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Book Review : Monkeys, Motorcycles and Misadventures

Published January 31, 2016 by vishalvkale

Some books are meant to be read {your average fiction stuff}; some others are meant to be studied and analysed, learnt from {my upcoming review : Untold Stories of 20 Brands}; yet others are informative {India, Uninc, as an example}; and then are those which leave a deep impression, and provoke thought and discussion {Reforming Institutions, for example}… rare is the book that combines one or more of all of the above. The current book is one such.
This is a book which frankly defies description and categorisation. I cant call it Fiction, since the auther states it an non-fiction, and concerns a real event in the life of the author. I cant call it a travelogue, for it is far more than a travelogue. I cant call it just thought provoking, for it is full of rib-tickling ROFL anecdotes; what I can and will call it is : a complete entertainer from the first page, right from the very first page.

THE PLOT
Image result for monkeys motorcycles and misadventures reviewThe book is ostensibly about three friends who decide, once upon a sweet sweet time, to follow the path of Lord Hanuman to Lanka. These same three geniuses decide to – hold your breath – walk. Yes, walk. A small matter of 1200 Kilometers. Saw it on a map, it isn’t much really. It was 6 centimeters on that map, so it is a rather simple affair, really. I mean, it isn’t like you have to walk to the Railway Station, is it? Just a small matter of a – {shudder} – walkto Sri Lanka. Right next door on the map. Look it up on any map if you think I am joking.
Anyways, these three – aah – geniuses – then proceed to actually execute the thought or decision. {I mean, seriously, how many of us actually, truly, really execute all of our decisions and plans? Unreal! Fiction Book, I would have thought : sad they took photographs as proof!}. To top it all, they actually do complete the plan, you know. And we, the smart people, are still at our home / office {hope you are at home reading this, you shouldn’t read personal stuff in the office} [PS : It is a Sunday and I am very much at home]. How they do it forms the rest of the book.
THE AUTHOR {AND THE AMIGOS WITH HIM}
The book is written by someone only identifiable as “Harsha” {I wonder why? Why not give precise details?}, a person who is a freelance writer and the author of ‘Monkeys, Motorcycles, and Misadventures’. After graduating with a Master’s in Business Administration, he worked with a large IT company for a few years, before taking a sabbatical to trek the Hanuman route. In 2013, he moved to a beach town, where he spent a year beach bumming, mooching off family, and writing the current book. The others are Sri {whom I kind of liked} and the one and only Sam – two friends with whom the author has done some trekking before…
THE ANALYSIS
The author has the choice of making it like a recipe book, or a visitor’s travelogue by giving precise details and routes visited; full marks for avoiding that temptation and taking recourse to a free-wheeling style of writing, which is in keeping with the plot and the book. While they do have a broad plan, they decide to take it as it comes; this is the way the author has written the book as well. A free-wheeling, rambunctious style which makes for absorbing reading.
The book is freely littered with anecdotes, observations, fights {sorry guys, I found your fights entertaining at times. Sach hai, dunia hansti hai jab khud rote ho} that have you laughing at the situation, or the ready wit of the author, or of the comments and the observations of the three amigos, as the author likes to call himself and his friends. {Harsh : you did, too. All of once in the book. So there!}. That adds spice to this highly interesting book, making it a riveting read.
The icing on the cake is the thought provoking and deep insights, observations, experiences that occur to our three amigos along their path. These are found throughout the book, and leave you in quiet contemplation, stunned at times, just thoughtful at others, at the penetrating observation or the essential truth they contain. These span the most trivial to the most profound. Sample this little beauty when a kid walked up with Prasad :
I wanted to scream at the little girl, tell her the world wasn’t a safe place; .. but I didn’t… after receiving her kindness, who was I to destroy her innocence, her unquestioning belief in goodness? Was I a guardian, and of what? If anything, I had to guard that, the part of humanity’s divinity that I had just experienced… I wanted to see than innocence for longer, that faith in humanity; It made me forget my problems and my fears; It was something that I had lost a long time back, and the loss had left me jaded…”
These little gems are what elevate this book from the mundane to the level of a collector’s item, a book to be savoured as special, a book to be kept aside and read again and again when you have free time…

The writing is fluid, effortless and entertaining; the freewheeling style makes it a rapid and fast read, This is an ideal book for a journey for casual readers who have begun to experiment with other genres and styles, as it is a fast read and can be easily tackled in the free time you have; that is critical as the book literally flows from start to finish, and it is better if you read it through the first time.  For passionate bookaholics of the serious genre, people who have progressed beyond fiction – this is a must read title. All in all, I rate it 4 stars out of 5. 



