Category Archives: Book Review

Review of Pompeii the book

Pompeii-the-novelPompeii was one of the most famous cities of the ancient Roman Empire that was completely decimated by the eruption of Vesuvius, in 79 A.D. The novel is about a water engineer, Marcus Attilius Primus, who is sent to the city of Misenum where the aqueducts have stopped. Misenum primarily acts as a naval base and now it is totally bereft of water. The previous water engineer of 20 years has mysteriously disappeared and the new engineer, although highly reputed for his intelligence, is inexperienced for this particular region.

The water engineer has to either figure out what has caused the main aqueduct to stop, or find a new, even if temporary, source of water so that there is no unrest in the city. He finds the signs of water up the hill shadowing the city, but defying all logic and his knowledge, he doesn’t find the water. When he comes back he straightaway goes to check the underground city reservoir to find exactly how much water is left. The extreme smell of sulphur almost drives him mad. While he’s totally bewildered by the smell, his supervisor and other accompanying slaves accuse him of inexperience. Exomnius, the previous aquarius, they complain, would know exactly what was wrong. Attilius often wonders where the previous aquarius has gone and he suspects that he has been killed and his body has been disposed of somewhere. Who has done that, and why, no one seems to know. Corax, his supervisor, seems suspicious and unnaturally hostile to him.

Totally clueless, while he readies himself to rest in his chamber, the daughter of a freed slave, Numerius Popidius Ampliatus, who has now become a millionaire by rebuilding Pompeii after an earthquake had devastated the city 17 years ago, seeks his help because her father is about to put to death the son of her slave nanny due to no fault of his. A romance blossoms.

The son of the slave nanny is being fed to the killer fish because a very precious bunch of fish belonging to Ampliatus have died due to poisoning under the son’s watch. While being put to death the son of the nanny slave screams “call the aquarius, he knows why the fish has died!”

Although Attilius is unable to save the hapless slave, he finds that sulphur in the water has killed the fish. Again, he has no idea why there is so much sulphur in the water.

What he knows is, where the aqueduct must be broken, where he has to go, how many men and how much material he needs and in how much time he can mend the aqueduct.

Thence begins his journey, on a warship as well as on the shaky terrain of the city of Pompeii where sin and splendour go on concomitantly while the restless earth rumbles beneath. Every incident is a step towards that fateful day when Vesuvius will erupt and hundreds of thousands of people will perish in the burning ash riding on the shockwaves. This is a story of not just devastation of monumental proportions, it is also a story of extreme greed, extraordinary courage, and a conviction to go on even when death awaits you.

This is an out and out adventure story interspersed with scientific facts about what precedes before a major eruption, referenced from books on volcanology, seismology and geography. It’s written by Robert Harris.

Review: Tipu Sultan – The Tyrant of Mysore

Tipu Sultan The Tyrant of Mysore

Today’s Republic Day (2014) tableau from Karnataka featuring Tipu Sultan titled “The Tiger of Mysore” reminded me that I needed to review a book I recently read titled “Tipu Sultan – The Tyrant of Mysore” by Sandeep Balakrishna. The title tallies with the nomenclature attributed to Tipu: the Tiger of Mysore.

People in India may remember the serial they used to show on Doordarshan (the state-(completely) controlled TV channel) called The Sword of Tipu Sultan in which Sanjay Khan played the role of Tipu. The serial showed how bravely the southern Sultan fought with the British by not just striking strategic alliances with the French but also developing his own firearms. In the serial they depicted that Tipu, with a scientific bent of mind, was able to develop missiles at a time when the weapon hadn’t even been conceptualised. We were awed. People who saw the serial, and perhaps people who read the book by the same title, have had this maudlin image of Tipu Sultan imprinted upon their psych.

I don’t easily say that but I have been a fan of Sandeep’s writing for many years now – ever since blogging happened in India. My opinion is limited to just a few non-fiction writers but after Arun Shourie, Sandeep is the only the so-called right-wing writer I respect and trust even when sometimes his language seems unpalatable (in terms of less bullshitting and more straightforwardness). He counters the popular left-lib opinion and propaganda not simply by berating and criticising them, but by factually countering them, and this is what unnerves them, and totally disturbs them. Reading his blog is sometimes a complete intellectual experience. That’s why the moment he declared on Twitter that his book has been published, I headed to Amazon and purchased the Kindle version.

