“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”

Goodpods: Changing The Way People Listen To Podcasts

It was interesting to check out Goodpods, the App , launched in 2020, that many are talking about. Their by line says it all. ” Podcasts Are Better With Friends” . This social platform was founded by the brother-sister team of entrepreneurs: Ken Ramberg and JJ Ramberg.

To put it simply, here you can listen to podcasts and recommend them to your friends ( and others) and also check out what your friends ( and others) are listening to. So, if you are one of those who like to go by the recommendations of your friends and other like-minded people, this is the best place for you.

Apart from podcast listeners who are the primary audience targeted by this App, the platform has benefits for podcasters too. You can claim your Podcast Show here and interact with your listeners, which must be so cool.

Kristal Proffitt has a video which walks you through the Goodpod App. This is a quick way of getting the hang of how things work. The basics are well covered. Ultimately, how you choose to use the App is, of course, best left to you. We do pick up hints and tips here which can save us valuable time we would have spent exploring on our own.

I think Goodpods is on its way to changing the way people listen to podcasts. It appears you can import your subscriptions from other platforms like Apple Podcasts. This could be a big benefit to those who prefer to have all they want to listen to in one place.

The platform enables you to search for both Podcasts and People. This is particularly useful when you are new here. You would want to find out what kinds of topics are available, and most followed here, as also who are the people who hang out here. You can to listen to other podcasters, and they may sign up to listen to your podcasts, if they are interested.

Like every other social media site, celebrity endorsements do help push the concept along. I notice that Malcolm Gladwell and Gretchen Rubin, whom I have followed on other social media platforms, amongst many others, have taken to Goodpods,

As a podcaster, its nice to know that people can subscribe to your show. They can play and listen to an episode, download it, and share it to friends, groups, or to other social media sites like Facebook, Instagram Stories and Twitter. They can, of course let you know what they thought of your episode by rating it and /or writing a review.

Overall, it looks interesting and I am very excited to be part of Goodpods. I am certain it will give me the opportunity to listen to some incredible podcasts. I am also hopeful that it will build an audience for podcasts in my Podcast Show, ” Prem Rao: Stories From A Story Teller”.

And, here’s something to cheer about: Goodpods was rated one the top 10 most innovative social media companies of 2021 by Fast Company. We can therefore expect some more exciting improvements in the near future.

“Jerusalema” – Better Late Than Never

Of course, I had heard this song before! Of course, I had felt like dancing to its so very catchy beats. But I had no idea of the origins of the song and how it went viral all over the world. Thanks to internet, I now have a more clear idea of this amazing story of a song that took – and is still taking – the world by storm. Coming as it did during the Covid 19 pandemic, it brought some cheer and hope to millions around the world.

When I first heard the song, I thought it might be in Arabic (mainly because the first video I saw was set in Dubai! ) or Spanish, but I never imagined it was in the Zulu language from South Africa. I now find the song came from Master KG, a South African RJ and musician. He composed the music for the song and it was sung by his sister, Nomcebo Zikode in 2019. The official music video Jerusalema by Master KG on YouTube has mind boggling numbers! Such figures are seldom seen. Released in December 2019, this video has 424 million views, over 4 million likes and 1,32, 000 comments and still counting!

In this video by Brut, Master KG speaks of the origins of this song, how he chose his sister Nomcebo to sing it, how this song became viral, and what it means to him. He explains that it is a song which has hope and prayer and yet is set to such a catchy tune.

I heard Master KG say this song became viral when some folks in Angola danced to the tune holding plates in their hands. This video became viral and the rest, as they say, is history. This started the Jerusalema Dance Challenge! Young kids, of course have danced to this tune, as have police officers, doctors, nursing staff, firemen, soldiers, nuns, and almost every one else! This video has an interesting compilation of different groups all over the world dancing to Jerusalema.

There are many videos out there which teach you the dance steps. But what are the actual lyrics of the song, and if it is in Zulu, what do the words mean? This video has the lyrics with a translation in English to go with it!

The Covid 19 is still with us but in the gloom that it has created all over the world, there are spots of cheer. Wherever we are in the world, we couldn’t have missed ” Jerusalema”. Hats off to you, MasterKG and Nomcebo Zikode, for giving us this song. You have brought a smile on many a face and something to cheer for millions spanning age, gender, creed, colour, and nationality.

