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Delving deep into the socio-political situation of West Bengal

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Delving deep into the socio-political situation of West Bengal

What we know as history is not always a true retelling of the past—and often, history is hidden by falsehoods and a complete whitewashing of facts. With his debut book Blood Island: An Oral History of the Marichjhapi Massacre, journalist and writer Deep Halder did a brave job of uncovering the real bloodied history of Bengal, a blot on its existence, carefully covered up by the Left, which ruled it for 34 long years. Halder’snew book, Bengal 2021: An Election Diary, which is a field book, highlights the moods of the state ahead of the crucial Assembly elections through enchanting interviews with people from all walks of life.

Ahead of what promises to be a historic election, Halder met and spoke to Bengal’s biggest stars-turned-politicians, refugees who want to become permanent citizens, and travelled as far as the Bangladesh border to gauge the mood of the people. Bengal 2021 looks at an electrifying election unfolding in the times of Covid-19.

The West Bengal elections are due in March-April this year. After an impressive show in the 2019 general elections, the BJP is confident of breaching the TMC’s stronghold. The author has tried ascertaining the satisfaction level of the voters with the current dispensation. The TMC’s performance on various parameters such as health, education, economy, law and order, migration, and job creation, etc, has been evaluated on the TMC as well as Left Front tenures, and how Bengal is performing when compared to other states. Mamata Banerjee will also be evaluated by the voters in comparison to the chief ministerial candidates of the BJP and the Left-Congress combine. Here lies the biggest dilemma for the BJP. Should theparty declare its CM candidate? It doesn’t have a leader to match the charisma of Mamata Banerjee. On the other hand, the TMC leader hopes to ride home banking on her development work, sub-nationalism, and the backing of minorities. The Left parties and the Congress alliance (Mahajot) hope to get back some of the votes they lost to the BJP in 2019 and emerge kingmakers.

The level of polarisation seen today is unprecedented in West Bengal politics. The fight for the Muslim vote has intensified with the AIMIM’s entry. Mamata Banerjee, in 2011, and then the BJP in 2019 have somewhat succeeded in converting a classbased election into a caste-based one. The BJP made big inroads in the SC/ST, OBC, and the general vote-bank by working on Matuas and Bhadralok. The BJP has painted the TMC with the minority appeasement brush. In West Bengal, there is likely to be a triangular contest and the TMC could benefit from the split of the opposition vote. For the BJP to win, it needs to draw more voters from the Left and the TMC. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ability to sell the ‘double engine ki Sarkar’ story could decide the BJP’s fortunes. The economic distress inflicted on the people due to Covid-19 has also impacted the state’s finances and they need Central assistance to tide through these tough times. The author meticulously highlights these socio-political changes that happened in West Bengal in the book.

The book is divided into 10 chapters. In the initial chapters, Halder mostly talks about the rise of the BJP as a significant political party in West Bengal. While trying to understand and explain the rise of the BJP, he also analyses Hindutva politics in West Bengal from a historical perspective, highlighting the ideological and organisational legacies of the BJP. This is a well-written book to understand the current socio-political situation in West Bengal.

Halder writes further in the book about the much-talked Bengali pride. Facing a tough electoral contest against an ascendant BJP in 2021, Mamata Banerjee appears to be fuelling an outsider-vs-local divide in West Bengal. The TMC has launched the ‘amra versus ora’ (insider versus outsider) campaign showcasing the BJP as a party of North Indians with no knowledge or regard for the rich Bengali culture and heritage. It is harping on regional nationalism to counter the BJP’s Hindu nationalism. The author has honestly mentioned in the book how the BJP has captured the intellectual elite Bengali mind like never before.

Halder has done a good job with this book without being preachy or hypothetical, and delves deep into the political thoughts floating in the state.

The writer is a Bengaluru-based Management Consultant, Literary Critic and Advisor with Kalinga Literary Festival. He can be reached out at ashutoshbthakur@gmail.com.

