27 Dec 2012



इस राजनीती की शतरंज में 

मोहरे पल-पल बदलते हैं।

हरी-भूरी गिरगिट की भांति

नेता सब रंग बदलते हैं।।

आज जो विपक्ष में बैठा

हर पल शोर मचाता है।

हरे-हरे नोटों को देख

अलग ही राग सुनाता है।।

सत्ता का मोह है कुछ ऐसा

दायें को बाएं से मिलाता है।

काले-भूरे गिद्ध की भांति

बिचला भी चक्कर लगाता है।।

विचारधारा तो है लुप्त विचार

राजनीती अलग इक खेल है।

काले धन्दों, सफ़ेदपोश गुंडों का

हो चुका इसमें समावेश है।।


Image Courtesy:
Pete Oxford / naturepl.com

27 Nov 2012

Red Jihad: Battle for South Asia - The doomsday conspiracy

Dan Brown got inspired to write his debut novel ‘Digital Fortress’ (1998), in which protagonists raced against time to save the world from a possible annihilation, after the thrill he felt upon reading Sidney Sheldon’s ‘The Doomsday Conspiracy’ (1991). 

It is a similar thrill that Sami Ahmad Khan tries to generate in his debut novel ‘Red Jihad’. To a Stanley Kubrick fan, this novel might seem a rip-off of his cult movie ‘Dr Strangelove’ (1964), itself based on a novel, ‘Red Alert’ (1958). 

It’s year 2014; India and Pakistan are moving away from external prejudices and trying to set their house in order by throwing the Naxalites and jihadis within their respective countries into the abyss. To resurrect themselves, India’s biggest threats to internal security come together to take over the national defence agency’s research centre and unleash Pralay, India’s just developed experimental intercontinental ballistic missile, on the subcontinent. Things get murkier as the plot unfolds. 

Sami keeps readers on their toes with a fast-paced narrative. A few interesting ideological discourses, now and then, add weight in terms of substance. Some characters are painstakingly introduced, only to be killed the next moment in order to accentuate the ‘shock factor’. 

The same meticulousness, however, is absent in case of many characters who play much more significant roles. Use of technical jargon, especially related to defence equipment, without proper explanation, also leaves the reader stranded at times. 

Nevertheless, Sami’s sound hold on language and a decent research, other than the underlying suspense and twists in the plot, make 'Red Jihad' a good read on a lonely night or a boring train journey. 

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19 May 2012

Murder in Amaravati - A promising start

A murder, a string of suspects and an unlikely detective trying to solve the jigsaw puzzle by putting together the right ‘motive, means and opportunity’ for each suspect; the plot is not new but the way debutant novelist Sharath Komarraju has dealt with it, makes Murder in Amaravati a pleasure to read. It’s that kind of novel that you pick up and finish in one go, thanks to its short length and lucid language. 

The victim in the story is Padmavati, the village hostess, or prostitute if you would like to say, of Amaravati village in Andhra Pradesh. Her body is found in the locked temple of Kali, situated next to the old banyan tree, in the center of the village. Venkat Reddy, the head constable, who would have otherwise dismissed the case as a suicide, takes upon himself to get justice for the innocent looking deceased. 

As he investigates, many skeletons come tumbling out of the cupboard and the list of suspects keeps increasing, frustrating Reddy and absorbing the reader further. 

The priest, Krishna Shastri, the only one with a key to the temple; the village headman, Seetaraamaiah; his son, Kishore; the village postman, Satyam; his wife, Lakshmi; and the wheel-chaired Shekhar along with his wife Vaishnavi, who recently shifted to the village; are all the witnesses and suspects in the case. 

Though it is a suspense thriller, Sharath has left no stone unturned to give it an aesthetic value too. The life in village of Amaravati is described in detail, so have been all the characters. The comparison might seem too flattering, but in parts the story gives a ‘Malgudi Days’ feel. 

Once the reader knows about all the characters and their lives; they can empathise with them, and their respective motives become clearer; only to be falsified by subsequent revelations. 

However, in certain instances, the detailed characterisation also backfires. While the reader knows that a certain person cannot be the culprit due to the details already provided, Reddy is still shown groping in the dark. Such a narrative steals a certain element of surprise, especially in the case of one of the central character. 

Nonetheless, the author needs to be commended for making sure that no loose ends are left as each aspect is explained in detail during the climax. Moreover, the twists and turns ensure that the reader keeps second-guessing throughout the novel. However, Sharath has succeeded in staying a step ahead of the readers. 

Though I got my copy for free, the novel has been priced tad too high for its genre. There is no doubt that the novel is leagues ahead of the novels being churned out by the wannabe Chetan Bhagats, however, its price of Rs. 250 will only make it more unlikely for the readers to try it out. It will be a pity if readers miss out on this promising debut attempt of Sharath because of this sole reason.

Update: Sharath has been kind enough to provide the first two chapters of the novel free for download. I hope this review and these chapters make your decision easier. Happy Reading!!!

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

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30 Mar 2012

Hindutva's Orwellian Agenda

Control over the past is “more terrifying than mere torture and death,” writes George Orwell ([1949] 2006, p.28) in his dystopian novel, Nineteen-Eighty Four.

