“The Girl Who Lived” by Christopher Greyson

I was reading a thriller after quite some time. This one was, ” The Girl Who Lived ” by Christopher Greyson. I found it quite interesting though at times there was a lot of repetition. The author hammered home points building the the character of Faith Winters in the story of four murders that took place years ago in a small town in America. She was the survivor- and of course- “the girl who lived”.

Faith’s traumatic experiences are chronicled in great detail. As one reads more of the story, the reader develops a soft corner for her as she is very much the underdog. She has spent time in a mental asylum, has problems of drugs and alcohol. As a consequence her mind is pretty messed up. Yet one part of her mind ceaselessly tries to assemble the bits of the puzzle that is driving her crazy: a huge need to find out what actually happened that day years ago when her sister, her father and two others were killed in mysterious circumstances in a cottage in the woods.

She returns to that town when she is discharged from the mental asylum, determined to find a closure on what has been bugging her for years. She has no one she can trust. Her dead sister’s boyfriend is in the local Police force. He tries to help Faith but she is not sure how much she can confide in him. Her relationship with her mother continue to be strained. Her mother has written a best selling book about the murders. This angers Faith who believes the has cashed in on a family tragedy.

In the course of the story, Faith is driven to desperation, enough to make her contemplate ending her life. However, she stumbles on from one clue to another. It then dawns on her that while she is looking for the killers, someone is hunting her down! She must find the killers before they kill her to silence her forever.

The book leaves you with an interesting climax! Greyson’s thriller is well worth the time and money you spend reading it.

“Savarkar And His Times” by Dhananjay Keer

Firstly, let me make a confession. I really didn’t know as much about Swantraveer Savarkar (Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, 1883-1966) as I ought to. Having lived in Mumbai briefly, I knew of course that the old Cadell Road in Mumbai had been re-named Veer Savarkar Marg. I had no idea he had died just a few years before my time there.

I had heard of course about his long years of imprisonment by the British in the notorious Cellular Jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. However, there was much about his life and career that I did not know. Continue reading ““Savarkar And His Times” by Dhananjay Keer”

“Teresa’s Man & Other Short Stories from Goa” by Damodar Mauzo

My love for Goa stems from the fact that our ancestral deity is Shri Mangesh at Mangeshi, near Ponda in South Goa. We have therefore been visiting Goa for over 50 years if not longer. I loved the book I write about because most of the stories are set in Goa. The book is written by Damodar Mauzo, one of the finest writers in Konkani- which happens to be my mother tongue- and translated to English by the well-known translator, Xavier Cota.

“Teresa’s Man & Other Short Stories From Goa” is not a recently published book. It was published by Rupa in 2014 but I happened to read it only recently. Interestingly, the translator in his note informs us that this collection of 14 short stories have amongst them some written by Mauzo decades ago- but they still hold relevance to this day.

The characters are always sharply drawn in these stories. Be they Rajesh and Mithila of Goan origin hoping for a better future in Saudi Arabia; or of Halsid’du hoping for a better future in Goa! All the stories tug at your emotions as you are able to relate so strongly with the characters and the situations they find themselves in.

Over the decades, Goa, in the minds of many Indians has been typecast as THE tourist destination. Apart from the scenic beauty, tourists associate Goa with booze, beaches, and partying. I must tell you that the characters painted by Mauzo in these stories are nowhere like the typical Goan in the minds of many people. Mauzo depicts the way most of them are- simple, God fearing, hard working folk who strive to lead better lives in a tough world. Catholics and Hindus live check by jowl in total harmony in Mauzo’s stories. As I said, all the stories are interesting but my favourite was “A Writer’s Tale”.

Damodar Mauzo is a famous novelist, scriptwriter, and literary critic. He was awarded the prestigious Jnanpith Award – India’s highest literary honour in 2021. Earlier, his novel “Karmelin” won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1983.

I would urge you to read this delightful book.

“How TCS Built An Industry For India” by R Gopalakrishnan & Tulsi Jayakumar

If India is reckoned to be a growing economic power house, one of the key contributors to this transformation has been the Information Technology industry. “How TCS Built An Industry For India” authored by R Gopalakrishnan and Tulsi Jayakumar, published by Rupa Publications in 2019 details the pioneering role and subsequent leadership provided to the industry by TCS, a jewel in the Tata crown.

