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AMITAV GHOSH TRACES CLIMATE CRISIS BACK TO THE DISCOVERY OF NEW WORLD

In The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis, Ghosh connects the origins of our current climate crisis to Western colonialism’s ruthless exploitation of human life and the natural world.

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Amitav Ghosh’s latest book traces our contemporary planetary crisis back to the discovery of the New World and the maritime passage to the Indian Ocean and is a remarkable mix of history, essay, testimony, and polemic. The Nutmeg’s Curse argues that today’s climate change dynamics are based on a centuries-old geopolitical system built by Western colonialism. The now-ubiquitous spice ‘nutmeg’ is at the centre of Ghosh’s narrative. 

The nutmeg’s history is one of conquest and exploitation, both of human life and the natural environment. The narrative of the nutmeg becomes a fable for our environmental catastrophe in Ghosh’s hands, revealing how earthly materials such as spices, tea, sugarcane, opium, and fossil fuels have always been entangled with human history. Our predicament, he argues, is the outcome of a mechanical view of the world, in which nature is viewed as a resource for humans to exploit for their own interests rather than a living force with agency and meaning.

Author Amitav Ghosh frames these historical stories in a way that connects our shared colonial histories with the deep inequality we see around us today. Written against the backdrop of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, and interweaving discussions on everything from climate change, the migrant crisis, and the animist spirituality of indigenous communities around the world, The Nutmeg’s Curse offers a sharp critique of Western society and reveals the profoundly remarkable ways in which human history is shaped by non-human forces.  

We also realise that the book The Nutmeg’s Curse reimagines modernity as a centuries-long campaign of omnicide against the spirits of the earth, rivers, trees, and even the humble nutmeg, before making a passionate case for the critical importance of vitalist philosophy and non-human narrative. Climate change is considered a technical problem that can be solved with clean technology in the West. However, it is seen as a geopolitical and inequitable concern in the rest of the globe. Climate change geopolitics are never mentioned in meetings like the COP, which are focused on technocratic and technological solutions. That is, after all, the central idea.

Before the 18th century, every single nutmeg in the world originated around a group of small volcanic islands east of Java, known as the Banda Islands. As the nutmeg made its way across the known world, they became immensely valuable – in 16th century Europe, just a handful could buy a house. It was not long before European traders became conquerors, and the indigenous Bandanese communities – and the islands themselves – would pay a high price for access to this precious commodity. Yet the bloody fate of the Banda Islands forewarns of a threat to our present day.

 Ghosh precisely claims in his book that the nutmeg’s traumatic journey from its original islands reveals a wider colonial mindset that justifies the exploitation of human life and the natural environment, and which continues to lead geopolitics today. 

According to Ghosh, the Banda Islands were the only site on Earth where nutmeg was farmed prior to the 16th century. The Dutch then invaded the island in order to safeguard its production, killing thousands in the process.

He writes in the book “The Island of Lonthor is shaped like a boomerang, and it adjoins two other islands: Gunung Api and Banda Naira, a tiny islet that was already, in 1621, the seat of two massive Dutch forts. The three islands are themselves the remnants of an exploded volcano, grouped around its now-submerged crater. Between them lies a stretch of sheltered water that is deep enough to accommodate oceangoing ships. Anchored there on the night of April 21 is the fleet that has brought Martijn Sonck to the Banda Islands. On still nights sounds carry easily across this stretch of water. The rattle of agitated musket fire on Lonthor is clearly heard on the Nieuw-Hollandia, the flagship of the commander who has brought this fleet to the Bandas: Governor-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen. An accountant by training, Coen, at the age of thirty-three, has served as the governor-general of the East Indies for three years already. A man of immense energy, competence, and determination, he has risen through the ranks of the Dutch East India Company like a jet of volcanic ash. Known, behind his back, as De Schraale (“Old Skin and Bones”), he is a blunt, ruthless man, not given to mincing his words. In a letter to the Seventeen Gentlemen who preside over the Company, Governor-General Coen once observed: “There is nothing in the world that gives one a better right than power.”   Amitav Ghosh’s The Nutmeg’s Curse exposes the reader to a sprawling tale of capitalism and climate change told with excellent historical and cultural context. 

We did not know that nutmeg was only found on the Banda islands until the 18th century! 

