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Books to look out for this week



Slices of Life

Richa Gupta

Bluerose Publishers, Rs 298

The book is a collection of short stories or vignettes that provide an immersive and entertaining experience of diverse scenarios of life in motion. They are slivers of existence with the ingredients of plot and characters, sprinkled with human emotion, pervaded by the aroma of human dilemmas and served in the platter of lucid language. Sometimes searing with agony and often pervaded with beauty and yearning in the midst of travails in a contemporary or futuristic reality, they explore relationships and the human struggle to find meaning amidst chaos.

Quintessentially Tata

Syamal Gupta

Rupa, Rs 295

This book is a must-read for all those simply curious or actively interested to know about the Tata visionaries and the working of Bombay House, the head office of the Tata group in Mumbai, that touches lives the world over. The author’s experiences over 55 years in one of the biggest business houses in India reflects the Tata’s pioneering spirit of entrepreneurship and its culture of nation-building, led by Tata founder Jamsetji Tata, and stalwarts like J.R.D. Tata, Sumant Moolgaokar, Naval Tata, Nani Palkhivala and Ratan Tata.

Partap Singh Kairon: A Visionary

Gurinder Kairon, M. Rajivlochan

and Meeta Rajivlochan

Rupa, Rs 595

Punjab not only bore the brunt of Partition, but the state’s economy was also left in ruins. This was the time when one man helped the state emerge from the ravages of death and destruction — Sardar Partap Singh Kairon. He steered Punjab away from the confused times after Partition and reined in divisive forces that threatened to divide the state yet again. He succeeded in getting different communities to work together and brought stability to the region. Read the book to know more about him.


Tazmeen Amna

Penguin, Rs 299

She’s a young woman going through a mid-20s crisis, trying to deal with the dark and intoxicating side of life with haunting memories of an abusive exboyfriend, remnants of a broken family and obvious mental health issues. She finds herself on a consistent downward spiral. With no job, a failing art career, months of expensive therapy, a cast on her leg and a mystery man in her life, will she be able to recover from her embarrassing wastefulness? Can she defeat her infamous trait of self-sabotage and manoeuvre her way through some hard-hitting truths?

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Of blossoming hope & constructive work



Usha Mishra Hayes, a career UN staffer, in her new book, Social Protection: Lands of Blossoming Hope, tries to give an insight into the positive impact that UN agencies like the World Food Programme (WPF), which was recently awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, and the UNICEF have on economically developing and socially fragile countries.

 Hayes, who has served with the WFP in Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and in several more with UNICEF, gives a peek into the workings of organisations that have rightly, through rather belatedly, been recognised for promoting world peace. The book is rather unusual in many ways. First, it talks about ‘hope’ — a rare perspective in today’s world which is full of grim news and increasing apathy and frustration. It presents the possibility of national reform by the UN and by zealous, committed UN staffers. Second, it provides an intimate insight into an otherwise obtuse world of the workings of the UN, in general, and the work of influencing policy, in particular. 

The book recounts the workings of governments and their interface with the UN with a breathtaking sweep — from the tropical plains of Bangladesh to the ocean-flanked scenic Tanzania, and from the stable, upcoming Cambodia to the fragile, exploding Afghanistan. These countries have been brought to life by the author with stories of how the governments considered bringing in policy to deal with the problems of street children, as in the case of Ethiopia, or when elections were used as an opportunity for creating positive news for the government while achieving important policy reforms on lagging issues, as was the case in Tanzania. Each country covers a different aspect of policymaking, making each chapter uniquely interesting and rich in insights, which are shared casually and effortlessly, without much ado. 

 Important alliances get formed among the World Bank, UNDP and UNICEF in a casual meeting by the residents’ swimming pool, as in Cambodia, and highranking secretaries’ break into open verbal warning, aiming to draw in UN officials, as in Afghanistan. The book shows how arriving at decisions regarding the scope and design of programmes for the poorest is often made in the UN offices, using extremely sophisticated analysis and planning tools. 

