“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”

“When The Wildflowers Bloom”: Rupa Bhullar

When The Wildflowers Bloom” by Rupa Bhullar was on my reading list and I completed it today. The book has been published by Rupa Publications recently in 2021.

The start of the book is quite dramatic. The main character, a 38 year old home maker, Tara Grewal is publicly humiliated at a party in front of her family and friends by her husband Tej. This sets the context for what is to follow. However, after that the story took fairly long to build up. Tara seeks refuge in her grandmother’s house in a village in Punjab. Not much happens other than a lot of reminiscing about the past and thoughts on what the future holds. To that extent I found the first part of the book rather sluggish after the dramatic start.

There were no surprises along the way and the plot was more predictable than I thought. I kept thinking there might be some action in the next chapter to stir the pot but it was not to be.

Now, about the positives. I must say the scenes are beautifully portrayed. I could easily and readily images the lush fields of Punjab, the drive up the mountain road to Kasauli, the serene atmosphere of the Gurudwara, to mention but a few scenes. The descriptive writing was of a high standard. I found the second part considerably more absorbing than the first.

I also enjoyed the characters like the old Beeja, the fiercely protective Premo, the ebullient Balwinder and of course the suave and charming Dev, not to forget his uncle and aunt both colorful characters very different from each other.

There are lessons to be learnt from the story. Lessons of the grit shown by a 38 year old lady with two growing children when she takes the crucial decision which would change her life forever. She has to decide whether to continue in an unhappy marriage with its share of domestic violence or walk out to an unknown world beyond. The book also throws light on the all too common theme of how women are exploited in our villages. It covers how the dreams of many girls seldom come true due to the harsh realities of their struggles growing up in villages.

If you are looking for an action-packed book, this is not for you. If, however, you want a leisurely but good read, without there being too much in the plot, you will enjoy this book.

Gherao!

As you know, the elections in West Bengal are grabbing eyeballs because of the high-octane campaigns launched by the sitting Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, and her principal opponent this time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). She has been ruling the state for 10 years now.

While earlier – before the campaigns began – many believed she would easily win a third term, now- to many observers including me- such a result seems less certain. It is evident from what we see on television and read in the newspapers that it will be a close finish. The bitter battle for votes will go on till we come to know the results on May 2

The central paramilitary forces are on election duty in that state, to support the Election Commission to ensure that free and fair elections take place. An article in the respected Indian Express no less, headlined that the Bengal Chief Minister has exhorted the women of West Bengal to gherao the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF.)

I was shocked to see this headline because it brought back many memories of gheraos in West Bengal. I remember the days in Durgapur when strikes and gheraos were commonplace and there used to a lot of trade union violence. I speak of the period between 1968-1972.

Decades ago, in many parts of the country, especially in West Bengal where it originated, the gherao was used by trade unions and other striking outfits as an offensive weapon. To gherao meant to surround a person or persons in a room and keep them in a form of captivity. On the face of it it was supposed to be peaceful protest but confining people to their room, not allowing them to have food, water, their medicines or use the toilet was harassment of the highest order. I have heard of cases where executives almost died due to the stress and strain of being so ghearaoed.

As a student of Industrial Relations at XLRI Jamshedpur, I remember we had studied famous judgements like the ones delivered in the Calcutta High Court in Jay Engineering Case reported in AIR 1968 CAL.

Coming back to the present situation, to instigate the public at large to gherao the police was asking for trouble. I thought of so many things that could go wrong if the agitated public began to gherao the authorities- in this case- the paramilitary police.

My fears were not unfounded. Today’s Indian Express reports that four people were killed in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district in the state of West Bengal. It is reported that a mob of locals attacked the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) party and tried to snatch their weapons. This led to the police opening fire resulting in four deaths. What a shocking state of affairs!