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Book Beat

Exposing the dark sides of Article 370, CAA protests

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Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, in Tamil Nadu, is spearheading a movement to free Hindu temples from ‘progressive’ government control. More than 40,000 Hindu temples are being systematically desecrated and looted. Thousands of icons of Hindu Gods and Goddesses have been replaced with fake statues. In India, the followers of other religions are free to manage their places of worship without government interference. Obviously, Hindus are believed to be incapable of managing their own temples where their deities reside! Thanks to Nehruvian secularism, not only in Tamil Nadu, in almost every state in the country, cultural facets of once thriving but now mostly stagnant Hindu society are being undermined.

Amid all this comes Sanjay Dixit’s new book, Unbreaking India: Decisions on Article 370 and the CAA, which seamlessly—and decisively—takes the path laid down by the likes of Ram Swarup, Sita Ram Goel, Koenraad Elst, Rajiv Malhotra and Dr B.B. Kumar, to help unshackle the closed colonised mind further stymied by inherent and imposed dhimmitude. And in the very Forward of the book, Rajiv Malhotra sets the tone when he calls the agitation against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) “the gangster method of politics”.

According to Sanjay Dixit, the 1989-90 Kashmiri Hindu exodus was actually the seventh one. The author, without ever taking recourse to political correctness, exposes the six earlier ethnic cleansings of Hindus in “the paradise on earth”.

The well-researched book exposes the myth of “peaceful Sufis”. Ali Musliyar, Qadri Silsila Sufi, for instance, preached jihad that led to “the brutal murder of inoffensive Hindus, men, women and children in cold blood, without the slightest reason except that they are kafirs…. the desecration and burning of Hindu temples, the outrage on Hindu women and their forcible conversion and marriage by Moplahs” in Kerala.

Dixit mentions Maulana Hasrat Mohani in a Muslim League meeting asserting that “Moplahs massacred Hindus because they were frightened”. The ‘Breaking India’ forces were active in the pre-1857 period as well. In Bengal, jihad against the British led by Shariatullah, Tutu Mian and Dodhu Mian eventually ended up in “mass brutalities against the unsuspecting Hindus”. “Frightened” Muslims indulged in loot, murder, arson, riot and wanton destruction of Hindu properties during anti-CAA agitation in Delhi. Obviously, Muslim politicians and intellectuals have weaponised “fear”.

Unbreaking India also brings out deceit and hypocrisy of Muslim intellectuals of the Aligarh School. Mohammad Habib, an associate of Motilal Nehru, set out, under the garb of “scientific” and “progressive” historiography, to “whitewash the bad image of Islam” due to historical atrocities against the sons of the soil, the Hindus of India. “As Motilal Nehru merged his Swaraj Party with the Congress, the Aligarh School successfully infiltrated the Congress organisation as well,” writes Dixit in this must-read book.

Given this background, we must not be surprised that the Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru moved ahead with greater fervour on the path of Muslim appeasement.

Sanjay Dixit’s book is a must read for those wanting to know what’s wrong with the Indian version of secularism and how it has harmed the country immensely. It is a straight-forward book bereft of the malaise of being politically correct, compulsively.

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WHY FRANKLAND’S BOOK STILL REMAINS RELEVANT

Frankland’s book on how the 1989 revolutions led to the retreat of communism in Europe is a good read for not only history buffs, but also present-day patriots who take pride in themselves and their nations.

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For children of the 1970s and 1980s, the sight of scores of Germans on both sides bringing down the Berlin Wall and victoriously climbing the debris and greeting each other is still etched in their minds. By sheer coincidence, I laid my hands on this book a few days back. The author, Mark Frankland (1934-2012), was a former MI6 desk officer-turned-award-winning foreign correspondent, who wrote for the London Observer from 1962 to 1992. He was also a two-time winner of the British Press Awards for foreign reporting. However, he is more famous for Child of My Time: An Englishman’s Journey in a Divided World, a frank literary memoir published in 1999 that won him the PEN Ackerley prize for an outstanding autobiography.

