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All posts for the month November, 2011

Book Review – 1857: The Real Story Of The Great Uprising

Published November 10, 2011 by vishalvkale

“One must praise the lone woman, our great Rani, who roamed the fort and defended the city constantly for eleven days while the British bombarded us…” 

History… the word conjures up images of drab dates, reams upon reams of uninteresting narrative etc. Only those who are interested in the subject will find it appealing. Thus it was that I, a history buff, spotted this lovely title on the book shelf. It seemed quite interesting from the title, and the aficionado in me was intrigued. I turned a few pages to see what it was all about, having recently burned my fingers on Alberuni’s India. It came across as something off the beaten track, so I picked it up.

The book was originally written in Marathi around 1883 AD, and chronicles the travels of Vishnu Bhatt Varsaikar from 1857 – 1859 during the time of the uprising. The translation is by Mrinal Pande. This is what makes it a very different book, and very entertaining. It is an eyewitness account of the events of 1857 from the perspective of a normal citizen. It is this approach that feels like a breath of fresh air. It was first printed in 1903 in Marathi

I shall not deal with the content covered by the book – you can look it up in a simple google search. To summarise, a Marathi Brahmin living in Konkan leaves his native village 3 days before the start of the 1857 uprising, travelling to Ujjain, Dhar, Gwalior, Jhansi, Kanpur, Lucknow, Indore, Mhow in the course of his travels. His destination is a major pooja to performed by the royal family of Gwalior. What he goes through, his travails are what constitute the rest of the story told against the backdrop of the independence struggle, which has been dealt with in detail but from a very different perspective. 

The entire struggle is told in second person, sometimes even in first person apparently by a person who saw the events unfolding. This Brahmin was a part of the Rajgharana of Jhansi’s royal Brahmin Sabha, and well known to the father of Rani Laxmibai through a common acquaintance. This lends credence to the observations made therein and the events recounted. And, you can actually see history unfold in front of your eyes as you read through the book. It covers aspects of history not covered by our books – the british reprisals, how the uprising’s main players came to be, their emotions. That phase will touch your heart and leave a tinge of feeling for the departed souls.

It gives a precious insight into the thoughts of those days, as this material has been written as history was being made. The characters of the Rani of Jhansi, Nana Phadnavis etc all come through as real human beings rather than as caricatures on a page of history. Their emotions, motives, actions, interactions with other major players and with their people provide a motion-picture like effect, a realism to the narrative and keep you spell – bound and enthralled. Having spent our lives reading lifeless characters on pages dealing with massive decisions and momentous occasions in 2 paragraphs, it is a refreshing change to see those same characters come to life in this awesome write-up.

“She got up at the crack of dawn and began her morning wrestling. She would then ride her horse. Occasionally, she would ride an elephant as well. After exercising, she would take a long and luxurious bath. After the bath, she would put on a delicate white Sari from Chanderi”

“When we called on the Rani, she told us that the city would be attacked after dark. She suggested we tell the soldiers that we were her trusted men”

These samples of anecdotes are sprinkled all over the book, which helps us to actually relate to these famous charachters from our history as real flesh-and-blood people…

This book offers far more than that – it gives glimpses into the life of those years, which can never be obtained from history books of the conventional variety. ” While most men of Bundelkhand are short, diffident, the women are in contrast well built, good looking confident. In the evening, the streets are lined with flower sellers and young music lovers. The city is rich. Its shops sell everything from carpets and silks to paintings and brass utensils” Between the pages detailing the war, each new town entered is described in a lovely way that brings it to life in front of your eyes.

It also details the reprehensible cruelties and reprisals that visited the Indian people by the cruel British people, the pillage and murder of our land which has been graphically detailed, that leaves one filled with wonder as to how such a thoughtless, amoral bunch of crooks could possibly have ruled most of Earth.

It also brings home one critical point: in the year 1857, there was no concept of India. The process of nation-building had not yet begun, the people had not yet begun to come together. There was a realisation that the people are the same across the land, but no concept of a single nation. The Britishers have been referred to in more than one place as ‘sarkar’, for example. The common man’s disillusionment with foreign rule had not yet come to the fore of the collective common thought. So, we are looking at a people in a state of flux, a people in whom the first stirrings on national thought had begun to awaken. For example, the family of the Author refers to the trip to Gwalior as a trip to “Hindustan”, “their women are full of wiles and entice an innocent man” . We are looking at our India in a proto-nationhood stage of its lifecycle, and that is the prime take-away from this book…

A must read for all Indians in my opinion…

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The Beauty of Ratnagiri

Published November 8, 2011 by vishalvkale

Ratnagiri… a land of almost unparalleled beauty just waiting to be discovered. A beautiful town with a nice serene atmosphere, it is a town that is off the beaten track, and is not too well known as a tourist destination. Its natural beauty has not gained prominence, since what is highlighted is only The Ratnagiri Hapus Mango Variety. I was stunned at the lovely town, which far surpassed my expectations


But first, getting there…. I recommended the Rail link- Konkan Railway. This is because of the superlative scenes of stunning visual appeal that greet you along the way. If you are a photo-enthusiast, I suggest you travel by Sleeper class to get some awesome shots, which are so plentiful that you will be spoiled for choice as to what to capture on camera. No joke, there. Some snaps are given below, taken only with a Sony Ericsson Mobile Phone with 2 MP camera. I did not even have a camera in my hand luggage, since as it was not a sight-seeing tour



Ratnagiri lies on the Konkan Railway line, and is one of the most important stations on that line. The station itself is a distance of 6 km from the mail town, and you will require an auto (@100 – 120) to get to the town. It has decent rail connectivity with several major trains having a halt. 


