All posts for the month January, 2013

Book Review: The Year Of The Golden Ape — Colin Forbes

Published January 27, 2013 by vishalvkale

The Year Of The Golden Ape
Colin Forbes

It was a toss-up between a movie and 2 books: and frankly, 2 books seemed far more attractive to me. The expense would have been the same; but while the movie would have stretched for only 3 hours, a book can give you pleasure everytime you read it; you dont have to pay again for a re-run! So it was that I picked up “The Terrorist – Juggi Bhasin” from my to-read list. Looking for a second, I could not find any book to pick up; then I saw this one. Intuition kicked in and told me to go for it. And a good decision it was, too – especially after reading RIP, my previous book!
The Characters

Winter: Perfect name for this character. And I mean character. Describes him perfectly… or does it? Sometimes Winters do surprise, you know
LeCat: Again, stereotypical name. Perfect fit – cat. Ugly cat, in fact. No surprises here…
Sullivan: Determined, Dogged, Smart, Persistent…
Mackay: Tough. Even under duress.
Betty Cordell: Surprise package

The Plot 
Straightforward. No surprises, simple potboiler formula stuff. Kijack a ship, hold its crew hostage, plonk a Nuke in its hold and blow up The Golden Gate bridge. Same old formula, told in the backdrop of an international oil crisis as the Oil Producing nations hold the west to ransom. But… there is a critical difference. There is no hero in this one, no shining knight who comes galloping to the rescue. What unfolds is a stunningly bold worldwide conspiracy; and there is no help coming from anywhere. So how does it all get sorted out? Read the book!
The Analysis
The book is a genuine surprise package; It is amazing that I have not seen it in many more book stores, given that the author is well known and a best-seller, and that the book has been written in 1975. I would rate it as being among the best fiction books of the thriller genre I have read. Dont miss this one, folks: it is well worth the money you will fork out on it. It is action packed, fast-paced and is one book that you wont be able to put down once you start it. It will keep you glued to its pages till the last page!
The characterisation is excellent, and is done in a minimalist fashion. Just enough has been revealed about the characters, who are developed quite early in the book. The rest of the book stays true to the characterisation built up earlier. This is important, as there is no hero in this book. It becomes quite apparent midway in the book that a baddie will revolt as some point. The plot, however, gives no indication of how this will come about, and the reader is left wondering. The suspense is not what will happen or indeed who will do it, but when will it happen, and how. And this is what makes this book unique, in a class of its own. The author has pulled of an amazing stunt by building Sullivan in the first half. You expect him to break in at any time. This interest has been kept alive throughout, as Sullivan keeps popping up persistently, always making the right intuitive decisions. And yet, the baddies keep winning. And then, midway, comes the bang: in the form of a subtle hint. You are left wondering at this build-up, and it is this suspense that drives you: Sullivan or a baddie – or will it be both in tandem? And what is Betty Cordell’s role? 
The writing is simple, free from expletives (which I personally hold as paramount in a good book), and easy to grasp. The pace is relentless, and the plot virtually flawless. This is a book for your collection: you will want to read it again and again. A book without a hero, and that is what makes it unique, a collectors item. A book to cherish. I realise I am going ballistic in praise, but it is \warranted as per me. I dont usually go this ballistic; but this is a truly one-of-a-kind book
Perhaps the best part about the book is that the anti-hero does not attempt to escape from justice; indeed he tries to atone for his mistake in bringing about this catastrophy. It comes across as a pleasant surprise when that transpires. It is the story of an imperfect man with a skewed moral compass; but a man with some modicum of decency left with him, some surviving hope of integrity. There are no explanations or value judgements; just a fast paced and awesome plot…

India: At The Crossroads – The Hunt For A Leader

Published January 27, 2013 by vishalvkale

Credit for this article goes to: India Today February 4th, 2013 cover story: In Search Of A Leader

If we carefully scan the national scene today, the most disturbing aspect that comes across is the absence of a leader of calibre with a national footprint, a national following. The old guard is now on the verge of retirement, and the new guard has not yet stepped up into their shoes; this is further exacerbated by the spate of scams and corruption that has enveloped the country. Unfortunately, this is on all sides of the political spectrum, with neither the ruling party nor the opposition escaping the blame of corruption.

A mood of the nation poll, conducted 5 times over the past 2 years by India Today, shows a steady increase in the preference for Modi, and a steady decrease for Rahul. This is along expected lines: but the real problem is that neither is someone with a clear mandate and image- unlike Manmohan Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, both of  whom were, and are, highly respected worldwide for their knowledge, with the additional factor of a neutral and strong national footprint. This is tellingly absent in both the top candidates that have emerged in public consciousness today.
Is India in for another period of gut-wrenching change? It certainly seems like it; with the political class still unsure of how to deal with the newly resurgent middle class, as well as the spate of exposures that have buffeted them of late. The opposition does not seem to have its house in order; while the ruling party cannot develop its team, and learn to think beyond the Gandhi surname. It is indeed a shame that in a country of 1.2 billion the Congress can only find a Gandhi. I have nothing against Rahul; for all I know he may be an extremely capable young man. The point is that are we in a fuedal kingdom, or a modern democracy? Why cant the Congress have some real democracy at its core, and develop its second string leaders into people of national stature? Why should the baton pass from Father to Daughter to Son To Bahu To Son  and so on and so forth? Conversely, the BJP just cant seem to get its house in order: it has some highly capable, tried and tested people of mettle (as does the Congress, to be fair: if only they could stop their Gandhivaad!)
And so, the hunt for a leader continues. While the Congress would have us believe that only 1 family in approximately 300 million families has the right to rule us (1.2 billion population divided by average of 4 per family), the BJP is unsure. I for one just cant figure them out. It seems they have yet to grow out of their old avatar and grow into a modern progressive party. Funnily, and paradoxically, it is only one of 2 Indian parties with the potential to achieve that and grow to national status; and most certainly the strongest contender in the race for the rediscovered party. The other candidate – The AAP – is too new to comment. Even the people of India seem to agree with me on this; most seem to be reserving judgement. 
Both AAP and BJP should realise that the Congress has just presented them with a golden key: the appointment of Rahul Gandhi is not going to sit well with any number of Indian citizens- especially from the middle class. It has proven once and for all that there is no second string leadership in the Congress to speak of, and no leadership development. I, once an ardent congress supporter from the halcyon days of 1991 when the Congress fired the imagination of the nation, have now finally accepted with deep regret that it will never grow out of the Gandhis. I have nothing against Rahul: he is young, modern, educated, controlled- but he is a Gandhi. I cannot see why one family in 300 million families should rule us, we are after all a democracy.  
I just hope that either BJP – or hopfully AAP – can take up the cudgel and present a strong alternative. The opportunity is now present in the form of this elevation of Rahul: the opportunity to present itself as a progressive, modern, forward thinking party with a true democratic core. A party that has outgrown its mistakes, and is at last ready for national leadership. The AAP might take time for this, but the BJP can certainly do it – if it tones down its rhetoric and gets its house in order. 
For The Hunt For A Leader is on: the leader to take us forward in this new century…
An interesting aside: the people of India have chosen Atal Bihari Vajpayee as the best ever Prime Minister. Kudos to you  India on such a choice! I totally agree!