  The book is easy to read and leaves you asking for more when it ends. It also makes us wonder as to how much of policymaking in the developing countries is inspired by the Good Samaritans within the UN. Whether we are supporters or critics of this international entity, one cannot but acknowledge that the UN does provide free, high-quality technical expertise for many countries that will find it difficult otherwise to mobilise such talent. This book recounts some of the deft ways in which this expertise aligns with or challenges the national policy agendas to make it more pro-poor. It is a book of hope and a constructive take on international efforts at addressing some chronic national challenges.

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It’s never too late to start writing: Jigs Ashar



Treating voracious readers who love being kept on the edge through a host of fascinating tales, award-winning and India’s bestselling storyteller Ravi Subramanian launched a series of mystery-driven short novels titled Shortz. The book series will see Subramanian collaborate with a variety of esteemed authors from the thriller and suspense genre. For those avid bibliophiles of fiction and action, the book series will consist of 20 short and pacey thrillers that are sure to leave them wanting more. As part of the book series, the first two thrillers, Insomnia and A Brutal Hand (Westland) respectively, have been co-authored with Jigs Ashar, a banker-turned-consultant. Excerpts from a candid conversation with Jigs Ashar:

 Q. How do you juggle the two worlds— writing and banking? 

A. There comes a time when one has to pause and think how to balance work with things you really want to do — what you love. Work is a part of my life, and an important one at that; but sometimes we let work become our only life. I have consciously tried to change that over the last few years. I took up running and now am an avid marathoner. I play the guitar. And of course, have taken to writing quite passionately since 2017. 

Q. Why and how did writing happen?

 A. You know, a phrase that really resonates with me is, ‘You do not choose writing; writing chooses you.’ I was pursuing a part-time course on Creative Writing, and loved the process of writing. Around the same time, in September 2017, I read about the Times of India Write India Season 2 short story contest. Coincidently, the advertisement I saw had Jeffrey Archer — one of my favourites — as the judge for that month. Just the possibility that my story might be read by Archer was hugely exciting for me. That’s how I wrote my first thriller short story: The Wait is Killing. And to my absolute delight, I was one of the winners! In the same season, I submitted my second short story — Make(up) in India — and that, too, was a winner! This time around, the judge was Shobha De. The genre I explored with this story was humour. Later, in mid-2018, I also wrote another thriller short story called Duel, which was short-listed in the ‘Short Story of the Year – 2018’ by Juggernaut. And it’s been an amazing journey writing Insomnia and A Brutal Hand.

 Q. Why is writing thrillers so easy for bankers? 

A.Writing is not easy, especially thrillers. But it is an immensely enjoyable experience — developing the plot, the graph of the story, the conflicts, the characters, the dialogues, everything! I think thrillers as a genre has always fascinated me; and I try and write what I, as a reader, would like to read. I have grown up reading Agatha Christie, Jeffrey Archer, Frederick Forsyth — still do. As for bankers turning thriller writers, on a lighter note, one look at the newspapers and you will know that deriving inspiration for thrills and mystery is not difficult for a banker. 

Q. When do you find the time to write? 

A. One has to make the time for what one is passionate about. I can write anytime and anywhere. My way of writing is very structured. Once I finalise the plot in my head, I start writing a brief summary of each chapter — how does each chapter take the story forward, who are the characters that appear in the chapter, etc. I do this to ensure the flow of the story is clear and at the pace I have envisaged; and, also to ensure each character comes in at the right time to take the story forward. Once this is done, I start writing the manuscript. And if I am stuck at a point, there is nothing like a good run to clear your head. 

Q. Your experience of working with Ravi Subramanian. Did he interfere a lot in the plot?

 A. It has been an absolute pleasure collaborating with Ravi. It is a dream come true for a debut author to co-write not one, but two books, with one of India’s bestselling writers. In the last two-anda-half years, during which time we co-wrote Insomnia and A Brutal Hand, we had a lot of brain-storming sessions on the plots, characters, their back-stories, etc. We especially spent a lot of time discussing the finale of Insomnia. It has been a lot of fun and creatively, a very satisfying experience. Ravi has been very open and discussed possibilities, but never imposed any ideas, which made writing with him very enjoyable.

