Saturday, March 26, 2005

Nehru - The Invention of India - Shashi Tharoor

The title of the book is misleading. It brings visions of a book that is about to denounce Nehru's policies and generally show that Nehru isn't what we thought him to be.
This however is not the case. The book is a biography of sorts tracing Jawaharlal Nehru's life and views from an undistinguished teenager to the undisputed Leader of Free India.
My only exposure to Nehru is through the reading of The Discovery of India. A book that went more or less over my head, but had the unmistakable stamp of a person who loved India and identified with its people.
This book is not great. But it is a book about a great person and some of the attributes do rub of on the book. As the author himself puts it , its a book by a layperson for laypeople. Its not comprehensive, the author only brings out incidents and quotes he wants to dwell on. It is however distinguished by its last chapter, where the author looks at Nehur's policies and what they have meant to India with of course the benefit of Hindsight. The four main policies of Nehru
a. Democratic Institution Building
b. Secularism
c. Socialist economic policies
d. Non alignment
There is no doubt in the author's mind (or mine) that the first two were ..indeed are .. necessary for India to survive. It is the third and fourth policies which the author believes are partly responsible for India's poverty and corruption. While i do not know enough of the Socialist economic policies and their impact, I am certain that the policy of Non Alignment was the right one to follow. It is only today that people can smugly predict that India should have stood with the USA in the cold war instead of being part of a Non Aligned Movement. Taking sides in the cold war would undoubtedly have been wrong.
The book has some of the more memorable quips by Nehru which makes we want to search for the full text on the Internet or read some more on Nehru's speeches and perhaps on that front alone this book has served its purpose

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Tunnel Of Time - R K Laxman

The uncommon man of Indian Cartoonists writes his autobiography of sorts. Laxman writes with a style which is very similar to his elder brother R K Narayan and perhaps suffers for it. But his insights to life are as sharp and you do get to see the flashes of sarcasm and cynism that Laxman's The Common Man cartoons are famous for.
Well worth spending an afternoon on.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Show Business - Shashi Tharoor

Ok so I expected a Great Indian Novel.
It didn't help that the lead character is Ashok Banjara(AB ahem) is married to Maya (J) acts in a movie starring both his wife and the actress he is having an affair(Rekha?) with (Silsila) where the story of the movie resembles Abhiman, who has a disastrous stint in politics and who suffers a life threatening accident while filming (Coolie). In typical tongue in cheek manner Neetas Natter (Stardust) becomes Cheetahs Chatter.
The book follows the life of Ashok Banjara but that is only an excuse to look at the world of Bollywood. The story is told through multiple perspectives, that of Ashok, Pranay (the villain , I wonder if its Pran), Ashwin(Ashok's brother - Ajitabh?), Mehnaz (Rekha).
The book has flashes of brilliance like the Hindi movie script interludes describing Ashok's movie. Because like it or not you are laughing at yourself. Who among us hasn't liked Amitabh's movie, but reading them in detail like this, i have to marvel at the things we tolerate in the movies we see.
The book has sharp commentary as well. As the guruji notes Topless Nudity which is still part of India's rural truth is banned in our movies, But violence etc which is illegal is cheerfully glorified

So why was I disappointed on the whole with the book ? Oh its still worth reading But it lacked something. Perhaps the fact that I didn't identify with the characters or maybe I didn't want to do. I still want to remember Amitabh as the hungry ..Sorry angry young man. And to see him as a flawed human being somehow subtracts from the movies that I have fond memories of.
Perhaps it was the fact that the ending is weak. Perhaps because most of the things you get to read in this book are cliched. True but cliched. You have heard it so many times before.

The 10 Second Internet Manager - Mark Breier

It is somewhat fun to read a book written in the Internet Boom time exhorting the virtues of the Internet and the Need for Speed. The way the Internet has changed the way business is done and how if the author wasn't fast enough his company would be Behind.Com instead of domain) is up for sale.
Oh yes there are some useful suggestions (Work fast, Work hard, Work Smart....Yawn)
Alright so I usually approach all management books(except DILBERT) with a closed mind so I am biased.
But really do we need highly paid managers stating the obvious?
That meetings generally end up wasting people's time? That employees should be rewarded for accomplishments? That unless you have fun in the workplace its not going to be fun working?
Or the contradictions that are inherent ..Like in the chapter the secret to acting fast the 11th point is slow down?
And this is a book that I more or less agree with most of the things it says. The best being that the author wouldn't hire a person who could sit through a 4 hour meeting without getting restless. I cant sit more than 10 minutes without wanting to leave, I wonder if I'd get hired.

All in all nothing gained, but at least the book was quite short

A Midsummer Night's Dream - William Shakespeare

Lysander asks Hermia to meet him in the wood to elope to his aunts house.
She replies
I swear to thee by Cupid's strongest bow,
By his best arrow with the golden head,
By the simplicity of Venus' doves,
By that which knitteth souls and prospers loves,
And by that fire which burned the Carthage queen,
When the false Troyan under sail was seen,
By all the vows that ever men have broke,-
In number more than women ever spoke -

In that same place thou hast appointed me,
Tomorrow truly will I meet with thee
Get the point?
If i ended this here, It wouldnt be possible to know whether im praising Shakespeare or being sarcastic.

