Thursday, November 20, 2014

Asura Tale Of The Vanquished - Anand Neelakantan

History is made by the victors, the story of the losing side is never told. I picked up Anand Neelkantan's "Asura Tale Of The Vanquished" thinking it would be fun to read Ramayana from Ravana's point of view. But I was sorely disappointed by the book.

Asura Tale Of The Vanquished portrays Ravana as the son of a Brahmin father and Asura mother, unfairly treated by his uncle Kubera who ruled Sri lanka. Inspired by Mahabali, Ravana mobilizes  and inspires people around him to come together to claim the throne  of Sri Lanka.  His ambition, and ruthless warring at one point has his kingdom extending right up to the Himalayas. He, himself is portrayed as mighty and learned King who cared for his people and built a caste-less society. The book personifies Ravana, as a great human being, also is called ‘Dasamukha’ (the man with ten faces) for he had embraced the ten base emotions of life, namely - Anger, Pride, Jealousy, Happiness, Sadness, Fear, Selfishness, Passion, Ambition and Intellect. (Actually my favourite part of the whole book is how Ravana & Mahabali explains the 10 base emotion).

The other principal character of the book Bhadra shows Ravana's ambitious behaviour, uncaring attitude towards common people and debauchery. Bhadra, himself is shown as some one having grievously suffered and lost his entire family at the hands of the Devas supports Ravana in his efforts to establish a powerful Asura Empire. Bhadra is called again and again to do the dirty work which the kings and nobles can't do and when the job is done is promptly cast aside by them. 

The rest of the book follows the is well known mythology of India, Ramayana.  Sita,  is kidnapped (Sita is shown as Ravana's daughter who was removed from the kingdom due to a prophecy on her) Hanuman, burning lanka, the battle and final victory of Ram. 

The portrayal of Ram, Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma as mass leaders who achieved a kind of Godhood , thanks to the masses was something I liked. The book talks about the Aryans and Dravidians, calling them Devas and Asuras, and the various societal changes that happen when they overrun and attack each other's kingdoms. Its clearly shown that the Devas or Asuras as conquerors, are identical in the way they ravage the conquered, suffering of the common people and there is nothing Godly about the name "Deva."

Having said this, I want to say that I finished the book just cause I wanted to finish it. The book is too long and could have been edited better. But I would still recommend this book to all Indians with the message "Widen your horizons, don't get hung on religion or culture, how much ever proud our past is, present is what matters" Overall would give the book 2.5/5

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Train to Pakistan - Khushwant Singh

Train to Pakistan - Khushwant Singh
Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh is a modern Indian classic. It has been converted into a movie and also is included in the list of must read books for every Indian. From the title itself any Indian can understand that the book deals with the one of the difficult times in Indian history, i.e. the partition of India. I have been planning to read this book for long and I finally grabbed it when I saw it in my office Library.

Khushwant Singh deals with the struggles an ordinary Indian faced at the time of Independence by the way of a smile story based in the fictional village of Mano Majra. An village where the words Partition or Independence doesn't mean much to the Sikhs and Muslims living there. A situation that rapidly changes with the murder of  a hindu moneylender, Ram Lal. 

Khushwant Singh has beautifully explored the various problems India faced at the time of Independence; such as class system, government corruption, and a large population with very little or no education through his various characters. 

An example would be the characters of Aqbal and Juggut. Aqbal, a social worker who is very well educated compared with Juggut, a poor illiterate peasant.  Even when both of them are arrested, Aqbal was treated very well compared to Juggut because education placed them both in two different class levels. Aqbal was a class “A” prisoner who was provided with warm food, good beds, and newspaper to read and write while Juggut a class “C” prisoner whose food was thrown at him.

Similarly, Khushwant Singh explored government corruption through Hukum Chand, a deputy inspector who would knowingly break laws such as having sex with prostitutes or arresting someone without justifiable cause or evidence. Singh  further shows how when passions are aroused, sensible talk or thought is thrown our of the window and mob mentality rises.

The ending of the novel is disappointing when you read it. Its only when you close the book and think do you realise the message Khushwant Singh is conveying: action is never political; it is always personal. Nobody is going to get up and do a thing for anyone else unless it's for someone they love and  it's something that comes from the heart.

This book is an absolute must read for every single person who cares about Hindu-Muslim harmony. If not for the graphic description of death I would suggest making this book a must read for all school children.  The book is meant to make you think of your actions and thoughts to the society at large.  I would give this book a rating of 3.5/5

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India. - Edward Luce

In Spite of the Gods is to quote is "an unsentimental evaluation of contemporary India against the backdrop of its widely expected ascent to great-power status in the 21st century". Edward Luce without coming across as patronizing, discusses the many contradictions in India's society; the lopsided growth of the economy; the enduring legacies of leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar; the repercussions of the caste conflicts; the often-peculiar nature of Indian modernity in the new century. What I loved about the book is that its given an un-emotional view of India, A view mostly denied to us because of our own sets of prejudices which have risen as we live inside this beautiful country.

The books well written and  for each pattern observed, Luce has relied on interviews (with number of prominent people), events (historical and current), anecdotes, and other observations. His anecdotes and event summaries are to the point and entertaining. 

Edward Luce is the Financial Times chief US commentator, so the book reflects his is journalistic background. The book is more of his opinion rather than the result of any detailed study. But I feel that's fine cause in the end I was looking for an unbiased view of India which I have got from the book. He has touched on many controversial topics like the riots, hindu terrorism, child labor etc in this book which might lead to indigestion in some people. But I feel all Indians should open their eyes and see that India is not perfect yet. 

The point we Indians have to understand which is nicely put by Luce "India isn't on an autopilot to greatness, but it would take an incompetent pilot to crash the plane." We should know what our strength and weakness are and keep an eye on both. I would recommend this book to all Indians. 

 Overall I feel this is an book backed with extensive research and provides some fascinating insights into the workings of the Indian political and economic system. This book was released in 2006 and like all knows India has changed a lot in last 7 years. So please count for that when reading the book. Overall I give the book an rating of 3/5