All posts in the Non-Fiction category

Book Review : Capturing Wildlife Moments In India

Published May 15, 2015 by vishalvkale

“Capturing Wildlife Moments In India” : The title, for this once, doesn’t say it all; in fact, it doesn’t suit the book. Reading just the title, one would think that the book is a set of photographs, a set of images to be leaved through…nothing could be farther from the truth, for in your hands is an experience, a lifestyle and a trigger for your desires and your imagination… welcome to one of the most captivating and invigoratingly refreshing reads I have encountered in a long time; welcome to the lanes of my memory, my unfulfilled desires and my views on this one of a kind book!
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THE AUTHOR {From the book}
Ashok Mahindra is a Chartered Accountant who qualified from England and Wales and from India. He retired as Co-Chairman of Deloitte, Haskins & Sells, and as Senior Partner of A.F. Ferguson & Co. in 2008, after a career of 39 years. Ashok Mahindra is now a wildlife photographer. Through his 120 photographs in this book he has shown the rich heritage and range of wildlife and its habitats in India. In addition, the book indicates the continuing threat to wildlife in India and sets out how it could be more effectively preserved.
The book sets out to, in the words of the author in the preface, create a greater awareness of the danger to the wildlife in India, and to promote the preservation of that wildlife. Its highlights are, as the marketing of the book claims very aptly, the images, which are a treat; but there is more, much, much more – from the practical to the experiential and from the mundane to the esoteric;  “Capturing Wildlife Moments in India” contains 120 photographs of animals and birds of India, photographed from visits to over 30 parks,sanctuaries and other locations…

The book acts as a quick guide and a quick chronicle on places to visit in India – places where you can relax, and enjoy being one with nature, places where you can experience the full beauty of nature; places which are both famous, and not quite so famous. It isn’t a guide on what you can find in each place – this is not a tourist guide; it is more of a travelogue, an experiential and highly engaging travelogue on the wildlife circuit of India.
This is a book you can get lost in, and forget about everything; this is a book which you can just dissolve into; this is a book you can read again and again and then again; and each reading is bound to transport you into a differing reality, an engaging memory, an unfulfilled desire or a raging ambition. This is a book to make you pause in wonder at Mother Nature, and sigh in deep and heartfelt melancholy regret at the ugliness of the modern concrete jungle!
It states as an objective the conservation of wildlife, which it achieves in  a very different and indirect fashion; it kindles in you a desire to experience these sights yourselves, and a keenly felt regret at the meaninglessness of our metro lives and concrete jungles; that, to my mind, is a far better way of going about Wildlife Conservation – getting people interested in the wonders that Mother Nature has to offer us! It also acts as a to-visit list of the top wildlife  hotspots in India, places to visit, and introduces you to an aspect of India you would not have thought too much about
This is a book that hits you hard in the gut, and makes you face the futility of modern life, the meaninglessness of the corporate race and the pull of Mother Nature… as I said, this is an experience to be lived, so that your inner dormant desires are kindled, and a new joy can be experienced. This is a book that, given its wandering travelogue style and lack of focus on one area or theme,  takes you back to Mother Nature, and introduces you to its myriad wonders from Animals to Insects to Birds to Scenery, and from colours to joy all in one short sharp read! The fabulous interleaving of themes, with a Tiger on one page, then a Neelgai, or a mound of termites, or a mangrove picture, achieves the objective of keeping your attention riveted, making for a unputdownable book…

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This is the frontispiece, the piece-de-resistance, as it were : the images are simply mind-blowing; they will take your breath away. The clarity, detail and framing of the pictures is one thing, which everyone will note; my request to everyone is try and merge & blend into the image and the captured moment, and experience it to understand… the patience, effort and planning that went into each image taken, the beauty of the moment and the sheer power of Mother Nature!
Here you will find the entire life cycle of the Large Cats, here you will find the life of the Tigers – how they live, their territorial habits in short and sharp comments on the images; you will find, for the first time, these large cats in their old age, as well as their resplendent youth; you get to understand the meaning of the immortal line by Kavi Neeraj : Umra Ke Chadhaav Kaa Utaar Dekhte Rahe in the lives of the tigers covered!
Here you will find the lovely and unbelievably scenic images that you will want to savour, and wish you had a copy for your desktop, laptop or mobile screensavers – a veritable cacophony of colours blending to create stunning beauty; like the Cormorants on Page 54, or the House Sparrow on Page 61, or especially the Blue Jay on Page 104, or the Red Junglefowl on Page 111…
But most of all, the stunning beauty of two mind-blowing images has the power to transport you into the book, into the location – one at the start, and one at the end : a stunning set of images of the Jungle… images of transcendental beauty, that kindle the joys and memories of your own visits {Pench, in my case} to the Jungle, and the memories of of the location of that wonderful number in Kabhi Kabhi – Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein, Khayaal Aataa Hai, such is the power of these images! The captivating beauty of these two images takes you into the forest, enables you to forget the world and blend into the magic of these images caught by this extremely talented photographer!

