Modi: Wheels of Change

On this date, Narendra Modi is too familiar a name to need any introduction. Actively taking over the Indian political scene, his rapid reforms at the Central level are being widely lauded. With some or the other headline being made on almost a daily basis, the book ‘Modi: Wheels of Change’ by ASM Shamsul Arefin and Sanghamitra Saha comes in very handy as it compiles the activities of the BJP government in power (though only the ones that were carried out during the first 6 months of the party coming in power).

The book doesn’t focus extensively on Modi’s personal life, nor does it entirely talk about how Modi rose to power. It does not even draw any direct comparison between the functioning of the current government and the previous one. Quoting from the description of the book, ‘this book is a compilation of the writing and activities related to Modi’s electoral commitment, day-to-day work and governance of the BJP’. With the first part of the book dedicated to some background narration on Modi’s life (facts, information, very brief biography and his few firsts after he swore as the PM), it is ensured that a person unaware of Modi’s background too knows sufficient to get started. The background also covers the details of the subsequently chosen cabinet of ministers.

My favourite thing about the book has been the way only the key points of every activity/headline have been focused on. Everything has been briefed up very crisply. It makes for a neat write-up and it is convenient for the reader too for going through the same. The facts have been compiled keeping in mind well the way they can serve historians and students. And since the information has directly been taken from governmental papers, articles and news items published nationally and internationally, as well as new media sources, the authenticity of the matter is assured, along with the matter being well-written. Besides, no compromise has been made with the number of facts that have been shared. For example, in the Chapter 16 – Day-wise Programme of the first 100 days as Prime Minister (May to September), every single day’s work by the government has been covered point-wise. It makes us both appreciate the BJP government for its active presence in the political scene, as well as makes us admire the authors’ efforts at compiling all the relevant information effectively.

Another noteworthy thing implementation in this book has been the way how after regular intervals, some major news on Modi by some of the top-notch news agencies has been highlighted by printing them in large letters, giving them an entire page. That goes on to set a tone for the book which quite adds to the interest of reading such a work of non-fiction.  Together with all of these, a couple of Modi’s speeches from different occasions have been written too (which definitely would be of great joy to someone who admires Modi’s brilliant oration skills, which is most of us).

The last section of the book covers Modi’s visits abroad. No doubt this needed a separate section (haha). While his visits abroad get criticized heavily, in this book the diplomatic significance of those trips have been elaborated very well, again, by taking matter from the articles by reliable news agencies for the source. Also, I cannot forget mentioning the images section which covers PM Modi’s images from some key events he has been to. However, a couple of pictures (12 of them), don’t have a caption telling where and with whom are they taken with, which is my only (tiny) complaint for this 503-paged compilation.

Reading through this book, sure made my view of Modi resonate with that of Shimon Peres’ (the Nobel Peace Prize Winner and former Prez of Israel): ” Modi combining best of Gandhi, Nehru to bring ‘3rd revolution’ in India.” (-IBN Live)

Other details of the book :-

Title: Modi: Wheels of Change
Editor: ASM Shamsul Arefin, Sanghamitra Saha
PublisherBee Books (Twitter: @bee_books)
Pages: 503
Genre: Non-Fiction/Documentation

Pupils’ President: A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

If I had to name one celebrated personality who has motivated me the most for ages now, I’d straightaway name Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. Hence I couldn’t resist picking up the book based on his life when I saw it. Pupils’ President, the book that brings to life a detailed caricature of the late Dr Kalam, is edited by Satyam Roychowdhury. Don’t be mistaken in treating this book as a biography. It’s rather a compilation of multiple interviews, speeches and even some poems by Dr Kalam. Additionally, it also has tributes made to (and by) him, articles written about him across multiple forums and even the eulogies written for him. Clearly prepared with a lot of hardwork, it contains well-researched matter, put together in a way as to give the reader a proper overview into the way Dr Kalam had led his life.

