Book Review:- Confessions of a Thug :- “Thug Life!…was not what you think”

Confessions of a thug

3/5 Stars, Ahmadullah Jai Bhowanee!

“Thugs are unlike any others. No remorse seems to possess their souls. In the weariness of perpetual imprisonment one would think their imaginations and recollections of the past would be insupportable to them; but no, – they eat, drink, and sleep like others, are solicitous about their dress, ever ready to talk over the past, and would if released tomorrow, again follow their dreadful profession with a fresh zest after their temporary preclusion from it” ~ Philip Meadows Taylor, Confessions of a Thug

Was this definition, the inspiration to dub a no remorse attitude as ‘Thug Life’? I wonder. I can almost imagine a Victorian lady clutching her handkerchief in dread and excitement as she read those lines, feverishly thinking ahh! what terribly fascinating people, so full of savagery, truly devils in the flesh. And perhaps that was what Mr. Taylor intended, if history is any indication, he succeeded marvelously.

This book was first published in 1839, under the genre Non-fiction, & Crime I suppose. Is it non-fiction, many say yes many say no. Thugee as explained and displayed in the book is an issue of contention, propaganda or fact, we have many conflicting opinions. But for the sake of a review lets give Mr. Taylor our indulgence for the moment.

Goodreads Blurb :- Philip Meadows Taylor’s Confessions of a Thug (1839) is the most influential novel about India prior to Kipling’s Kim and was one of the bestselling sensation novels of the nineteenth century. In the course of a confession to a white ‘sahib’ the imprisoned Ameer Ali recounts his life as a member of the Thuggee, a secret religious cult practicing ritual mass murder and robbery. Taylor uncovered evidence of the crimes committed by bands of Thugs as a Superintendent of Police in India during the 1820s. Introducing a new standard of ethnographic realism to western fiction about India, Confessions of a Thug is a strikingly vivid, chilling and immensely readable thriller. This unique critical edition makes available a fascinating and significant work of Empire writing.  

This piece of literature is in itself a part of history, the word ‘Thug’ was made famous and adopted to general use in the west because of this novel and many of the biased stereotypes about the east were also established by this very work no doubt. The writing, is as one would expect irritatingly old school and dragging. Filled with over attention, cheap thrills and brakes one would generally see in an soap opera, but were no doubt all the rage in the early 19th century. The one thing that does lingers though, is the sheer repetitive scale of the tale, its just too long, 600 pages or so, in that annoying gentlemanly script. This, interestingly adds to the genuineness of the story, Mr.Taylor could have come up with a more sensational and less dragging tale for entertainment, the fact that he didn’t might mean some of it is true.

Group_of_Thugs
Thugs, 1894

Ameer ali and his thugs, were a force to be reckon with. These vile men were a scourge for the travelers, a four way mutation between a Dacoit(armed robber), a Con man, a Serial killer, and Religious zealot( I am curious as to see what the Indian cinema is going to do with this with their “Thugs of Hindustan“). The story is narrated as the name suggests through a confession by Ameer ali the thug, to the writer himself. A first hand account! of an eastern savage! the readers in London would have gone crazy. In Ameer Ali’s too inadequate defense, the thug life did choose him, literally. The story recounts his initiation in thugee (A profession ordained by the Great Kali herself) and his many expeditions to the various parts of the country in his ‘noble’ pursuit, daring many dangers and enticing his ‘bunij’ prey into oblivion. The story drags but is nonetheless interesting. Specially, when he recounts his ‘Pindaree’ days (That I did not expect). ‘Pindaree’, mounted hordes of Muslim robbers, ex soldiers, harassing kingdoms, burning and looting villages on behalf of rival lords, pillaging, raping countless persons. And then the thugee as well, duping unsuspecting travelers and then garroting(With their silk handkerchiefs no less, it’s an art! Ameer Ali would have us know) them in their sleep or distraction. The bodies vanish, no proof no crime, right, the earth swallows their sin, literally. Truly, Mr . Taylor had put forth the whole horror galore 1829 India had to offer, to turn the delicate stomachs of the powdered west. Bravo, sir, Bravo Indeed.

