the name Chyavana ("The word means to be deprived of, or perishing."). Puloman let go of Puloma, but himself fell down and was burnt to ashes. As a weeping Puloma carried Chyavana, a river of tears followed in her footsteps. Brahma named the river Vadhusara.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mahabharata Chs 1-5, Adi Parva

[Ch 1,2,3,4,5 » Ch 6,7,8,9,10]

Parva: Adi; Upa-parva: Anukramanika; Chapter: 1; Shlokas: 210

नारायणं नमस्कृत्य नरं चैव नरोत्तमम् |
देवीं सरस्वतीं चैव ततो जयमुदीरयेत् ||

"Jaya must be recited after having bowed in obeisance before Nayarana and also Nara, the supreme human being, and also the goddess Sarasvati."

The first upa-Parva in the Mahabharata - Anukramanika Parva - consists of only one chapter, and as stated by Dr. Bibek Debroy, is "clearly a later addition and sets out the background for the recital of the story and summarizes the main incidents...".

Saturday, August 10, 2013

In Spite of the Gods, by Edward Luce

In Spite of the Gods - The Rise of Modern India, By Edward Luce

2 stars
One line review: Crass. Clueless. Sadly Shallow.

Long review: Written by an editor with the Financial Times (Edward Luce was the newspaper's South Asia bureau chief between 2001 and 2006, based out of New Delhi), the book starts off earnestly enough, but falls rapidly into a morass of political biases, cheap shots, shallow-to-nonexistent analysis, ending as another example of those books that people aspire to write, have the connections to do so, yet should not.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Land of the Seven Rivers, by Sanjeev Sanyal

Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India's Geography, by Sanjeev Sanyal

One line review: Five millennia, one history, one nation, one helluva book.

Short review: This book is a second, much grander and a much better attempt by the author to answer one question. This time around though, he goes deeper and farther back in the history of the land of seven rivers - India, presents us with his findings, and posits that India has had a sense of history - one that not only goes back several unbroken thousand years, but has found echo in successive empires and invaders seeking to associate themselves with this history. As the author travels through the country - in time as well as geography - we are treated to some long-forgotten incidents that should have been part of our curricula, as well as fascinating insights into such endeavours as the mapping of the country by the colonials, which itself was a source of competitive advantage in a manner of speaking. The second question, which the author attempted to answer in his first book, but with less than middling success, is why India went into decline a thousand years ago. The answer, my friend, is blowin in the wind, and you need to turn the pages to find it. The truth is out there in the hardcover. A must read. Makes it to my best books I have read in 2013 (see this and this for a review of the notable books I read in 2012).

Long review:

Using R to Unlock the Value of Big Data

Using R to Unlock the Value of Big Data, by Tom Plunkett, Mark Hornick

4 stars

This is a brief (approximately 80 pages) introduction targeted at users with an intermediate-level exposure of R and who want to get a quick look at working with R with Oracle's products. Strictly speaking, this is not an introduction to R, nor is this an R tutorial. It is, very specifically, an introduction to R as it integrates with and relates to the Oracle Database, the Oracle R Distribution, and the Oracle R Connector for Hadoop. The main chapters are "Using Oracle R Enterprise" and "Oracle R Connector for Hadoop", which have sixteen and seventeen examples, respectively, to help you get started.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Krishna on Svayamvara

(edited Aug 4, 2014)
Svayamvaras resulted in much confusion and carnage in the Mahabharata. There is the svayamvara of the daughters of the King of Kashi - Amba, Ambika, and Ambalika. The story of a spurned Amba is an epic in itself.Then there is the most famous of all - Droupadi's svayamvara, where none of the princes and kings could win the competition. It was then that Arjuna, in disguise as a brahmana, won. Krishna attended Droupadi's svayamvar, but did not participate in it. Why we are not told. The svaymvara of Damayanti that Nala attended, but with four other gods also desiring Damayanti is another interesting episode. Krishna was involved in yet another svayamvara, this time not as a spectator but as an active participant - that of Rukmini. Rukmini wanted to marry Krishna, and not Shishupala. Krishna swooped down and carried off a willing Rukmini.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Mohammed Rafi - My Abba - A Memoir