Starting with an Oath for the Youth, The Student’s Prayer and an Oath for the Teacher, the book gives the reader a head-start with all the elements that speak loud of Dr Kalam, for these have been delivered by Dr Kalam himself at numerous interaction sessions that he had conducted during his lifetime. Thereon, post the Prologue by the editor, follows the story of a boy who becomes the Dr Kalam we admire. At the beginning of every chapter, a quote by Dr Kalam has been put, and within the chapters are the pictures of events, objects, places and people related to Dr Kalam. Those have to be my favourite things about the book, for the fact that Dr Kalam’s quotes happen to be really motivating and also, it’s my belief that the addition of pictures goes on to increase the appeal of any narration.

The core idea of the entire book seemed to be to highlight the fact how fond Dr Kalam was of teaching. This detail establishes how aptly the book is named. While I cannot comment on the writing style of this book, for it is not exactly a narration but instead, a compilation, I can definitely say that it helped me gain quite some insight into Dr Kalam’s personality, for it’s the articles on him and the interactions people had had with him that did the talking using multiple, unbiased voices.

The only slight grudge I had with the book has to be the lack of further effort by the editor in getting some additional content for the book. While the book is definitely a well-researched one, it just stays to be that, with the lack of additional, lesser-explored facts on the life of Dr Kalam, that might’ve been some major triggers in his life, and hence, all the more inspirational.

In an all, this book goes on to show how Dr Kalam himself has been the Indomitable Spirit (a song by him under the Tunes And Verses of Immortality section of the book), which he always preached to the youth to be too:

I was swimming in the sea,
Waves came one after the other
I was swimming and swimming to reach my destination.
But one wave, a powerful wave, overpowered me;
It took me along in its own direction,
I was pulled long and along.
When I was about to lose amidst the sea wave power,
One thought flashed to me, yes, that is courage
Courage to reach my goal, courage to defeat the powerful force and succeed;
With courage in my mind, indomitable spirit engulfed me,
With indomitable spirit in mind and action,
I regained lost confidence
I can win, win and win
Strength came back to me, overpowered the sea wave
I reached the destination, my mission.

Other details of the book :-

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Title: Pupil’s President Kalam
Editor: Satyam Roychowdhury
PublisherBee Books (Twitter: @bee_books)
Pages: 312
Genre: Non-Fiction/ Biography

Palace Walk

The Read

Palace Walk, the first installment in the Cairo trilogy, by the 1988 Nobel laureate, Naguib Mahfouz, is quite easily one of the most well-written books ever. Mahfouz, in this book, has described Cairo the way Dickens describes London, and that, is really something.

The book’s Arabic title translates literally into ‘between two palaces’ – a phrase which highlights the cultural and political transition Egypt experienced at this time and the developments brought into focus by the lives of the al-Jawad family. It begins during the World War-I in 1917 and ends in 1919, the year of the nationalist revolution. The key characters of the novel are al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad and his unquestioning, obedient wife, Amina. They live with their three sons- Yasin, Fahmy and Kamal, and two daughters- Khadija and Aisha. al-Sayyid Ahmad is the tyrannical head of the family who insists on extremely strict rules of Muslim piety in his house. Right when the narration begins, we get to know that his wife (who happens to be his second wife), Amina, has never left the house in a quarter of a century (25 years!). And yet, she never complains. She diligently does her work, and the religious person that she herself is, she follows her husband’s words blindingly, for she believes that is what the law of the nature is. And it is not just her, but all the family members who never dare to go against al-Sayyid Ahmad’s orders. He has invoked in his family members such a sense of fear for himself that nobody ever tries to defy him. However, one gradually finds out, that it is not just fear that the members have for the head of the family, but also great respect and awe, for al-Sayyid Ahmad is a very graceful and charming person.

