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SHASHI THAROOR GETS IT WRONG, AGAIN

Author Shashi Tharoor makes a wonderful edifice of arguments to begin with, but ends up destroying the superstructure of ideas when the politician in him takes precedence over the intellectual he has always been.

Utpal Kumar

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The Battle of Belonging

Shashi Tharoor

Aleph, Rs 799

At the risk of generalising his otherwise vast corpus of academic work, anybody reading Shashi Tharoor would say that he invariably makes a wonderful edifice of arguments to begin with, but often ends up destroying the superstructure of ideas when the politician in him takes precedence over the intellectual he has always been. This explains why he could so diligently enumerate the paradoxes in Narendra Modi in his book, The Paradoxical Prime Minister, but wouldn’t go far enough to say that these very paradoxes could be seen in much bigger and dangerous proportions among some of the most exalted leaders of his own party. Tharoor did the same with his book, Why I am a Hindu, wherein he explained the nuances of Hinduism so beautifully but faltered the moment he entered the domain of politics while explaining Hindutva. He conceded the same to this reviewer at the time of the release of his next book, The Hindu Way, when he said: “This one is meant for those who wrote after my previous book on Hinduism that I should have written on the faith without getting into politics. I have tried to do that with this book.”

The current book, The Battle of Belonging: On Nationalism, Patriotism and What It Means To Be Indian, unfortunately, suffers from this malaise again. One perfunctory example can be that this 448-page book on nationalism and patriotism makes a reference to Bankim Chandra Chatterjee just once, and that too in a passing manner, to just let the reader know that he was the author of Anandamath! In contrast, Winston Churchill is mentioned three times—the same as Sri Aurobindo—in this book on Indian nationalism and patriotism. Incidentally, the author doesn’t shy away from showing his admiration for Rabindranath Tagore who saw nationalism as “essentially immoral”. “I am not against this nation or that nation, but against the idea of the nation itself,” Tagore would say bluntly. Ironically, this ardent critic of nationalism ended up being the author of the national anthems of two nation-states—India and Bangladesh—and was in some way the inspiration behind a third one in Sri Lanka!

Apart from his political compulsions, a part of the problem is the book’s overreliance on the Western framework of nationalism. It needs to be understood that unlike in the West, nationalism—just like religion—is a unifying force in India. The problem began when a concerted attempt was put soon after Independence to institutionalise a perverted form of secularism which had nothing but distrust for Hinduism and the Hindu way of life. Nationalism, as per this skewed ideological vision, was Hindu in nature as the imagery of Bharat Mata would suggest.

While reading the book, one gets the feeling that the author takes a certain posturing despite knowing both sides of the story. For instance, Tharoor mentions Tipu Sultan’s “depredations against the Nairs” of Kerala by bringing out quite lucidly his own family story where the paternal side of the family was believed to be involved in inviting the tyrant of Mysore while the maternal side suffered immensely at the Sultan’s army. “It is entirely possible that I am descended from two Palakkad families, one of whom invited Tipu Sultan to attack Palakkad and the other who lost their fortune out of fear of his attack,” Tharoor writes. So what’s his remedy? Forget the past atrocities! And to bolster his claim, he reminds how France “could never have become a united nation if people had not been willing to forget historical atrocities like the massacres of the Midi”.

Forgiveness is the way out, not forgetfulness. No sane person will vouch for vengeance but that doesn’t give a person the right to deny the very fact of being persecuted in the past. Tharoor seems to push for amnesia, and that too selective. He won’t mind the Maratha atrocities in Bengal and Rajasthan to be uncensored or, for that matter, the so-called Hindu persecution of Buddhists in ancient times, but has a problem with Muslim atrocities in medieval times and, to counter them, dig out selective, often half-baked, cases of Muslim benevolence. The issue that Tharoor and his ilk forget is it backfires both ways: it gives wings to the “Hindus under threat” argument, as it happened in the 1980s, to Rajiv Gandhi’s discomfort, when Indians, to use Sir Vidia Naipaul’s words, were “becoming alive to their history”. This “new historical awakening”, which coincided with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, was a reaction to the Congress’ lopsided secularism, which, according to sociologist T.N. Madan, “is the dream of a minority which wants to shape the majority in its own image” and which “stigmatises the majority as primordially oriented”. And second, it does a disservice to the minuscule but genuinely secular section in the minority community by leaving them unprotected when there should have been a concerted attempt to promote such progressive elements.

No sane person can support the destruction of a historical/religious place to avenge the past. For, an eye for an eye, as Mahatma Gandhi would say, would make the world blind. But that doesn’t mean one should turn a blind eye to what happened in the past. After all, the acceptance of violence, persecution is the first genuine step towards reconciliation.

Tharoor often quotes George Orwell to say that “every nationalist is haunted by the belief that the past can be altered”. It’s truly an Orwellian world we live in. Here Mohammed Ali Jinnah is defended. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar is abhorred. And Babasaheb Ambedkar is worshipped. The three political leaders believed in the two-nation theory. Yet, they get different treatment despite holding a similar view on Islam and the idea of Pakistan.