When it was discovered by the rest of the globe, European traders quickly conquered the islands, causing indigenous tribes on the Banda islands to pay exorbitant rates for the product. In his book The Nutmeg’s Curse, Ghosh argues that the nutmeg’s voyage from its native Banda islands reveals a prevalent colonial attitude of exploitation of human life and the environment that persists today.

Amitav Ghosh has struck to the core of the global narrative and our understanding of the climate catastrophe once again. He disproves the concept of modernity, moves the blame away from capitalism, and takes you on a consciousness odyssey across space and time. The aim was to establish a monopoly on these spices, and the Dutch carried it to the next level. In the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, European colonists were totally responsible for the exploitation of the Earth’s resources. These resource curses are destroying countries. Ghosh also addressed climate change in his 2016 book The Great Derangement.

He further writes in the book “But such a right is impossible for the Bandanese to grant. How can they refuse to trade with their accustomed business partners, from shores near and far? The islanders depend on their neighbours for food and much else. Besides, the Bandanese are themselves skilled traders, and many of them have close links with other merchant communities in the Indian Ocean; they can hardly turn their friends away empty-handed. Nor would that make commercial sense, since the Europeans often don’t pay as well as Asian buyers. And the Bandanese, like most Asians, don’t find European goods particularly desirable: what are they, with their warm climate, to do with woollen cloth, for instance? 

It would have been easier for the Dutch if the Bandanese had had a powerful ruler, a sultan who could be coerced into compliance, as had happened on other islands in Maluku. But the Banda Islands have no single ruler who can be threatened and bullied into forcing his subjects to obey the foreigners’ demands. “They have neither king nor lord” was the conclusion of the first Portuguese navigators to visit the islands, “and all their government depends on the advice of their elders; and as these are often at variance, they quarrel among themselves.”

This is not the whole truth, of course. The Bandanese have aristocratic lineages, as well as merchant families that possess great wealth and many servitors. It is a combative society, divided into walled settlements that sometimes fight pitched battles against each other. But no single settlement or family has ever subdued the entire archipelago; the islanders seem to have a deep-seated distaste for the centralised, unitary rule.” The book is an engrossing, panoramic history of colonialism’s impact on the globe today, portrayed through the fascinating narrative of the nutmeg.

To fully comprehend the world-devouring logics that drive ecological collapse, Ghosh urges readers to confront war, colonialism, and genocide. Although it is widely acknowledged that the climate issue is multifaceted, American cultural discussions about it are mostly focused on its scientific, technological, and economic aspects. 

Ghosh never fails to show us the mirror, whether it’s the glorified traditions of omnicide, the moral vindication sought through religion throughout history, the morbid individualism imbibed as a virtue, the irresistible vanity of racial, classist, and casteist hierarchies, or the human audacity to claim victory over Nature. Ghosh has written a remarkable, visionary appeal to new forms of human life in the ‘Anthropocene’, with wide historical perspective and astonishing insight. This is a timely and compelling work.

Author Amitav Ghosh was born in the city of Calcutta in 1956. He spent his childhood in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and India. He studied at the universities of Delhi and Oxford, and in 1986, he wrote The Circle of Reason, the first of his eight books. Sea of Poppies, the first book in his Ibis trilogy, was a Man Booker Prize finalist. In 2018, he was awarded the prestigious Jnanpith Award. The Circle of Reason, The Shadow Lines, In An Antique Land, Dancing in Cambodia, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Glass Palace, Incendiary Circumstances, and The Hungry Tide are only a few of his works. Gun Island and Junglenama, are his most recent works. 

Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bangalore-based Management Consultant, Literary Critic, and Co-director of the Kalinga Literary Festival. You can reach him at ashutoshbthakur@gmail.com.

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A time machine travelogue

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Part travelogue, part memoir, part-time machine. Shreya Sen-Handley’s “Handle with Care” is a travel memoir if there is such a thing. It captures in vivid detail the role of travel in her life—trips that function as book ends, holding chapters together or starting new ones.

Sen is a gifted tour guide, often presenting her unique take on the sights and sounds. Her imagination and robust visual analogies add layers to familiar tourist spots. In particular, the sleepover at the National History Museum in London, where the family is spooked by mysterious thunderous snores and her summoning of the goddess’s powers to navigate the Durga Puja festivities in Kolkata.

