“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”

Your Website Reflects You

The Covid 19 pandemic has brought about sweeping changes in our lives, many of which we wouldn’t have thought possible even five years ago. The use of the internet both for work and for leisure has increased so dramatically over the last few years that people are now talking of “digital wellness.”! Some popular social media sites, like Facebook for example, and makers of devices, like Apple, for example are providing you with the means to bring an abrupt end to your browsing if you exceed laid down limits of time!

In December 1995, only 16 million people or 0.4 % of the world’s population used the internet. In March 2021, this figure had shot up to 5,168 million or 65.6 % of the world’s population, says an article in The Global Village Online.

With such huge growth, one can imagine the competition you, as a business or indeed any organization with a digital presence, face to attract and hold the attention of internet users. The amount of work they do online – and the staggering work hours- is now forcing people in many countries to cut down on their discretionary time online.

So, your website has to be capable of grabbing and holding that attention, which is fleeting, at best . The experience at your website will determine whether or not the person will come back! He/she has so much choice these days, that they would simply go elsewhere for their needs.

Some of the main factors that users value in a website are :_

  1. Ease of use. Can they navigate easily? Is the site too cluttered with so much information and so many options that it is confusing and complex? Many cite the example of Amazon being a site that is considered easy to use, despite the plethora of choices.
  2. It Should Work! Very basic, but frequently we see websites that have links that don’t work, information that is woefully outdated, and an overall feel of being sloppy. Such websites are probably doing more harm than good to the interests of that organization.
  3. Both Attractive and Functional: yes, it has to look good and at the same time work like, to use an old world phrase, a “well- oiled machine”. After all, it represents your business. It is often the first interface with the customer/potential customer. At times, designers in their attempt to dazzle the visitor to the site load so many widgets and jazz on to the page that it becomes sluggish and takes ages to load. No one has that kind of time to wait, these days!
  4. Mobile Friendly: this wasn’t a big consideration when we entered the internet age, but now it has become one of the most important features. The reason is that more people use mobile phones to access the internet than ever before.
  5. The Four Second Test: read this article in Forbes which is indeed an eye-opener. With rapidly decreasing attention spans – an average of 8 seconds for millennials and 2.8 seconds for a younger Gen Z, the content on your page becomes that much more crucial. If it can’t convey what you want in four seconds, it fails the test!!

These are some of the factors that will determine the success of your website in today’s world. Let’s remember that good, bad, or ugly, your website reflects you!

“Let Me Say It Now” by Rakesh Maria IPS

These days many senior officers of the Indian Police Service (IPS) are writing their memoirs. We, the public at large, get to hear from them their perspective of what happened and what did not, why they did something, and why they did not! In the old days, we had only newspaper reports to find out details about the case. We naturally were biased based on what we read.

Now things have changed so much. We are no longer ignorant of what is going on, thanks to 24x 7 high volume, ‘breaking news’ media coverage of the more sensational cases on national television. Channels vie with each other to spill the beans, often trying to solve the cases before the cops do so!

In such a context, it’s fascinating to read the story of one senior IPS officer who was involved in some of the most notorious cases in recent decades. Rakesh Maria wrote, “Let Me Say It Know” – published by Westland in 2020- to give his versions of these cases.

They included the infamous 1993 Bomb Blasts that rocked Mumbai and changed the dynamics of religion of that city (and probably the country itself ) for ever ; the 26/11 terror attack on Mumbai again in 2008, this time by Pakistan trained terrorists sent to create mayhem and kill themselves while doing so; and more recently, the Sheena Bora murder case in which a highly placed socialite, Indrani Mukherjea was accused of a foul murder of a young lady, her own daughter!

Rakesh Maria IPS, served the Indian Police Service for 36 years in the Maharashtra cadre before he retired in 2017. He was awarded the Police Medal for Meritorious Service in 1994 and later the President’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service in 2007.

