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Akbar may have been great but why just single him out?

Ira Mukhoty’s ‘Akbar: The Great Mughal’ is an engaging, endearing book, definitely much better than what the title suggests, writes Utpal Kumar.

Utpal Kumar

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Mughal emperor Akbar in conversation with Jesuit missionaries.

Upinder Singh writes an interesting anecdote in her book, Political Violence in Ancient India, about Jawaharlal Nehru introducing the new national flag to the Constituent Assembly in July 1947. It was a tricolour with three bands of saffron, deep green and white in the middle, with a navy-blue 24-spoked wheel (chakra) in the centre. As the debate followed, various members of the Assembly interpreted the flag with their own perceived socio-religious symbolisms. The wheel in the flag, they thought, represented the Gandhian spinning wheel, the sun’s rays, the wheel of time, even eternity. “But Nehru was unequivocal that it represented the wheel on the abacus of the Sarnath lion capital of the great Mauryan emperor Asoka and the teachings of the Buddha,” Singh writes.

The anecdote unwittingly suggests how history is often “manufactured”. The usage of the term “manufacture” may unsettle some — or in fact many — but as Prof Geoffrey Barraclough wrote in his 1955 book, History in a Changing World, “The history we read, though based on facts, is, strictly speaking, not factual at all, but a series of accepted judgements”. Or, even more disdainfully, as E.H. Carr wrote in his seminal book What Is History, “History is what the historian makes.”

So, here was a great Mauryan emperor who simply vanished from the pages of Indian history till he was miraculously rescued by James Princep in 1815 — to soon become the epitome of all that was good in ancient times. But was he that great? Was he that liberal? Was he that secular? Was he that non-violent post-Kalinga? A closer look, even through the prism of “eminent” historian Romila Thapar’s Marxist historiography, Asoka never fully appears to be great! In fact, he seems just the opposite. For example, look at Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the empire and the grandfather of Asoka. He was a Jaina but a Brahmin in Chanakya was his prime minister. And his son, Bindusara, was, as per Buddhist texts Samantapasadika and Mahavamsa, followed Brahmanism, calling him a “Brahmana bhatto” (votary of Brahmanas). And his grandson was an avowed Buddhist.

Do we need a more secular, liberal ruler than this? And he built the empire, took to all the corners. Yet, he isn’t great. Asoka is. And what did Asoka do? He created a state religion in Buddhism, an antithesis of India’s ageless Sanatana tradition!

 Asoka became great because the powers of the day, in collusion with “eminent” historians, wanted him to be great. And this is the problem I have with Ira Mukhoty’s otherwise brilliant book Akbar: The Great Mughal. It opens the cards even before the first dice is thrown. The reader is told even before he has read a single line that this Mughal emperor was great!

Akbar, no doubt, was a wonderful ruler. He was well ahead of his time, especially among Muslim rulers of the time. And many of the decisions that he took showed not just his audacity, truthfulness, liberal ethos but also his constant endeavour to become a better person, a just ruler. But if one looks at history, there were many others who would qualify for the same epithet. Do we call each of them great? Do we call Shivaji or Krishnadevaraya “great”? Why this selective approach? It is this selectivism that creates unease. Sadly, the author chooses to fall for this, though to her credit she never shies away from bringing out occasional flaws in Akbar’s acts and even character.

Here I would like to concede that the book and the author do not deserve such damnation. It’s a well-researched book, written in an easy, engaging language. Mukhoty is right when she says that one of the reasons for writing this book is that not enough popular books have appeared on Akbar in the last few decades. And the story of this Mughal emperor deserves to be told, for he dared to stand against the Muslim orthodoxy of the day to create a synthesis of what was later called “Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb”. It’s another thing that the edifice of Akbar’s Sulh-i-Kul started shaking soon after he died when his son Jahangir got the revered fifth Sikh guru executed, and completely exterminated during his great grandson Aurangzeb’s time! From Akbar to Aurangzeb, India did witness some semblance of the great experiment which Akbar initiated and of which Dara Sikoh was the final — and the most tragic — manifestation.