Sen draws from an impressive gamut of relatives for humorous inspiration. An oddball aunt ends up serving kitty litter to them by mistake. A childhood trip to Rajasthan, where a much-hated, ugly poncho vanishes, only to be later discovered on a monkey Her table of travel terms changes definitions according to young couples, old-age partners, and those with kids. Moments of innocent levity where her children ask permission to skip the “boring soup” at a Tibetan restaurant upon being served their finger bowls

‘Handle With Care’ is also full of sage wisdom on dealing with travel gone awry, interrupted by forces both natural and man-made. Sudden storms plague the best-planned trips; over-eager customs officials that ply you with food while stealing your luggage; airport toilet cubicles that refuse to open. Sen also chronicles the healing power of solo trips—of places and people new to healing wounds of the past. She speaks of the ability to find tranquilly once you give up searching for it.

Lastly, what is unique to Sen’s writing is a return to beloved fictional characters we’ve grown up with. She traces the bizarre history of village Goat-ham from where the city of Gotham in Batman is derived from. Her family visits Kirrin Castle from Enid Blyton stories featuring young detectives. In Sen’s stories, one runs into childhood haunts from ‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Wuthering Heights’, and ‘Dracula’. ‘Handle With Care’ combines memories of beaches, bullies, and regime changes. Sen’s prose is picturesque replete with navigating tiny village markets, farmer’s cottages, and bookstores filled with treasures. The descriptions of food get the salivary glands going and one is constantly transported to a much happier place. That is the heart of this memoir to inspire memories of a happier place, a happier time, surrounded by those we hold close. 

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A sharp look at the ISRO spy case Abhinav

‘Classified: Hidden Truths in the ISRO Spy Story’ reveals a story of bureaucratic egos and petty revenge dramas, of foreign agents embedded high up in the government, of political games and apathy, cover-ups galore, and international games of espionage and arm-twisting.

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In 1994, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist S. Nambi Narayanan and others were accused of conspiring to sell to Pakistan cryogenic engine technology. For close to three decades, the matter rolled around in the corridors of the judiciary, till 2018, when the Supreme Court ruled that Narayanan’s arrest had been unwarranted and ordered compensation of Rs. 50 lakhs to be paid to him.

Veteran journalist J. Rajasekharan Nair has been following the case since it broke out. This book, ‘Classified: Hidden Truths in the ISRO Spy Story’, is an updated version of his 1998 book, ‘Spies from Space: The ISRO Frameup’. What it reveals is a story of bureaucratic egos and petty revenge dramas; of foreign agents embedded high up in the government; of political games and apathy; cover-ups galore; and international games of espionage and arm-twisting.

Mariam Rasheeda was a clerk in the personnel records section of the National Security Service in the Maldives and had come to India in 1994. Inspector S. Vijayan, with the Foreigners Section in the City Police Commissioner’s Office in Thiruvananthapuram. Vijayan went to meet Rasheeda in room 205 of Hotel Samrat regarding her application for an extension of visa, and there he allegedly tried to get physically intimate with her. Thrown out of her room, he vowed retribution.

Vijayan ferreted around till he found out that among the numbers Rasheeda had dialled from the hotel, two belonged to D. Sasikumaran, Deputy Project Director, Cryogenic Project, Liquid Propellant Systems Centre, at ISRO. The Police Commissioner, V.R. Rajeevan, had issued orders for random checks to be performed on foreigners arriving at the airport in an attempt to crack down on drug trafficking. Vijayan took advantage of this order, interrogated Rasheeda, and presented this to Rajeevan as a case of a foreign agent, Rasheeda, conspiring with a senior official at ISRO. He also tipped off a couple of local newspapers, one of which managed to take a photo of Rasheeda and publish a scoop the next day.

If the media in Kerala sensationalised this case and published reports without due diligence or investigation, the blame lies mostly with M.S. Mani, editor of the newspaper, Kerala Kaumudi. Mani had been removed from his post as editor by an order of the High Court. When he had gone to Raman Srivastava, then Commissioner of Police, to delay implementing the court’s order by a week, Srivastava had refused. A furious Mani had promised to “destroy” Raman Srivastava. His chance came four years and seven months later, when Vijayan cooked up the espionage angle. Srivastava’s name was dragged, and lurid story after lurid story was published in Kerala Kaumudi, alleging, among other things, that Srivastava “had close links with more than one spy ring; he had slept with Mariam Rasheeda in Bombay and Madras; he had purchased three thousand acres of land in Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu,” and much more. The scandal took larger contours, engulfing ISRO in a scandal and destroying the lives of several of its scientists, who were falsely accused because of parallel international developments. In January 1991, ISRO and Glavkosmos, the Russian space agency, signed a bilateral agreement for the supply of three cryogenic stages and the transfer of cryogenic rocket technology. Eleven months later, in December 1991, the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and Russia became an independent country.