“This book review is a part of The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program and Blog Tours.  To get free books log on to thereaderscosmos.blogspot.com”
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Book Review : Ramayan – Stolen Hope

Published January 24, 2016 by vishalvkale

||Shri||


RAMAYAN : STOLEN HOPE
RAMAYAN – STOLEN HOPE by SHUBH VILAS
{Book 3, after The Rise Of The Sun Prince and Shattered Dreams}

THE AUTHOR
Shubh Vilas is a spiritual seeker and a motivational speaker, with a degree in Engineering and Law, specialised in Patent Law. Prominent among his teachers are H.D.G. A.C. Bhaktivedant Swami Srila Prabhuda {Founder Hare Krshna Movement} and H.H. Radhanath Swami



STOLEN HOPE
This is a book that is completely different from the previous book/s in narrative, content and flow; those of us who are aware of the story of the life of the Lord Ram will find this in keeping with the story of his life. In the previous book, we studied {I cannot use the word “read” for the story of our Lord} his life till the Vanvaasperiod starting; far too obviously, the story takes a turn from that point.
The current book traces the life of Lord Ram from the beginning of the Vanvaas going right till the sad episode of Sita Haran by Ravan, and the start of the hunt till the meeting of Lord Rama with Shabari. Along the way, we are treated to a series of episodes from the Vanvaas Period which make for enthralling reading for those of us {like self} who were unaware of the full details of the complete Ramayan. To me, The Ramayan moves from Vanvaas straight till Sita Haran; this book has enabled me to get a hand on the full story of our Lord.
Here you will find a multitude of episodes with enchantingly exhausting details which enrich your understanding of The Ramayan – from the full story of Rishi Agastya who tamed the Vindhya Mountain Range, to the story of Jatayu, to the story of Dandakaranya and many other interesting parts, like the story of Khara & Dushan; the palace of Ravan, the story of Mandodari and many others that make this a highly engaging read!


THE ANALYSIS
But far more than the story itself, for me personally the biggest takeaway from this part of His life is the description of the lifestyle, environment, their daily activities, their simplicity, their surrender to their current situation and the way they conduct themselves. That left me spellbound, as I was able to visualise how tough it must have been for a Prince, a man who was brought up for kingship to go through these rigours.
The other part of this part of the book is the continuing delicate interplay between The Lord and Sita Ma; this is truly the stuff of legend. The author has reproduced their relationship in such a sublime fashion, with their conversations, episodes and communications leaving a deep impression on your mind. Add to this the absolutely wondrous devotion of Lord  Lakshman, and you have a retelling of The Ramayan that is beyond description almost
In Lakshman one sees devotion to one’s loved ones; sacrifice for the sake of the elders; total obedience – and yet an ability to respectfully convey one’s disagreement with the elder; complete surrender to one’s duties and responsibilities; this is a sacrifice that is unparalleled in my experience at least. This is one of the biggest plus points of this series, the way Lakshman’s role has been given due attention and portrayed properly.

Such is the style of the presentation & so powerful the connect of The Ramayan with us that you smile with delight with each smile of Devi Sita, and get tears in your eyes on more than one occasion in the scenes of The Lord and The Devi, in the devotion of Lakshman, in the tragic Sita Haran. The author has done full justice to The Ramayan, and has made it far more than a mere book or a retelling…
Best of all is the Lord Ram and the way his full character is brought out in front of our eyes; one can see the loving husband, the caring brother, the compassionate man, as well as the tough warrior and hard punisher all in one complete package, enabling you to understand why he is the ideal man : Maryada Purushottam! The transformation of the Lord from loving man to determined warrior, from compassionate human to crusading punisher has been flawlessly achieved, and enriches your understanding of The Lord.


THE LESSONS
Where this series makes its most powerful mark is the series of short annotations, text boxes and comments that drive home powerfully the lessons of The Ramayan; and its contemporary relevance. This places the current retelling in  a league of its own, and makes for a deeply engaging, immensely enriching and deeply thought-provoking study. That is also another reason why I refer to this series not as a reading material – but a study to be undertaken and a path to be followed.

