Book Review – Shantaram

Author – Gregory David Roberts. It is essentially an autobiographical piece of work, but parts of it are reportedly fiction as well.

One word summary for this extraordinary read would be ‘vivid’! Shantaram is by no means ordinary. Its an epic. Its full of excessive details. The gorgeous language, undoubtedly, is the biggest strength of the book. Potent, lyrical, richly philosophical, the prose resonates with one and all the highs and lows of the multi-faceted plot.

Never have I even visualised to the extent the details and description of people, places and daily experiences that this book gives so much space to. The metaphorical comparisons, rich details and enriching experiences, encaptures and enforces mind to visualise and live the moment in the narration. The plot is powerful enough to make you grasp for breath and complex enough to twist your mind.

Narrated by an escaped convict, who flees from a maximum security prison in Australia for the teeming streets of a city where he can disappear. He finds comfort in the society some of which is ‘hidden in plain sight’ i.e. the society and life of beggars and gangsters, prostitutes and holy men, soldiers and actors, and Indians and exiles from other countries. He seek in this remarkable place what he cannot find elsewhere i.e love and identity. The neglect of this society by the ‘larger world’ allows him to find his space and place. It starts as the life story of a fugitive from Australian prison who goes on to become a mumbaikar, a slum dweller, a doctor, a prisoner, a missionary soldier and a mafia don!!

First hand life experience from the point of view of a fugitive and his life in the criminal under belly of Mumbai Mafia, gives immense insights about the ‘principled’ approach to crime! Against the regular, lawful and righteousness of the ways and means, Shantaram is about survival. Its about crime, its about friends, its about love, its about revenge. It’s about needs, livelihood, shelter, struggle, challenges, about existence and lastly its about everything, everything in the world! Shantaram is about love of mankind, love of friends, love of a woman, love of a country, love of a city, love of an adversary, love of a way of life, love of a people, love of adventures, love of a father and love for ourself.

Deep insights, philosophical musings and titbits of wisdom are the best part of the book. Some of it explain about the very far fetched and scientific idea about the universe and idea of God in it, emphasising on humanity as a whole rather than religious interpretation of the idea of God.

The interpretation, involvement and insides from the viewpoint of a foreigner about Indian ways, customs, methods and ways, provides not only an objective standpoint but is also an eye opener in many ways! It portrays India that very few Indians know about. This huge novel has the world of human experience in its reach, and a passionate love for India at its heart.

The biggest flaw if any in this book is: its huge length(940 pages)! After such a long read we expect a sort of ending that would conclude things, but I found that missing.

Why should you read it? Because it provides a life changing experience, rather its about life itself!

Why should you not read it? Its too huge my friend and not a page turner!

PS – Don’t let the 900 pages scare you!

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Book Review: Turning Point

What an Inspiring, and fitting sequel to the ‘Wings of Fire’- An autobiography of Kalam which covered his life up to 1992. The turning points is all about his ‘missions’ thereafter ‘to connect the billion hearts and minds of the people of diverse India, with its glorious past and challenging present, through development’.

It’s covers his experiences before and as the President of India, unanimously elected and the most ‘interactive’, ‘humble’, ‘reformative’, ‘visioned’, ‘accessible’ and ‘active’ president India has ever known, from ‘one among us’ he went on to hold the highest constitutional position transforming the office of president itself. Rather than performing the role merely as a titular head defined by constitution, tradition and precedence, he enliven his office, making it more accessible and efficient by introducing e-governance(his tool to a borderless world) initiative in Rashtrpati Bhawan, he reached out to people and made them to feel a part of the growth and prosperity of the nation and give them a stake in government. Not only figuring out enormous and huge activities, contributions and principles that he could perform from this position, and he didn’t merely ‘suggest’, he outshone as always and acted and implemented every goal or activity as a project with well-defined timelines, funding and responsibility, in a ‘mission-mode’ with his vision to make India a developed country by 2020 (there is a heavy dose of ‘India 2020 vision’) and to see 21st century as a knowledge society where science, technology and environment will work together to unleash exciting possibilities.

He truly worked for the ‘public purpose’ and deciding on the basis of what people needed, rather than what a few wanted. This book more than just ‘inspires’! It shows the India from the eyes of its ‘people’s president’, once again not forgetting to mention small accounts and events in his journey from which he never forgets to learn, these includes many ‘noble lessons’ that he learned from many around us, all of these are ‘must-read’ and if possible to practice in life.

Turning Points is a blueprint for making India a developed country. It is about how he used his position to inculcate in president’s office and the governance of the country, highest level of reforms, optimizations and efficient mechanisms, be it legislature, judiciary of executive, he touched them all discussing, analyzing and proposing highest standards to achieve for them. Not restricting himself to the ‘routine operations’, he worked effortlessly with all the MP’s and CM’s of the country to make plans for their constituency and states, doing extensive research to come out with core competencies of the states and goals to be achieved for them. He innovated the idea of PURA(providing urban amenities in rural areas) to make villages self-sufficient, developed and part of knowledge society of 21st century.