Through the 1980s, India had been shopping around for cryogenic engines and the technology. General Dynamics had quoted 950 crores and the French company Aerospatiale 650 crores. In 1991, Glavkosmos bid and secured the deal at 235 crores.

This did not sit well with the US establishment, because not only was this a lost commercial opportunity, but it also threatened to make the American satellite-launch industry appear uncompetitive in the long run, because the price-per-kg payload calculated by ISRO for its GSLV launches was less than half that quoted by US companies.

Therefore, within a few months, in May 1992, the US imposed sanctions on both ISRO and Glavkosmos, alleging that the technology would be used for weapons and thus running afoul of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The deal had nothing to do with India’s missile program. However, ‘No lobbying was done to reverse the lie that India’s acquiring of cryogenic technology was linked to its missile program.’

Furthermore, the author notes that ‘no country in the world has a missile using a cryogenic engine.’ Why is that? Because the technology is so complex that it takes ‘at least forty-eight hours to fill the cryogenic fuel with a specific impulse…’ sensible military management would recommend a war weapon that needs a gestation period of forty-eight hours.

In 1992, the US Senate Foreign Committee voted to have the US block aid worth billions of dollars to Russia if it decided to go ahead with the cryogenic contract. At the time, Joe Biden, then senator from Delaware and a member of the committee, said, ‘I am confident that the Russian leaders will recognise the wisdom of stopping this sale once they see the risk of losing their economic aid.’ In July 1993, an arm-twisted Russia ‘cancelled the agreement, invoking force majeure. ‘A modified agreement was signed between ISRO and Glavkosmos in January 1994. The agreement didn’t have the technology transfer clause.’

This did not go down well with Glavkosmos. It made a statement that most of the technology had already been transferred to India—while not true, this was meant to hoodwink the US for what was to follow. Glavkosmos decided to go ahead with the technology transfer, notwithstanding US sanctions, through surreptitious means. For this, the person heading Glavkosmos had the wholehearted support of Prof. U.R. Rao, the Chairman of ISRO.

The plan was to ‘transfer the cryogenic technology to an Indian company as an off-shore partner” and to later get the technology transferred to ISRO at a later date.

To keep things under the radar, Glavkosmos first transported ‘the cargo to some other destination by road and then airlifted it from there to India using different URL flights that took different air routes.’ The first flight took off from Russia and landed, via Karachi, at Thiruvananthapuram on January 23, 1994; the third flight, via Sharjah, on July 17, 1994. Before the fourth flight could come in, the spy scandal broke out.

That ISRO didn’t have the cryogenic technology in 1994, notwithstanding Glavkosmos’ statements, should have quashed any talk of conspiracy. That didn’t happen; why is anyone’s guess.

However, with its moles within the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the CIA was able to get Kerala police to pursue their desired line of investigation; viz., that ISRO scientists had conspired to commit treason.

The IB extracted confessions, after much torture, that S. Nambi Narayanan and D. Sasikumaran ‘had supplied the Cryogenic Missile Technology to Pakistan for a hefty sum.’This should have been laughed out of the courts because it took ISRO two years after the spy scandal broke out to conduct even the first test of a subscale cryo engine.

As the author points out, a ‘subscale’ is not even a prototype. It is only a micro-miniature, a prelude to the subsequent development of the prototype, and then the engine as such. ‘Two years after the alleged spies had allegedly transferred the technology to Pakistan, ISRO had been able to manage only a ten-second test of a subscale engine. To put this in context, ISRO scientists worked in France for ‘nearly 35 man-years before the technology of the Viking engine… was transferred to India under a legal contract.’It then took seventeen years… for ISRO to develop the Vikas engine.

The author quotes former R & A officer, N.K. Sood, that “Rattan Sehgal, Addl Director, IB, was caught passing on sensitive documents to the CIA in 96.” (He) was allowed to retire (and) go to the USA. He also falsely implicated Nambi Narayanan in the infamous ISRO spy case. ‘Nothing came of D.C. Pathak, then Director of the IB, who sent several unofficial (UO) notes to the “Cabinet Secretary, Home Minister, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, and others… to immediately bring Raman Srivastava, IG of Police, into the ambit of the case.’