The way the material has been presented, it ceases to be just a Holy Book, or a retelling of the known story of The Lord Ram and Devi Sita; it transposes into a potentially life-changing or life-enriching experience as you are taken deep into human psychology, human reactions & life lessons. This is not done  through long lectures or allegories but rather through short end-notes of a few words each, leaving deep learnings. This is series to be read again and again until the message sinks in and changes you for the better.

Furthermore, another fantastic part of this series is the text boxes which contain analyses of some episodes and the reasons why each person behaved as he or she did in that scenario; this enables a deeper understanding of the story, as well as a deeper connect with these historical characters. These text boxes are also used to drive home lessons from key episodes of The Ramayan; making this book far more than just a mere retelling!


THE CONCLUSION
This is a labour of love, of a learned man’s deep passion for The Ramayan; it is not just a mere book series or a retelling. It can be best described as the effort of a Guru; you become a pupil in his class of life, as the Guru takes you through the story, with the attendant hard-hitting, or thought-provoking comments which I now like to call Guides to Life. This is a guide to the reader, an aid even to a brutal self-examination with potentially far reaching effects and learnings, if studied with attention.


{Have I, who am writing these tall words, studied it with the requisite attention? I didn’t the first book; that was just a deeply engaging book. But the second one got through to me, and it has now  become a potential study. How much I will succeed is anyone’s guess. Time will tell! If I can succeed in my effort to treat this as a study, a life-changing experience – I will be the richer for the experience}



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The Absence Of A National Dialogue

Published January 19, 2016 by vishalvkale

The Absence Of A National Dialogue
The title will surprise many, but that is precisely my contention; that we lack a national dialogue; a consistent, strong and clear discussion on the matters that really matter to us as a people. We are very quick to discuss on Social Media issues relating to Religion, BJP Government, AAP {particularly denouncing it}, Rahul Gandhi / Congress, Arvind Kejriwal, Indians Abroad… but are almost totally silent on any number of issues that are far more relevant, important and critical to us


AGRICULTURE

You will not find many posts, mentions on agrarian distress, drought conditions in several districts, condition of Small and Marginal Farmers, lack of farm profitability, abysmally low farm-gate prices, lack of facilities in the agrarian belts, the problems faced by the farming community etc. And yet, even the smallest step taken for the emancipation of the above problems gets highlighted excessively.

That the positives are highlighted is welcome – but this happens without an attendant and equally vocal attention to the problems being faced by farmers. Therein lies the problem; you cannot have a complete picture of the ground reality without a full picture. What we see is an abundance of noise and adulation on steps taken for farmers – but almost zero attention to the reality of the farming scene in India…



THE ECONOMY

Similar is the case with the Economy; let me take just one small example to make my point. The structure of the Indian Economy is skewed heavily towards the Small and Medium Enterprise; as previously pointed out on my blog, the contribution of the unorganised sector to the Indian Economy is in excess of 40%, in the range of 45% – 60% {Refer the review of the book India, Uninc by Prof Vaidyanathan for full details}

And yet, a glance at the Pink Papers, Media, Social Media would completely belie the above in its totality. Rare is the article that goes deep into this aspect of our economy, which employs more people, contributes more to the GDP as well as to savings, and is the engine of India’s growth as well as consumption and savings juggernaut. Anything to do with Corporate Business gets immediate attention; is analysed threadbare – but not on this most vital of sectors of our Economy.

Its needs, wants, bottlenecks and requirements never reach the educated classes, So much so – it took me, an MBA with a regular reading of News and Books well over 14 years work experience to get introduced to the scale & scope of the Unorganised Sector and its contribution – and even that took a book that I spotted in a mall {mentioned above}



EDUCATION & HEALTH

This stands as the most neglected sector of all, with near-zero attention; in my opinion – even more neglected than Agriculture. The fact is that we spend very little {as a % of GDP allocation in Budget} on Education & Health gets a mention – but few people question this. Conversely, politicization of education – by any party – gets headline news for weeks – but the lack of attention to both these factors nationally hardly merits a few erudite articles and analyses in some select serious media outlets!