Mohammed Rafi My Abba - a Memoir, by Yasmin Khalid Rafi

One-line review: a daughter-in-law's honest and loving tribute to a legend.
Short review: That Mohd Rafi was a genius at his craft is well-known. That he was also a genuinely good human in an industry known for its cut-throat and back-stabbing competition is what makes him an awe-inspiring legend, even thirty three years after his death. This book collects together his daughter-in-law's reminiscences of Mohd Rafi - her idol, her father-in-law, interspersed with her life before and after marriage, in Indore and later in London. A brief index of songs referenced in the book and twelve pages of black-and-white photographs add to the appeal of this short book.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Mahabharata and The Godfather

With this one post I may end up offending both the Mahabharata and The Godfather fans.

Let us start with The Godfather, one of the best Hollywood movies and loved by many with the same passion as Sholay is by Indians. In The Godfather there is a scene when Sollozzo, a mafia boss, wants Don Vito Corleone's political and police connections to extend to his proposed drugs business. The Don refuses, saying it is "a little dangerous." Sollozzo offers to have the Tattaglias guarantee the Don's security, at which point Sonny Coreleone, the Don's hot-headed son interjects. The Don shuts him with a cold stare. The meeting ends and Sollozzo leaves, after which the Don addresses his son [emphasis mine]:

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Strand Book Stall Sale, July 2013

Valuing Waning Nostalgia

The Strand Book Stall sale used to be a much bigger, better attended, and eagerly expected event than it is now. People's reading habits have not decreased. Online bookstores have proliferated that offer books at 20%, 30%, 40% off and even greater discounts. This is of course great news to both the casual reader and the bibliophile - so no complaints there. The flip side of this trend has been the slow decline of traditional bookstores like the Strand Book Stall. Crossword and Odyssey continue to hurt. Crossword is trying to find new niches by opening small stores inside stores like Shopper's Stop.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Inferno by Dan Brown

Inferno, by Dan Brown

"An Annotated Frommer's Guide"
2 stars

Robert Langdon is in a race to read us the entire text of Frommer's "Eight Nights in Rome, Venice, and Florence", and tell us everything we wished and not about Dante's Inferno. Robert Langdon is back, and the tall and handsome professor has to use his knowledge of symbology, yet, yet, yet again, to try and save the world from the diabolical plans of a now-dead billionaire who believes too many humans overpopulate the planet and therefore the only way to prevent the extinction of the human species is by, get this, killing them off, or at least most of them.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

WebEx 2002 - Sands of Silicon Valley

Companies on the sands of Silicon Valley: Webex
This is another from the several photos I took while in the Bay Area in the summer of 2002. WebEx was started in 1996, and acquired by Cisco in 1997 2007 in a multi-billion dollar deal. Cisco has continued to preserve the separate brand identity of WebEx, and has allowed WebEx to grow into a leader in web conferencing, despite the presence of several competitors.

© 2002, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mahabharata Quotes - Shalya Parva

Quotes from the Shalya Parva

Shalya, the maternal uncle (Madri's brother) to the Pandavas, took over command of the eviscerated Kaurava army after the death of Karna. He remained commander for not even a full day, and was "slain by Dharmaraja at midday." [9.1] and while the war was over for all practical purposes on the eighteenth day, Shalya Parva continues beyond the eighteenth day and into the nineteenth, and ends only with the duel between Duryodhana and Bhima.

Idiots on Roads - 13

Roads are so scarce in Bangalore that it is ok to use the pavement as a road. Thus goes the philosophy of these four two-wheeler riders. Look closely and you will see a cross-section of society on these two-wheelers. An IT employee for sure, a lady on a scooter, two gentlemen transporting some material. In short, the abuse of the pavement has been completely internalized by people.