I realize that politics in West Bengal has always been characterized by violence but I do hope things don’t go totally out of hand. There is no place for such violence in a democracy like ours. The sad part is that the ordinary policeman or the ordinary citizen, in this case, get hurt and at times die. Nothing ever happens to the leaders who instigate violence!

“Always A Foreigner” by Ashwini Devare

The Indian Foreign Service has always been considered a highly prestigious organisation, especially when I was growing up in the 1950s and the 1960s. It was said that this branch of the All India Civil Services was the first choice for successful candidates. It was also believed that the children of IFS officers lived a most luxurious life, traveling all over the world.

Always A Foreigner: A Memoir ” by Ashwini Devare puts at rest the myth about children of IFS officers. She writes of how actually the frequent transfers came in the way of a steady education. While the exposure to different countries of the world brought many benefits in its wake, it could also result in children getting disoriented through having to unlearn and relearn all the time in a new environment. In her own case, she had lived in six different countries by the time she was fifteen so, as you can imagine, she is best qualified to write about these experiences.

Ms Devare’s memoirs are delightful! They capture how she and her family coped in different lands where her father represented India in various capacities, over the decades from the 1960s till the start of the 21st century. What makes the book more interesting is her interspersing her personal memories with major events that took place at that time. She describes, amongst other incidents, how the Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away in Tashkent when they were in Moscow; how the Chogyal and the Gyalmo- their Royal Highnesses The King and Queen of Sikkim – fled Gangtok when they were there; and when they were in New Delhi how horrible events traumatized the city following the assassination of Prime Minster Indira Gandhi.

In addition, we are treated to rich slices of her family life. She has captured her characters so well that we feel we have met them in person. Her father, deeply committed to his country and his responsibilities; her mother, who first went abroad as a young bride barely days after her marriage ; and her sister who grew up with her, and how they shared many experiences while they were quite different from each other by way of personalities.

In the course of the book, Ms Devare captures the highpoints of her career as a broadcast journalist, an on-air reporter and producer, and later as a writer. She studied and worked in different countries and experienced many challenges in each of them.

I enjoyed the elegant yet simple writing style which is a characteristic of this book. I also appreciated the high degree of candor and honesty displayed by the author. I would highly recommend this book to those interested in travel and history. Indeed, I would recommend this to anyone looking to enjoy some good writing !

“Netaji: Living Dangerously”: by Kingshuk Nag

On his birth anniversary on January 23, I had paid tribute to one of my biggest heroes in Indian history, Netaji Subha Chandra Bose. In that post, I had briefly mentioned the author, Kingshuk Nag. Today, I write my impressions about his book , “Netaji, Living Dangerously”.

I admired the way Nag has crafted this book. He has touched upon the key points of Netaji’s interesting and illustrious career in a 208 page book without sacrificing the essence of his deeds. Since the book was published as recently as 2016, he has been made use of the latest information available on the subject. Earlier authors on Netaji could not do so as all the archives about Netaji were classified. They were not made available to the public by successive Governments in India.

One may wonder why Governments took this approach given Netaji’s reputation and name all over India. His fame, ironically, was the reason why Congress Governments- starting with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s first cabinet- made it their mission to downplay Netaji. They supported the story that he had died in an air crash in modern day Taiwan in 1945.

Nehru did not want Netaji to emerge in India post Independence as by then he was the tallest leader in the country. He knew that Netaji could pose a threat to his popularity and political fortunes, hence the deliberate downplaying of anything abut Netaji. Indeed, we know now from archives made public, that Netaji’s family was under surveillance for decades after Independence. Nehru and his successors wanted to know if Netaji was planning to return to India. This started the surveillance activity.

Nag also writes about the mysterious Gumnami Baba who first came to Uttar Pradesh in the mid-1950s. He was also called Bhagwanji or Gumnami Baba as he had no name! Many believed that based on anecdotal and other evidence found over the decades that he was indeed Netaji. He died in 1985 with his secrets intact. What was the true story of Gumnami Baba remains in the realm of speculation.