thugweb

The truly appealing thing to me was the social structure of the thugs. Thugee cults were filled with Muslims, even though they believed themselves to be the servants of goddess Kali. Both Hindus and Muslims, working under a Jamadar (A rank given to the leader of the group) for stalking, coning and killing their prey. Shoulder to shoulder, with their rituals and superstition, their networks, their code of honor, the tension nowhere to be seen. Although, these men are shown to be vile beyond belief, psychopaths made through superstition but this union among them surprised me to no end. The realization that the story happens in 1820s, (With the Mutiny of 1857 yet to come and along with it the famous ‘divide et impera’ to poison the subcontinent forever)  came later.

The book undoubtedly stoke the Anglo pride, the inspectors shown as the champion of justice, purging the country of Thugs and Pindaris, the current rulers corrupt and complicit and hence giving legitimate reason for their occupation and rule of the unruly and backward peasants. We do have to take all this with a pinch of salt. But the historical accounts and the glimpses of the 1830’s India still felt worth it. I wanted to see more of it, much more then what it had, but a man lost in the desert must take such water as he is offered, no matter who it comes from (a quote from ‘Before They Are Hanged’ by Joe Abercrombie). 

This was exhausting, you have to stifle yawns and disdainful snorts in many places but I never went in for the excitement, I read this for the history and yes for the legend of the thugs. And to be completely honest, although tired I was not disappointed. To a curious and patient mind, this is a rewarding read. Thank you for leaving this biased inaccurate sensational but timeless piece of work Mr. Taylor.

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Book Review: Midnight’s Furies :- “A Deadly Legacy, Still Alive”

Midnight's Furies

3.5/5 Stars, Death Destruction Disaster

“If India wants her bloodbath, she shall have it!” Mahatma Gandhi to Archibald Wavell, 27th Aug, 1946

It is ironical that the one time, the messiah of peace & non-violence uttered words of carnage, they turned out to be prophetic beyond belief. ‘Partition’… the word has become a synonym for ‘meaningless disaster’ to Indians, and probably for the Pakistani people as well. I have read and seen books, documentaries, featurettes about the ‘Why’, ‘How’, ‘When’ & ‘Who’ of that time, trying to make sense, to find justification for the enormous loss, that both nations suffered, and found none. No apt ideology, no holy war, no past, no explanation to it all, save one, ‘Ambition & Arrogance’. That’s what doomed us.

Goodreads Blurb :- Nobody expected the liberation of India and birth of Pakistan to be so bloody — it was supposed to be an answer to the dreams of Muslims and Hindus who had been ruled by the British for centuries. Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi’s protégé and the political leader of India, believed Indians were an inherently nonviolent, peaceful people. Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was a secular lawyer, not a firebrand. But in August 1946, exactly a year before Independence, Calcutta erupted in riots. A cycle of street-fighting — targeting Hindus, then Muslims, then Sikhs — spun out of control. As the summer of 1947 approached, all three groups were heavily armed and on edge, and the British rushed to leave. Hell let loose. Trains carried Muslims west and Hindus east to their slaughter. Some of the most brutal and widespread ethnic cleansing in modern history erupted on both sides of the new border, searing a divide between India and Pakistan that remains a root cause of many evils. From jihadi terrorism to nuclear proliferation, the searing tale told in Midnight’s Furies explains all too many of the headlines we read today.

“History is written by the Victors” and so finding an impartial account of it is nigh impossible. The pages, if written with intent, can be colored any which way, So reading this book was a sobering experience like bathing in cold water. Mr.Nisid Hajari, has tried his utmost to remain neutral, to present the events ‘as is’ and be critical of them as impartially as he could. I am almost thankful that he didn’t use a lot of imaginative writing while describing the massacres. Reading about them in pure statistics was chilling enough, ten’s of thousand of women raped, many thousand children slaughtered, men cut down with indifference, like swatting flies. The Sikhs with their Jathas, The Muslims with their war cries, the Hindu RSSS with their fanaticism, trains dripping with blood and filled with body parts, utter bloodbath. Furies let loose indeed.

