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Archive for the ‘Contemporary Events – World’ Category


Arvind Krishna Mehrotra: Collected Poems
Introduction by Amit Chaudhuri | Penguin | Rs 350

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.29.21 PMIt’s a delight to see Penguin bring out a collection of poems by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra covering the period from 1960s to the present. It includes not only his own poems but also his translation of Prakrit love poetry, Kabir’s ‘dohas’ and string of Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati contemporary poets such as Nirala, Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh, Adil Mansuri and Shakti Chattopadhyay. Wish there was more – as Mehrotra invokes Kabir, “There is enough ink/To fill the seven seas,/Enough paper/To cover the hills,/It won’t even do/For the first verse, says Kabir.”

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When Google Met Wikileaks
Julian Assange | Navanya | Rs 295

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.28.49 PM“Nobody wants to acknowledge that Google has grown big and bad. But it has. The firm’s geopolitical aspirations are firmly enmeshed within the foreign policy agenda of the world’s largest superpower,” warns a blurb on the back flap. Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, knows a thing or two about this having met Google’s chairman, Eric Schmidt while living under house arrest in London. He says people, “Don’t appreciate how much large technology firms can threaten the liberty of individuals” and they don’t really understand what Google can do, if it turns rogue. Frightening.

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Young Turks
Shareen Bhan & Syna Dehnugara | Random House | Rs 599

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 8.29.08 PMAnchor and series editor of ‘Young Turks’ on CNBC-TV18, Shareen Bhan, says that in the last 15 years she has met people who have the ‘courage and tenacity to think differently, think big, and challenge the status quo’. In this book she selects 13 such entrepreneurs. The list includes a mobile data base company, bus ticketing firm, online retailers, internet marriage bureau and digital asset managers. There is not a single woman entrepreneur among them. The tech industry in India, it seems , is driven by the same fund traditional businesses are. Men invest in men.

(The above reviews appeared in Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 14 December 2014.)

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Owning Our Future
Marjorie Kelly | Collins Buisness | Rs 350

Most of the great political struggles can be reduced to simple question: who will own land, water and other essentials of living – and to what end? Both capitalism and socialism/communism support concentration of the power of ownership in the hands of an oligarchy. Marjorie introduces us to a mixed-ownership pattern as a way to the future.  She calls it ‘generative ownership’. This ownership is mostly private, but its purpose is to serve public good. To support her argument she provides examples of various ‘generative’ initiatives across the world, from community-owned wind facility in Massachusetts to foundation-owned pharma company in Denmark and a farmer-owned dairy in Wisconsin. Read to find out what makes these models work.

(The above review appeared in the Saturday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 1 September 2012)

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Sky Train
Canyon Sam | Tranquebar | Rs 350

When Canyon Sam first paid a visit to Tibet in 1986 it had just opened its doors to foreign visitors. That was when she started to record women’s oral histories. Twenty-five years later she returned to meet some of the women again. The book at hand is the result of these encounters. In it, through the eyes of the women, Sam recounts the gory days of the Cultural Revolution, its aftermath and the changes wrought by the Chinese in Tibet thereafter. The book won the Pen American Centre Open Book Award in 2010.

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The Clockwork Man
William Jablonsky | Westland | Rs 225

The Clockwork Man is a journal of a robot, Ernst, who’s not human but a machine created by a master clockmaker just before the break out of WWII. It is divided into two parts: the first corresponds to his ‘youth’ in Germany and the latter with his resuscitation 100 years later in present day Milwaukee, US. While in his first avtaar the Clockwork Man is a family man, in the second he emerges as a superhero that grinds criminals and saves the innocent. Through all this the writer looks at crime as inevitable and always present aspect of human existence.

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The Woman Who Flew
Nasreen Jahan | Penguin | Rs 399

To many, Taslima Nasreen is the best-known writer from Bangladesh. Yet few know of her peers, among whom Nasreen Jahan stands out as one of the most important writers of our time. Nasreen Jahan writes in Bangla and reads very little in English. She’s a prolific writer with more than 50 titles to her name. In this book, she paints a candid albeit grim portrait of contemporary Bangladesh, through a story of a young woman who moves from a small town to the megacity and finds herself divorced and thrown into conflict with traditional patriarchy. The book won her the Philips Literary Prize in 1994.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 8 July 2012)

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Little Princes
Conor Grennan| HarperCollins| 308 pp, Rs 399

One of the many untold stories of Nepal’s decade long civil war between 1996-2006 is the story of the stolen children. Unofficial estimates put the figure to several lakhs while official statistics are hard to come by. Grennan who spent three years in Nepal between 2004-2007 tells the story of the Humla children taken away by child traffickers to Kathmandu – children that were voluntarily given up by parents for fear of Maoists taking them away. The writer doesn’t interact with the Mao brigade but gives us a touching account of the tiny tots that he and his NGO was able to unite with their families. A work they continue to engage in and raise funds for.