That no evidence of any conspiracy was ever discovered, that two different central government agencies – the IB and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) – took turns torturing S. Nambi Narayanan and others, that no official involved in hatching the conspiracy to frame ISRO scientists faced any consequences, that the alleged CIA mole inside the CBI was never brought to justice, that the Kerala Police was a part of this conspiracy, and that politics took centre stage.

The first three chapters of the book assume the reader is familiar with the case and its developments; thus, readers may find it more useful to begin with the second section and then return to the first chapters later.

This copiously referenced and meticulously researched book deserves a wide audience. The treachery that was perpetrated and the injustice that was allowed to fester for decades need to made known. Nair has written this book with the sharp eye and sharper pen of a veteran journalist, unswayed by emotion or rhetoric.

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‘Maverick Commissioner: The IPL-Lalit Modi Saga’ launched in Kolkata

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Simon and Schuster, Fanatic Sports and JustMyRoots, on 16 June 2022 launched Boria Majumdar’s latest work Maverick Commissioner: The IPL-Lalit Modi Saga at the ITC Sonar. The event featured two stellar panel discussions on ‘What Makes a Good Sports Film’ and ‘The Business of the IPL’. Present on the occasion were actor Prosenjit Chatterjee; film producer Boney Kapoor; Harshavardhan Neotia, President of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry; Utsav Parekh, singers Anupam Roy and Anindya Chattopadhyay, film producer Vishnu Vardhan Induri, writer, historian Sharmistha Gooptu, political scientist, journalist, author Nalin Mehta, Ashok Namboodiri, Chief Business Officer – Zee Entertainment; Jaidip Mukerjea, Dinesh Chopra and author Boria Majumdar. The Bengali translation of ‘Maverick Commissioner’ was also released alongside the English edition.

Speaking on the occasion, Prosenjit Chatterjee said that he is extremely delighted that more and more sports books are being made into movies and that he is super excited to have found the story of the ‘Maverick Commissioner’. Movies and books are very close partners. Both domains will benefit from the collaboration of these two popular cultures. He is planning a sport film on swimming in near future.

Filmmaker Boney Kapoor said that he is currently working on a sports film on football with actor Ajay Devgn. The movie is called ‘Maidan’ and due for a release shortly. He confident that the film will become one for the most loved and watched sports film ever. He eagerly waits to pay another visit to Kolkata, to see the reaction of his viewers, after the film is released.

Harshavardhan Neotia spoke about the recent IPL media right auction. He said that he was expecting this kind of evaluation but will like to see if the buyers can make this cost viable.

In continuation to the thoughts shared by Harshvardhan Neotia, Utsav Parekh too spoke about the viability of the numbers, the whooping sum of INR 49,000 Crore.

Leading singers Anupam Roy and Anindya Chattopadhyay, spoke about the uniqueness of the sports films genre and how the sports is an avenue of mass connect with the viewers. They both sang on the occasion with a mention that they often make such songs part of their concerts, as they are on high demand by their followers.

Vishnu Induri shared that the win of ‘83’ was a big thing in India and it deserved to be made into a movie. The next big thing happened after the win of first cricket World Cup, was the formation of the IPL (Indian Premier League) and he jumped on the opportunity when ‘Maverick Commissioner’ was presented to him for a movie right.

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INTERROGATION, CONFESSION AND TRUTH

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‘So, we meet again,’ Mihir says cheerily, ‘What have you been up to, these days? What’s the next city you’re looking to bomb?’

Mihir has one eye on the road, and another on the rear-view mirror. He wants to pay close attention to her reactions.

‘I don’t know what you’re talking about, sir. I’m done with all of that.’

‘Come on, don’t lie to me. I know how addictive violence can be for people of your kind. You can’t just be done with it,’ Mihir prods on.

Spa Maid grows distraught.

‘I swear, sir. I was dragged into it once upon a time through sheer blackmail. But you rescued me, and I will always be grateful for that. But please believe me, I’ve moved on from all of that. Why would I have continued in the same job, knowing that you’d know where to find me, if I were still involved in that stuff?’

Her confidence intrigues Mihir.

‘Okay. Let’s just assume for a moment that you are telling the truth. But don’t tell me that they’ve let you get away and haven’t made any attempt to contact you. If I could find you, surely, they too would be able to find you.’

She shifts uneasily in her seat. Mihir knows he’s onto something here.

‘To tell you the truth, they did try, sir. And what I said to you over the phone, about me trying to contact you, is true as well. I can prove it to you.’

