“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”

“The Mitrokhin Archives II. The KGB In The World” by Andrew & Mitrokhin

The lockdown has given me more time to read. My latest reading took me back to times long gone by but was for that reason all the more startling and gripping.

Have you heard of the Mitrokhin Archives? I had but rather vaguely. I now know that  Vasili Mitrokhin, a senior Russian intelligence officer crossed over to the UK in 1992 with masses of documents about the organization he served for decades: the infamous Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti or the KGB. This translate to The State Committee for Security. An organization that sent chills down the spines of the residents in the USSR and its opponents the world over during the years when it was in its prime. Continue reading ““The Mitrokhin Archives II. The KGB In The World” by Andrew & Mitrokhin”

“Her Master Key: A Hotel Housekeeper’s Stories from Inn-dia” by Shruti Johri

Congratulations to Shruti Johri for “Her Master Key: A Hotel Housekeeper’s Stories from Inn-dia” an interesting and well-written book. I wish though that she or her editors in Rupa had stayed with “India” instead of the punny “Inn-dia” in the title.

Almost autobiographical in nature, this book is made up of stories from the life of an Housekeeping Executive in a luxury hotel. So far there hasn’t been much written about the work lives of the housekeeping staff in our hotels. Johri’s book reveals a lot about what remains unseen and unknown as we enter and leave hotels as guests. Continue reading ““Her Master Key: A Hotel Housekeeper’s Stories from Inn-dia” by Shruti Johri”

“Operation Mincemeat” by Ben Macintyre

As the blurb on the book cover has it, “Operation Mincemeat” by Ben Macintyre is ” the true spy story that changed the course of World War II .” I am not quite sure whether it did that. However, it cannot be denied that this amazing true story details how the Germans were deceived into believing that the Allies would attack Greece, when they actually stormed Sicily in July 1943. This was immensely significant at that time as it was  the first assault by Allied troops on what was known as Hitler’s Fortress Europe. Continue reading ““Operation Mincemeat” by Ben Macintyre”

“Strangers” by C L Taylor

Strangers” is the first book I read by Ms C L Taylor and I must say that I look forward to reading more from her. I understand she has written many books.  Like her books, she has made a mystery of her name too, it would appear. In the realm of romantic comedy, she is well-known as Cally Taylor, becoming C L Taylor when she writes psychological thrillers! Continue reading ““Strangers” by C L Taylor”

Memory: Then and Now !

Here’s a question for you! Have you experienced your memory, so to speak, playing tricks on you? Do you remember something that happened 50 years ago in great detail but can’t for the life of you remember where you left your spectacles a mere 5 minutes ago? To prove my point, here’s a quick example. As I write this blog post, my brain flashes to me an appropriate line: “Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time!”. It is from the distant past being from the popular song, ” With A Little Help From My Friends”  by The Beatles released in 1967!!  Continue reading “Memory: Then and Now !”

“Nehru’s 97 Major Blunders” by Rajnikant Puranik

Very few are as admired in India as our late Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru ( 1889-1964). As a school boy, I remember how thrilled we were when he visited our school in 1959, complete with that rose adorning his jacket. It was in 1962 however when his image took a beating in public for the first time. This followed the disastrous India-China War which saw our Army grossly humiliated. It was the same Army which as the British Indian Army had gained tremendous respect during World War II across different battle theaters, not to mention the sacrifices made in World War I as well. The blame for the 1962 blunders rest squarely with Nehru. Continue reading ““Nehru’s 97 Major Blunders” by Rajnikant Puranik”

“The Dog Who Came To Stay: A Memoir” by Hal Borland

If, like me, you are fond of dogs, this book, first published in 1961, will definitely appeal to you. “The Dog Who Came To Stay: A Memoir” by Hal Borland is the story of how a stray black and white foxhound whom they called Pat and a black pup of perhaps setter blood whom they called Mike entered the lives of the author and his wife Barbara. They first appeared on a cold and snowy Christmas night sometime during the 1950s when they lived in a secluded 100 acre farm in the wilder areas of North West Connecticut.

Being dog lovers, Borland and his wife took in Pat and Mike without any hesitation. They after all led a rather lonely life in the isolated farm enjoying the rugged landscape and being close to nature in the Housatonic Valley. They did make efforts to find out if anyone had reported these dogs as being missing. However, no one responded to their advertisements in the local newspapers and other attempts to find their owners. Gradually, as the dogs settled into a routine they became part of the Borland family.

Pat seemed to be well trained and in their estimate was a young adult of around four years. Mike was perhaps a year old, less groomed and therefore more boisterous and less well behaved. Soon Mike led Pat into a fight with a bobcat and ran away leaving Pat to scrap it out on his own. The battle resulted in Pat getting severely injured and he was nursed back to good health over the next two weeks by the author and his wife. After a year or so, Mike was becoming too much to handle so he was given away to a neighbor who wanted a pet for his little boy.

This left Pat alone with the Borlands and the book has many delightful anecdotes of Pat and his life with them over the next eight years.  Borland writes beautifully of life in the wilds, of the rabbit hunts, the stray bears, and nature in its different forms across the seasons. And of course about Pat!  The relationship between a man and his dog is a special one, which only dog lovers will truly understand. Never could the author and Barbara hope to see a more affectionate , loyal and steadfast friend than Pat. We discover that dogs, like human beings, have distinct personalities of their own. They too have  their likings, and their preferences, be it for food or a place to sleep and call their own.

