“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”

An Incredible Cricket World Cup Final

Truly, the finals of the Men’s Cricket World Cup, 2019 played at the hallowed Lord’s two weeks ago was incredible!! England faced New Zealand and the game was far more thrilling than anyone would have imagined. I am not sure if World Cup finals have ever ended as a tie since the Championship started in 1975. I  rather think not.

New Zealand batted first on winning the toss and scored 241 for 8 in their 50 overs. Not a great score, one thought, but a fighting one considering they had successfully defended an even lower score to beat India in the semi-finals. This had brought India’s dreams of winning the World Cup to a crashing halt.

In reply, England looked set to win quite easily. They needed 15 runs from the last over with two wickets in hand. Ben Stokes was batting like a champion. At a crucial juncture, by a stroke of luck, an umpiring error in the eyes of many by Kumar Dharmasena awarded England more runs than they deserved. Then, to everyone’s amazement, England barely managed to tie the game. Both teams had scored 241. The rules provided for the Super Over.

This is where things got crazy for fans all over the world. While millions watched every ball bowled with bated breath, most unexpectedly  the Super Over too ended in a tie. England scored 15/0 and New Zealand 15/1. Much to the displeasure of many, including me, the match and the championship was awarded to England because they had scored more boundaries than New Zealand in the course of the match!! Yes, this may have been in the rules but this rule needs to be changed!

When better run rate is considered for pushing up a team when more than one team has the same number of points, why should boundaries scored be considered, that too with so much at stake?? New Zealand, you might recall, had qualified to the semi-finals in the first place because they had a better run rate than Pakistan who had the same number of points.

It was an incredible match but left fans perplexed on many counts. I, for one, feel that in the 2019 World Cup finals both the teams should have been declared winners.

“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!!

India’s World Cup Dreams Crash

New Zealand’s opening bowler Matt Henry knew exactly what he had to do. He had to bowl according to their plan. India’s opening batsman Lokesh Rahul, unfortunately for India, did not know what to do. India had already lost their best batsmen Rohit Sharma at 4, and captain Virat Kohli at 5. Between deciding whether to step out and drive the ball, go back and defend it or simply leave it alone, Rahul dangled his bat outside his off stump. There was a faint nick which wicket keeper Latham grabbed with glee and India at 5 for the loss of 3 wickets faced almost certain defeat in the first semi-finals of the 2019 Cricket World Cup. Continue reading “India’s World Cup Dreams Crash”

“Don’t Tell The Governor” by Ravi Subramanian

I have read a few of Ravi Subramanian’s books and have quite liked them. I was therefore eagerly waiting to read  his financial thriller, “Don’t Tell The Governor”, published by HarperCollins in November 2018. I must confess I was totally disappointed. The story was like one developed by a re-hash of the newspaper headlines in India over the last couple of years. The characters were strikingly similar to real life people only too well known to be named. The reader is left wondering whether her guesses were right in assuming who they were. Some had corny names like, if I remember correctly,  Runvijay Malya, and Mehul Modi which left little for the reader’s imagination to identify them.

The character of the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India was, in my view, quite shallow. He must have been an absolute idiot to do all that he did. The story of the glamorous couple of Vicky Malhotra and Pallavi Soni was more true to life. The characters in the IPL match fixing, once again, left little to the imagination of the reader. Using names very close to real life characters, I feel, does injustice to them. The reader who knows their real life exploits/issues/scandals through a barrage of media coverage tends to imagine them do the same in the author’s story.

The plot had real life incidents like the hijack of IC 814 to Kandahar, the dramatic demonetization announcement on November 8, 2016 and many other real life incidents thrown in to create a jumble built on a base of banking and finance. Overall, it failed to grab my interest and left me very disappointed as a reader.

“The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing Volume II” : Ed. Jean M. Fredette

All of us who love writing, and reading of course, can do with periodic reminders on how to hone our writing skills. That there is no end to learning is well known. In this context, I was happy to recently read, ” The Writer’s Digest Handbook of Short Story Writing: Volume II“, edited by Jean M. Fredette. 

This collection of articles on short story writing was published by the well-known Writers Digest Books in 1991. I came across this book in our Club library. It is striking that all the points made still remain relevant though nearly three decades have gone by since the book was first published. It is edited by Jean M. Fredette , who was an Acquisitions Editor of Writer’s Digest and has edited several of their books.

