“The Bhagavad Gita For Millennials”: Bibek Debroy

Actually, I believe the title of Bibek Debroy’s book, ” The Bhagavad Gita For Millennials” (published by Rupa in 2020) is a misnomer. While it might entice the millennials to read it, I think it is apt for people of all ages. So simply and well has Debroy approached the subject which, at first, might appear to be a daunting read especially for the uninitiated. Debroy, as you may have heard, is a famous economist and translator. He happens to be the Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Economic Council, no less!

The millennial by popular definition are those born between 1981 to 1996, so they would be between 24 to 39 years old now. While Debroy targets them as a reading audience, the book has wider meaning for those older than 40!

It is replete with information- much of which I must confess- I didn’t know myself. Starting from the shruthi texts and the smriti texts, ( such as the Mahabharata) Debroy explains just how vast the texts in Hinduism are. Some who associate the Gita exclusively with the Bhagavad Gita may be astonished to know that there are probably 58 Gitas.

The Bhagavad Gita as is well known comes from the epic- The Mahabharata. For a generation which has seen this on television in India, the book explains many nuances of how it should be read. The author argues that it is best read in Sanskrit, but for those who don’t know Sanskrit there have been many translations over the centuries. The earliest translation into English rules believed to be by Charles Wilkins way back in 1785.

Debroy also shares his research into just how ancient the Bhagavad Gita is with cogent reasoning. He also decries the tendency to quote the Gita selectively or out of context and gives a few common examples. Here scholars and layman alike have been guilty of picking a phrase or sentence and using it to justify their actions saying it is written in the Gita!

This book should not be read in a hurry. I would advice that you read it with an open and calm mind. While the explanations themselves are lucid, if you are not familiar with Sanskrit ( probably applies to most of us ) your reading speed will be constrained. It is recommended that you read both the Sanskrit original followed by the explanation in English of the shlokas.

“Never Too Big To Fail” by Sandeep Hasurkar

Events I write about are not too far away to have faded from our memories. When the stock market in India went into a tizzy starting October 2018 after a long period of growth, analysts said the ripple had been cast by the IL & FS Story. Some of us had some information in the media about things that followed. Many may not know what the story was about.

In this context, the book I read recently gives you an accurate picture of what happened over the decades in Infrastructure and Financial Services (IL & FS), the gigantic infrastructure financing company in India. “Never Too Big To Fail” is the catchy title given by author, Sandeep Hasurkar for this book, published by Rupa in November 2020. Hasurkar has over three decades experience as an investment banker, term lender and policy adviser with leading financial institutions.

You have to read the book for yourself to understand the issues involved. It describes events that led to bankers, Government officials, industrialists and more than anyone else- the common investor being shocked one fine day to hear that such a well-known name in corporate circles had run up borrowings of Rs 91,000 crores and begun to default on re-payments. The IL & FS had grown since its inception in 1987 to become a conglomerate in their chosen space with as many as 340 subsidiary companies – which had made these borrowings! Perhaps the bankers gave willingly to these subsidiaries because of the so-called impeccable credentials of the parent company and its enviable AAA rating.

There is some repetition in the 245 page book. One area where the author could have done better, in my opinion, is to set the context for the mind-boggling figures. What exactly does Rs 91,000 crores mean, to the layman? To put things in perspective, understand this:- The per capita income in India its Rs 11, 254 per month or Rs, 1,35,000 during the year 2019-20. The median price for buying a house in a metro city is Rs 15,00,000 and in a developed rural area Rs 5,00,000. The healthcare allocation in the Union Budget for 2020-21 is Rs 67,484 crores.

For those not familiar with the terminology, in India we often use ” crores” to denote a figure of 10 million. A crore is made up of 100 lakhs ( 100,00,000). This means the borrowings mentioned in this book by IL & FS can be written as 910, 000 million or 910 billion. It tires me to write this out but if I am not mistaken that is- and hold your breath: – Rs, 910,000,000,000.

There are many lessons in this book. As a common man, I can only hope that some heed is paid to them.

