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.