With the progress of the narration, one finds how masterfully Mahfouz has sketched each and every character. His unfailing, intricate development of every character is very believable and goes on to prove that Mahfouz does have a very proper understanding of the complexity of human nature. While al-Sayyid Ahmad is a very stern, religious person for his family members, to the outside world, he’s the life of every party and permits himself officially forbidden pleasures, particularly music, drinking wine and conducting numerous extramarital affairs. Because of his insistence on his household authority, his wife and children are forbidden from questioning why he stays out late at night or comes home intoxicated. “His life was composed of a diversity of mutually contradictory elements, wavering between piety and depravity.” The focal point of the story that highlights the double standards of al-Sayyid Ahmad is when Amina, for the first time, sets foot outside the house, just to go to pray at the al-Hussein mosque. On the way back, Amina faints on the road due to the heat and is struck by a car, fracturing her collarbone; her children must fetch a doctor to come and set the bone. When al-Sayyid Ahmad discovers that she left the house without his permission, he waits until the bone has healed, and then exiles her from the house for some weeks, forcing her to live at her mother’s house. While he has stricter rules for the females of his household, his love for his daughters is not distinct from that he has for his sons. A tyranny in Amina’s methods is also brought to light when her stepson’s wife shows more liberal ways of living than she has followed. She, and also Khadija, complain about his wife’s attitudes lightly on random occasions, even though they themselves, in the heart of their hearts, would want to be relieved of many impositions.

Talking of other characters of the household, here’s a little light shed on them all. Yasin, the eldest son of al-Sayyid Ahmad from his first marriage, shares his father’s good looks and, like his father, is fond of music, alcohol and women. He dislikes his mother for her adulteries, but it’s extramarital affairs that end up bringing embarrassment to him and his father. Fahmy, Amina’s elder son who is a law student, is very intelligent and is deeply involved in the revolution against the British rule in Egypt. He has a soft spot for his neighbour, Maryam, but couldn’t do anything about it, thanks to his father’s sternness. Khadija, the elder daughter, who is very sharp-tongued and always has a keen eye for everything that goes about in the family, is always jealous of her younger sister, Aisha, who is considered very beautiful, and hence, more marriageable. However, her jealousy never overshadows her adoration for her sister. Aisha, on the other hand, is the softer, more mellow one who loves to sing and is utterly romantic. Kamal, the most lovable character of the story, is the youngest in the household. He’s a bright child who deeply loves his family members, especially his mother and his sisters. When the prospect of marriage of his sisters comes up, it deeply saddens him, for he doesn’t wish to have to part with his sisters. Despite the fact that there are numerous characters to be focused upon, Mahfouz does justice to each and every character’s development. This is the chief factor for increasing his likability.

The other reason for calling this book a very well-written one lies in the fact that the language used here is very lucid. With the progressive development of the story, absolutely no compromise has been made with the metaphors used (which are plentiful) or with the imagery. Some of the most resounding lines from the book that highlight Mahfouz’s master-abilities,

  • “The universal rejoicing was not without a mournful tear.”
  • “She knew far more about the world of the jinn than that of mankind…”
  • “The way love can disregard fears, however, is an age-old wonder. No fear is able to spoil love’s development or keep it from dreaming of its appointed hour.”
  • “He had told himself that if a person had a strong enough will he might be able to carve out more than one future, but no matter how strong will, he could never have more than one inescapable and unavoidable past.”
  • “At times, a person may create an imaginary problem to escape from an actual problem he finds difficult to resolve.”
  • “In a crisis, a person will concentrate his thoughts on saving himself. Once he is safe, his conscience will start to give him trouble.”

To me, more than a story, this book was more of a peek into the lifestyle prevalent in Cairo during the World War-I period, which I really enjoyed getting to know. All bows to Mahfouz for having written the book with as beautiful and livid a language as could be. Mahfouz makes sure that the quick, poignant end will leave you reeling for quite some while to follow after you’ve completed reading the book. 🙂

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

The Read

So I decided to read a light-hearted, comical book and ended up picking this one by Jonas Jonasson – The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared. The unconventional title of the book and a very catchy cover had kept this book in my to-be-read list since quite a while. It turned out to be decently fine – not way too below my expectations, but not quite meeting them either.

