“A Prince Among The Patriots” by Maj. Gen. M K. Paul (Retd)

Often books are referred to as labours of love considering the huge amounts of work that go into writing them and the unbridled passion with which they are written. Knowing the author as I do, I can say with certainty that, “A Prince Among The Patriots: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose” by Maj. Gen. M. K. Paul (Retd) is definitely one such book. This “labour of love” has been recently published by Heritage Publishers, New Delhi.

Over the decades since India became a free nation, there have been many books on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, whom I consider to be the most heroic Indian of the 20 th century. You might well ask, ” Why then should there be one more?”. To my mind, the advent of social media, the explosion of information available and a renewed interest in knowing how India won freedom from the British are factors that have propelled the writing of this book. I need hardly add that the author’s passion for the subject of the book has been a key driver.

As a keen student of literature in general and biography in particular for the last six decades, I believe a biography rests on two central pillars. The first pillar is about the subject of the biography. This addresses questions like: Who was the person the book is about? What kind of person was he/she? What characteristics and behaviours did he/she exhibit that set them apart from others?

The second pillar is about their achievements and contributions which make them worthy of being written about. How did their actions impact society around them? What were the results of their endeavours? To what extent did they succeed in achieving the outcomes they worked for?

Seen through this prism, “A Prince Amongst The Patriots” elaborates upon Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s personality and character and his stellar contributions towards winning freedom from the British. The latest available literature and accounts point out to how it was the fear of a large scale mutiny by the British Indian Army, The Navy and the Air Force that was the proverbial last nail in the coffin of the British Empire. Towards this end, the valiant actions of Netaji’s Azad Hind Fauj (Indian National Army) which actively battled the British had a big influence on the minds of ordinary Indians serving in the British Indian Forces. It was Bose’s war cry of “Give Me Blood and I will Give you Freedom” that sent a chill down the backs of the British.This was a very different approach from one they had been used to for decades: Gandhiji’s non-violent cry of “Quit India” which they had ignored.

Netaji was an extraordinary leader who led from the front. His exploits in escaping from British India in disguise in 1941 and coming back by German and Japanese submarines to take charge of the INA in 1943 speaks volumes about his personal courage. His is a very different story than that of his more famous contemporaries in Indian history who exhorted crowds to face lathis while they never faced attacks by the police themselves. Even when they were imprisoned, Nehru and Gandhi spent time in relatively comfortable prisons as distinct from the terrible experiences Netaji had to go through when imprisoned by the British in the early years of the Second World War.

Apart from Netaji’s interactions with Gandhi and Nehru in India, the book dwells upon Netaji’s interactions with Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo in Germany, Italy and Japan. His mind was set only on one goal – freedom for his motherland. He was ready to take anybody’s help to achieve his dream. He was a man of principles, with a steadfast commitment to his cause, and a born leader with a flair for being different. Sadly, for decades after India became independent, Netaji did not get the recognition he richly deserved –

Hats off to Gen Paul for his work on Netaji Bose. I think the book could have seen better editing, but considering the author is 91, it is remarkable that he achieved one of his dearest ambitions: to write an interesting and informative book about his hero!

Highly recommended for those – especially amongst our youth – who are interested in Indian history, military history and biography.

Digital India

I hadn’t visited an ATM in many months, perhaps years. There used to be one around the corner from where we live. Since we were going out for a few days, at my age, I thought it might be prudent to withdraw some money. Just to be on the safe side! On reaching where the ATM used to be, in its place I found a shop selling seat covers and auto accessories. As I stood there puzzled, a grizzled middle-aged onion-potato seller smiled from behind his push cart. ” The ATM you are looking for closed down long ago, sir” he said. “No one comes here anymore. So they closed it. Every payment is done digitally these days”. He pointed happily to the QR Code he exhibited on his hand cart. “All of us are using this these days! You don’t have to carry cash any more.”

Hearing this from a hand cart vendor reminded me that we are now in a new India. A very different one from the days of my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s. Then we would have counted out each note and coin carefully, rubbing the note to make sure two notes were not going out in place of one! Today, a click and the transaction is done.

This message was reinforced recently at a hospital. I saw an elderly lady watch bewildered when the bill for her husband was settled with a few clicks on her son’s smartphone. I could relate to what went through her mind. Years ago, getting the patient discharged from the hospital would have been a major operation in itself! It would involve withdrawing money from the bank, carrying it carefully and paying it at the hospital so that the patient would be discharged.