The reader is explained the political developments that took place towards the end of the Second World War. You will remember that Netaji had allied himself strongly with the Japanese who surrendered in 1945 bringing the Second World War to an end. The British Empire, weary after the long war was on it’s last legs. Netaji had influenced an armed struggle for the first time in British India. The mutiny by Indians in the Royal Indian Navy was a major event which made the British decide to leave India once and for all. On the other hand, the United States and Soviet Russia had become the most powerful countries in the world.

Nag suggests that post 1945, Netaji was a prisoner in the Russian labour camps. The Russians under Stalin had no interest in him, Japan was seeking a new beginning, Nazi Germany had been vanquished, and India had become an independent nation under Nehru and the Congress. Where would Netaji fit in – in this new world? Perhaps his experiences in Russia convinced him to live incognito in the future? Did he therefore emerge as Gumnami Baba to live out the rest of his dues in relative anonymity?

I have said enough about the book. You should read it to come to your own conclusions. I can assure you it makes for highly interesting reading, especially if, like me, you are fan of Netaji and a student of Indian history and politics.

Storytelling Podcasts

Guess what? I have got hooked to listening to podcasts. Sure, I had heard of podcasts even a decade ago but at that time my focus was on writing. So I used to read a lot and write as much as I could but I didn’t really listen to podcasts. It was only recently that my attention was drawn to podcasts by none other than WordPress which I have been using for my blogs for years together.

I saw that blog posts in WordPress could be converted without too much effort to very basic podcasts! I found this quite interesting and made one myself. A Book Review of ” The Girl Who Lived” by Christopher Greyson using Anchor. This excited me in a big way.

Could I convert some of my short stories to podcasts? I had to find out ! So I explored the world of short stories and podcasts. It was thrilling to find there are many websites devoted to podcasts of short stories. For example, I discovered this website from Bustle called 10 Storytelling Podcasts You Need To Listen To If You Love Short Stories!! Bustle is part of Bustle Digital Media, said to be the fastest growing publisher in modern media with 84 million readers!

To start with I explored The Moth and loved the very first story I heard. It was by Stacy Bader Curry in the podcast In Service Of in Moth Radio Hour.

I also enjoyed The Short Story Masterclass by The Aerogramme Writers Studio. In this, leading writers share their experience and thoughts on writing short stories in a podcast series produced by Thresholds, an online international short story forum based in the University of Chichester in collaboration with Small Wonder Short Story Festival.

There is so much there to learn and enjoy. If you have time – while on a flight, on a road trip, while waiting for someone, or just being free to do what you like- do dip into a short story using the podcast mode. There are so many talented people out there who have the ability to tell a story so well that you will ask for more.

Well Done, India! From Donee To Donor

Congratulations to our Prime Minister Narendra Modiji and his team, our scientists and researchers, our entrepreneurs, our doctors and paramedical staff, and thousands of other involved in logistics for this humanitarian work. At a time when the whole world is still reeling with the effects of the COVID 19 pandemic India has sent 56,00,000 COVID-19 vaccines as gifts to many foreign countries. Another 100,00,000 were sent as commercial supply. This move has filled our hearts with pride as these vaccines are indeed precious.

Let’s put things in perspective about the ravaging Coronavirus Pandemic. 219 countries in the world are still coming to terms with this pandemic. They have all suffered in varying degree. As of date over 120 million people have been affected by this all over the world. While over 95 million have recovered, please spare a thought for the 2.6 million who lost their lives. I am sure you too would have lost friends and relatives as I have.

Most people of my generation living in post- Independence India – from the 1950s to the 70’s were pretty much used to our country – and us her people- being donees rather than donors!! At a national level, from time to time, we were dependent on the generosity of other countries to help us out of crisis. Just after Partition in 1947, we saw the rapid spread of malaria which affected some 75 million people resulting in 800,000 deaths. The Canadian Red Cross rushed 92 cases of precious penicillin to India. Today, nearly 75 years later, the Indian Government has agreed to send 500,000 doses of COVID 19 vaccine to Canada based on that country’s request.