Just one request : the book is priced at Rs. 1450/-, which is a tag towards the higher side, and is targeted at a different segment; there is a market at lower price-points as well, people like me who love Books, who love the beauty of nature, and would buy these books at a more affordable price point. If the publisher or the Author is reading this, please make a note of this feedback…

It is being published by Oxford University Press(OUP) & Bombay Natural History Society(BNHS).The book will be available at most of the major retail outlets across India and also through online retail sites like Amazon, Flipkart etc.It will also be available for sale through the BNHS website and is priced at Rs.1450. 

This post is a part of the book review program of at Saevus Wildlife India in association with The Hemchand Mahindra Wildlife Foundation for the book Capturing Wildlife Moments in India 

Book Review : The Indian Media Business {3rd Ed.}

Published May 9, 2015 by vishalvkale



Image result for the indian media business vanita kohli 3rd edition

Vanita Kohli-Khandekar is a media specialist and writer. She has been tracking the Indian media and entertainment business for over a decade. Currently she is a columnist and writer for Business Standard and Mid-Day. Her earlier stints include one at Businessworld and Ernst & Young. A Cambridge University fellow (2000), Vanita teaches at some of the top communication schools in India.
The book is, in simple terms, a reference book on the entire Media Landscape of India; at the same time, it is also a book that teaches you the basics of the game, and then proceeds to take you into the inner working and nut&bolts of this industry and all its constituent sectors. It traces the development of each sector right from its beginnings, right from the start, and develops right upto the present time. It furthermore  also covers regulatory and legal aspects of the business, making it a one-step guide to this industry, and a must read for anyone even remotely connected with Indian Business in any function; more so for Sales and Marketing Professionals, for whom this should be required reading. 
It devotes one chapter on each sector of the Media Business – Print, Television, Film, Music, Radio, Telecommunications, Internet, Out-of-Home, and Events. Within these chapters, the book uses a standard layout for all chapters: introducing the industry, a brief but powerfully hitting strategic summary, then tracing the entire industry from its origins to the modern day {till 2009, when the book was penned}; as well as its operational realities & how the business works, topping it off with a reasonably thorough look at the regulatory history as well as current landscape of each sector. After this data supported {extensively data supported, may I add} portion, we are treated to Case Studies from India and the World, which are very relevant and pertinent. All in all, a complete reference guide for the Indian Media Business!
First of all, the content is a bit dated – there is an updated version now available, which is recommended for purchase.  {I shall be reviewing that as well on my website}. But that apart, there is almost nothing that is bad, or even debatable, or even far-fetched. This is a superb book that is factual, data supported and full of  pertinent information for the interested reader.
1.  Print Media : “The Indian Print Business Is In The Best Years Of Its Evolution” The book starts with the Print Media, and packs a surprise right on the first page for the uninitiated – India is one of the fastest growing newspaper markets in the world. I liked 2 things in this chapter : one, content quality and corruption / issues and challenges – which she has taken head-on in no uncertain terms; and the other the short and succinct analysis of why Print is not likely to fade in India
2.   Television : “The Market Will Remain About Broadcasting For Very Long” This is a rather detailed chapter, which could have been better, in my opinion – but the author was constrained by having to cover all points as per the chapter layout planned for each sector. My main take-away – the rise of the Regional Channels in the industry, as well as the advertising section. The rise of regional channels leaves you wanting to know more, which is only a tantalizing glimpse in the book!
3.  Films : “There Has Never Been A Better Time To Be In The Movie Business” Most of us know zilch about this sector and how it operates. Well, you’ve got the right book for understanding this segment; the piece de resistance of the book for me – along with the Out-Of-Home segment. Here again we run into the rise of the regional cinema, in a short tantalizing look; confirming that there is a case for the Author to devote more space to the regional language media, whose rise does feature, but gets drowned in the other stuff. That apart, this chapter offers a complete understanding of the business of Movies from content to distribution, attendant risks, challenges and issues – which will not be found anywhere else as far as I am aware.
4.  Music : “The Music Industry Is Finally Enjoying The Growth Possibilities Created By New Media” This is the one single chapter I look forward to reading in the new edition… that should sum it up. No further comments here!
5.  Radio :  “The Radio Business Needs To Move On To The Next Stage” The second take-away from the book; the unsung Medium in the Indian Media story, which is normally dominated by Television and Print in the Media. This chapter has the Author in her element, as she goes about tracing the challenges and pluses, which are reasonably well covered. Again, in the opening strategy section, we get a glimpse of deep insight as the author notes with pain the absence of true localization in the content – leaving the reader with a sigh of dissatisfaction, at the prospect of having a more analytical look into this Medium… let us see if the next edition is upto the mark in this
6.  Telecommunications : “Telecom’s Ability To Master The Media Business Will Depend On Its Flexibility” So much has changed, that it would be futile to go into this here. Suffice it to say that the chapter gives you a hold on this industry {unfortunately my industry L }, its basics and its history. And yes, its regulatory mess.
7.  The Internet : “The Coming Years Will Be Tough For The Internet As A Medium” Written in 2009, current 2015, look above in point no 6. Repeat most part here. Enough said; will look in the review of the current edition!
8.  Out Of Home : “The Similarities Between Out Of Home and Cable TV Are Startling” This is the chapter, this is the sole reason you should read the book… the least understood and most brutal area of Media. And one of the most ubiquitous in terms of customer interaction points. The chapter takes you deep into this business, into its growth, its unregulated and fragmented mess, its potential as well as engaging case studies of how a growing economy of the 90s onwards created both a mess as well as space and opportunities.  
9.  Events : “Everything is an Event” – again, an updated edition is sure to have more masala as events have now grown quite a bit into various streams and industries, so passing up any comment here. Repeat points 5 and 6 here, in short – understand the basics of the business!
In short, I can say truthfully that this is a primer book; one that gives the reader a thorough and painstaking look at the constituent factors and operational realities, challenges, regulations and history of each Media segment. The sad part is that it could have done all that, and gone into greater detail on some strategic aspects, which I shall cover after reading the updated edition – perhaps they will find justice in the new edition! All in all, a vital and important contribution to the literature on Indian Media!