Like Asoka, Akbar understood the power of the written words. If Asoka was rescued from the lost, forgotten pages of history, it was primarily because unlike his predecessors he chose to document his deeds through rock edits. Akbar too ordered, wrote Bayazid Bayat in 1587, “that any servants of court who had a taste for history should write”. He asked Abul Fazl to compose the monumental Akbarnama, chronicling the emperor’s long life and rule. Even his aunt, Gulbadan, was encouraged to write a memoir “of women on horseback, of women journeying and living in tents, and sharing the struggles and victories of their men”.

It’s this richness and diversity of the written words that Mukhoty, who had earlier authored Daughters of the Sun: Empresses, Queens and Begums of the Mughal Empire, exploits to create a vibrant, multi-dimensional image of Akbar — a ruler who had anger issues and yet would be seen “crouching down on the floor to watch spiders spin their webs”, as Abul Fazl informs.

The book is at its best, not surprisingly given the author’s previous book on Mughal queens and begums, while exploring Akbar’s relations with the women in his harem. He shared relationships that were beautiful, mutually respectful, and yet often enigmatic. The diversity of documents makes the overall picture interesting, though at times messy, thus making the task of a historian difficult. For, the same incident can be recorded in different ways by different chroniclers.

 Mukhoty explains how on Akbar’s Hindu wives, while Abul Fazl is mostly silent, saying “royal women were to be ‘pardey-giyan’ or invisible”, Badauni complains that they had “influenced (the emperor’s) mind against the eating of beef and garlic and onions, and (against) association with people who wore beards”. The Jesuits, on the other hand, were in “perplexed bemusement” about the Mughal harem, saying except the first wife, the rest were “courtesans and adulteresses”! Akbar heard them with curiosity, Mukhoty writes, but as news travelled to the harem, it provoked a huge uproar, forcing them to leave the court for Goa.

Ira Mukhoty’s book is an engaging, endearing book, definitely much better than what the name suggests. But what’s in a name, as Shakespeare famously wrote in Romeo and Juliet!

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Book Beat

BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK

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Hostility

Abdul Basit

Hostility is former Pakistan high commissioner to India Abdul Basit’s memoir of his tenure in New Delhi, from 2014 to 2017. It takes us through perhaps the most difficult era in India-Pakistan relations in recent years. While Narendra Modi’s first prime-ministership began with a new hope of normalising relations between Pakistan and India, subsequent events unfortunately proved otherwise. The author takes us through the highs and lows of one of the most difficult diplomatic postings in the world. This book is written with honesty, lucidity, and filled with explosive nuggets about what goes on behind the scenes between India and Pakistan.

Mission Accomplished: Applying Military Principles to Real Life

Virender Kapoor

Written around 500 BCE, The Art of War by Sun Tzu not only serves as a guide to modern military strategy but has also been adapted by top leadership across the board. In fact, almost all modern management principles are a derivative of military operational strategies, which have withstood the test of time in different cultures, geographies and circumstances. Practised over hundreds of years, these were tried and tested under the most trying circumstances during military operations where millions perished. Mission Accomplished examines strategies that define a military process to accomplish a task in an operational scenario.

A Map of Longings: Life and Works of Agha Shahid Ali

Manan Kapoor

Agha Shahid Ali is widely regarded as one of the finest poets from the Indian subcontinent, and his works are read across the world, touching millions of lives. A pioneer of ghazal writing in English, he wrote extensively about loss, nostalgia and home. In this biography, Manan Kapoor explores the concerns that shaped Shahid’s life and works, following in the footsteps of the ‘Beloved Witness’ from Kashmir to New Delhi and finally to the United States. He traces the complex evolution of Shahid’s evocative verses, which mapped various cultures and geographies, and mourned injustice and loss, both personal and political.

Love, Hope and Magic

Ashish Bagrecha

A survivor of life and death, a fighter of depression, and a believer in the power of the universe, Ashish Bagrecha — the best-selling author of self-help book Dear Stranger, I Know How You Feel, and one of the most popular Instagram poets in the country — brings you his very first collection of poetry. Divided into six chapters, this book is about loving deeply and getting broken. It’s about falling into the darkness and still chasing the light. It’s about letting love find you, trusting the universe and believing in the magic we carry within ourselves. It’s is not written to inspire you but to fix you.