My Podcasting Journey

Yes, I have taken the plunge and I am so glad I did! I have taken a few steps in my journey into my new hobby: podcasting. As they say, it is never too late to learn. I am delighted that I embark upon this journey a few months before I start my eighth decade.

My podcasts can be found here in Anchor FM by Spotify. If you are an Apple aficionado, you can catch me on Apple Podcasts. Another easy way is to check out Google Podcasts. .

I would like to share my initial learnings which could be of use to those interested in podcasting.

Lesson 1 : You need a focus area. There is no point in podcasting on everything under the sun. You might end up covering too little of too much. It is far better to select an area of interest in which you are comfortable. I chose to start with the board theme of “Books” as I am extremely fond of both reading and writing. As you gain confidence, experience and followers, you can always broaden the subjects covered in your show , but you need to start somewhere -with a focus area.

Lesson 2: Learn the Basics: Like in every field, you will come across a lot of jargon. What is a show, an episode, a condenser microphone, a dynamic microphone, a “bed”, media hosting, MP3 Audio files, and so much else. Don’t get unnerved, as there is no need to know everything about podcasting before making a start. Just learn the basics: how to hold and speak into the microphone, best circumstances to record, how to put together segments through editing, and the like. Don’t get scared away by the stuff you read about equipment required, the complex technologies needed to get your podcast to your audience etc. You don’t need a top class recording studio to start with! I am recording on my IPhone and am quite happy with things!

Lesson 3: Make A Plan : After you have started with a few podcasts, you will realize that a plan is essential to move your initiative forward as you ride the first wave of enthusiasm. The plan will cover what you wish to achieve; the amount of time and energy you are willing to commit to the podcast show; the opportunities and difficulties that you foresee; and a broad time frame to achieve immediate objectives. A plan is essential for success!

There are more lessons, I am sure, but these three are good enough to start with on your podcasting journey. They will determine the schedule of podcasts: will your show be twice a week, weekly, monthly or have a longer interval? A gap longer than a month between episodes is certainly not recommended. Will you invite guests to participate in your podcasts? Who will they be? Will you be capable of managing the dynamics of a free flowing conversation? Or will you have a scripted one? Will you get co-hosts , over time, who are like-minded and have similar interests?

Parting tip: it is advisable to script your podcast in the initial stages, if not for all time. Speaking on the fly is great- if you can pull it off. But it often results in mistakes, time consuming corrections, and your repetition of favourite phrases and words that are best avoided. So, script out your podcast to make it more effective.

“The Golden Hour”

July 1 is celebrated as National Doctors’ Day in India. The amount of selfless service our doctors and other health care staff have put in during the Covid 19 pandemic is mind boggling. They have made enormous sacrifices for the sake of their patients, many of whom they may have never set eyes on before.

On this occasion, as a small tribute to them, I have made a podcast titled, “The Golden Hour: A Tribute on National Doctors’ Day” .

You might like to hear this at your leisure.

This podcast is based on a true story!

“Tongue of Slip” by C P Belliappa

I simply loved this book as it made me chuckle from time to time. My wife mentioned that it has been so long since she saw a book elicit such a response from me! The book I talk of is called, ” Tongue of Slip: Looking Back On Life With Humour” by C.P. Belliappa, published by Rupa Publications in 2014.

When it was first published, little would the author have known that his book would bring so much cheer in the dreadful times we are living in. I would heartily recommend this book of light humor to anyone looking to cheer up in these stressed times. It is something like the “Buck U Uppo” made famous by Wodehouse, if you get what I mean!

Let’s start with the author. C. P. Belliappa? The name sounds familiar, you may think. Isn’t he the guy who used to write “middles” in the Deccan Herald amongst other publications? Or wait! Is he the guy you met in Goa?? The well known Charlie Peter??? But you need to read the book to find out for yourself.

Writing a fiction novel is not easy. Writing a short story, I consider even more difficult. Writing a well-crafted ” middle” has to take the cake! It looks easy but it is not, take it from me. C P Belliappa has mastered this art and this book is perhaps based on some of them fleshed out in more detail.

I am sure these tales ( over 50 in number) from locales ranging from his beloved Coorg to Chennai to China will hold your attention as they did mine. There are delightful nuggets in there but I don’t want to spoil your reading.