India has become the powerhouse of vaccine manufacture. As much as a whopping 60 % of the world’s vaccines are manufactured in India. As of now, two vaccines have been approved by the Government of India for emergency use in the country. The first was Covishield, developed by Oxford- AstaZeneca in the UK, manufactured by the Pune based Serum Institute of India. They say they can make 60-70 million doses a month. The second vaccine has been indigenously developed in india and is called Covaxin. This is manufactured by Bharat Biotech of Hyderabad which plans to make 200 million doses per annum. Some weeks ago our External Affairs Minister Dr S Jayashankar said India had supplied vaccines to 15 countries and at least another 25 were in the queue.

It is indeed creditable that India is offering the vaccines to other countries when we ourselves have a huge challenge at hand. To vaccinate the second largest population in the world! India has started what is probably the biggest and most complex vaccination program undertaken anywhere in the world. The Prime Minister had said that our goal was to vaccinate 300 million people by the end of July 2021. In itself a large number but still a little less than one third of our total population!!

In the first phase, front line medical workers were vaccinated. In the second phase, the aim is to vaccinate elders (those above 60 years of age) as well as those who are 45 and above but have one or the other of an identified list of co-morbidities. As of date, an estimated 28 million have been vaccinated in India. We are vaccinating about 1,000,000 to 2,000,000 people per day as of now.

It feels good to see how we have grown as a nation, to the extent that we are considered an important part of the global fight against the COVID 19 pandemic. Even as I key in this post, I read that the United States have agreed to fund the production of 1 billion vaccines by the end of 2022 by an Indian Pharma firm- Biological E.

I would like to finish where I started. I am sure my parents – and some of us much later for that matter – would never have imagined a day would come when India would become in the world of medicine- a donor rather than a donee! Jai Hind!!

“Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw” by Hanadi Falki

I have always been a huge admirer of the late Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw (1914-2008) so jumped at the chance to read one more book about him. This ebook titled, “ Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw” is written by Ms Hanadi Falki. Frankly there wasn’t much in the book that one hadn’t already read about. It looked like a re-hash of arcticles, book extracts, interviews and the like. The personality of the Field Marshal is so strong, and his story so interesting however, that we feel like reading about him all over again – which is exactly what I did.

As a military commander and a leader in war and peace, Sam Manekshaw has few parallels in Indian military history. He was the 7th Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army- from 1969 to 1973- and his greatest contribution was winning the 1971 War against Pakistan. This led to the bifurcation of the Pakistani State and the birth of the new country of Bangla Desh.

The book traces his life and career in the Indian Amy from the time he joined the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun in 1932 in the very first batch of cadets. He served the Indian Army for four decades and fought in five wars till he retired in 1973. A grateful nation then bestowed upon him the rank of Field Marshal. He was the first General and COAS in the Indian Army to be so honored.

Apart from his exploits as a military leader, (he won the coveted Military Cross for bravery as a young officer in the British Indian Army during Second World War in Burma), Manekshaw’s character as a person of the highest integrity and professionalism stand out in the many anecdotes in the book. He had the courage to stand up to those in authority including the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and the political leadership of the country.

As I have said before, I have been and remain a huge admirer of Field Marshal Manekshaw. I am therefore terribly puzzled how under his watch India released 93,000 Pakistani Prisoners of war but did not do enough to get back 54 of our Defense Personnel, They simply did not make it back to their homeland . I was hoping that this book would cover this unsavory part of Indian military history but I continue to remain disappointed on this score.

I wish the book had been better arranged for ease of reading. It does not follow a prescribed pattern. For example, it has his childhood and early years suddenly appearing from out of the blue, much after the start of the book. However this slim volume, despite its shortcomings, remains interesting because of the man the book describes and his exploits- in war and peace.

