Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jinnah vs. Gandhi and the divided dreams!

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Jinnah vs. Gandhi by Roderick Matthews, Hachette, 330pp; Rs499 (Hardback)

Soon to be published...

Glittering nostalgia!

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Glittering Decades by Nayantara Pothen, Penguin /Viking, 268 pp; Rs499 (Hardback)
For majority of the people, the transition time of Indian independence was not filled with the glittering moments. The cunning British bureaucracy, which drove the mass spirit to ultimate low, could be hardly recalled in soft terms by those who feel the trauma of past very vividly. However, a class devoid of similar feelings and those who were carrying the legacy of ‘colonial hangover’ had somehow genuine appreciation for the attributes of British rule, which were offering seclusion from ‘dogs and Indians’!
Otherwise, such practices are untenable in our democracy, but still ghost-structures like, Gymkhana club etc reminds about the exclusionary tendencies, which see better prospects in artificially constructed objects and relationships, rather allowing humanity to blossom. But also possible is to look on the aristocracy with fascination but without actively endorsing its mainframes.

Nayantara Pothen does something on the same line with her book on Delhi’s passed aristocratic decades. Her memories are largely borrowed through the anecdotes and rests around her family’s prominence in the elitist circle. This remained continued in post-independence era too-perhaps the book has wider aim to establish, why that kind of club supremacy is on wane? Also, why it’s equally true with edifices?
The sense of privilege and loss is the basis, on which Nayantara mostly relies for her ‘aristocratic historiography’. With missing ‘social links’, her claim to call this book, a work of ‘social historiography’ seems little strange but it’s equally true that her research is interesting, even-though it’s meant for targeted readers only who have some kind of attached nostalgia. The book talks about the elite people, manners, and institutions in the hay days of colonial era and of little later.

The author relates those passed time with the presently existing affluent culture of Delhi, which is different and in certain sense, appears subversive. That part of ‘fall’, as this book corresponds is coming through India’s democracy, which is based on inclusive principles and notionally not allows the Club enlisted citizens to be seen by others as radically different from them.The believers of democratic principles find it more appealing, rather relooking on the dying over-aged Clubs for ‘false wisdom’ and ‘real exploitative instincts’.
The goodness about India lies in its amazing diversity, and the opposite one can confront by denying that most essential reality. The idea of social history writing in India is quite established now and the practitioner of this discipline can easily distinguish those texts, which have lesser leaning for it.

Here, the author of this book should understand these practicalities. In detachment, it’s very hard to write the history of India’s capital, which has been charged with the dynamic events and changes. The sense of entitlement through family’s connection is only giving the secondary inputs to Nayantara, so her offering of vision to look into that chunk of history lacks the proper degree of seriousness. It would have much better to read the reasons, which replaced those alarmingly elitist procedures but book keeps silence over that.
Over the decades, India has established itself as a matured functional democracy and it’s not without the active participation of its citizens. Flaws are very much intact here, but also faith is withstanding. So, hope is from the present and the time to come, rather looking back on the discriminatory system that was good for few. In recent times, Overseas Indians have written on

India through alien eyes and westerners have dwelt on the same theme with ‘false local understanding’.Unfortunately this has made the whole historical recollection exercises dubious and unauthentic. Though in patches, Glittering Decades, offer solace to the lovers of Delhi’s power corridors where mannerism matters more than any other specialties.
The book itself does not define the lifestyle of affluents, though it engages strongly with that wherever it finds the space to proceed. The history can’t be written without having a certain sense of nostalgia, its utmost essential as emotional connect.

The book secures this quality. A certain amount of social overtures would have given this book a much needed broadness. In absence of that, this project has greater individualistic leaning. But the history cannot be interpreted through the single set of narration, so this kind of book also has vital rational to exist. With distinct take on the history of Raj, and in simpler narration, Nayantara forwards hope to see on some eventful decades.
The book is good read, if it would be not taken to attain any specific aim. For the enthusiasts of modern India, it could be of more interest. Hope with feedbacks and own impulses, Nayantara will make her next book on India more social and inclusive!

Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla on February24, 2013)

The shadowed moon!