To begin with a word about the authors; Mr Gopalakrishnan is a reputed Corporate Executive who was the Vice Chairman of Hindustan Levers and later Director in Tata Sons while Tulsi Jayakumar is a Professor of Economics at the S P Jain Institute of Management & Research (SPJIMR) in Mumbai. This book is the first in a series to be called The Shapers of Business Institutions building on the authors’ theme that Shapers of Institutions are institution builders in the true sense of the term. They are several notches above the conventional leaders of organisations. The book lays considerable emphasis on the role of Shapers in organisational building, instilling values, and shaping careers of employees in them for the long term sustainability and growth of the institution.

Two shapers described in this book- who made TCS what it is today- are Mr F C Kohli and Mr S Ramadorai. Mr Kohli became General Manager of TCS in 1969 and led the company till he retired in 1996. He was the first CEO of TCS and is rightly called the “Father of the IT Industry in India”. He passed away in 2020 aged 96. His handpicked successor was Mr S Ramadorai who joined TCS in 1969 and held many important positions over the decades. He was responsible for setting up TCS operations in the US in 1979 . He was at the helm of affairs of the Company from 1996 till 2009.

Today all of us know TCS as a giant- with revenues of $25 billion, operating in 150 locations in 46 countries with over 600,000 employees world wide. The book traces the journey of this institution since it began in a very small scale as a division of Tata Sons in 1969. We read of the foresight shown by Mr Kohli and his team and the bold decisions they took in the initial years in an environment often hostile to private businesses. Interestingly, Mr Ramadorai had a very different management style as compared to Mr Kohli. Naturally, the challenges he faced as the head of TCS were more complex and quite different from the ones that Mr Kohli had faced years earlier.

The book would have been significantly more absorbing had there been much more insight into the personalities of Mr Kohli and Mr Ramadorai. After all, one’s management style is pretty much based on one’s personality. What made them tick? What were their strengths and weaknesses- and they would have had them being human after all? Many in India, if not in different parts of the world – would have course heard of these gentlemen. Some quotes and an assessment about them from people who worked with them and observed them at close quarters would have vastly enhanced the value of the book. 

Whether you are in the IT industry or not, I think this will be an educative and interesting book for all professional managers and business leaders. It will inspire them as they learn lessons from the experiences of the pioneers and builders of the IT Industry in India.

“The Blood of Patriots and Traitors” by James A. Scott

At the outset, let me say that this is an advance review of a book scheduled for publication in February 2023. “The Blood of Patriots and Traitors” ( an interesting title to start with!) is by James A. Scott, the author of “The President’s Dossier” and this too is published by Oceanview Publishing of Sarasota, Fl. By the way, “The President’s Dossier” was awarded the Best Thriller/Adventure Novel at the American Book Fest in 2020.

Maxwell Geller is a former CIA officer who has had considerable success in his career, especially on the Moscow front. He is pretty much forced to come out of semi-retirement to accept a challenge which will take him back to Moscow. His assignment is to bring out a defector who has extremely valuable secrets which the CIA is desperate to get. The defector has asked for him by name based on his reputation in Moscow.

This fast paced thriller is absorbing as it is full of action. It starts with how Geller is compelled to accept this assignment as he basks in the sunshine on a Sydney beach. Things move very rapidly and the events described hold your attention from start to finish. Geller goes about his task with many twists and turns coming his way. It is one thing for him to know whom to contact and quite another to know whom he can trust. The book has a number of interesting characters. As is to be expected, some of them are not whom they appear to be. In the murky world of espionage and spying, as you can imagine, there are many ways of making someone change his/her mind and allegiance.

James A Scott has a good grasp of plotting a story and delivering it with aplomb. I am sure “The Blood of Patriots and Traitors” will be well received when it is published. Keep a lookout for this book. It is worth a read!

” Destiny’s Child” by Raghu Palat & Pushpa Palat

It was a pleasure to read “Destiny’s Child” by Raghu and Pushpa Palat, published by Viking, a part of Penguin Random House, in 2022. I loved the book’s title : “Destiny’s Child” has an intriguing ring about it. You know from the book cover, of course, that it is about “the undefeatable reign of Cochin’s Parukutty Neithyaramma”.

