“Open Secrets” by Maloy Krishna Dhar

The full title of this absorbing book by veteran sleuth, the late Mr Maloy Krishna Dhar IPS, is ” Open Secrets: The Explosive Memoirs of An Indian Intelligence Officer”.  It was published in 2012 and I read the Kindle version recently. Mr Dhar was a senior intelligence operative and civil servant of the 1964 batch of the prestigious Indian Police Service (IPS). This version has been published after his demise on May 19, 2012 thanks, I believe, to the efforts of his son, Mainak Dhar, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad; a senior executive in an international firm and an acclaimed writer himself.

Continue reading ““Open Secrets” by Maloy Krishna Dhar”

Cricket In The Old Madras & Remembering My Dad

On September 20, 2019, we quietly celebrated my father’s 93rd birth anniversary. B. Anantharam Rao, (Ananth to his cricketing friends) or B.A.Rao ( to his colleagues in Burmah Shell and Indian Oil) or BAR or simply BA (to his many Club friends in Madras and Bangalore) was born in 1926 in Udupi in the erstwhile South Canara District of the old Madras Presidency, then under the British Raj. His family moved to the big city of Madras, the capital of the Presidency,  to improve their fortunes sometime in the 1930s. Here, they lived in cricket crazy Triplicane, so close to the old stadium at Chepauk with its famous Wallajah Road End and the Madras Cricket Club end.

Growing up we were told, time and again, that the Chepauk crowd was amongst the most knowledgeable in the world! Test matches were held here from 1934 to 1952. Madras featured in the world records in 1955-56 when Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad scored 413 as openers versus New Zealand. This was at the Corporation Stadium near Madras Central, later called the Nehru Stadium. I saw my first Test match in Chennai here in 1962 when India beat England with my hero Salim Durani taking 10 wickets in the match. The Test matches shifted back to Chepauk in 1967 when the West Indies toured under Gary Sobers. The team included a young debutant called Clive Lloyd!

So cricket was, is, and always will be a passion amongst the people of Chennai. A sample of the craze can be seen in the affection for the local team Chennai Super Kings in the  Indian Premier League, (IPL). But this post is not about cricket in Chennai now. It is about cricket in the Old Days! When I speak of the old days, I realize that time is relative. For some, two decades ago when the new millennium began is a long time ago, for others the old days may date back to the 1970s.

But I write of the late 1940s in Madras ( as Chennai was then known as) when my Dad played his cricket as a young man. Growing up in the bye lanes of Triplicane, he must have been influenced by two opening bowlers from that area, the legendary M J Gopalan ( who had the unique distinction of playing both cricket and hockey for India) and C R Rangachari.

Dad was a rare bundle of skills in that he was both an opening bowler and an opening batsman. He studied at the local Kellet High School and then went to Pachaiyappa’s College for his B A (Hons). He played Club cricket ( Minerva Cricket Club) and University cricket from perhaps 1945-46 to 1949-50. In those days, City Vs Mofussil was another popular encounter which City ( Madras) invariably won easily. Dad played a few of these and one of his opponents in the Mofussil team whom he came to know off the field was the genial Raja of Pudukottai.

The albums of newspaper cuttings that traced his career as a cricketer unfortunately have faded with time and cannot be retrieved. I do remember reading the newspaper clippings as a young kid with great interest! I have pierced together what one remembers being told as a child. My father didn’t talk much about his career but other relatives like his brothers who were his biggest fans did! They spoke of the days when he was one of the most prominent players for the Madras University. He was the Vice Captain in 1948-49 and 1949-50 , his skipper being his close friend Kannaiyaram, who went on to captain Madras and later toured the West Indies in 1953.

Dad was called for trials for the Indian Combined Universities to play the touring West Indians  in Bombay in 1948. John Goddard was their  captain, Gerry Gomez, the vice captain and the team included George Headley, Clyde Walcott and Everton Weekes ( who hit three centuries against India in the Tests that series). Dad’s claims as an all rounder were probably bettered by a young man from Nagpur, Polly Umrigar, who went on to become one of India’s biggest stars of his times. Umrigar scored a century in the Indian Universities game versus the West Indies and didn’t look back after that. The standards of University cricket in those days were pretty high. From the 1949-50 Indian Universities team as many as 6 went on to play for India: Gulab Ramchand, Polly Umrigar, Pankaj Roy, Nana Joshi, Subhash Gupte and Deepak Shodhan.

