Book Review: 1991 – How PV Narasimha Rao made History by Sanjaya Baru

pvnarsimharao3

We remember the year 1991 as an year when we lost Rajiv Gandhi  in a bomb blast at Sriperumbadur putting the  entire country  in shock. I remember how my home was filled with huge crowd to watch the cremation ceremony on the television. Though the year 1991 is always remembered for this horrific incident but this was also an year when India saw a much needed radical shift in the economic policy. “Much needed change” will be an understatement  because India was reeling under a much festered and deplorable financial crisis.

It is well known that Manmohan Singh, the then Finance Minister, catapulted the economic reforms. But during that time India’s political leadership had to deal with multiple changes and reforms , at home and abroad, and the man of the moment was Prime Minister Pamulaparthi Venkata Narasimha Roa or  PV, as he always called. PV had the wisdom, grit and the valor to create a political climate in which these reforms could be implemented. Sanjay Baru in his slim book explains why PV was the central character  of  1991 . Baru also does a fabulous job in putting together the politics, the economic and the geopolitics of 1991 which makes the book an interesting and a must read. Below are some glimpses from the book.

So what was the Financial crisis India was facing ? India was on the verge of defaulting on its external payment obligations, with Foreign exchange dwindling rapidly as oil prices went up, exports went down and NRI’s began withdrawing their deposits in foreign currency in India. The reason for this was the Gulf War of 1990-91 and another factor was that the world was losing confidence in the Indian government’s ability to deal with difficult economic situation. Baru is  candid in mentioning that the economic crisis of 1991 was also a result of bad economic management of the preceding tenures of Rajiv Gandhi (1984-1989) and V.P.Singh. It was then left to Chandra Shekar and PV to arrest the slide and clean up the mess.

Chandra Shekar (CS) also played in an important role in reviving the Indian economy.  How he had dealt with the US request for landing their flights for refueling during the Gulf war was an admirable one. IMF was ready to help but it wanted India to take firm economic steps in the annual budget. Yashwant Sinha was ready with the budget with policies which would satisfy IMF but Rajiv Gandhi, who was supporting the minority government from outside, had some other thoughts. CS’s growing confidence began to worry Rajiv Gandhi and he felt that his position in Congress might get challenged. A ‘snooping’ controversy was created by Congress and an angry CS called on President Venkataraman and submitted his resignation. This even surprised  Rajiv who was not expecting such a response and tried to intervene with the help of Sharad Pawar but CS shot back saying ” Go back and tell him that CS doesn’t change his mind three times a day”. 

CS, who now was running a care taker government , had to take a tough decision to convert India’a gold stocks into hard cash in order to avoid the payment default.( There is a brief mention in the book how the gold was physicaly transferred).Had CS been given free hand by Rajiv, CS could have been India’a man of destiny. But destiny chose PV. Rajiv had denied a ticket to PV in the 1991 election and PV had decided to retire from political career.But Rajiv’s assassination paved way for PV taking up the lead role.From then onward Baru explains on how PV achieved the reform, be it the devaluation of Rupee, Industrial reforms, cutting government expenditures and the challenges that PV had to face within and outside his party during the reforms.It is to be noted that  government that was formed after PV, none of them , not one, ever sought to reverse any of PV’s policies

There is a good mention of the role played by Manmohan Singh, how he and PV complemented each other, and the elite group of bureaucrats who implemented those reforms. It is a fact that these reforms was forced on India but PV picked and chose what he felt he could reasonably defend within his own party and Parliament. It was his ‘middle way’.It is worth noting that he was the only PM who had the political courage to confer a business leader  with nation’s highest honour , when he bestowed the Bharata Ratna on J.R.D Tata. PV also holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Record for the highest voter turnout when he stood in election in Nandyal.