We rarely stop to think how can we improve the lot of the people among the not-so-lucky; how can they partake in the improved opportunities that growth brings without good health and education! Is it due to the blind spot we have – being educated, living in Urban Agglomerations, with good jobs {mostly} – leading us to forget that there are others who don’t have the advantages we have had due to our lucky parentage, which is strictly speaking an accident of birth?


THE CONCLUSION

Each of the points above ideally needs a dedicated article unto itself to do it justice; furthermore, there are other relevant issues that can be included in the list that get ignored. The list above is neither representative, nor is it exhaustive. Sadly, basis what we have seen and read till date on Media and Social Media both – you have to hunt for updates and information relating to these vital aspects of our nation.

How is Religion, Pro- or Anti-BJP, Pro- or anti-AAP etc going to influence the direction of policies in any way? Regardless of how much social media noise is generated, regardless of how much attention and coverage these generate, how is it going to help in any practical and definable way? In fact, in some cases it stokes arguments and verbal duels as can be seen in comments on facebook updates {as an example}

If we can focus so much attention on these frankly irrelevant and unimportant matters, post updates on them in Social Media, attempt to influence your readers, friends etc, or inform them – then why cant we also show due interest to real matters, matters of far greater relevance? We can update a deluge of updates praising one Government or the other, and yet maintain complete silence on real matters – Education, Agrarian Distress, Rural-Urban Gap, Health, Indian Armed Forces, Economy?

Similarly in the Media, one can read threadbare and in painstaking detail {or watch to be fair} news relating to so-called “current events”, in minute-by-minute breaking news and updates – but almost nothing by relative comparison on these real issues. How difficult could it be, just increasing space and/or time for analytical articles and snippets on these real issues, factors that will determine the pace of our growth?

What is happening is that as a result, there is a complete of a national dialogue around the real issues that matter to us as a people, as a nation. The lack of awareness of the people at large {basis personal experience of my own self} leads to a total silence on these matters, compared to a deluge of information on the other matters, which are relatively minor – and some might even be called debatable as being “matters” of relevance.

If the belief in the people is that by sharing updates on Religion and related matters, Historical wrongs, Pro- or anti- Government, Personality-specificity etc – one can influence public opinion, then the same holds true for the real issues. And if you don’t believe in the power of Media, then why share on your social pages, and why write or create on your Media?

And, if this medium does hold power – both Media as well as Social Media – then what does our silence on the real issues say about us as a people? Why are we sharing and reading avidly on Religion, Political Parties – but ignoring the really important issues, issues that are vitally important to the nation? What does this behaviour say about us? 