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Our Moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita, Vintage/Random House, 258 pp; Rs499 (Hardback)
Over the decades, politics and high class but baseless discourses have produced only the trashes on Kashmir-the devoid from realities remains a harmful trend which is yet to be over. The dearth of expression becomes more acute once we try to see on the works surfaced after the outbreak of militancy in valley. This is because the chasms existed between the dry outsiders’ opinion and the ground realities were stood unmanageably high.

Rahul Pandita, who is known only for his remarkable works in journalism, also as formidable compiler on conflict zones of South Asia and for no side tricks, have come along with his memoirs from his home, which he had to leave unwillingly, like lakhs of others in the unfortunate winter of 1990. This is the kind of book, which is not written to read/debate and forget, but to reach to the root causes which made conditions ugly and forced Pandits to flee the valley.

This book touches upon the nuances of Kashmiriyat that was inseparable from Kashmiri Pandits. An innocent world, what it tries to recollect through the memories-the days were as peaceful as we have reasons to believe the beauty of valley. Homelessness means lot for its sufferer; it imposed upon those who were unaware about anything outside of the Kashmir. Those were accustomed for coexistential living, suddenly found themselves under the influence of virulent conspiracies.

If the local socio-cultural fabrics would not have dismantled through the non-visible but very dangerous operatives of cold war, still valley would not have turned like ‘clown’ and both Ravi and Irshad could have continued in its fold. But the unimaginably changed situation tolled the life of Ravi and many others of his generation, thousands others were forced for exile in their own nation and those who stayed there, either lived with remorse for the void created from the absence of Pandits in valley or simply turned indifferent like Irshad.

As the book progresses and Rahul sets to emerge from the flashback to enter into present time, he tries to see the homeland, first in distance but soon from a very close angle. His home-coming met change in responses from familiar faces (except from the old folks and structures), which makes us believe that a better part of Kashmiriyat is missing from the valley, or it could be said, the loss of Kashmiriyat itself that used to bind together the religious diversities in special term, caused for the outbreak of turbulence in late 1980’s.

Introspection on the essence of Kashmiriyat could be too deep; it could be looked as back as to the time of Rajtarangani or Akbar’s colonization of Kashmir, but here the focus should be unanimously channelised to draw the points: how the harmony in collective lives was the essence of Kashmiriyat and how it started losing those specialties of universalism with the partition in 1947?

Post partition, Kashmir was one among the many troubled royalties but not most shaky in any terms. Then few would have thought about the evolvement of this paradise, as India’s weakness and centrepoint of notorious cold war politics! These developments happened in Jammu & Kashmir since India’s independence, and more resolutely in the valley with the Kashmiri Pandits’ unfortunate exodus in 1990-down the twenty-three years, it’s still unfashionable to talk about the Pandits, for whom, once their world was Kashmir and nothing else.

Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri and a remarkable literaturer who has written ‘The country without post office’, died at a young age in USA, could be a very apt frame of reference for knowing what the idea of native belonging is?
Agha was a believer in composite culture, not surprising, if his drawing room had more Hindu deities than Islamic icons-there was nothing religious about that, rather merely a continuance of liberal collective bond was in pace. It’s true, Shahid wanted his last days to be spent in Kashmir and that was quite a normal wish for a sensible soul like him…the Pandits, those are in the exile too feel similarly despite living away from the valley for long time.

Rather differently but somewhere sharing similar feelings, the Pandits have not stopped going down into memory lanes, where they could see their home with kitchen gardens and many windows; from there they used to see the nieghbourhood and trees of apple and chestnuts. The generation of Rahul could recall those simpler days, when India’s middle class was introduced Doordarshan on black & white TVs - they too grew up watching India-Pakistan’s cricket matches, sipping Gold-Spots, recording the songs of

Dance-Dance or Tridev and roving with a cousin across the city, who was genuinely talented and faultless.
Probably that makes Rahul to remember that he too had 22 windows in his home, only years later when his mother used to live in those lost imagery of possession and father was getting more prone for silence, not to seek any further peace but with looking in those curbed patches of past, which was beyond the means to control. Rahul and his parents have a house to live, so is true with most of the other Pandits, who have attained a degree of normalcy with the time, though their home will stay in Kashmir, as they can’t perish their memories so easily and in random action.

More than the political interferences, the plight of Pandits would be solved with the enforcement of Kashmir’s conventional socio-cultural wisdom, which was based on composite values and not on the aura of barbarism. Rahul holds promises to be back in Kashmir, time will come and this will be a reality and that would make the paradise complete again.

