Book Review: Akbar by Shazi Zaman

काफ़ी समय लग गया ये किताब पढ़ने में। बहुत ही बेहतरीन किताब लिखी है शाजी जमाँ साहब ने। अब इस किताब को ऐतिहासिक दस्तावेज माना जाए कि उपन्यास, इस बेमानी बहस में मैं नही पड़ना चाहता क्योंकि शाजी साहब खुद लिखते हैं, ‘यह उपन्यास इतिहास से कितना दूर है या कितना पास, इसका कोई आसान जवाब नहीं है।……इतना ही कह सकता हूँ की इस उपन्यास की एक एक घटना, एक एक किरदार, एक एक संवाद इतिहास पर आधारित है।’ किताब में लेखक द्वारा किया गया रीसर्च पूरी तरह उभर कर आता है। जहां तक मेरी व्यक्तिगत राय है, मेरे हिसाब से इतिहास इसी तरह लिखी जानी चाहिए, ख़ास कर अगर आप ऐतिहासिक किरदारों को केंद्र में रख कर इतिहास लिख रहे हों। अकबर को जानना हो तो ये किताब पढ़िए। आज के इस दौर में जब लोग नाम से मज़हब और मज़हब से ज़िंदा लोगों तक के बारे में अपनी राय बना लेते हैं, तो अकबर जिसका नाम ख़ालिस मुसलमान था, जो बादशाह रहा हो, जिसका दादा बाबर रहा हो, जिसका एक परपोता औरेंगजेब रहा हो, उसके बारे में एक क़िस्म की राय बना लेना कोई मुश्किल और आश्चर्य की बात तो नहीं… ये किताब इरफ़ान हबीब टाइप लोगों की लिखी किताब नहीं है जो मूलतः पोलिटिकल इतिहास लिखते हैं…बरक्स उसके, ये अकबर के साम्राज्य में मुग़लिया सल्तनत के विस्तार को बहुत संक्षिप्त तरीक़े से बताती है, ये रु व रु कराती है आपको अकबर – इंसान से, कैसा था अकबर, उसके दोस्त और अज़ीज़ कौन थे, उसका दरबार कैसा था, उसके अंतर द्वन्दों को…

अकबर के कई पहलू थे; बादशाह के किरदार से उसे देखें और समझें, तो वो मध्य काल के किसी भी बादशाह की तरह ही था, बादशाहत का दम्भ था उसके, राज्य का विस्तार चाहता था, ग़ुरूर था, शराब नोशि करता था, हरम में कई बीवियाँ और बाँदियाँ थीं, गाली भी बहुत देता था, गाँडू और हरामज़ादा भी…लेकिन ये सब चीज़ें ही अकबर को डिफ़ाइन नहीं करतीं क्योंकि ये तो हर मध्यकालीन बादशाह और राजा महाराजा की फ़ितरत और रहन सहन का हिस्सा थीं। अगर हर चीज़ को कॉंटेक्स्ट में देखें तो फिर, जैसे आज के राजनीति के कुछ तक़ाज़े हैं और जैसे एक राजनीतिक दल साफ़ सुथरी राजनीति करने आयी पर फिर तक़ाज़ों से समझौता कर ही लिया…. अकबर का बाहरी व्यक्तित्व ही उसकी पहचान नहीं हैं। तो वो फिर क्या थीं खूबियाँ जिसने कई इतिहासकारों ने उसे ‘महान’ का दर्जा दे दिया। इन में सबसे अहम थी उसकी जिज्ञासा, सच जानने और समझने की उसकी चाहत। मध्ययुग में इस्लामिक धर्म गुरुओं के ख़िलाफ़ जाना, जिसके चलते उसे ‘काफिर’ बादशाह तक करार दे दिया गया, उसके द्वारा मक्का को भेजे गया तोहफ़े लौटा दिए गए, जहां उसके सल्तनत के शुरुआती दिनों में अब्दु नबी ने इस बात पर उसे छड़ी तक मार दी थी कि उसने भगवा फटका पहना था, बाद में उसी अब्दु नबी को गाली देते हुए क़ैद की सजा सुनाना…अपने सुलह कुल के फ़लसफ़े को आगे बढ़ाने के लिए उसने हर मज़हब को सही तरह से समझने की भरपूर कोशिश की, चाहे वो हिंदू हो, जैन हो, ईसाई हो…उन सब से प्रभावित होकर उसने ऐसे रीति रिवाज अपना लिए की कई उसे मुसलमान मानने को तय्यार नहीं रहे…वो सूरज का उपासक बन गया, पुनर्जनम में यक़ीन करने लगा, गौ हत्या पे पाबंदी लगा दी, प्याज़ लहसुन खाना छोड़ दिया, जैनियों के प्रभाव में, मछली आदि मारने ओर कुछ तालाबों पे रोक लगा दी ईसाई पादरियों को पुर्तगाल से बुलाया, और जब बेटे मुराद ने किताब माँगी जिसको पढ़ कर राज्य और खुद का ज्ञान हो तो उसने उसे महाभारत थमा दी। हिंदू तो मानने लगे की बादशाह पिछले जनम में ब्राह्मण मुकुंद थे…पादरी जब बहुत कोशिश के बाद बादशाह को ईसाई नहीं बना पाए तो और उनसे जाने की इजाज़त माँगी, ये कहते हुए की हमारा आपके पास आना व्यर्थ रहा तो बादशाह ने एक काबिल ए तारीफ़ बात कही, ‘अगर आप हमारे इलावा किसी भी बादशाह के समय आते और ये कहते की अल्लाह सच्चा ख़ुदा नहीं है, तो आपका सर मुल्ला कलम कर चुके होते। हमारे रियासत में हर इंसान को अपने मज़हब मानने और अपनी बात रखने की इजाज़त है।’