Book Review: RIP

Published January 25, 2013 by vishalvkale

Rating : 4.5 / 5
This book stands, beyond any shade of doubt, as one of the most dangerous books I have ever read. Confused – especially after reading the rating above? Welcome to the club. Confused is precisely the word that describes my reaction to this diabolically contrived write-up. Half of me – perhaps a little less, perhaps a little more – appreciates the book. The rest of me loathes it for its plot, its story and its setting. I cannot make up my mind… 
RIP stands for Resurgent  Indian Patriots – a bunch of retired Army Officers with distinguished service records, led by Colonel Krishna Athawle. This force sets out to rid the country of its biggest scourge: its politicians. This they aim to do by the simple expedient of fear: they threaten to kill one per day – and announce in advance who they target will be. The objective is to create a decent and clean leadership. Now keep in mind that you are talking about a bunch of top commandoes in prime fighting condition: retired they may be; but they retired after a highly successful mission backfired after it ended up killing Colonel Athawale’s wife when they were in their late 30s. So, we are talking about a set of highly trained Army Commandoes who decide to play buzkashi with the political brass. The rest of the book deals with how they go about it, whether they can do it or not, the manhunt and the resultant achievements. This is all set in the backdrop of a huge civil disobedience movement that has paralysed the nation in totality. (Seems familiar, hey? Rings a bell, does it not?). Intertwined in this scenario is a touching and equally confusing love story between 2 lonely souls: 1 in the midst of a divorce, and the other just having lost the spouse a few years ago. The budding love story between 2 confused souls forms the meat of the book, and lends it tremendous depth. 
Before I confuse you guys, (and gals), lets do away with the basic stuff. Characterisation – functional, in that it is minimal but sufficient for the story and the plot. This is actually good, as it keeps the pace going. As noted above, the similar minimalist attention to the love story, and the way it has been intertwined with the main plot, add tremendous depth to the book while keeping the relentless pace. The love story does not lessen the furious pace or the tension, which has been kept at fever pitch throughout the book. The writing style is nice and clean, with only a few expletives. The style is effective, and individual – it has a different mark of its own is the way I shall put it. The pace is relentless, and the book is a veritable page-turner. 
And yet, despite the plethora of positives enumerated above, I still find this book as the worst I have ever read. It is a highly disturbing read, and is chillingly real. You can almost identify (what almost? 95% of the cases you infer pretty accurately the real life equals) who is who in the book. The narrative is chillingly real; the politics put forward brutal and blunt, and is based and built upon a memory that is still fresh in the people’s mind: the continuing disillusionment with the political class of India and the civil disobedience movements that are striking every so often. You can smell the discomfiture of Vinod Bedi – the CBI top guy who is investigating this case as he comes under political pressure. You can feel Nandakumar’s helplessness, as he has to tell on his boss’ (Vinod) to his political masters. You can see the the story play out in front of your eyes as the dirty games unfold. The book takes you deep into the quagmire that is politics, and wrenches your gut. The action sequences, and the frustration of the RIP can be understood – especially in the current national mood; as also their resolve to set things right. 
After all, who but an Armed Forces Officer would show such guts? And that is where my moral sense, my conscience kicks in. First off, it goes against every moral stricture in my body. Killing people – ok, criminals – wantonly cannot be justice. Killing innocents in the process cannot be justice. 2 wrongs do not make a right. Holding a nation to ransom cannot be justice, Expecting sudden catacysmic events to bring in positive change cannot be justice. And, most critically, doing all of the above and basing it on characters who can easily be misconstrued  – or identified – with real life characters  is decidedly not right. Especially not when the memory of the disobedience movements is still so fresh, and disillusionment with the Government and the political class is at such an all-time high. And, being an Army Officer’s son, I dont think any Army Officer would do such things. 
The sheer quality of the writing, its power, and the plot is precisely what makes the book so diabolical: it feels chillingly real. This can happen is a thought that occurs – so powerful is the content. This is further buttressed by the characters having eerie and uncanny commonalities with real life characters. The  net result is a blurring of the fictional element with reality, leading you to lose your perspective. You find yourselves empathizing with the anti-heroes, and wanting them to succeed in their wholly evil and amoral venture. You are torn in 2:  Half of you – perhaps a little less, perhaps a little more – appreciates the book. The rest of you loathes it for its plot, its story and its setting. You cannot make up your mind…

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Peace… At What Cost?