The 20th century was arguablythe most eventful century in the history of the world. We saw two World Wars, the horrendous Holocaust by the Nazis, and also the end of imperialism and the liberation of many European colonies in all continents. Simultaneously, we also saw the rise of communism as well as oppression, genocide and massacres perpetrated by Communist (Marxist-Leninist) regimes. The reign of communism started with the October Revolution and the establishment of the USSR in 1917, and gradually spread to China and other countries. Its most fertile period was between 1940 and 1979 when it was established, by force or otherwise, in more than 35 countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. But soon enough it started to crumble.

The fall of communism and the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc started with a popular revolution in Poland in 1988, which continued in Hungary, East Germany, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Romania, etc. The high point was the fall of the Berlin Wall—on 9 November 1989, thousands of jubilant Germans brought down the most visible symbol of division at the heart of Europe, The Iron Curtain or the Berlin Wall. In March 1990, the backbone of the communist world, the superpower Soviet Union (USSR), collapsed and split into many countries.

As a foreign correspondent, Frankland was in an advantageous position to observe the divided world from both sides. In 1989, he was an eye-witness as he covered the uprisings in Eastern Europe that brought the end of communism and ended the Cold War. He wrote, The Patriots’ Revolution: How Eastern Europe Toppled Communism and Won Its Freedom, based on his own reportage and observations on the ground.

The Patriots’ Revolution is the most contemporary account of the revolutions of 1989 as it was written as they happened. Frankland made it clear from the title itself that he viewed the revolutions as patriotic revolutions; this is at variance with the view taken by later day writers that it was a simple victory of capitalism over communism. His narration establishes that economic freedom may be one of the elements leading to uprisings, but not the predominant one. The desire for goods that had been hitherto unavailable was part of it, but people were more enthused by what patriotism and democracy would bring in. Here, Frankland enquires into a more fundamental question as to what is the primary driving force in the uprisings, what jolts people out of their lethargy and motivates them adequately to leave their couches and step on to the streets. His conclusions, which are more in the form of discoveries arrived at after scholarly research, explain how the feeling of patriotism can inspire people. Patriotism, pride in the self, pride in one’s own identity and pride in one’s country are natural and instinctive and form the primary motivation driving these revolutions.

Most European countries have gone through the history of uprisings or revolutions against conservative regimes in the last two centuries. This history was fresh in the minds of people; cities even had monuments erected for the heroes of these revolutions. Democracy, liberalism and patriotism were the driving forces in these centuries, whereas communism rejected the idea of the nation and did away with democracy. However, communist governments did not dare destroy the monuments erected for the heroes of earlier liberal revolutions. During the spontaneous Hungarian Revolution in 1956, against Stalinism, people walked from statue to statue in remembrance of previous revolutionaries. After 33 years, in 1989, they walked the same route again.

Frankland, on the strength of his reporting of these dramatic events for TheObserver, describes how the powerful communist system crumbled with little or no resistance in the face of demonstrators armed only with candles and slogans of protest. Replete with rich imagery and insights, his work captures the spirit of the times, the hearts of common men and women, important leaders and the defeated communists too.His nuanced and elegiac prose vividly paints the prevalent disaffection and brewing resentment and its roots. The book is an honest and truthful report on what it looked like and how it felt, and portrays what communism meant for its subjects and thereby divulges the reasons for its astonishingly sudden evanescence. The reader can verily relive the most breath-taking and extraordinary epoch in history. This book provides an excellent primer to understanding post-communist Eastern Europe. 

Since Frankland wrote the book as the events unfolded, unlike later writers who viewed the revolutions through ideologically tinted glasses, the book scores high on contemporaneousness and verity. It is a valuable book for anyone interested in true world history.

Sreenivas Bidari is a senior IRS officer, a nationalist, passionate about social service, working for the poor and for the preservation of our civilisational values.

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BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK

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What’s Up With Me?: Puberty, Periods, Pimples, People, Problems and More

Tisca Chopra

Suddenly, you’ve got hair sprouting all over your body. Your emotions are out of control. Mom insists on taking you bra-shopping, much to your embarrassment. And the cherry on the cake? A pimple on your nose, right on your BFF’s birthday. Growing up may feel too crazy to handle, this book offers practical suggestions to help you cope up with it. Tisca Chopra —actor, mother, film director-producer and author — has sensible and doable ideas for changing body to pimples and periods, health and hygiene to safety and self-worth, relationships and boys to emotions. Gynaecologist Dr Mala Arora and psychologist Malvika Varma chip in to help Tisca provide you with more information about it all.

