Saturday, December 17, 2022

Vishnu Purana, tr. by Bibek Debroy

Vishnu Purana, translated by Bibek Debroy

A book that stays close to its definition

Why was Drupada, father-in-law of the Pandavas and Draupadi’s father, called a Panchala? Because one of Puru’s descendants was Haryashva, who had five sons — Mudgala, Srinjaya, Brihadishu, Yavinara, and Kampilya. So confident was Haryashva in his five sons’ valour that he declared that these five alone were capable of protecting the kingdom. Thus, these five brothers came to be known as Panchalas.

Or why was the capital of the Kurus called Hastinapura? Because one of Puru’s descendants was Hasti, and who established the city of Hastinapura. Both nuggets of information come to you in the 19th chapter of the 4th part of the Vishnu Purana.

King Rituparna was a descendant of Bhagiratha; the same Bhagiratha who brought down Ganga from the heavens. Karna’s foster father was Atiratha. He found the infant Karna floating on the Ganga, took him home, and was raised by him and his wife, Radha. It turns out that Atiratha was one of Anu’s descendants. Anu was one of Yayati’s sons. This is described in the 4th chapter of the 4th part of the Vishnu Purana.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Buried (Hush Collection), by Jeffrey Deaver

Buried (Hush Collection), by Jeffrey Deaver

'Buried' is a short novella, at under 100 pages, and runs at a fast clip, keeping me - the reader - engaged throughout. 
The plot is simple enough - a serial killer has returned to the small town of Garner and a too-old-to-be-taught-new-tricks journalist, Edward “Fitz” Fitzhugh, heads out to report on the story the old fashioned way. Meanwhile, the kidnap victim is in a race against time to free himself before time, air, and opportunity run out. One eyewitness to the kidnapping refuses to reveal himself and come out in the open, till Fitz employs good old journalistic skills to track him down and get some hints about the probably kidnapper. 

There are some brief passages where the pace slackens and one gets the impression that Deaver is perhaps filling the pages, but those passages are brief. This is a fast-paced novella that kept me turning the pages. All in all, a satisfying read. 

In particular, the opening chapter grabs you by the neck. If I were in a store leafing through books at random and if I came across this book, the first three pages would be enough to make me buy it. Yes, openings matter.

© 2022, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Classified: Hidden Truths in the ISRO Spy Story”, by J. Rajasekharan Nair - Review

Classified: Hidden Truths in the ISRO Spy Story, by J. Rajasekharan Nair 

A Sharp Look at the ISRO Spy Case.

The short of the matter, for people who have not followed the case closely, is that Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientist S. Nambi Narayanan and others were accused of spying and conspiring to sell to Pakistan cryogenic engine technology. For close to three decades the matter rolled around in the corridors of the judiciary, roiling and ruining lives, till 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled that Narayanan’s arrest had been unwarranted, and ordered compensation of Rs. 50 lakhs to be paid to him. Another accused, scientist K. Chandrashekhar, slipped into a coma hours before the verdict was announced, and died soon thereafter. 

Veteran journalist J. Rajasekharan Nair has been following the case since it broke out. His book, “Classified: Hidden Truths in the ISRO Spy Story”, is an updated version of the book he had written in 1998, “Spies from Space: The ISRO Frameup”. He has brought out additional facts and updated the book based on the Supreme Court verdict of 2018 and developments since. What the book reveals is a story of bureaucratic egos and petty revenge dramas, of foreign agents embedded high up in the government, of political games and apathy, cover-ups galore, and international games of espionage and arm-twisting. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

The Reacher Guy: The Authorized Biography of Lee Child, by Heather Martin - Review

The Reacher Guy: The Authorized Biography of Lee Child, by Heather Martin

(Amazon India, Kindle)

Heather Martin’s authorised biography of Lee Child, ‘The Reacher Guy’, is the story of James Grant the person, Lee Child the author, and Jack Reacher the character.

James Dover Grant goes out on 1 September 1994 and buys “three pads of lined paper, one pencil, one pencil sharpener and an eraser for a total of £3.99.” In March 1995, he sends out his first ever letter pitching his novel. Writing as Lee Child, his first book, Killing Floor, is published in 1997. It is the first book to feature Jack Reacher as the protagonist. Two decades later, by 2018, it is estimated that approximately 400 Lee Child books, on average, sell every hour of every day. Night School, published in 2016, sells 18,000 copies a day. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books have sold well over a hundred million copies.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Krishna Vasudeva and Mathura, by Meenakshi Jain - Review

Vasudeva Krishna and Mathura, by Meenakshi Jain


Indians may know Mathura as an important railway station on the way to Agra, as the site of a large oil refinery and a place of connection with the Hindu god, Krishna. But not many will know of its significance in India’s socio-political landscape. Even fewer will know enough to separate fact from fiction. Meenakshi Jain’s Vasudeva Krishna and Mathura attempts to summarise, in a short and readable book, the available literature about Mathura, its history, and association with Vasudeva Krishna over the ages.

While the book is divided into 10 chapters, it can be broken into three logical parts. In the first part, going back to almost 3,000 years, ancient Sanskrit grammarian Yaska’s treatise Nirukta gives an indication of the transition from “the gods of sacrificial fires to the deities of the Epics and Puranas”. The Svetasvatara Upanishad propounded the idea of bhakti and there was also the emergence of images (murti, vigraha, pratima) where “images served the same purpose as Agni in Vedic rites”. There was a gradual merging of Bhagavata and Vaishnava, with Vasudeva Krishna being identified with the Vedic Vishnu.

Rukmini, by Saiswaroopa Iyer


Rukmini: Krishna's Wife, by Saiswaroopa Iyer

Writing fiction based on our epics is easy. Writing fiction based on our epics is tough. Somewhere along this dichotomy lies the secret to writing a story that holds your attention and interest while at the same time staying faithful to the original.