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RETRACING THALAIVA’S FORAY INTO FILMS

Rajinikanth’s entry into the Tamil film industry marked a clear break from the conventional fair-skinned hero who was a paragon of virtue. His rawness and irreverence made him a hero of the subaltern.

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It is in this atmosphere — the air filled with irreverence to caste and class hierarchy that Shivaji Rao Gaekwad entered Tamil films — with his anti-hero image, nonchalance, defiance of authority, and rakish smile. 

Again, it was Bhaskar Rao who predicted during those uncertain first years that Rajinikanth would become a superstar. He had written a review of Katha Sangama. The piece had been short and needed four more lines to fill it out. Bhaskar Rao hastily added what came to him. He wrote, ‘Here is an actor with such talent that it should not surprise anyone if he becomes a superstar one day.

Actors who were baffled at the way he stormed the field could only attribute it to ‘sheer luck’ or the fact that he was ‘blessed’. Rajini was lucky in a sense. His arrival coincided with a massive change that the Tamil film industry was undergoing in terms of production, content, and storytelling. Tamil commercial cinema was dominated by MGR (who also belonged to the DMK), Sivaji Ganesan, Gemini Ganesan, Jaishankar, and such others. From the 1950s till the early 70s, films that projected the resurgent Dravidian symbolisms and party ideologies with melodramatic acting and theatrical textual Tamil scripts dominated the scene. The Dravidian Movement used films and film songs sung and acted by MGR, the hero, to take its ideologies to the masses. The audience lapped it all up during the period that was charged with and inspired by revolutionary ideals. MGR always played the do-gooder, a protector of damsels in distress, a non-smoker, and a non-drinker. His promoters envisaged his characterization with a view to projecting him as a future chief minister of Tamil Nadu. He became a symbol for the party. MGR fan clubs were created to muster votes. 

The DMK came to power in 1967, and later when the DMK split and MGR formed his own party, AIADMK, in 1974, there was no longer any need to use cinema to take the ideology to the masses. Veteran actors MGR and Sivaji had outgrown their romantic hero roles. Even their most ardent fans were tired of the same old plots with heroes giving sermons about good behaviour. 

By the time Balachander came on the scene, the cinema-going public was ready for a whiff of fresh air. Balachander was born into a Brahmin family in Nannilam, a small town in Thiruvarur district. He completed his graduation and joined the Accountant General’s office in Madras as a clerk. A theatre enthusiast, he had been writing plays with themes that interested the middle class. He was not part of the Dravidian movement. The movement had empowered the backward classes. And now a vibrant middle class, aware of equal rights and gender issues, was ready for a conscious questioning of traditional mores and values. Balachander was able to capture the shifting mood of the audience and write plays that spoke to them. His characters were bold, irreverent, and asked pertinent questions. The dark actor was not always the villain and the fair one was not an angel. There was no age taboo for love. He painted prostitutes as prisoners of circumstances and not as social outcasts. The woman was no longer just the loyal faithful wife who did not cross the threshold of her house. His plays were huge draws and when he ventured into cinema, his films were box office hits.

It was at this time that music maestro Ilaiyaraaja and director P. Bharathiraja also entered Tamil films. They set new trends in music composition and storytelling respectively. Bharathiraja shifted the lens outside the studios and set his stories in the countryside. Theatrical dialogue backed by ideological underpinnings was replaced by colloquial banter. For the first time, the urban audience could smell the freshness of the village air and hear the chirping of the birds. This is when Rajinikanth entered. His entry marked a clear break from the conventional fair-skinned hero who was a paragon of virtue. Rajinikanth was dark, he smoked and drank on-screen, and could play dark characters and get away with it. His rawness and irreverence made him a hero of the subaltern. 

Sadanand Menon says, ‘With Rajini, Tamil cinema, and by extension, Tamil society learnt to be kosher with being “bad”. It was no longer something that someone was going to make them feel guilty about. Rajini taught Tamil society to abandon platitudes about Rama as maryada purushottam and accept the possibility of a Ravana or a Duryodhana actually being good. When Rajini stared directly back into the camera…and hissed out the lines from the corner of his mouth, executed his side-winded walk of electric energy, tossing his tousled hair, he became the new and manifest example of hitherto suppressed expressions of desire, no matter how risky or preposterous it seemed.’ 