Published January 24, 2013 by vishalvkale

Peace at what cost? I am a pacifist myself… but there is a limit to pacifism. Pacifism, if it leads to further bloodshed in the foreseeable future, is not recommended. Taken to the extreme, one has the WW2 situation, when pacifying Hitler lead to millions of casualties. I am not advocating war; just that successful peace negotiations also require the enemy to have a knowledge that behind the pacifist exterior is a will and strength of iron that can be used. Only then can a negotiation be fruitful. In my opinion, these signals emanating from India are positive; that the world had better take notice that our patience is limited and certainly not infinite! The knowledge of intent combined with the will to implement the intent can actually lead to enemies taking us less for granted! All in all, excellent posturing by the GOI!
It is a given that neither nation can afford a war – and I am not speaking in terms of economic cost, although that is part of the story. Unfortunately, that is precisely what is being utilized by Pakistan and its – aah – internal factor forces, shall we say – to keep up the pressure on India. Pakistan-based outfits are routinely terrorising India; Pakistan has also tried ill-conceived strategies like Kargil to attain its objectives. The result is that not only India, but Pakistan as well is bleeding. That Pakistan is bleeding is its internal problem; my concern is Indian blood. Despite innumerable peace initiatives, nothing has been achieved. That is reason enough for a re-calibration of our strategies vis-a-vis this problem. A slightly more aggressive approach – one that leaves no doubt that if pushed too far, India will not hold back – will give an added impetus to both our Western Neighbour as well as its Daddy USA to take urgent note of our creeping impatience. It will also serve to jettison our weak state image. The Kargil War comes to mind: wherein our controlled aggression won us accolades. That was the other end of the controlled aggression spectrum; what is also needed is controlled aggression that leaves no doubt in anyone’s mind that India can only be pushed so far, and no more. The alternative is the status quo – where we are regularly taken for granted, and our strategic imperatives ignored. That has got to stop; and it will only stop when we make ourselves heard. 

India: The State Nation? Via HT Blogs

Published January 20, 2013 by vishalvkale

“A state-nation creates a sense of belonging among its people even while simultaneously giving political guarantees for diversity and minorities,” he says. The point is it can still create a loyalty to the Centre which allows it to create a single economic space, push a nationalist foreign policy and all the stuff a nation-state does so well.” –  Prof Ashutosh Varshney
We are in a time of great change, which is causing angst and uncertainty among us Indians – a feeling which is manifest in any number of indicators. Central among this is the feeling of worry at the prospect of a weak centre  which has been highlighted by many instances, and has led to many people, self included, of worrying and blaming the centre for doing nothing and being weak. For all such Indians, the attached article is a recommended read, as it opens vistas of thought that are simultaneously revolutionary (at least to the uninitiated) as well as logical.
A weak centre raises the bugbear of increasing regionalism, and the attendant worries of the centre-state balance; it hampers decision-making and the formulation and especially implementation of national prerogatives and strategies. Converse logic also hold currency – that a strong centre necessarily means marginalisation of minorities and ethnic groups; and that it is necessary to have overlording central setup for a successful nation. The advent and stunning rise of regional trends, and the attendant coalition politics that it creates, is a cause of worry among us.
And yet, “survey after survey shows that 80 per cent or so of Indians are proud or very proud to be Indian and only about 20 percent put their regional identity ahead of their national one. The first is beaten only by the US and Australia. The second is remarkable for any country of its poverty, diversity and democracy.” as stated in the article. So long as this trend of 80-20 can be maintained, there does seem to be no apparent reason to worry.
The article does provide food for thought… first of all, it makes intuitive sense. Second, the surveys quoted also seem logical, since most people from us also can identify with the stated results. Third, and most important, it makes the point that both the centre and the states can be strong, and in fact lead to a stronger India in the long run. This is indeed a unique thought: but it does explain the unity in diversity that we have displayed in India. A strong state ensures that the needs of ethnicity and of the local region are taken care of; that these local problems, culture and aspirations do not vanish in the larger national picture. This gives fewer reasons for secessionist pressures to emanate, since there is a mechanism in place specifically to deal with local, regional and ethnic issues. Thus, it tends to ultimately strengthen the national fabric.
It is further true that despite 65+ years of existence as a single nation, India has retained its ethnic diversity and not become a cultural melting pot. Each region has held onto, and in fact, retained its cultural uniqueness; most sub-cultures and languages are vibrant and alive in a very real sense. Regional problems tend to be limited to their own regions and require little intervention from the centre; the people are also increasingly showing the ability to separate the local from the national issues during voting… 
Food for thought indeed! 

National Pride… And National Faults…

Published January 15, 2013 by vishalvkale

Of late, it has become fashionable to blame India, and Indians for its faults… by fellow Indians! This is a habit among the new generation, as well as among the older citizens of our lovely and diverse nation. That, by itself, is not harmful or indeed even irritating. It is essential that faults be identified and corrected for the overall betterment of everyone. But when this goes hand-in-hand with a denial of our good points, and of a denial to associate our heritage with pride… then it becomes funny and strange.
People are quick to point out all the list of areas where we went wrong: Kashmir, Mixed Economy, Corruption, Licence Raj etc etc, conveniently forgetting the real mistakes committed by us – which get hidden in the lovely long terms and powerful place-names above… mistakes like not concentrating on the village economy, on not building up the villages of India, of not building proper infrastructure in both Urban and Rural India, of not building a proper and functioning primary healthcare system that is trustworthy, of not building a robust and strong education backbone at the primary and secondary school levels, of not concentrating on controlling population growth! These are the mistakes that are hurting us the most today, not Kashmir  or the Mixed Economy. Only corruption from the first list is actually a serious enough issue alongside the items in the second list. These real problems have far-reaching consequences for us and for the economy; they dont have even a single mitigating circumstance – unlike the list above.
Kashmir? To that, we can state underhand tactics by Pakistan by sending guerillas; intervention in NWFP referendum – which could have gone to India given that it was a congress province; attempting to entice all kingdoms (which were not part of the partition plan) like Bhopal etc to join Pakistan and giving bribes and inducements to these kingdoms; inducing communal feelings in 1946 and 1947 by ML leadership; or that Kashmir is vital to national security etc. Mixed Economy? To that we can state that it helped build a robust public sector and protected the nascent private sector; allowed our economy to  mature and build skills; our distrust of capitalism just after independence; the fact that socialism was rising in those days; the fact that the Indian experiment was considered a novel and ideal one…
Point is that there were mitigating circumstances to the popularly held primary mistakes of our nation; or that there were advantages to be had from these so-called mistakes, or indeed some were strategic and tactical responses to external stimuli. But try and name one single mitigating circumstance or advantage from the second list. It will be hard to find even one! And yet, these mistakes are only talked about in editorial columns, In the public at large, they dont feature in the national consciousness. It is the second list that is really hurting the nation the most, actually holding us back from realising our potential. Education, Health, Mortality, Nutrition, Rate of Population Growth etc are the basic indicators of a nation; these are what are actually arresting our growth as our population is simply not in a position to benefit from opportunities…
These are what I call our failures, our real failures…
Despite these faults – and this is the central point of this article – we can be justifiably proud of what we have achieved as a nation, and of our heritage. Good points do not require justification or explanation; just the bullet points should suffice:

