All posts filed under: Reviews

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 …

Krishna Gopeshvara by Sanjay Dixit – Book Review

Presenting an ancient Indian Puranic story with a contemporary narrative in the background has been a literary tradition that is unique to Hinduism. Continuing in the tradition, is Krishna Gopeshvara written by Sri Sanjay Dixit. The story of Krishna is narrated in the background of the clash between two narratives, one being an evolving civilizational narrative and the other seeking an all-out political dominion. Published by Bloomsbury India, the book is the first instalment of the three part Lord Krishna trilogy. The sequels, titled Krishna Yogeshvara and Krishna Gyaneshvara are slated for release in 2019 and 2020 respectively. The beginning arrests the reader’s attention, starting with the mayhem that follows Kansa’s death in the hands of Krishna in Mathura. The widowed wives of the Yadava Lord travel to their father Jarasandha. The picturesque geographical detail backed by rigorous research brings the image of ancient Bharata to the reader’s mind and does not hamper the pace. At this juncture, author Sanjay Dixit makes an interesting departure from the traditional narratives. The story of Krishna’s birth and …

Girls Burn Brighter

Book : Girls Burn Brighter  Author : Shobha Rao    There is a new Indian born author on the block. Shobha Rao, burst on the writing scene in March 2018 with her debut book Girls Burn Brighter, with much fanfare in the International market. The book is about the friendship between two teenaged girls living in poverty in rural India in a village called Indravalli. Right away we are introduced to an old lady who insists that the grove of trees she planted are her daughters. We are then introduced to Poornima one of the main protagonist who is nursing her mother.  Poornima belongs to a poor family of weavers. As the eldest daughter she is burdened with house chores after her Mother’s death due to cancer and is forced to leave her studies. To append the family’s earnings Poornima’s father hires Savitha who comes from a family of ragpickers. The two teens become friends over a period of time and Savitha is moved by Poornima’s affection for her. Poornima always makes it a point …

Review: The Educational Heritage of Ancient India – How an Ecosystem of Learning was Laid to Waste by Sahana Singh

Book: The Educational Heritage of Ancient India: How an Ecosystem of Learning was Laid to Waste Author: Sahana Singh During Swami Vivekananda’s 150 Birth Anniversary Celebrations in 2013-14, I happened to have an interaction at a National Institute of Technology. In the course of the same I asked the students an extremely simple question, how many of them were there for the love of studying xyz subjects. To my dismay – not a single hand went up! Further interaction revealed that they had opted for engineering because of various pressures –parents and relatives, peers, etc. An Engineering graduate is held in esteem, said one. Another said, they get better choice in whom they marry and yes, better dowry also. Yet another said it was for the job prospects. Did they love their studies? No, they replied honestly. Suppose the esteem and the money, etc were guaranteed and they  had a choice – what would they opted for, I asked. One said, art, another said music, a third one said teaching, yet another said, innovation, business. …

Urban Naxals – The Making of Buddha In A Traffic Jam

Book: Urban Naxals- The Making of Buddha In A Traffic Jam, by Vivek Agnihotri Author: Vivek Agnihotri Since the beginning of civilization, the favoured method of barbarians out to destroy great civilizations was to destroy their places of learning. Most Mayan writings of the Aztecs were destroyed by Bishop Landa of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Yucatán, while other Catholic priests burned the great Aztec library of Netza Hualcoyotl in Mexico City in the sixteenth century. Pope Gregory the Great ordered the library of Palatine Apollo burned in the late sixth century. The great library of Alexandria, perhaps the greatest library in the western world, was burned at the urging of Christian Bishop Theophilos. The largest library in the world at the time, at Nalanda, which contained an estimated hundreds of thousands of manuscripts, was destroyed by Bakhtiyar Khilji’s hordes in 1193 CE. During the twentieth century, thousands of books were burned by the German Student Union in Nazi Germany in 1933. Things have now changed. Universities, or libraries, are no longer seen as places to …

The Skanda Purana by Bibek Debroy

Book: Skanda Purana translated by Bibek Debroy The Skanda Purana is a Tamasika purana and one of my favourite puranas as it contains many stories. Puranas are named thus as they are of purakala (ancient) times and also because they complement (purana) the knowledge of the Vedas. The Skanda Purana is the 13th Purana in the list and is the longest Purana with eighty-one thousand slokas. It is nine times the length of the shortest purana and about four to five times the length of an average purana. It is believed that the Skanda Purana was the first purana to be written, as quite a few of the stories are the same ones that are mentioned in the Mahabharata. This purana is divided into seven parts or khandas, which are as follows: Maheshvara khanda – the part relating to Shiva Vishnu Khanda – the part relating to Vishnu Brahma Khanda – the part relating to Brahma Kashi Khanda – the part relating to the holy city of Kashi or Varanasi Avanti Khanda – the part relating to the kingdom of Avanti Nagara Khanda …

Review: Vada in Theory and Practice by Radhavallabh Tripathi

Book: Vada in Theory and Practice Author: Prof. Radhavallabh Tripathi sargāṇāmādirantaśca madhyaṃ caivāhamarjuna, adhyātmavidyā vidyānāṃ vādaḥ pravadatāmaham Of creation I am the beginning and the end and also the middle, O Arjuna. I am spiritual knowledge among the many philosophies, arts and sciences; I am the logic of those who debate. [Gita: 10: 32] In the history of Indian philosophy there were two fundamental streams of progression: darsana and vada. The former with its six main schools is widely known, studied and appreciated across the world, the later has been relegated to footnotes of history. The previous cursory mentions of vadashatra (science of debates and discussions) comes from the works of Amartya Sen and A. Raghuramaraju, but it is only now that connoisseurs of Indian philosophy can delight in this beautiful, exhaustive monograph on the art and culture of debating as it has been practiced in this subcontinent from a very ancient time. Professor Radhavallabh Tripathi, author of 162 books, and 227 research papers and critical essays, is the Vice-chancellor of the Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan. He …