All posts filed under: Reviews

Book Review: Railways and the Raj

It will be difficult to find a single Indian who has not had any connection with the railways in this country. Whether it is the jam packed locals of Mumbai or the long distance ‘express’ trains or the ‘toy trains’ of a picturesque hill station, there is hardly a soul for whom the railways is a stranger. For those born before 2000s summer holidays meant a train journey. Either near or far Indian families packed half their household and took their children from cities to the villages to meet their grandparents and extended family. There are many songs written with the train as the main backdrop. Railways is one of the best connect with the British Raj for those born post-Independence. Hence, a book on the railways is always a familiar territory ; something a person can relate with. Perhaps touch, see and feel the places mentioned in it. A book on an airline or on ships can seem unfamiliar to some. The author, Christian Wolmar a renowned railway historian based in the United Kingdom, …

History Of Christianity

Death of Classical Age in Rome and Violence perpetuated by Christianity

It is said that “Absolute power corrupts”. Hence the post-Roman era is typically referred to as the Dark ages, since it was the period when Christianity held absolute power, which resulted in widespread destruction and corruption of everything that it touched. However, what was it like when Christianity was struggling to acquire power ? What effect did it have during that time? These are the questions that Catherine Nixey’s book titled The Darkening Age attempts to answer. And it sheds light on some of the facts hitherto brushed under the carpet by the historians who have told the story of the triumph of Christianity based on christian sources, and thus, presented the narrative of a decadent barbarian empire which was saved by Christianity. However, this was not the case. The tale of Christianity acquiring power over Rome is one that brought great amount of sorrow to the classical world. Hence, “The Darkening Age” is an apt metaphor for those times. Early on in the book, Nixey explores the motivation of the Christians to convert the …

Sardar Patel The Man who saved India

Book Review – The Man Who Saved India

An old Hindi song from my childhood had the following memorable lyrics- अमन के दुश्मन जंग के बेटे भूल गये अब चाल ऍटम बॉम्ब से जा टकराया वीर जवाहरलाल enemies of peace, sons of war have all forgotten their moves. The brave Jawaharlal went and took atom bomb head-on More than the historical inaccuracy or the craven personal worship expressed therein, what strikes me today about this song is the sheer level of infantalization of the history in it. Lest you think this was restricted to popular culture alone, sample this line from my high-school history textbook with the picture of Mahatama Gandhi at Dandi Satyagraha- उचललेस तू मीठ मूठभर साम्राज्याचा खचला पाया (you picked up a fistful of salt and shook the foundations of the empire). Without disputing the courage and the resolution of those involved in the above-mentioned protests, this description is simply not true. Ironically, the recent trend, mostly promoted by social media, to take down important figures in India’s freedom struggle, most prominently Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, has in …

The Idol Thief By Vijaykumar

Book Review – The Idol Thief

As an art lover I’ve spent major part of my time in attending talks and walks by historians, predominantly in temples of Tamil Nadu. I have always been awestruck by the magnificence and workmanship of our humble anonymous sculptors and temple builders. Reminding myself of the “moola kaaranam”(primary reason) i.e., the kings of our ancient land, I was struck by their virtue and bhakti to the Gods, without which they couldn’t have come up with a beauty like those found in temple sculptures and iconography. While gazing into that amazing lost world, I’ve felt extremely helpless and disappointed whenever I hear about the theft of idols and iconography from  the Temples. There isn’t ONE idol thief but multiple channels with many people aiding and abetting in the theft. The government bodies controlling the magnificent Temple structures, the Devasthanas, our places of worship, especially in Tamil Nadu show extreme apathy and sheer ignorance. One can only get depressed when we see ghastly fluorescent paints, fancy vitrified tiles, lights and fans in a 1000 year old structure. …

Book Reviews – Kasheera

Often we wonder as to why there haven’t been much works on violence hit Kashmira either from a neutral viewpoint or Indian point of view, let alone dealing with displaced Kashmiri Pandits’ torments. As we lament about losing the Uttaramnaya Sharada Peetha to Gilgit-Baltistan in the illegally occupied Kashmir by Pakistan; as we still try to understand what happened on the night of 19th January 1990 in the Kashmir Valley or as we complain about sharing our resources among the displaced Kashmiri brethren, the uninterrupted efforts by the separatist forces keep yielding them fruitful results, may it be a piecemeal solution to their aim or a holistic one. The geo-political narrative around the globe today is that the Indian state has illegally occupied Kashmir (?!). As much it comes to an Indian as dismay, it is a glorious example of the feeble diplomatic and international affairs handling hands playing at the helm of bureaucratic system. Have we, as a nation, ever occupied any piece of land, let alone doing it illegally? That must be the …