Beautifully written, meticulously researched and with the deeply filled sensitive portrayal, Rahul Pandita’s memoirs to be remembered not only from a class of readers but by the generations to come. As an author, he has made the turf of non-fiction writing more credible, responsive and attached to the subtlety of troubled lives and geographies. The newly found acclaims will make Rahul feel more honored and satisfied than privileged-the real happiness will be back to him and among the Pandits, when they will sip Kahwa at home, not in imaginary homelands!
Atul K Thakur
(Published in Kashmir Dispatch on January23,and syndicated by Rising Kashmir on January27,2012)

The company of a poet

Book Review: Non-fiction/In the company of a poet by Nasreen Munni Kabir, Rainlight/Rupa, 206 pp; Rs495 (Hardback)
This conversation book covers the work and life of Gulzar in high articulation. Nasreen Munni Kabir, w ho is known for her authentic knowledge on cinema has made another remarkable mark by infusing biographical element in a long interview with a timeless phenomenon-Gulzar. The best sense her conversation with Gulzar offers in not making this poet turned lyricist, a geographical indication-rather, he has presented here as someone who carries and express the steam made out of feelings.

Gathering such feelings is a continuous process-Gulzar has been passing through over the decades with similar experiences, and when he looks back, we can’t expect anything in standstill. This long conversation opens wide range of discussion, which begins with undivided India, painful partition days and later on the making of cinema culture in India. Those who know him closely as a poet and in person, can easily assume his reluctance for personification in his favour-probably this makes his height larger than the life.

Gulzar was born in Deena (Now in Pakistan) on 18th August, 1934. After partition, he came to Delhi. He began his film career as an assistant to Bimal Roy-the later found the hidden merit in him. He started writing songs for films with Bimal Da's Bandini (Mora Gora Ang Layee Le was his first song). Although in record, his first film to be released was Kabuli Wala, which also had some all time greats like Ganga aaye kahan se. He also worked with Hrishikesh Mukherjee in the beginning of his career and could succeed in the subsequent phases too by finding the kind of projects, suited to his unusual taste and intellect.

Once the book goes deep down in history, it inquisites about the elements of a rising star in Gulzar. But like him, Nasreen equally appears concerned to not make the better finer parts of a naturally special success story, like a repeating narration. The book talks of Gulzar, with praising his immaculate high senses for verse and conditionalities that makes it valuable, but it also not gives secondary look on the poet’s urge to reach in other domains. Nasreen makes Gulzar speaking on Cricket, also how he actively use Skype, downloaded on his laptop by none other than, A.R.Rehman.

This change is worth of noticing that a poet who started his career by writing his first song on a cigarette case(in scribble), is now relying so heavily on technology for talking on the nuances of new music with a musician, who works in past midnight, and mostly not from the stereotypical locale-Bombay. Like Rehman, Gulzar also knows the limitation of easy acts; so he never forgets that films gave him a mass recognition, though poetry always remained his first love. Albeit it’s not in his command to stop people loving him more for cinema and songs, he has written and directed than for the anthologies of poetries, which he has produced in last five decades.

Nasreen, though has focussed on most of the substantial parts of Gulzar’s work in this book, but she could have written something more about a decade (1987-1996), in which this poet went away from the scene. In this period, he did only seven films as lyricist and two as director-contrary to his timid action on big screen; he has done most outstanding jobs for the small screen, by making Mirza Ghalib, as a tribute to the legendary poet. Naseeruddin Shah appeared great in role of protagonist and immortalized the literary impression of Ghalib among the masses.

Towards the end, conversation allows readers to know, how Gulzar is walking with the time and and without compromising with success in his preserved grace. The mid 1990’s saw Gulzar back in action, behind the camera for the making of Maachis, a sensible study on terrorism in Punjab. The success of Maachis, impulsed Gulzar back to the film industry. After Maachis, he teamed up with new breed of music directors and kept contributing to the new chapters of history. He has patience and energy for writing all kind of songs-it gives no pain to him if his works are criticised or praised for having bouncing diversity.