In the days of the Aam Aadmi party when deeming every politician as villainous and antinational a fad, surprisingly, The Tyrant of Mysore begins with a quotation from the higher education Minister of Karnataka, D. H. Shankaramurthy’s statement that

Tipu Sultan was a traitor to the Kannada language. Kannada, which was the administrative language of the Mysore State under the Wodeyars, was replaced by Farsi by Tipu Sultan. He was an opponent of the Kannada language. We don’t need to give him a place of respect in the history of Karnataka. It’s a mistake to glorify him. It is typical to glorify Akbar, Aurangzeb and Tipu as patriots in national history. Alexander and Akbar are glorified with the “the great” suffix. Respect and honour are given to those who embarked on a conquest of our nation, and to those who defeated our own people. Instead, our textbooks need to have lessons on people who made positive contributions for the nation; the lives of people like Sir M. Vishveswarayya and Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV who developed the state must be included in our history textbooks. What is now happening is a perversion of history.

People who care to know about reality – the real history – know that the history textbooks that we read in schools and colleges don’t tell us the complete reality. The entire intellectual landscape has been overtaken by Marxist historians who continuously collude with various vested interests including highly influential international organisations and propagate confounding versions of history. In the name of preserving the delicate communal fabric of the country, the exegesis of various historical facts has been presented in an entirely twisted manner. To illustrate this he quotes an essay from an acclaimed Kannada litterateur, Dr. S.L. Bhyryappa:

Around 1969-70, the Central Government under Smt Indira Gandhi mooted a programme whose aim was to foster national integration through education. To this end , it formed a committee headed by G. Parthasarathy, a former ambassador and someone who was close to the Nehru-Gandhi family . Then, I was serving as a lecturer of philosophy in the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in Delhi , and was selected as one of the five members of this committee. During the inaugural meeting, Mr. Parthasarathy , in the smooth tone of a practiced politician spoke about the aims of the committee, “It is our duty not to sow seeds of thorns in the minds of growing children, which would in future prove to be a hurdle in national integration. Most of our history textbooks contain such seeds of thorns. These seeds are also present here and there in subjects like language and social studies. Our history and other subjects must contain lessons that foster national integration. This committee has been entrusted with such a serious responsibility.”

The remaining four members respectfully nodded their heads in agreement.

I asked : “Sir, I didn’t understand you. Can you please explain with examples?”

“Ghazni Mahmud broke the Somanath temple and looted it; Aurangzeb demolished the Kashi and Mathura temples and built mosques in their place, and imposed Jaziya…what purpose does these kinds of useless episodes serve in the present time other than sowing seeds of hatred? How will they help in building a strong India of the future?”

“In that case, aren’t these episodes historical truths?”

“There are several truths. However, maturity and discrimination lies in using discretion in selecting them.”

The rest again nodded their heads in agreement.

“You gave the examples of Kashi and Mathura. Even today, lakhs of people from various corners of the country visit them each year. All of them can see with their own eyes the sight of enormous mosques, which have been built using the pillars and walls of their sacred temples, which were demolished. They can also see that the original temples- on whose site these mosques now stand- were built recently in a space as big as a cowshed. These pilgrims experience hurt when they witness this sight. When they return home, they describe this sight to their family, neighbours, friends and relatives. Does this fact help in ensuring national integration? We can suppress history in textbooks prescribed for schoolchildren. But how can we suppress it when they go on educational or other tours? Research shows us that over thirty thousand temples were demolished. Can we suppress all of them…”

Mr. Parthasarathy cut me off and said, “You a lecturer of philosophy. Please tell us what is the purpose of history.”

“Nobody can say what the purpose of history is. Nobody can predict the direction in which science and technology will take us. Some Western thinkers have written about the Philosophy of History. However, most of this kind of writing is dense. What we need to discuss here is: what is the purpose of teaching history? History is our quest of the truth about our past and the lives of the people of our past. It is a quest which is undertaken using instruments such as inscriptions, records, literary works, remnants, and ruins. Historical truth helps us learn lessons of not making the same mistakes our ancestors did and of imbibing their good qualities…”

He interrupted me with, “does that mean we can hurt the sentiments of the minorities? Can we cleave the society? Sowing poisonous seeds in the minds of children…”

“Sir, the very categorization as minority and majority in itself shows that there is intent to divide the society. The concept of “poisonous seeds” contains prejudice. Why should minorities identify a sense of solidarity between themselves and Ghazni Mahmud and The Tyrant of Mysore Aurangzeb? Aurangzeb’s extreme narrow-mindedness in religious matters caused the Mughal Empire to disintegrate. Akbar’s broad policy of religious toleration helped the Mughal Empire flourish. Can’t we teach these lessons to children without betraying the historical truth? Before we teach the lessons we must learn from history, shouldn’t we teach the actual historical truths? All idealistic pronouncements that cloak the truth are politically motivated. These pronouncements won’t last long. Be it minorities or the majority, unless they develop the intellectual and emotional maturity that comes from facing the truth directly, any education is useless- and dangerous, even.”