  • The oldest surviving unchanged civilization on Earth, with a history  – uninterrupted history – of 8000 years plus
  • The birthplace of more inventions and discoveries than I care to count, from the Zero to Ayurved and then some…
  • Our culture of inclusiveness and tolerance as well as our inherent non-violence
  • The art, culture and writing of countless poets and artists starting for Sanskrut onto Brajbhasha and the medieval poets right upto Rabindranath Tagore and modern artists
  • The land of Ashok, Vikramaditya, Harshvardhan, Akbar etc
These, and many more, and a part and parcel of our national identity. They are our history, they define what we are.  Why should we feel ashamed of shouting these from the rooftops? Forget about shouting, we dont even accept them in private one-on-one conversations!
 jab zero diya mere bharat ne, duniya ko tab ginatee aayee
taaro kee bhasha bharat ne, duniya ko pahale sikhalayee
deta naa dashamlav bharat toh, yu chaand pe jaanaa mushkil tha
dharatee aur chaand duree kaa, andaazaa lagaanaa mushkil tha
sabhyata jaha pahale aayee, pahale janamee hain jaha pe kala
apana bharat woh bharat hai, jiske pichhe sansaar chala
sansaar chala aur aage badha, yu aage badha badhata hee gaya
bhagwaan kare yeh aur badhe, badhata hee rahe aur fule fale
Why cant we just feel a simple feeling of justifiable pride on the above lines? Why the defensiveness? It is a simple psychological fact that a positive frame of mind is the driver of positive action; a nation with a negative self-image is certain to project a negative image in the world. Consider this: you have 2 teams in front of you from companies which have registered massive losses. Company A’s team says “We goofed; we were stupid and paid the penalty for that. That is why sales are in the doldrum”. Company B says “Yes, we made a mistake – but the important point is that we know we made a mistake. Given our history of success, I am sure, with time, we can turn it around”. Which company would you back to succeed?
And, if we marry the above history with our recent successes, then we have justifiable reason to be immensely proud of ourselves and of our nation:
  • We are what we are – successes and failures both – because of our own efforts; at times without any help from anyone. There is no blood money or illicit gains involved from anyone; unlike the former colonial powers who are where they are today on an ocean of blood, and brutal exploitation of subjugated nations
  • Moving onto numbers, steady economic performance of most indices and parameters over the past 20 years
  • Robust Pharmaceutical, Information Technology, Advanced Medicine and Health, Education, Consumer Goods, Telecommunication, Space Technology, Missile Technology sectors
  • Robust Democracy
  • Social Equality experiment in full swing, as we try to undo the evils of casteism through reservation. Arguments aside, this is a novel intervention in equality that is being tried out
  • Independent Media
  • Strong Judiciary
  • Robust institutions 
  • Strong financial markets and Banking system, systems of procedures and regulators of various industries and sectors
And so on  and so forth…
Put the 2 lists together. I think, taken together, they are more than enough reason for us to feel a tremendous sense of pride as well as the confidence that, with time, we will make it… 
National pride is essential; it is a driver of achievement, And we have plenty to be proud of!
Jai Hind!

Book Review: From The Ruins Of Empire – The Revolt Against The West And The Remaking Of Asia

Published January 14, 2013 by vishalvkale

From The Ruins Of Empire
The Revolt Against The West And The Remaking Of Asia
Pankaj Mishra

The sense of humiliation that burdened… Asians has greatly diminished; The rise of Asia and the assertiveness of the Asian Peoples consummates their revolt against the West that began more than a century ago; it is in many ways the revenge of the East. Yet this success contains an immense intellectual failure, one that has profound ramifications for the world today and the near future. It is simply this: no convincingly universalist response exists today to Western ideas of politics and economy…

The war on terror has already blighted the first decade. In retrospect, however, it may seem a prelude to greater and bloodier conflicts over precious resources and commodities that modernising as well as already modern economies need. The hope that fuels the endless economic growth – that billions of consumers in India and China will one day enjoy the lifestyles of Europeans and Americans – is as absurd and dangerous a fantasy as anything dreamt up by Al-Qaeda. It condemns the global environment to early destruction and looks set to create reservoirs of nihilistic rage and disappointment among hundreds of millions of have-nots – the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly pyrrhic…

The concluding section of the book provides the jolt that I was looking for to introduce the reader to this book; a truly one-of-its-kind book, one which is in a genre of its own. . a book that defies description and forces you to think, taking you deep into the quagmire of the past and then pulling you out into the present with a shocking force; enabling you to see with startling clarity the central point of the book! Pankaj Mishra has awesome skills of presentation and tremendous depth of vision, as is evident in the short excerpt I have given above.
“From The Ruins Of Empire” is a book that focuses on Asia as a whole, and takes the reader through the exploitation and brutal rape of  the entire continent by the Europeans. However, unlike other books which deal with such topics, this story is not told through facts, figures and history lessons; it is instead told through some seminal characters that formed the core set of thinkers that defined the age they lived in. Jamal-Al-Din-Al-Afghani, Liang Qichao, Rabindranath Tagore, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Kemal Ataturk etc. Principally, the book focuses on the tumults and struggles of the first three named people… intuitively, without knowing who they are, one can see that the three together account for a large majority of Asia today…