वैसे तो बादशाहत की बड़ी ऐंठ थी अकबर में पर भगवान/ख़ुदा के बंदों की इज़्ज़त दिल से करता था वो। एक बार भेस बदल कर गोविंद स्वामी को सुनने चला गया, जब पकड़ा गया तो गोविंद स्वामी बिफर उठे, तुमने इस राग को तुच्छ कर दिया, अकबर बोला मैं बादशाह हूँ, गोविंद स्वामी बोल पड़े, तू बादशाह सही पर तेरे राग सुनने से राग तुच्छ हो गया। बादशाह उठ खड़ा हुआ ये बोलते हुए, जिसे तीनों लोग का वैभव फीका लगता है, वो मेरे हुक्म में क्या रहेंगे। ज्ञान की चाहत इस कदर थी की 24000 किताबें ज़मा की हुई थी अकबर ने (मुझे प्रेरणा मिल गयी, मेरे से 4 गुना ज़्यादा किताबें रखी हुई थी महाशय ने, कॉम्पटिशन स्टार्ट्स…😁) और कई बार उन किताबों को पढ़वाया और सुना। पड़ने लिखने में उसे दिक़्क़त होती थी।

अपने आख़री दिनों में बेहद अकेले रह गया अकबर…अंतिम दिनों में एक दोहा याद किया उसने, ‘पीथल सुं मजलिस गयी, तानसेन सुं राग,हंसिबो रमिबो बोलबो गयो बीरबल साथ’ (पृथ्वी राज राठौड़ के साथ मजलिस चली गयी, तानसेन के जाने के साथ राग, हंसी। बोली और रमना गयी बीरबल के साथ’) अब राष्ट्रवादी सब समझ लें कि ज़िंदगी के अंतिम दिनों में एक मुस्लिम बादशाह किसको याद कर रहा था। और सेक्युलर सब जो इस का ताना देते हैं आज की ……ओ तुम तो ये राग अलापते हो की मुसलमान तुम्हारे दोस्त हैं…(कोई उनसे पूछे की सच्ची दोस्ती से उम्दा और क्या होती है रिश्तों में?)

ये किताब पढ़िए, और हो सके तो इरफ़ान साहब को भी पढ़ाइए…उनको शायद समझ में आ जाए के इतिहास को ट्विस्ट देना ज़रूरी नहीं…और आपको पता चलेगा के अकबर इंसान था…अकबर हिंदुस्तान था…अकबर महान था!

