Tag Archives: india

Book Review – Belonging by Umi Sinha


5/5STARS!!!!!!!!

Probably one of the most undiscovered and underrated books from the past year. I would never have discovered it myself, but for a completely unplanned (impulsive) trip to the local bookstore where I made a very poor choice and was back to exchange it for something better. And this time too, with the bookshop owner waiting to close shop, I almost randomly picked up ‘Belonging’. The cover was beautiful, but the author and book were completely unheard of, and a quick check on GR told me that with a 4+ rating it was a safe buy.

But I was not prepared for this book to be as fantastic as it was! Why hasn’t it showed up on any lists!? And I am surprised that even the Guardian hasn’t done a review on it, when it seems to review every new book that comes out! – – especially since this one has such a contextual British-Indian theme.

I seldom describe a book as “well crafted”. Many are well written but this one has something beautiful and intricate about it, much like the fine embroidery that adorns its cover and is a pivotal part of the story. As a debut author, Umi Sinha has set the bar very high and admirably demonstrates, by example, her background as a creative writing mentor and manuscript appraiser.

There is something about epistolary novels and I loved this one even more because nearly two-thirds of it is written in the form of letters and diary entries – making the reader so much more involved and engaged with characters and their deepest emotions. Sinha treats her characters with a lot of compassion and sensitivity and one comes away understanding each one – why they became who they were, what shaped their lives.This is a book worth reading again. Beautiful and elegant.

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The Blood Telegram – Book Review


***** 5 STARS

The Blood Telegram may possibly be one of the most important and well written books I’ve read on modern Indian history so far. As someone who is almost always incurious, indifferent and unenthusiastic about politics (national and world) in general, reading this book has been a revelation on international diplomacy as well as a completely new perspective on the maneuverings that take place in the highest offices of the world, and the decisions that set in motion a series of incidents that alter the future of generations to come.

I’ve read this book like the history student I never was, completely absorbed in the details, wanting to take down notes, watching simultaneous interviews on YouTube (bringing to life the pages of the book) and constantly resisting the urge to underline complete paragraphs on nearly every page in the book. In the end, I had to make an exception to my ‘no markings in books’ rule – to highlight passages that I knew I was going to want to refer to again.

 

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My interest in modern Indian history is a fairly recent development, sprouting in the last couple of years mostly because of the extensive research I did for a project at work. Before this, my world view was limited to what we studied (or were taught) in school, which was nothing short of propaganda that the ruling party wants to feed you, and therefore hardly worth basing lasting opinions on. And so for a long time, reading history was not even on my radar.

It is laughable that up until now, I did not even know that the major part of the 1971 conflict was actually on the eastern side! It is the western side of the war that I’ve always remembered hearing about and being born just over a decade after this war, it is appalling to realize how little I knew about ‘India’s greatest triumph’ and what led to it.

This is why ‘The Blood Telegram’ came as such an important lesson for me on not just the 1971 war and the history of the birth of Bangladesh, but also as a lesson in world politics, the Cold War context, international relations, foreign policy and the hidden motives that define the realms and repercussions of international conflict. 

Gary J Bass’ research is detailed and expansive, and while there is always the danger of the author’s opinion coloring the inferences in the narrative, I think he dealt with every aspect as objectively and un-biasedly as is possible, basing all his interpretations and conjectures on hard facts. This is one of the reasons I am so taken by the book, because every fact literally comes from the horse’s mouth.

The one thing this book would not have been possible without, is the Nixon White House Tapes. Another fact that was news to me. I find it hard to believe that in the era of the Cold War, when secrecy and confidentiality were paramount, a US President would decide to have his office bugged and all his conversations and confidential meetings recorded. A tradition that continues to be practiced even today. In the Indian context, I can totally picture the author and his researchers diving into archival records and microfilms at the Nehru Memorial Library – a place I think is frozen in time from the 70s… and one I have spent several blissful days doing my own historical research in. Oh what a pleasure it would have been to be a part of the research team for this book.