You can read the entire debate in the book and this will give you a fair idea of why you need to read different versions of the history and how you need to deal with the bogeyman of communal divide.

Anyway, according to the book the comments made by the Karnataka Minister sent Girish Karnad, one of the greatest scholarly supporters of the Mughal rule in India, into a tizzy. Karnad is credited with the works like The Dreams of Tipu Sultan and Tughlak. He has been suitably awarded by the government. He challenged the Minister for a public debate and as it often happens, despite repeat reminders from the minister, the famed writer and blue blooded secular never turned up for a one-one exchange of ideas. But that’s another story.

Sandeep’s style reminded me of Arun Shourie and I’m pretty sure he’s influenced by him one way or another. Just like Shourie, Sandeep refrains from blowing his own horn and presents hard facts. He has republished articles in scholarly papers from renowned historians, intellectuals and scholars. He has also published texts from various treaties signed by Tipu Sultan to show what sort of mental and intellectual rot he was in. He has also published accounts of contemporary historians including the one closely working with and under Tipu Sultan. So if you want to counter him, he can simply point to the source and say, if you want to counter me, then counter the source.

Unlike the secular and saintly image often propagated, Tipu was totally the opposite, according to the book. He was a tyrant, and stupid, egotistical tyrant at that, which made him more dangerous. In fact, Sanddep seems to be having at least some respect for Aurangzeb because at least the Mughal emporer seemed to know what he was up to, but in the case of Tipu Sultan it was total befuddlement. He took it upon himself to wage the holy war against every infidel in the region, and if possible, in the world. He was fanatic when it came to implementing Islamic laws. He changed the names of the months, the names of time periods, the names of coins and notes, the names of unit measurements and every possible thing that could be renamed according to strict Islamic guidelines. He even changed the traditional accounting system language to Farsi, wrecking havoc with the economy of his sultanate.

He razed every temple he came by and ruined every city and town he conquered. He tortured people with relish and the ones who didn’t die he made them Muslims. When it comes to forcibly converting the non-Muslims into Muslims, there are very few Islamic rulers in the continent who can compete with him. His ruthlessness is so legendary that people of the Coorg region call street dogs as “tipus”.

These, and many more revealing facts about Tipu you will find in The Tyrant of Mysore. If you want to know alternative versions of our history, then you must read the book, although it is his first book and you can make out that his writing is more enjoyable in terms of presentation when he writes for his blog. But I’m sure this is going to change with his subsequent books.

Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief

According to the introduction presented by the narrator of the book, the entire story basically revolves around a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter and quite a lot of thievery.

Reading The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak was a pleasant surprise. I don’t remember how I came across the title of this book and how I ended up purchasing it. It even seemed a bit “off” in the beginning and I almost abandoned reading it. I was looking for something cheerful to read . Something humorous, something light. The Book Thief is an account of an orphaned girl (nine years old when the story begins) in Nazi Germany, told by Death. Her six-year-old brother dies while her mother is taking her and her brother to be given to foster parents in Munich, the guards of the train almost abandon them on a snowy terrain and the first book that she steals while her brother is being buried is “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”. How much more dismal can it get? But something nudged me on and by the time I was half through, I was practically in love with all the major characters of the book, especially Liesal, the book thief.

The story is about a little girl named Liesal told by Death. She is practically orphaned. Unable to take care of her kids, the mother decides to put her two kids in foster care, but one kid dies on their way to Munich and ultimately it’s only the daughter who reaches her foster parents, the Hubermanns. Almost the entire story takes place in the Himmel Street, a very poor place in a town called Molching that is at the outskirts of Munich. The foster parents get an allowance for keeping such kids so they are understandably upset that they were only getting the girl and not both the siblings.