“Mrs Funnybones” by Twinkle Khanna

I had heard about Twinkle Khanna of course. I knew she was the daughter of famous parents both from the Indian film industry: India’s very first super star, Rajesh Khanna and Dimple Kapadia, of “Bobby” fame. She was a film actress herself.  More recently, I knew of her as the wife of a major modern day film hero, Akshay Kumar.  But I was biased, I confess, like many of my generation. In our days, we never associated Hindi film stars with writing books!  Continue reading ““Mrs Funnybones” by Twinkle Khanna”

“Titanic: The Story Of The Unsinkable Ship” by Hourly History

To most in my generation, the story of the RMS Titanic is not so much associated with a book as with James Cameron’s blockbuster movie of 1997.  However, even as kids we had read about the mighty Titanic and how she met her end in 1912 on her very first voyage. You will know, I am sure, that her end came when she crashed against an iceberg in the ice cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.  Over 1500 went down with her. Though this accident took place over 100 years ago, it still continues to fascinate those interested in such stories. Continue reading ““Titanic: The Story Of The Unsinkable Ship” by Hourly History”

“1984: India’s Guilty Secret” by Pav Singh

If you are from India or have followed events in India wherever you are in the world, the very mention of 1984 is bound to bring back horrific memories. You will probably remember the assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, India’s then Prime Minister,  and the consequent massacre of the Sikhs, especially in and around New Delhi, the nation’s capital.  Many books have been written about this tragic incident in our country’s history. In my view, “1984: India’s Guilty Secret” by Pav Singh (published by Rupa, 2017) is, one that lays bare what actually happened in just four days that year. Pav Singh is based in the UK and spent a full year in India researching material for this book  Continue reading ““1984: India’s Guilty Secret” by Pav Singh”

“Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service” by Bar-Zohar & Mishal

Have you noticed that generally you cannot talk about Israel without the Mossad coming into the conversation? So deep has Mossad- the Israeli Secret Service – caught the imagination of people all over the world in its six decades of existence since its inception in 1949. Michael Bar-Zohar, (a veteran of many wars for Isreal, with an in depth knowledge of the espionage industry,  and a close aide to the legendary David Ben Gurion)  and Nissim Mishal, (an eminent TV personality in Israel) have collaborated to write, “Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service” . Continue reading ““Mossad: The Greatest Missions of the Israeli Secret Service” by Bar-Zohar & Mishal”

“Upstairs At The White House” by J B West

Mr J Bernard West spent most of his working life in the most prestigious address in the United States, if not in the whole world.  1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, popularly known as the White House is the official residence of possibly the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States of America. Continue reading ““Upstairs At The White House” by J B West”

“To Defeat The Few” by Douglas C. Dildy & Paul F. Crickmore

I have been an admirer and keen follower of Osprey Publishing as they have published many books relating to a period in history which has always fascinated me, namely World War II. Winston Churchill immortalized the fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force  in 1940 during the Battle of Britain. In his inimitable style, Churchill said, ” Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” The RAF pilots came to be known as The Few. Continue reading ““To Defeat The Few” by Douglas C. Dildy & Paul F. Crickmore”

“Hostages To India” by Herbert A Stark

From my last post on “Lachmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi” you will know that I am fond of history and old books. Having studied at The Lawrence School, Lovedale ( originally set up by Major-General Sir Henry Lawrence way back in 1858 for the children of soldiers in the British Army of those times) , it has been my good fortune to have had many Anglo-Indian friends over the decades.

It was with great delight therefore that I read, ” Hostages To India: The Life Story of the Anglo Indian Race” by Herbert Alick Stark. This book was first published in 1926 in Calcutta. The version I read was published thanks to the Internet Archive. Continue reading ““Hostages To India” by Herbert A Stark”

“Lachmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi”by Michael White

Being fond of history and of books, I was delighted to come across an extremely old book  recently. This was ” Lachmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi” by Michael White,  re- published by Project Gutenberg which has brought out over 60,000 ebooks which are available for free to readers. The original was published way back in 1901 by J F Taylor And Company, New York! This book has an interesting sub-title, “The Jeanne D”Arc of India” Continue reading ““Lachmi Bai, Rani of Jhansi”by Michael White”