During the British Raj, in the days gone by, many parts of India were ruled by Rajas, Maharajas, Nawabs and the like. What we know today as the State of Kerala had two major “princely states” as they were called: Travancore and Cochin. The Palats’ book is about the Cochin kingdom in the first part of the 20th century and about Parukutty Neithyaramma (1874- 1963) in particular. From the Glossary thoughtfully provided by the authors, I came to know that “Neithyaramma” is the title used for the Consort of the Rajas of Cochin. Parukutty was the Consort of Raja ( later Maharaja) Rama Varma XVI who ruled Cochin from 1914 to 1932.

Interestingly, the author Raghu Palat is the great grandson of Parukutty Neithyaramma and both his parents were her grandchildren! This gives the Palats access to many family documents, and sources of information of those times. They also had the advantages of hearing from relatives who lived in those years and passed on tales about the reign of Maharaja Rama Varma XVI. Being members of the family throws up a big challenge for the authors – the added pressure of having to be seen as being objective and unbiased. In this regard, the Palats have not shirked from writing about Parukutty Neithyaramma (and indeed of her husband and relatives) in an honest and forthright manner. They have described her strong points and her weaknesses. They have not written glowingly to elevate her to a rarified status but have shown her to be the human being that she was.

Parukutty was married to Kunji Kiddavu ( the pet name of the then Heir Apparent )when she was just 14 years old. He was 31 at that time. He was struck by her strong personality and character. Even at that young age she displayed a maturity far beyond her years, perhaps this came about because she lost her mother when she was only 10. Over the years, Parukutty demonstrated an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, an inquisitiveness to learn and understand the finer points of statecraft and she remained fiercely possessive.

Raja Rama Varma XI reigned for 18 years till his death in 1932. During these years, the British ruled most of India directly and had a strong influence on the courts of the princely states. How Parukutty countered the moves of the British and espoused the nationalist movement is covered in this book. She stepped down from the limelight with the demise of her husband, when she ceased to be the Ruler’s Consort. However, given her strong character it is surprising that not much is mentioned about her contributions to the nationalist/freedom movement after that – since India became independent 15 years after 1932.

Personal anecdotes, stories handed down over the years, and published literature have helped the authors to write in great detail about that period: covering people, places and palaces. Descriptions have always been one of their strengths. I give them credit for explaining the rather complex social relationships that existed in Cochin in those times quite succinctly.

The book makes for some interesting reading and I would highly recommend it.

“1962: The War That Wasn’t” by Shiv Kunal Verma

When the Indo- China Conflict took place in 1962, I was just 11 years old but that event left an indelible scar on my memory. Growing up with a fascination for the military, psychology, and history, I have since tried to read as much as I can on those unforgettable events of the winter of 1962. I remember many books like , “The Himalayan Blunder” by Brig John Dalvi who took part in this conflict, commanding the ill-fated 7 Infantry Brigade; “India’s China War” by Neville Maxwell, the Delhi correspondent of The Times; and last but not the least, “The Untold Story” by Lt Gen B M Kaul , General Officer Commanding the IV Corps – one of the main protagonists of the entire drama.

I have no hesitation in saying that Shiv Kunal Verma’s “1962 The War That Wasn’t” is probably the most comprehensive and objective of the lot. The book was first published by Aleph Book Company in January 2016 , over 50 years after those tumultuous events. The access to more data, to more participants of the war, painstaking research over many years, and a higher level of awareness of India’s political and military strategy post Independence gives , in my view, Verma’s book the clear edge over the many others on this controversial topic. This was without doubt one of the most shameful periods of India’s history- particularly for the Indian Army which had a sterling reputation as a fighting force ( as the British Indian Army) in the two World Wars.