Look out for stories about the chap who was hungry all the time while at school; the prankster at college; the Pomeranian with a huge appetite for food and more; and the sales girl trying to flog a time share deal as if her life depended on it (which possibly was the case – of her budding career, if not her life!)

Thank you, Mr Belliappa. You made me laugh spontaneously on reading your stories. I bet this would be a common reaction amongst many more who will read your book.

Highly recommended!

“Master Your Core” by Dr Bohdanna Zazulak

In this day and age, the “Do It Yourself” or DIY trend has become commonplace all over the world. You are expected to do most things yourself. How about fitness and taking care of your body? Avoiding injuries? Keeping fit and getting the best performance possible from your body? Can you do this yourself too? A new soon to be published book by Dr Bohdanna Zazulak and published by TCK Publishing seems to suggest so. This can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

In this highly detailed yet interesting book , the author who has over three decades of experience in the field of physical therapy shares her experience on how to master your core. This is not one of those read and forget kind of books. It is more like a manual which you can refer to from time to time as you commence your journey to becoming and staying fit. It has been described as a science-based guide to achieve peak performance and resilience to injury. The author shares her Core BASE, an integrative, holistic guide for breathing, awareness, stability, and empowerment of your core in body, mind, and spirit.

Dr. Zazulak won the highly regarded and prestigious Rose Award from the American Physical Therapy Association for her groundbreaking research, and has three decades of experience as an American Physical Therapy Association Orthopedic Certified Specialist, a Doctor of Physical Therapy in Sports Medicine and Orthopedics, and a researcher and faculty member at Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale University School of Medicine.

Broadly speaking, on one hand we have the Western view of fitness through the study of modern science and medicine. On the other we have the age old Oriental take on keeping well through a mix of exercise and meditation. In my view, the best part of Dr Zazulak ‘s book is that she has creatively uses the best of both worlds. Although she now lives and works in the United States, she is able to effectively comprehend both the western and oriental schools of thought and use them appropriately.

The book begins with some basic gleanings from her experience. Amongst them are that too much exercise and that too of the wrong sort or done at the wrong time can cause more damage than too less exercise which is bad in itself. She also spends a lot of time explaining the physiological factors which seem to make women, especially in the realm of sports, more injury prone than men. She gives her advice on what can be done to reverse this trend. Every woman athlete or sports person will benefit from reading this book!

Each chapter has crisp summaries of the key points, which I thought was an extremely good way of getting the reader to recapitulate learnings and develop action plans.

Based on her practice over the decades, Dr Zazulak has catalogued a very elaborate regimen of exercises of different kinds that one needs to follow to Master The Core. There are backed with illustrations for ease of understanding.

I enjoyed the liberal sprinkling of quotations strewn all over the book. Dr Zazulak has chosen some of the best quotations.She has placed them appropriately because after all putting things into practice to master the core required changes in mind set as much as changes in physiological routines. Here is an example: “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open. B K S Iyengar

The book ends with a glossary for easy reference and an exhaustive list of scientific. technical and philosophical work and papers that the author has referred to help you master your core.

I would say this book has value not just for world class athletes and sports people though they have benefited from Dr Zazulak’s lessons but also for every person keen on becoming and staying physically and mentally fit.

“Biting The Bullet” : Ajai Raj Sharma IPS

A friend of ours who retired as Director General of Police in Karnataka was often asked why he didn’t write a book on his experiences in the police force. His stock reply was that there were many things he could not talk about. He said he could not write anything other than the truth. This he believed would stir many a hornet’s nest amongst his erstwhile superiors, colleagues, and of course politicians of different parties, though a large number of them were dead and gone by then.

I was reminded of this when I read “Biting The Bullet” Memoirs of a Police Officer by Ajai Raj Sharma, IPS recently. Mr Sharma is of the 1966 batch of the prestigious Indian Police Service (IPS) and served largely in the Uttar Pradesh cadre. This book covers his memories of some of the most exciting and important events that took place in his career. He retired after 38 years meritorious service in 2004 as the Director General of the Border Security Force ( BSF).

In the initial years of his service, Sharma drew some very challenging assignments in the interior areas of the vast State of Uttar Pradesh, where the law and order situation was dodgy, at the best of times. Lawlessness and dacoity were so common that crime was a career option for many. This state of affairs was aggravated by the factors of caste and grudge feuds which went on for decades. He cut his teeth in the notorious Chambal Valley, and he writes about his experiences in the shadowy world of poverty, greed, informers, and sadists.