For us in India, at work or at home, in urban areas and increasingly in rural areas too digital payments have overshadowed the traditional cash payments. The figures speak for themselves. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told the Parliament in her budget speech that India saw 7,400 crore digital payments of Rs 126 lakh crore through UPI in 2022.” (For those who may not be familiar with the terms, “lakhs” and “crores” commonly used in India: 100,000 makes 1 lakh and 100 lakhs makes 1 crore).

Yes, indeed the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) introduced in 2016 has taken the country by storm. Payments through Phone Pe, Google Pay, Pay Tm and other mobile App based platforms account for 42 % of all transactions. The older payment modes such as the credit cards and debit cards- once considered quite sauve and chic- had a share of just 7 % and 14 %, and are falling rapidly year on year.

The pandemic created havoc in many ways but it did help in strengthening the roots of the digital payments systems. Everyone and his uncle – especially in India’s cities and towns- started using online shopping, online payment gateways and the like based on several factors, key amongst them:- speed, convenience and reliability. Apart from person to person payments, there are many examples where digitisation has changed the way we live. One success story has been in the toll collections in National Highways. Earlier, there used to be long queues at the toll gates while people counted out notes laboriously. Today, thanks to FASTag and such methods, not only has the system become streamlined, saving valuable time but the numbers have also increased substantially. In 2022, toll collections at national and state highways brought in Rs 50,855 crore- an impressive 46% more than the previous year!

The use of mobile phones has been a major contributor to this galloping pace of progress for digital payments. In past years, politicians -especially in the Opposition – were skeptical whether our people would be able to use such sophisticated systems. Today, India has 1.2 billion mobile phone users with 600 millions smartphone users. Even in remote places, you will find the ubiquitous mobile phone and in its wake- social media!

Apart from having a large user base, India has become the world’s second largest manufacturer of mobile phones. The Economic Survey said the out put had increased from 6 crore units in 2015 to 31 crore units in 2022.

Those who wish to go through an easy to understand primer on digital payment will find this article on Digital Payments in India in Easebuzz to be of use.

So we have to move with the times. The writing on the wall is clear. Year after year, we shall see more advances in technology which will make our lives easier. Unfortunately, this applies equally to fraudsters too! To protect ourselves, we must learn best practices to stay safe and be cautious when we transact online.

“The Mountbattens: Their Lives & Loves” by Andrew Lownie

To the reader in India, ” The Mountbattens: Their Lives & Loves” published by Blink Publishing in 2019 renews interest in a couple who played a pivotal role in the Partition of India. It is written by Andrew Lownie, a renowned journalist and literary agent. Apart from this comprehensive book on the Mounbattens, Lownie has written books on the former King Edward VIII called “The Traitor King: The Scandalous Exile of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor” and on the Russian spy Guy Burgess, titled, “Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess’.

Whenever I think of Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma (1900-1979), I see an imposing figure in sparkling white Naval uniform with rows of medal ribbons on his chest. He did become an Admiral of the Fleet and the First Sea Lord in 1955 thereby fulfilling a childhood vow that he would attain a position held by his father, Prince Louis of Battenberg. Mountbatten’s father was forced to resign as the First Sea Lord following intense public pressure due to his German ancestry when the First World War broke out in 1914.

However, more than his career as an officer of the Royal Navy, we in India know of “Dickie” Mountbatten as the last British Viceroy of India. In five hectic months from March to August 1947, he presided over the dismemberment of India. He was then invited to continue as Governor-General (from August 1947 to June 1948) after India became independent by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. As the last Viceroy of India, he was often seen accompanied by his wife, Edwina, Countess Mountbatten of Burma (1901-1960). She had earned a lot of accolades for her work as the Chief of the St John’s Ambulance Brigade during the Second World War.

As the book’s title suggests, it covers more than just the official roles the Mountbattens played during their long and distinguished careers. It speaks of the innumerable love affairs they had in the course of a long marriage that lasted from 1922 to 1960 when Lady Mounbatten passed away. The author writes that the book is the “portrait of an unusual marriage- one that was loving and mutually supportive, but also beset with infidelities. Mountbatten himself claimed that he and Edwin spent all their married lives getting into other people’s beds!