A few takeaways from me from Verma’s book: In the initial books that I read, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Defence Minister Krishna Menon and Lt General Kaul – Nehru’s most favoured officer in the Indian Army- were largely held responsible for the disgraces that fell upon India. Reading Verma’s book reveals that middle and senior officers of the Indian Army were equally responsible for the shameful events. It is sad that none of them were censured or pulled up for their disgraceful conduct. Sadder still that the junior officers, and men of the different Regiments by and large fought very bravely often overcoming tremendous odds but were let down badly at crucial moments by their leaders. Yes, undoubtedly successive blunders by the trio of Nehru, Menon and Lt Gen Kaul created havoc in the Indian Army but in this book we see how the then Chief of Army Staff, Gen Pran Nath Thapar, the Commander of the Eastern Army Command, Lt Gen L P “Bogey’ Sen, Maj Gen Anant Singh Pathania, GOC 4th Indian Division, and many others of Lt Col and above rank bear equal responsibility for the humiliating defeats.

Let us remember that in October 1962, China attacked India without formally declaring war and ended the conflict by calling a cease fire themselves after they had gained their objectives. That the top politicians in India and the top brass of the Indian Army came to know of the cease fire from Western media and not from the Indian Embassy in China is typical of the almost weird events of those times.

The Indo-China conflict- that lasted just for 1 month- October 20 to November 21, 1962 put an end to Nehru’s image as a world statesman. In the days to come, he was a pale shadow of his former self. He passed away broken in spirit in May 1964.

Verma’s book highlights how Nehru’s partiality in selecting officers to man key positions in the Indian Army had terrible consequences. The various important appointments given to his pet Lt Gen Kaul is one example. Indeed even the appointment of Lt Gen P N Thapar as the Chief of Army Staff was controversial. Nehru overlooked the more deserving Lt Gen Thorat to have the more pliable Gen Thapar as the Chief when Gen Thimayya retired.

The 1962 conflict ruined reputations built over decades. The famous 4th Infantry Division known as the Red Eagle Division which had won laurels in the Second World War – much to everyone’s disbelief- was wiped out in a few days! The decision not to use the Indian Air Force even when most experts felt it was stronger than the Chinese Air Force of those times -was most baffling to say the least. It appears the Indian leadership feared bombing of Indian cities as a retaliatory measure. They therefore chose not to use Indian fighter and bomber aircraft in the course of this conflict.

There is a famous quote which says those who do not learn lessons from history are doomed to repeat it. The Indo China conflict of 1962 was an object lesson for Indian politicians and military historians and strategists alike. A lack of leadership caused eminently defendable positions built over years -like Tawang- being dumped in days!

There were a few stories of incredible bravery and courage in the Indian Army but sadly these were over shadowed by blunder after blunder as our top leaders did not know what was happening in the real world. They were in a world of their own far removed from reality. The Indian soldier suffered the most. It is reckoned that over 1300 died, over 1000 were wounded, 1700 went missing and more than 3900 became Chinese Prisoners of War. The advantage in the high Himalayans – in NEFA and Ladkah- was seized by the Chinese, they nearly reached the border of Assam, throwing the Indian leadership into greater panic- and dominated the narrative for the next few decades.

Verma’s is a definitive account of the conflict. He lays bear some ugly truths which we would do well to accept. The poorly equipped Indian soldier fought bravely in extremely difficult terrain in the Himalayan mountains. The Chinese were determined to prove Nehru wrong and in this they succeeded far beyond their own expectations. Time and again during this conflict, the Chinese military leaders were surprised to see battles being won by them without a semblance of a fight from the Indian side.

I must thank the author, Shiv Kunal Verma for this interesting and educative book about a war that no one wants to remember! Highly recommended.

“The Saga Of A Brave heart: Lt Col Ajit V Bhandarkar, Shaurya Chakra”

“The Saga Of A Braveheart” (Vij Books India, 2021) is the heart -warming and inspiring story of the late Lt Col Ajit V Bhandarkar, Shaurya Chakra (P), 18 MADRAS (Mysore) /25 Rashtriya Rifles. This courageous officer laid down his life for his motherland battling infiltrating terrorists in the Poonch area of Jammu and Kashmir in October 1999. He killed three of them before succumbing to the grievous injuries sustained in the gun fight. For his courage and exemplary leadership he was awarded the Shaurya Chakra in October 2001.