Life, And Death… The Unending Circle

Published January 17, 2016 by vishalvkale

Life, And Death… The Unending Circle
Another year… Another Month… and Another Day… Yet another tragedy strikes close to me and my family, leaving us behind…leaving my mind in a turmoil, with questions and observations crashing through my mind as I attempt to come to terms with the larger questions relating to the purpose of life, and the smaller questions of my response both to the path of life as well as my response to such seminally tragic events…
As of now, as before, when tragedy has struck and me & my family are in mourning, the one thought that literally flashes through my mind, crashes into my consciousness is the same thought I had on my Dad’s funeral pyre 9 years ago… at the end, the only thing that remains is a person’s thoughts, nature, words, and relationships with people…
Nothing matters; the worldly possessions we run after so mindlessly will pass on to some other owner, nothing remains that you or your memory can call yours. The house will be transferred to some other name; the shirts, pants will be donated to some needy; the TV will be seen by someone else; the car will have a new driver behind the wheel; the bank balance and investments will be bequeathed to someone else… and so on and so forth…
The world will cry a little or a lot – or not at all, depending on how close people were to you {that is critical}; those who cry will do so for 2 days, maybe three – or maybe longer. The only person who will retain your memory lifelong is your spouse – and if you are exceptionally lucky {and good}… your children. That is it. Life stops for not a moment after you pass away; not one moment. Mouths will need to be fed; children need to go to school; and so on and so forth. Nothing stops – not even your closest family, and that is a hard fact.
WHAT REMAINS AFTER US?
The one realisation that has come to me is that what remains after you is only the good deeds you have done; the happiness that you have spread; the pleasure you have given; your words & your memories, which people cherish in those rare special moments when the past comes back to mind; nothing else matters. The only other thing that matters is your Children : if you manage to give them a good education and upbringing – they will carry this and thank you their entire life.
And yet, paradoxically, we spend our entire adult lives pursuing worldly items  and possessions to the exclusion of the only things that will actually remain ours; the only things we will carry with us to the heavenly abode. I myself, who am penning these rather grandiose terms, am not too different in this regard.
WHY? A PRACTICAL LOOK…
It can be argued that each individual has desires and ambitions, and culling and curbing your desires and ambitions is not exactly the right thing to do; that it is my right to do as I please, as I am on this earth to live. Granted. But does the  pursuit of our individual goals and desires mean we forget the items listed above? Cant we try and do both?
Nothing on this planet is free of charge : you will need money to live, to feed yourself and your family. And it is further granted that food alone is not enough; you will need money for giving your family a good life, you owe them that. That is beyond argument; I am not advocating becoming a hermit, or proposing / recommending simple living – high thinking philosophy. And, truth be told, less than 1% of people will take freebies; it feels great to achieve something – and this sense of achievement rubs off on your loved ones and your family as well.
Thus, the daily grind of life really does need to be gone through-  frankly, you yourself wouldn’t have it any other way. But the question remains : if after I am gone – my worldly possessions wont remain mine; that only my deeds, my words, my emotions, my memories will remain truly mine : then what is the purpose of it all? And furthermore, this question leads to what I regard to tbe the keystone question, the vital question : what is really important – or what is the relative importance of each aspect of your life?
KNOWING I, ME, MYSELF
I found, during my 9-year journey on these questions which first assaulted me on my Dad’s funeral pyre, that you cannot answer these questions without answering who am I? For, when you attempt to settle and answer the questions above, all rationalisations of the real world fall by the wayside – and you are left naked, confronted with yourself : and your real priorities, devoid of anxieties, worries, desires and ambitions. What would you want to be known for and remembered as? The answer to that questions is a reflection of your true self, in my opinion…
The past 9 years have also revealed something else – these questions and their answers remain carved into stone; independent of the real world around you, and the challenges and tasks it demands of you. It matters nought if you are on a high note in your life – or if you are in a struggling phase. The questions, and their answers, remain as they were. They are resolute & unchanging…
Through good times and bad, the tiny voice inside you remains, always telling you wher e you are going wrong, or what your real priorities are. The difficulty, as I have experienced as well as am experiencing, is in isolating that tiny voice, that original voice from the other voices that emanate not from you, but from your desires & ambitions, experiences, successes and failures. I have not yet succeeded in overcoming the pull of these stronger pressures, and learning to listen to the real me that resides somewhere deep inside me, the me that is telling my mind and body what is right and what I should be doing…
The key seems to be isolating the desires and ambitions driven voices that originate from the passions, and my life goals and experiences – from that small invisible me. I am not my desires; my desires emanate from my real world needs and experiences, and are strictly external to me as an individual. My life goals – even they are not me, for the perfectly simple reason that these- all of them – have external dependencies, so they cannot be the real me.
Who, then, am I? Answer : as of now, I don’t know. While the real world desires and ambitions are important, for I am a constituent of my society, and need to fulfil my role; they are not me. That much I am sure of. I do know that my body cannot be me : for it will one day return to its real owner – the earth. My body cannot be me for after people die – they do live on in memories, and their good deeds. My body cannot be me, for the simple reason that through pain and joy, a part of me remains untouched, and above all.
Who, then, am I? My hunt continues… 

Book Review : Mumbai Avengers, S Hussain Zaidi

Published January 10, 2016 by vishalvkale

MUMBAI AVENGERS : S HUSSAIN ZAIDI

For the past 25 years and more, we have been facing the evil and duplicitous activities of Pakistani-supported terror groups, aided fully by Pakistan and its organisations. We have witnessed and withered many a murderous attack,  and paid a heavy price in blood, all for no fault of ours. In all the list of attacks we have suffered, no single attack holds as much relevance and importance to the national consciousness than the one that happened on the fateful date 26/11.