Book Review: Government as Practice by Dwaipayan Bhattacharya

Dwaipayan Bhattacharya, a Marxist himself and a professor in the famed university writes an excellent book about the Left front rule in WB. He does not theorise much and much of the book is written from an the perspective of one who seeks to understand the dynamics and the instrumentalities of how the Left front managed to rule Bengal uninterrupted for 34 long years and win seven consecutive elections. The paradigm invented and perfected by the left to achieve this he calls ‘Government as Practice’. Some takeaways;

1. The two main instruments through which this ‘Govt as Practice’ as was initiated by the Left was the implementation of land reforms and creation of Panchayati raj institutions with elections on party lines. While the land reforms helped in creating a solid mass of support for the left in the country side, especially amongst the downtrodden, the acquisition of political offices by the cadres of the Left helped them in gaining administrative experience, curbed the power of the bureaucracy and created the localisation of government. These cadres at the panchayats and local level also acted as intermediaries between the society and the party as well as the government mediating and attuning govt policy to societal aspirations and controlling social fissures. This in turn helped in stability of governance. However, in implementing the land reforms left dumped much of its radicalism for pragmatism, stressing class unity rather than class divisions in the rural areas. So the biggest beneficiaries in the power structure were the middle peasants and small peasants, not the landless.

2. This also led to the development of what he calls a ‘party society’ in WB. Party became the dominant mediating presence between the people and the govt marginalizing in the process other traditional institutions like caste or religious networks. This party society was fundamentally geared towards winning elections and was different from the political society in the sense that in a party society the winner takes all.

3. He highlights the role the rural school teachers played in augmenting the organisational reach and political prestige of the left in the countryside. This became more pronounced with the massive increase in their salaries and emoluments. What is not mentioned in the book is the role that these teachers played in furthering the scientific rigging that Left had mastered as an art with these teachers as presiding officers during elections. In course of time however, Bhattacharya writes, the role of these teachers got attenuated in the set up and they were replaced by petty contractors, traders, fixers etc who hijacked the leadership of the party at the grassroots level.

4. As is wont to be with any political dispensation which stresses too much on agriculture growth at the cost of other sectors, in WB too agricultural growth petered out by the 1990s with fragmentation of landholdings, limits to productivity growth and rising input costs, govt with a view to control rural unrest created new opportunities of livelihood in the tertiary sector like wholesalers, petty contractors, brokers etc who in course of time aligned themselves with the party and took over its local leadership. However their support to the party was not ideological but transactional and when the fortunes of the left declined due to Singur and Nandigram, these groups shifted their allegiance enbloc to the TMC.

5. Bhattacharya believes that the party failed to mediate and communicate with the population and since the local cadres too did not have an ideological but a tactical commitment to the party, the communication channels broke down jeopardizing the whole praxis of ‘Govt as Practice’. The whole industrialization exercise now looked imposed from the top and bereft of any credibility.

6. He also highlights the spectacular social failures of the left wherein though they derived substantial electoral support from the downtrodden, the govt remained mostly a Bhadralok govt with negligible representation of the downtrodden communities. Further the state performed dismally in health and education. WB’s literacy during the entire left ruled period remained unchanged in comparison to 16 states and in infrastructure for primary education it continued to rank third from bottom. In the HDI index it remained 9th amongst 16 major states with its health indices hardly anything to boast of.
(Now these are figures authenticated by an intellectual Marxist from the famed institute so don’t attribute motives to me or tell me how great social revolution communism brings)

In conclusion a very interesting book, I need to make extensive notes. This has now made me want to read a book on the way TMC governs Bengal. Any suggestions are most welcome pl!!

BJP people should read this book, helps explain the chinks in the armour of these parties and organisation, how counter narratives and organisations built and who are the marginalised caste, class or groups which do not have a share in govt and which can be targeted. The author laments that much problem exists in the neglect of caste by left brushing it under the carpet of class. 

Book Review: Nehru, A Contemporary’s Estimate by Walter Crocker

This book, a biography of Jawaharlal Nehru written by Walter Crocker, the Australian High commission, which was first published in 1966 by OUP. It was again reprinted by Random House, India in 2009. The first edition of the book was published with a foreword by Arnold Toynbee while the one re-published in 2009 has a new foreword was written by Ramachandra Guha.

Crocker had the opportunity to see Nehru from close quarter as the Australian High Commissioner to India between 1952 and 1955 and again from 1958 to 1962. Crocker writing about Nehru says, ‘had my job in Delhi been anything else I would still have watched him, out of interest, almost helpless interest. He was interesting because of his political importance but still more interesting because of himself. Mostly I admired him; occasionally he was disappointing; but always he fascinated me’.