What makes the book different from most books about soldiering is that it is written by his widow, Veer Nari, Smt Shakunthala A Bhandarkar. It is most admirable that the lady put behind her own deep personal sorrow at the loss of her husband to write this book. That it was written to commemorate Col. Bhandarkar’s 60th birth anniversary and their 30 th wedding anniversary makes this story all the more poignant.

While one cannot generalise, it is true that in India sadly the civilian population, for the most part, have little idea of the life and culture of those in the Armed Forces- who defend our freedom. To this end, Mrs Bhandarkar’s objective of describing slices of life in the Indian Army for a soldier’s wife and family is praise worthy. I do hope that many, many readers will understand from her story not just how difficult it is to be a Army wife but also the magnificent support the Fauj and Faujis provide to their ilk.

The book takes the predictable path of starting from Col Bhandarkar’s childhood and school days, leading on to his experiences in the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy. It continues to track his professional career as a commissioned officer in the famous 18th Battalion, the Madras Regiment (Mysore) till that fateful day in October 1999. However, what makes the story interesting and appealing is that in all these phases, his fellow officers have spoken of Col. Bhandarkar. They have recalled his abilities and character in the different capacities they knew him.

Everyone has praised his integrity, total dedication to his profession and his family, and his ability to relate to others and get the best out of them. He was clearly an effective leader on the path of great achievement.

Despite her personal loss, Mrs Bhandarkar allowed her two boys-who were just 7 and 5 when their father was killed in action – to choose their own careers . Reading about their father, I was not at all surprised that both have become officers in India’s Defence Services. Following his father’s footsteps, the elder boy Nirbhay joined his father’s Regiment 18 Madras while the younger, Akshay joined the Indian Navy.

“Life is a journey and we cannot change destiny” writes Mrs. Bhandarkar. To which level Col Bhandarkar would have risen in the Indian Army can only be speculated. Yet, on reading this book, we feel he would certainly have reached greater heights as he was only 39 when he gave his life for his nation.

I am sure Mrs Shakunthala Bhandarkar’s book about her husband will inspire many young men and women to step forward to serve in the Indian Armed Forces.

Highly recommended.

“Pothe!” A Tribute to Pratap Pothen (1952-2022)

The world lost a talented film actor and director- and I a dear old friend-  with the passing away of Old Lawrencian Pratap Pothen,  Class of 1968, on July 15, 2022. 

There have been many tributes paid to him praising his acting and directorial skills. The aim is not to list all of them but two stayed in my mind: I liked Anand Kochukudy’a article calling him the “Original Hippy of Malayalam Cinema” and Suhasini Maniratnam’s straight from the heart personal tribute , “Farewell My Dear Friend Prathap” in The Hindu. She describes him as an “adorable eccentric” in this tribute to him on India Ahead. 

 It was my good fortune to have known him well since 1959 when I joined The Lawrence School, Lovedale, in the 3rd Std in Prep School. At age 7, leaving home and going to stay alone in a school far away was a totally new experience for me. Pratap, already a boarding school veteran having joined in the 1st Std took me under his wings and we remained close friends ever since.

He was one of the most creative persons I have known. I think he exhibited this trait all through his schooldays (1957-68) at Lovedale.

In 1961, when we were in the 5th in Mr K C Jacob’s Kailas House, our Housemaster “Jakes” asked us to put up an entertainment show with performances of different kinds. Pratap directed and acted in a skit propounding the benefits of the well known Eno Fruit Salt. When he shouted, “Oh no!” he, S N Mohanty and I – who made up the cast- had to hold our guts, moan, and make a sick face, as if in agony. This was repeated a few times till the audience too must have got sick of it. On the shout of “Eno!” we had to be magically transformed as the fizzy Eno did its trick, and become happiness personified.

After being together in Prep School and Kailas House, we went different ways for 6th and 7th – he to South Block and Siwalik, I to North Block and Himalaya. 

We were re-united in the 8th in Mr W J “Mac” McMahon’s Nilgiri House. 

Older OLs of the 60s and 70s may remember that in the mid 60s, Hindustan Lever brought out an innovative toothpaste called “Signal” with its distinctive red stripes. Mr Mohammed Naeem ( known far and wide naturally as “Neem”) was teaching us Health Science. He held forth at great length about Rana tigrina ( the common frog). Male staff in Lovedale in those days taught in suits. The one that Neem wore that day was quite natty- a dark black- grey with thin pin stripes in red. 

