“Netaji: Living Dangerously”: by Kingshuk Nag

On his birth anniversary on January 23, I had paid tribute to one of my biggest heroes in Indian history, Netaji Subha Chandra Bose. In that post, I had briefly mentioned the author, Kingshuk Nag. Today, I write my impressions about his book , “Netaji, Living Dangerously”.

I admired the way Nag has crafted this book. He has touched upon the key points of Netaji’s interesting and illustrious career in a 208 page book without sacrificing the essence of his deeds. Since the book was published as recently as 2016, he has been made use of the latest information available on the subject. Earlier authors on Netaji could not do so as all the archives about Netaji were classified. They were not made available to the public by successive Governments in India.

One may wonder why Governments took this approach given Netaji’s reputation and name all over India. His fame, ironically, was the reason why Congress Governments- starting with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s first cabinet- made it their mission to downplay Netaji. They supported the story that he had died in an air crash in modern day Taiwan in 1945.

Nehru did not want Netaji to emerge in India post Independence as by then he was the tallest leader in the country. He knew that Netaji could pose a threat to his popularity and political fortunes, hence the deliberate downplaying of anything abut Netaji. Indeed, we know now from archives made public, that Netaji’s family was under surveillance for decades after Independence. Nehru and his successors wanted to know if Netaji was planning to return to India. This started the surveillance activity.

Nag also writes about the mysterious Gumnami Baba who first came to Uttar Pradesh in the mid-1950s. He was also called Bhagwanji or Gumnami Baba as he had no name! Many believed that based on anecdotal and other evidence found over the decades that he was indeed Netaji. He died in 1985 with his secrets intact. What was the true story of Gumnami Baba remains in the realm of speculation.

The reader is explained the political developments that took place towards the end of the Second World War. You will remember that Netaji had allied himself strongly with the Japanese who surrendered in 1945 bringing the Second World War to an end. The British Empire, weary after the long war was on it’s last legs. Netaji had influenced an armed struggle for the first time in British India. The mutiny by Indians in the Royal Indian Navy was a major event which made the British decide to leave India once and for all. On the other hand, the United States and Soviet Russia had become the most powerful countries in the world.

Nag suggests that post 1945, Netaji was a prisoner in the Russian labour camps. The Russians under Stalin had no interest in him, Japan was seeking a new beginning, Nazi Germany had been vanquished, and India had become an independent nation under Nehru and the Congress. Where would Netaji fit in – in this new world? Perhaps his experiences in Russia convinced him to live incognito in the future? Did he therefore emerge as Gumnami Baba to live out the rest of his dues in relative anonymity?

I have said enough about the book. You should read it to come to your own conclusions. I can assure you it makes for highly interesting reading, especially if, like me, you are fan of Netaji and a student of Indian history and politics.

“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.

“Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw” by Hanadi Falki

I have always been a huge admirer of the late Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw (1914-2008) so jumped at the chance to read one more book about him. This ebook titled, “ Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw” is written by Ms Hanadi Falki. Frankly there wasn’t much in the book that one hadn’t already read about. It looked like a re-hash of arcticles, book extracts, interviews and the like. The personality of the Field Marshal is so strong, and his story so interesting however, that we feel like reading about him all over again – which is exactly what I did.

As a military commander and a leader in war and peace, Sam Manekshaw has few parallels in Indian military history. He was the 7th Chief of the Army Staff of the Indian Army- from 1969 to 1973- and his greatest contribution was winning the 1971 War against Pakistan. This led to the bifurcation of the Pakistani State and the birth of the new country of Bangla Desh.

The book traces his life and career in the Indian Amy from the time he joined the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun in 1932 in the very first batch of cadets. He served the Indian Army for four decades and fought in five wars till he retired in 1973. A grateful nation then bestowed upon him the rank of Field Marshal. He was the first General and COAS in the Indian Army to be so honored.

Apart from his exploits as a military leader, (he won the coveted Military Cross for bravery as a young officer in the British Indian Army during Second World War in Burma), Manekshaw’s character as a person of the highest integrity and professionalism stand out in the many anecdotes in the book. He had the courage to stand up to those in authority including the Prime Minister, Defense Minister and the political leadership of the country.

As I have said before, I have been and remain a huge admirer of Field Marshal Manekshaw. I am therefore terribly puzzled how under his watch India released 93,000 Pakistani Prisoners of war but did not do enough to get back 54 of our Defense Personnel, They simply did not make it back to their homeland . I was hoping that this book would cover this unsavory part of Indian military history but I continue to remain disappointed on this score.

I wish the book had been better arranged for ease of reading. It does not follow a prescribed pattern. For example, it has his childhood and early years suddenly appearing from out of the blue, much after the start of the book. However this slim volume, despite its shortcomings, remains interesting because of the man the book describes and his exploits- in war and peace.

