“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.

“Ambling Indian Diaries: Journey India” by Aina Rao

They say that often the book cover makes a big difference in influencing a reader to buy a book. I loved the cover of,  “Ambling Indian Diaries: Journey India” by Aina Rao. It showed you at a glance what the book could be about. The colors, the contrasts and the chaos that characterize life in our country, irrespective of who you are and where you live. Continue reading ““Ambling Indian Diaries: Journey India” by Aina Rao”

“Hunt The Bismarck” by Angus Konstam

As a kid, growing up in the 60’s I had heard the popular song of the day, ” Sink The Bismarck” by Johnny Horton. That old song rang in my ears as I recently read a comprehensive book about the last battle of the famous German battleship of the Second  World War, the “Bismarck”, the pride of the German Kriegsmarine.

The book I speak of  is , “Hunt The Bismarck” (2019) by the noted naval historian, Angus Konstam, who has authored many books about the Second World War. This book has been published by Osprey Publishing.  Continue reading ““Hunt The Bismarck” by Angus Konstam”

“Hippie Cult Leader: The Last Words of Charles Manson” by James Buddy Day

James Buddy Day the author of ” Hippie Cult Leader: The Last Words of Charles Manson” has earned a reputation for being a “true crime documentarian”. His book is one more in the list of many books written about Charles Manson (1934-2017), variously described as a musician, poet, cult leader, drug dealer, pimp, and mass murderer. As a teenager in 1969, I remember how shocked we were to read about the gruesome murders of the beautiful film actress Sharon Tate and others, in “Life” and “Time”, the popular magazines of those days. Continue reading ““Hippie Cult Leader: The Last Words of Charles Manson” by James Buddy Day”

“Chaos In Romance, Sexuality and Fidelity”: Raksha Bharadia

I know of Ms. Raksha Bharadia from the days when she edited titles for the “Chicken Soup For The Indian Soul” series of books. They were interesting and entertaining. I enjoyed reading her latest book, published by Rupa recently called, “Chaos In Romance, Sexuality and Fidelity”.   Continue reading ““Chaos In Romance, Sexuality and Fidelity”: Raksha Bharadia”

“Open Secrets” by Maloy Krishna Dhar

The full title of this absorbing book by veteran sleuth, the late Mr Maloy Krishna Dhar IPS, is ” Open Secrets: The Explosive Memoirs of An Indian Intelligence Officer”.  It was published in 2012 and I read the Kindle version recently. Mr Dhar was a senior intelligence operative and civil servant of the 1964 batch of the prestigious Indian Police Service (IPS). This version has been published after his demise on May 19, 2012 thanks, I believe, to the efforts of his son, Mainak Dhar, an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad; a senior executive in an international firm and an acclaimed writer himself.

Continue reading ““Open Secrets” by Maloy Krishna Dhar”

“The Secret Diary of Kasturba” by Neelima Dalmia Adhar

While there is so much written ( including many books) about Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, respectfully called the ” Mahatma ” and the “Father of the Nation”, relatively less is known about his wife, Kastur. We get glimpses of the life of Kasturba Gandhi (1869-1944 ) through a recent book titled, “The Secret Diary of Kasturba” by Neelima Dalmia Adhar. Continue reading ““The Secret Diary of Kasturba” by Neelima Dalmia Adhar”

“Hippie Chick” by Ilene English

Before I begin my book review of, “Hippie Chick” by Ilene English, let me begin on a personal note: The Hippie movement started in the United States in the mid-60s – when I was a young teenager in Madras, in far away India. Yet many aspects of the movement fascinated us. During my college days my friends called me “Tripper” after the character in a popular cartoon column called, “Bringing Up Father.” I heard the name of the character was changed to “Groover” later as “Tripper” had connotations of drug usage. I, of course, had just the name and nothing beyond that !!!

I am grateful to NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read and review this book.

Continue reading ““Hippie Chick” by Ilene English”

“Freedom At Midnight” by Dominique Lapierre & Larry Collins

As we are in the month of August, the conversations in India often turn towards Independence Day coming up on August 15. We talk of the Freedom Struggle; of Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, and Sardar Patel; of Lord and Lady Mountbatten; and the horrors of Partition. I recently re-read ” Freedom At Night” by Dominque Lapierre & Larry Collins, which I had read decades ago. You may recall that this book was first published in 1975, less than twenty years after Independence. I re-read the same book in 2019, by which time so much had changed in the world around us. Yet, the haunting memories of Partition continued in the minds of thousands of families affected by that tumultuous  event. The conflict over Kashmir which continues till today is an old wound from that time which still festers. Continue reading ““Freedom At Midnight” by Dominique Lapierre & Larry Collins”

“The Indian Spy” by Mihir Bose

I thought I was reasonably well read about the Second World War but reading “The Indian Spy” by Mihir Bose showed just how ignorant I was! I had never come across any story about an Indian spy as famous/infamous as Bhagat Ram Talwar. I was truly astonished to know that during the War years, Talwar (or Rahmat Khan or Silver as he was often called ) was a spy for not only the British and the Russians but also for the Italians, the Germans, and the Japanese! How remarkable is that!!!

I had of course read about how Rahmat Khan helped Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, acting as a deaf and dumb man, escape from India to Kabul during the early years of the Second World War. Little did I know that Netaji’s guide for this trip was the man who Mihir Bose describes as the ‘Most Remarkable Secret Agent of World War II”.

Talwar was first initiated into spying by the Italians in Kabul, which even then was a hot bed of intrigue and politics. He had initially wanted to work for the Russians as he was a member of the Kirti Kisan Party, a little known Communist party active in those days in the Punjab and the North West Frontier Province of an undivided India. Spying for the Germans then followed as they were the allies  of the Italians in the Second World War. Netaji Bose had by then reached Germany and Talwar became a full time spy shuttling between Kabul, Afghanistan and the Punjab and the North West Frontier of India.

He was soon asked to work for them by the Russians. Talwar’s ties to the Russians was based on his fascination for the Communist ideology. What amazes me is how gullible the Germans or at least his handlers in Kabul were! Talwar cheated them for years without their knowledge. He invariably briefed the Russians soon after his meetings with the Germans, and gave them whatever he got from the Germans!! Ironically, the Germans helped him the most monetarily and he served them the least.

India was ruled by the British in those days and soon Talwar was engaged by the British. Incredible as it might sound, the Russians shared their knowledge about Silver with the British as Russia and Britain were then Allies against the Axis forces. Without knowing about his links with their enemies, each of these countries trusted Talwar. They extracted whatever they could from him, much of which, of course, was misinformation!!

In the later years of the War, the Italians crossed over to join the Allies. By then, the Japanese had joined the Axis and Germany had lost all interest in the Far East and South East Asia. It was inevitable that Talwar became a spy for the Japanese as well.

The author covers in much detail how Talwar transformed himself over the years from being an amateur in the game to becoming a master spy. Equally interesting is the role of Peter Fleming ( brother of spy writer Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond ) who was his handler for the British in India.

Talwar apparently lived on in post-Independence India right up to the early ’80s. He even took part in a seminar on Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose which was held in Calcutta in 1973!!

All in all, I found this book to be extremely interesting.

My end note: This is not written in this book but left me wondering……….Talwar seems to have lived in the state of Uttar Pradesh where the mysterious Gumnami Baba also lived. Many believe that Gumnami Baba was none other than Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose! Given the personalities of both of them, is it not likely that Netaji and Talwar were in touch with each other in those post- War, post -Independence days? I like to think they were!!