The most conspicuous difference that the audience saw in Rajinikanth was his unbridled energy. After that initial lull, Balachander cast him in three films: Anthuleni Katha (Telugu, 1976), Moondru Mudichu (1976), and Avargal (1977) in quick succession. It ensured that the film-going public didn’t forget him. In the year 1977, Rajinikanth acted in fifteen films, and didn’t play the hero’s role in all of them. Unlike other actors, Rajinikanth enjoyed playing the villain and stole the show with his off-beat portrayals of these dark characters. All the films were hits and Rajini began to be considered lucky by producers. 

Y. G. Mahendran got to know Rajini well when they worked together on the Tamil film Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri (1977), directed by reputed director S. P. Muthuraman. Mahendran found that Rajini was an intense person who did not speak much. He was very respectful to his seniors—even to Mahendran, who was a senior in the profession, and also because he was the son of his former principal. Mahendran noticed that Rajini would listen carefully to suggestions given by everyone, but he would take only what he thought was right for him. He knew right from the beginning that he could survive in the field only if he stood out. Mahendran remembers how an experienced senior actor, P. Sivakumar, tried to coach him on how to deliver a line. Rajini listened and nodded, but finally delivered the line in his own style. ‘People think he is a director’s actor, but he often went beyond the brief. Muthuraman allowed him the freedom. That is why the pair clicked so well.’

Muthuraman has been associated with the legendary AVM Studios that has produced over 170 films in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, and Hindi since 1955. He started there as an assistant in the editing department and went on to become a successful film director. Sitting in his modest office room at the AVM Studios compound, he remembers his reaction when he first saw Rajinikanth on the screen in a villain’s role. Actors who played the villain followed a set formula—they had a loud, sinister laugh, rolled their eyes, and gritted their teeth. But Rajini played it very differently and with a style that had not been seen. Muthuraman was impressed. When it came to casting Rajinikanth for Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri, he cast him for the hero’s part made Sivakumar the villain. He was convinced that Rajinikanth was capable of bringing something unique to the character. The two main characters were not straightforward—the one who came across as the villain was, in fact, the good guy while the one who seemed to be the hero was the villain. Muthuraman felt that making Rajinikanth appear to be the good guy would ensure that the audience would be surprised. Sivakumar, who had always played the good guy, was disappointed when he came to know that he would be playing the villain. But Muthuraman convinced him that it would work. The film became a box office hit. 

‘Mind you, at that time, Rajinikanth was not able to speak two sentences at a stretch in Tamil,’ laughs Muthuraman. Rajinikanth was a little nervous when he saw that he had to speak lengthy dialogues in the film. Muthuraman put him at ease, telling him to prepare as much as he could and then act in his own style. This freedom and belief that the director showed in him allowed Rajini to reach ‘the next level’ in his acting career. Muthuraman believes that if A. V. M. Chettiar (founder of AVM Productions) had been alive, he would not have accepted Rajinikanth, because Chettiar demanded perfect rendering of Tamil. But it was Rajinikanth’s Kannada-tinged Tamil and the speed with which he delivered his lines that became a style statement. Muthuraman and Rajinikanth worked together in twenty-five films, with Rajinikanth playing a variety of characters. Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri was not only a commercial hit, Rajini’s acting in it also received critical acclaim. 

Sivakumar’s friends felt that he should not have agreed to take on the villain’s role. But ‘it was destiny’, he says. ‘I told them so. Rajinikanth was destined to shoot up in popularity due to that role. No power on earth could have changed that.’ But it was not sheer luck or divine grace that was the reason for his success, says Muthuraman. It was hard work and total involvement in the work he did. Unless he had absorbed the story completely and internalized it, he would not act. His popularity was the direct result of his dedication to the craft. 