My main takeaway from the book is that it reinforces with concrete example, the summary of the man ie. ‘A great and a remarkable human being but a failed policy maker and leader in government’. The brute reality is that India gave him 18 years of uninterrupted rule, with more or less unbridled and unchallenged power, but when he died, he had left India with nearly all its problems unsolved; food insecurity, poverty and illiteracy, low level of per capita income, frayed communal relations and communal riots, domestic insurgency and unfriendly neighborhood.

While he has many unabashed followers in whose eyes he could/can do no wrong, but what can you say of a leader under whose 18 years of uninterrupted rule, India could not even break the begging bowl that had become the defining character for the country (and the source of great humiliation too). It was only in his death that made the leadership set its mind to it, and when it did, it took less than a decade for India to become self sufficient in food grains!

For me the lasting problem that he left behind for this country was to convince them that thinking in ‘poem’ was more important than thinking in ‘prose’. Prose demands clear and rational thinking – thinking in first principle terms, not abstractions. Since it demands understanding an issue at the level of basics, it is surely pretty difficult, for even those who are educated..in contrast, in lyrical thinking everything goes… Prose asks you to list concrete steps how to maintain communal harmony, in poetry you can talk abstract like humanism, bhai chara and get away with it. Nehru got away with his lyrical speeches and abstract ideas…! His cunning ensured that all who could challenge his humbug abstractions were either sidelined, also no leadership was groomed who could pose a challenge to him…he was clear who would succeed him…

The book has many failings, it has an ethnocentric bias to it, but I guess the assessment of Nehru is pretty correct; a great personality but a mediocre leader (at best).

Vajpayee, The years that changed India by Shakti Sinha

As a scholar bureaucrat, Shakti Sinha Sir remains an inspiration for bureaucrats like me. Here, he writes an interesting book on Atal Ji, an insiders account.

My main takeaways from the book;

  1. The book is a political journey of Atal Ji beginning with his electoral victory in 1957 from Balrampur to the year 1999, when his government fell by one vote in the Lok Sabha. The focus of the book however is on the period March 1998 to May 1999, when Vajpayee was sworn in as the PM for the second time, and provides an insider account of the government and the happenings during the period.
  2. India exercised its nuclear option in May 2018 becoming an overt nuclear weapon state. The book highlights the international and the domestic reaction to these tests. Americans were livid at the test as were the Canadians, Japanese and the Scandinavians. France, UK and Russians on the other hand were more understanding. The Americans completely overlooked India’s rationale for the test, disregarded China’s proliferation record in the subcontinent and the consequent threat that it posed it India’s security. Instead, President Clinton and his administration imposed sanctions on India, also seeking to create a G2 with China to manage South Asia. Domestically too the government was criticized by its political opponents with the Congress party under Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, arguing that there was no credible reason for India to have tested. She questioned the secrecy with which the tests were undertaken, which for her symbolized the lack of transparency. Ironically, the Congress manifesto of 1991, prepared under Shri Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership, had mentioned the need for India to exercise its nuclear option.
  3. Vajpayee’s opening to Pakistan, his Lahore Bus yatra and the events during the trip make for an interesting read. Reading those pages, the image of Vajpayee as a statesman repeatedly gets reinforced. The Lahore visit created conditions for communication lines to remain open between both the Prime Ministers even during the Kargil conflict, PM Vajpayee and PM Sharif having repeated telephonic conversations during the period. The back channel between RK Mishra and Niaz Naik also continued to remain active.
  4. The book should be a compulsory read for all those who keep extolling the virtue of coalition governments of myriad parties over a one party stable government. It clearly brings out the compromises that such a government is forced to make, the endless energy that the leadership has to spend not on meeting the actual challenges of governance but instead on managing the demands (more often than not for personal benefit of leaders), pulls, pressures and the blackmail of the coalition partners.
  5. What I found very interesting in the book is the role President Narayanan played first by creating difficulties in the way of Vajpayee in forming the government, and later when the government fell by one vote, trying to engineer an alternative government. The author quotes Natwar Singh who in his book had argued that President Narayanan, sent his Principal Secretary, Shri Gopal Krishna Gandhi to the Congress leaders, with a view to convince them to support Jyoti Basu as PM. The effort failed necessitating a midterm election. Reading it made me chuckle thinking of all those who shout from rooftops, as to how institutions have got all politicized today and are no longer nonpartisan.
  6. Personally, Atal ji was a person seeped in the Indian cultural and civilizational ethos, who was deeply influenced not only by classical Indian literature but also Ramcharit Manas. For him the word Hindu did not denote a religion or a particular mode of worship but an eclectic way of life. During the confidence vote of May 1996, he stated that India was inherently secular for it did not believe that any faith or system of worship had a monopoly over truth. Interestingly, he got a letter from Syed Sahabuddin who argued that he disagreed with his Vajpayee’s description of Indian philosophy and that he as a Muslim believed that his path was the only true path. Vajpayee ji let the issue pass and did not respond to him.
  7. On the issue of governance and politics, it was his firm belief that some issues like national security and national sovereignty were beyond/above petty politicking. So, when then Minister of Defense, Mulayam Singh Yadav announced that the Sukhoi deal had been concluded, Vajpayee to the shock of many congratulated him in Parliament. Explaining the role of government and opposition in India to a visiting Nigerian delegation, he stated, ‘the opposition should have its say, but the government must have its way’. On economic issues, he believed that the government should play the role of a regulator, the culture of ‘free’ should not be encouraged, instead user charges for services provided should be paid, more so by those who could afford it. He also called for the rationalization of subsidies.  