The book gets full marks on researching the ‘Indian follies’ for the partition, many a time, the only story told is the one critical of the British (Don’t get me wrong, the lion’s share of the blame does go to them, they were the prime mechanics of the hate that festers across the Indian subcontinent still, though Mr.Nisid Hajari has not delved into that, he has portrayed the Brits as someone who just wanted the job done.), in popular retelling the Indian leaders come across as helpless victims. Not so, though heavily influenced and burdened by the long standing policies and the departing chaos of the Raj, the Indian leaders and their vanity deserves a lot of the blame too. Nehru with his idealism, trying to be the white knight all the time. Patel with his stiffness, Gandhi with his meekness  and of-course none more than the ‘Lucifer’ of the Indian ‘Eden’….Jinnah , the vainest of them all. Each of them with their necks stiff and noses in the air. A cause that they have fought for, for so long together, forgotten in an instant, replaced with the pursuit of deluded fame and personal glory.

A considerable portion of the book is focused on the partition of ‘Punjab’ , and the ensuing riots which happened. The key players behind it all, their attitude, how the insecurities of all the communities were stoked into a fearful frenzy, to the point that they forgot that they have been living with each other for centuries, in relative peace. And it became ‘them’ or ‘us’ that quickly. It also does a good job in explaining the other’s side attitude, the friction between the two regimes has its roots in the tussle of partition. Every little spat between the founding fathers has now bloomed into a full on policy of suspicion and distrust for the two nations. The insurgency in Kashmir and the tussle for territories in the early days of independence, has been covered in quite detail, something lacking in the standard histories.

An interesting read, for any history buff or politics enthusiast, though it does read for the most part as plain History, but I found that a welcome aspect. Something, this volatile should be treated with an analytical attitude, rather than an emotional one. The later, would happen on its own, despite our best tries.

 

Book Review: Byculla to Bangkok: – “The Saga of the Maharashtrian Mafiosi”

byculla to bangkok

3/5 Stars

“When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men in a society, over the course of time they create for themselves a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”
Frédéric Bastiat

“Ganda hai par Dhanda hai yeh !” (“Its Bad(..filthy..) but it’s Business!”), this song from the movie Company, seemed to be playing all the while in the background while I was reading this book.

The Mumbai Underworld, Mumbai Mafia….. Organized crime in any part of the world, makes up for a fascinating study, (insensitive, is it? well, its true anyhow) be it the glorified Mob in America, The Cosa Nostra in Sicily, Italy ,The Yakuza in Japan, Bratva in Russia or our very own ‘aamchi muley'(‘our boys’, as Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray once put it) from the Mumbai Underworld. So, the subject matter of this book was obviously intriguing in the extreme, add to it my own personal curiosity about anything related to real crime and the writer’s own credible background (S.Hussain Zaidi was a former investigative journalist, who spent much of his career covering the mafia and crimes in Mumbai) all solid reasons to read his books, specially this one. And so I had, this was my third book my Mr. Zaidi, Dongri to Dubai and Mafia queens of Mumbai being the first two.

Byculla to Bangkok, focuses on those individuals in the Mumbai Mafia,(Arun Gawli, Chota Rajan & Ashwin Naik, mainly these three, but many more big & small) which were perceived (in general? Really?) as Hindu Dons or Gangsters, more ‘Maharashtrian’ than the others (Dawood and his ilk). But let’s overlook that distinction for the time being. The stories of these dreaded gangsters and mob bosses are no doubt most interesting. Add to that the sensational way of writing that only a seasoned journalist could have and you hope to get a treat of a read. But, well, I was left a bit underwhelmed by the whole account. Primarily because his first one(D2D) kind of stole the show. Now, Dongri to Dubai was better in my opinion, Why? because firstly it had a more comprehensive coverage of the subject and it gave you the Origins of crime in Mumbai from the very start .i.e after independence, with Don after Dons and gangs and all that. Secondly, though it was also tainted with bias and sensationalism, Mr.Zaidi had not tried to divide the world of Indian Crime along communal lines (I mean its CRIME, for God’s sake….umm…. that is, NOT for God’s SAKE obviously). In Byculla to Bangkok, he has kind of botched up both these points. If one book was not enough for the whole story (which of-course, was not) he could have split the whole thing on a more general lines than portraying them in such a fashion. But oh well, I will take it.