Importantly, reforms during PV’s tenure were ‘reforms with a human face’. When IMF called on PV he had only one message to give ” I am willing to do whatever is good for the economy, as long as not one worker tells me has not lost his job because of me ” . PV achieved the reforms not by becoming authoritarian, but by being democratic in his instincts, consensual in his approach and above all he made sure that he took no individual credit for any of these achievements.This is something the current government can learn.  PV also revolutionized national politics , and his own Congress party, by charting a new political course, thereby proving that there could be life beyond the Nehru-Gandhian dynasty, something which the current Congress party should digest and act.

What I mentioned above are just glimpses, there are lot more stories well scripted  in this book . I would recommend you to read it. You may even realize  who were our real heros after reading this book.

Pages : 194

Author : Sanjay Baru

Published September 26th 2016 by Aleph Book Company

 

A Man Called Ove – Book Review

ove

If you have got bored up reading the usual  detective fiction or the mythological ones , which are by the way the new trends,  you will find this book delightful, quirky and amazingly refreshing. Originally published in the year 2012 by Fredrick Backman, the books is about a gritty and a grouchy neighborhood old man called Ove. Ove lives a lonely life confined to his staunch principles and strict routine . He doesn’t like to be disturbed and gets easily irritated when somebody breaks the rules.  He complains about every noise that others made, shouts at children for playing in the garden and turns the air blue if the pet dog barks.  This very stubbornness of this character is the source of the humour  and all said and done you will certainly fall in love with this grumpy Ove.

Behind this serious life of Ove there is a sentimental and a romantic life secretly buried in. His career life and his life with his wife Sonje is an interesting part of the book to read. Ove’s life goes for a change over when a boisterous family moves in his locality . A pregnant lady , Parvaneh, moves with her husband (Ove finds him idiotic ) and two chatty children in the neighborhood of Ove and suddenly Ove  was made to engage with the world again. There are some funny moments such as Ove trying to teach driving to Parvaneh. Seeing that Parvaneh is getting tensed while driving Ove shouts at her saying“You survived struggle in Iran, moving here and learning a new language, and being married to that idiot, driving a car should be no problem!”. My personal favorite was the rivalry between Ove and his friend on the car they owned, a rivalry that even costed Ove the friendship. Ove owned  a Saab while his friend owned a Volvo. Ove hated Volvo. So each time his friend upgraded his Volvo, Ove upgraded to the next Saab. And the twist in the story is that , eventually  Volvo took over Saab and you can sense what might have gone through Ove.

At the end of the Book there is a questionnaire to check How much Ove you are in your life. I would certainly recommend you to read this one.

Book : A Man Called Ove
Original Title: En man som heter Ove
ISBN: 1476738017 (ISBN13: 9781476738017)
Edition Language : English                                                                                                                             Author : Fredrik Backman                                                                                                                             Publisher : Simon & Schuster
Pages : 377

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse – Book Review

Siddhartha — In pursuit of Enlightenment

Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom. Wisdom cannot be passed on. It can be found, it can be lived, it is possible to be carried by it, miracles can be performed with it, but it cannot be expressed in words and taught.” Vishal Sikka quoted this line from the book Siddhartha by Nobel Laureate Hermann Hesse during his key note lecture in the SAP TechEd conference. The lines quite impressed me. When I read the book for the first time I could not comprehend it fully. But recently I read it again, with a fresh appreciation I realized that the book renders a much needed spiritual insight to our digressed mundane life.

Siddhartha & Govinda

The book is not about Buddha, but of a young Indian Brahman, Siddhartha, who along with his friend Govinda is in pursuit of enlightenment. Siddhartha at his young age nurses discontent and starts to feel that the love of his parent or love of his friend, Govinda, would not bring him joy forever. Siddhartha tells Govinda one day that he wants to become Samanas (ascetic) in search of spiritual illumination. Siddhartha seeks permission from his father to leave the house but his father refuses. Adamant on his decision Siddhartha stands whole night without moving an inch.