This is the place where Liesal, amidst regular nightmares of her brother dying in her arms, begins to grow. She arrives at the place with nothing but the book she had stolen while her brother was being buried. The new mother and father are poles apart. The mother, Rosa Hubermann, cannot utter a sentence without appending an abuse — Saumensch or Saukerl or Arschloch were the hard-core German abuses she cannot live without. The father, Hans Hubermann, prefers to remain to himself, play his accordion, and smoke cigarettes he rolls himself. As soon as the child arrives, he takes her under his protection and shields her from Rosa’s verbal and physical onslaughts, whenever he can. He is a painter by profession but since most of his jobs came from the Jews and since most of the Jews have been killed, chased away or sent to the concentration camps, they have been reduced to having pea soup for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Liesal screams and cries almost every night in her nightmares and it’s Hans who wakes her up, comforts her and tells her stories, and they develop an unbreakable bonding. One of such nights she shows him the book that she had stolen once and asks him to read it to her. Hans cannot read much but their nightly reading journeys begin like this and they continue for many years as she is able to steal more and more books.

As she grows into her teens, it’s the boys she is more comfortable with rather than girls and this is how her friendship with Rudy Steiner begins, whom people consider slightly mad after he painted himself black and pretended to be Jesse Owens. Together they face many adventures, including stealing of books, and beating up of other boys.

Amidst all the adult and early teenage tumults, arrives a person one day, who looks less like a human and more like a corpse. In a town where most of the remaining adults think that Jews deserve what they have got and as soon as a Jew is sighted he should be either immediately reported or killed, the Hubermanns decide to hide a fugitive Jew in their basement.

There was a time when Jews and Germans were friends and there was a Jew who was also Hans Hubermann’s friend. This was the friend who taught him how to play the accordion. This was the friend to whom he had promised that one day he would return the favour. The friend had died long ago, leaving behind his son and wife, and it was this son the Hubermanns decide to provide shelter to when they are asked to help. Having a boisterous 12-year-old girl around who cannot normally hold her tongue doesn’t make the job easier.

Do they succeed in saving the fugitive in a place where even your neighbours are on the lookout for such fugitives, or do they get caught and meet a harsh punishment?

If you want to experience an emotional rollercoaster with exceptional writing, then do read The Book Thief.

Review of Breaking India – Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines

Breaking India – Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines

Breaking India – Western Interventions in Dravidian and Dalit Faultlines by Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan is a disturbing book and unless you’re actually receptive to the central theme, all that is described in the book you may construe as a conspiracy theory.

Through various examples and case studies the authors have explained how various individuals and organisations are constantly trying to break India on the lines of religion, caste and even race. These individuals and organisations involve anthropologists, scholars, historians, theologians, missionaries, extremists and politicians. Famous personalities, journalists, writers and activists are all part of this big conspiracy spanning almost a couple of centuries.

There are many reasons why when the Western colonisers came to India from the 16th century onwards, wealth wasn’t always one of the primary reasons. For examples, when the Germans came, people like Max Muller thought that the ancient glory of the German race could be traced in the Aryan invasion/migration. These guys were really stumped how such a backward and ancient-looking civilisation could create the Vedas and a complex language like Sanskrit? The only logic they could come up with was that the Aryans originally came from Sumeria and Europe and they were the ones who intermixed with the aboriginals and then came to be known as Indians in general and Hindus in particular. The ones who came from Europe to inhabit the northern parts of India were the original superior Aryans and whatever deformities had occurred they had occurred due to intermixing. Brahmins were the closest to the invaders and they tried their best to maintain the racial purity and this is the reason why people of the higher classes and castes are fairer compared to those who are not and they preferred not to marry and socialise with people of darker skins and flatter features.

The biggest drawback of this theory was that it divided the Indian society forever. There were classes in the ancient India, even up till the arrival of Western scholars, but castes were fewer. If you find mention of castes in mythological texts, the opponents of these theories claim that they were included later on so that people thought that such divides have existed since the time immemorial. Even the atrocities and clashes between upper and lower classes can be attributed to the ideological valleys created by such fallacious logics. The authors of the book claim that intellectuals, politicians, missionaries and scholars are continuously trying to create a Rwanda-like situation leading to a bloody civil war. Aside from Rwanda, they also provide a real-time example of Sri Lanka. In Rwanda, Brahmin-Dalit-Dravidian-like divide was created between the Hutus and the Tutsis that resulted in millions of deaths. A similar divide was created in Sri Lanka between Sinhalese and Tamilians and we all know what happened over there.