Now, despite the interesting and often chilling stories this book contains, it struggled with being a ‘Non fiction’ Vs ‘Sensational Fiction’, often it read like a chronological account of events leading to the formation of a gang, rise of a Don or a vicious gangster, and then their subsequent downfall (All the while trying to be neutral) and some other times it was a sensational almost fictitious tale straight out of the silver screen. Perhaps, when you are this much involved in your subject matter as Mr.Zaidi no doubt is, some musings are pardonable, but what to make of it as a reader I was hard pressed  to think.

Despite these few problems that I had with the book, It was a good read nonetheless, well researched and quite informative (just….take some cringe worthy..roamctic vibes with a pinch of salt…its the Mafia after all). The stories about Arun Gawli(alias ‘Daddy’) were specially interesting, about the mills, the allure of crime, about the struggles for dominance with other gangs, the role of politics (Yeah I admit it….I saw the trailer of the movie ‘Daddy’…so I was curious, guilty as charged)

Daddy movie
‘Arun Gawli’ The gangster turned politician( on the left); ‘Arjun Rampal’ as Him in the movie ‘Daddy'( on the right)

Ahhhh.. Bollywood and its glorification of Crime and Criminals, what would the youth of this country do without you.

Getting back to the book, It is fast paced and not that big (266 pages, Kindle edition) so, you could comfortably finish it in a few sittings. If you are interested in reading about crime , the mafia, their origin stories then this is a must read for you, along with the other two by Mr.Zaidi, because if someone could write credibly about the darkness of that world it would be him. So, pick up this one and travel the congested alleys of Mumbai in the 1970’s, with a whistle on your lips and a ‘Rampuri’ (Knife) tucked in your back.

Book Review: Half a Rupee Stories : – “By the Great Wordsmith ‘Gulzar'”

Half A Rupee Stories

3/5 Stars Goodreads Rating System

“When you face your fear, you become familiar with it and familiarity makes it lose its meaning, loosen its grip—fear ceases to be fear.” ~ Gulzar

I so wanted to love this, so very very much, because i LOVE ‘Gulzar’ Sahab‘s words, oh just read his poems, his songs, his ‘Shers‘, ‘Ghazals‘, ‘Nazms‘ and you will know what i am talking about. You will know love, happiness, heartache, sadness, melancholy. You will know the sheer scale of power two written lines could posses. He is one of the greatest wordsmith I have ever read and we are fortunate to be able to experience his work be it song lyrics, be it poems, be it his directed films or be it his stories.

This little collection was a mixed basket, I picked it up because of, you guessed it, ‘Gulzar‘. But if i say that i was totally satisfied with it, then that would be a lie. Out of the 25 short stories in this book some were amazing, invoking deep pangs of emotion that we have come to expect from a Gulzar’s poem or song, but some just lacked that kind of punch and all of the 25 had an undertone of loss, death and that classic tinge of sensitivity that He possess, which made it all an albeit melancholy experience. Every story had a message, this is just what He does, Gulzar Sahab will always make you think about life, in every and any way possible using any and every ruse possible. The book is divided into 8 parts with 3 stories each (Part II has 4), with each part focusing on a different theme. The themes as best as i could decipher them were Partition and Reminiscing; The downtrodden and their ways; War and Peace; Survival and Insurgency; Loss and coping. This book could be included both as fiction and non fiction because many of the stories are true life events or experiences morphed in the form of a story, Reading about legends of Indian literature like Sahir Ludhianvi and Javed Akhtar was specially interesting. Out of all of the 25 some notable stories that i liked were : –