Spa Maid pulls out her phone and scrolls through her SMS outbox.

Much to Mihir’s surprise, there indeed is a message sent to the discarded number he had used under cover as Rajinder Talreja. The message read: ‘Sir, pls help. They r contacting me. I dntknwwt 2 do.’

From the distress apparent on her face, in addition to the SMS, Mihir realizes that she is indeed telling the truth. For a moment, he even feels bad. Bad for her, bad about himself. Here is a vulnerable woman who had reached out to him in her hour of distress, and he had been unable to help. He wants to apologize, but holds back, reminding himself that he cannot do or say anything that might upset the dynamics of their relationship. He has the upper hand, and it must be that way always.

Trying hard to keep a straight face, he finally responds, ‘Okay. So how have they tried contacting you? And how many times?’

‘All by email . . . I can show you.’ ‘Where’s your laptop?’

‘Uhh . . . I don’t have one. I just use the desktop at the hotel.’

‘You can use mine,’ Mihir tells her, pulling up to the side, before retrieving his laptop from the back seat.

She signs into her email ID and moves closer to him, softly brushing against his shoulder. She explains, as she scrolls through the emails, ‘They keep reminding me of all the photos and videos they have, and how they can destroy me, unless I choose to help. Then there are these invitations to adult chat forums, all kinds of strange things. I’m too scared to click. What if I get pulled in again? It is divine providence that you’ve come looking for me. Please, you must help me get away from this once and for all. I’ll do anything for you. I want to get away from all of this. I’m sick of this existence, sick of being scared all that time.’

Mihir stares at her in silence. At first, he’s just processing all the information he’s just had to take in. But after a few moments, his attention wanders towards the diamond stud that complements her finely shaped nose, the strangely endearing mole on her cheek, and the single strand of hair curled up over her forehead.

Spa Maid can tell that he’s checking her out. She’s happy to let him.

Mihir realizes what he’s doing, and quickly snaps back into focus. ‘I’m so sorry, I just haven’t slept all night. Anyway, yes, I can help you. But I’ll need you to respond to those emails, get in touch with them, and become part of the group once again. What you will say, what you will do, everything will be decided by me. And don’t worry, no harm will come to you. I won’t abandon you this time.’

She nods in agreement.

After a few moments of awkward silence, he asks, ‘One more thing. I realized that I don’t even know your name.’

‘Rukmini. Rukmini Jaiswal, sir. A-and yours?’ ‘You know, already. It’s Rajinder Talreja.’

She smiles. A warm smile that fills him with an inexplicable sense of joy.

The excerpt is from ‘Operation Sudarshan Chakra’ (published by Penguin Random House India).

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‘Death Script’: A complete view of the Naxal insurgency in India

Through the prism of the Maoist insurgency, the author meditates on the larger questions of violence and betrayal, sin and redemption, and what it means to live through and write about such experiences.

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The book ‘Death Script’ by Ashutosh Bhardwaj is a creative biography of Dandakaranya that combines the rigor of journalism, the intimacy of a diary, the musings of a travelogue, and the craft of a novel. Through the prism of Maoist insurgency, the book also looks at larger questions of violence and betrayal, and love and obsession.

Bhardwaj is one of those rare journalists who are courageous enough to plunge down to ground-level reality and bring us an honest account of what is happening in that part of India which we have comfortably failed to notice. 

The Maoist insurgency is now in its sixth decade and is one of the biggest challenges before Indian democracy. A vastly uninformed and misinformed discourse has ensured that it has not received the critical and public attention it deserves.

As per the title, this book also sounds philosophical at some points. ‘The Death Script’ is perhaps a book well beyond the conjectures that death is scripted with; incorporating the causes, prejudices, and repercussions that violence gets credited with. Every word in every sentence of this book speaks volumes about the hard work and perseverance put in by the author to ensure that nothing in this book is less than extraordinary.

This book gives a complete view of the Naxal insurgency in India. Though India is highly regarded as the world’s largest democracy, the presence of a prolonged Naxal-Maoist insurgency for more than five decades loudly tells us that there is something seriously wrong with our constitutional organisations.

Why does the Naxal-Maoist march toward the state and the government?

And what are the long-term consequences it would have on the red corridors?

If a common man can get justice through our law and order and justice systems, they will never knock on the doors of corrupted politicians and their well-breaded gangsters. Similarly, when a tribal’s basic life resources are gulped by greedy capitalists and supportive politicians in the name of development, then it is obvious that he will approach a Naxal Maoist rather than the police.