Sadly, considering the stature of Vajpayee, much has not been written about him, compared to other leaders of India’s cultural right. This book fills an important gap more so for people like me, who seek to understand and research on the cultural nationalists/right in India. A very interesting read.

Book Review: Religion and Secularities edited by Sudha Sitharaman and Anindita Chakrabarti

This book is based on the papers presented in a seminar held at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Kanpur, in October 2014. The book basically deals with what I would call the ‘sociology of Islam’, ie. how Islamic praxis has influenced and has in turn been influenced by the Indian social milieu. The book thus is an inquiry of ‘Indian Islamic’ issues and practices arrived at through ethnographic studies conducted in the states of Bengal, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka. The super short summary of the chapters are as follows;

Chapter 1 deals with the issue of how Bengali Muslims negotiate their Muslim identity with their identity as a Bengali.

Chapter 2 deals with how Islamic laws interacted and refashioned the matrilineal traditions of Mappila Muslims of Malabar, especially after the advent of colonial rule and the socio legal changes it brought in this society.

Chapter 3 deals with the Hindu Muslim conflict about the control of the shrine of Bababudhan hills in Chikmagalur in Karnataka, which is a common place of worship for both Hindus and Muslims (much like the Babri dispute). What the essay brings out to the fore is the uniqueness of Indian secularism that the Indian state practices. This secularism is less a separation between religion and politics, but instead religion becomes an object of the state’s regulatory capacity; the state intervening in religion with a purpose to refashion and attune it to the requirements of liberal governance.

Chapter 4 deals with the divergent practices of Islam amongst the Mappila Muslims. The essay highlights as to how attempts are being to refashion society so that ‘genuine’ Islamic/Muslim virtues are cultivated, the revival of the Muslim community takes place and the Islamic community (Ummah) Is strengthened.

Chapter 5 deals with the civic and religious activities of the Solidarity Youth Movement (SYM), the youth wing of the Jamat e Islami in Kerala.

Chapter 6 deals with the question of Muslim personal law in India. The authors explore the process of dispute resolution in marriage, divorce and inheritance amongst Muslim litigants in a Dar ul Qaza (Sharia court), in a large Muslim locality in Kanpur.

Chapter 7 deals with the involvement of the Muslim reformist organisation called Mujahid Movement, in providing palliative care in Kerala and how in doing so they negotiate the boundaries between religious and the secular domains.

A collection of interesting essays.

Book Review: The Politician by Devesh Verma

Normally I read 3-4 books together, moving from one to another, but here was a book which once I picked up, I could not let go. It is simply unputdownable.

While it is classified as a work of fiction, as the by line says – ‘A novel’, it is only that, a work of fiction? As a novel what genre do we fit it in – historical novel, sociological novel, political novel or a novel dealing with gender and patriarchy? Frankly, it is all these and much more. In fact, it has a timeless quality to it, for while it does convey the ‘story’ of India from its early days since independence to the seventies, the issues/challenges/ideological debates that the novel grapples with are as much true today as they were in those days.