As a icon for the ‘Youth of India’, he devoted his life, working on a vision, to see India developed with the help of its youth and it’s with this mission that he lived the life at Rashtrapati Bhavan focussing specially on education, health and economic development which is percolated throughout the country in an equitable manner.

In due course, he mentions some controversies which he faced during his office, one among them the retuning of ‘Office of profit bill’ to the parliament, this was the first time that a bill was retuned back to parliament for reconsideration. He explained and justified all these issues from his own perspectives with the events that led to them. He is also concerned about the declining standards of our parliament.He feels that parliament is not at all serious about the problems of the common people.

He has given special emphasis on giving directives, suggestions, cautions to our political parties and legislature along with necessary and righteous critic, to advice them to rise above the ‘petty themes’ and what is needed for the country to make it move ahead i.e. indulge and perform in an environment of developmental politics keeping nation always above personal interests as he himself did as clear from ‘the experiences’ he had during his tenure. Taking note of some contemporary development in the Indian politics he cautions against such behavior by saying that ‘when politics degrades itself to political adventurism the nation would be on the calamitous road to inevitable disaster and ruination.

This isn’t just one of the must-buy, must-have and must-read book, rather its one of those rarest pearl that is to be cherished and preserved. The book is full of his one liners, poems, and inspirational quotes. Though I liked them all, I am mentioning one that touched me at this moment : “Conscience is the light of the soul that burns within the chambers of our heart.”

Book Review: The Argumentative Indian

The Argumentative Indian in its sixteen linked essays, Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen discusses India’s intellectual and political heritage and how its argumentative tradition is vital for the success of its democracy and secular politics. The Argumentative Indian is precisely a concise version of how India evolved from its past, its not a historic narration, for it traces the roots of today’s India, in India of ancient and medieval times but is never near to mere chronological representation of events.

He conveys the need to understand the argumentative tradition of India which is rooted in its long and diverse history, culture and tradition to understand contemporary Indian. He used past events, arguments and references to emphasize the contribution of India in the field of science, medicine, mathematics, literature and ideas to the world. The author tries to deviate the reader from his western way of looking at India and rather prescribes an indigenous way to look at the Indian identity with its historical tradition of relying on reason, research, heterodoxy, deliberation,dialectic, debate and pluralism. In the realm of science, Sen debunks the India of the popular Western imagination as a land of mysticism and religion. He cautions the reader against the current narrowed view of Indian society based on class divisions, communalism and regionalism, intolerant towards others ideas and practices which goes against the very idea of India that existed in the past. His writing is class apart with his way of complementing his opinion with references.

In different essays author captures the arguments between Tagore and Gandhi (its pleasing to hear some arguments between two enlightened souls), he captures and analyses the reasons for the prevailing skewed ratios of men over women, inequality of men and women and prescribes practical solutions. Sen quotes James Buchanan’s definition of democracy: ‘as “government by discussion” implies that individual values can and do change in the process of decision- making’. He underlines that the expression of values in a democracy also determines the values themselves, as illustrated by the championing of pluralism by none other than the Mughal emperor Akbar who organized debates and public dialogues between the followers of different religious faiths of his time (Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsees, Jains, Jews and even atheists).

This was the most difficult books for me to read, foremost because of the difficult choice of words for a novice reader like me and then complementing it with his high valued ideas which require perfection over language to understand (which I am no way near to!), but understanding his difficult ideas along with his difficult use of words sometimes makes reading painful and difficult to grasp. But it is to be added that the ideas that author conveys requires astronomical precision to convey the correct meaning which necessitates and justifies the parlance used by him. Its just that it needs a little patience to read, my little mind wasn’t able to grasp all his ideas in one read and will go through the book once more, it’s not boring, its just that I have little command over the language and this book requires perfection in it! He is at his finest when slicing an idea, displaying a sleight of hand in posing the same question differently! The book is a must read and for me a re-read and re-review it!

Book Review: Ignited Minds

Cover page: Ignited Minds: unleashing the power within India

“Dream, dream, dream. Dream transforms into thoughts. Thoughts result in actions”

An inspiring book written by our ex-president,  the post which got a new meaning during his incumbency. The object of this work, according to him, is to ignite young minds so that India can realize its full potential. Dr Kalam places enormous trust on the power of India’s youth to make a difference and fulfill his vision of a developed India. This book comes about with a blast of fresh air, explains what a ‘thinking person’ is all about, and how the imaginative mind can unleash ideas.  Attractive in its simplicity and extraordinary in its potential the book is thought provoking.