The information contained within the book is mind-boggling and also distressing. Of course a discerning reader already knows that some deeper conspiracy is going on to widen the fault lines and divide the Indian society as much as possible, but when the information is factually presented and when real names of individuals and organisations are used it becomes more disturbing. The authors chronicle various conferences, scholarly papers and prolonged campaigns used to not only disseminate and promote atrocity literature but also sow the seeds of hatred among various communities.

According to the book, there are many historians and scholars who claim that India is basically a collection of various races and there are very few things common, and whatever sense of commonality exists, it has been forcefully imposed on the weaker sections of the population. For instance, people living in a region like Bastar are not just culturally and regionally different from people living in Punjab, but they are racially different and hence, they deserve their own country. Such scholars believe that India should be Balkanised because there is no valid reason for it to exist in the present state.

Take for instance the Dravidian culture. According to the various theories floated by Dravidian scholars (based on the early Western anthropologists’ erroneous conclusions) the Dravidians are totally a different race, not even belonging to the Indian subcontinent. Around 1500 years ago there was a continent called Lemuria that was far ahead of its times, just like the mythical Atlantis, that connected Africa to India. When this continent submerged under the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea, these Dravidians came to inhabit the lower parts of India. When the Aryans started invading the Indian subcontinent they also came to southern India. Dravidians and Tamilians were simple, hard-working and unsuspecting people. They were easily overpowered and enslaved by the cunning Aryans who called themselves Brahmins.

These theories begin to take a bizarre turn when they claim that it were the Tamils that established the Sumerian civilisation and before Babel it was Tamil that was spoken all over the world.

To further make a dent into the historical significance of Sanskrit, many historians claim that Sanskrit came to India in the second century A.D. and it was brought to India by Christian missionaries. They completely ignore the fact that many of the Sanskrit texts that have been found existed even before 500 and 600 BC.

This fabrication is used to incite Tamilians against Hindus/Brahmins in particular and north Indians in general. In Sri Lanka, this conspiracy was used to portray Sinhalese as superior Aryan descendants and Tamilians, the real inhabitants who were overpowered by perpetual scheming and atrocities.

Through modern techniques and DNA sampling scientists have proved that these theories have no real basis and they are mere concoctions and motivated imaginations. Even ancient texts reveal that various parts of India have always been connected religiously, mythologically, culturally as well as socially. Despite concrete evidence to the contrary, historians like Romila Thapar keep on promoting their outdated and disputed historical conclusions in every international forum. Scholarly papers are written based on wrong facts, and then these erroneous papers are quoted in other scholarly papers and this is how seeds of wrongful history are sown, doing irreparable damage to the real Indian history.

Christian organisations play a prominent part in raking up cultural, religious and social divides to propagate their own ideologies. Their basic methodology is, weaken cultural roots in the name of secularism and then gradually expose people to Christianity. Billions of dollars of funds are channelised to support these missionary organisations. You will be amazed to find renowned and prestigious institutions and organisations pumping money into India to instigate one religion against another.

This book is a must read for every concerned Indian. It’s a bit lengthy and it seems to drag on but this is because they have documented in detail the processes and techniques used to create faultlines and divide people as much as possible. After reading this book you realise that everything that is mentioned in the book is quite apparent all around you. You will notice how mediocrity is purposely promoted in the name of liberal thought and experimentation. You will learn that criticising Hindu festivals and cultural activities is not just an ideological manifestation, it is a part of a prolonged conspiracy. You will need lots of time to read this book, but do read it.

Book review of Durbar by Tavleen Singh

A durbar is a court. This is not something like the High Court or the Supreme Court, this court normally constitutes of a king, a priest or a very high official presiding over a group of courtiers. Such a court is called a durbar in Hindi.


Durbar by Tavleen Singh throws some light on the inner dynamics of a select group of people who frequent the power corridors of New Delhi and who control the strings of the destiny of the whole country like puppeteers. Although the book gives you a brief glimpse of the turbulent history of the country stretching from 1975 to the early 1990s, much of the focus is on the coterie surrounding the Gandhi family (right from Indira Gandhi to Sonia Gandhi).

Durbar begins with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and how even when in extreme mourning Sonia Gandhi gives a cold shoulder to people she doesn’t approve of. As the book evolves, so does Sonia Gandhi transition from a demure and unsure socialite into a mystical godmother who controls every fabric of the Indian polity despite loathing the politics of the country – somewhere she tells Tavleen Singh that she would rather have her children begging on the streets than initiate them into Indian politics. The book is called “Durbar” because the entire narrative revolves around the exalted social and political circle of Rajeev and Sonia Gandhi and how it wreaks havoc with the country’s socio-economical infrastructure. The book also tries to explain how dynastic politics is ruining the country because people who often inherit the power have no clue on how to use it productively.