Set in the state of Uttar Pradesh, more specifically in the Awadh region of UP, the main protagonist of the novel is Ram Mohan, a backward caste Kurmi who uses the opportunity (how so ever limited and constrained) that the newly independent India offers to him to acquire education and rise in the social and political hierarchy. An eternal optimist, a character that makes him blind to problems and the pitfalls, (I found it totally understandable this optimism, it is the only defense mechanism that the non-dominant caste groups possessed to chip at the fetters, that the weighty caste hierarchy imposed on them – thus becoming a habit for many), not only is he extremely driven but also uses the power of cunning and guile (along with ‘lathi‘) in pursuit of his ends. There is a part of him though which is an idealist, and rebels at the idea of using primordial identity like caste in election, but gives in, when given a lesson in ‘realpolitik’ by his friend and associate Tiwary ji. Ram Mohan succeeds, though only partially, in his political endeavors (till the 70s when the novel ends, but I wait eagerly for the sequel, the real rise of OBC politics was a factor of late 80’s! So may be….)

The book is part fiction and mostly reality. Anyone having even a limited historical understanding of Indian polity since Independence can surely relate/understand to the novel. It mirrors the events and the trajectory of Indian politics since independence. Devesh Sir keeps it simple and straight. While some protagonists are real – Nehru, Gandhi, Sampoornanand, Kamlapati Tripathi, Indira Gandhi etc, others have their name changed, but you can easily understand who they are modelled after – so Chaudhary Baran Singh is actually Chaudhary Charan Singh, his party the Bhartiya Kranti Dal is India Revolutionary Party, the Jana Sangh is the People’s Union etc. It is historical reality disguised as fiction; history from the eye of the subaltern. There is nothing fictional about the support of the social coalition that the Congress party enjoys, neither the gradual rise and organisation of the intermediate castes against the Congress and into the fold of the Lohiaite socialists represented by leaders like Chaudhary Charan Singh (and Karpoori Thakur in Bihar). The fun part is that the book not only deals with high politics but also the games that is played at the level of constituency, the intrigues, back stabbing and compromises that political actors indulge in. It also shows a mirror to how Indian political system, though a parliamentary democracy, had since the beginning, has had a strong foundation of presidential style personality cult built into it.

The book also reflects the complexity of the Indian society of those times. The idealism and unity that characterised the national movement, the belief that all challenges and problems that India faced, would somehow evaporate had started dissipating and the ugly reality of caste and community consciousness had stated rearing its head. The novel in its very first chapter has the leader of the Kurmi community pleading for unity amongst the Kurmis, so that they acquire a share in the political pie. However, there are others even amongst the upper castes, like Tiwari ji, who challenge caste exclusiveness, and not only empathise but actively work for people of other castes, much to the chagrin of their fellow caste-men. The upper castes find the challenge from the subalterns disconcerting, the novel brings out an interesting secret note that Baran Singh shows to Ram Mohan, wherein the progressive and socialist CM, Sampoorananand argues that radical redistributive politics of the Congress is not helping the party for while it alienates their traditional supporters, it does not guarantee that those benefitting from these policies will actually support the Congress.

The novel also highlights the deep patriarchy that infused the Indian society – Ram Mohan being a torch bearer of it – but also the challenge that women were subjecting this patriarchy to. Actually, I found the women characters in the novel most fascinating, mostly those whom the elites would (even today) classify as the helpless (bechari).  Reflect and you understand how strong these women are, how they keep their struggle going and the robust common sense that they possess. They choose their battles wisely, stand up where they need to, and make compromises where they have to. So while an idealist may find women like Sughhari, Gayatri or a Malti morally compromised, but I found them possessing a will of steel. Ram Mohan’s wife and daughters might appear weak allowing him to have his way, but never without a fight, a fight which sometimes becomes physical leading to them being beaten black and blue. But fight and resist they do!

Without doubt, this has been one of the best works I have read of late. What scale, what canvas and what historical and political understanding Devesh Verma Sir displays. Kudos Sir, and eagerly waiting for the sequel. As it is, I could not get enough of the character Deena (the son of Ram Mohan) in this novel – the super sensitive, book loving, money stealing, insecure but happy Deena…!! Waiting for more of him….

Book Review: An unusual honeymoon by Mamta Kashyap

At the outset I must confess that when I picked up the book to read, I was skeptical about finishing it. I am not much into English fiction, and surely not into the genre of romance and comedy. Frankly, I picked up the book because it was written by the daughter of one of our senior colleague Praveen Kumar Singh, but once I started reading it, all my skepticism disappeared and I really started enjoying it. Mamta Kashyap, the author, is a natural story teller and her book kept me engrossed. Once you pick up the book, you will not put it down before you finish it. About 200 odd pages, it should not take you more than a couple of hours to read, and at the end you will be left feeling warm and happy!