We read about how a young boy born and bred in suburban Bandra of Punjabi origin knew early in life that he wanted more than anything else to become a police officer. His father was a well- known figure in the Hindi film industry. In those days, Bollywood was less ” associated ” with crime and the underworld as it has been for the past few decades.

In his book, Maria comes across as a forthright, honest officer who had inherent skills to investigate crime. He could get the best out of his overworked, underpaid investigators who did the drudgery or the donkey work in finding clues and piercing the case together. He also steered clear from politics the involvement in which has proved to be the undoing of many a police officer. We know that politicians have long memories. They come back to power just as often as they are eased out of power. For a police officer to remain largely neutral and not take sides calls for a certain amount of moral courage.

The cases described in the book are too well-known to be detailed here. You must read the book to understand the nuances of each case, how difficult it was to get that vital break through, and how the pieces of the puzzle were put together by painstaking investigation.

Maria was not new to controversy. In the 26/11 case, Vinita Kamte widow of Ashok Kamte IPS made grave accusations against Maria . Later in the Sheena Bora case, again certain accusations were made about him. In this book, Maria defends his actions spiritedly and explains things from his perspective.

If you like books on crime, here’s one that you shouldn’t miss. Maria happened to be the man on the spot in some of the most publicized cases in recent memory. Read for yourself, how he conducted himself in highly trying circumstances.

My Podcasting Journey: The Next Steps

In my blog post of August 12 titled, ” Learn About Podcasting” I wrote about my first steps in the world of podcasting. Now that I have published 26 episodes in my podcast show: “Prem Rao- Stories From A Story Teller”, it’s as good a time as any to do some stock taking!

To re-cap, I began with two podcasts in March 2021 then there was a break till mid-June 2021. I then started again in right earnest. I am happy that the number of “plays” till date has crossed 550. Anchor FM where my podcast show is hosted informs me that “Plays” are the number of times your podcast episodes have been streamed or downloaded across all listening platforms. I am extremely happy with Anchor and would recommend it as a good platform for any newbie/budding podcaster.

As is obvious, the approach of a podcaster depends on the type of podcast show he/she has. Alexander Santo has this informative post on “8 Types of Podcasts”. Going by this, as of now, my podcast show falls in the category of ” Repurposed Content” as it has its origins in the blog posts I wrote.

Based on what I have observed, here are some action steps that I plan to do next:-

  1. Firstly, I need to increase the duration of my podcasts. Now that I have got the hang of things and have learnt the basic steps so to speak, the time has come to strengthen the content. I find that the longest podcast I have made so far is only about 9 minutes. In my podcast show, there is (as of now) a single speaker, that is me, and I haven’t graduated to doing interviews yet. My podcasts have largely been reviews of books that I have enjoyed reading, with a few other non-book related podcasts thrown in for good measure. I should aim to increase each episode to a minimum of 15 minutes -over time. I am told 15 to 30 minutes is a good time for podcasts on news and trending items by a single host without any guest or other voice in the show. My show falls in this space.
  2. I may even consider going back to my first few podcasts to check whether their content can be strengthened . I know, of course, that in the end it is the strength of the content more than the duration of the podcast that will make it succeed. While I have spoken about the books in my reviews, I have not spoken much, if at all, about the authors. A few interesting things about each author may make that episode more interesting to the listener.
  3. It is certain that I should , again over time, graduate to having guests on my show and interact with them. Shows with such ” interviews” often last from 30 to 60 minutes, for each episode. This type of podcasting calls for a higher level of skills which I hope to acquire over time.
  4. Having made a start with a frequency of two podcasts per week- on Sundays and Wednesdays- I should not give up this momentum. It is tempting to fall back to just one episode a week! I should build on the initial enthusiasm and continue to meet the demands placed on me to deliver two episodes every week.
  5. Now that more than 25 episodes have been published, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the Introduction and the end- which is currently played at the start and end of each episode. That may need some tweaking too!

So that was a quick update on where things stand in my podcasting journey, and my plans to take it forward.