No registration plates. No temporary plates. No dealer tag either. No fear of the law either.

© 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Nageshwar Jyotirling, Dwarka, Gujarat

On our trip to Gujarat a couple of years back, we knew we would not be able to cover even half the spots we wanted to. Making it a mad dash from one place to the other was not exactly our goal either. Therefore we decided to cover the southern coast of the state of Gujarat, which meant starting from Bhavnagar, where some of our extended family is. We landed at Ahmedabad and took the road to Bhavnagar. Enroute we stopped at the Harappan town of Lothal. There we got a personal guided tour from a dock owner at the shipbreaking port of Alang. From there we got on the road, and made a dash to Dwarka, passing the oil refinery town of Jamnagar. From there we drove down to Sasan Gir, the last preserve of the Asiatic lion. While in Dwarka we also stopped by the Nageshwara Jyotirlinga, one of the twelve jyotirlinga shrines mentioned in the Shiv Purana (see Wikipedia excerpt below).

Waiting for the Biblioburro

Waiting for the Biblioburro by Monica Brown, Illustrations by John Parra

Inspiring short story.
When Ana, the little girl, has time to her own, she spends it with her libro - her book, her only book, a book gifted to little Ana by the only teacher in their village, who has since moved away. One day a man - a librarian - with two donkeys (burros), Alfa and Beto, carrying books, visits Ana's village. Ana has all the books she can carry. When will the bibliotecario on the burro, the Biblioburro, return? Ana can't wait.
This endearing short story is inspired by a real-life biblioburro the author met - Luis Soriano Bohorquez, in Columbia, who delivers books to children in remote villages on his two donkeys.

5 stars
(Amazon US / UK / CAKindle US / UK / CAFlipkart, Powell's, Indie Books)

ISBN: 9781582463537 (hardcover)
9781582463988 (gibraltar library binding)

Kindle Excerpt:

© 2013, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Joy of X - Steven Strogatz

Image credit, stevenstrogatz.com

The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity by Steven Strogatz  

5 stars
One-line review: X Marks The Spot. Spot On!!

Short review: This short book, over the short space of 250 pages, covers thirty different topics, grouped into six sections, and is lucid, simple, and yet engaging enough to make you want to learn, re-learn math. Even better, if this book makes you want to bring across the magic of math to children, yours or any, then that is surely worth something, isn't it? The book's success lies in the fact that it successfully treads the middle path between the two extremes that many other books tend to fall into - either picking one topic and getting so technical as to lose the reader somewhere between page 10 and 15, or so unsure of the reader's interest in math as to not talk about math itself and get bogged down with the personalities of math.

Friday, July 5, 2013

HBR - Uses and Abuses of Influence

The Uses (and Abuses) of Influence

From the July-August 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review comes an "interview with Robert Cialdini by Sarah Cliffe". At least for the time being, the full article is available on the HBR site here, and not behind a subscriber paywall.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Mahabharata Quotes - Karna Parva

Quotes from the Karna Parva

By the time Karna takes over the reigns of the Kaurava army, the fighting has gone on for fifteen days, and the worst is almost over. Cousin will still kill cousin, and brother will still kill brother, but both armies have been decimated, more so the larger Kaurava army, and Karna is commander for only two days. The seventeenth day also sees Shalya appointed Karna's charioteer - a masterstroke of psychological warfare. Shalya ends up completely distracting Karna, leading to his death at his younger brother Arjuna's hands. Bhima tears apart his cousin Duhshasana, and Sahadeva kills his uncle Shakuni.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Mahabharata Quotes - Drona Parva

After Bhishma falls in battle on the tenth day, there are two important decisions taken. The first is Karna's entry into the war, and the second is the appointment of Drona as the commander of the Kaurava army. The fiercest, bloodiest battle takes place in this parva. It is perhaps most famous for the killing of Abhimanyu, the sixteen year old son of Arjuna, but there are several other incidents that are noteworthy, especially for the way in which they bring out the utter despair of war.