Pankaj Mishra takes us through the lives of these three, their struggles to come to terms with the brutal reality of the colonial exploitation of their countries, and their internal tumult as they tried to reconcile themselves and understand what was happening even as they tried to formulate a response to this reality. This is shown through their experiences as well as through the speeches and writings, and make for powerful reading. You can literally see Islamic thought take modern shape through Al-Afghani and gain an insight into the modern reality; you actually visualise the revolution in China gathering force in the life and writings of Liang Qichao… 
The ultimate take-away is a deepened understanding of the entire landscape of Asia from Turkey to Japan and from India to the Middle East. The rise, fall and rise of Japan, the adjustments of Turkey and its role in the modern Islamic thought formulation contain deep lessons as well as learnings for the discerning reader; the efforts of the Chinese to recreate the past magic in the face of the European onslaught has powerful commonalities with the happenings in the Middle East and India; their juxtaposition gives the reader an insight into the modern world.
We are seeing an increasing advent of fundamentalism and hardline views in China, India as well as the Islamic countries. It may be the slowest and the mildest in India, but it is present. The present scenario has been successfully traced back to a century ago as a demoralised and conquered people tried to adjust to the new brutal reality that the Europeans put on us. The people – at least the intelligentsia – at first blamed the outmoded thoughts and practices among the people and advocated a convert to a total westernised approach in an attempt to gain acceptance and equality; when this did not happen – indeed when this created a class of educated slaves – the pendulum swung the other way, as people tried to return to their roots in order to find solace, strength and peace – all in an effort to gain self-confidence and good self-image. This turmoil has been brought out very well in the book; and the logic is sound, as we can see for ourselves!
The steadily increasing disillusionment with the west went hand-in-hand with a steady questioning of the self, of asking continuous questions as to the how and the why of the current reality. The experiments continued; with  results as far reaching as terror in Islamic nations and hardline communism in China as each society tried to find models that suited it… some succeeded through one way – like China, some through another- like Turkey, whose modernisation and westernisation attempts led to great and seminal changes that had a tremendous impact on all Asia. The return of Turkey to the fold of Islamism in the face of Western reluctance accept it as an equal partner has important questions and ramifications; for Turkey was the earliest to adjust and adopt Westernism; yet its failure in obtaining acceptance needs to be kept in mind.
Asian countries – who once used to cower before the west – are now facing them with confidence, and indeed have created a situation when once again the West is back where it was 500 years ago – asking for trade links with a resurgent Asia. People who were once rejected and brutalised have now gone on to start dictating terms on an equal basis as seen in the meteoric rise of India and particularly China; this is the revenge of the East; as western economies flounder in a quagmire of their own making, the East is once again showing the way. The west, having already paid a heavy price in the form of 2 destructive wars that destroyed 2 entire generations of Americans and Europeans, are now no longer in a position of primacy. This is truly the revenge of the East…
But this revenge has a small caveat, a ticking time bomb that needs to be defused – the rampant inequalities that western style economics and politics is creating across the world, and the race for resources, which seems to have started again. For example India is worried about the proposed damming of the Brahmaputra by China which would have disastrous consequences for India. There are many such examples; the problem is that as of now, there is no answer to western-style economic policy…
Or is there? Is there a way where we can marry our Eastern sensibilities with Western Capitalism to create a more equal world? Perhaps through focussing on basic indices like health, education and population control while continuing to drive economic goals? This questioning mirrors the questions and attempts of the 19th century as thinkers and societies looked at their brilliant past for cues – Islam, Confuciansim etc in order to make their nations a better place… further strengthening the statement with which we began this review…

An excellent book that forces you to think of the direction we are taking and its sustainability!