Muthuraman admits that directors like him did indeed include songs and scenarios that they knew would appeal to the fans— the speed and unique gestures. Unlike in earlier years, this was not done to curate his image. Instead, it catered to aspects of Rajini’s persona that the filmmakers knew the fans loved. The 1980 film Murattu Kaalai directed by Muthuraman had a song with these lyrics: 

“Pothuvaa en manasu thangam, aana oru pottiyinnu vanthuvitta singam” (Usually my heart is like gold but when there is a contest it becomes fierce as a lion)

And in the 1989 film Raja Chinna Roja had this: “Superstar yaarunnu ketta kuzhanthaiyum sollum” (If you ask: ‘who is the superstar?’, even a child will tell you)

Once when the cast and crew were driving to a location for an outdoor shoot, a group of schoolchildren from Classes V to XII blocked the road, forcing the vehicles to stop. ‘They had come to know that Rajinikanth would be in that group. “Stop the vehicle, we want to see Rajinikanth!” they shouted. Such was his appeal. He had caught the imagination of children as young as six.’ 

Rajini’s fans would request the theatre manager to play the songs again and again. This was very different from MGR’s popularity. MGR’s image was built very carefully and systematically as a viable political leader. Rajini had no political ambitions when he first entered films. He wanted to work as much as he could, act in as many films as possible, take every opportunity that came his way and make money. He began working non-stop. The recognition that came early in his career was intoxicating, blinding. He worked like one possessed. Work became an obsession. A disease, an affliction…till the mind went berserk.

The excerpt is from the book ‘Rajinikanth: A Life’ (published by Aleph Book Company).

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When spookiness gets real in a horror writing workshop

Debutant author Sid Kapdi talks about getting out of his comfort zone for ‘Scare Me If You Can’, finding interesting ways of bringing out the horror element and discusses how challenging it is to scare readers.

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A thrilling rollercoaster which promises a screamy ride with mysterious prophecies, sinister sequences, and brutal revenges is what ‘Scare Me If You Can’ (published by TreeShade Books) can be best described as. We spoke with author Sid Kapdi to understand what it took to create this intriguing world for the readers.

Q. How you began the journey of professional fiction writing? What prompted it?

I have always loved story-telling and my day job involves just that, though of a corporate and technical kind. I wanted to extend it further and write fictional stories for a while, but due to other priorities, I had been suppressing the urge. Meanwhile, in one of my WhatsApp groups consisting of my schoolmates, some of us used to create episodes involving our friends as characters. Though we used to write in any random genre, my friends found my horror stories quite scary and prompted me to go professional. 

I did not know where to start, so I researched a bit on FB groups and publishers’ websites. I also started attending lit fests which helped me to increase my network. On the side, I began writing short stories and later decided to go for a novel that had short stories. I was lucky to have met the right people to guide me at the right time and that is how the journey began.

Q. How did you choose to debut with a horror-thriller novel? When did you develop an inclination towards this genre?

In my teens and early twenties, I was fond of reading novels by Sidney Sheldon, Robin Cook, John Grisham, and Jeffrey Archer. 

Fast-paced, edge-of-the-seat thrillers have always fascinated me. I knew that whatever genre I choose to write in, my stories would be pacy and action-oriented. By nature, I have been known to be witty and funny, and my amateur writing in college days always reflected these qualities. However, I chose horror as it was outside of my comfort zone. I found that making readers feel scared is far more challenging and I had never done it before.

Q. What led you to decide to write a piece of work where horror becomes a reality? What sort of research went into it?

As I mentioned earlier, I did not have much of a background in horror. But I knew that I was creative, could think of interesting ways of bringing out the scare and was good at making it sound real. I read the works of the horror greats such as Stephen King, Neil D’Silva, and Dean Koontz and found that horror writing involves the use of powerful verbs and much more show rather than tell, as compared to other genres. 

Though many of my stories have a backdrop that is familiar to me and places I have visited before, I did need to do my research around say, a crime scene, a poultry farm, a butcher shop, and so on. 

Q. How did you weave the intriguing elements in the plot: the horror-themed resort backdrop, an advanced horror-writing workshop, and 10 stories? You decided it beforehand ? 

The ten stories came first. I was good at writing short stories and I wanted to take advantage of that. Hence, I made the outlines of the stories first, each on a different theme – romance, interview, chat, animal cruelty, sexual abuse, and more. What I needed was an interesting backdrop wherein I could blend the stories such that the backdrop becomes as important as the stories. Once I was able to zero in on the main plot of a horror-writing workshop, I found that either a haunted hotel or a themed resort would enhance the horror effect.  