Continuing his literacy enthusiasm, he has recently done a serial-Tehrir Munshi Premchand ki that shows, like a true creative genius, he gives weight for personal leaning on a particular theme. This book would be of great significance for all those, who take cinema for meaningful entertainment or for reckoning the vital debates, related to humankind. While progressing in the late seventies, Gulzar has chosen a right time to share his precious understanding of life and cinema in different shades. This book serves the wider purposes, reading it could strengthen such notion in all probability.
Atul K Thakur
(Also published in The Kashmir Walla, January27,2012)

India through unmeasured Strides!

Book Review: Non-fiction/ Accidental India by Shankar Aiyar, Aleph, 352 pp; Rs695 (Hardback)
“Accidental India” analyses major turning points in India’s history after attaining its freedom at midnight in 1947. Shankar Aiyar, a journalist known for expressing fresh views on the interface of politics and economics, brings alive here a relevant debate through his refreshingly original book. Why unmeasured action and programme catalysed major impacts on the political economy of nation, thoroughly have been planned but under the mismanaged political aims and antics?

The truth appears as-politics has always given ‘at large’ status to enjoy wining over the logical craving from the economic side, which disturbed the macro vision to usher the economy to a desired optimum scale! But still there are many success stories have surfaced though accidentally in India’s recent past, which mattered for the dynamics and size of the national economy. It’s astonishing, the inadvertently shaped enterprises done remarkably well in India than the hyped and planned programmes under the patronage of government and heavy industrial capital.

Among those, Aiyar looks on India’s walking on the rope through seven game changing events- the economic liberalization of 1991, the Green Revolution of the sixties, the nationalization of banks in 1969, Operation Flood in the seventies, the mid-day meal scheme of 1982, the software revolution of the nineties, and the passing of the Right to Information Act is 2005. The book examines the genesis of each of these changes with the position that the key decisions made in the country since independence have not arisen from planed moves but came like the accidental results of crises.

The seven gamechangers made the “idea of India”, more a living story than the past notion, usually born out of idealism and dies midway with incompetence. However, the timing of these seven epochmaking events have not configured on the ideal ground of time, so they came with advantages but not in entirety. Not denying, the nation benefitted from the new success in the blocks of ‘selected enterprise and policy’ but had not they came hesitatingly or those all would have not entered latterly, we could have an India, not made in accidental ways and much more firm for developmental aims.

Aiyar puts forth his views in good taste over the missed capacities-“It’s not as if India has not been blessed with iconic political leadership. Whatever their failings, it is indisputable that our leaders were forces for lasting and beneficial change. Yet, India falters. It often teeters on the brink of catastrophe. Why do Indian leaders not anticipate adversity and act before being engulfed by catastrophe? What prevents them from operating with foresight — the exigencies of their term; the mind-set of their peers or perhaps even their subjects; the compromises of politics?”

As a Journalist, author of this book had scooped the news of India pledging its gold reserves to the Bank of England during its worst managed economic crisis since Independence in early nineties. His exposé of the dangerously silent operation unraveled to Indians, and the world, the magnitude of India’s slapped adversities. Two decades after that vicious phase, India continues its overtures with the different kinds of crisis that makes the liberalisation programme ambiguous and short on promises, once made at grim moments of 1991.

Governance is being superseded to conflicting populist compulsions. Despite knowing this crude fact that in long run, such temptation will lead India to a strange territory, where the modernist elements of Indian democracy will be permanently appear in confrontation with the popular political dimensions. Such reckoning is not new, and those who handle the government’s portfolios also have sense for the oddities lying ahead but in their core belief, they appear adamant to not approach an issue till it becomes a crisis. As Aiyar’s points out lucidly with this case-“the list is long. Yet recurring failure on many fronts has not changed the way governments think and act. Just one example: every hour 200 children die of malnutrition. Governments have been pretending to address this national shame for a quarter of a century.”

Unlike the late and wrongly implemented policies of the government, Shankar Aiyar has written this prolific book on right time of his career (after thirty years of extensive journalism)-he knows inner India through close angels and his previous book is based on the experiences he compiled on the hundred districts. Not to forget, he also knows the functioning patterns of Lytyens’ Zone-so for knowing India, in terms of ‘what it is’, this book opens wide opportunities. Beautifully written, meticulously researched (barring few surpassable exceptions and one noticeable- the name of Bihar’s chief-minister, which should have Binodanand Jha in place of M.B Jha-on page-97), this book will make India, more than accidentally successful, if slumbering politicians will get time to read it!
Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Monitor on January6,2012)