Book Review : India, Uninc. By Prof. Vaidyanathan

Published April 8, 2015 by vishalvkale

Book Review : INDIA, UNINC

By Prof. Vaidyanathan

About The Author : R. Vaidyanathan is Professor of Finance and Control and UTI Chair Professor in the area of Capital Markets. His areas of interest are Corporate Finance, Investments, Portfolio Management, Risk Management and Pensions. He is the Chairperson for the Centre for Capital Market and Risk Management [CCMR] at IIMB. He is a National Fellow of ICSSR. A graduate of the Loyola College, Madras and a Masters from the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta he obtained his Fellow in Management (Doctorate) from the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta where he also taught for four years… Read his full and very impressive Biodata and achievements Here



The book is about the unsung and discounted sector of the Indian Business Environment and Economy in the first part; it goes where no book has gone before, at least not in my readings. This is a book that looks at the Small and Medium Enterprises, or more specifically, the unincorporated sector and its contribution to the Indian Economy in exhaustive and nevertheless entertaining detail

The second half is where the real fun and games begin, as the author takes you into deep insights and truths about the Indian Business Environment, in a roller coaster journey that will leave you breathless. These are not words that can normally be used to describe a business book, but fit the bill nonetheless. The Author has skillfully managed to connect culture with business, in a fashion that makes eminent and practical sense. How? Read on! 

This is a book that should be compulsory reading in each and every Business School and in each and every organisation. Why? Read on!


The first part of the book is a treat in numbers, and more numbers – and when you get tired, you get treated to even more numbers. Then, you get exhausted. And, as a welcome relief, you get an even greater variety of numbers. The beauty lies in the presentation – an easy to understand tabular presentation that drives home the point the author makes. Then, the long and uninterrupted series of numbers are never boring, because each is cogently explained by the text, as well as concern a variety of areas and sectors, keeping the reader riveted. 

This is a point that needs to be underscored, as the Author has presented a theory that shakes many a concept in our minds – making it vital that the theory be supported by data. What is even more important, the author has relied on authentic and irrefutable data from official sources, and has also presented a multitude of perspectives and data sources from various data-collection and presentation sources, ranging the entire gamut of available data. 

The Unincorporated Sector
The book looks at several aspects – contribution of the Unincorporated Sector in GDP, Income, National Savings, Employment. The data is conclusive; the unincorporated sector is the major contributor to the Indian Economy, whereas the corporate sector contributes only 18%. If you add Unorganised Agriculture, the contribution of the Unincorporated Sector comes to a humongous 60%+, which is a shocker, and a wake-up call, as the data forces you to rethink quite a number of concepts. {I shall go into details in further articles, as this is a book that can spawn several lines of thought and analysis}

Factors of Business
It looks at the important factors of business – especially credit offtake from banks and support mechanisms, the role of Social Support Groups, Chit Funds, NBFCs, Taxation coverage, Bribery as well as the challenges faced by this sector bringing you face to face with a rather uncomfortable reality of the problems faced by these organisations. The most important is the data-supported contention that Bank Credit is not easily available to this sector – which contributes the most to our Economy. 

Service Sector
The book takes on a life of its own in two segments – the Service Sector, and the social aspects of business. The data and logic presented in the entire section on the Service Sector is superfluous, as the argument presented is completely logical and intuitively sensible; you end up wondering why didnt you see or think of this, as you see it around you every single day! 