Mumbai stands as a beacon in India – it is the city of hope, and the personification of the spirit of struggle, hard work, innovation, and enterprise that is present in all Indians; it is to us Indians representative of something larger than what it is physically, and that is why an attack there was so hard hitting. It also attacked the centers that represented the new India-  the rising India, the India of Business, fast growth and great global prospects. That is why this attack was so important an event; almost a watershed. These people were trying to attack the ideal of new India…


 
The current book under review takes on from the feeling of deep hurt and helplessness in the people rising from this cataclysmic event , and goes on to craft a plot that seeks not revenge – but justice. The emotional connect it {the concept} made with me was immediate; it was an enticing and deeply engaging thought and concept, and was further written by one of the most accomplished non-fiction writers in the reality / underworld genre – S Hussain Zaidi.




THE PLOT
The plot is deceptively simple – go after the perpetrators, the planners of the 26/11 plot and bring them to justice, strike back at the monster and seek justice for the victims of the wanton murder and mayhem that happened from 26/11/2008 to 30/11/2008 in Mumbai, India. The book is, from the start to the finish,single-mindedly focussed on only one aspect : Justice. There are no subplots, no needless twists and turns, and no mandatory love angle anywhere. That is the beauty of the plot; it is a lovely taut narrative, completely focussed in its core task with no diversions at all.

The concept has been rolled out extremely well, and comes across as totally feasible and practical; that is its main power. The story starts with a presentation by a retired Army General with a proposal to hit back at Pakistan; one which immediately meets with scepticism and mistrust from the political powers that be. This General – Lt General Syed Waris Ali – is then approached by an old friend from his army days – now in RAW with a simple proposition : do it. But I don’t know you did it, and you don’t know or remember that I told you to do it.

That comes across as completely and devastatingly believable in the real world; this is further buttressed further on, when the team put together for the task needs help – which is denied initially, only to be given later after a public adulation of these national heroes : again, very plausible.  There is no jingoism, or one-man action scenes; instead, you see a team – or rather set of teams at work, fitting together and gelling together into one whole.

The General, after being assured of all help in every way being given by the friend, including his choice of personnel from the forces and intelligence community, then crafts together a multi-disciplinary team of hardcore professionals. These people, led by the very capable General Ali, then go about delivering justice – starting from locating their current location, selecting how to give justice, and then the deliverance. This forms the meat of the book as our heroes go out to achieve the impossible for the nation and the victims.

The rest of the book forms the hunt and the deliverance of justice; each hunt is different from the others, each is painstakingly planned out and plotted, executed with near-perfection as the kingpins of the plot start falling one after the other. This does not go unnoticed by the ISI, as well as the Chinese, who play a lovely double role, playing both sides efficiently as per their needs. This is what sets up the climax, as all the forces come together to try and prevent the final damage, and the biggest kingpin of the terror factory’s fall…

THE ANALYSIS
The book is not one of your rapid and blinding fast thrillers shooting your way through pages; this is an excellently crafted, carefully plotted suspense thriller. The narrative is sufficiently fast paced to keep your interest not only alive, but captivated; and yet, it is slow enough that the complexities of the hunt and the justice are fully developed. This is important, for this is not your average revenge book or spy thriller. The targets have to be taken out one by one, which means that ensuring zero suspicion on India or on the team is paramount.

That is the only way the plot can be carried forward logically, given the parameters of the operation, and given that this isn’t a commando style operation – which is anyway infeasible, as the targets are widely dispersed geographically. That is why the story has to be complex and yet plausible- which  it is in every way. The surgical precision of each strike is a thing of beauty, as is the part about the hunt for the target within the limitations imposed by the Government. And the way the story links effortlessly to the climax is excellent – and completely flawless.

The character development is as required by the storyline and the genre; effective; the characters are well etched and very well developed with bold strokes and strong personalities, as befits the task requirement. Each character is a flawless and effortless fit in this story; given the wide range of personalities and characters adopted, this is the most fabulous aspect of the book. Each character comes across  as believable, and, at times, reacts exactly as we would expect someone in the real world with a similar background or personality. This is realism at its best.

All in all, I rate it 5 stars out of 5, and as one of the best fiction thrillers to have been written  in Indian English. S Hussian Zaidi’s expertise in the genre of real crime is well known, {you can find three non-fiction works reviewed on my blog},  – this book is an added feather in his cap. The research done is extensive, and its shows. The book is a riveting read, has a powerful emotional trigger for Indians, as well as is crafted and put together very well indeed…

Book Review : This Unquiet Land

Published January 2, 2016 by vishalvkale

THIS UNQUIET LAND – STORIES FROM INDIA’S FAULT LINES
BY BARKHA DUTT

THE INTRODUCTION

Image result for This Unquiet Land Barkha DuttThis Unquiet Land is a book that stands out among all the other books I have read and reviewed on my blog, numbering more than a 120 at least. This is also a book that sets a narrative of India that is at complete variance to the one which the people of India would like to read which is that of a vibrant and fast growing India, an India that is on the road to its desired goals of Economic Growth and the promise of a future pregnant with positive developments and fast rapid emancipation of problems.