Edward Ralph Dexter

In the ongoing Third Test match between India and England at Headingley. Leeds, I noticed that the English cricketers wore black arm bands. This is usually done as a mark of respect for someone who is no more. I soon came to know that the person in question was someone whose cricket career I followed with great interest in my younger days: Edward Ralph Dexter. He passed away on August 25, aged 86.

Born in 1935, he played for Cambridge, Sussex and England. He was called “Lord Ted” for his elegance and languid grace. Dexter was a dashing batsman with a very attacking bent of mind, especially when it came to fast bowlers. He was one of the most powerful hitters of the cricket ball of his times.

In those days, Test cricket wasn’t played as frequently as it is now. From the time he made his debut in 1958, Dexter played 62 Tests for England being captain in 30 of them. He scored 9 Test centuries and finished with an impressive average of 47.89. He last played for England in 1968.

We in India saw him for the first time, when he captained the visiting MCC team in 1961-62 after the more established players like Peter May and Colin Cowdrey opted to skip this tour.

As cricket crazy youngsters, we followed the Tests only though the cricket commentary on the radio, as we didn’t have television in India those days. We of course read every word of the reports of the Test matches in the daily newspapers. Some of the innings that Dexter played still remain fresh in my mind, although decades have gone by since he dazzled the crowds with his batting.

In the Lord’s Test in 1963, facing the menacing fast bowlers Hall and Griffith of the West Indies, Dexter hammered 70 in just 75 balls out of a total of 102. Another innings was his 180 against the Aussies in 1961, the year he was “Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year..”

Dexter in later years served as the Chairman of the Selection Commitee in England, and President of the MCC. He was instrumental in fashioning what we now know as the ICC rankings for players.

In this video, tributes are paid to Dexter on his being inducted in to the ICC’s Hall of Fame in 2021. Ian Chappell recalls that Dexter was the hardest hitter of the cricket ball he had ever seen.

Fans of Dexter would love this delightful piece written about him by Arunabha Sengupta in 2016 . Clearly he was , as that article said, “one of the most colorful characters to grace English cricket.”

Farewell, my childhood hero. May Edward Ralph Dexter, dashing and debonair, rest in peace.

“The Case That Shook An Empire” by Raghu & Pushpa Palat

I have often felt that writers of our Indian history have tended to give grossly disproportionate prominence to some figures and totally ignore some others. Here’s a case in point.

Until this book came along, I must confess rather sheepishly that I as a reasonably well-educated person hadn’t even heard of Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair. So for me, his accomplishments described in “The Case That Shook The Empire” by Raghu and Pushpa Palat were really quite astonishing. and most revealing. “One Man’s Fight for the Truth about the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre” is the perfect summary of the book.

The book was published by Bloomsbury India in August 2019. It was well received by appreciative readers. It made major headlines recently when it was announced that Karan Johar and his film production house have bought the rights to make a movie based on the book.

To think that in the 1920’s when the British Empire was at its peak, an Indian fought a famous British Administrator in a British Court of Law about an appalling event that took place in India was indeed news to me. I am sure millions of others wouldn’t have heard of this case. To that extent the authors have done Indian history valuable service by researching, writing and publishing this book. Thanks to them, I am sure, many more people will come to know of – and admire- their illustrious forefather. Raghu Palat, is the great grandson of Sir Sankaran Nair.

Sir Sankaran Nair’s character, with all its idiosyncrasies, has been well sketched by the authors. We visualize a man of strong character, who was autocratic in all that he did, at work as much as at home. He could be extremely blunt. Many a hapless colleague, including Britishers, felt the heat of his scorn and anger when debating issues or when they said something he did not approve of.

In the course of a long and illustrious career, Sir Sankaran Nair held many important positions including that of Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council. He was also a former Judge of the Madras High Court. I had no idea that at one time he was the President of the Indian National Congress! Indeed, many reckon he was one of the stalwarts in the early days of the INC but his open disagreements with Mahatma Gandhi ensured he was pushed back into the shadows of the party’s history. When his famous legal case was decided in England, there were no messages of any kind from the Indian National Congress, the party of which he had once been the President!