We think of the service sector as the or in terms of the IT industry, in our uninformed or prejudiced urban metro MBA-schooled viewpoints; here is data – irrefutable data – that proves that IT isnt even a drop in the ocean as on date; it brings you face to face with the intuitively logical reasoning that IT is only and only an enabler, and that the real service sectors’ contribution far outweighs not only IT but a good many other sub-sectors; we are referring to {“we” as I fully agree with the Author here} the innumerable retail kiranas, travel shops, restaurants, transport, real estate, construction services etc. 

And in this sector, the unincorporated sector has a 75% contribution, dwarfing the other corporate contribution. I find it hard to refute the statement that conversely, it is the corporate sector that is garnering the lion’s share of the focus of everyone in India, whereas the data shows that reverse should be the case. We should actually be celebrating the innate ability of the small Indian Entrepreneur to succeed, given the environment and the chance. 

The Social Aspects of Business
This is the frontispiece of the book, the piece de resistance. In 4 or 5 short chapters, the author has presented what can be called the real Indian way of doing business, and this is something that needs no data proofs – it is obvious to anyone who has been in business in India, and has seen and observed keenly. The way Indian Entrepreneurs leverage social contacts and social structures to create a business, open markets, gain access to working capital, employment is evident in the cornering of various verticals by various groups in India – numerous examples can be quoted, and have been extensively quoted in the book. 

The Role of The Stock Markets
The book contains all this and more; it looks at the inflated role of the stock markets, and the obvious conclusion that they arent representative of the Economy {we intuitively knew that in the recent past, comparing the stock indices which is diametrically opposed to the fundamentals of the economy; it was an amazing sight : disturbed and shaky fundamentals,and yet a robust stock market!}; here you find the data to back that intuitive logic. 
If corporate India contributes 18%, and Unincorporated 45%, Agriculture {unorganised} 17%, if 34%-41% of manufacturing is by the unorganised sector, if 70% of national savings are by households and unorganised sector, then by no stretch of imagination can an index representing 30 or 100 or even 500 stocks be called representative. Period. End of argument as far as I am concerned. And yet, the focus is all on Corporate India. 

Summary and Criticism…
I am purposely summing them in one, after expostulating the many positives of the book; the reason is that this book is a must read despite its weaknesses. The book draws a contention that the unincorporated sector succeeded despite the corporate sector and the government, and draws a clean line of separation. That cannot be strictly true – only partly true; as the role of the corporate sector and the government in creating opportunities that could be exploited by small units, travel shops, restaurants, hotels, construction etc cannot be denied.
Having said that, it is equally true that, given the paucity of Bank Credit, and an attendant lack of focus, the achievements of this unsung and real-cum-most-important sector  of the Indian Economy are truly fantastic in the past 2- years. That cannot be doubted. It is equally evident that this is a feat that required commendable ingenuity, planning, strategising, courage as well as superb execution skills to achieve. That is a given. 
The other weakness is the rather critical tone that is taken on many aspects, and the sometimes flippant attitude; but this is not a major concern anywhere in the book. Yes, it does stray significantly in one conclusion – FDI in retail, where I dont agree with the contention that FDI and organised retail will destroy Indian retail. The book itself is the greatest proof-  the small entrepreneur has succeeded because of self-driven passion, and without much support; hus, the contention that organised retail will inconvenience them in any way seems fanciful at worst, and premature at best, to be honest. 

This is a book that brings to face to face with the real India, the real Indian Economy – not the one extolled by the Pink Papers, or other Media Outlets and Business Pundits. This is a book that brings you face to face with your business prejudices, and raises several deep and penetrating questions in your mind, its shortcomings notwithstanding. This is a book that presents a fact-based, extensively data-supported and nearly irrefutable chronicle of all that is wrong in our approach individually and severally, and that India is different to The Great West in just about every way from Religion to Culture, and from Economics to Trade. 

This is a book that introduces you, possibly for the first time in your business career, to the Real Indian Business, The Real Indian Economy, and the real way forward. But that is another story, to be told in another blog post; for now, suffice it to state that this book stands as one of the most powerful, entertaining and educating books I have ever encountered in my entire life…

Book Review : Ramayan – The Game Of Life {Shattered Dreams}

Published February 12, 2015 by vishalvkale




Book 2

The Ramayan Retold by : Shubh Vilas

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

Words fail me… I had never known the true power of The Ramayan, or the real reason why we Sanaatan Dharm followers {Hindus} honour Prabhu Ramchandra above all… I have, of course, known the full story through TV serials, movies, abridged Amar Chitra Katha comics and abriged stories… but reading the full story is an entirely different issue. The full force of the character of Prabhu Ram hits you hard, really hard – I actually cried on a couple of paragraphs – as you realise that this person just  cannot be a human… what is in embodied Prabhu Ramchandra  is beyond description – simple, soft, and yet so totally beyond even the wildest conceptualisation of our limited minds in the modern word… amazing that there once walked on this earth a man like Prabhu Ramchandra… truly, Maryada Purushottam! And even better : you come face-to-face with the full power of The Lady Sita, whose simple, unassuming and yet tough, rock-hard countenance is a revelation to small minds like mine… 