  1. Kuldip Nayyar and Pir Sahib (P1)
  2. Sahir and Jaadu (P1)
  3. The Charioteer (P2)
  4. Hilsa (P4)
  5. The Search (P4)
  6. Swayamvar (P5)
  7. Ghugu and Jamuni (P6)

These 7 stories particularly spoke to me, The reminiscing of Kuldip nayyar, The lovely bond between Sahir and Jaadu, The sweet musings of the ‘Mehant’ in the Charioteer, the horrible revelation in Hilsa, Kashmir in the Search, The instinctive resolve in Swayamvar, And of course the beautiful take on love in Ghugu and Jamuni( i mean a crow and a kite, that was just too good, one emotional expressive lover and the other cold, unfeeling & unresponsive)  were all impact full stories indeed.

The book leaves an overall mixed vibe, Gulzar sir are a master of prose, his writings will leave you poignant and thoughtful, so if melancholy and deep reflection is your thing pick this one up, bear with a few stories if need be, because all in all it would not disappoint.

 

 

Book review: An Era of Darkness: “A Bashing Well Deserved & WELL Given”

An era of Darkness

4/5 Stars Goodreads Rating System

“It’s a bit rich to oppress, enslave, kill, torture, maim people for 200 years and then celebrate the fact that they are democratic at the end of it..” ~Shashi Tharoor

I could have literally kissed the man, Ever Since Mr.Tharoor’s famed Oxford Speech , his popularity has grown by leaps and bounds, and so too my admiration for his views. The view point that “Colonization has actually helped ‘colonized’ people.” has always  baffled me, and the argument is made not only by people who have absolutely no idea about what Actual Colonization entailed for the indigenous people of those colonized lands, but also by great scholars, historians and politicians from the previously colonizer countries and also (‘to my utter annoyance & disbelief’) some from the previously colonized ones as well.

This book is the counter argument and to my mind the ONLY argument when it comes to judging the British Raj and its implications on India. Mr. Shashi Tharoor, has taken all the arguments made by the ‘Raj’ Apologists and supporters of colonization and systematically destroyed them all with class and flair. This book is the hard truth , it is blunt in its criticism, well researched and well articulated while presenting its reasoning and absolutely spot on in dismantling the myth  of the apparent “Goodness” of the Raj. If you are looking for a detailed account of the British Occupation of India as per its timeline, then this is not it, but this is far far better than mere dates and events, this provides you the detailed account of the EFFECT of British Colonization on India, on its every possible aspect, Economy (Irrefutable logic and Reasoning on this one), Society (‘divide et impera’, the one thing no matter what, i will never forget nor forgive the British for), British law(The oxymoron of the Raj), Development (The Railways! you say,Read the book my dear dear friend), Fair Trade (pfft!), and much more. This will resonate with every Indian and not only US, with every single person out there who has stones enough to stare at the truth with naked eyes be he/she in Africa or Europe. History without context is useless, and Context is what this book provides aplenty. Add to that the brilliantly composed arguments by Mr. Tharoor (Thank God i read this on a kindle, his vocab is formidable.) laced with wit, facts and sarcasm appropriately.

People might call this biased side of an argument, but when there is only one credible argument the question of biases doesn’t even arrive. This is what this book proves. This is how we should see the past with logic, reason, facts , answering the Whys and Hows rather than just the when and wheres. I recommend this to everyone, specially anyone interested in Indian History ,and more so for anyone who is interested in knowing how to argue and refute an argument, Mr.Tharoor has carefully and wisely picked comments and credible reports from history proving his point and disproving the opposite arguments, the book tastes like a debate taking on everyone out there remotely on the opposite side, but this is a taste which is to be had with all its necessary bitterness. Because the most potent and effective medicines are always unpleasant to taste.