Dickie Mountbatten was the great grandson of Queen Victoria, through his mother. He was thus the nephew of King George V; a cousin of his successors as Kings of Britain, King Edward VIII and George VI; and uncle of Queen Elizabeth II who married his nephew, Phillip, in November 1947. All his life, Mountbatten had a reputation of being a name dropper who got things done using his closeness to the Royal Family. He may have been a member of the Royal Family but in terms of wealth Edwina was far richer than him. Her grandfather Sir Ernest Cassell was financial advisor to King Edward VII and in his own right one of the richest men in the world. When Edwina got married in 1922, she was the richest heiress in the world!!

Lownie takes us through the different stages of Mountbatten’s career starting from when he was commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant in the Royal Navy in 1916 until he retired with the rank of Admiral of the Feet as the First Sea Lord 1959. In the 1920s and 1930s, Edwina was more known for her love for parties, her many lovers, and the social circuit she thrived in more than for anything else. Her interest in Nursing and volunteering for the War effort came much later in her life. She did commendable work for the St Johns Ambulance Brigade and in nursing troops injured in battle in South East Asia where her husband was the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces.

Of special interest to readers in India will be the relationship between the Viceroy, the Vicerine, and Jawaharlal Nehru which has been described in considerable detail by Lownie. Was Edwina’s influence over Nehru used to get the Indian leader to agree to what Mountbatten wanted? Was their relationship merely a ” spiritual” one as claimed by some or much more than that? Did Mountbatten use Edwina’s love for Nehru and vice versa to his advantage? You should read the book for yourself to get all these answers. To many, this book will come as an eye opener. It describes how the high and mighty, glamorous members of the fabled “high society” lived during the height of the British Empire in England and in the closing days of the British Raj in India. After all for more than 50 years, the Mountbattens were considered close to British Royalty.

If you like history and biographies, this is a well-researched book which gives you new insights into the lives of Lord and Lady Mountbatten and the times they lived in.

XI Bangalore Literature Festival- Day 2: My Impressions.

My previous post in this blog was about the first day of the XI Bangalore Literature  Festival held on December 3 and 4, 2022. Today’s is about some of the sessions I attended and enjoyed on December 4.

Yes, the man we once knew as “Sandokan” looked older, thinner perhaps but he still had his good looks and his voice was as deep as ever. Seeing Kabir Bedi speak about his debut book- “Stories I Must Tell” reminded me that in his prime he was probably the most handsome man in India. To us, he was Sandokan from the Italian TV series of that name based on the books by Emilio Salgari.  He was also the guy who acted in a James Bond movie partly shot in India- “Octopussy” in which my college friend Vijay Amrithraj also had a role. His book, published by Westland in April 2021 in keeping with its title seems to be bare it all kind of book. Engaging him in the discussion was V K Karthika a veteran in the Indian publishing industry.  The book has received many rave  reviews, with Vir Sanghvi saying: “It’s the best memoir by an Indian celebrity that I have read.” That, to my mind, is saying a lot! 

To be honest, I had not heard of Saikat Majumdar but was interested in hearing him speak being told he taught English Literature at Stanford University. His book called, ” The Middle Finger”  was published by Simon and Schuster in early 2022.  In the course of the conversation with HK Surya, we got to know the book was about the protagonist finding her feet in a new University  after she moved to India from the United States.  It seems to be an interesting story. 

I stayed on in The Red Couch for the next session in which my friend Sumaa Tekur chatted with Rita Chhablani about her three recent books in a session titled, “Relationships Done Different”. I found this conversation to be quite charming, Rita spoke of the differences in the days when she was a youngster and the present day. I could totally relate to all that she said  being not just of her age but older! She spoke from her heart and shared what worked for her. After all, as she said, each person has to find out what his/her own style is as a writer. By the way, Sumaa too has blossomed as an author.  I am happy that her first book, ” The Inner Light- A Beginner’s Guide to Spirituality and Finding Peace” was published by Hay House Publishers in July 2022. 

The next session I attended was by far the most crowded in the Festival. It was a very enjoyable one for all that.  For the many who were seated, there were an equal number of standees. This was Sudha Murty ‘s “The Magic Of The Lost Story” with Manu Pillai. The lady is 72s, has written more than 40 books and is as enthusiastic as ever before. She brought an infectious energy to the audience. Full of quips and homely  wisdom, she was at her best and didn’t disppoint the large crowd that had gathered to listen to her. For example, she said how a lady is first known as someone’s daughter, then someone’s wife, then someone’s mother, and here after a pause she said, and nowadays as someone’s mother in law. The audience burst into laughter knowing her son in law  Rishi Saunak is now the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. As always, her talk was replete with personal examples  and we heard about her Ajji and her mother and how they influenced her with the stories they told her when she was a small girl.  She highlighted the need for good books for kids and how she hoped her books would keep kids away from the addictive computer games. 