As was the custom those days, Pothe (as he was called affectionately by us) raised his hand to ask a question. “Yes, Pothen? What’s your doubt?” asked Mr. Naeem.

With a most innocent look the skilled actor that he was even in those days, Pothe asked, (pointing at Mr Naeem’s suit) , ” Sir, those red stripes!! Do they contain hexachlorophene?” 

In our school days, we used to write home every week. Our letters- almost universally – went along the lines of, ” My Dear Father, How are you? I am well and happy here!” 

Our House Master, “Mac” insisted that we maintain this habit during the holidays and write to him every week! One year on our return to school, Mac addressed us, ” I received letters every week from all of you. Some of them were quite interesting! The most interesting of them all was from Pothen. He wrote to me on June 28 and said, ” How are you, Sir.? I am waiting to see you in three days. I hope you received my letters of June 21, June 14, and June 7! ” I must say, Pothen, you have demonstrated the skilful use of the calendar.!” 

Lovedale and the school were always close to his heart. He was an integral part of the Class of ’68 and took part in most of their re-unions. This picture of their 50th Year Reuinon at Lovedale- like the others in this post- is through the kind courtesy of Viju Parameshwar, also of the Class of ’68 and also of Nilgiri House. 

Pothe was fun loving, creative, and lived life ( as he famously sang) “In My Way”! 

I know you will want us to laugh with you all the time, Pothe! Stay blessed wherever you are, old friend. 

“Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance

Of course, I had heard of Elon Musk but I didn’t know much about him. I knew vaguely about the Tesla car and his space endeavors but not much else. It was only recently when we heard that he had put in a bid to buy Twitter for $ 44 billion that I became more curious and wondered who this man was. I knew that he had -and still was – creating big waves in the world of business. My son bought this book by Ashlee Vance for me, titled, “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and The Quest for a Fantastic Future”. This was first published by Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins, in 2015 and soon became a best seller. I understand that over 2 million copies of this book have been sold.

Musk has been described as being the most daring entrepreneur of our time, as also being ” a modern alloy of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs”. You can’t think of many entrepreneurs- if at all any- who have taken the high risks that he has.

Vance details the life of Elon Musk through the stories of some of his biggest and best known business ventures such as Tesla and SpaceX. The book traces Musk’s childhood in South Africa where he was born in 1971. Reading about the difficult childhood he had makes you admire the man who is today reputedly the richest individual in the world. He went to Canada for his matriculation, then crossed over to the United States, where he was always aiming to live and work. He got his BA and MS from the University of Pennsylvania, then moved to California to pursue his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.

His first venture – a web software company called Zip2 was initially on shaky grounds but grew till it was acquired by Compaq for $307 million in 1999. Musk’s entrepreneurial journey had taken off- far better than he had imagined. After that came X.com and Space X, Tesla, SolarCity and other business ventures- each of which were incredibly daring and different in thought and business approach.

Naturally, life was not a bed of roses. The book covers his initial struggles and the difficulties he faced -in considerable detail. It takes you through the highs and lows in what was for Musk something like a high risk high reward roller coaster ride. What I liked best about Vance’ s book was his relentless endeavor to try to understand the enigmatic and maverick like Musk as an individual. We know from childhood he was quite different from most others. His experiences -then and later -fashioned his personality and life style. It determined the characteristics that set him apart from most other business leaders of his times.

In this book, we get to understand the very futuristic ideas Musk had and backed to the hilt. All his businesses had this aspect in common. They charted a new path. They dared to experiment and cope with expensive failures.

Ashlee Vance is a leading writer in the technology space with extensive knowledge of the world of start ups centered around Silicon Valley. Tony Fadell, creator of the iPad and the IPhone, now CEO of Nest Labs writes: ” Ashlee Vance offers a clear-eyed look at a man who has played the underdog again and again- challenging old thinking and changing the world. I dare anyone to read this book and not be inspired to set their sights a little higher.”

If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, this book is for you. It gives you deep insights into the life and mind of a man, whom you cannot help admiring.