The Mind of a Consultant

Dr Sandeep K. Krishnan

Management consulting is seen as a glamorous profession. Behind the mystique are the consultants who put in extraordinary effort, synthesise great problem-solving skills and display fine personal attributes that enable them to capture the attention and respect of their clients. This book opens up to that world through the story of Samanta Thomas, a character based on countless excellent consultants, through whom we get inside the very mind of a consultant and their journey. As you traverse the journey of a management graduate growing to a partner in a top consulting firm, this book helps you understand various key skills that make a successful consultant.

Covid and Post-Covid Recovery

Dr Vishakha Shivdasani

At a time when Covid-19 has gripped our world, forcing us to frantically search for the best ways to survive and thrive, the author shares her six-point plan to help us accomplish just that. Using the same principles of healing that have helped thousands of her patients reverse chronic lifestyle diseases, Dr Vishakha Shivdasani (popularly known as DoctorVee) has developed a new protocol that will show us how to expedite recovery from Covid-19, reduce the chances of post-Covid complications and recover from them. The book also offers important tips on how to prep your body for the vaccine.

Mahabharat: Retold With Scientific Evidence

Saroj Bala

This book is a narration of important events of the Mahabharat war with exact dates. It is backed by scientific evidence entailing five years of intense research. It takes note of different claims made by esteemed scholars on the date of the Mahabharat war and establishes that the war took place in 3139 BCE. This book will compel the reader to look at the evidence and re-calibrate his understanding of ancient India. Specifically, if the Mahabharat war was fought in 3139 BCE, are we not supposed to conclude that the Harappan Civilisation was actually the Vedic civilisation of the Mahabharat era?

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For India, a rising China is a real psychological threat

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The recent high-altitude conflict with China has again brought focus on Sino-Indian relations. This comes after decades of Indian corporations doing business with China and the Dragon even becoming a tourist destination for the Indian traveller. But as this book asserts, the unprovoked Chinese offensive in Ladakh is to safeguard the new China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which begins from Gwadar port in Balochistan and passes through the heart of Pakistan to enter into China through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) and the Xinjiang province. The latter is one of the regions in the world furthest from the sea. The CPEC will enable Chinese products to find a way to the export market. On the way, China will assist Pakistan to set up units on the way and a special economic zone (SEZ). The CPEC passes through areas that are in the range of guns that can be fired from Ladakh. Hence, the Chinese sought to displace India from Ladakh or at least parts of it.

Pakistan cementing ties with China is bad news for India: Now it will have to simultaneously face an enemy on the north but also another on the west. But this is not all. India is now being surrounded by China through countries subscribing to its OBOR (One Belt One Road) scheme. Apart from Pakistan, other neighbors of India like Nepal, Sri Lanka and even Myanmar are part of this scheme which entails heavy Chinese investments into these countries to build infrastructure like roads and ports. India has now realised what the Chinese game is about and politely refused to join in even though China is keen.

In 1962 when India faced Chinese invasion, it was only on the Himalayas, but this time around, the Chinese threat is from not only from the north, but also from the seas. The Chinese are taking more nations under the OBOR scheme in the Indian Ocean region. This includes Indonesia, Thailand and many others. These countries receive huge funds to build their infrastructure (on paper, these funds are interest-free but that’s a mirage; actually, the recipients have to repay much more). Without this realization, these countries slip into a state of Chinese domination. The US also realizes this Chinese game so they are proposing an Indo-Pacific Alliance in the India Ocean, extending from the west coast of the US to the Arabian Sea on the Indian coast. This will contain the influence of China. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) among the US, Japan, Australia and India is also being strengthened to keep China under check. After the global coronavirus pandemic that began from China, anger against the country is globally on the rise. But China is unfazed. 