On reading it, I can only say that I can now begin to understand why Prabhu Ram is given a place of honour… shameful of me to read it at age 40+! The translation specifically is really good; a knowledgeable person vetted it just by hearing the name of the Guru of the author, stating if that is so, then I must read it… this is a lovely translation, beautifully written, completely true to the  Ramayan in Sanskrut so far as I can tell, written with true devotion and love, and yet in a reasonable, practical and yet respectful tone. This is a book for people like me, who havent actually read The Ramayan. I am captivated by the beauty of this epic, lovely and fascinating story from our Ancient History…
This is the 2nd book of the series, and deals with the plan to place Prabhu Ram on the seat at Ayodhya, the vicious plans of Manthara and the turning of Kaikeyi’s mind, going on to how Prabhu Ram takes this in his stride. The book focuses in detail on this phase, making for stirring reading, especially in the scene the Lord breaks the news to Devi Sita, and  Lakshman. The book focusses on the beginning of the Vanvaas, their initial experiences, thoughts and journeys in the latter half

The main aspect of the book is the revelation in the scenes between the various players, with the recreation of the scenes between Prabhi Shri Ram, Devi Sita; Shri Ram – Lakshman, Shri Ram – Kaushalya etc. This is so wonderfully retold, that the scene unfolds in front of your eyes, and invariably bringing a tear to your eyes! Such is the tremendous power of the words in the book : I do not know if this is the power of The Ramayan, the skill of the Author, or both…

For those of you who havent actually read The Ramayan, be prepared for a roller-coaster ride and a highly emotional experience. I can now understand just how important The Ramayan is to us, as well as Shri Ram-Devi Sita; the emotions you experience as you read it cannot be described; at least I do not have the skill to describe them. This is also due in some small measure to the focus being not just on telling the story so much as recreating the story in front of your eyes, and in your mind. 

The entire period of The Ramayan rises in front of your eyes. I can only say that it is tragic that I cannot read Sanskrut, if a translation can be so beautiful, I wonder how unimaginably fascinating the original must be, and how transcendentally beautiful! This is an epic, lovely and fascinating translation, and has been told with respect, devotion and great love; and it shows. 

The key value addition by The Transalator is the end-notes; first, they underscore the role of the author : he is our mentor and our guide on this journey of rediscovering the Ramayan, a Guru. And the Guru has littered the book with lovely, deep and pointed end-notes as explanations of the behaviour of each character {thereby ensuring the story remains free of intrepreter bias}. This takes you deep into the story and the minds of the various players in the story, giving you a deep understanding. 

What this also does is it also brings you face-to-face with yourself, your morality, your behaviours, your views and your life, giving you a deep learning and a fascinating maturing and learning experience. And then you begin to realise the sheer power of The Ramayan and its ability to bring you to face yourself, and introspect. You also realise through these stupendous end-notes that this is a story that can be read again, and again, and again… each time, with each reading, it will give a new flavour, a new learning…

In closing, let me state that despite knowing the entire story, this book has made me appreciate Prabhu Shri Ram – Maryaadaa Purushottam, his clarity of mind, his sincerity of purpose, his simplicity of thought, his honesty and integrity, his devotion and his love for everyone. It has also made me appreciate the sheer force and incredible power of Devi Sita, her incredible toughness, her dedication and sacrifice, and her love for Prabhu Shri Ram. And let us not forget the others – Shri Lakshman, Urmila and their equations, Bharat and his incredible nature… 

Incredible that such people once walked the face of this earth, and incredible that Mother India was once blessed with the presence of The Lord Himself! 

Jai Shri Ram!

{If any errors have happened, please accept my apologies….}

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Book Review : Durbar by Tavleen Singh

Published January 15, 2015 by vishalvkale



Of all the books I have come across, this one stands apart all by its lonesome, for being the most disturbing, and at the same time being the most intriguing book I have ever read. At one level, it is a superb and must read book, while at another level, it leaves a lot to be desired for. It explores new areas in our contemporary and recent history post independence without being a history book; and gives a narrative that raises hard questions and introduces varying viewpoints, all while giving deep insights, as well as an inside look at Page 3 Society and Delhi’s hotshot circles.

This is a memoir of the life of Tavleen Singh, focussing on the experience she had during her journalistic career covering political events in New Delhi as well as other parts of India. This is what gives the book a unique flair and attraction, and takes it in a league of its own. Other history books cover history as inanimate packages, and are more analytical; this book is a class apart, as it is written in the form of a memoir.