The only thing that has changed has been the process of submitting a manuscript. While the principles remain pretty much the same, much of the process has got simplified thanks to the progress in technology. We can now submit manuscripts over the internet, no longer being bound to print and send the manuscript in physical form in many cases. However, do check the submission guidelines mentioned by the publisher.

Seven chapters encompass a wealth of material in this book, covering sections such as, ” Getting Started”, ” Craft and Technique”, and ” Marketing The Short Story”. Each of the chapters have contributions from distinguished authors who have generously shared their experience and expertise. Principal amongst them are Adela Rogers St. John, Lawrence Block, and John Updike.

From very basic points which we sometimes overlook ( like repeating words/phrases so often that they jar) to more sophisticated aspects like Sentence Structure, Transitions, and Dialogue, this book has tips for the novice and the experienced writer alike.

Reading this book reinforced in me why writing is really a craft. The material in this volume really applies for any kind of writing . It is not restricted to short story writing as the title implies.

“Bill Marriott” by Dale Van Atta

I was delighted to read a pre-release copy of the well-known journalist Dale Van Atta’s book on J. Willard Marriott, Jr titled, “Bill Marriott: Success Is Never Final” thanks to NetGalley. #BillMarriottSuccessIsNeverFinal. This is being published by Shadow Mountain Publishing and is scheduled to be released in September 2019. You can pre-order it on Amazon.

All of us have images of the quintessential American tycoon from stories we have read or what we have seen on television. In this book, the author gives us an intimate and in depth view of what it is to be born in a family of a leading American businessman of his times. J. Willard Marriott, a first generation entrepreneur, was the founder of the Marriott group of enterprises, and a pioneer in many senses. Like the children of every super star, be it in business, in sport or in the movies, J. Willard Marriott, Jr ( the subject of this book) had to face the crushing burden of family and society’s expectations of him. Their relationship was often stormy leading to severe stress the son faced at the hands of a domineering father. It is of immense credit to Bill Marriott, now aged 87, that he grew the business empire he inherited from this father multifold to what it have become today. The Marriott International chain is the largest hotel chain in the world by far with 7000 properties in 130 countries with 176,000 employees all over the globe. It had revenues of $ 20.75 billion in 2018 with net income of $ 1.5 billion.

More than just the story of his business successes, the book throws light on the personal characteristics that made Bill Marriott so successful. He lives a life following a set of sound values, many inherited from his parents. Of course, there were differences too, some very significant. The senior Marriott was a product of his times. He had seen the miseries brought about by the Great Depression of the 1930s at close quarters. This led him to shun debt of any kind. The younger Marriott realized that debt in itself was not evil. On the contrary one could leverage the debts depending on the rates of interest and the business opportunities open elsewhere to make investments. He had a flair for innovation and took what his father felt were too many risks that could be avoided. To young Marriott’s credit, most of the business decisions he took were the right ones.

The book also tells us of the Marriott family’s upbringing in the Mormon faith with their own values, traditions and cultural practices. Throughout his career Bill Marriott,  even as he had major business responsibilities, never hesitated to play a leading role in church activities. He believes his steadfastness to his religion helped him overcome health issues on many occasions. These include a dramatic fire accident which could have killed him in 1985 only a few weeks after the death of his father.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and found it quote absorbing. I would recommend it to those who wish to gain insight to how Marriott grew his business to its present position of eminence in the world of hospitality. It also underscores how Marriott consistently made profits while displaying the highest standards of customer service and integrity.

“Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkaar!” Resounding Victory for Prime Minister Modi

The General Elections in India which seemed at times to be going on forever are finally over. The elections to select members  for the Lower House of Parliament or Lok Sabha were held over 7 phases spread over 39 days from April 11 to May 19. Counting day was on May 23. Thanks to the electronic media, we got virtually a ball by ball account of the results as they came in, as we would in a T20 match in the IPL. The bottom line: a resounding victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP.)

Quite contrary to the expectations of people who thought these elections would be a close finish, the BJP romped home with  a runaway victory. The numbers speak for themselves. Out of the 542 Lok Sabha seats, 303 went to the BJP alone. With his  allies in the National Democratic Alliance ( NDA, ) Prime Minister Modi got as many as 65 % of the Lok Sabha seats 353/542.  The Congress under Rahul Gandhi could win only 52 seats. An improvement of 8 over the 44 they got in the last General elections in 2014. Their alliance the UPA got just 92 seats. Such was the magnitude of the defeat.