The author explained the perils of handling this insurgency in military retaliation through various real-life characters representing Adivasi, Police, CRPF, Maoist, Surrendered Naxal, Salwa Judum, etc. The sensitivity and thoughtfulness that the writer has displayed while describing every story is incredible.

In ‘The Death Script’, Bhardwaj writes of his time in that region and of the various men and women he meets from both sides of the conflict, bringing home with astonishing power the human cost of such a battle. “In Bastar, I witnessed death closely for the first time in my life. The experience was overpowering, unsettling, as well as humbling. I met many people in the jungle who challenged my beliefs and perceptions. Their dreams and sorrows introduced me to a world I had not known about,” he mentioned in his book. A very insightful description of a glimpse into our exploitative genes through the lens of journalism.

It’s important for readers to understand the blurring lines of the popular narrative of left, right, and centre in such affected areas. Dandakaranya is possibly the biggest graveyard in independent India. This book yearns to record their seemingly quotidian yet epic lives. The author has not censored any brutality and portrayed the correct picture in front of the readers. Moreover, the author has used his journalistic skills quite well in describing the events, which makes the book very interesting and indulging. The book is full of emotions, and as a reader, you can feel the pain and the terror the people go through every day of their lives.

Bhardwaj has been both empathetic in his approach and meticulous while documenting. It has the conflicts, stories, insights, and footnotes, and apart from all that, the best part of the book is that it nowhere leads the reader to any conclusion or there is any judgment or inclination in favour of anyone, but rather it is a work of hard evidence and personal experience.

Bhardwaj sees images and hears whispers he perhaps is not entitled to, and he is made to be part of concealments not so pleasant. He views whatever comes his way in a very objective manner, without censoring the brutality and dimensionality that it brings. The concrete evidence cited by him, along with his plethora of vivid perceptions of the news coverage, makes the book a hard and steady commemoration of empathy and universalism.

In this book, you will hear the voices of forests that grow gradually and creep into your mind, and then lead you into inter-disciplinary arguments—of incidents that will churn up fear, betrayal, and the inevitability of death.

Through the prism of the Maoist insurgency, Bhardwaj meditates on larger questions of violence and betrayal, sin and redemption, and what it means to live through and write about such experiences—making ‘The Death Script’ one of the most significant works of non-fiction to be published in recent times. Bhardwaj has done a great job of blending non-fiction with a fiction type of storytelling.  

The book provides some very interesting facts and stories about the deep jungles of Dandakaranya and the Naxalites which we have never heard or read before and will help you rethink and reassess the entire situation with a new perception. It is also an excellent introduction to the Maoist viewpoint and operational strategies too. A well-written book on the causes of the Maoist movement in India.

The author keeps you hooked by writing from a journalist’s viewpoint as well as from the viewpoint of a person whose diaries and musings reflect on his troubled mind with all the deaths around him.

This book is an authentic and detailed introduction to the Maoist movement, brought to you through some brave investigative journalism.

Bhardwaj goes into the history of the movement, how it began, the factors which have led to its widespread and virulent distribution, the nature of the violence, their core beliefs, and their goals. The book also explores the ideology and development of the Naxalite movement in the Dandakaranya region and beyond.

The very existence of the Maoist movement is a present and clear signal that there is a void, created by a government that opted to withdraw and leave the people to their own devices. of a government that left class and caste oppression festering for so long that the tribals and villagers found it safer to opt for violent revolution over the democratic option.

The Naxalites are only filling the void created by the government. But one can believe that, in spite of this, the movement, at a fundamental level, is still misguided, at least in terms of ideology and methods, if not in sentiment. 

To understand the Maoist viewpoint is important for the furtherance of dialogue. That is an important goal toward which this book is aimed. Understanding the lives of the people under the Maoists’ way is also important, to give moral force and direction to the dialogue, to ensure that it is no longer conducted through spitting gunfire.

At the same time, while one can believe that the Naxal leaders are misguided, the way they have achieved legitimacy is nothing short of miraculous. Running a quasi-government for so many years is no mean achievement.

Which again points us to the crying need for proper government in the area?

The author captivatingly winds his story around the exploitation, neglect, suffering, and heart-wrenching misery that the tribal and rural landless peasants face. The abysmal wages paid to the workers and the amount of exploitation inflicted even in today’s time make you question your own situation in society. This book beautifully deals with the Maoists, violence, sin, betrayal, and redemption.