It was nearly 12.45 by the time I got ready for the next important item on my agenda- lunch. We authors and speakers had been asked to be at the designated lounge for authors half hour before our session. Mine was at 2.00 pm and I didn’t want to be late.  This diligency resulted in an unexpected bonus!   I was delighted to find myself lunching with Kabir Bedi, whom I had seen at a distance this morning. It was a great experience for me, as we had hero worshipped him during our younger days! 

When I told him that I had written a few thrillers, he said he loved thrillers. He told me with considerable pride that his grand daughter Alaya had acted very well  with Kartik Aaryan in a recently  released thriller on Disney Hotstar called , “Freddy” .

I am happy to say my interview with the Raghu and Pushpa on  their latest historical novel, ” Destiny’s Child” published by Penguin Viking in February 2022 was well received by the audience.  Raghu and Pushpa bring a lot of passion and hard work to their writing.

Their research has been meticulous .This is evident from the success of their first book- a historical novel on one of Raghu’s ancestors Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair, who at one time was the  only Indian member of the Viceroy’s Council, no less. This book, ” The Case That Shook The Empire”  is being made into a movie by Karan Johar’s  Dharma Productions and has the famous actor Akshay Kumar in a lead role.The  Palats’ second book is in the same genre. This is the story of Parukutty Neithyaramma, the consort of  Maharaja Rama Varma XVI who ruled Cochin from 1914 to 1932.  The thinking and approaches of this formidable lady to social and political issues were far in advance of her times. It was satisfying to start and end on time in keeping with this important tradition of the Bangalore Literature Festival.

A pretty large crowd gathered to hear J Sai Deepak speak about his latest book, ,” India, Bharath and Pakistan: The Constitutional Journey Of A Sandwiched Civilisation” published by Bloomsbury Publishing in August 2022.  Sai Deepak describes himself as being an engineer-turned-litigator. He practices as an arguing counsel before the Union in 1947. Supreme Court of India and the High Court of Delhi. After getting a degree in Mechanical Engineering Anna University, Sai Deepak went to the Law School of IIT Kharagpur and got a bachelor’s degree in law in 2009. He has since argued in many important civil, commercial and constitutional matters. I have always admired his logic and way of arguing his case in television and can only imagine how effective he must be in the courtroom. I consider him to be one of India’s sharpest legal minds at a relatively young age. He spoke of his latest book and answered a lot of questions from the audience.  I thought he was incisive and crisp in his comments. Sai Deepak does not hesitate to call a spade a spade in voicing his opinions on issues like secularism in our country.

The erstwhile kingdom of Mysore was always considered one of the best ruled princely states as they were called during the British Raj. Mysore was far ahead of most others when it came to education and welfare measures for the people. It was natural therefore for me to eagerly wait for Deepti Navaratana to talk about her new book ” The Maverick Maharajah : The Life and Times of His Highness Maharajah Sri Jayachamrajendra Wadiyar” , published by Harper Collins India in July 2022.  Deepti’s book is about HH Sri Jayachamrajendra Wadiyar who ruled the properous kingdom of Mysore from 1940 to 1950. He was the first prince to sign the declaration to join the newly formed Indian Union in 1947.  A major patron of the arts and a skilled musician himself, he was known all over the world fas a connoisseur of both  Indian and Western classical music. Talking to Deepti about his illustrious ancestor and lineage was the young,  suave  His Highness Sri Yaduveer Wadiyar of Mysore. Yes,  I know the privy purse was abolished by Mrs Indira Gandhi in  1971  and the princes and their titles don’t exist any longer in law in India,  but for many of us and his subjects in the old Mysore state, the Mysore Maharajah will always remain His Highness in our minds. I enjoyed this session immensely.

The next session had Anupama Bijur  in conversation with Shobhaa  De, who needs no introduction and  Gayatri Gill  about ” Love In The Lockdown.” The two writers spoke of their experiences during the Covid 19 pandemic particularly during the darkest days when no one had a clue what was going on and how long it would last. Both of them wrote extensively during their forced confinement indoors  during the pandemic. They described what they went through and how their experiences as also what they heard and saw influenced their writing.  The writers left us echoing the sentiment that human relationships did undergo a big shift due to the pandemic. Indeed, we have so much to be grateful for coming out of the pandemic as we did. 