The Concept Of India…

Published January 11, 2013 by vishalvkale

It has oft been stated that Empire is a concept whose time has gone; and this has been used to justify that India would have anyway become Independent despite Netaji and Mahatmaji.  Nothing could be farther from the truth; the reality is that no one knows for certain what would have happened. But this is a question that does occur: and is becoming increasingly strident among the younger generation of Indians. 
This is a question that I first asked myself in 2009; and since then, I have looked into at least 10 authentic books in my hunt for an answer. This is a hunt that is still on; for I cannot understand one fundamental question: why is it that a people who fought together in 1857 should become so against each other in 1947? There was no answer forthcoming, and no current book answered it, Thus began my search for the truth… and that is what I shall chronicle below. It is a hunt that is still on; I am currently reading From the Ruins Of Empire By Pankaj Mishra; but I think that I am beginning to get a glimmer of an Idea. The questions just keep cropping up: Why the riots in an essentially peaceful country, esp one that was truly united as late as 1857? Did India exist earlier – or have we just created it? What exactly is India? What defines it? What was the real role of The Mahatma? 
But let me start from the beginning: the first question we must ask ourselves is  – was India ever one nation? Now let us leave hyperbole, pro-Indianness and patriotism, ancient history et al to one side. And let us further start trying to base each and every point on documentary evidence- not analysis or conjecture. References will be provided at the end of the post. 
The answer to that is, unequivocally, India was never one political entity; it was never a nation-state. Yes, culturally, there is evidence of extensive cultural interaction within the borders of what is now modern India, This is evident in trade links in ancient India going right upto Independence, in the internal migration of people, in the similarity in cutlure, food and languages, in the cross-cultural links both formal as well as informal that existed in medieval, as well as ancient India. Further, this interaction is far greater than interaction outside the borders of Modern India. Thus, while we are beyond any doubt one people – the question remains one of a  national identity. The people did not identify themselves as Indian. Please – no brickbats, I did state evidence. This is crystal clear in any number of historical books: not one state a politcal unity or realisation of “India”or, indeed, anything remotely close to it. 
The memoirs of an Indian Traveller from 1857 – 1859 bring this through superbly well. ” 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” This is the year 1859. This man was a resident of what is now Maharashtra – and was a simple pujari. This issue is simple: a political entity is shaped when the people identify themselves as a part of a larger concept called nation. 
Thus, we can see that there was nothing called “India” as late as 1857. Hence, the question is when did this come into being? For this, we have to move forward. and look at the developments from 1885 – 1915 in particular. Here we have the emergence of Bal Gangadhar TIlak, Gokhle et al, Critically, none of these fighters were asking for complete independence. This is absolutely vital to our quest; since we are on a quest to determine the real role of The Mahatma. 
All of them were asking for some increased participation in government, and all of them were fighting through the courts only. The British simply gave them no heed, and made only cosmetic changes.There was no real pressure on the British to bring in real changes. Furthermore, there was again little mass involvement; the people were still accepting the Raj as a reality. All the freedom fighters were asking for was increased participation ultimately leading to dominion status at some point in the unspecified future. This is amply borne out by the divisions of the freedom movement along the moderates and the extremists in 1908 – 1912, and their coming together again. The British simply checkmated them by jailing them for 6 years at Port Blair, Result: Zilch. Even at this Juncture, there was no concept of India; yes – this was rising and rising fast – but there was little acceptance or chance of political unity. The moderates and extremists could not see eye to eye; there was no consensus on anything – or any specific timeline
Then? Enter The Mahatma. Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. 
He virtually crafted us together…
” It delves with the amazing control he had over the Indian masses, their devotion for him, his regard for them and his control over them. It gives the reader some idea about how he became what he was. ” This is from my book review of a book – which you can find in the references. The control, the phenomenal and almost magical control he had over the masses was a thing of wonder; he was the first leader to address – to really, truly address the masses on a Pan-India scale. Due to his simplicity and dressing, they were able to identify with him, and eventually this gave him a spell over the masses of India. 
There are 2 clear breakpoints in the Indian Freedom struggle- the advent of The Mahatma, and the re-entrance of Jinnah circa 1930s. Before The Mahatma, there was no popular mass struggle; after the Mahatma, there was no legal fight. It was The Mahatma who brought people of India into the mass struggle, and who carried the concept of India into the hearts and minds of every man, woman and child in India. Not for him the appeals of the educated; not for him the cases in court. He was a man of the masses- he took the struggle out of the courts, and into the streets. His control over Indians was phenomenal; he could make all India rise on one call. This is undisputed fact. The increasing mass struggles made holding onto India much more of a task for the British. 
But they were not done just yet. 
To cut a long story short, Enter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. His call – Tum mujhe khoon do, mein tumhe azaadi doonga” galvanised the POWs into the INA. Would these POWs have heeded his call had they not been exposed to the Freedom Calls of The Mahatma? These soldiers were Indian people from within Indian Society. The core question that occured to me is why did the soldiers rise to this call? What had changed in the preceding 40-50 years to bring this about? What catalysed this feeling of nationalism? There is only one answer that occurs to me: the relentless mass struggle led by The Mahatma. Without his clarion calls to the people, it is very likely that the INA size would have been lesser. For it cannot be denied that these soldiers were from the same people who were supporting The Mahatma; they were talking to, eating with, marrying, playing with the same people who were crazy about the Legend Of The Mahatma, the man with the almost magical control over Indians in those days. They had listened to him, and were exposed to his arguments and his observations. For the first time, a leader was talking to them  – not to the courts
The INA trials after the WW2 got the nation together – including the Army. And, for the first time – British India could not rely on the Indian Army to maintain control over India. 
Thus, in my humble opinion, it was the dynamic duo of The Netaji with The Mahatmaji who won us India. The Mahatma got us together; while Netaji snatched the Army from the British. Without either of them..
South Africa was ruled by whites till the 1990s, Zimbabwe etc…. Consider these facts:
1) Prior to The Mahatma, no one was asking for Sampurna Swaraj
2) At the most, the target was Dominion status at an unspecified date
3) Princely India was ruled independently; Hyderabad, for ex, held out even after 1947
4) Prior to The Mahatma, the public at large were not involved
5) Hong Kong released only in 1997
6) Colonial reality continued till the 1980s in some countries
7) USA-UK convinced that India needed British “Help”
etc etc etc etc…
Thus, we can see that if not for Mahatmaji – Netaji duo, we would very likely be still ruled by whites, or would have been a colony for several decades. It is a matter of documented record that the British had no intention of leaving India as late as 1945 – they were planing a sojourn of several decades, despite the WW2 etc. It is not enough for the enlightened to be aware of a national concept; the people have to be a part of it… this is where The Mahatma came in…
1. The Real Story Of The Great Uprising: Vishnu Versaikar ed 1885 / 1905
2. An Economic History Of India – RC Dutt ed 1906
3. Early India – Romila Thapar
4. Land Of The Seven Rivers – Sanjeev Sanyal
5. Jinnah, India, Partition, Independence – Jaswant Singh
6. The Discovery Of India – Jawaharlal Nehru
7. The Great Indian Novel – Shashi Tharoor
8. India – From Midnight To The Millenium And Beyond – Shashi Tharoor
9. The Shadow Of The Great Game: The Untold Story Of India’s Partition – Narendra Singh Sarila
10. India’s Struggle For Independence – Bipin Chandra Pal et al
11. Freedom At Midnight – Dominique LaPierre
12. From The Ruins Of Empire: The Revolt Against The West And The Remaking Of Asia – Pankaj Mishra
13. Churchill’s Secret War: Madhushree Mukherjee
14. India Unbound – Gurcharan Das
15. The Argumentative Indian – Amartya Sen
These books may not all deal with Indian Independence; but I regard them as central to the understanding of India as it is today. as well as the big question: Why? Further, each contains at least one relevant chapter of Indian History as well as exposes me to contrarian viewpoints. Not only that, these books have helped me in my continuing quest to understand the wonder that is…. India! 
I am writing these words which will be offensive to some Indians as I want to meet head-on the claims to ancient heritage; it is high time we Indians took justifiable pride in the crafting of a political identity from a cultural union. Even a crude perusal of Indian History will tell you were were perennially divided; and that we have paid a heavy price for our lack of political unity. Yes – we were one people, and have been so for 8000 years. Yes, we are the ONLY surviving and unchanged ancient civilization – all others have metamorphosed; yes, apart from the gizmos and clothes and language, an Indian from 6000 years ago will find almost the same cultural practices – true; yes, there was cultural union – and it was this cultural unity that formed that basis for Political Unity. Political Unity has the potential to take us to greatness… but taking that to mean India was one is saying too much, and means belittling the contributions of our Freedom Fighters. There was a “Bharat” in the enlightened people only; and this was present across Ancient India. True, and granted. But the people at large were not educated, or aware enough, or cared enough, to accept it. They owed allegiance to the local satrap; that was their political identity. This was what the Indian Freedom Struggle created; a feat that remains unparalleled in World History. No one has till date crafted a political union from a cultural union encompassing so many different sub-cultures, Bringing them together is a feat not matched in the History Of Planet Earth: high time we Indians learnt to accept the enormity of what our forefathers have achieved. Every single international commenter predicted that Pakistan would stay but India, with its divisions, would collapse. We have proved all of them wrong… a matter of considerable pride!

