Tuesday, May 26, 2009

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

"In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India" By Edward Luce is a collection of memoirs based on discourses and interviews which Edward Luce, the British journalist makes with politicians, religious and business leaders in India. Edward Luce presents the challenges faced by the Indian state while growing as a major world power.

This is in contrast to Fareed Zakaria's 'The Post American World' which also talks about India, but is more focussed on its position in world economy and its future effect on it. Edward Luce talks about what conspires at the grassroots level in politics, administration, and in the lives of people in the country.

The narration would probably astound most westeners of the intricacies involved in Indian administration, caste politics and general way of life. The complexities of vote bank politics as practised by all political parties in India, more so in the cow-belt regions of UP and Bihar are deciphered. What makes regional politicians and political outfits having no agenda succeed and how state machinery and administration works in the region is well explained, although the author's political opinion hints to be biased at times. Some of the facts would hit hard as new revelations even to Indians, mainly those who have had no exposure to the functioning of government in rural areas.

There are varied theories about how the caste system was conceived (Vedas, Manusmriti..etc), but there is little meaning or sense in continuing with the system in modern times. Its only significance in today's age is to be a tool for politicians and feudal lords to exploit people of thier rights, and divide them in order to stay in power. It makes us no different from fundamentalists who promote extremism across the world. It is our excessive obsession with religion and caste that has become the biggest hurdle to development. Is there a lesson for us to learn in it from China? Again, this being a sesitive topic, every Indian has varied and passionate personal opinions.

Another important point mentioned: Indians have the habit of counting thier chicken before they hatch. India is a rising power indeed, but they Indians like to beleive they are already a superpower, whereas it has several challenges to address in order to get there. This is a characteristic evident in our nature.

Some excerpts:

"India, as the writer V.S. Naipaul said, has become a land of a million mutinies, some are mutinies of lower orders against the upper orders; there are also mutinies of upper orders (and some lower orders) against Muslims; and there are mutinies of both lower orders against each other and upper ordersagainst each other. But India is also a land of unexpected alliances: between enemies of enemies, between Muslims and lower castes, and between people who disdained each other yesterday and may tomorrow do so again."

"India has a way of confounding you and still making you laugh about it"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Day of the Jackal - Frederick Forsyth

Frederick Forsyth's first work of fiction, 'The day of the Jackal' is a suspense thriller belonging to the spy fiction genre. Forsyth keeps the reader glued to the plot by building up the suspense piece-by-piece, brilliantly aided by his gift of amalgamation of fact with fiction. His immaculate research and knowledge of the background of his plot is evident as he touches upon concepts ranging from the functioning of police, detective and spy agencies around the world to the general niceties of protocol and life of civilians and diplomats.

The story is set in the 1960's, and deals with one among the numerous plots to assasinate the then President of France, General Charles De Gaulle. As with 'The Odessa File', the plot begins with a background of OAS, the French underground militant organization and thier reasons and justifications to assasinate the President of France. The plan is to hire a professional hit man to do the job, and one of the best in the business, codenamed 'The Jackal' is hired.

The story is divided into three parts. 'Anatomy of a Plot' deals with the Jackal preparing a sketch of his scheme. During 'Anatomy of a Manhunt', the French secret service agency gets wind of the plot and launches a worldwide manhunt coordinating with spy agencies of several countries.

Since an operation of such magnitude would require immaculate planning apart from being skilled in intrigue, the 'Anatomy of a Plot' is more interesting from a reader's point of view as it explains the conception and design of the plot by the assasin. This is where the Jackal proves to be a true professional in planning out the entire operation to perfection.

The book was also made into a movie 'The Day of the Jackal' in 1973, directed by Fred Zinnemann, starring Edward Fox as 'The Jackal'. Following are some interesting notes on the cultural impact the book had made, as found on Wikipedia:

"The method for acquiring a false identity and UK passport detailed in the book is often referred to as the "Day of the Jackal fraud" and remains a well known security loophole in the UK. The technique was most recently used by John Darwin to obtain a new passport after he faked his own death in a canoeing accident."

"Would-be assassin Vladimir Arutinian, who attempted to kill US President George W. Bush during his 2005 visit to the country of Georgia, was an obsessive reader of the novel and kept an annotated version of it during his planning for the assassination."