Cognizant that his son’s mind has already left him, with a heavy heart his father gives him consent to leave. Siddhartha and Govinda then lead the life of Samanas indulging in the routine of sacrifice, chanting, and meditation. Siddhartha realizes that even with this he is not going to attain the salvation he is seeking. Then they hear about Gotama, the exalted one, and his teachings. Longing to hear Gotama’s teaching they leave the Samanas.

Buddha

It is fascinating to see how beautifully Hesse handles the rendezvous of Gotama and Siddhartha. Siddhartha and Govinda meet Gotama in a village and are blessed to hear his teaching from Gotama himself. Govinda realizes that he has reached his destination, decides to join Gotama and requests Siddhartha also to join along with him. But Siddhartha doubts whether Gotama’s teaching is of much help to him. Siddhartha meets Gotama and the conversation between them is one of the very interesting sections of the book.

Siddhartha says to Gotama” You have found salvation from death. It has come to you in the course of your own search, your own path, through thoughts, through meditation, through realizations, through enlightenment. It has not come to you by means of teachings! And — thus is my thought, oh exalted one, — nobody will obtain salvation by means of teachings! Gotama acknowledges Siddhartha’s concern and gives his consent to leave with a message “You know how to talk wisely, my friend. Be aware of too much wisdom!” Excited that he has met someone who has reached the helm of enlightenment and knows that is the state of mind he wants to achieve Siddhartha moves on.

Awakening

As Siddhartha walks through, he ponders a new sensation. A feel of high, a proud state of standing along without teaching and without teachers, a supple willingness to listen to the divine voice in his own heart and suddenly Siddhartha realizes that he has reached a bright state of being awake. He looked around, as if he was seeing the world for the first time. The world around him seemed beautiful and colorful and Siddhartha emerged more a self than before.

But each time Siddhartha obtains a new knowledge it only kindles a new thirst in him and this time was no different.

Siddhartha tries a new path and this time he had to pay the price.

Sansara

Siddhartha falls in love with a courtesan Kamala and had to become a merchant to suit the lifestyle of Kamala. Though initially lust, richness, money doesn’t affect Siddhartha but eventually he succumbs to the vicious circle of Sansara. Slowly the disease of the soul, which rich people have, grabbed hold of him.

OM

With the help a ferryman, Vasudeva, Siddhartha gets back in the path of enlightenment again. It was a daunting task for Siddhartha whose mind was week and in depraved condition. Vasudeva steers Siddhartha in the right direction and ask him to just listen to the river. Siddhartha become nothing but a listener .And when Siddhartha was listening attentively to this river, this song of a thousand voices, when he neither listened to the suffering nor the laughter, when he did not tie his soul to any particular voice and submerged his self into it, but when he heard them all, perceived the whole, the oneness, then the great song of the thousand voices consisted of a single word, which was Om: the perfection. Siddhartha gets enlightened.

Siddhartha & Govinda

Towards the end of the book, Govinda meets his friend Siddhartha, both old now, asks him what his findings of life was. Siddhartha express his thoughts as mentioned below.

Knowledge can be conveyed, but not wisdom. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else…

The opposite of every truth is just as true! That’s like this: any truth can only be expressed and put into words when it is one-sided…

To thoroughly understand the world, to explain it, to despise it, may be the thing great thinkers do. But I’m only interested in being able to love the world, not to despise it, not to hate it and me, to be able to look upon it and me and all beings with love and admiration and great respect…”

Why should you read this book?

What I have written above is not even a glimpse of the book. The book is aesthetically written and definitely going to impress you. Vishal Sikka quoted the lines from the book in the context of using technology. According to him the great purpose of technology should be to achieve wisdom, to transcend our abilities, our senses and get closer to our potential and limits of humanity. This is just an illustration of how enriching the book is. There is this part in the book where Siddhartha gets into the ordinary life but fully detached from the fruits of his deeds which is a fascinating read. In the last episode Govinda gets a cosmic vision in Siddhartha which is equivalent to Arjuna’s vision of the cosmic form of Krishna in Bhagavad Gita. Throughout the course of the novel using various facets of life of the protagonist, Siddhartha, the writer passes on very simple but profound messages to the reader which is why I recommend this to be in your reading list.