 Q. Any anecdotes you would like to share… 

A.Before I started writing, or even expressed a desire to write a book, my wife, Vidya, always believed that I could write a book. She is the one who actually planted this idea in my head. And in early 2017, she actually did a lot of research and almost forced me to enrol in the creative writing course. That was the first trigger that’s gotten me where I am. So, in a way, it’s thanks to her that I am here with you. Another incident — a funny one — is from the first day of my writing course. When I entered the classroom, it was filled with other students who were almost half my age. So, when I entered, they assumed I was the professor and greeted me, and were shocked when I went and sat down next to them. The message is, it’s never too late to start! 

Q. What’s next?

 A. Currently, I am writing a thriller novel, which is almost 70% complete. The working title is The Strike of the Serpent. It’s an international thriller, with an assassination plot at the core of the story. I also want to develop my award-winning short story, The Wait is Killing, into a full-fledged novel.

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Not truly an insider’s account

Delivering reforms is often not about ‘what’, but about ‘how’ and ‘when’.
Bimal Jalan, with considerable experience of working within the executive
and even within legislature, could have written more about the ‘how’.

Bibek Debroy



“This book is being published after the Lok Sabha elections held in May 2019. The previous government has been re-elected for a second five-year term (2019-24) with a substantial majority… This is a relatively short list of agendas for the re-elected government.” 

Bimal Jalan is a respected economist. Having held several positions in government (Finance Secretary, Chief Economic Adviser, RBI Governor) and quasi-government (Chairman, Economic Advisory Council to PM; Chairman, Expenditure Management Commission), he is indeed a “government” economist, warranting use of the word “insider” in the sub-title. He also had a stint in Parliament, as a nominated MP. 

Post-1991, I can reel off names of half-a-dozen important books written by Bimal Jalan: India’s Economic Crisis, 1992; India’s Economic Policy, 2000; India’s Economy in the New Millennium, 2002; The Future of India, 2006; India’s Politics, 2008; and Emerging India, 2013. There were others, pre-1991 and edited. This book is on India, then and now, with eighteen essays classified under three heads of “The Decade of Industrialization”, “The Decade of Liberalization and Globalization” and “India in the Twenty-First Century”, with six essays under each head. “Then” implies historical and is subject to interpretation. One definition of “then” might be that “then” means pre-1991 and “now” is anything that came after 1991.

 A couple of decades ago, that might have been an acceptable interpretation. But the 1991 reforms occurred almost thirty years ago. An alternative interpretation, one that Bimal Jalan implicitly seems to have adopted is that “then” means the 20th century and “now” means the 21st. At least, that is how the essays have been classified. For the twelve essays under the first two heads, everything said in this book has been stated in a much better way by Bimal Jalan himself, in the earlier books I listed. What’s the utility of revisiting the themes again, though, with the passage of time, one might have a slightly different perspective? The answer is given in the Preface. “As a witness of India’s economic trajectory through the decades, I decided to put together for the readers my writings that reflect how India has progressed since Independence to the present times. In doing so, I was principally guided by two considerations: the first was to cover different subject areas that may be of interest to the general reader in addition to experts in economics, politics and administration.” In other words, the target audience is different, perhaps one that is unlikely to have read his earlier books.

 The third head is different and has six essays on exchange rates, the role of Parliament, ethics of banking, politics and governance, a prosperity template and a future agenda of reforms. (Those aren’t exact titles of the essays. I have paraphrased them.) These themes remain topical. But the question to ask is: When was this book completed? As the quote at the beginning illustrates, the manuscript was certainly completed in 2019, perhaps even in 2018. This is a dilemma several authors and publishers have faced and continue to face. Covid-19 has made publications schedules go haywire, with few books published in calendar year 2020 and many publications postponed. This raises a couple of problems. One, the book doesn’t recognise and factor in government initiatives since May 2019. Two, with Bimal Jalan’s experience and expertise, one would have liked essays on — indirect tax reform (read GST), Union-State fiscal relations (read Finance Commission), government expenditure management and fiscal policy and health sector issues (broader than Covid-19 alone). Reading a book published towards the end of 2020, with no mention of these issues, leaves one dissatisfied.