  • "Learned ones say that in this world, association with the virtuous is more important that a relationship resulting from birth. Do not make your association with the Kurus false."
    [Bhishma to Karna, Dronabhisheka Parva, Drona Parva, Ch 4]

  • "Someone whose objective is at stake, sees things in a different way that another person never can."
    [Karna to Duryodhana, Dronabhisheka Parva, Drona Parva, Ch 5]

  • Berenstain Bears' Report Card Trouble

    The Berenstain Bears' Report Card Trouble

    by Stan Berenstain (Author) , Jan Berenstain (Author)
    3 stars
    Grades, soup, and stereotypes.

    Brother Bear has not been studying, spending most of his time in physical education. When the report card comes, it is expectedly unpleasant, and Papa Bear unsurprisingly explodes. Will Brother Bear stay grounded for kingdom come, or will he be able turn around his grades.

    Friday, June 28, 2013

    HBR - Change for Change's Sake

    Change for Change’s Sake

    by Freek Vermeulen, Phanish Puranam, and Ranjay Gulati

    Change for Change’s Sake - Harvard Business Review, from the June 2010 issue of HBR, is a good article on how to decide it is time for organizational change in a company, and how to ask whether the persistence of any one organizational structure is fostering the growth of silos and entrenched networks, stifling of innovation, and adaptability.

    A short series of questions, grouped into three sets can help companies get started on assessing the need for change.

    Sunday, June 23, 2013

    Mahabharata Quotes - Bhishma Parva

    The names of Parvas six through nine of the Mahabharata are easy enough to remember. They are each named after the commander of the Kaurava army during the eighteen day war - Bhishma, Drona, Karna, Shalya. Bhishma Parva then is the name of the sixth parva in the Mahabharata, and it covers the first ten days of the war. More pertinently, the sixty third parva of the Mahabharata, which is the third parva in the Bhishma Parva, is the Bhagavad Gita parva - which contains the song of the lord. I have not included quotes from that parva in this post. That needs to go into a separate post of its own. Here then are selected quotes from the Bhishma Parva.

    Friday, June 21, 2013

    HBR - The Unmanageable Star Performer

    The Unmanageable Star Performer

    The Unmanageable Star Performer - Harvard Business Review, from the May 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review

    This is a fictionalized case-study, "based on the case study "Superstar Leaders," by Abhishek Goel and Neharika Vohra (Indian Institute of Management, 2007)."

    Sunday, June 16, 2013

    Tinderbox, by MJ Akbar

    Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan, by M.J. Akbar

    "One good section, two okay parts, and several instances of selective interpretations."

    4 stars
    (Flipkart, Flipkart ebookAmazon US / CA / UKKindle US / UKCAPowell's)

    One-line review: Two books, three parts, and some parts confusion and obfuscation.

    Monday, June 10, 2013

    The Indian Renaissance, by Sanjeev Sanyal

    The Indian Renaissance: India's Rise after a Thousand Years of Decline, by Sanjeev Sanyal

    3 stars
    "Useful enough. But... Misleading title, dry and unengaging prose"
    (Amazon USUKCA, Flipkart)
    One-line review: Useful in its own right, but makes for dry and uninviting prose.

    Short review: If a country is indeed seen as rising after a thousand years of decline, and if you put so in the title of your book, it stands to reason you are expected to devote some amount of reasoning and logic to that line. This book does not. Why the decline happened is only fleetingly touched upon, and without much conviction. The book's stronger sections are towards the latter part, especially when talking about the country's broken education system and its archaic and dysfunctional justice system. The book's heart is in the right place, but it needed more meat on its bones, and a more vigorous heart, so to say, to elevate it from the ranks of the me-too to a must-read.