This is a book that looks at the dark side, the unsavoury stories and realities of India, a side that we would much rather ignore, or a side that we would much rather leave to our fervent hope that things will get better. This is a side of India that is best represented by “out of sight, out of mind”; a side dealt with looking the other way. This book is a book that is deep and dark in its narrative and tome – yet not depressing which is quite an achievement for the author, who has successfully taken on many a dark side of India.


THE AUTHOR’s NARRATIVE, AND THE LAYOUT OF THE BOOK

The book revolves around the author’s personal experiences through her extensive touring and exposure to India during the course of her long and eventful career. She has resorted to her experiences quite extensively; which brings me to the most significant disadvantage, or negative part of the book which lessens its impact by a wide margin : the lack of a proper annotation end-notes and bibliography alongwith precise dates of events.

There is a bibliography – but when you are penning such hard-hitting content, it is better to use in-page annotations, end-of-chapter endnotes or endnotes at the end with proper numbered references littered throughout the book. I would like to point the reader to other non-fiction books reviewed on my site – examples being Parag Tope with his seminal classic Operation Red Lotus; or Narendra Singh Sarila with his explosive Partition – The Untold Story. This would have elevated this book to the level of legendary stuff.

The author writes with transparent and unreserved passion with remarkable control over her language considering her depth of passion – which makes for fast as well as  absorbing reading; she is passionate about all topics she has covered – and it shows in her writing. This is a definite plus; the problem is in the layout of the content within each chapter. She has been fair and balanced for the most part; but a proper sequencing of the narrative and the points raised would have been welcome as it would have expanded its impact. A slightly more analytical approach, without compromising on the narrative tone, and a structured approach to each point would have been welcome; that said, I like it as it is. This is just a thought that could have made it more powerful.


THE CONTENT

The content is thought-provoking, and takes on Indian Society head on and in no uncertain terms. If anyone has been spared, I cant offhand think who, or what. There is no bias that I could detect {bar one – maybe two places, where I could also be mistaken}, and certainly a thorough hammering has been dealt out to each participant in the chosen topic regardless of the side the participant is one. Be it Women, or be it Society, or be it The Middle Class, or be it Kashmir, or be it Politics – everyone has been shredded.

Before I continue – just a disagreement on Nehru & Kashmir; I thought I detected a tone of blaming Nehru; I would like to point the author as well as the reader to the books reviewed on my blog, which are all authentic evidence-based books that tell a completely different story. Links of all books mentioned at the end of this review.

·       WOMEN : This is the chapter that every man should read. A hard-hitting and brutal chapter that takes your mind into a disturbed vacuum, factual and completely true so far as I could tell. Be it our treatment of and approach to the rape issue; or be it the issue of work versus family for women – you will find it all here. My only issue relates to the question of gender roles in Indian society, as my article argues. I look forward to the author’s views on that, if possible

·       THE COST OF WAR : This is the peice de resistance of the book, a chapter on her experiences in the Kargil War. You are left with wonder as you marvel at the courage shown by her and her staff, as well as the commitment and passion. This offers a very different look at the Kargil War, from the perspective of a civilian, rather than the look given by General VP Malik in his two books reviewed earlier. {Links below}
·       TERROR IN OUR TIME : This chapter deals with a wide spectrum of terrorism – related experiences. Vast in its scope and breadth, it gives a birds eye view of the terrorism challenge faced by India, including a short precise on the maoist challenge. The one problem here is the inclusion of the sporadic incidents of Hindu extremists; while these need mentioning in a chapter on terror, I felt that they could have been reduced to a half page, or one page – rather than the 2-odd pages they got.  Am I nitpicking? Perhaps I am; but smaller focus would have been more balanced. The main problem we are facing is different