Mr Sharma’s competence at work is reflected in his being awarded the much coveted Presidents Police Medal for Gallantry twice in his career. He was tasked by two Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh to get rid of specific notorious criminals. He later was selected to be the Commissioner of Police in Delhi, a rare posting in those days for one from another cadre. During his period of office in the national capital, he was at the helm of affairs when the Hanse Cronje match fixing scandal took place and later when terror modules became active in Delhi supported and managed by the ISI. It was also during his tenure that the attack on Parliament took place. His book gives details of these cases and his role and involvement in dealing with them.

After serving his full tenure as Commissioner of Police in Delhi, he took charge of the Border Security Force. He writes of the many challenges this large force faces in manning the thousands of miles of borders with hostile neighbors. A porous border makes their tasks immensely difficult.

Overall, one gets the picture of a highly committed and conscientious Police Officer who was humane and tough depending on the circumstances. These days we often talk of the deteriorating law and order situation. Mr Sharma’s book gives the reader insights into life in the police service, the hardships the common policeman and police officer face, and the challenges they come across on a daily basis as they battle terror, crime, and the like.

“Now It Can Be Told” by Prof A N Bali

Those of us who are fond of Indian history owe gratitude to Prabhat Prakashan for publishing, or should I say re-publishing in e- book form a book which virtually disappeared from India. This book is titled, “Now It Can Be Told”by Professor A N Bali and is about the Partition of Punjab in 1947. What makes the book more interesting is that it is based on the personal experience and observations of the author who was then a Professor in the Punjab University at Lahore in the undivided India. From reading the book, we gather it was first published a few years after the events of Partition and the Independence of India took place, hence the title of the book. I would guess it may have been published around 1949-50 or so.

It appears the book was controversial at the time of its publication as it was considered to be critical of the powers that be. These included the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and many of his colleagues in the Indian National Congress. I find from the website of Indian Kanoon that in September 1950 this book featured in a case that came up for hearing in the Punjab High Court. The Court overruled the order of the Chief Commissioner of Delhi that all copies of the book written by Prof Bali and published by Akaslivani Prakashan, Jullundar, should be “forfeited’.

So much has been written about the Partition and the horrors that followed it. I have read a fair number of books on the subject but I still found Prof Bali’s book of great interest as he writes from his personal experience. From Prof Bali’s book, it is clear that in many cases the departing British, or at least a fair number of them, supported the Muslims rather than the Hindus and the Sikhs. This happened in particular in Lahore and surrounding areas. Muslim refugees heading to Pakistan found it relatively easier than Hindus and Sikhs seeking refuge in india. Cases of blatant partiality are described. Refugees from India to Pakistan were given shorter amd more convenient routes while the refugees from Pakistan heading to Indian were given much longer and more dangerous routes.

I must say the book leaves you sad that the politicians of that time including Mahatma Gandhi ( described as being both a Mahatma and a politician in some senses) did not foresee the enormous hardship the Partition would cost the millions affected. The horrors of refugees being murdered, raped, and maimed are already well-documented. This books adds to the list of gory stories of how bad things were in those tumultuous times.

What is shocking is how those who fled Lahore genuinely believed that they could return one day to their homes and property. We see how the Governments of india and Pakistan differed in their treatment of property left behind by those who fled. In Pakistan, it became a free for all. Thousands grabbed land and property they would never have dreamt of possessing in their lives. On the contrary in India, the property of those who fled the country were guarded carefully – in some cases for decades- while the refugees from Lahore lived in pitiable conditions in the hastily created dreadful refugee camps.

I think this book must be read by every student of Indian history. Don’t they say we should learn from mistakes made in the past? If we don’t know about the mistakes how will we ever avoid them?? Here lies the importance of books like this by Prof Amar Nath Bali.

“Spies, Lies, And Exile” by Simon Kuper

For those of my generation, the Cold War cast a huge shadow over every corner of the globe, all the way from 1945 till 1991. One one side you had the West – the US, the UK and their allies and on the other you had Communist Russia with the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics( USSR), her satellite Communist countries. Spying and counter spying was the order of the day. As a result we grew up reading many spy thrillers by writers like John Le Carre, Ian Fleming, Joe Weisberg, Karen Cleveland amongst others.