Without  undermining the skills, resources and talents that India is capable of, he explains why we are not able to produce noble laureates in spite of the mad rush at the IITs and why, we, so obviously capable of being the best, settle so often for the worst. He beautifully explains how the nexus of education and spirituality can work wonders to take one onto the road of self-realization. To quote him, “We have to learn to ignite our inner energy, which is lying dormant, and make it the guide of our lives. The radiance of such minds will bring peace, prosperity and bliss to this nation“.

He goes onto explain the importance of role model and the need of the visionaries like the JRD Tata, Dr. Vikram Sarabhi and Dr.Verghese Kurien(architect of Operation Flood—the largest dairy development program in the world) all of who devised mission driven programs and involved the nation in the same. He portrays his secular outlook  when he says that:

“For great men, religion is a way of making friends; small people make religion a fighting tool.” 

Illustrating his views with various handpicked examples, sharing life instances and works of many great scholars  and his experiences during his pilgrimage of India, he makes the reading lively. He visualizes developed India as a ‘network of villages empowered with telecommunication, tele-medicine and e-commerce’, as according to him India today is ‘a developing nation’ because of ‘fragmented thinking compartmentalized planning and isolated efforts’.

The major strength of this book lies in the name itself, where he ignite the minds of the youth who can bring revolutions in the world and can change the scenario of the nation. Weakness of this book lies in just dealing with the matters of youth and enlightening their minds whereas India is being ruled by many age old people who also need to be motivated to bring revolutions that is right for the nation and that too through fair means.

This is the book that motivates us to get back on the winning track, shows the path and unleashes the energy within a nation that hasn’t realized its full potential.

Book Review: The White Tiger

Cover page of “The white tiger”

The author’s Aravind Adiga’s debut novel which won him man booker prize of 2008, is the story of a village boy and his journey to become a young entrepreneur in India. Captivating style of narration and mention of even the greatest detail in his writing without losing the crux of the plot makes reading much more interesting. The novel shows us the life from the eyes of Balram (the white tiger of the book) who was born in the darkness, the metaphor author rightly uses for the rural India. The novel targets the rhetoric’s about India of which we all feel proud of and instead shows us the vivid reality of the true picture and holds mirror for all Indians. Running on predictive lines, caught in Balram’s world – and the wonderful turn of events the pages turn themselves. Writing to Mr. Wen Jiabao (the Chinese premier) and telling him of his story of how he became an entrepreneur leaving behind the darkness and to aware him about many falsies that he’ll be told about our country.

One among many of his satirical lines:

“When you get here, you’ll be told we Indians invented everything from the Internet to hard-boiled eggs to spaceships before the British stole it all from us.”

Book Review: Wings Of Fire

Wings of fire cover page

This book is an autobiography of a rocket scientist, a visionary, the only “king among the pawns”, the missile man and 11th president of India (2002-07) Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam popularly known as people’s president.  “Wings of fire” is one such autobiography of a person who had the courage to dream big and the passion to keep striving till they are achieved.  The book gives best insight about the life of a small town boy who dreamt to make India strong and prosperous – a DEVELOPED Nation and gave us “Vision 2020”.

The book is a journey of dreams, hopes, successes and failures. The life of this great personality was none different than the normal person, only thing different was how he perceive the world around him and how he’s willing to go that little extra to achieve his dreams, how he’s willing to sacrifice for common good and how he never forgets who he really is (some qualities common to visionaries and great men like him). This book gives confidence to Indians that ‘we can do and we can do from India’.

It is story of courage, inspiration leadership and motivation. The book tells us how important it is to value the people around us in order to grow as a person. The book talks about the millions of people who have contributed to the life of Mr. Kalam, which tells us that a great personality is just not one person but a collective effort of many.

The book is also the journey of India’s technological advancement, lists how the success and failures were the integral part of the missions. Though there was a lot of hue and cry from the nation about huge money being pumped in for war purposes when half of the nation is below the poverty line. I too thought that such kind of advancement brings no good. But this book gives a scientist’s point of view and I realized that sometimes it is necessary to solve the puzzle to complete the picture. The hardest battles are those when you are fighting with your own family and indeed the scientists were fighting for a cause for which the nation gave them the least support. Through this book, Mr. Kalam states that missiles were not build to bring war but to become self reliant, to show the world that one cannot rule over others just because they are superior in warfare. This book is not a story of self praise or personal feat but about a person who had the fire in him to give his dreams wings to fly. Through this book he wants the youth to know that no efforts can go waste, no goals can remain unfulfilled and no life can be ordinary. Each of us needs to realize our potential, give away the feeling of being inferior and fight our own battles in order to fly high up in the sky with our WINGS OF FIRE!!!!!

Filled with great anecdotes and the lines of the poems that he loves or has written, one among the many lines in the book that is truly motivating:-

“So when your hopes and dreams and goals are dashed, search among the wreckage, you may find a golden opportunity hidden in the ruins.”