 If one is especially interested in the “now”, the relevant essay is the last one, titled, “The Future is Ours”. In the various agenda items, we have, “It is also desirable to reduce the political powers of ministers and their vested interests in the allocation of public resources… In practice there has been substantial erosion in the ability of Parliament/ legislatures to hold ministers responsible, either collectively or individually, for the decisions taken by them on behalf of their ministries… Similar autonomous institutions should be created for the allocation of all valuable national resources, including oil and gas. The government, even at the highest level, should refrain from giving directions to such institutions… 

A further measure for the greater empowerment of civil service personnel, while reducing their number over time, is to reform the procedure for launching vigilance inquiries and the number of agencies involved in such investigations… The basic issue that needs to be tackled to improve the morale of civil servants is that of the ‘separation of powers’ within the executive — between ministers and civil servants — in so far as postings, transfers, promotions and other similar administrative matters are concerned… In order to reduce the present built-in incentive for the fragmentation of parties and to improve governance in the future, it is of utmost importance that the anti-defection law be made applicable to all parties and the so-called independent members who choose to join a government in power… Over time, the number of ministries and departments involved in regulating almost all segments of the economy, society, foreign affairs, defence and border security have expanded enormously.” 

Bimal Jalan has considerable experience of working within the executive and even within legislature. Delivering reforms is often not about “what”, but about “how” and “when”. There is a political economy of reform and a political economy of resistance. All reforms are fundamentally grounded not only in the executive, but also in the legislature and the judiciary. There won’t be substantial disagreement with the statements just mentioned (within quotes). Why has it been so difficult to bring about change? How was it managed in 1991, when some change was actually introduced? Bimal Jalan is no ordinary academic economist. He has been a practitioner. Yet, in all his books, including the present one, he has been reticent about the toolkit for reforms. There are others who can write about the template, not too many who can write about the “how”. 

Bibek Debroy is the Chairman of the PM’s Economic Council.

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Gangster on the Run: The True Story of a Reformed Criminal



Puja Changoiwala HarperCollins India, Rs 399

This is the extraordinary story of a hitman who became a de-addiction counselor and outran his demons. Rahul Jadhav took the name Bhiku from ‘Satya’, a gangster who was everything he once wanted to be. Capturing his don’s attention as a tech-literate criminal, running his extortion ring over Skype, Rahul found himself shouting threats down the barrel of his gun and became one of the most wanted gangsters of his time. He was arrested in 2007, dealt with drug abuse and went into a near schizophrenic state. Today, he is an ultra-marathoner who has covered nearly 10,000 km.

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Extraordinary: 51 Surprisingly Simple Ways to Get Extraordinary Results



Ketan Krishna Notion Press, Rs 375

Extraordinary’ is about the author’s experiences in the form of short stories about how ordinary people with eXtraordinary dreams get eXtraordinary results. This book is for people who deep inside have committed to becoming a better version of themselves. The book aims at providing personalised learning to each reader. If you are looking at inspirations, and nudges to help find answers for yourself, this is the book. It has the author’s points of view and his version of the truth. The author believes in action, so this book will be effective if you work on the action section crafted at the end of each chapter.

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Tales from the Himalayas



Priyanka Pradhan Rupa Publications, Rs 295

Award-winning author Priyanka Pradhan takes you on a journey into the Himalayas through her stories. You will find tales of snow leopards and mountain ghouls, bagpiping girls and itchy herbs, and stories even as old as 500 years! See the beautiful state of Uttarakhand, resplendent in its colourful customs and traditional costumes, taste the sweet-sour wild berries, feel the chilly autumn wind on your skin and smell the musky pine forests, in seventeen stories. Welcome to the mountains. She is the recipient of the ‘Ruskin Bond Promising Writer Award 2019’ at the Dehradun Literature Festival, held in October 2019.

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