The book revolves around Mahashweta, an independent career women, who arrives at this strange sounding Inn called Cowboy, for her honeymoon – ironically alone, because her fiancee ditched her for her best friend. There she meets Rahul, who offers her a business deal she can’t refuse, the only catch being she has to get married to him for six months as a part of this deal. A solo honeymoon thus becomes an adventure. The story has the (un) usual Nani, usual mother in law, brother in law, sister in law and other family members who carry the story forward. There are family intrigues, love, heart breaks and usual insecurities. The best part of the novel is that all characters and situations appear natural and not contrived.

A lovely read and congratulations to Mamta for writing such a lovely book. Looking forward to many more.

Book Review: Kabze Jama by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi

छोटी सी 140 पेज की किताब, ज़्यादातर उपन्यासकारों की इतनी छोटी से किताब आप ज़्यादा से ज़्यादा 5-6 घंटे में कर देंगे खत्म, लेकिन मुझे 2 दिन लगे इसे पढ़ने में। फारूकी साहब की किताब उस सिंगल् माल्ट व्हिस्की की तरह होती है जो जब आप मुँह में ले कर उसे घुमाते हैं, तो उसका ज़ायका और सुरूर धीरे धीरे आप पर खुलता जाता है..आप पढ़ते हैं और शब्द अनायास ही चित्र बन कर आपके आंखों के सामने दौड़ने लगता है!

किस्सागोई के अंदाज़ में लिखी गयी ये किताब सोलहवीं और अठारवीं सदी का सामाजिक और सांस्कृतिक चित्रण है (कुछ हद तक राजनैतिक भी). किताब का मुख्य पात्र इब्राहिम लोधी के काल का एक सिपाही है जो जब अपनी बेटी का निकाह कराने के लिए देहली से अपने गांव नंगल खुर्द के लिए निकलता है, तो रास्ते में ही लूट लिया जाता है। टूटा हुआ और परेशां जब वो देहली वापस लौटता है, तो उसका दोस्त उसे ये बताता है कि एक तवायफ अमीर जान गरीबों की मदद करती है और शायद तुम्हारी भी मदद करे..वो दोनों उसके पास पहुंचते हैं और वाकई वो उसको 350 तनखे कर्ज़ दे देती है। सिपाही अपने बेटी की शादी करवाता है और 3 साल अपनी कमाई जोड़ कर कर्ज़ की रकम मुकम्मल कर लेता है। कर्ज़ लौटने जब वो वापस अमीर जान की हवेली पहुंचता है, तो उसे पता चलता है कि अमीर जान का इंतेक़ाल हो चुका है। इस गरज़ से की जिसने उसकी मदद की उसके कब्र पे फातेहा ही पढ़ आये, वो जब उसके मज़ार पे पहुंचता है तो देखता है कि कब्र में एक दरवाज़ा है और अंदर से रौशनी आ रही है। अनायास ही वो कब्र के अंदर दाखिल हो जाता है….और अरेबियन नाईट सरीखे फिर खुलती है एक तिलिस्मी दुनिया…टाइम ट्रेवल….वो पहुंच जाता है 250 बरस आगे…सीधे मुग़ल बादशाह मुहम्मद शाह के ज़माने में! फिर पढ़ते जाइये और आखों के सामने देखिये उस समय की देहली….उसका समाज, रहन सहन, लिबास, उसके शुगल, बाज़ार और उसकी संस्कृति…!

ये किताब पढ़ के आपको साफ समझ में आ जायेगा कि क्यों फ़ारूक़ी साहब ये कभी मानने को तैयार नही हुए उन इतिहासकारों का कहना, की देहली अपनी ज़िंदगी में कभी भी पूरी तरह से उजड़ गयी थी!

बेहतरीन किताब!