Recently, I read the story of a man who didn’t write such books but was the cause of such books to be written. This book was, ” Spies, Lies, and Exile” by Simon Kuper . It is the fascinating story of a Soviet double agent who betrayed the British who he was working for.

The story of George Blake was not as well known as others of his ilk such as Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, and Guy Burgess. He was born in Rotterdam in The Netherlands, in 1922, the son of Albert Behar, a Jew and his Dutch wife, Catherine Beijderwellen. During his childhood he was known more by his Dutch pet name of Poek. His father who had fought for the British in the First World War had a British passport, so his son was born a British citizen though he saw himself as being more of a Dutch boy.

During the Second World War, Poek fought the invading Nazis by joining the Dutch Resistance as a teenager. He then undertook a long and complex route until he reached England, where his mother and sisters had taken shelter years ago. Here he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve but was soon selected by the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) His British father having been a veteran of World War 1 , his own contributions fighting the Germans during World War II and his flair for languages made him a good choice for a career- as a spy! He joined the Dutch section of the SIS and after the War spent a few years in The Netherlands.

He was sent for a course in Cambridge which was to change his life. He met Professor Elizabeth Hill who proved to be a great influence on his politics. His next posting was in Korea where the War raged between the Communist North Korea and the US supported South Korea.He was taken prisoner here and it was when he was in captivity that he became a double agent for the Soviets.

The book spells out in great detail what he did as a double agent, and some of the coups he pulled off for his Russian employers while never being even remotely suspected of betraying the British. Things couldn’t go on like this for ever! He was arrested by the British in 1961 and after a famous trial was sentenced to 42 years imprisonment, the length of his sentence being considered most unusual because many other spies had been sentenced to far less sentences.

His dramatic escape, after 5 years of captivity, from the British prison at Wormwood Scrubs, how he reached Russia and stayed there for the rest of his long life make up the rest of the story.

In the course of the book, you get an understanding of how Blake’s mind worked; what drove him to do what he did; and why people sometimes make – what most would consider -unusual career and life choices.

George Blake, later known as Georgy Ivanovitch, died in Moscow in December 2020 aged 98.

Overall, an interesting book if you like spy thrillers and war stories.

Poets of The First World War

The trigger for today’s post comes from some research I was doing for our next OL Assembly. As mentioned in earlier posts, this is a virtual meeting held every second Saturday of the month. In the forthcoming issue we cover the First World War in which 18 Old Lawrencians were killed in action in different battle fields of Europe. In those days, many from my Alma Mater, The Lawrence School, Lovedale were enlisted in the British Army. They joined as ordinary soldiers as distinct from being commissioned as officers.

A look at the Honors Board for 1914 in the School gives us details of former students, who as young soldiers gained distinction for their bravery during the battles at Mons, Flanders, and Gallipolli amongst others. This in turn reminded me of a poem we learnt in School titled ” Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen. This poem mocked the sentiment- prevalent till 1916 or so amongst many English poets, like Rupert Brooke for instance – that it was sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.

Owen enlisted in 1915 and saw active service in the trenches in Europe before he was wounded in action in 1916. He returned to England to recover from his war wounds. However, in 1918 he went back to the Front, won the Military Cross for his bravery but ironically was killed in November of that year aged 25 just one week before the Armistice. Like him thousands upon thousands of young men lost their lives in a bitterly fought war which saw the use of poison gas in the trenches. The Armistice signaled the end of the war which left 10 million soldiers and another 7 million civilians dead.

To appreciate what the horrors of the First World War were like, you must see an article in The Sun titled ” Blood, Mud, and Misery” published in 2018. You can understand the plight of the soldiers in the trenches over a hundred years ago.

The Poetry Foundation compiled an impressive list of poems about the Great War of 1914-1918. Here you can read poems by, apart from Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Edward Thomas, William Butler Yeats, and Rupert Brooke. It ends with ” Then There Was A Great Calm” written by Thomas Hardy after the signing of the armistice.

“Calm fell. From Heaven distilled a clemency;
There was peace on earth, and silence in the sky;
Some could, some could not, shake off misery:
The Sinister Spirit sneered: ‘It had to be!’
And again the Spirit of Pity whispered, ‘Why?'”