BJP’s election slogan of “Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkaar” had come true and how!! Continue reading ““Phir Ek Baar Modi Sarkaar!” Resounding Victory for Prime Minister Modi”

Sharing is Caring : The Millennium Elders’ Forum

For the past two years, it was my proud privilege to be the President of the Millennium Elders’ Forum. My term came to an end recently in the course of the Annual General Body Meeting held in April 2019. It was a satisfying experience despite the difficulties, at times, of having to deal with elders many of them much older than me! When I was elected the President in 2017,  I was 65 and the average age of our Executive Committee was 73. At that time, someone had mentioned that I was too young to have become the President !!!

MEF Executive Committee for 2018-19

The Millennium Elders’ Forum was established as a registered society of elders in 2008 by a few eminent gentlemen living in the JP Nagar area of South Bangalore like the late Mr S K Banerjee IPS ( a former Director General of Police) and Prof K S Bhat ( a former Professor at the Administrative Staff College of India). They became the Founding President and Secretary respectively. I joined the MEF, as it is popularly called, in 2011 on becoming a Senior Citizen. I had the opportunity, over time, to serve on the Executive Committee. At that time, Mr R Jagannathan IPS, (retired Director General of Police) was the President and he was succeeded by Prof S R Seetharam, a former Director of BEML. We have about 120 members,  all senior citizens living largely in the Brigade residential enclaves in JP Nagar.

I am glad that I suggested we support elders in Old Age Homes in our area as a community service cause to channelize our energies. In doing so, we could render whatever assistance we could to those less fortunate than ourselves. It is so sad to see some elders having to stay there because they have no other place to go to. In some cases, they have been virtually abandoned by their families. It is reported that 18 % of  elderly men and 26 % of elderly women have disabilities because of chronic diseases. After all, our motto in the MEF was ” Sharing and Caring.”

To celebrate International Day of the Older Person in October 2017 we raised funds through a souvenir and donated Rs. 4.13 lakhs to old age homes by way of goods and equipment which they needed. These included cots, mattresses, UPS systems, wheel chairs, large sized cooking vessels etc. Likewise, in the next year we raised another Rs 1.05 lakh for this ongoing community service project. So far, over 390 elders residing in old age homes in South Bangalore have benefitted from our initiative.

I have given much of my time over the last two years for this cause. I have derived a lot of satisfaction from this. The satisfaction of helping someone in need is reward in itself

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“The Garden of No Sorrows” by Deepthi Nair

Deepthi Nair has chosen to begin her story with the flashback format in her delightful book, “ The Garden of No Sorrows“. As you would know, in this style the writer describes a present scenario ( in this case events in the year 2020) before plunging into the story which begins decades ago. At the National Defence Academy, Aarcha is caught up with many emotions watching her only son Arjun pass out from this prestigious institution to begin his career as an officer in the Indian Army.

I liked the book for the author’s detailed descriptions of life in villages /small towns in Kerala, like Kolachal and Marthandam; of the people who live there, and their approach to life which is very different from the one shown typically by city bred folk. Ms. Nair has a good grip on both scenarios! The part about the letter to Yamuna was quite striking as is the description of Bhargavi Kunju.

The central character of the story is a lady called Aarcha. We see how she grows up, sharing time, possessions and secrets with her only sibling, her elder sister, Priya; and how she is brought up by her parents, Sharada and Aravindan Pillai, who again have very different outlooks of life. Aarcha, at a young and impressionable age is attracted by Govind, a doctor preparing for his MD. He was in his late twenties and had been through a failed marriage.

Although she does not love him, for various reasons, Aarcha marries Govind only to discover how different he is as a person when seen from close quarters. By then of course it was too late for her. She has to resign her job on discovering that she is  pregnant. Later, a few years after the birth of her son, she resumes her career and makes a success of it. Her marriage was giving her no happiness whatsoever.  Govind was becoming more difficult to live with as the days went by.

Her quest for someone who would appreciate her for her qualities is fulfilled by a chance meeting at an airport lounge. She meets the famous author, Jehangir Ansari and this changes her life forever. He of course is already married. He is famous, but like her, is unhappy. The two are attracted to each other despite knowing the constraints faced by them in their respective marriages.

Deepthi Nair has made an impressive sketching of her characters. The story has a bit of a slow start but picks up as we go along and ends with an interesting climax. Overall, I thought it was a good read and I look forward to reading more from this author.