Book Reviews – Rama and Ayodhya and The Battle for Rama

The diffusion of propaganda requires repetition. In the words of someone many leftists have secretly admired for long, repetition is what makes propaganda successful (the full quote is (bold-emphasis mine), “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over“. This was a strategy used to brilliant success by militant Islamists, communist historians, and Indologists of dubious integrity in the west during the Ayodhya movement in the 1980s and 90s. The lie that was exposed by the Allahabad High Court was this – that there had been no structure beneath the Babri mosque, and certainly no temple, that the mosque had come up on barren land. Some of the other lies were even more imaginative – that Ayodhya itself was a mythical city and therefore the present day Ayodhya bore no connection with the Ayodhya of the Ramayana, and so on. The evidence presented to the contrary was impressive and …

Book Review – Illiberal India By Chidanand Rajghatta

Let us for the sake of politeness, state our condolences to the family and friends of Gauri Lankesh, and that us hope for a swift capture of the culprits and a speedy closure to this case. Nearly a year ago, Gauri Lankesh was found murdered in her own house, shot by unknown assailants on a motorbike. The news was received with shock, and tributes came pouring in within minutes. The media hastily descended on her death, which was peculiar since she was relatively unheard of, or maybe ignored by the same media during her lifetime. Gauri Lankesh was a veteran journalist, and before her end had spent the last few years struggling to keep her own weekly tabloid running. Her death was swiftly picked up by the media as the sign of troubled times, where free speech is stifled and dissent of any manner is punished. Chidanand Rajghatta builds on this narrative in his book, ‘Illiberal India’. Intended to be a “personal-is-political narrative”, Rajghatta, ex-husband and friend of Gauri Lankesh, paints a portrait of Gauri …

Book Review – Warlight By Michael Ondaatje

“We were used to partial stories” Nathaniel, the protagonist of Michael Ondaatje’s seventh novel ‘Warlight’, tells us in the opening pages of this remarkable novel that is part spy novel in the low-key John Le Carre tradition, part coming-of-age story in the post war England. The narrative takes us through the lives Nathaniel, his sister Rachel and their mother, who in many ways is the real protagonist of the novel, just as Andy Dufresne is the protagonist of ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’ even if the story is told through the eyes of Red. After tracing the path of the family through timelines that cut back and forth, from Rose, the mother’s childhood to Nathaniel’s stint with the secret service, the reader realizes that through this opening line, perhaps the author was also setting expectations. “We were used to partial stories” is an advance warning to the reader to expect an account of deeply felt emotions more than report of events, one where you seek closure instead of resolutions. And yet, nothing in the novel, …

Book Review – Life Over Two Beers and Other Stories by Sanjeev Sanyal

If you are part of the left liberal English educated elite, this book is not for you. This book requires prior reading; books capturing both sides of the ideological divide or Op Ed pages and blogs representing the right and the left. Failing both, following social media battles (which sometimes end up containing more wisdom than curated tomes) will also help. This book rarely mentions specific real world places, people or events – leaving it to the knowledge and conscience (“vivekbuddhi”) of the reader. The book is a collection of free standing stories, making it a light and easy read. Many of them aimed at our ‘pseudo-intellectuals’. If you are firmly on the Left, ideologically and paradoxically, part of the elite too, you may not enjoy this book much, since it liberally pokes fun at this section. Most of us are not, thankfully. The author – Sanjeev Sanyal – is an extremely well read person and is also the author of books such as The Land of Seven Rivers and The Ocean of Churn. By …

Book Review – Aru Shah and the End of Time (Book 1 in the Pandava Series) By Roshani Chowksi

This book was shown to me by my father. My sister had already read this book and didn’t have a great opinion of it. I however, decided to read it and then form an opinion. ‘Aru Shah and the End of Time’ is about a twelve-year old girl named Aru. Aru always feels left out and is the odd one out at her school. Her mother is a famous archaeologist who works at the ‘Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture’ and is always busy with work and business trips. The result of all of this is that her mother would often forget about Aru, her classes, and her activities. All the kids would be dropped to school by their parents and have fancy cars while Aru would walk to school alone. Desperate to change this, Aru starts using her imagination and creates stories about the imaginary cities and places she has visited. Since Aru practically lives in the museum, she uses the artefacts and statues around her as inspiration – an elephant statue in …