The book takes a systematic look at all the epochal events during the period from 1974 till 1989 – The Emergency, The Junta Government, The Return of Indira Gandhi, The Punjab Problem, The Assassination of Indira Gandhi, The Sikh Riots, upto The Rajiv Gandhi Era including Bofors and Sri Lanka while also peripherally dealing with the rise of the BJP : years that were so critical for our Indian Nation; years that were so vital in our history; and years about which so many questions remain!

The congress party has been systematically dissected in this book, and both Indira Gandhi as well as Rajiv Gandhi have been thoroughly analysed in terms of their individual performance as leaders of the nation. Their faults & mistakes have been ruthlessly exposed, and some sad events about which we had only heard stray mentions are covered in detail, like for example the Sanjay Gandhi family planning fiasco and the beautification drive. 

The flow of emotions in the people as well as the ruling class has been extremely well documented. This is especially evident in the rise of hope that has been so eloquently brought out in the initial Rajiv years, as also the depressing mood that was rampant during the emergency. The slow and steady disillusionment of the people with Rajiv has also been covered. 

But the key point that I felt was the story of Punjab, and let me freely admit : Tavleen Singh has guts. Her exploits, and the risks she took while covering Punjab and Kashmir are worthy of an award. The book takes you into the center of the entire sad episode; and the book is worth a read for these pages alone. What is more, the interplay of Punjabi-Hindi, and the interplay of politics and religion, are shown to create an ugly triangle {or more accurately quadrangle} of culture, religion, politics and language. I mention this specifically because at no point was the role of Pakistan in either Kashmir or Punjab mentioned with adequate force. I can understand that this book is an internally focussed book, but this is a significant shortcoming nonetheless. 

The book will take you up close and personal with all the key players in the political field during the era in question, as well as quite a few media personalities. You get to see political leaders, who you are used to seeing in impersonal word form in news and in analytical articles and books – in a personal and alive view, adequately covering their emotions, thoughts, reactions, making them appear more human. This is the most vital scoring point of the book. 

The narrative is powerful, and makes which are familiar to us leap out of the words and the pages; they take on a life of their own through the vivid memory and artful and skilful play of words. You are treated to a kaleidoscope of images, as history almost plays before your eyes; that is the level of the skill achieved by the author in the penning of this superlative book. 

This is an important addition to the record, any which way you look at it; this places the tumultuous events of the period between 1975-1989 in a very different, and engaging format, and is almost a living recording of the events, given that it is a memoir. Tavleen Singh has drawn from her extensive interaction with all the key players during this period, as well as her interactions with colleagues, normal people, police officers, bureaucrats to pen an unforgettable work. 

I shall not state much about the precise content given; neither shall I attempt to draw any inferences for the reason that this is a memoir; it is not a history book. There is not one bit of documented evidence, or supporting proof contained in this book. I dont state that the content is wrong – I am merely making & underscoring the point that this is a memoir, not a history book. It should not be taken as such. Sad part is, with a little bit of added effort, this book could have been elevated to a combination history book and engaging memoir, by the provision of proper endnotes, bibliography and references to articles from those days. 

Taken in the right spirit, this is a landmark book, a book that is in the must-read category. If this book disturbs you, and forces you to ask questions, instigates and fires in your mind a desire to do some more research, and understand that era much better, it will have achieved its core task. As I said, the total absence of supporting documents, news articles, endnotes, researches leaves a lot to be desired for; in a book of this genre, given its content and its at times explosive and hard-hitting coverage. Even then, given that it brings us face to face with some of our past mistakes and their repercussions, this negative can be ignored!

Book Review : The Mouse Charmers

Published December 23, 2014 by vishalvkale

The Mouse Charmers : Digital Pioneers of India  

by Anuradha Goyal

Anuradha Goyal has a Master’s Degree in Computer Applications with practical work experience in the IT industry for several years; she has subsequently moved on; She has co-authored the India Innovates series published by CII, and was a Jury Member for the Economic Times Power Of Ideas Contest 2010. Her papers on Business Innovation have appeared in various journals and forums

The digital industry is a nascent industry, with a long way to go, as I have myself noted in my previous articles; the road is long, and we are at the very beginning. We have no idea what works, and what doesnt; essentially we are learning as we go along, making processes, dreaming ideas, charting strategies, monitoring tactical execution as we go along. There are no defined roadmaps, and no study material in an organised format; there are no case studies and previous experiences to go by. We ourselves are the case studies of the future…

And this is precisely what Anuradha has done in what I can only refer to as a landmark in this industry; a first book of what can be called case studies of digital entrepreneurs of India. That there will be others, is beyond question. But this work will be the one that was the first, the one that was to set the ball rolling… and full marks to the author for this!