Sir Sankaran resigned from the highly prestigious position as the Member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council ( the only Indian to hold that post) following events at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. The two Britishers involved in that infamous event, as most Indians know, were Sir Micheal O’Dwyer, Lt Governor of the Punjab, and Brigadier General Reginald Dyer. I learnt from this book that Dyer was later reverted to his rank of Colonel.

The book describes all that followed the tumultuous events in Jallianwalla Bagh, a turning point in the history of modern India.

Taking umbrage at Sir Sankaran’s remarks about him in his book, “Gandhi And Anarchy” published in 1922, Sir Micheal filed libel charges against him. This paved the way for the “Case That Shook The Empire.” The admirable manner in which Sir Sankaran defended himself and his honour is excellently documented in the Palats book.

I wish the editors had been more meticulous. Ever so often Sir Sankaran is wrongly referred to as ” Sir Nair”. In the foreward, O’Dwyer is written as O’Dywer. These mistakes could have been avoided.

My congratulations to Raghu and Pushpa for their book which I found quite absorbing. A strong bibliography lends credence to the meticulous research done by the authors.

Based on my experience of biopics from Bollywood, I am not exactly looking forward to the movie. The book should have been left a book. I hope I am proved wrong ! I must grant, of course, that what a movie would do- especially one from Karan Johar’s production house- to publicize Sir Sankaran’s achievements, could never get done by the book alone.

The Palats’ book is highly recommended for any student of modern Indian history and politics. I would urge the youth of India in particular to read the book.

Learn About Podcasting

The never ending process of learning continues on a daily basis. No, I am not talking of life’s lessons in general but about my new found passion for podcasting. My podcast show: ” Prem Rao: Stories From A Story Teller”continues to grab my time and attention. I am happy to say I have published 16 episodes so far, most of them being on books that I have read.

My podcasts are available on some of the biggest platforms in the podcasting world such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and more recently on Amazon Music, as well.

There is an old saying that has remained firmly in my mind, ” A fool is one who doesn’t learn from his own mistakes. The wise guy is one who learns from his mistakes, but the wisest of all s the one who learns from others’ mistakes.” That’s so true, isn’t it?

I decided to see what other’s had experienced and learn from them. Michael Leonard , has shared his experiences of one year of podcasting, which I found interesting. Besides, I liked the title too. ” 12 Lessons From 12 Months of Podcasting.”!

Another informative blog post came from W. Mark Whitlock on ” 4 Lessons Learned From the First 4 Months of Podcasting & Studio CMO” . This post is a year old but the numbers mentioned are staggering. There were over 1.4 million podcasts and more than 34 million episodes out there, so you know the competition as it were. The good news is that more and more people, and not just in the United States are listening to podcasts. I guess one of the beneficiaries of the new life created by the Covid19 pandemic all over the world have been podcasters, since many- across different age bands- have taken to listening to podcasts in the last year or so.

I am pushing 70 but in a sense, we are all students aren’t we? NPR – and they don’t need an introduction- has a detailed guide: “Starting Your Podcasts- A Guide For Students” which has many strong points for the beginner in podcasting.

The excitement is high. I am conscious of the fact that I have a long way to go, but hey, I have made a start! So, happy listening, folks!

Catch My Podcast Show

In recent times, I have become fascinated with the world of podcasting! After a focus on blogging and writing, this has become my latest passion. 

I am delighted to share that my podcast show: ” Prem Rao: Stories From A Story Teller” is available in a number of platforms. 

To start with the podcasts will largely be on the books and blogs that I have read, and the books and blogs that I have written. I hope, over time, to expand the scope of this podcast show to cover other topics which interest me, or on my take on events that are making the news! 

Here are links to some of these:-

  1. Anchor FM

2. Apple Podcasts

3. Spotify

4. Google Podcasts

5. Breaker

6. Pocket Casts

7. RadioPublic

8. Amazon Music 

9. Goodpods

Please do check out these podcasts, and , if you like, do leave a rating or review. 

Thank you!

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.