Q. Was it a conscious decision to base the stories in different Indian cities? As the horror quotient rises with each story, tell us about the challenges you faced?

The setting of each story in a different city and also different state, came up when I was deciding the names of the characters or participants in the workshop. I wanted to have as much diversity as possible. Working backwards, I updated my stories to align with my thought of different cities and I also set up the names of the characters within each story accordingly. 

I knew that many of the readers would not be very keen to read horror, especially from a new author. Hence, I decided to vary the scare quotient such that the initial stories would have more of a thriller element rather than horror and the ‘scariness’ would increase with each story. The advantage of this was that the readers got hooked at the start and they did not feel the horror rising as they kept going along. The challenge was to arrange the stories in the right order, I had to even replace a couple of stories at a later stage since they did not fit into my idea of the scare factor.

Q. Can you give a glimpse of the twists and turns in ‘Scare Me If You Can’ the horror buffs can look forward to?

The horror buffs are in for a treat when they read ‘Scare Me If You Can’. Some of the twists that the readers can expect are – traumatic experiences faced by people which later get attributed to past-life events, pranks played on each other turning out to be real, the discovery of dead bodies at unexpected locations and furthermore shocking discoveries behind their deaths, cheating leading to unimaginable consequences, and so on. The biggest twist is that a character from one of the stories turns up in real and wreaks havoc on the workshop participants.

Q. What sort of feedback have you received from the readers so far?

The feedback has been very positive and encouraging. The best part is that many of the non-readers of horror are appreciating the book. Also, the unique backdrop and the theme of the novel have been the clear winners. Besides these, the readers have loved the visually appealing descriptions articulated in simple language.

Q. Any horror novel you would like to see it get adapted into a movie?

I would certainly like to see my novel being adapted on screen. On a serious note, I would like to see ‘Maya’s New Husband’, the debut book of my favourite horror author Neil D’Silva to come alive on screen. 

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REDESIGNING OUR WORLD TO MEET 21ST CENTURY CHALLENGES

How can we rethink the world’s systems to prepare the planet and its people for the future? Let’s find out

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What does it mean to redesign the world now? Is it about a new world order where the powerful and wealthy nations’ geopolitical aspirations are propagated and promoted for dominance, trade, finance and minerals, one where the military is at the core? Or is it about a design to ensure a better world for all, with access to opportunities and assured safety, security, peace and justice, along with the potential to democratize education, health and prosperity? Is it about climate change and the better health of our planet and all its species? Or is it about something utopian, romantic, aspirational and ideal but unrealizable? Or again, is it about a more real and just world that can be created in a few decades? The answers to these questions depend on whom we ask and whose interests are at stake.

The redesign of the world means different things to different people. We all have varied backgrounds, with differing understanding, perceptions, values, wisdom, needs and aspirations. In general, political pandits and elites who discuss international issues will emphasize global geopolitical power, American leadership, China’s rise, the military, nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, global conflicts, etc. Economists, academicians and business people will look at the new design from the viewpoint of international trade, growth, GDP, GNP, foreign direct investments, employment, manufacturing, services, etc. There are many people out there with varied expertise and experiences, and differing views on what the world needs. A great deal has been discussed and written by domain experts on our challenges and the solutions. However, most of them have taken a narrow view of the trials facing the world. Redesigning the world is complex and difficult to distil into a simple format or formula that can be easily digested, accepted and executed.

We first need to understand and appreciate the design after World War II, in the context of what worked, what did not and what needed to be resolved. As we have seen, the world’s design, conceived after World War II, had five main pillars—democracy, human rights, capitalism, consumption and the military. At that time, the world was bipolar, with US democracy and Soviet communism being the two warring ideologies with conflicting priorities. This era was focused on nuclear proliferation, industrial espionage, counterintelligence and mistrust between the two superpowers.

Seventy-five years on, it is clear that we enjoy world peace, democracy and freedom. We are making tremendous progress mainly because of technology, infrastructure, energy and communication. Democracy has won. Unfortunately, because of populism and divisive politics, narrow interests and exclusion of people from the mainstream, large-scale distortion of facts and erosion of institutions, democracy is under high stress in many countries and they face an uncertain future. Democracy is still a work in progress and needs much more reform to take it to the next level.