China is a country with a huge exportable ‘surplus’. This has been created by ‘forcibly’ keeping domestic consumption under control, so that China can export huge amounts enabling it to earn a lot of foreign exchange. This foreign exchange is used to ‘buy’ global influence. Today all kinds of Chinese goods are finding their way into the Indian markets: this includes hospital beds, toasters, kites, handlooms and safety pins, to give a few examples. China has built a bazaar for these products in Guangdong province (the new name for Canton) where outsiders are allowed free entry. Meanwhile, Chinese companies are now copying designs and more from western automobiles that were imported into the country. These very well-copied automobiles which don’t look like copied products are now giving the western vehicles a run for their money. The Chinese are now—by design—setting up a new Silicon Valley to compete with the original in the US. With a super powerful chief, Xi Jinping, now in power, China is fully poised giving rivals a hard time. Xi is as powerful as Mao, the first ruler of China after it became Communist.

For India, a rising China is a real psychological threat, and it will be good if we realise this clearly. To the north of India lies Xinjiang and Tibet. Minus the two, China will be just 60 per cent of its current size. Xinjiang, a Muslim-dominated province, was forcibly incorporated in China in 1935. Likewise, Tibet was amalgamated into China by force in 1959. China is a well-planned country and many Indians are hired to teach English and software programming to the Chinese. Indian planners must keep these facts in view while planning a strategy to contain China.

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RETRACING RESPONSIBILITY IN THE FIELD OF JOURNALISM

The press and the media shape the character of a society by altering its thinking and sensitivities.

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Apart from learning how to pronounce my name correctly, and how to pronounce Urdu words correctly, I learnt the basics of broadcast journalism at IIMC. I also got to know the basics of cameras, video editing, scripting, various formats of reporting, live studio production and of course, storytelling, that is, the narrative. 

The term ‘narrative’ doesn’t just mean the art and craft of storytelling, but also the agenda that you want to set along with the story. I don’t recall any in-your-face kind of ideological narrative being peddled by any teacher or guest faculty in the broadcast journalism course. My friends from the print journalism courses though would share some stories about heated debates around such issues in their classes. 

Perhaps the print journalists were more into bitter ideological battles than the TV journalists at that time. Television journalism had just started taking off in India and not many were ready to become a flagbearer of ideological battles from the beginning itself. Today, obviously you can name a dime a dozen of TV journalists who indulge in such battles. You can imagine what they would teach if they were to be invited as guest faculty in any journalism school, but I was more or less spared any direct ideological preaching in the classrooms. 

The general ideological bias in media narratives is not due to some grand universal conspiracy by the Left to control the world—at least that is what I personally believe, even though some people do believe that such a conspiracy exists—but because of the widely held belief that the mass media is hugely powerful and thus this power has to be used ‘responsibly.’

Stan Lee wrote in Spider-Man, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ Incidentally, alter egos of some fictional superheroes too worked in newspapers, such as Peter Parker and Clark Kent, that is, Spider-Man and Superman, respectively. Journalists, too, seem to have alter egos, who must save the world from the villains and promote good over evil. 

And I am not being flippant about it. Journalists, for sure in those times, did solemnly feel that they were very powerful and thus they had a very important job. Dileep Padgaonkar, a long-time editor at the Times of India, is reported to have said, ‘I have the second-most important job in the country,’ presumably after the prime minister’s.

This sense of self-importance is the result of the widely held belief that the traditional mainstream media is hugely powerful, which consequently leads to ideology playing a part in the overall scheme of things. Let me explain. 

Among various communication models applicable to the mass media, I remember being taught the oldest and the original theory of ‘hypodermic needle model’ very early at IIMC. Also known as the ‘magic bullet’ theory, this model equates messaging through the mass media with medicinal injections. The messages carried by the media are supposed to be like the medicinal fluid in a syringe, which can be injected into a receiver’s body and the desired affects can be achieved to almost clinical perfection. Alternatively, the media is supposed to be a magic gun that can inject bullets right into a person’s head—without killing him—but the person’s beliefs and thinking changes according to what was contained in that bullet.