In my last podcast I had mentioned meeting some interesting people. If Kabir Bedi and Damodar Mauzo were well into their 70s, Zac Sangeeth is not even in his teens! At lunch on Day 1, when I met Festival Director Shinie Antony at lunch at my table was a young boy with his parents.  I thought he was accompanying his parents  one or both of whom were writers. I almost fell out of my chair when I came to know he was a published author at 10 and now at 11 had written a sequel to his book! Zac Sangeeth -had a session ” The World’s Youngest Historian” which i missed because I was elsewhere in another session.  I came to know that his books  ” World History in 3 Points’ and “ More World History in 3 Points” have been published in 2022 by Hachette India.  What is admirable is his  innovative – and shall I say very contemporary – approach to writing about what is often termed a boring and dry subject. This is a remarkable feat for one so young.  His writing has made world history more readable and hence more appealing to both young and old alike.

Thanks to Shinie Antony, Festival Director and her team ; to the organisers who did some meticulous planning; to the galaxy of authors who spoke of their work; to the volunteers who were so dedicated and committed; and to the audiences who were most interested and knowledgeable.  

I throughly enjoyed the XI Bangalore Literature Festival and am already looking forward to the XII edition to be held on November 25 and 26, 2023.  

Here’s where you can listen to the podcast version of this post,

My Take on Day 1 of the Bangalore Literature Festival, 2022

In today’s post, I shall share my thoughts on some of the sessions that I attended and enjoyed on December 3, 2022- Day 1 of the two day Bangalore Literature Festival.

To start the day’s proceedings, for me it was a toss up between Pico Iyer and Bachi Karkaria. I chose to attend Bachi’s session as I have admired her writing for years and I could catch Pico at another session. Being a history and biography buff, the topic too interested me: It was about her book “Capture the Dream: The Many Lives of Capt C P Krishnan Nair”  published by Juggernaut books in Jan 2022.  She was in conversation with the erudite and articulate business and brand strategy expert, Harish Bijoor. To jog your memory, if indeed it need some jogging, Capt Krishnan Nair was the person who founded the Leela Group of luxury hotels.   Bachi briefly touched upon some of the highlights of Captain’s life. She spoke of  his humble origins, his wide exposure to life  in many countries due to the various jobs he did and his ambition which fuelled his most daring ventures. Once he made up his mind about something, nothing would stop him. He opened his luxury chain of hotels in his 60s, braving the established reputed players like the Taj, Oberoi, ITC etc. in the pre- liberalisation era in india.  The hotel chain was named after – not too difficult to imagine why- his wife. He was described as being a bon vivant who lived life to the fill till he passed away aged 92 in 2014.  Bachi and Harish carried off the session with charm and a touch of humour which I am sure Captain Nair would have heartily approved of. 

I first met Saaz Aggarwal, like me an alumnus of The Lawrence School, Lovedale in 2012 when Mathew Antony had this brilliant idea of having a Book Reading by Old Lawrencian  Authors during Founder’s . She has since written many more books, especially about 

Sindh to which she has an emotional connect as her mother belonged to that area, now in Pakistan. In today’s session at the BLF, she was in conversation with Senthil Chengalvarayan on her latest book, ” Losing Home, Finding Home”  which, like her previous book, is once again about Sindh and the displaced people from there. They suffered a lot but perhaps faced less horrors as compared to those that took place in Punjab. As a result, their stories did not feature so prominently.  Her passion for the subject comes out clearly , as does the enormous amount of painstaking research she has done on a subject not known to many.  We of course know Senthil Chengalvarayan as a renowned  business journalist. He was the founding editor of CNBC TV 18 and Editor in Chief of Network 18’s Business news room. ‘Losing Home, Finding Home”  the poignant story of the displaced people of Sindh was published on August 15, 2022 by Black and White Fountain. I am sure this particular date was chosen with a purpose.  This is one book I am keen on reading! 