Book Review: Wisdom of the Rishis; The three Upanishads

Sri M has led an extraordinary life which has been brilliantly captured in his book ‘Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master’. Born as Mumtaz Ali Khan he experienced unique spiritual and mystical experiences since his childhood. He finally left home at the age of 19, wandering around the Himalayas, seeking salvation. He finally found his Guru from the Nath sampraday, Maheshwar Nath Babaji (whom he would see in his spiritual experiences in his childhood) who gave him the name Madhukar Nath. He initiated him into the Indian spiritual and philosophical tradition and guided him towards the awakening of his kundalini. After much travelling with his Guru in the Himalayas, the latter asked him to return to the plains, to visit the holy places of India associated with all spiritual and religious traditions and seek to understand them. The book provides the interpretation of the verses of the Isha, Kena and Mandukya Upanishads, which many consider to be amongst the most important Upanishads. The Isha Upanishad is one of the shortest Upanishad, consisting of only 18 verses and is a part of the Yajurveda. The Mandukya Upanishad is another short Upanishad with only 12 verses and is a part of the Atarvaveda., while the Kena Upanishads is a part of the Samveda. My journey into reading the Upanishads began with this book, this being the first book that I read, while trying to understand the verses of these 3 Upanishads. I must say it was a good choice as the first book, for Sri M does a brilliant job of explaining the verses in a simple and lucid manner. Later, when I read more detailed and complex interpretations by other masters, the grounding that this book provided, came in handy. The only thing I found really jarring in this book is that the slokas had only been transliterated into English and not Sanskrit/Hindi…now reading Sanskrit in roman script is surely not a very pleasurable experience. If you can ignore that, reading this book will be a lovely experience!

Book Review: The line of control, Travelling with the Indian and Pakistani armies by Happymon Jacob.

Happymon Jacob writes a very engaging book. I purchased this book yesterday evening and could not put it down until I had finished it. I needed about 6 odd hours to finish the book but not once did I feel bored or tired. In fact when I picked up this book I was in the midst of reading two other books, Kamleshwar’s ‘Kitne Pakistan‘ and Zaki Chehab’s ‘Inside Hamas’, but once I started reading this book, I had no desire to go back to these 2 books!

Here are my main takeaways from the book;

1. The book not only deals with the lives/experiences of the officers and jawans living on both sides of the LOC but also provides a glimpse of the lives lived by the civilians inhabiting these areas. The author writes with great empathy and understanding of their day to day trials and tribulations, caught as they are between the high politics of both nations.

2. One important reason why everyone needs to read this book is to understand the importance of terrain with reference to the LC. When the great nationalists come and froth on TV every night arguing as to how we should go around destroying every available bunkers of the Pakistanis (interestingly a few of them are former infantry officers), we need to understand that India does not dominate all heights in all sectors. Further the foliage and elephant grasses create operational problems when one seeks to check infiltration (of course, ably assisted by the Pakistani army). The author also brings out the reasons for many CFVs, which can mostly be characterized as driven by tactical and local factors, though sometimes they may be strategic too.

3. While the chapters and anecdotes about his visits to Pakistan make for an interesting and fun read, and can be categorised as ‘adventure’, but the curious Pakistan watcher in me was left wanting for more. You drink but you are not quenched. Many of the things that Pak army officers say in the book are well known to even cursory Pak watchers. Well if the author is not self censoring himself then reading the book only reinforces my long held view that come what may, Pak army will always continue to see itself as a force whose fundamental interest/job is to challenge India’s rise in every possible way. Of course, their tactics will vary based on situational exigencies. No where did I get any hint of any major rethink by the Pak army about their views on India. “Inshallah we will prevail” continues to remained a belief and dogma. So looks like people like us who have not visited Pakistan have not missed much. After all all you then have to do is to you need read the Hilal every month (Thankfully it is available online for free) and you know all you need to know about the thinking of Pak army.

4. Where I differ with Happymon Sir is what he writes in the last chapter. I understand he comes from a left leaning persuasion but I find his concern about the rise of so called nationalism in India, way of the mark. My humble disagreement with him is that he is conflating xenophobia and religious intolerance with the noble sentiment that is nationalism. A nationalist is one who thinks about his/her nation first. And if you indeed think about the interests of your nation first, you would surely be clinical in analysing what those interests are and how to best achieve them. Borrowing the Kautilyan lexicon, it might involve sam, daam, dand bhed! I would consider myself as a hard nosed nationalist believing in the motto of “India First”, and I can see how the jingoistic stupidity of the so called nationalist media restricts freedom of action for the executive in achieving our national priorities and interests. So I would characterise their use of nationalism for higher TRPs as ‘faux nationalism’ (rather than nationalism) and those championing this faux nationalism as ‘pretender nationalists’ (rather than nationalists)!

All in all an excellent read. It also made me nostalgic about my own trip to LC. It was like re-living those moments again, including the lovely chai and pakoras!

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