“A Higher Loyalty” by James Comey

For many in my generation, mention of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ( FBI) in the United States, brings memories of J Edgar Hoover. He was Mr FBI for citizens of the US and indeed many other parts of the world as he held that position from 1947 to 1972. After Hoover there have been many Directors of the FBI but I, and most others, don’t know much about them. In more recent times, a FBI Director who was very much in the news was James Comey. You may recall that he was fired by President Donald J Trump when he was the seventh Director of the FBI.

Mr Comey has written about his stint as the FBI Director and this incident in a book called, ” A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership “ published by Flatiron Books in April 2018. I read this book recently and found it quite interesting. The essence of the book is Mr Comey’s argument that those holding high office in the US Federal Government owe allegiance to that office and not to whoever happens to be the President of the United States at that point in time. He served as the FBI Director from 2013, when he was appointed to the post by President George W Bush till 2017 when he was unceremoniously fired by President Donald J Trump.

Comey was not a career FBI officer in that he did not start as a FBI Special Agent. He did his Masters in Law from the Chicago Law School then joined the Department of Justice as the US Assistant Attorney in New York. As US Attorney he successfully carried out many cases against organized crime in the New York area, including the dreaded Mafia. Apart from many years in Govt service, Comey also worked for private enterprises such as Lockheed Martin and Bridgewater Associates. He was selected by the Bush administration to become head of the FBI. He writes at length about the personalities he had to deal with during the Bush and the Obama administrations.

Before and during the 2016 Presidential election, Comey was investigating the Hillary Clinton emails case and came under criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike! The Republicans felt he was going soft on the Senator from New York and pressed hard for quicker action against her, while the Democrats felt he wasn’t aggressive enough in defending her in a case which was no longer relevant. Comey explains his role quite candidly and gives us more information than we knew before. Even to this day people believe this case did influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential elections.

During the Trump Presidency, Comey felt he was being directed to be loyal to the President as an individual, which he could not bring himself to do. The book has Mr Comey’s lessons on ethics and leadership. It gives a comprehensive insight into the politics of high office, especially in such a sensitive role as Director of the FBI.

“Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Being an unabashed fan of Jhumpa Lahiri’s, I loved “Unaccustomed Earth” a collection of short stories, first published by Albert A. Knopf in 2008. I had the pleasure of reading this recently. Ms. Lahiri was not a new author for me as I had read her famous novel, “Namesake” in the past, as also her first anthology of short stories, called ” The Interpreter of Maladies” some years ago.

You may recall that at age 32, she gained immediate fame for the debut ” The Interpreter of Maladies” in 1999. This collection of short stories received popular acclaim. She received the coveted Pulitzer Prize and it was on the New York Times Best Sellers list for long. The stories were typically set in the East Coast of the United States. I guess all the stories had a common theme. They were about the lives of Indian Americans and the challenges faced by first generation immigrants. The author knew this part of the US the best having grown up there. Ms Lahiri’s parents migrated from India to the UK in the 1960’s and when she was three, moved to the US. She then grew up in the State of Rhode Island.

This collection of short stories, titled, “Unaccustomed Earth” coming as it does, about a decade later, shifts focus somewhat to the second generation of Indian American immigrants. Their lives have been vastly different from that of their parents. Their parents had to struggle to balance between two cultures, the Indian culture which they were born and brought up in, and the one they had voluntarily embraced with their new lives in a different country. For the second generation of Indian Americans, the issues were rather different. The ties with India were not so strong or fading away with time. They faced a new set of challenges being Americans -but of Indian origin.

As always, Ms Lahiri writes in a simple yet elegant manner. Her choice of words, and the descriptions of people and places are deft. They make her characters come alive to the reader. The book has eight short stories, each one more engaging than the other. They have a tinge of sadness that one has come to associate with many of Lahiri’s stories. As always, the characters are primarily Bengali though the stories are set in different places such as Seattle, and Cambridge in the US and London, Rome and Thailand outside of the US. Naturally, the Rumas, the Pranabs and Kaushiks of the stories belong to a world with which Lahiri is so familiar.

It is widely acknowledged that short stories are very difficult to write. Her mastery over this craft is so evident in her writing. Highly recommended for anybody who appreciates excellent writing. This is short story writing of the highest order.