Please note that some lovely scenes were missed – including a couple of other waterfalls as I was not prepared and properly equipped. But these will give you some idea of the beauty of the line


The Konkan Railway is a real treat – I counted 32 tunnels myself, with one being more than 10 minutes in terms of time spent in the tunnel… awesome. Treat yourself – take a trip with konkan railways! At Ratnagiri itself, hotelling is not a problem. Details are easily available on the internet, with contact numbers which you can use to book in advance. 


A word about the food: Pure Vegetarians watch out! If you want a pure-veg restaurant, there is only one, but that is very good indeed – Hotel Mithila. The rates are reasonable, the quality is superb and the taste generally is what you would expect. 


The Sea Beaches at Ratnagiri are awesome in their virgin beauty and unspoiled calm – no crowds, polythene or general littering, untouched and pristine – a sight for sore eyes tired of seeing crowded beaches. These are beaches you can truly enjoy, in whose beauty you can truly revel. 


There are a multitude of locations to visit as per your taste- Theeba Palace, Theeba point, Pawas, Ratnadurg Fort, Ganaptipule, Parashuram Temple, Bhatye Beach, Mandvi Beach to name but a few. For most locations, autos are easily available and indeed recommended – even Ganpatipule and Pawas. In fact, you can even catch a bus to Ganapatipule  – it takes 45 minutes by bus, 35 by auto. There are also several pilgrimage spots – Ganapatipule, Parshuram Temple and Pawas, for example


Ganapatipule is famous for the Swayambhu Ganeshji Temple, and is one the most famous pilgrimmage locations in this part of India. What is not too well known is that Ganapatipule is also home to one of the most spectacular, pristine, clean sea beaches you can even clap your eyes upon. 


Pawas – a village with visual imagery you will by now have become acquainted to – is 15 km from Ratnagiri town, and is home to the Samadhi of Swami Swaroopanand, now a lovely and awesome temple. It is also home to a Parshuram Temple, and is decidedly worth the visit. 


Thiba Point in main Ratnagiri town is home to a lovely stepped garden ( Daytime snaps below is from an online site; we were there at sunset as can be seen from our snap)

Some snaps from my and my wife’s mobile camera are given below that will give an idea as to what awaits the tourist…. Plan a trip to Ratnagiri… not for the mangoes, but for the beauty. I have purposely steered clear from mango and its derivative products that are available, and the Mango orchards, since all too many people are aware of that! There is far more to Ratnagiri than mangoes…


















Hello world!

Published November 7, 2011 by vishalvkale

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Inflation… a household perspective; a case for CPI

Published November 7, 2011 by vishalvkale

http://epaper.business-standard.com/bsepaper/svww_zoomart.php?Artname=20111109aE006101003&ileft=236&itop=153&zoomRatio=130&AN=20111109aE006101003


Inflation: The Hot Topic of discussion in all financial newspapers as well as dailies; stating 9 – 10% figures; food inflation in the range of 15% or thereabouts… They further state that this has been  a problem for the past 2 years only


I have just one point to make in answer: In Jabalpur, in the year 2004 – 2005, our groceries bill per month from the local supermarket was 1000 rupees. Today, it is 2500 rupees. Milk was Rs. 18 in that year; today I am shelling out Rs. 33/-. On groceries, a simple calculation will tell you that it works out to 20% over the past 7 years, and 17% on milk over the past 7 years

You can do this calculation over any number of household products; the results will be extremely disturbing. Now these are hard figures and facts, and are incontestable. As to the reason for grocery bills  and milk as examples, this is to ensure that no errors creep in. For other products – clothing, for example, the expenses will naturally rise over time due to a rise in standard of living. But the Milk – a per litre costing – this is independent of that factor. Similarly, groceries can be considered to be a stable comparison as long as the size of family is the same over the period of comparison. We were a family of 3 then, and we are a family of 3 now. Our food habits have remained largely the same – we are procuring the same tur daal, moong daal, aata, biscuits, soaps etc. 

One reason could be that we are measuring WPI inflation – wholesale inflation. Another reason could be that the product basket that is measured as a part of the WPI inflation calculation and their relative weightages need to be re-looked at. Whatever be the reason, the fact of the matter remains that we are not capturing the true on-field scenario.