The focus of the book is to lay before the readers a set of Indian Entrepreneurs who made brands out of their ideas, and became successful in converting an idea into a successful business venture. Given the nascent nature of this industry, the author has further decided not to go too technical on us – whether in terms of technology, or in terms of business jargon and strategies, and has opted to keep it simple. 

The net result of this approach is that the reader gets 12 superb analytical case studies, with a relatively short, precise but very meaningful historical précis of what went wrong, what worked, and how the business got to the current status. In addition to this, you get a basic of the technological platform used, as also the difficulties faced and challenges overcome on a strategic front. In addition to these 12, you have a mention of other businesses that didn’t make it to the 12, but are good enough to have done so. 

The choice of the 12 cases is the hallmark of the book, as they set to define the digital space into 3 clear logical segments : ECommerce, Content Platforms and Connectors. In simple terms, sites that provide trading facilities, content generation platforms that provide reviews, or other digital content; and thirdly connectors – sites that bring users together in the B2B, B2C or C2C space. This approach serves to clearly define the digital space in our minds, and gives a clear view to the reader as well as gives a defined form with clearly demarcated broad market segments to the nascent space in the digital marketplace. 

The book is divided into 3 segments accordingly : ECommerce, Content and Connectors. And, the best part is that there is a concise description of each segment in which the scope and breadth of the segment as well as its emergence and future possibilities find an adequate mention. Again, this serves to clearly define each segment of the market, and gives us a firm and clear idea of the digital marketplace. This is the most important take-away from this book : it will give a firm shape to what was once a shapeless concept, helping to channelise your thoughts and ideas. 

The 12 cases are a wide variety, a kaleidoscope, almost – of India; they are so diverse, that they typify our India! Here you will find the story of names you know very well : Flipkart,, MakeMyTrip, Zomato, Indiblogger. But you will also be surprised to learn of the success of niche sites, or different sites like  BigBasket, Caratlane, Games2Win, ImagesBazaar, Chai With Lakshmi, Rang De and Commonfloor, in areas that you would not have thought that the digital marketplace can make inroads… like the unique case of a C2C Microfinance firm on a digital platform! This is a book that will set you thinking of the enormous potential of this new medium will double force, which is the second takeaway from the book.

The way the different cases monetised their offerings, making a financial success of things as diverse as selling online to making money from reviews of restaurants is a real tribute, and a study in ideation, logical application of mind, perseverance and sheer chutzpah. This gives the reader a basic insight into what are the requirements for a person who wants to get into this industry. 

But the most important takeaway from the book is the marriage of the online with the offline; the old with the new; and the brick and mortar with the click. In each and every case, the way the offline gels in with and strengthens the online is the most vital learning. Be it the stunning efforts of Team Zomato who collected those hundreds of menus initially, or be it the dedication of Team ImagesBazaar who personally compiled the photographs to start off, every case has an offline presence in terms of hard work, and dedication, or in terms of creating and further leveraging a strategic advantage, like logistics. 

You get to appreciate and understand the stunning level of effort required to create a running business; you get to understand how they went about building it up brick by brick; looking at the strategy, the technology, the market, the customers, the monetisation, the failures, the marketing of the products – be it advertisement or be it the core product, This is a book that covers most aspects of business, creating a complete picture and business case in front of the reader. All in all, rated 5 stars!

Book Review – Vishnu’s Crowded Temple

Published December 12, 2014 by vishalvkale

Image result for vishnu's crowded temple



A treatise on Casteism, Religion and Political Inteplay from 1857; A look at how Caste was shaped by The British Raj

This is a book that belongs in your collection, its weaknesses and shortcomings notwithstanding; a book that helps us understand, or at least get an insight into why and how we Indians are what we are today. This is a study, an investigation, an attempt to understand Modern India, and trace how it arrived at the current place, a unique effort to present our history and our today as a single connected and linked thread.

The book successfully challenges many current beliefs, takes them on head-on and demolishes them in no uncertain terms. It very successfully traces the sad interplay of Raj Politics & Modern Independent politics, Religion and Social Forces; and analyses their cumulative impact on Indian Society. This is a hard-hitting, thought provoking and deeply disturbing yet engaging research into the origins of the modern Caste relations, Religious fractions and how political forces came to be influenced by these tectonic forces

On casteism, it delves into excruciating detail, proving the impact of the Raj on caste equations, analysing the situation at the advent of the Raj, and going on to provide factual details, events, strategies, tactical maneuvers and machinations that resulted, inadvertently at times, into the solidification and cementing of casteism into its most repressive form. The painstakingly put investigation comes as a revelation, despite it being exhausting in its detail. A better presentation would have made the absorption of the material much easier; having said that, there are no discernible logical gaps in the material, apart from it being slightly tedious due to the stunning level of detail. 