Book Review: CHOICES :- “INDIA at the World’s Big Round Table”

choices

3.5/5 Stars Goodreads Rating System

“There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth.” ~Chanakya.

This is perhaps more true for Diplomacy than for anything else. One of the best things about this book other than its core theme was it’s author, there is no one better to tell you about the Choices India made in her most diplomatically charged phase, than the diplomat who helped her make them.

Mr.Menon had been personally involved in all the 4 issues discussed in this book(China in the 1990s, USA in 2006, Pakistan & 26/11, Sri Lanka & LTTE in 2009) and has many years of experience driving the foreign policy of India.Hence this book was a delight and an immediate priority for me to read, to know from the people directly responsible the What and Whys is really refreshing. Though he has been quite evasive on the “How” part, the intricate details of the negotiations or the MOM that I had hoped this might contain are absent. Nevertheless the book though lacking in detailed blow by blow of the various issues, gives you the reasoning and thought process behind the various actions taken by the Indian government working within the constraints of that time period.

One of the most important things this book made me realize is how underappreciated some of the very critical events are, for example P.V. Narasima Rao (9th Prime Minister of India) & his border peace and tranquility agreement with China. The 1990’s was a very critical time for India, our economy was at its lowest point and we were in an unprecedented danger of being bankrupt (Courtesy of the ‘License Raj’ that had been practiced in the country till then) ,so naturally the immediate priority was the economy and its liberalization, but to achieve this having stability with our immediate neighbors was a necessary prerequisite. More so with China, having been defeated in the 1962 war, India was acutely aware of the scale of disaster that could ensue if the Chinese decided to press their advantage once again. Settling the border issue or in the lack of a favorable settlement, agreeing on a peaceful process for its resolution was paramount. Adding to that China,being the victor, would be very difficult to negotiate with specially resisting any kind of concessions(not every country could be as magnanimous (or foolish) in victory as we were after 1971 during the Shimla agreement), and to top it all off convincing the current political heads of the country to shake hands with a previous foe would have been quite a challenge. Yet,the deal was done. And its importance barely noticed,the mind boggles.

Lao Tzu said “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled they will say: we did it ourselves”. This quote is quite apt for the “Accidental” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh & his civil nuclear agreement with the USA in  2006. Like every Indian I have my own misgivings about Mr. Singh and his tenure but the 123 agreement is one of the master strokes that has to be attributed to his dogged persistence. Convincing a country like the USA which scuttled a previous agreement for nuclear fuel supply, imposed sanctions on India after the “Pokharan” nuclear test in 1974, to a civil nuclear agreement, making it alter its own laws and giving a ‘Clean’ exemption from the very restrictions by the NSG that were a direct result of India’s nuclear program in the first place would have been a daunting task. But yet again the deal was done,it is quite interesting to know how,and Mr.Menon as our faithful guide do not disappoint. Yet, I felt that he was way too soft on Mr.Singh, which is understandable as he was his National Security Adviser at the time.But still, not taking a strong military action against Pakistan after 26/11, and just posturing on the border and using diplomacy, still, to this day, doesn’t sit well with me, maybe because as a citizen having these kind of  opinions is easy as opposed to being the one taking the decisions, but explaining away as to why we didn’t use something like Israel’s strong covert response to the situation “because we are different” and “that approach would only lead to temporary peace and not solve the main issue” is ludicrous. Mr.Menon himself admits that he suggested a strong and clear response, which he says we are fortunate the PM didn’t go for, I mean ‘War’ was maybe not the ideal answer but we could have taken the scum who planed 26/11 out, morality be damned. But again, a country’s foreign political machinery is too complicated a thing to be always in perfect working order. He warns the situation is different now and the restraint of the past is now just that ‘Past’.