Tavleen Singh herself was once a courtier of this coveted Durbar. She moved among and dined with the who’s-who of royalty, business, journalism and of course, politics. She comes from a family of rich Sikh businessmen who helped build the Lutyen’s Delhi and consequently came to own numerous prime properties in the heart of the capital where sometimes even the maharajas cannot afford to live. So she always had direct access to people the hoi polloi either see from a distance or on television. These people party everyday, drink finest wines and alcoholic beverages, meet up almost every evening, have their abodes in the poshest localities of the capital, and they have no clue of what is happening in the country. They don’t read much and they don’t even have much to talk about except for who is attending what party and what he or she is wearing. Despite being a part of this group, Tavleen Singh is able to remark on it as an outsider. Despite arriving at and leaving parties with future chief ministers and cabinet ministers and being friends with royal babes and babas, she begins her career as a beat reporter and has to cater to the whims and fancies of egotistical editors like MJ Akbar. She visits Taj and Oberoi just to have a cup of coffee. These are the groups and parties whose lights are people like Sanjay Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi. The dynastic princes and princesses hold the courts and the courtiers sit around them listening to their inanities like fawning puppies.

In such durbars Sonia Gandhi is revered simply because she is from Italy and is of white skin. She’s not articulate, she is not smart, she isn’t even well-read. In her own Italian surroundings, she might even be considered as “downmarket”. But not in Delhi durbars where she can be the center of attraction mainly because of her skin and partly because she is the wife of one of the “princes” of India. People with white skin are considered gods and goddesses by Indians. When Tavleen Singh goes to South India to cover an election campaign, she is repulsed by the servility shown by people there to Sonia Gandhi; they create songs like “you have such white skin, you are a goddess.”

Every socialite worth his or her salt wants to belong to that inner circle, according to Tavleen Singh, and Sonia Gandhi randomly decides who belongs to this inner circle, and who is kicked out, and this is the basic discontent the writer seems to nurture. Suddenly when you realize this, you begin to feel, is this book about power and politics, or is it about the writer complaining about being snubbed by one of the most sought-after power couples of North India?

Of course the book isn’t just about Sonia Gandhi and her Durbar. It also touches upon the contemporary politics and mismanagement of that time. She gives a detailed account of what mess Indira Gandhi and her son Sanjay Gandhi created during the emergency. Almost every opposition leader was locked up. Houses were razed that resulted in slums of mega proportions. People were picked up in the dead of the night and vasectomies were conducted upon them in order to control the overwhelming population growth rate. Lower grade public servants wouldn’t get their monthly salaries unless they could arrange at least five people every month for vasectomies. The freedom of the press was totally curtailed. The integrity of judges was totally compromised. People were randomly rounded up by the police and thrown in jails for unspecified number of days and months. Major politicians were kept under solitary confinement for months, many among them losing their minds in the process.

She constantly laments the fact how beautiful Indian cities were totally destroyed because of the socialist mentality of the politicians after freedom. This is something I can relate to because I repeatedly comment on my blog as well as in Twitter and Facebook updates about why Indian cities and buildings in them look so drab and ugly. Now I know the reason: this was done purposely because attributes like architectural aesthetics, interior design and quality of life were looked down upon and even frowned upon. You could earn a visit from internal revenue officials for having more than two ACs in your house.

She expresses surprise at how it’s been the constant effort of the Gandhi family to keep the country as poor and desperate as possible. Even Indira Gandhi’s own constituency, Rae Bareli, is one of the poorest and most backward regions in the country. Politicians normally take good care of their own constituencies, but not in the case of the Gandhis.