In the end, we are ruled by our personalities, our temperaments, identities and insecurities – and I think what hit me most from the book was the interface it provided with Nixon and Kissinger in their revealing closed door conversations. Ultimately, it was their convictions, preferences and personal opinions that largely affected the outcome of the events in 1971, which despite numerous warnings and evident indications did not waver – and set the stage for a continuing conflict between India and Pakistan.

A #highlyrecommended book for anyone who would like objective and detailed insight into one of the largest but forgotten conflicts of the Indian subcontinent.

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2016 TBR Book List – Indian History


Following an extremely interesting discussion on Indian history, I realised there was much more to know about what happened, when it happened and most importantly why. In today’s day and age,  when one has all the resources to inform oneself on historical facts, I don’t see why we mustn’t be well informed – after all, our history defines our present, shaping thoughts, opinions and decisions. So to avoid developing my own version of history and instead to develop a history’s version of history, I’ve resolved to read the following books in the next few months. Its a 2016 resolution come early! and I’m raring to get started.

In no particular order, here’s my list. Being someone who is as much a hoarder as a reader, I happen to have all of these in paperback, hardback or ebook formats 🙂

  1. The Last Mughal – William Dalrymple
  2. White Mughals  – William Dalrymple
  3. India After Gandhi – Ramachandra Guha 
  4. Delhi: A Novel – Khushwant Singh
  5. The Blood Telegram – Gary J Bass
  6. Indira Gandhi, the Emergency and Indian Democracy – PN DHar
  7. The History of the Sikhs – Khushwant Singh

I guess there’s nothing left to do but read.

 

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Ethical failure OR Unethical Triumph!


Just when we thought that here was a show that was going to be or already was about the real issues, was honest and well researched – there is a revelation that makes the whole thing come crashing down.

Satyamev Jayate – much awaited and publicized, produced by one of the most accomplished and “perfectionist” artists in the country – everyone had huge expectations along with  a good bit of curiosity about the show.

The issues this show brought up had never been addressed at a scale such as prime time national television. Especially in the kind of Indian society where we tend to close our eyes, ears and senses towards anything adverse that does not affect us directly. We choose to ignore what happens around us until it doesn’t rattle a good night’s sleep. The sense of community that has so fast dwindled, is now being given a wake up call through this show – – that puts an issue out there and talks about facts.

I was a fan from day one of the show being aired. I thought everything the show brought up was of relevance. While many expected every episode to have a heart wrenching, tear jerking subject – there were other not so emotional but equally important subjects that were dealt with and brought up. I also agree with the format of the show that not only showed the down side of the situation or subject in question but also brought out survival and success stories that become a living example for people to emulate.

It is definitely uplifting and encouraging to see live examples of people breaking through barriers of society, health, disability, etc. I think it is commendable that the show puts in the effort to find and bring such examples from remote parts of India – many of them well accomplished but unheard of.

But, an article I read in the Outlook (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?281646) really put a dent in my opinion of the show and how highly I thought about it. Wont go into much detail as the article talks about a couple of examples and one realizes that at the end of the day its all “showbusiness”. Especially striking is the Kaushal Panwar story / interview that was shot in an empty studio without any audience – and yet you see audience reactions on the show – and this has been twice confirmed . Also the bit about Bezwada Wilson, whose weeping face I cant seem to wipe out of memory.

Reminds me of the ads that used to run before the show started, when Aamir Khan is shown talking to his team presumably that its important that the janta gets emotional and angry when they watch the show – and thinking back to those now, it translates into how much a show can be prefabricated.

Anyway – – there is a huge amount of disappointment after the knowledge of these revelations. It has sadly also marred my liking and respect for one of the most thorough and  talented people from the film fraternity – there is a sense of having been cheated.

I think it is “unethical” of him to control the show in such a manner – since it addresses the nation and actually can have a very deep and positive impact on its viewers – as I think it was having on me – but after the knowledge of how the show is edited and put forth for the larger audience, I am going to be a little wary every time AK sheds a tear and will be a little cynical every time he dispenses the “what should be done / what is the right thing” advice.

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