Book Review: ‘The Crows of Agra’ by Sharath Komarraju

Title:  ‘The Crows of Agra – A Birbal Mystery’
Author: Sharath Komarraju
Publisher: Amazing Reads
Genre: Fiction (Murder Story)
Published on : October 20 2015
Pages : 284

Book Review :
“How many crows do you suppose are there in Agra?” Akbar asks Birbal. Birbal gives a humble reply ” As many grains of rice as there are in cartload “. Upon asking to be more specific , Birbal retorts “ How fortunate that I had very recently counted all the crows in the city, Your Highness! The number is thirty thousand five hundred and eighty four”.  Its interesting how Birbal provide the proofs to substantiate this number with  his intellect placating Akbar.

crows of agra

‘The crows of Agra’ by Sharath Komarraju uses again a fine blend of  history and fiction . Akbar and Birbal stories was a part of our childhood days and Sharath Komarraju exploits this to his benefit. If you have watched movie Jodha Akbar , you can connect to the characters brought up in this book, except that Jodha does not have any part to play in this book. Bairam Khan who led Akbar to many victories in battles to regain Mughal throne ,gets murdered in his harem. Akbar gives the responsibility of finding the murderer to Mahesh Das ( who later comes to be known as Birbal) unravels the mystery behind the murder.

‘The crows of Agra’  keeps you engrossed and belongs to unputdownable category. Although the writer provides a note in the beginning of the book that history and fiction has been coalesced,  its not easy to distinguish which part of the book is the actual history and which one is fictitious. So you can read it just as a fiction and not to expand your knowledge on Mughal history.

MY RATING: 3/5. ( Definitely a good read)

Gajesh

17/04/2016

 

Book Review : ‘The Peshwa : The Lion and the Stallion ‘ by Ram Sivasankaran

Title: The Peshwa: The Lion and the Stallion
Author: Ram Sivasankaran
Publisher: Westland
Genre: Fiction
ISBN : 9385724215
Published on : 05/01/2016
Pages : 356

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Ram Sivasankaran’s  book, ‘The Peshwa: The lion and the Stallion’, narrates the story of the great Maratha warrior Bajirao Bhat. With a nice blend of fiction and history, Ram gives an absolute thriller to read. Its a coincidence that the movie Bajirao Mastani also got released in the same year the book got published , but the book offers more in content on the valour and the courage articulated by the great Maratha Peshwa. The book focuses on the what Peshwa’s life is all about and his loyalty to the Maratha Confedaracy.

I definitely recommend this book which will cognise us with one of greatest legend of Indian history.

By Gajesh

11/04/2016

Lizy.. You Got it Right

Lizy

Dr. Lizy Abraham, my engineering college mate, recently published her first book in malayalam “ Campus Game“. It was a proud feeling when I was holding the book in my hand , that one among us has done some thing like a publishing a book. Lizy, a mother of two lovely kids and a professor at an engineering college, achieved this milestone with a perfect and well scripted story

About the book:

The book was a great read. I finished it up at one sitting. It gave me a feel of watching a movie. The story was excellent and it took me back my college days. I always have read campus love stories told by male authors. Lizy gives a female perspective to it but giving equal importance to both the lead characters in the story

I definitely recommend this book to all those who wants to peek into their college days once again.

Dear Lizy, I hope this is just a beginning and you will keep writing. Looking forward for your next book.

Reads of 2015

1) Scion of Ikshsvaku – Amish at his best

2) Mightier than Sword – Jeffrey Archer – As always, too good.

3) The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins – A short story written in a very different style. Book has its on lag and some time too much dragging but still you would love it.

4)  Arjuna – Anuja Chandramouli – Book gives a different perspective of the Epic. If you are interested in the great Indian epic then this one should be in your list too.