Book Review: Shadow Of The Great Game – The Untold Story Of India’s Partition

Published January 9, 2013 by vishalvkale

“Bucher admitted to Gracey, the Pakistan C-in-C, that he had no control over Cariappa but hit upon an intriguing scheme to now stop the advance of his own army. Graffety Smith, British high commissioner in Karachi, reported to London the arrangements reached privately between the commander-in-chiefs of the 2 dominions. General Bucher indicated to General Gracey that he had no wish to pursue an offensive into what is effectively Azad-Kashmir controlled territory i.e. to Mirpur and Poonch sector… the object of these arrangements is to reach a situation in which each side will remain in undisputed military occupation of what are roughly their present positions… An essential part of the process… is that 3 battalions of the Pakistan Army should be deployed opposite the Indian forces at Jhangar, in or around Poonch and at Uri…”

This was a tell-tale interlude between the Pakistani Army chief and Indian Army chief in 1947-48. A paragraph that strips naked the United Kingdom, exposes fully and finally how it was playing a dangerous double game… and shatters all pre-conceived notions about parition!
In choosing an opening for this review, I had to choose a powerful, hard hitting opening – one that would grasp the Indian reader, and pull him into wanting to read the book. I could find no better paragraph than the above – a paragraph that exposes the double game that was being played by the British. India and Pakistan are fighting a war… and the head of the Indian army is actually advising the head of the Pakistan army on what to do…. 
Written by Narendra Singh Sarila
The author was an ADC to Mr Mountbatten in 1947-48. That is itself lends considerable authority to the tome. Further, the book has been extensively researched in the Oriental and Indian Collection of the British Library, Hartley Library Southampton, Public Records Office Kew, Archives Of The State Department of the USA, National Archives Washington, Library Of The US Congress… 
At the end of the book, you are not left with a feeling of hopelessness, or anger at the UK; you have, in its place, a tremendous pride in the achievement of a modern India, as you realise that India was achieved despite all odds, in an environment where every single hand, every single gun was drawn against us… our India is an achievement that stands all by its lonesome as a success of human spirit, decency and indomitable courage against all odds by the greatest set of leaders that any nation has ever had. The book also serves as a warning at our naivete in world affairs, and how we were taken for a royal ride.

The book systematically destroys all notions anyone may have had about partition. It begins with a thunderclap: “Muslim Areas should be seperated from Hindu India, and run by Muslims in collaboration with Great Britain- Jinnah to Linlithgow, 4 Sept 1939“! “He [Jinnah] represents a minority, and a minority can only hold its own with our assistance Linthgow to the Secretary of State” The issue was the congress insistence on self rule immediately after the war as a pre-condition for supporting the British war effort – something the Brits were in no mood of doing. And this time, the congress were not in a mood to relent.
{It has been said that it was a mistake; I beg to differ. Pankaj Mishra – From The Ruins Of Empire (my next book review) covers this phase well: apparently, the Brits had offered some similar assurances to all its colonies in the First World War, and later reneged. So, congress was absolutey right in doing what it did…}
The book traces a full-scale Anglo-Muslim league alliance with the single objective of ensuring a British and Allied presence in the event of a Russian advance. All the players in the Allies were insistent on retaining some form of control over some part of North-Western India to combat the Communist threat. This was the backdrop against which Jinnah’s offer of cooperation on 4th September 1939 began to make tremendous sense; thereafter every British move was solidly in favour of Jinnah and Partition…
The book then goes on to dwell on the increasing pressure by the United States on The UK to grant  India Independence. On this, the Brits were in a bad spot: until they happened upon Jinnah. They assiduously built up Jinnah, and created the impression in the eyes of the World that Hindus and Muslims were not capable of staying together, that it was the British that were keeping India from chaos. The deft way the Brits handled this and successfully turned over the Americans to their point of view reads like a lesson in ugly diplomacy and espionage
The book proves in no uncertain terms that the Brits were aware of the August 1946  riots and deliberately chose to do nothing. The Brits were informed by their own people of the massacre that would undoubtedly take place in Punjab in 1947 if they continued on their plans. This information and warnings were studiously ignored. It proves how each and every attempt by the Congress to hold onto an United India were stymied by the Brits, of how genuine but naive Congress attempts were checkmated effectively by the Brits. Playing both sides of the coin: the Brits achieved what they had set out to from the start: maintain control of North-West India. There was even a plan to hold onto Baluchistan in case India remained undivided. It showcases how Jinnah and company used the communist card and the availability of Pakistan as a base for Allied military operations in future as carrot to keep British and US interests. This is told in the backdrop of an idealist but correct Congress which was clear that India would become a republic, and would never allow foreign forces on its soil ever again…
It showcases the May 1945 plan which envisaged Pakistan’s role alongwith Iran, Iraq and Turkey, as a foil for operations in the Middle East and against Communism. This became a reality in the early 50s – but was visualised by the Brits in May 1945 in a secret strategy paper. Please remember that publicly, the Brits were trying to maintain Indian unity in 1945! The only conclusion I found myself at odds with was the role of Mountbatten… 
Mountbatten has been credited, alongwith Patel, for the unification of India. Yes, Mr Mountbatten did support Patel (despite playing a reprehensible double cross on Kashmir); but this was only as part of a larger strategy planned out in England. The plan was the only way: the Brits offered to drop their insistence of the princes having the option of independence if congress accepted partition… This is superbly proven in the book; and leaves no doubt. 
The book does all this and much, much more… it looks at the entire Kashmir dispute, and brutally exposes how the Indians were outmanoeuvred by the Allies. NWFP and how a totally Indian area went to Pakistan is also looked at.  Nehru did not call in the UN, this was not what had happened. Read the book to find exactly what happened, and just how US and UK pressurised the newly free Indian Government. The “fair” allies were even planning to let in Pakistani troops into Kashmir as impartial observers (!!!!!) – plan which was thankfully shot down by Nehru. The plan of the Indians was to continue Military ops; but that did not happen…  It also raises the very pertinent observation of Sardar Patel that Kashmir is vital simply because each successful invasion of India was happened through Kashmir..  
A book that strips the Brits naked- proving that they went from this land as they came – naked. They came as a destitute and naked beggar, and went as a rich but equally naked brute… It also serves a warning to India – that we need to be more conscious and more worldly wise. Read it to find how the Brits actually caused partition, as well as created the Kashmir dispute… all for the Great Game against Communist Russia
In closing, I can only reiterate my earlier view: India has always been alone; a lone wolf in the world. Yes, this has been due to our principled stance, and unique heritage; but it has also been due to our naivete. But that does not take away the fact that we got India against all odds, and in a world where every hand is drawn against us. Basis current developments, you can see that this state of affairs continues in the blind support to Pakistan despite Indian proofs of how Pakistan is using them. Dont expect this to stop anytime soon; our market size apart – we have nothing to offer the allies. Pakistan does… leaving us, as always, alone.. all alone… a matter of some pride!