One of Dad’s prized possessions was an old photograph, I think it was Madras versus Holkar where he is with legends of those times like Colonel C K Nayadu, his brother C S Nayadu, C T Sarwate and the elegant left hander and prolific scorer, S Mushtaq Ali. They said Dad’s claim to fame came when he got Mushtaq Ali out. For months thereafter, in the streets of Triplicane he became known as the “boy who bowled Mushtaq Ali”!

Madras cricket had stalwarts like M J Gopalan, C R Rangachari, B C Alva, and two people to whom he owed so much: they were household names of Madras cricket in those days, C P (Conrad Powell) Johnstone and A G Ram Singh. They saw the potential in him and encouraged him like no one else did. Johnstone had captained Madras since the first ever Ranji Trophy  match versus Mysore in 1934.

My father’s family was not affluent and he could not possibly make a living by playing cricket. I am sure it was C P Johnstone’s recommendation that gave him a job in a coveted company like Burmah Shell. Dad was posted to Ooty and later got married in  1950. He had to reluctantly leave his beloved cricket grounds of Madras. There was really no choice in the matter. With that his playing career pretty much came to an end.

I read this beautiful article by Pradip Dhole about Mr Johnstone. My respects to him not just for supporting my Dad and other youngsters like him but for having been such a fine human being.

A G Ram Singh was a legend  in Madras. His sons Kripal and Milkha, also Triplicane boys went on to play for India. I remember how affectionate Milkha was to him when Dad took me to the St Marks Hotel in Bangalore, perhaps in 1959-60. The Indian Universities were playing Richie Benaud’s Australia at the old Central College Grounds. I remember shaking Peter Burge and Les Favell by the hand as a star struck youngster after they had thrashed our bowling!!

I loved this article on Ram Singh by V. Ramnarayan, the renowned Madras and Hyderabad offie and a wonderful writer.

Some years later, Mr Ram Singh, then in his late 50s came to The Lawrence School, Lovedale to coach us at cricket in the ’60s. When I ran to take a catch, memories from over 20 years ago must have come back to the Old Man. To everyone’s surprise, he shouted, “Catch it, Ananth!” That must have brought  a smile to Dad’s face when I wrote about this to him in our weekly letters from School.

One of Dad’s proudest moments came much later in his life when he became a member of the prestigious Madras Cricket Club, established in 1846. He wouldn’t have imagined that possible when he was a boy growing up in Triplicane. The Club was geographically close to where he lived but in many ways was too far away from his world!

I noticed the other day that by co-incidence, both my Dad and his mentor Mr Ram Singh passed away in the same year- 1999. The stumps were finally drawn!

 

“The Secret Diary of Kasturba” by Neelima Dalmia Adhar

While there is so much written ( including many books) about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, respectfully called the ” Mahatma ” and the “Father of the Nation”, relatively less is known about his wife, Kastur. We get glimpses of the life of Kasturba Gandhi (1869-1944 ) through a recent book titled, “The Secret Diary of Kasturba” by Neelima Dalmia Adhar.

Born Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia, in a wealthy family in Porbandar, in then British India, she was ( as was common in those days) married off at the young of 14. The bridegroom, who was a year younger than her, was Mohandas Gandhi. They remained man and wife for over 60 years and had five sons. The first son died shortly after his birth, but the others Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas, and Devdas outlived her. As the book reveals, quite often in their lives there was tension in the family because of the way Gandhi wanted the boys to be brought up. He had his own ideas of the kind of education they should have and the principles and life style they should follow, which was irksome to them and to Kasturba at times. The fact that the eldest surviving boy, Harilal became totally wayward was a direct result of the frequent conflicts he had with his father. The mother was torn between the two all her life.

Kasturba played a major role in Gandhi’s life and he could not have asked for a more suitable or devoted wife. While the world admired Gandhi for his deeds, the book describes the difficulties faced by his wife and children while he sought to conquer his inner desires and lead a life according to his own tastes and choices.

It was clever of Ms Adhar to have written the book in the first person singular as Ba. This has been done brilliantly. We can therefore see things through Kastur’s eyes, first as a teen aged bride, then as a young mother, and later as the revered mother or Ba as she was called  universally. The flip side is that since it is established that Ba had not penned her autobiography ( she was barely educated, in any case) the very title of the book is questionable.