Those who like Sheakspeare, will probably love the visual imagery in the words. The women will proibably nod their heads knowingly at the all vows that men have broke. Others may seek reference to to Dido,Queen of Carthage by Christopher Marlowe.
Detractors, Lovers of Simple,Concise and Clear writing will shake their heads and say with a painful expression on their face "Couldnt she have simply said 'Yes,I'll be there'".

I find myself firmly with the detractors. The story does have it twists and turns and is entertaining, but the writing. the dialogues! Painful.
I think Shakespeare has outlived his time and should now be consigned to the dark recesses of history.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Author - Alistair MacLean

I greatly regret that i read all the Alistair Maclean's a long time ago and a diminishing memory will not allow me to do justice to his titles (and i don't think i could do that anyway but now it has even lesser chance). And the numerous books i have yet to read prevent me from going back and re reading these books.
Anyway For those who haven't yet read this author , do so , for those who have read some of his books but not all , what the hell are you waiting for?

HMS Ulysses
When i first read this book i gave it up after 100 pages. Too boring. I was used to books like Satan Bug, Ice Station Zebra and the other staple diet was Hardy Boys. A year or so later much more experienced and with the knowledge that no maclean could be a waste of my time, I sat and read this book again, understood why the books was so slow in the beginning and completed reading it. This book has the dubious distinction that i cried when i read it(i was only in the 6th or the 7th standard). It also changed my views completely about war and it was the first time i realized that something you read can change the way you view the world.
Note that so far all notions of war were romantic. I thought of shivaji besting the mughals. I thought of the good beating all the evil of the Ramayana. This was the first book i read about War in which all the good guys died. All of them(except the doctor and another guy who was indestructible). The Captain who even if he died should you would think be the last to die and only after beating the Germans dies half way through the book. The character whose name i cant remember who commits a form of suicide because he killed a person in the mutiny. The character who has to torpedoes his father's ship. The character who gives his girlfriends handkerchief to the doctor. All sentimental stuff. But they did bring home one lesson. In a war everyone loses. I have been staunchly against any sort of war ever since. Not those fought for religion, not those for territory(yes i refer to Kashmir), certainly not those for oil.
The other striking thing in the books was that the *enemy* was always smart. Not a caricature. (I'm reminded of Warren Ellis in the introduction of Queen And Country where he said The Tom clancy's of the world , when the cold war ended simply replaced the Russians with another community and carried on writing as before - i don't read tom clancy). And sometimes you felt sympathy for them. The best example of course is The Last frontier. But its true of his other novels as well
Satan Bug was the first Maclean I read from my Moms Library in BPT. A fast paced book completely entertaining and I'm lucky i read this when still in the thrall of Franklin Dixon. If i had HMS Ulysses at that point i may never have read an Alistair Maclean again
The other ones that stand out in memory are Ice Station zebra and The Dark crusader (this almost made me cry but not quite).
And Sir George And the Dragon (i think it was) in the collection of The Lonely sea was too funny.
And i have shamelessly used his line from Fear is the Key "Eternity is a long time, Eternity Lasts Forever..... But ill be waiting" though completely out of context of course(It was in a romantic context for those interested , though in the book its said by a murderer plotting revenge against the protagonist)

It has been said that the public devoured his work and the critics hated it. Indeed i think that the first review that Maclean himself read said Burn this Book (the review was for HMS Ulysses) and since then Maclean didn't read reviews. I sometimes wonder who the critics were reviewing the book for? It cant be for the common man because they seldom agree.

Surprisingly i think that the most famous of the Maclean Books the Guns of Navarone, Where eagles dare , When eight bells toll i like but they aren't what i consider his best. Perhaps the view is colored by the movies (The outrage you feel when you see Hollywood changing the characters from male to female in Guns of navarone - The change of the scaling of the mountain in guns of navarone to a 5 minute sequence which looks so fake - though i guess that was because of the time).

I. Asimov - Isaac Asimov

The most striking thing about this book is how closely the author's view mirror mine. There are I think only two significant differences. Asimov is an atheist though I believe in god and secondly Asimov was an immensely talented writer whereas I am .. Well we'll find out. Yes we have the fact that Our Egos are quite large, in common. This book is meant to be a more introspective book with Asimov's thoughts on events and is very personal. This I think is a trademark from his other collections as well where he would have a word to say about how he got the idea for a story , or an incident related to the story or some other background that added a charm to the story.
Very well written , light hearted and Self Indulgent. A must read for those who have read the works, Fiction or Non Fiction. For those who haven't read Asimov before this books not for you , go read his other tales first.

There are some absolute gems in the book. For e.g. regarding his argument with a speaker where neither one was willing to accept the others viewpoint Asimov writes ," the reader may well point out that I was being as stubborn, but I was right and he was wrong and that made all the difference!". I cannot remember the innumerable occasions when I have felt this way

The book was written when Asimov had almost completed his life and is full of fond reminisces. All his friends have been sanitized and the book shows a man who has lived the life he wanted to lead and would have no regrets on his death.