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Song Without End & Other Stories
Neelum Saran Gour| Penguin| 284 pp, Rs 299

Never mind the market, write for yourself – is a mantra that seems to sum up this collection of 15 short stories. The book jacket promises effortlessly written prose, trenchant wit and captivating tales. But it offers none of that. The prose is laboured, the wit missing and stories, pretentious. ‘If they’d only get along better, there could be such identity of attitudes between them’ goes one line in a story. This could well sum up Gour’s pen. There is no guarantee that when you dip into The Iliad or Tagore’s Geetanjali you’d come up with a ‘captivating’ tale. A story needs a life of its own. And borrowing doesn’t always work.

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Balasarswati, Her Art & Life
Douglas M Knight Jr| Tranquebar| 325 pp, Rs 599

It is difficult to deny that Indian publishers and writers are singularly disinterested in bringing out biographies of classical musicians and dancers. After all who is interested in the classical arts? Tranquebar seeks to undo this lack of balance by brining out a scholarly dissertation on the life and times of one of India’s greatest dancers, Balasarswati. Bala, as she was affectionately called, grew up in the much maligned devdasi tradition and defied the moral injunctions of her peers to keep her craft alive. She danced, sang and emoted as no other, since. And we are richer for having her immortalised in this book.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 11 December 2011)

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As China Goes So Goes The World
Karl Gerth| Hill and Wang| 258 pp, $ 16

This offering from Oxford University historian is a masterful study of the economic evolution of contemporary China. He asks the question, we sometimes stumble upon in our moments of lucidity – ‘what are the ‘collective’ implications of ‘individual’ consumer choices for China’ and ‘how does it affect the rest of the world’? They are already shaping the future, we will all share, says Gerth. Chinese government and business leaders, for instance, view domestic ownership of global brands and intellectual property as symbolic of national wealth and power, the economic equivalent of hosting the Olympics, but much more permanent. Think of the consequences? Think about what India is doing.

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 The Global Economic Crisis Through an Indian Looking Glass
Adarsh Kishore, Michael Debabrata Patra & Partha Ray| Sage| 318 pp, Rs 795

When a book opens with a foreword that states that ‘the recent global crisis was truly global’ and that the authors wrote it while serving the IMF one doesn’t exactly shiver in anticipation. One doesn’t expect any meaningful insights either. But one does look for an analysis irrespective of whether the writers toe the government line or not. And one assumes that the book is not a just an ego massager. But assumptions are often proven wrong. This lofty presentation is just a sequencing of crisis and policy responses thereof. Its analysis of impact of global crisis on India is to view RBI’s policies through rose tainted glasses. All is well, no mess. Just rising inflation.

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Conqueror
Conn Iggulden| HarperCollins| 546 pp, Rs 299

The intriguing thing about writers of pulp, whether its about modern events or history fiction is their ability to build stories into roller coaster ‘epics’. Iggulden, as the book jacket informs us, is one of the best selling authors in this genre. His first was on Julius Caesar followed by Mongol Khans of Central Asia. The latter comprises four books. The first three look at the exploits of Genghis Khan and the fourth Conqueror at the world of scholar king-turned empire builder, Kublai Khan. It will not be long before writers such as Iggulden will start tearing into our history as well. Think ‘Babur, the Mighty Tiger’ or ‘Akbar The Great’.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 4 December 2011)

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Boomerang
Michael Lewis| Allen Lane| 213 pp, Rs 599

In Boomerang, American writer and journalist, Michael Lewis travels to – Iceland, Greece, Ireland and Germany to understand what caused the European financial crises and comes up with some startling observations. In his telling of the story, the Icelanders are alpha male risk takers, Greeks corrupt and mistrustful, the Irish overzealous and the Germans double faced. And all that adds up to current Euro fiasco. According to Lewis, Iceland turned itself into a banking hub by recycling world’s money – taking short-term loans from foreign entities and relending it to themselves to buy assets – like Indian power plants or Danish newspapers – creating false prosperity and living off money they did not own. In Greece the banks did not sink the country, it was the mammoth money guzzling government infrastructure that sank the banks. The Irish borrowed money from foreign banks and invested it in Ireland pledging to pay back what they couldn’t.