“Tongue-In -Cheek: The Funny Side Of Life” by Khyrunnisa A.

If you are looking for delightful light reading, a book to pass time and, and improve your mood in the bargain- here’s one for you. As the title suggest, “Tongue-In-Cheek: The Funny Side Of Life” is a collection of short stories or should I say “middles” by Khyrunnisa which indeed capture the funny side of life.

Not everyone has the talent to see and describe a situation with humor. On reading this book, I can vouch that Khyrunnisa most certainly has this gift in abundant measure. She writes of situations which you and I have come across in our daily lives: finding a snake in the garden; the rush for the wedding feast; the mandatory jewelry worn in weddings; booking a seat in a bus the Indian way; the perils of maintaining an aquarium (more commonly known as a fish tank in most Indian homes), amongst many others.

In most of these anecdotes, the author brings in her husband thereby allowing us readers to take a peek into moments of married life that most readers would relate to quite easily! She jokes easily about the way many people pronounce -or rather mispronounce -her name. The best part of this book is that you can dip into it at your convenience. Reading story No: 10 long before Story No: 1 doesn’t matter in the least. Not being connected with each other, they can be read in any random order.

I understand that the author is an Asst Professor of English and has written many books for children. After reading this book, I, for one, would love to read more of these tongue in cheek stories from Khyrunnisa. I liked her wit and writing style . Here’s hoping someday she will write and publish another book -as entertaining as this one!

“The Trillion Dollar Coach”: Schmidt, Rosenberg & Eagle

Google has become a household name across the world. Like in the old days one frequently said, ” Take a Xerox” for making a photocopy, Google has become synonymous with searching the internet. Looking for some information? ” Just Google it”, we are told! Of course, this search business is only one part of this huge tech giant which was incorporated in 1998 and had revenues of $182 billion in 2020. With this as context, let’s talk about this book.

When a former Executive Chairman of Alphabet (the holding company of Google), and a Senior VP who headed the Products team in Google, along with Google’s Director of Executive Communication write a book together – it does create a buzz. That book is “The Trillion Dollar Coach” by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle. It is described as the Leadership Playbook of Silcon Valley’s Bill Campbell.

Who might Campbell be? Many may wonder. Simply stated, the authors of the book (like many other Silicon Valley leaders, some legends even, amongst them) , were all coached by Campbell. He, by the way, started life as the coach of a relatively small University football team.

Bill Campbell helped create over a trillion dollars in market value, hence the title of the book. He was associated with companies like Google, Apple and Intuit. It was under his guidance that a large number of corporate tech honchos made their mark in the demanding world of business. The names of the executives he coached reads like a roster of The Who’s Who in Silicon Valley and the world of big tech.

He was so much a part of Valley lore that many did not know that Campbell was not from here. He was born in western Pennsylvania and attended Columbia University in Manhattan. Needing a job, he became assistant football coach in Boston College. He was reasonably successful as a football coach without having a spectacular record. When he was 39, he switched careers by joining the advertising firm J Walter Thompson. He then worked for Kodak till 1983 when John Sculley offered him a job in Apple. Here he was the VP of Sales and Marketing then became the CEO of Apple’s software company Claris.

His next assignemt was CEO of a start up called GO Corporation but that closed down in 1994. He was then offered the position of CEO of Intuit which he led till 2000. He became a full time coach when he was invited to Kleiner Perkins to become a coach for its portfolio companies. The rest, as the say, is history. Till he passed away in 2016, he was a major influence in the many businesses he was associated with as an executive coach.

The book has many lessons in leadership for today’s executive. The format used highlights the key take aways by means of chapter summaries. The book makes for easy reading without the jargon usually associated with books on management and leadership.

So, if you want to become an effective leader in today’s business world, make it a point to read this book. Campbell’s lessons will surely help you become more successful.