Human rights are well-accepted but not delivered, policed or practised in many countries. There are persisting issues affecting inclusion, equality and justice, especially for minorities. Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, caste, colour and economic situation continue to divide communities and create tensions leading to violence. Capitalism has worked well and created substantial growth and prosperity. It has reduced global poverty and created wealth. However, wealth distribution is heavily concentrated in the hands of a very few, thus further dividing people and societies. Consumption has been carried too far and benefits only a few. Overconsumption in some areas has affected our climate, forests and environment to the point where human civilization’s survival may be at stake. The military machine diverts too much of our precious resources from the cause of social development, spurred on by false fears of nuclear war and border disputes. Global discussions and dialogues can resolve most of this. Any significant redesign of the world must address all these issues head-on.

The design of the post–World War II world is now obsolete and a fresh approach is needed with a new social, political and economic architecture. We have accomplished a lot, but we could have done much more. We got derailed with our old command-and-control mindset, dominance, military establishments and violence. We continue building warheads and not health systems. We worry about markets and financial systems while we ignore people and poverty. We think top-down and not bottom-up. We do not seek to find sustainable solutions that benefit the poor. We divide people by categorizing and labelling them with our preconceived notions. We build boundaries, not bridges. We design policies to benefit the rich and ignore the hungry and homeless. We promote lies and suppress the truth. We spread hate and hide love. We use religion to separate and not unite.

Now, with hyperconnectivity, we have a global opportunity to change all this quickly. Distance does not matter, nor do time zones, and the opportunities to network and collaborate in the cyber age are limitless. We have new technologies and new tools to work with. We can now deploy innovative models for development and build more inclusive, prosperous and sustainable communities. This is an opportune moment to review and reflect on redesigning our world and taking it forward on a new trajectory. Young people in this world have a lot at stake. They are conscious of climate change and the possibilities of technology. They are progressive with no hang-ups from old-fashioned mindsets. They want peace and prosperity for all. They are willing to share and sacrifice. To redesign the world is to call for action, especially for the youth. It is a call for them to unite and demand a better future for humanity. It is a new vision that they can act upon and use to become empowered.

The excerpt is from the book Redesign the World: A Global Call to Action (published by Penguin Random House India).

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BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK

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Redesign the World: A Global Call to Action

Sam Pitroda

The world was last designed seventy-five years ago, about the same time that Sam Pitroda was born. This design has outlived its utility. Hyperconnectivity and the Covid-19 pandemic offer a unique opportunity to redesign the world. The proposed redesign of the world has the planet and its people at the centre; it is built on the foundations of sustainability, inclusion, equality, equity and justice so that everyone on earth can enjoy peace and prosperity. It is not an idealist or utopian vision, but one with humanity at its core. This book is about reshaping the world to meet the future challenges of our planet and our people.

Through the Rotor Disc

Sundaram Krishnamurthy and Sudha Krishna

As helicopter pilots in the Indian Air Force, we always glimpsed the world through a rotor disc. For many of us who flew before and after the 1971 war, our world view was shaped by our experiences and training. This book hopes to chronicle the journey of a few helicopter pilots and ground crew in Air Force Station Kumbhirgram in creating history as we helped change the course of the Bangladesh war in 1971. It is a retelling of our experiences, hundreds of places we landed and the valiant soldiers and civilians we ferried. After having flown the helicopters in every nook and corner of the country we realised that pilots do not steer helicopters, destiny does.

1971

Boria Majumdar and Gautam Bhattacharya

1971 was the year that changed Indian cricket forever. Accustomed to seeing a talented but erratic Indian team go from one defeat to another, a stunned cricketing world watched in astonishment as India first beat the West Indies in a Test series on their home turf, and then emerged victorious over England in England. Suddenly, the Indian team had become a force to reckon with. This book is a thrilling account of the 1971 twin tours. Against a canvas that features Pataudi, Wadekar, Sardesai, Durani, Viswanath, Engineer, Solkar, Abid Ali, Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan and Sunil Gavaskar.

equALLY: Stories by Friends of the Queer World

Ramkrishna Sinha and Srini Ramaswamy

This book by Ramkrishna Sinha and Srini Ramaswamy is a first-of-its-kind anthology of powerful personal stories by individuals who have stood up and spoken for the LGBT+ community and created safe spaces at home, schools, colleges, workplaces, and in society. It features 45 authentic stories of influencers, corporate leaders, parents, teachers, teenagers, and celebrates life experiences, perspectives, and sentiments of their journey to ‘allyship’. Each tale is an inspiration, a motivation, and a reminder that there are people across the country for whom the aspect of an individual’s identity and existence is imperative.