“It’s A Punderful World” by Vaidehi Murthy in conversation with Sriram Sullia, one of the most popular RJs in Bengaluru. I was very much looking forward to this session as I thought it had a most appealing title.  A pun is fascinating for anyone who loves a play of words. As Vaidehi told us there are many, many  different types of puns. She then gave examples of each of them to bring out the differences. Obviously, she had done a lot of work in this field and done a deep dive, as they say these days,  in the world of puns.  Videhi is super active with her puns on Twitter. To catch her latest, check out her Twitter handle, @ButVai.  Now please don’t ask me But why? Just go ahead and enjoy her latest tweet and pun! Emceeing this session with elan was Bengaluru’s own favourite RJ- Sriram Sullia. As Vaidehi would admit, this radio jock was key to the success of her session.

After this session I had to race off to another venue to catch the session by a veteran writer  I have long admired. This is Damodar Mauzo from Goa and I rate him to be one of India’s best short story writers. Today he was talking to another talented writer, novelist and playwright – the very successful Vivek Shanbhag. Indeed a proud moment for me to be with these distinguished writers.

The topic was Mauzo’s new book , “Tales From Another Goa”. Discerning readers will remember that he won the Sahitya Akademi award for his 1983 book “Karmaelin” and in 2014 he wrote another highly rated collection of short stories, called”‘ Teresa’s Man & Other Short Stories from Goa” which I much enjoyed. In 2022 he was awarded the prestigious 57th Jnanpith AwIt was a great pleasure listening to this fine writer who is full of humility and grace. He narrated how he wrote his very first story when he was just 18. If there is one writer who is today what he was like 50 years ago that is Damodar Mauzo.  . Here I must mention how heart warming it is to see  the strides made by literature in Konkani, which also happens to be my mother tongue, thanks in the main to people like Damodar Mauzo. 

Rohini Nilekani needs no introduction to the people of Bengaluru. Though she is perhaps better known as a major philanthropist, she is a writer in her own right. I remember her debut novel – a medical thriller called, ” Stillborn”.  Today’s session was on her recent book- published in August 2022 called, “ Samaaj, Sarkaar, Bazaar” .  This has a series of articles written by her on the interplay between these three powerful entities in our world- Samaaj, the society we live in; Sarkaar; the Government we elect which administers the State, and Bazaar, the market place which determines what is in and what is out and how much it should cost. She was in conversation with one of India’s most famous young historians, Manu Pillai.  Advocating a citizen first approach, Rohini says citizens should be conscious  of their rights and responsibilities, and not be passively dependent on the Government to provide them with things to lead a better life. She obviously lays great importance to the power of collective action by members of the society. This session evoked thoughts in the audience of just how much philanthropy can and can not do .

After sessions on a successful entrepreneur ; the displaced people of Sindh; on the funny side of life; stories from sunny Goa, and what we can do as citizens in today’s world, the next session I attended was on a totally different subject. This was “The Essentials of Hinduism: An Introduction to all the Sacred Texts” ” by Prof Trilochan Sastry,  which was published in October 2022.  This book is designed for those who have never had the time, inclination or ability to read the ancient Hindu scriptures which date back to thousands of years. In the course of this 30 minute session, Prof Sastry instilled in me and I am sure many in the audience -a desire to know more- to read more about a subject which many consider forbidding not because of its content but because it is written in Sanskrit, an age old language which not many know these days.  Prof Sastry’s translation of the major parts of the important texts will, I am sure be most illuminating to people approaching this intense, thought provoking subject for the first time. Prof Sastry is a Professor in IIM Bangalore and is a graduate of IIT Delhi, and IIM Ahmedabad. He holds a doctorate from MIT.  I liked the way Prof Sastry placed his points to the audience. Never judgemental, never persuasive but giving you things as they are- it is, as he said,  upto you to take it, leave it or make the best of it . All in all, I thought it was an educative session. 

With this we come to an end of my observations of the sessions I attended on the first day of the Bangalore Literature festival . In my next post, I shall cover some of the sessions of the second day and also some interesting people I met during the Festival. 

Here’s where you can listen to the podcast version of this post,

The Bangalore Literature Festival, December 3 and 4, 2022

Although a few days have passed, I still feel the buzz of the two days spent in the 11 th edition of the Bangalore Literature Fest held on December 3 and 4, 2022.   As you might know, these days  there are so many Literature Festivals taking place all over the country, but the one at Bangalore  held annually since 2012 continues to a big draw for  crowds of bibliophiles as well as authors from India and abroad.  We see from their website that over 1500  authors and speakers have added to the heft of this festival over the years. I quote from the website  ”   The Festival is India’s largest independent and community-funded literary conclave and Bengaluru city’s flagship annual literary and cultural experience focused on rekindling the romance with literature and fostering fine reading and writing, especially amongst the young population of the city.”