It is a good read though and is well written. You will enjoy it, if like me, you are fond of Indian history, and biographies. The book is full of detail of the lives of the Gandhi family over many decades. It even goes beyond Ba’s death in 1944 to the time when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in January 1948. I feel that some notes of what became of the sons could have been added in the post script.

“Hippie Chick” by Ilene English

Before I begin my book review of, “Hippie Chick” by Ilene English, let me begin on a personal note: The Hippie movement started in the United States in the mid-60s – when I was a young teenager in Madras, in far away India. Yet many aspects of the movement fascinated us. During my college days my friends called me “Tripper” after the character in a popular cartoon column called, “Bringing Up Father.” I heard the name of the character was changed to “Groover” later as “Tripper” had connotations of drug usage. I, of course, had just the name and nothing beyond that !!!

I am grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book.

Continue reading ““Hippie Chick” by Ilene English”

Remember Harry Flash? A Tribute to George MacDonald Fraser

When I was at school decades ago, one of the text books we had was, “Tom Brown’s School Days” by Thomas Hughes. Set in the England of the 1830s it portrayed life at Rugby, one of the better known public schools. Studying in a public school myself,  I could quite easily relate to the ups and downs in the lives of Tom Brown and his friends. One of the memorable, or should I say, notorious characters in that book was the bully, Harry Flashman . He made life miserable for Tom Brown and his friends who had to “fag” for him. We know for certain that Flashman was expelled from the school for being drunk by the venerable Headmaster, Dr Thomas Arnold. Continue reading “Remember Harry Flash? A Tribute to George MacDonald Fraser”

“Freedom At Midnight” by Dominique Lapierre & Larry Collins

As we are in the month of August, the conversations in India often turn towards Independence Day coming up on August 15. We talk of the Freedom Struggle; of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and Sardar Patel; of Lord and Lady Mountbatten; and the horrors of Partition. I recently re-read ” Freedom At Night” by Dominque Lapierre & Larry Collins, which I had read decades ago. You may recall that this book was first published in 1975, less than twenty years after Independence. I re-read the same book in 2019, by which time so much had changed in the world around us. Yet, the haunting memories of Partition continued in the minds of thousands of families affected by that tumultuous  event. The conflict over Kashmir which continues till today is an old wound from that time which still festers. Continue reading ““Freedom At Midnight” by Dominique Lapierre & Larry Collins”

An Incredible Cricket World Cup Final

Truly, the finals of the Men’s Cricket World Cup, 2019 played at the hallowed Lord’s two weeks ago was incredible!! England faced New Zealand and the game was far more thrilling than anyone would have imagined. I am not sure if World Cup finals have ever ended as a tie since the Championship started in 1975. I  rather think not.

New Zealand batted first on winning the toss and scored 241 for 8 in their 50 overs. Not a great score, one thought, but a fighting one considering they had successfully defended an even lower score to beat India in the semi-finals. This had brought India’s dreams of winning the World Cup to a crashing halt.

In reply, England looked set to win quite easily. They needed 15 runs from the last over with two wickets in hand. Ben Stokes was batting like a champion. At a crucial juncture, by a stroke of luck, an umpiring error in the eyes of many by Kumar Dharmasena awarded England more runs than they deserved. Then, to everyone’s amazement, England barely managed to tie the game. Both teams had scored 241. The rules provided for the Super Over.

This is where things got crazy for fans all over the world. While millions watched every ball bowled with bated breath, most unexpectedly  the Super Over too ended in a tie. England scored 15/0 and New Zealand 15/1. Much to the displeasure of many, including me, the match and the championship was awarded to England because they had scored more boundaries than New Zealand in the course of the match!! Yes, this may have been in the rules but this rule needs to be changed!

When better run rate is considered for pushing up a team when more than one team has the same number of points, why should boundaries scored be considered, that too with so much at stake?? New Zealand, you might recall, had qualified to the semi-finals in the first place because they had a better run rate than Pakistan who had the same number of points.

It was an incredible match but left fans perplexed on many counts. I, for one, feel that in the 2019 World Cup finals both the teams should have been declared winners.

“The Indian Spy” by Mihir Bose

I thought I was reasonably well read about the Second World War but reading “The Indian Spy” by Mihir Bose showed just how ignorant I was! I had never come across any story about an Indian spy as famous/infamous as Bhagat Ram Talwar. I was truly astonished to know that during the War years, Talwar (or Rahmat Khan or Silver as he was often called ) was a spy for not only the British and the Russians but also for the Italians, the Germans, and the Japanese! How remarkable is that!!!

