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.

 

 

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.

CHOICES :- INDIA at the World’s Big Round Table.

choices

3.5/5 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.

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 the shadow world.To read about one of the most dangerous service in the world is always an eye opener.

BreakOut Nations :- because “Where else will the Money Go.”

breakout-nations

3.5 Stars out of 5

I so wish that i had read this book 3 years back, not only because the statistics and assumptions considered in the book would have been much more relevant, but also because this would have considerably helped me in my “Country Analysis” assignment, in the course of my Masters. Oh well, better late than never i Suppose.

Economics ,is a fascinating study, to which i got acquainted quite late in life but it turned out to be one of those things that you instantly like(Specially Macroeconomics) and are surprised by the fact that you didn’t come across them sooner. Ruchir Sharma has managed to do the impossible with Economics in this book, he has kept the brush strokes broad enough that a layman could understand and appreciate the overall picture & he has kept the same strokes fine enough in places so that an expert or enthusiast could really enjoy the process and take away some major points with them.

One of the worst and best things about reading Non-fiction is that it is a SLOW process, it HAS to be, there is no other way to do it, between readings you have to stop & digress, to let it sink in,do a little side research of your own,read some history ,some present news,relate and revel in the topic entirely. And on that account Breakout nations does a bang on job, Mr. Sharma has used a LOT of research in this book, he has discussed about almost every important Nation and Area on the globe.Giving you insights and a lot to think about. This book talks about Nations and their progress towards economic marvels, specially about the emerging nations and who among them will ‘Break out’ as the fastest & most durable in the race towards growth and prosperity. It does so ,by systematically analyzing one emerging nation at a time.As it is a non fiction,we don’t have to worry about spoilers , so some of the takeaways in brief from the book are:-

  • Always judge or predict about Nations within a limited time frame, preferably 5 years, the world is too dynamic for predictions of long run .i.e 10, 20, 30 years ahead.
  • China, will slow down to  <=6% GDP growth rate, and that’s not a bad thing, for a country with 5000$ per capita income , this is acceptable.The richer you grow the slower you become, because that’s just the natural way of things.
  • India, still down in the dumps, crony capitalism(read Corruption) a big hurdle, has to grow infrastructure in a major way,population could be an asset, but should be properly educated and motivated and given opportunists.Having unrealistic growth plans could hurt.50/50 of breaking out.(My interjection :- yeah, fingers crossed alright.)
  • The debate btw Democracy & Authoritarian Regime as a model for ECONOMIC growth is mute and void , Stability and Efficient leadership with Competent implementation are the key to success (My view :- The reds in China are motivated enough, without delivering on economic growth they won’t be able to stay in power ,however much oppressive they may be. Indians argument that we have ‘democracy’  does not & should not be an excuse or counter argument to slow growth. Fast-track reforms and impeccable implementation of the Chinese should be a model for us too.)
  • Brazil,going strong on raw materials and commodity export, %age investment as per GDP is low, poor infrastructure,trying to become a welfare state too early, should invest more inwards specially on infra. A slowing china could hurt Brazil.
  • Mexico, oligarchy prevalent,controlled market, inequality could hurt, breaking monopolies and improving law & order and infra would help.
  • Russia, overly dependent on oil and gas, no major corporate brand on the international forum,tycoons investing money outside the country rather than inside, no trust in the regimes growth agenda, no other major investment sector,long term by the same leader has lead to lethargy in reforms.(My Interjection :- I still like Putin, just because he is a badass, yes i am biased, Sue me!.)
  • South Africa, still enjoying the bliss of getting rid of the ‘Apartheid’ regime,less focus on growth more on welfare activities,slow reforms lead to slow growth despite having a strong financial market.
  • Turkey, could be a breakout nation,Erdogan giving turkey a new Muslim identity, AKP trying to look towards east(and not only to the the EU) a good thing   (My view :- As the book was written in 2011,I could understand this stand, but we know what happened,’Syria’ & a Coup attempt has rattled Turkey, the country despite having a lot of advantages still suffers because the one prerequisite for growth still alludes it,  Stability.)
  • Poland & Czech republic, going strong and going good,took the hard way to comeback, the darling states of Europe,crossing their t’s and dotting their i’s the right way, stalling on the Euro & waiting for things to settle down.Could be a breakout nation.
  • The mess of the Southeast Asia, Thailand :- red shirts (Elites) vs yellow Shirts( Rural) tension,disproportionate growth, Vietnam :-trying to be China, unrealistic, bad management by the communist elites, Philippines :-Corruption,low savings,high consumption,but has potential KPO,BPO could take off in a good way.
  • The Gulf :- The bliss of black Gold propping up the whole region, has to find alternative sources for the economy as well, Oman still has enough oil to last a century, a lot of superficial attempts by the gulf nations without having any major impact.The gulf countries are still secure in the oil cocoon, the competition from ‘Shale’ gas could hurt them.
  • America,still has the advantage of technology,strong R&D and Dollar as the global reserve currency, could still carry on strong and be a breakout nation among the rich countries.
  • Commodity.com, the ever rising prices of commodity can’t go on forever,slowing China and global demand will lead to dropping of prices, this could hurt major raw material and commodity export economies, they will have to make major inroads in domestic consumption and manufacturing finished goods.
  • The third coming of the emerging markets, the economies will grow but detached and more isolated than before, the same wind of globalization won’t carry all the counties like in the past, no global tailwind ,everyone has to ‘Row’ .

No doubt I have missed a lot of points and arguments from the book, leave alone all the number and stats proving the points.Well, you will just have to read it won’t you.

Now to the negative, the book is well researched and well written. The reasoning is logical and easy to follow but the book is now ‘Outdated’ ,it’s 2017, many of the predictions and assumptions of the author didn’t pan out precisely because of his initial argument,its been more than 5 years, the world dynamics has changed, ‘TRUMP’ leads the US ,and talks of ‘Protectionism’ are heard everywhere in the world, the chaos in the middle east is still to be sorted. Just because i picked up this book a bit late i couldn’t give it a higher rating.

But to understand the nuances and arguments of how to actually judge an economy or a breakout country more accurately, i most definitely recommend this to anyone remotely interested in economics.The process followed by Ruchir sharma is to be studied and studied well, his ‘rules of the road’  noted, Politics and Economy are not as isolated as people think, how a capable leader could breakout Nigeria or an inept management doom a previously bright star like Vietnam is to be really understood, one has to look at a lot of aspects and for going that distance , and explaining it in marvelous simplicity i respect the author greatly.

This is a great work though a bit out of sync with the current time but we could hardly fault the author,because as he states in the first chapter itself that:-

As much as we all love the speculative titillation of futurology, no one can forecast the next century with any credibility and, more important, be held accountable for it.”