The Lankan civil war and our involvement in it is once again, I felt, was downplayed quite a bit in the book, India made a number of blunders regarding the LTTE, and I agree with Mr.Menon that perhaps due to our meddling and trying to broker peace we prolonged Sri Lankans suffering. Though, I feel a complete disarmament of the rebels should have been a prerequisite condition before any kind of negotiation. But it is always easy to judge history. The assassination of PM Rajiv Gandhi, is perhaps the result of said blunders and the cause which finally lead to the war’s bloody conclusion.

The last 2 chapters of the book are perhaps my favorite, India’s nuclear policy and a ‘final word’ about the intricacies of decision making, diplomacy and negotiation and their broad contemplation on the country’s psyche and its unique personality were very well crafted. Here in the last chapters you really get to see the diplomat in Mr.Menon in all his glory. The book overall is well thought and well presented, the author talks about things he knows and has a first hand experience in, adding credibility to his statements and thoughts. The fact that these agreements and issues were in a volatile time, as Mr.Menon notes where one could maneuver, concede and negotiate successfully ,as opposed to now where the world order is much more cemented and diplomats don’t have the leeway that they previously enjoyed is what makes the book and his own experience so important. I have always had a keen interest in nations and their behavior towards each other. To any such enthusiast and or history buff this book is a treat, perhaps we would not agree on all the points that Mr.Menon makes but that is not the purpose of this book. He lays down his views and experiences, and as Confucius said “Study the past if you would define the future”. There are indeed lessons here, and lessons worth reading.

Book Review: MOSSAD: – “साम-दाम-दंड-भेद with Classic Jewish chutzpah”

mossad

3/5 Stars , Goodreads Rating System

First off, Israel has always fascinated me,A country of just 8 million people (The city that I am currently in,Bangalore, has more than 10 million) has such potential, such innovative tech companies ,a well trained military and one of the most sophisticated and deadly secret service which is dubbed as “The most effective killing machine”.The Jewish people have had a very hard history, and they have learned a lot from it, from the pharaohs of Egypt to Hitler in Nazi Germany,they have survived the worst mankind had to offer. And they have emerged as hardened,wary people, for whom endurance, resistance and secrecy is not just a need but an established way of life.

MOSSAD, details a number of clandestine operations that have been conducted by the state of Israel since its inception . These operations include hunting Nazis for their war crimes in WW2 to rescue missions conducted to bring oppressed or troubled Jews to the promised land. Each operation and story is depicted in a fantastical way, the ops have been spiced up quite a bit in some of the stories but the fact that they did happen ,and broadly in the way as described is awe inspiring.One of the things that hit me was the sheer audacity of some of them. The old ‘Chanakya’s’ teaching of getting your way by

  • Saam: to advice and ask
  • Daam: to offer and buy
  • Dand: to punish
  • Bhed: exploiting the secrets

has been incorporated in MOSSAD’s DNA. Though the glorification of the agents and the agency is understandable, as the authors are Israeli and sympathetic to the Zionist nation. But the ease with which the MOSSAD was charged with assassinations, and the “anything goes” method that they have tried to get the job done ,unnerved me. It is a bit uneasy when you read about scientists being assassinated by letter bombs in which innocent bystanders get hurt or the prominent members of a country’s ruling class targeted for the safety of the Jewish nation, Or the eye for an eye vengeful operations being sanctioned by a country’s government against terrorists, traitors or even other nations. But perhaps in Israel’s world, surrounded by openly hostile enemy states on all sides, fighting an insurgency within its own walls and deterring powerful opponents like Iran, “anything goes” is the only way, perhaps  the phrase “Only the paranoid survives” fits the bill here.

The book is well researched, its timeline, its director after director depiction of the evolution of Mossad was interesting, the writers have taken some creative liberties to make the stories more life like ,making some seem like Hollywood spy thrillers, but this book is about the secret service so as they say “when in Rome…”.Though I could argue the moral point against many of the operations conducted, the point remains that they worked. The sheer will and stubborn loyalty of MOSSAD’s directors and agents to each other, and to their nation and its people is inspiring.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history and shadow world, the world of espionage and spies. To read about one of the most dangerous secret service in the world is always an eye opener.