Orwell in this novel ridiculed all the ‘totalitarian nightmares’ for manipulating history. He particularly derided the ruling Party’s slogan: 

Who controls the past controls the future: 
Who controls the present controls the past.

“The monopolistic nation states and ‘powers that be’ do not like plurality as it threatens the uniform worldview they want citizens/subjects to hold. Totalitarian regimes were the worst culprits in this regard”. (Yadav, 2002)

According to Heywood (2007, p.217), “totalitarianism is an all-encompassing system of political rule that is typically established by pervasive ideological manipulation (italics mine) and open terror and brutality.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four (first published in 1949) tells the story about Oceania, a society ruled by the oligarchic dictatorship of the Party. Life in the Oceanian province of Airstrip One is a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control. This is accomplished with a political system named English Socialism (Ingsoc), which is administered by privileged Inner Party elite. Yet they too are subordinated to the totalitarian cult of personality of Big Brother, the deified Party leader. The protagonist, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party who works for the Ministry of Truth, which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to re-write past newspaper articles so that the historical record is congruent with the current party ideology.

This novel popularised the adjective Orwellian, which refers to “official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of the past (italics mine) in service to a totalitarian or manipulative political agenda” (see Wikipedia, Nineteen-Eighty Four).

Orwell writes “The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc. Past events, it is argued, have no objective existence, but survive only in written records and in human memories. The past is whatever the records and the memories agree upon. And since the Party is in full control of all records and in equally full control of the minds of its members, it follows that the past is whatever the Party chooses to make it”. (Orwell, op.cit., p.181)

“[B]y far the more important reason for the readjustment of the past is the need to safeguard the infallibility of the Party. It is not merely that speeches, statistics, and records of every kind must be constantly brought up to date in order to show that the predictions of the Party were in all cases right. It is also that no change in doctrine or in political alignment can ever be admitted. For to change one's mind, or even one's policy, is a confession of weakness”. (Ibid., pp.180-181)

Various regimes have adopted this technique of manipulation of history to strengthen their hold on the subjects.

So, Napoleon entrusted the administration of history writing to his Minister of Police. He is also reported to have told this minister that the past be treated in such a manner that anyone who reads that history heaves a sigh of relief on reaching 'our rule' (Gooch,1956 cited in Yadav, 2002).

Similarly, Hitler declared that the more urgent goal of history lay not in the 'objective presentation' of facts but in instilling national pride and in recalling the growth of the united nation due to the efforts of German heroes like Charlemagne, Luther and Bismarck topped by Hitler himself. Consequently, Hitler also erased the French Revolution from the curriculum to prevent the German students from turning into democrats (Southgate, 1996 cited in Yadav, 2002).

Ideologically motivated history was also the norm in USSR. For example, in late 1920s the role of Trotsky was eliminated from narratives of the Great October Revolution, a historical manipulation satirized by George Orwell in his famous novella Animal Farm (1945). This was the result of his questioning the Stalin regime - whether the policy of the Soviet socialist rule was a dictatorship of the proletariat or a dictatorship over them? (Stern, 1970 cited in Yadav, 2002)

The educational establishment in India under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition rule from 1998-2004 also set out on a similar agenda of manipulating history.

This is the introductory chapter of my dissertation submitted at Asian College of Journalism. The whole document can be read here - 

You can read George Orwell's  Nineteen-Eighty Four here - http://orwell.ru/library/novels/1984/english/en_p_1

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24 Feb 2012

Panda, Chameleon, Cats or the Dark Horse???

Click on the image to read my take on the five nominees of  Academy Award for Best Animation Feature 2012 or go further to read the complete text without straining your eyes. (I am not paying for your laser surgery.)

5 Feb 2012

Sino-Indian Relations: Cautious optimism and not hysteria is the way forward

In his controversial war memoirs, Himalayan Blunder – a curtain raiser to the Sino-Indian war of 1962 (1969), Brigadier John Dalvi, a POW during that war, narrates an incident from his days as an instructor at the National Defence Academy, Pune.

A guest faculty, a retired British official, after hearing that Nehru had signed the Panchsheel agreement with China and had decided to give up the post in Tibet that the British had maintained to check Chinese advances, interrupted his class and warned that India and China would soon be at war and that people in the class would be fighting it. Brig. Dalvi remembers how he was very angry with this gentleman and how he questioned his authority to criticize the leader of his country.

In stark contrast, he describes his return to India on being repatriated by China, in a highly sceptic manner - "We landed in Dum Dum airport in Calcutta on May 4, 1963. We were received cordially, appropriately. But the silence there was disquieting. I realized later. We had to prove we weren’t brainwashed by Chinese ideology. We had to prove we were still loyal to India. My own army maintained a suspicious distance. The irony cannot be harsher: this treatment from a country, which for more than a decade had brainwashed itself into holding the Chinese baton wherever it went [emphasis added]."

It’s 2012, exactly half a century since that Chinese ‘blitzkrieg’ against India, but such scepticism about the Indian government’s myopic view of China’s intentions, going back to the Nehruvian era, reigns high in sections of our defence establishment, and time and again given voice by a section of the Indian media.