All in all, this was a most enjoyable book. I would heartily recommend it to every dog lover even if they don’t own dogs of their own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Kashmiri Pandits Lost Their Azaadi

These days it has become fashionable for protestors in campuses like JNU, Aligarh Muslim University etc India to complain they want  Azaadi or freedom from the Citizenship Amendment Act,(CAA), the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP)  which has a legally elected overwhelming majority in the Centre, etc etc.

The slogan of “Azaadi” came  came into prominence at JNU  in 2016 when it was raised by Kanhaiya Kumar , the then president of the JNU Students Union. (  You may recall that he later stood for the elections for the Lok Sabha from Begusarai supported by the CPI and lost badly, but that is not the subject of this post). In 2019, azaadi as a slogan again came up in different campuses in India. However, many of the youth who are asking for Azaadi may not know the story of the Kashmiri Pandits where an entire community of people literally lost their Azaadi overnight on the night of January 19, 1990Not 100s or 1000s but 100,000s of them fled their ancestral home leaving behind everything tormented by Islamist groups like the JKLF.

Today, 30 years have passed since that fateful night and the saddest part is that not one criminal has been punished. Not a single one. Actually, the problems faced by the Kashmiri Pandits goes back in time. According to reliable reports the problems in the Indian border State of Jammu & Kashmir ( now made an Union Territory) started when elections were rigged in 1987 reportedly by the Congress Government in the Centre headed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, supported by Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference in the State. This alienated a lot of local Muslim population who supported the more militant Muslim United Front (MUF). They felt the local Kashmiri Pandits, who were Hindus unlike them, represented the Indian State. and accordingly could be soft targets.

In September 1989, a lawyer Tika Lal Taploo was the first Kashmiri Pandit to be openly killed. His killers were never punished and this emboldened the terrorists. They got so bold as to kill serving Indian Air Force officer Sqd Ldr Ravi Khanna and three other IAF personnel. Still they remained unpunished. How can one forget the 1990 murder of Kashmiri Pandit, Girija Tikkoo, who was just a Lab Asst in Jammu?

With these ” victories” behind them, they were ready for the ultimate goal, to push the Kashmiri Pandits out of their homeland. The hapless Pandits were infamously given three choices, “Ralive, Tsaliv ya Galive” which means ” either Convert to Islam, Leave the Land, or Die!”  These slogans were blared out of loudspeakers from mosques in the Kashmir Valley. Never in the history of Post Independence India had such a blatant aggression against one community taken place without any provocation.

Even thirty years later, the Kashmiri Pandits find themselves as refugees in their own country. Their tales of sorrow have been documented and need no repetition. Everyone has heard their stories though successive Governments have done little for them. We do hope , however that now that Article 370 has been repealed, the way forward may emerge. How the Kashmiri Pandit saga will end remains to be seen. Only time will tell if they ever go back to their homeland!!

The greatest irony, to my mind, is that political parties like the Congress and the Communist parties in India oppose the recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act as they claim it discriminates against Muslims. They don’t spare a thought, ( they haven’t in for the last thirty years, in any case) for the Hindu Kashmiri Pandits, who are refugees in their own country! It’s all very well for students in the exuberance of youth to ask for ” Azaadi” but their story is nothing compared to the sufferings of the Kashmiri Pandits who have truly lost their Azaadi!!

 

“281 And Beyond” by V V S Laxman, with R Kaushik.


For thousands of cricket fans in India, V V S Laxman has to be one of the classiest batsmen to have donned the India colours. His batting was characterized by grace, elegance, and a certain style which most cannot emulate. He was a worthy successor to other elegant Hyderabadi batsmen before him, like M L Jaisimha and Mohammad Azharuddin.

In his recent book, “281 And Beyond” , we get to know Laxman the person more than just Laxman the stylish batsman. Written in collaboration with R Kaushik, the Hyderabad -based cricket writer, this book gives the reader insight into Laxman’s travails and triumphs playing cricket for India at the highest level.

There were many triumphs, to be sure. On top of the list has to be his 281 in the Kolkatta test of 2001 against the Australians. How he and Rahul Dravid put together a 376 run partnership versus the mighty Australians is a legend in modern day cricket. India won the match despite having followed on! Laxman’s 281 was, at that time, the highest ever individual score by an Indian Test batsman.

This apart, there have many more occasions when Laxman has saved the day for India. After all in a career over 15 years, he scored over 8500 runs in 134 Tests with 17 centuries and an average of 45.97

Laxman’s travails came from his not being a sure shot member of the playing XI of the Indian cricket team of his time, unlike say a Tendulkar, a Dravid, a Sehwag , or a Ganguly. He was shuffled in the batting order many times, and was pushed into opening the batting which was not something he particularly enjoyed.

As Laxman’s career developed, another phenomenon came up which made his place in the Indian cricket team more insecure. This was the advent of 50 over cricket and later T20 cricket via the Indian Premier League (IPL). In both cases, Laxman had the disadvantage of being branded a “Test batsman. ” In addition, not being electric in the field, he lost out to others who were considered more adept in these newer and far more popular versions of the game.

In my view, what shines all through the book is Laxman’s description of his upbringing, values and work ethic which is so typical of the hard working middle class/professional stock he came from. He describes in detail how he had to make an important decision: whether to pursue his studies in medicine ( both his parents being doctors) or to be a professional cricketer.

Laxman’s career statistics are far more impressive than many would imagine. A short summary of his career figures in the book even as a end-of-the-book book summary, would, I believe, have publicized his cricketing achievements and enhanced the value of his accomplishments.

Highly recommended for all cricket lovers as Laxman was one of the finest players of his generation.