I had of course read about how Rahmat Khan helped Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, acting as a deaf and dumb man, escape from India to Kabul during the early years of the Second World War. Little did I know that Netaji’s guide for this trip was the man who Mihir Bose describes as the ‘Most Remarkable Secret Agent of World War II”.

Talwar was first initiated into spying by the Italians in Kabul, which even then was a hot bed of intrigue and politics. He had initially wanted to work for the Russians as he was a member of the Kirti Kisan Party, a little known Communist party active in those days in the Punjab and the North West Frontier Province of an undivided India. Spying for the Germans then followed as they were the allies  of the Italians in the Second World War. Netaji Bose had by then reached Germany and Talwar became a full time spy shuttling between Kabul, Afghanistan and the Punjab and the North West Frontier of India.

He was soon asked to work for them by the Russians. Talwar’s ties to the Russians was based on his fascination for the Communist ideology. What amazes me is how gullible the Germans or at least his handlers in Kabul were! Talwar cheated them for years without their knowledge. He invariably briefed the Russians soon after his meetings with the Germans, and gave them whatever he got from the Germans!! Ironically, the Germans helped him the most monetarily and he served them the least.

India was ruled by the British in those days and soon Talwar was engaged by the British. Incredible as it might sound, the Russians shared their knowledge about Silver with the British as Russia and Britain were then Allies against the Axis forces. Without knowing about his links with their enemies, each of these countries trusted Talwar. They extracted whatever they could from him, much of which, of course, was misinformation!!

In the later years of the War, the Italians crossed over to join the Allies. By then, the Japanese had joined the Axis and Germany had lost all interest in the Far East and South East Asia. It was inevitable that Talwar became a spy for the Japanese as well.

The author covers in much detail how Talwar transformed himself over the years from being an amateur in the game to becoming a master spy. Equally interesting is the role of Peter Fleming ( brother of spy writer Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond ) who was his handler for the British in India.

Talwar apparently lived on in post-Independence India right up to the early ’80s. He even took part in a seminar on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose which was held in Calcutta in 1973!!

All in all, I found this book to be extremely interesting.

My end note: This is not written in this book but left me wondering……….Talwar seems to have lived in the state of Uttar Pradesh where the mysterious Gumnami Baba also lived. Many believe that Gumnami Baba was none other than Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose! Given the personalities of both of them, is it not likely that Netaji and Talwar were in touch with each other in those post- War, post -Independence days? I like to think they were!!

India’s World Cup Dreams Crash

New Zealand’s opening bowler Matt Henry knew exactly what he had to do. He had to bowl according to their plan. India’s opening batsman Lokesh Rahul, unfortunately for India, did not know what to do. India had already lost their best batsmen Rohit Sharma at 4, and captain Virat Kohli at 5. Between deciding whether to step out and drive the ball, go back and defend it or simply leave it alone, Rahul dangled his bat outside his off stump. There was a faint nick which wicket keeper Latham grabbed with glee and India at 5 for the loss of 3 wickets faced almost certain defeat in the first semi-finals of the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Continue reading “India’s World Cup Dreams Crash”

“Don’t Tell The Governor” by Ravi Subramanian

I have read a few of Ravi Subramanian’s books and have quite liked them. I was therefore eagerly waiting to read  his financial thriller, “Don’t Tell The Governor”, published by HarperCollins in November 2018. I must confess I was totally disappointed. The story was like one developed by a re-hash of the newspaper headlines in India over the last couple of years. The characters were strikingly similar to real life people only too well known to be named. The reader is left wondering whether her guesses were right in assuming who they were. Some had corny names like, if I remember correctly,  Runvijay Malya, and Mehul Modi which left little for the reader’s imagination to identify them.

The character of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India was, in my view, quite shallow. He must have been an absolute idiot to do all that he did. The story of the glamorous couple of Vicky Malhotra and Pallavi Soni was more true to life. The characters in the IPL match fixing, once again, left little to the imagination of the reader. Using names very close to real life characters, I feel, does injustice to them. The reader who knows their real life exploits/issues/scandals through a barrage of media coverage tends to imagine them do the same in the author’s story.

The plot had real life incidents like the hijack of IC 814 to Kandahar, the dramatic demonetization announcement on November 8, 2016 and many other real life incidents thrown in to create a jumble built on a base of banking and finance. Overall, it failed to grab my interest and left me very disappointed as a reader.