“Tongue-In -Cheek: The Funny Side Of Life” by Khyrunnisa A.

If you are looking for delightful light reading, a book to pass time and, and improve your mood in the bargain- here’s one for you. As the title suggest, “Tongue-In-Cheek: The Funny Side Of Life” is a collection of short stories or should I say “middles” by Khyrunnisa which indeed capture the funny side of life.

Not everyone has the talent to see and describe a situation with humor. On reading this book, I can vouch that Khyrunnisa most certainly has this gift in abundant measure. She writes of situations which you and I have come across in our daily lives: finding a snake in the garden; the rush for the wedding feast; the mandatory jewelry worn in weddings; booking a seat in a bus the Indian way; the perils of maintaining an aquarium (more commonly known as a fish tank in most Indian homes), amongst many others.

In most of these anecdotes, the author brings in her husband thereby allowing us readers to take a peek into moments of married life that most readers would relate to quite easily! She jokes easily about the way many people pronounce -or rather mispronounce -her name. The best part of this book is that you can dip into it at your convenience. Reading story No: 10 long before Story No: 1 doesn’t matter in the least. Not being connected with each other, they can be read in any random order.

I understand that the author is an Asst Professor of English and has written many books for children. After reading this book, I, for one, would love to read more of these tongue in cheek stories from Khyrunnisa. I liked her wit and writing style . Here’s hoping someday she will write and publish another book -as entertaining as this one!

“The Trillion Dollar Coach”: Schmidt, Rosenberg & Eagle

Google has become a household name across the world. Like in the old days one frequently said, ” Take a Xerox” for making a photocopy, Google has become synonymous with searching the internet. Looking for some information? ” Just Google it”, we are told! Of course, this search business is only one part of this huge tech giant which was incorporated in 1998 and had revenues of $182 billion in 2020. With this as context, let’s talk about this book.

When a former Executive Chairman of Alphabet (the holding company of Google), and a Senior VP who headed the Products team in Google, along with Google’s Director of Executive Communication write a book together – it does create a buzz. That book is “The Trillion Dollar Coach” by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle. It is described as the Leadership Playbook of Silcon Valley’s Bill Campbell.

Who might Campbell be? Many may wonder. Simply stated, the authors of the book (like many other Silicon Valley leaders, some legends even, amongst them) , were all coached by Campbell. He, by the way, started life as the coach of a relatively small University football team.

Bill Campbell helped create over a trillion dollars in market value, hence the title of the book. He was associated with companies like Google, Apple and Intuit. It was under his guidance that a large number of corporate tech honchos made their mark in the demanding world of business. The names of the executives he coached reads like a roster of The Who’s Who in Silicon Valley and the world of big tech.

He was so much a part of Valley lore that many did not know that Campbell was not from here. He was born in western Pennsylvania and attended Columbia University in Manhattan. Needing a job, he became assistant football coach in Boston College. He was reasonably successful as a football coach without having a spectacular record. When he was 39, he switched careers by joining the advertising firm J Walter Thompson. He then worked for Kodak till 1983 when John Sculley offered him a job in Apple. Here he was the VP of Sales and Marketing then became the CEO of Apple’s software company Claris.

His next assignemt was CEO of a start up called GO Corporation but that closed down in 1994. He was then offered the position of CEO of Intuit which he led till 2000. He became a full time coach when he was invited to Kleiner Perkins to become a coach for its portfolio companies. The rest, as the say, is history. Till he passed away in 2016, he was a major influence in the many businesses he was associated with as an executive coach.

The book has many lessons in leadership for today’s executive. The format used highlights the key take aways by means of chapter summaries. The book makes for easy reading without the jargon usually associated with books on management and leadership.

So, if you want to become an effective leader in today’s business world, make it a point to read this book. Campbell’s lessons will surely help you become more successful.

“Mafia Queens of Mumbai” : Zaidi & Borges

Recently, I read an old book which I found quite fascinating. This was, ” Mafia Queens of Mumbai” by S Hussain Zaidi and Jane Borges – first published in 2011 by Tranquebar/Westland. The title itself makes those fond of crime stories- like me- reach out for the book. Zaidi is perhaps Mumbai’s best known crime reporter. He has written several books about the interesting cases he covered involving Mumbai’s underworld over the decades.

In this book the focus is not on the underworld gang lords themselves- men like Karim Lala, Haji Mastan, Varadarajan Mudaliar and Dawood Ibrahim- but about a few women who became enormously influential in the underworld, in their times. They had different social and economic backgrounds, lived in different circumstances but all of them had the grit, determination, and even ruthlessness, to become feared in the dim lit alleys and backstreets they operated in.