An interesting feature of the Bangalore Litereature Festival is the impetus it provides to aspiring and new writers in many ways. Since 2015, writers vie for the prestigous Atta Gallata- Bangalore Literature Festival Award each year in as many as 9 categories. Apart from awards for the usual Fiction and Non-Fiction in English,  awards are presented for Literary Achievement in Kannada, Popular Choice, Best Cover Design, and 4 categories in Children’s Books. This, I believe,  must be an unique feature of this festival. 

This year’s event was that much more awaited as it was the first physical event after a break due to the Covid 19 pandemic. 

As has been the practice for the last few Bangalore LitFests, the venue remained the 5 star Hotel Lalit Ashok.This luxury hotel with its 10 acres of sprawling grounds lent itself for the actual programs to take place in the outdoors in 6 designated venues. The weather Gods were kind and it didn’t rain for these days coming after spells of rains in Bengaluru in the previous weeks. If anything, it was pretty hot with the maximum temperatures hovering around 28 degrees Celsius. 

Hats off to Shinie Antony, Festival Directors and her team for their meticulous organising of the festival. To fully comprehend the magnitude of the task involved, let me throw some numbers at you! There were a staggering 71 sessions for adults and 28 sessions for kids on the first day. How on earth did so many sessions take place in one day, you might ask? The answer is simple. The oraganisers had 4 sessions for adults and 2 sessions for kids running simultaneously  in the hotel grounds. As you entered the LitFest area, you came to  the first venue named “Gandhadha Gudi” . A little further was the second, “Raajkumara”  which was poolside,. The third and fourth venues further down were Yuvaratna  on the Tennis Court  and The Red Couch  Courtside. The sessions for the kids were held at Seonee and Malgudi in the Lalit Ashok Gardens. 

On the second day, there were 69 sessions for adults and 25 for kids. In effect, this meant  there were 193 sessions running simultaneously over these six venues spanning the two days. 

Bengaluru’s literature buffs had to make some hard choices. Obviously there was no way anyone could attend all the sessions.  On Day 1 for example, where would you start? With Pico Iyer on “Why We Travel” or Bachi Karkaria on ” The Many Lives of Capt C P Krishnan Nair” ? With Crossings by Mini Krishnan. Gita Ramaswamy, S Sreedhara and AJ Thomas or with Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra ? You get what I mean.  Thankfully, the organiser s had published a neatly formatted scehdule well in advance on their webiste. This helped you choose  from the wide range of offerings,  depending on your interest.  I would imagine most  book lovers made their choices driven by either the author or their preferred genre. In any case though you had to choose one over another, you weren’t unduly worried because the recording of all the sessions sessions would be published in the YouTube channel of the BLF over time.  So you chose what you wanted right now! You could listen to the others at leisure later. 

Typically, each session was for 30 minutes and in keeping with the fine traditions of the Bengalore LitFest adhering to these timings was sacred.  Here was one occasion when the much talked about  Bangalorean laid back  ” Swalpa Adjust Maadi” didn’t kick in. The sessions went like clock work! Not just a few but every single one of them -started and ended on time, which is indeed quite remarkable.

I had the privilege and pleasure of interviewing Raghu and Pushpa Palat- on December 4. They are the  co-authors of ” Destiny’s Child” a book  about the undefeatable reign of Cochin’s Parukutty Neithyeramma.  She was the consort of Maharaja Rama Varma XVI who ruled Cochin from 1914 to 1932 . The book is the story of this formidable lady who was far ahead of her times in her thinking and approach. 

The books discussed were available for sale at  the bookstore- Atta Galata . All through the two days one saw crowds throng this venue to buy the books they wanted and get them autographed by the authors. After their sessions, authors were asked to spend some time in that venue and do the book signings for their reader fans. As is popular these days,  many readers sought to capture selfies with their favourtite authors. 

Thanks to the meticulous planning by the organisers and to the dedicated and committed band of volunteers who executed these plans the LitFest was a great success.  Needless to say, the success was also due to the galaxy of authors who spoke of their work and of topics related to literature. and art.  They were cheered on by  large audiences who were most interested and knowledgeable. 

No wonder it is reported that over 20,000 literature- crazy people attended this two day LitFest.

Here’s where you can listen to the podcast version of this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would urge you to read this delightful book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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