·       IN THE NAME OF GOD : I don’t write on Religion – period. This is the red line I will not cross. That said, I highly recommend this chapter – without giving my views on it, I may have liked it, I may have hated it. My views on this remain sacrosanct, and in my mind. I have a determined policy to not write anything on Religion, after my last 2 articles on this. {Links at the end}.
o   My only comment – the identification of the colonial factor as being one of the causes of the conflict we are facing {page 129} is somewhat accurate; though not completely so. The origin of this sectarianism cannot be understood unless you understand the changes that took place right from 1700AD, as I argue in my secularism series {Links below}. This is something that I still haven’t fully understood despite reading a full 28 books on this – all pedigreed, maybe more. {PS : Not all are reviewed on my blog – some will not reach my blog, as the content is either explosive or the book is too hard to review, like Jinnah or Experiments}
o   There were always 3 players – The Muslims, The Sanaatan Dharmis {Hinduism is not the name of our religion; the only name we can give it is Sanaatan Dharm} and The British. What we see today has its origins in the three societies and their delicate interplay, and is not so simplistic. For more, click links at the end.

·       KASHMIR : Read the book for this chapter alone, and with an open mind. You will be the richer for the experience. This seminal chapter is an excellent kaleidoscope of personal experiences at the tragedy that is Kashmir wedded with a short look at the history of the state during Independent India, making for enthralling reading. What is specially noteworthy is that our mistakes have been thoroughly analysed, making for a highly disturbing but thought provoking read
o   That said, this is the one chapter where I have two disagreements: Nehru – whose role has been revealed in the classic book by NS Sarila {ADC to Mountbatten} which reveals the true story basis original documents – with proof and extensive references –  from the archival records of three nations. {Link below; suffice it to state that I thank God for sending Panditji to us as an Indian}.
o   The other disagreement I have is in the detailing of the tragic stories of excesses by security forces. I don’t object to them being aired; we are a democracy – and these excesses should be aired. The problem is that in analysing the mistakes we committed, I felt that a greater sense of balance was  needed in clarifying the foreign role and the Pakistani hand, as well as the loss of life due to it, which numbers in thousands. That said, she has looked at all sides of the picture to be honest

·       OF POLITICAL DYNASTS, JUGGERNAUTS & MAVERICKS : Loved this chapter – thought provoking, disturbing, blunt and to the point, with a hard hitting look at all political options, with no one being spared –whether Congress or BJP. This is a truly great read, as we get an inside look at the entire political brouhaha of modern India, as well as some pretty direct questions and searching examinations. AAP is the only party that gets away easy…

·       A SOCIETY IN FLUX : This is the chapter I loved the best, given that I have analysed almost the same in my article {The Great Indian Middle Class – Neither Middle Nor Class}. While I look at the aspect of corruption and selfishness of the Indian, the author has taken the middle classes and upper classes apart, torn them to shred in my opinion in this chapter – which is also the darkest and most disturbing chapter in the book with the graphic descriptions and horrors. A riveting yet darkly fascinating mirror to Indian Society….
o   The stark statement of the inequities in our society, the level of deprivation and the level of deplorable ignorance shown by us, the terrifying sceptre of poverty, or the shocking and ugly pusillanimous behaviour of us Indians has been ruthlessly exposed through real life incidents that will haunt you. Read the book to feel the same level of shock and disgust I felt…

CONCLUSION
In conclusion, I rate this book 4.5 stars –  am docking 0.5 stars for the reasons mentioned. It is a tour de force penned by a person with a vast experience cutting across a veritable kaleidoscope of situations – which bring a murmur of admiration to your lips at the sheer chutzpah, courage as well as her strength, given what life has exposed her to. At the end, you are left with a picture of India’s fault lines which need attending to, as well as an appreciation of the author. Could this book have been more balanced with a look at the positives? Yes – but then, it wouldn’t be a book on Indian Fault Lines-  and high time we Indians faced up to our challenges. Overall, an excellent book!

Are there disturbing elements in this book? Yes, there are. This is not your coffee table book; this is a hard look at the nation’s problems; could it be more balanced – yes; as I point out. But that does not mean we ignore it. A must read as per me…




REFERENCES AND SUGGESTED READINGS : 


Secularsim – Modern India and Pseudo Secularism {follow links for historical detailed persecpective}
In addition, there are over 26 books on Indian History reviewed on my blog; feel free to browse if interested