Mob App: Alive – From The Times Of India

Published January 7, 2013 by vishalvkale

For once, a technology innovation from The Times Of India that has the potential to catch the market; an application for Mobile Devices that holds tremendous promise…
Alive – From The Times Of India
Alive is, in simple terms, a mobile app that allows you to scan a logo (Alive Logo) on any image on the newspaper into your Android, or BB or iOS device… and presto! You are auto-connected to Youtube, which opens the relevant video for you. A simple – a very simple thought, but so tremendous in the possibilities it opens up. It takes newspaper reading to an entirely new high;
  • You see a news on a political bigwig on which you would like to actually hear what the person said for yourself – just scan the image – and you are taken directly to his interview. 
  • Or, you would like to see for yourself just how terrible is the snowfall that has covered Kashmir… scan the image, and see for yourself on youtube video! 
  • Or, Sachin has scored a century (he will, he will – he isnt finished yet: not by a long shot): you missed it. Just scan the image on the newspaper  – and lo and behold! watch a 3-minute clip of highlights of his shots
  • Or, The Governor of the RBI has given the Economic Times (or any newspaper once other newspapers launch this service- or something like this) and interview. You want more details… go ahead. Scan, and listen directly!
The possibilities are literally endless. You can embed detailed analysis, facts and figures and upload them on the site; a simple scan, and readers are taken directly to a more fact-filled, multimedia interface. It makes for a much richer, more fulfilling and more meaningful connect with the morning newspaper. You can embed a 5-minute discussion of top cricketers analysing India’s performance – just click, and you are done! You can watch clips of specific highlights again;  there is quite literally no end to the innovative uses this promising technology can be put to. 
The more one thinks about the range of applications, the more exciting it becomes. This convergence, applied to magazines – adds a far more powerful dimension; given that Magazines are by nature more in-depth and exhaustive; the addition of a multimedia interface  raised exciting possibilities. Not only that, in an era of online readership – it gives a powerful fighting tool to the print media which can now provide greater value, and hold its own. This, combined with the more comfortable interface of a print medium, raises a set of interesting possibilities.

Yes, there are issues and caveats: content will have to be created. It will have to be uploaded, databases maintained, a seamless interface needs to be ensured; as usage increases and pressure on the systems goes up, attention will have to be given to ensure 6-sigma levels of uptime; costs will have to be factored in; customer trends as to what kind of video usage is in vogue will need to be tracked. But none of these are issues; they are more of challenges – and can be easily overcome.

It also offers a shot in the arm for the telecom trade over the long term; as data will be used; the increase in data traffic will be good news for the Telecom trade. It also indicates a further step in the inexorable process of convergence that is becoming increasingly evident, as across industries, completely diffierent and unconnected fields come together to generate additional value. This is a process that augurs well for trade as a whole
On the consumer side, it gives additional value, while giving the Print Media a tool to fight the increasing penchant of online usage and readership. It is a tool that has the potential of increasing the perceived value of the Newspaper as something more than just reams of paper; a consumer does not have to watch endless news articles to get to the topic which interests him/her. Furthermore, it gives additional value as it can include written analysis as well as video and mutlimedia tools…
But all that is still some time away. That requires content, a marketable niche, and users. For now, there are going to be videos of inerviews, news clips etc – which is also great. It is going to be interesting to see if this technology interface catches on. There is no reason it should not; given the increasing shift towards smartphones, the falling rates of data and the increasing interest of consumers in trrying out new technologies…
Alive can be downloaded from the App Market; it is available for free for Andriod version 2.2 and above; iOS version 4.3 and above; BB version 5.0 and above; and Symbian version S60 and above. You can also get it by giving a missed call to 18001023324. I used it both over a 2.5G  and 3G network, and there are no issues or lag. The experience is new, great and – to coin a colloquial word – fundoo. I found it quite invigorating. And yes – you will  need the Times Of India – at least until others find a way to offer similar services…