The book charts the lives and fates of some of the biggest names and personalities of the movement, the difference in their approaches to the problems, their propensity towards violent means; and their eventual fate.

The cases of rampant human rights abuses, sexual exploitation, encounter killings, and executions of innocents and accused alike do not make things any easier. The author also tries to link castes together with the peasantry, which makes sense in a lot of scenarios.  

Many lives are lost across various walks of society. Our democratic institutions need to be introspective in determining how effective they are in creating a “Ramarajya” where everyone is equal. This is a piece of prose that speaks of the “dreams and delusions in Naxal country”, and essentially highlights a facet of Maoist and Naxalite rebellions that only a few might be familiar with.

Through death and demise, and thorough reporting and citation, Bhardwaj has written a book that seems too colourful to be true, yet too monochrome to be celebrated.

Ashutosh Kumar Thakur is a Bangalore-based Management Professional, Literary Critic, and Codirector with Kalinga Literary Festival. He can be reached at ashutoshbthakur@gmail.com

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Vigyan Yoga launches ‘Decoding the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’

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Co-authored by Acharya Kaushal Kumar, a globally acclaimed voice on yoga, and industrialist Jai Singhania, the book, written in a free-flowing style, is an easy read interpretation of the Yoga Sutras.

Kaushal KumarJai Singhania

A beginner’s guide to the ultimate truth of Yoga Sutra, ‘Decoding the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’, was unveiled today at a well-attended launch ceremony held at Teen Murti Bhavan, New Delhi. A book that connects the ancient science of yoga to the idea of the ephemeral, modern times, it was unveiled by the Chief Guest, Dr Karan Singh and Guest of honor, Dr Naresh Trehan.  The book is the first in a series of self-help books by Vigyan Yoga, a platform that focuses on science, logic and the ultimate truth. The launch also saw stalwarts like C.K. Birla, Padmaja Ruparel, Arvind Singhania, and Y.K. Modi in attendance amongst other leading luminaries. Also, William Bissell, MD and chairman of Fab India spoke on the occasion.

Co-authored by Acharya Kaushal Kumar, a globally acclaimed voice on yoga and thought leader and industrialist, Jai Singhania, the book written in a free-flowing style is an easy read interpretation of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. Compiled in the early century by Sage Patanjali, Yoga Sutra was the most translated scripture in the medieval era. At its core it is a collection of Sanskrit sutras, based on the theory and practice of yoga, but in essence its well explained sutras capture both the fate of the body and the mind. The latter being the ultimate benefactor from its practice.

“The main intent of the Yoga Sutras is to control and regulate our mind. Our consciousness, also known as the soul, is different from our mind. But, we think that they are the same due to ignorance. The book decodes this myth,” said Acharya Kaushal Kumar, speaking at the launch. Jai Singhania explained further, “The book offers solutions to eliminate ignorance. It shares the deep secrets about the mind as well as methods to eliminate miseries stored in them. Mastering the mind, as we know, results in a more efficient and centered human being.”

 Penned beautifully, the book invites you to learn how to stop the many thoughts that rush through your mind. It explains that there are two stages of enlightenment. First is when we stop the hyperactive and idle thoughts and only the righteous thoughts remain. This is the state of wisdom that leads us to the highest state of enlightenment. The final stage is when even the righteous thoughts are stopped. This is when we go beyond wisdom and, through yoga, actually master the art of going inwards to find the soul.

Yoga Sutra believes that our thoughts are the reason that we are entangled with the material world which we believe is our only source of happiness. But, when we stop our thoughts with practice, then that connection with the material world is broken and we get established in our own self. Through a series of well-written chapters, the book elucidates upon the world’s miseries and the way to elevate you from it with the help of Yoga Sutra. Explained in a simple parlance are the eight limbs of Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga. This describes one’s conduct, discipline, meditation postures, breathing techniques and withdrawal of the senses.

The authors also explain the way to elevate your mind from focus and concentration to meditation. Concentration, meditation and samadhi, together are called sanyama. The book discusses many superpowers achieved with the practice of Sanyama. “In our interpretation of the book, we have called out the unrealistic nature of these superpowers, which many books have established as fact. We discuss every claim with logic and science,” concludes Jai, the seeker of inner silence.

Priced at Rs 399, the book will be available for purchase in leading book stores including Om Books, Oxford Bookstore and Bahri Books. It is also available at www.amazon.in

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