We read about Jenabai Chaavalwaali, who brokered a truce between warring gangs by invoking the name of religion. This probably was the start of underworld gangs owing allegiance and building empires largely on communal lines. Of Ashraf Khan aka Sapna Didi and her aim to avenge the murder of her husband; and of Mahalaxmi Papamani, the wealthiest drug baroness in Mumbai.

The authors also cover the stories of the fabled gangster’s molls? What were they like in real life? Were they as they were depicted in the Hindi movies? Perhaps the most famous-or infamous- of them was Monica Bedi, who became a Bollywood starlet before linking up with gangster Abu Salem. Other “underworld wives” we come across in the book are Asha Gawli, Neeta Naik, Sujata Nikhalje and Padma Poojary.

Overall an interesting read. It makes you realize that pretty much the same base emotions and motivations drive people, irrespective of which side of the law they are on!

“The Reluctant MD: A Gynaecologist’s Journey” : Dr Usha Mohan

Disclaimer: Writing a review of a book written by a friend is a tough one! If you praise it too much, some readers may think it was done only to boost the image of a friend. If you are too critical, there is a danger of losing a friend!! What I have said just now is true, of course, only if the reviewer declares that the author is a friend! I am cheerfully declaring that it has been a privilege for me to have known Dr Usha Mohan and her husband, Dr Mohan for over a decade.

Usha has made my job much easier by writing such an interesting and eminently readable book that it is not at all difficult to praise it. The title is intriguing : “The Reluctant MD: A Gynaecologist’s Journey”. It is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle editions.

I daresay most people have little idea of the challenges faced by a practicing gynaecologist. That you have a role in bringing someone into this world is an onerous responsibility, especially when things go wrong. That’s the time -we discover from her book- the doctor has to use all her knowledge and skills to save the lives of the mother and the child. Remember much of what she has written took place decades ago when there weren’t as many facilities as there are today. Equipment like ultrasound machines, so common place today, were a rare luxury in those days. To her credit, Dr Usha Mohan has managed to keep the medical terms and technicalities to a level that is understandable by a layman. After all, this isn’t a medical thesis.

Dr Usha Mohan’s book comes straight from the heart. Interesting, entertaining and more than anything else, honest! Her sharing of her professional experiences as a gynecologist in different parts of the world makes for absorbing reading. While all branches of medicine have their own challenges and rewards, her book describes the travails and triumphs of a gynecologist – with the richest reward being bringing a little – and sometimes a very big -one into this world. Her experiences span several continents and this is reflected in the stories of her professional life. 

Apart from medicine, Dr Usha Mohan speaks of her life long interest and competence in interior decor, painting, fashion, and fitness. Now it has been clearly established through this book- that she has skills as a writer as well!

The biggest take away from her book, for me, is her urging people to follow their passions and love what they do, as she has done over the decades. Highly recommended.

“50 Desi Super Drinks” by Lovneet Batra

Compared to the days when I was much younger, ,there is no doubt at all that people at large, even in India, have become much more conscious about health and healthy living. Everyone and his aunt spews “wisdom” about nutrition, recommended diets, healthy eating, healthy being and what have you.

In the midst of all this cacophony , Rupa have recently released a book, ” 50 Desi Super Drinks” by Lovneet Batra which is available in Kindle and Paperback versions. This easy to read book is full of information with high practical value. On reading this, you will realize that many drinks described are based on our age old traditions. You might recall some who scorned the old folk in every home when they advocated these very remedies!

Ms Batra is a qualified Nutritionist with a BS and MS in Dietetics. She was the official nutritionist to the Indian women’s teams for boxing, cycling, gymnastics and hockey in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games. She has hosted and participated in many a talk show on television on nutrition and allied subjects. She founded and manages the very successful practice, ” Nutrition By Lovneet” which made her a celebrity nutritionist.

She maintains that what we drink can be more powerful in making or breaking our health than what we eat! The reason being things add up so quickly and unknowingly when we drink . She gives this example : one glass of packed fruit juice daily for a year can make you gain seven kilos, while one glass of coconut water instead can keep your high blood pressure in check.

The book has a simple yet effective design. For each of the 50 drinks covered, the author explains what that drink contains and how they can help us. This is followed by the recipe for this drink. Turmeric Milk, Jal Jeera, and Masala Chai are fairly commonly used and well-known. However there are many others which came as a surprise to me, as they well might to you!

Highly recommended, especially for those who want to maintain good health and ” sip your stress and those extra pounds away! “. This is the time of year when people make resolutions for the New Year! If yours is to look after yourself better in the next year and beyond, this book can help you do just that!

“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.