Most confounding is the way the Gandhi family handled the Punjab and Kashmir crisis. Punjab had no terrorism problem. The Sikh community was in a state of discontent because they felt cheated by the Hindu community for, during the language consensus, saying that their mother tongue was Hindi. In Punjabi they said: “saadi maatri bhasha Handi ae” — Hindi is our mother tongue. But this ice of disenchantment and distrust would have melted over the time. Akalis were the ruling party and Sanjay Gandhi and his cronies from Punjab were constantly devising ways to drill holes in the power structure of the border state. They weren’t worried about the circumstances and the price the country may have to pay. So they instigated this local preacher named Bhinderawale who traveled from village to village exhorting young men to give up alcohol and drugs, a problem that has reached exorbitant proportions in the state by now. Tavleen Singh writes that Bhinderawale was not even interested in politics and he wanted to concentrate on his own campaign. But Sanjay Gandhi’s cronies and friends constantly prodded him and eventually he gave in, creating one of the biggest terrorist problems in the continent. Just for petty political gains, they not only consigned the country to the flames of extremism, they also prepared for the assassination of Indira Gandhi followed by the bloodiest massacre of Sikhs since the Mogul rule – more than 3000 Sikhs were massacred right under the nose of the Congress rule while the state-run TV channel Doordarshan constantly broadcast “khoon ka badla khoon se lenge”: we will have blood for blood for revenge.

Similarly they goofed up with Kashmir. Everything was going fine and people were quite content the way things were. Then suddenly, out of the blues, they sacked the Farooq Abdulla government and reignited the Kashmir problem that has claimed so many lives till now.

With both Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi dead, and as it happens in dynasties, it fell upon Rajeev Gandhi to inherit the mantle of prime ministership. In which democratic country you become the prime minister or the president of a country for merely being the child of the previous prime minister or president? She attributes many of Rajeev’s failures to this inexperience and disinclination. Rajeev Gandhi had no intention of joining mainstream politics. His Italian wife abhorred Indian politics – she didn’t even become an Indian citizen after 15 years of being married to one of the sons of the Indian Prime Minister. And suddenly they were thrown into the political hotbed of one of the most culturally diverse countries of the world. As the couple grew politically, it began to distance itself from the old courtiers, including Tavleen Singh. Of course she being a journalist and her speaking up her mind also contributed towards the frost that came to settle between herself and Sonia Gandhi. The courtiers around the couple began to grow inexplicably rich, Tavleen Singh noticed, and she also noticed that Sonia Gandhi began to buy very expensive clothes and antiques while travelling abroad. She begins to say that something shady is going on but then stops just in the nick of time.

According to Durbar and many other books, every major problem in the post-independence India can be traced back to, one way or another, the Gandhi family. The way they imposed socialism upon the unsuspecting citizens, the way they nurtured poverty just to ensure the continuance of their political existence, the way they created regional, caste and communal problems to create various vote banks, everything coagulated into this grotesque mass of overwhelming misery filling up the country with illiteracy, backwardness, hatred and starvation. Every political, social and economic problem that we face today can be blamed on one single family. This may seem like an exaggeration, but scarily, this is a reality.

Surprisingly, Tavleen Singh cannot make out whether it was political naiveté and inexperience that prompted Rajeev Gandhi to lose the massive opportunity he got after the massive mandate he got in the sympathy wave of his mother’s assassination, or was it something else? Repeatedly she says that she isn’t sure whether the Gandhis are out and out corrupt and immoral or they are simply monkeys in possession of some powerful machinery handed down by the hands of Fate, that can be used both for development and destruction.

She constantly puts lots of blame on people around the Gandhi family for creating all this mess. Nowhere in the book she directly says that the Gandhi family criminalized the Indian polity by making it okay to hobnob with criminals for political ends. She isn’t sure whether the Bofors scandal was due to Rajeev Gandhi’s gullibility or if it was a straightforward criminal indulgence. Even when she talks about the capricious behavioral patterns of Sonia Gandhi Tavleen Singh seems to feel bad only because Sonia Gandhi had begun to snub her. In her own words, Sonia Gandhi could be an exceptional friend and would go out of her way to help her close friends, the way she helped Tavleen Singh on multiple occasions, even to the extent of sending clothes for her son when it became difficult for her as a single mother. Even for obvious questions, she throws lots of “Could he have done that instead? I don’t know.” I think as a clearheaded journalist she should know why people did things they did, especially people in the Gandhi family. At many occasions she seems to be blaming the advisers rather than the Gandhi family members and I think this is where sometimes she seems to lose track of the plot.

For a brief view of India’s history starting from 1975 this is a good book. It may leave you dissatisfied but it depends on what you are expecting. If you are expecting clear answers that this book may not satisfy you. If you want to read some gossip interspersed with serious political ups and downs, it can be an entertaining book. Not very good English, but the flow is good. If you want to start catching up on what’s been happening in India in its recent past, this book can be a good initiation.