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The Unlucky Lottery
Hakan Nesser| Mantle, Pan Macmillan| 437 pp, £ 12.99

This is the sixth book in the Van Veeteren series penned by one of Sweden’s most popular crime writers, Haken Nasser. First published in 1998 as Munster’s Fall, this book retires Veeteren and introduces a new detective, Inspector Munster. The action takes place in Maardam, a fictitious small coastal town in Sweden. In it four Swedish pensioners find out one day that they have won 20,000 kroner in a lottery. They gather to celebrate. Soon afterwards one is stabbed to death with a carving knife and another disappears. To unravel the mystery, Inspector Munster, must interact with a psychotic family that hides a hideous secret. Is it all make believe or did it really happen? It’s a Scandinavian roller coaster and with enough loops and twists to keep you between the pages.

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The Lady of the Rivers
Philippa Gregory| Simon & Schuster| 502 pp, Rs 499

This one is for the teenage history buffs. The Lady of the Rivers tells the story of Jacquetta Woodvile and her daughter, Elizabeth who ended up marrying England’s king, Edward IV in a secret ceremony. Jacquetta married the Duke of Bradford, an ambitious man thrice her age and shortly lived as the first lady of English ruled France. Her second marriage was to Sir Richard Woodvile. During this time, she served Margeret of Anjou through the ‘War of the Roses’, a particularly turbulent period in the Anglo-French relations. Phillippa Gregory reconstructs the events of the 15th century to weave an intriguing tale of life, love and survival. It’s a mystery, she says, why Jacquetta has been ignored by historians, when she appears to have played an important and sometimes decisive role in the events that shaped Anglo-French affairs in the middle ages.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, dated 30 October 2011)

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RumiA New Translation
By Farrukh Dhondy |Harper Perennial | 165 pp, Rs 299

After Prof Arvind Krishna Mehtrotra’s seminal translation of Kabir’s poems and Ranjit Haskote’s mystical rendition of Lal Ded, comes Farrukh Dhondy with a clutch of Rumi verse. This small book apart from Jalaluddin Rumi’s couplets also packs an introduction to the Sufi saint’s life and work, a personal note from the translator and a Q&A. Dhondy says he was tempted to translate Rumi after reading a trashy translation on flight to Australia. “I looked for other versions. They all seemed to be written by new age spiritual freaks who took Rumi to be endorsing some mixed-metaphoric burden of wistful romance.” In Dhondy’s rendition, Rumi’s off the cuff ruminations are shaped as much by reason as by rhyme, word or meter. Each line, delightful and each couplet, telling.

He who spreads evil
 Is one who plants weeds
Don’t waste your words
Don’t sell him rose seeds.”
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Souls in Exile
The Return of Ravana Book 3

By David Hair |Penguin Young Adult| 309 pp, Rs 250

In Pyre of the Queens, the first in the Return of the Ravana series, Ravana named Ravindra Raj devised a secret ritual to acquire deadly mythical powers. In Swayamvara, the second volume, he chased Ram, who has been reborn as the great warrior, Prithviraj Chauhan. In the third volume, Souls in Exile, Abbaka Rani and Rani of Jhansi fight against Ravana to defend their kingdoms. Vikram (Ram), Rasika (Sita), Deepika and Amanjit are the super four that take on the evil demon. Everything is real yet unreal. The historical events are reproduced faithfully, as are major episodes from the epic, Ramayana. But the action takes place in modern day India – in Varanasi, Jhansi, Kannauj, Mumbai, Delhi. David Hair spins a yarn adding a twist here and there to accelerate the plot for the four super heroes. And creates a fantasy world that’s at once unbelievable and charming.

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Beijing Welcomes You
Unveiling the Capital City of the Future

by Tom Scocca| Riverhead Books| 367 pp, Rs 699

At the very onset, the writer notes that China has a lot of people. He then asks why did the International Olympic Committee grant Olympics to China? He assumes that it’s because the world wants China to join the ranks of leading nations. But isn’t it already a leader among nations? Scocca admits that as an American, he was in habit of viewing People’s Republic of China as a momentary aberration, “something that would go away if we refused to accept it.” Now, he knows better. Scocca spent four years in China, from 2004-2008 during which he wrote for Slate and the New York Observer. What he wrote finds its way into the book. As the book jacket honestly records – Beijing Welcomes You is “a broad yet close record of urban place we don’t yet fully comprehend”. In short, a bit of everything that a foreign reporter’s journal can hold.

(An edited version of the above reviews appeared in the Sunday edition of the Mail Today, New Delhi, 23 October 2011)

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