There is also something called the ‘agenda-setting theory’, which effectively argues that the media is not anything like a ‘mirror to the society’—an adage often used by journalists or media professionals— but the press and the media actually go on to shape the character of a society by altering its thinking and sensitivities. So, far from being just a commentator—which is how journalists present themselves by offering ‘Don’t shoot the messenger’ and such maxims—a journalist is actually an active player and on occasions, even an umpire. 

These are not conspiracy theories but communication theories taught at journalism schools. To be fair, there are other theories too, which argue that the recipients or the masses are not so passive. Such theories are taught too, and I’m sure that over the past few years, new models would also have come up, given how new technologies have diluted this power of the old mass media. I hope those are also being taught in journalism schools today. 

But the original and earnest belief among journalists was, and perhaps remains, that the traditional mass media is too powerful and can bring about mass changes and revolutions by altering people’s thinking. 

Since the media is a hugely powerful tool, if not the powerful tool to control the masses, that one must be responsible in using this tool was an unquestioned wisdom. I too believed that a journalist’s job was to educate the masses about what is good and bad, to make them take note of the right issues by deciding which news deserves what kind of space and to fight for justice on behalf of the masses — that would be ‘responsible journalism’. A student of journalism would feel that a journalist was no less important than a teacher or a doctor or a soldier for the society. 

Possibly many of you are thinking—‘But what is wrong in that belief? Journalists must feel that sense of responsibility.’ However, the moment you bring in a moral aspect, things are bound to get influenced by the ideologies you subscribe to, because what is ‘responsible behaviour’ will be guided by your ideology, especially your political ideology. Similarly, answers to questions such as ‘What is good for the society?’ that you should promote and ‘Who or what is evil?’ that you should fight against would also depend upon, and sometimes be dictated by, your personal and socio-political ideologies. 

The excerpt is from ‘Sanghi Who Never Went to a Shakha’ (published by Rupa Publications).

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BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK

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The Nest of the Recluse

Suchita Malik

The Nest of the Recluse is an engaging tale of five characters who find themselves embroiled in complex relationships that makes them break away from the routine and seek refuge in art, culture, spiritualism, travel and explore different ways of living life. Each character has their own learning at the end of the tunnel. The result is a brilliant examination of relationships, ideology and history and their effect on individual lives. With dazzling energy and insight, Suchita Malik immerses us in the tumultuous lives of her characters in their desperate attempts to find what makes life meaningful or even happy.

Gods and Ends

Lindsay Pereira

Philomena Sequeira knows what she wants by the time she turns 14. Her father wants something else. Life is unyielding for the tenants of the rundown Obrigado Mansion in Orlem, a Roman Catholic parish in suburban Bombay. They grapple with love, loss and sin, surrounded by abused wives and repressed widows, alcoholic husbands and dubious evangelists, angry teenagers and ambivalent priests, all struggling to make sense of circumstances they have no control over. This book takes up multiple threads of individual stories to create a larger picture of darkness beneath a seemingly placid surface. It is about intersecting lives struggling to accept change as homes turn into prisons.

Alex Drake and Friends: Wasor Island

Aaditya Raj

Alex, along with his friends, Lester and Angelina, had just started off on his leisure trip to Japan but was interrupted abruptly by a plane crash. As the trio gets stranded on an anomalously peculiar island, they face havoc and death. After a billion moments of suffering, a weird man tells them a ridiculously unbelievable story about a curse inflicted upon the island. On further questioning, he also tells them the way to cure the place involves a series of deadly challenges. As Alex is hit with shock, grief and death-defying experiences, he figures that surviving on this island is not an easy task.

Leopard Diaries: The Rosette in India

Sanjay Gubbi

The leopard is perhaps one of the world’s most beautiful creatures. The spots on its body are even romantically called ‘rosettes’. In this book, Sanjay Gubbi, who has studied and documented the leopard for nearly a decade, gives us a close look at this fascinating creature. From detailing its food habits to throwing new light on how the young are reared, from offering suggestions on tackling leopard–human conflict to imagining the future of this arresting animal, this book is a 360-degree view of the leopard, its ecological context, its fraught relationship with the human world, and how wildlife and human beings can find a way to co-exist.

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