The entire narration revolves around our centenarian protagonist’s present and past, alternatively. The story starts with the day of the 100th birthday of Allan Karlsson (our protagonist) in an old people’s home in his country – Sweden. Our rather adventurous hero, as one finds him to be via the chapters based on his past, is bored at the old people’s home and wants to get back to what he does – having adventures (though, unknowingly; all he really wants is freedom, and more importantly, vodka). And so, his displeasure with the old people’s home makes him escape from there to somewhere he doesn’t even know of. Things tend to work out for him eventually, though, after his escape. And there begins his new adventure. He meets new people (and animals) who become a part of his adventure. It’s made more of an adventure with the involvement of mafia and police. With alternate chapters based on Allan’s past and present, Jonas Jonasson has tried to introduce to us who Allan really is, gradually. Allan turns out to be an enthusiast of explosives (who had once burnt down his own house) and also an absolute abhorrent of politics and religious ideologies. Ironically enough, in the past, he has been shown to be involved with some of the most influential political personalities of the respective times. Francisco Franco, Harry Truman, Mao Tse-tung, Stalin – he has met them all and has helped them change the course of history. As much real the author has tried to make the entire setting look here, it has still come off as quite farcical at a lot of points (both in the past section as well as the present section).

Talking of the type of character Karlsson is, he’s shown to be the kind that minds his own business and is comical is his own way, which makes him quite lovable. For instance, when Allan met a black man for the first time, what he had to say was – “it turned out that there was no difference other than the colour of their skin, except of course that they spoke weird languages, but the whites did that too.” His nonchalance about anything controversial is one of the nicest things about him. That, to an extent, influences his outlook on many other matters and also preaches to not be stressed about unimportant issues. One never finds Allan stressing a lot over how he’ll manage his way out of some trouble; he just gets out of it. However, as much fun it is initially, exploring who Allan is, it gets tiring after a point and for that, it’s the lengthy descriptions that are to be blamed. The narration is way too intricate at a lot of points, where it’s not even required. I, for one, lost my interest midway through the book and couldn’t complete it in one continuous pick.

Had it not been for my being compulsive about finishing the book that I start, I don’t think I’d have been able to complete this book. The narration started off just fine, but didn’t quite maintain the fluidity. The comical tone of the book is not as comical as one expects, but sharp enough at a good, few points. All in all, this is not a book that I’ll highly recommend, but if you want to read something light once in a while, and not necessarily in one go, this book is a decent pick.

The Eat

The food mentioned in this book is quite the mainstream one. While our protagonist has been almost all around the world, there are only a handful of dishes mentioned here that one might have not heard of.

There’s roast elk, porridge, hot-dog, syrupy bread with salami, beef – all of which is available in Sweden.

In Spain, Allan Karlsson has tacos, enchiladas, corn tortillas, salsa along with tequila.

In North Korea, Karlsson is served a chili and garlic-flavoured pork dish with rice for dinner, and steamed vegetables and dried fruit for breakfast.

It’s in Russia where some of the dishes indigenous of that place are had by Karlsson.

Two popular types of dumplings of Russia are Pelmeni and Pierogi. Pelmeni is prepared with flour-dough, water, and sometimes eggs with minced meat, fish or mushrooms for the filling. Pierogi, on the other hand, is usually served as a dessert or an appetizer with  mashed potatoes, fried onions, cabbage, sauerkraut, meat, mushrooms, spinach or cheese for the filling.

There’s also the popular sour, beetroot soup, Borscht, of Ukraine. It has a vast number of variations. There are a lot of non-beetroot variations, which instead involve rye, cabbages, sorrel etc. It typically combines the sautéed vegetables with meat or bone stock.

Blini is another popular Russian dish that is mentioned. Blini is typically a type of pancake made from buckwheat flour. Its variations involve different additions to it – grapes, apples, raisins usually.

Overall, the book has the mention of a lot of food, all of which tickles the reader’s appetite pretty well! 😀