As a matter of fact, the main overarching theme of this book, throughout the 449 pages, is caste, and its interplay with various societal and political forces from 1857 till around 2006. This is a stupendous effort, and thus deserves accolades. Furthermore, it provides the proof of a connected chain of events, leading to a better understanding of what we are today. That is what makes this book a must read for all Indophiles; its many weaker points notwithstanding!

Woven into this main theme is the theme of colonialism, and how the forces of the day intervened in all facets of Indian life, from the mundane to the esoteric, definitively shaping them for the worse. Before the advent of the British, the caste construct was fluid and interchangeable. The British intervened with their coloured glasses, and  created a system of differential treatment of various classes and castes, differential economic treatment and power-sharing, combined with labelling of some tribes as criminal {who could be imprisoned on suspicion alone}. This led to a cascade impact, as a caste identity became the key to economic, political and social status under the new dispensation

The book also looks in rather uncomfortable detail at the rise of what The Great West {as also some Indians} likes to call hindutva; and the rise of aggressive Hinduism. This fills in a major gap in most contemporary books, which focus on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in India and elsewhere. This book does more than the reverse; it looks in painful detail at the rise of Hinduism in a more aggressive form. 

While it is true that this is a needed exercise; societal movements depend on all forces in operation within a society : the fact remains that this comes across as excessive, targeting the Hinduism movement, the rise of the Hindi language etc in needless detail. This is done without a proper reasoning of the full background, which gives a biased picture. Furthermore, given the seeming bias added to the evident inconsistencies and ill-disguised disdain for a few facets of ancient history, this tends to give a skewed picture of the scenario as it existed in those days. This is a significant weakness throughout the book, one that lessens its impact. 

Post independence era, the book falters a little, but is a treasure trove nevertheless, as it traces the rise of Indian Democracy through the early years, right till the modern day. However, the content fails to leave as deep an impact as the section dealing with the pre-independence period. In this section, the effort, though laudable, comes across as disjointed, and lacks focus in my opinion.

The book traces, or attempts to trace, key events in this period, like the secularism debate and the entire common law issue, going into the history of this debate in parliament. It also looks at the changing caste equation, but sadly in much lesser detail , preferring to focus on economics and political intrigue. This is where the book loses steam and finally surrenders its engagement quotient.

The entire Indira Gandhi – Sanjay Gandhi – Rajiv Gandhi saga has been dealt with in considerable detail, almost too much detail. In this phase, the story meanders into unfamiliar territory, leading to a lack of focus, as it swiftly looks into the Rajiv years, before metamorphosing to Mandal and VP Singh. Despite that, it does manage to recreate the canvas of India quite successfully, plotting the problems and events in various states in relatively short sequences, creating a kaleidoscope of the nature of the country in those days. This is what makes this section invaluable; it places in one contiguous section all the problems faced by our nation; you begin to appreciate our development as a people with double force and pride. 

The rise of the BJP from its genesis in the Jan Sangh, and the entire sequence of events has been dealt with in detail; as has the tumult during the Mandal years; this is in keeping with the overall theme of the book. Thus, at the fag end of the book, it manages to return to its core theme after meandering into politics. While the impact of politics on society is a given, in this section, the connection and the impact has not been fully traced. It comes across as half baked. It attempts to trace the rising equality in castes, and the influence of the downtrodden, but partially fails to do this, giving a definite idea, but stopping short of a deep insightful analysis…

The main criticisms of the book are 3-fold; first, it is irreverent towards Hindu sentiments, Gods, History and tends to take an ill-disguised condescending tone on more than several occasions. The unbalanced and one-sided analysis of Hinduism in its more aggressive form comes across as rhetorical in the absence of an equally rigorous examination of other forces. It  is frankly dismissive on many points which have common acceptance and have proofs in support. To be honest, I felt as though this is a look at only one side of the equation, and more data and facts are needed from the other side. Furthermore, there were some sections that I felt were inaccurate, and the portrayal of Hinduism as being completely negative and objectionable almost throughout the entire book…

Secondly, it is also surprisingly kind towards Pakistan and Islamic terror. But the most objectionable point was the reference to Kargil, and the claim that this was an operation carried out by Kashmiri insurgents! Similar are the unflattering references to terrorism in India, and a completely inaccurate analysis of the same. 

Thirdly, and most damning, is the shoddy presentation, and editing / finishing. The book is extensively researched; but the bibliography, annotations and end-notes are just not upto the mark. The impact of this is a lack of conviction, as the links and references to the statements contained in the content do not immediately link back to the source of the said claims. This significantly impacts the readability of the book

All in all, this is a must read book, despite the weaknesses mentioned above, for the simple reason that it adds enough value, despite being unreasonably critical {in my opinion} of Hinduism, and economical with the facts in some cases, as I mentioned in the third point given above. I would rate it 3 stars, and as a book that is a good read, and a great value addition, given that it clear many cobwebs…