Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Case of Exploding Mangoes - Mohammed Hanif

A witty, satirical tale of the conspiracy theories surrounding the death of former Pakistani President Zia-Ul-Haq. The ISI, millitary generals, CIA operatives, American ambassadors and God form an intriguing part of this tale. Entertaining and funny

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry

The setting for the story is Mumbai during the turbulent state of internal emergency of 1975, and how different lives were affected by it. Although the political scenario takes a backseat in the narration, it remains the element which drives the story forward, defining the paths of the character’s fortunes behind the scenes.

Rohinton Mistry gives an absorbing narration of the lives of the poor and the ill effects of the caste system in the villages. The delineation of the underprivileged reminds one of another great book, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which also leaves an indelible effect on the readers mind in describing poverty and destitution.

The book takes us through the mechanics of a system which is corrupt to the rot, and spares no thought for the helpless. Be it a new government policy being implemented, strikes, riots, or just a bad monsoon, it is the poor and underprivileged man who has to bear the brunt. A Fine Balance tells us about the lives of common people, and how their lives are affected by the state of political developments in the country, and at the same time how they are also intertwined.

There are aspects in the lives of all the characters which one could identify with, for example Maneck Kolah's thoughts about visiting his parents, where they would miss him while he is away and could not live with him in peace either, and before you realize the times have changed.

Some portions in the story about the life of lower caste families in the villages, and also the concluding sections of the novel make for some tragic reading, and leave one with a heavy heart and make us feel for the characters. One cannot help feeling that but for endemic greed and corruption, so many lives could have prospered.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

India after Gandhi

Young India will definitely find this very informative, as Mr. Guha correctly points out, history taught in schools in India ends with the independence of India. It was enlightening to know the way the land was ruled under the Maharajas and the British Empire, the factors that led to partition and the mayhem created as a result of it.

Enlightening to know that to build a secular and democratic India from the remains of British Raj was a most difficult objective to attain, with as many as 502 princely states. It was an incredible job indeed by Sardar Patel and civil servant Mr. V.P. Menon, to form states based on linguistic lines, some as diverse as could be from others, and integrating them into one nation. The origins and effects of insurgency and trouble in Kashmir and Punjab have been described in detail, along with Naxalism in Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.

Writing this book must have called for enormous and painstaking research. The details into specific events in the nation’s history about half a century ago have been noted with specific dates. Moreover, uprisings and events of significance which took place in each state are described in detail. Incredible research!

A sad part of the country’s fate lies in the fact that all the good leaders have disappeared. Interesting to read about men of the likes of Sardar Patel, Bhimrao Ambedkar, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Morarji Desai, and in days when India was considered a country of poverty, famines, and fanatics. These and many other men and women of values were at the helm of affairs in regional and national politics and in other roles during the early years of the country’s birth, but gradually faded into oblivion and what remains now are mostly self centered politicians, many of who come from criminal backgrounds. It makes one wonder as to why the country does not make real leaders anymore.

Mr Guha takes us into the minds of the leaders at the helm of the country, beginning with Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai etc; people who helped form the course of the nation’s path, to modern day politics of the early 21st century. Facts about people and policies are backed up with demographic statistics.

One excerpt from the book that stands out:

Through most of its history as an independent nation, India has heard altogether different tunes being sung. After every communal riot, it was said that India would break up into many fragments. After every failure of the monsoon, it was predicted that mass starvation and famine would follow. And after every death and killing of a major leader, it was forecast that India would abandon democracy and become a dictatorship.

Even though considered by many as flawed, the notion that the country still stands as one nation, unifying innumerable diversities is a spectacular phenomenon, unlike Europe or Africa where the regional differences have led to breaking up of continents into independent countries.