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Book Beat

Of youthful audacity and Kolkata’s heritage

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Set in Kolkata, Sutapa Basu’s The Cursed Inheritance is a mystery novel which tells its readers that the past and the present can never be separated, no matter how hard one tries. In an interview with The Sunday Guardian, the author explains what draws her to explore historical elements in fiction and how they can teach young readers about the heritage of their nation.

Q: What inspired you to set foot into the mystery genre with The Cursed Inheritance?

A: As a reader I have been fond of reading mysteries and historical fiction. It was natural of me to veer towards these genres when I began to write. My debut novel was a psychological thriller and one of my anthologies, Out OfThe Blue, is a collection of thrillers. But this cozy mystery is different. The inspiration for this book is an inanimate object that has been a living, breathing entity for me. The main protagonist of The Cursed Inheritance is the heritage mansion. This house has been growing gradually in my imagination for a long time. In fact, when I saw the grand, zamindari mansions and havelis that dot the lanes of North Kolkata, I tried to imagine all the tales that they would tell me if they could. Therefore, I have been weaving this tale around my fantasy mansion for years and it is only now that I set it down in words.

Q: Your previous books have dealt with historical subjects and this one also places great emphasis on history, from the motif of Sarkar Bari to the use of Egyptian history. What interests you in this area?

A: History has always fascinated me for it is the story of times past. When I studied it at school, I was always dissatisfied because I never came to know the complete tale, only facts and figures. But as I grew older and came across narratives based on history, I found my genre. Fiction based on history makes the past come alive. Reading and writing historical fiction gives me an opportunity to compare the past and present. It tells me the causes of modern events, shows me how similar the past and present is and sadly reveals how humanity continues to commit the same mistakes over and over.

Q: At the end, the protagonist, Anahita, decides not to go ahead with the sale of her ancestral house and put it to a nobler use. Do you intend to send out a message for the younger generation with that point?

A: It was a conscious decision for I believe very strongly in the idealism of the youth. As we grow older, we become cynical, lose our convictions and carry too much negative baggage. Young people retain their values, beliefs and have a positive approach towards all problems. They have the courage to go out and change the world. I always root for that youthful outlook that says, ‘All will be good, if you are good.’ By showing Anahita retain her ancestral house and put it to use of the community, I wanted to reflect her youthful spirit and determination. The Cursed Inheritance is a tale of youthful audacity and victory that says that the empathy of youth always wins the day.

Another intention of profiling the old mansion and its world was to expose young readers to the heritage of their country. Today, most young adults are so absorbed by western ideas and distractions that they are clueless about their own country, its history and heritage. It is a universal phenomenon of the modern, multicultural world. My aim is to lure this generation away from their screens into the world that surrounds them and has existed since before they were born. I believe communities that remain grounded to their past find their true potential. Whether born in or outside the country, the young Indian generation must find their roots to discover its true identity. Heritage is a legacy and through stories like The Cursed Inheritance I have sought to ensure it endures.

Q: Why did you decide to set the story in Kolkata?

A: Kolkata is a city of contrasts and stories lurk in every nook and corner. I felt The Cursed Inheritance could not have a more enchanting setting. I infused regional elements typical to the city into the narrative. The mansion in the story is easily identifiable as similar buildings pepper the streets of Kolkata and most of them have intriguing tales and histories attached to them. Whenever I saw one, I would try to imagine the people who had lived in it over the years, maybe centuries ago. I would wonder what secrets it held.

Other than the cuisine and tantric practices in the region, I have described the chaotic traffic, the crowds and the poverty that haunts Kolkata’s streets against the backdrop of the grand Howrah Bridge that fills its skyline. The hand-pulled rickshaw, an icon of the City of Joy, also finds mention in my story.

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