We are simply not capturing consumer – level data, unlike the developed economies, wherein this is reglularly tracked and monitored as a matter of course. We need to develop systems to capture CPI – consumer price indexed inflation. This seemingly simple task is actually quite a tall order given that this would require capturing on-store sales data across the marked product categories in a scenario when most stores do not even cut proper bills of sale

Now, there is a simple way out that occurs to my admittedly untrained eye: there are now superstores and departmental stores which regularly capture consumer data as well as bills of sale on central information systems. This was not the case even 5 – 7 years ago, when such stores were mostly in top-10 metros in our country; even in the smaller cities they were present only in creamy-layer dominated areas. But today, this is not the case since such LFRs and MFRs (Large Format Retail / Modern Format Retail stores) are scattered through most of the major cities. Hence, we can have access to representative data. All it now requires is someone in authority to think of this, since I dont think the above is all that impractical


The only objection I can think of is that this would cover only consumer products, and the other categories are left out in the cold. To that extent, that is accepted as a shortcoming. But, if you think about it, the data for such categories would be far simpler to collate once the major voluminous consumer data is collated. Secondly, the impact of technology must also have been felt in that sector as well, and can be harnessed. One thing is sure, though: if we want representative and accurate data for our economy we will firstly have to harness technology, and secondly we will have to do it fast

The Media… and us citizens

Published November 5, 2011 by vishalvkale

Of late, it has become a habit to first read… and then criticize the media for reporting precisely what we have just read with a great deal of interest. Take the latest example of what happened in Mumbai, or many such  previous sensational cases. Many bloggers, readers have made the point that the Media frequently resorts to sensationalism, that it does not highlight and make attempts to reform. What precisely is the role of the Media in a modern and free society? And why does the media write what it does? The Media is simply the mirror reflection of the society. It will only write what the people want to read… they are in the business of selling news. That is one undeniable truth, and the sooner we accept it the better. 

It is our patronage of the kind of reportage that occurs in the news, our penchant for the sensational and the spicy that forces the Media to highlight what it does. If we did not read it – they would not print or show it for the very simple reason that sales will be adversely impacted. So, rather than scream at and blame the Media, we should all look in the mirror and say ” I am to blame”. 

But what we should be asking ourselves is what should the role of Media in our – or any free – society be?     The Media is a powerful tool – it is something we Indians can be extremely proud of. But it depends upon us – its image and its structure, its form and its content depends upon us. We are the determinants of The Media.  We are looking at our own reflection… we are the viewers. We are the ones who ensure that the Media and its components exist. The choice between the role of Media – reporting + information V/s entertainment is made by us. 

 Reporting, Information and Entertainment are all important, constituent roles of a functioning Media in a Modern Society. But when people start to derive entertainment from someones’ misfortune… that is a sign of depravity.  For entertainment, we have sports and movies etcetera.  Misfortune is not fun. It should not be regarded as such!

There are any number of issues that can be taken up by the Media, like the status of Primary Education, Inflation, Population Control, Crime Control, Armed Forces Upgradation,  Current Affairs, Energy Security, China, Dumping… why is there a profound silence on these matters of primary importance to India? There is no discernible national dialogue on these matters.

Why should there be a dialogue? How can there be a dialogue when the people are themselves not interested in the matter, when there is little realisation how a national dialogue on such matters can influence national policy and make the powers that be sit up and take notice? A dialogue requires participants… the absence of a national dialogue is mute testimony to the fact that there just aren’t many participants.

And that is precisely why we should be worried as a nation. Rather than blame the Media for the poor quality of reportage, let us start questioning oureselves….


The only question that now remains regards the efficacy of such efforts. One such example can be quoted from our Media- the almost incessant focus on Black Money, which is just showing signs of bringing in some results. The moot question is how did this happen – black money was always a serious issue. Why has it taken centre-stage now? In my opinion, the people started getting more vocal, bringing this issue centre-stage. The Media, to be fair, also helped in this by continously highlighting cases of corruption.


From this we can conclude that the Media, thus, has another important role in a free society, over and above the 3 primary roles of Reportage, Information & Analysis and Entertainment: leading change – social as well as economic – maybe even political change. In that, our Media has been sightly slow and reactive rather than proactive. (Even so, there have been notable exceptions which are unfortunately very few and far between). However, recent developments have altered the scenario a lot: there is increasing evidence of proactivism. For this to continue, we need to keep leading issues centrestage in our minds and be supportive in terms of our attention. This passive support from us will suffice…


There is a hindi proverb: taali do haaton se bajti hai, which is quite apt here. For this to continue, we citizens too have to do our part. All that is required is passive support in the form of our interest and awareness (awareness that problems exists AND that they are serious enough to impact our families). 


The author is  not pro-Media; nor pro-citizen. This is just an objective statement based on personal observations. There has been increasing evidence of some superb work by both the Media and the general populace in recent years… let us keep this up and even extend this. From our side, as I stated earlier- all that is needed is passive support and awareness…