But, on a more serious note, what is history if it’s not “what the historian makes”, as Edward Hallett Carr writes in his epochal book, What is History? In fact, history is what an eminent historian famously wrote: “The past which a historian studies is not a dead past, but a past which in some sense is still living in the present.” So, to blame a particular dispensation for “rewriting the past in the service of nationalism” is flawed and unhistorical. Tharoor can refer to the book, Political Violence in Ancient India, by Upinder Singh, by no means a Hindutva historian, to know how the Nehruvian dispensation tried creating an aura around Asoka to forward the nationalist cause!

The Battle of Belonging, like all other books by the author, despite a series of failings, remains a must-read for the sheer brilliance of Tharoor as a writer and also because of the personal stories and anecdotes he has up his sleeve. Whether it’s his own story of how he was eligible for a British passport but not entry permit into the UK and how he refused to let go of his Indian passport, to the saga of former UN colleague Ansar Hussain Khan, author of the polemical The Rediscovery of India, who gave up his Pakistani citizenship to be an Indian but died quite tragically soon after he pulled out a gun and shot his wife dead. His family account—whether of the past when the tyrant Tipu attacked Kerala or in the present vis-à-vis his sons, Kanishk and Ishaan—in the book shows how much Tharoor has to offer. Alas, as in the past, Tharoor the politician invariably trips Tharoor the intellectual.

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Book Beat

‘The Law of Emergency Powers: Comparative Common Law Perspectives’ by Dr. Abhishek Singhvi, Prof. Khagesh Gautam to launch tomorrow

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The Law of Emergency Powers: Comparative Common Law Perspectives

Hon’ble Mr. Justice N.V. Ramanna  will be launching the book titled “The Law of Emergency Powers: Comparative Common Law Perspectives written by Dr. Abhishek Singhvi and Prof. Khagesh Gautam on 23rd January, 2021, i.e tomorrow. Published by Springer, the book will be launched virtually at 4:30 PM tomorrow. Hon’ble Mr. Justice Surya Kant, Hon’ble Mr. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hon’ble Dr. Justice D. Y. Chandrachud of the Supreme Court will speak as guests of honor at the event.

The Law of Emergency Powers: Comparative Common Law Perspectives presents a comprehensive legal and constitutional study of emergency powers from a comparative common law perspective. The book explores in detail various emergency powers, statutory and common law, constitutional and statutory law, martial law and military acting-in-aid of civil authority, wartime and peacetime invocations, and several related and vital themes like judicial review of emergency powers. It is a comparative study on the three jurisdictions which consist of the pure implied common law model (employed by the UK), implied constitutional model (employed by the USA) and the explicit constitutional model (employed by India).

The book also covers the various positions on external emergencies as opposed to internal emergencies, economic/financial emergencies, and emergent inroads being made into state autonomy by the central or federal governments, through use of powers like Article 356 of the Indian Constitution.

The book has been endorsed by many eminent scholars and jurists including Professor Philip Allott, Professor Emeritus of International Public Law, Cambridge University, UK; Professor (Dr). Upendra Baxi, Professor of Law, Jindal Global Law School, O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India; Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Warwick, Coventry, U.K.; Former Vice Chancellor, University of Delhi, India, Professor Sital Kalantry, Clinical Professor of Law & Faculty Director, Cornell India Law Center, Cornell Law School, USA, Justice R.C. Lahoti, Former Chief Justice of India, Justice R.M. Lodha, Former Chief Justice of India, Professor (Dr.) Stephen P. Marks, François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of Health and Human Rights, Harvard University, Cambridge, U.S.A.; Member, Committee on Human Rights in Times of Emergency, International Law Association, Professor (Dr.) Nathaniel Persily, James B. McClatchy, Professor of Law, Stanford Law School, Stanford University, USA, Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, Former Chief Justice of India and Professor David B. Wilkins, Lester Kissel Professor of Law, Vice Dean for Global Initiatives on the Legal Profession & Faculty Director of the Center on the Legal Profession, Harvard Law School, Harvard University, USA.

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A deep dive into the science of Indian cooking

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Why is a teabag used while cooking chana masala? Why should tamarind be stored in a stainless-steel vessel instead of an aluminium one? How is frying onions related to the Maillard reaction? Krish Ashok answers these questions and more in his book, Masala Lab (Penguin), which intends to explain the science of Indian cooking methods and provide a comprehensive counternarrative to the often overly exoticised or romanticised recipes for Indian cuisines.

In an interview with The Daily Guardian, Krish Ashok shares what led him to write the book and whether cooking is more of an art or a craft. Excerpts:

Q: How did you conceptualise Masala Lab? What inspired you to write the book?

A: I had been thinking about it for a long time. It interested me, especially as an engineer. I have always felt that there has been no proper documentation for the science behind Indian cooking—which is required. Recipe writing usually only focuses on unimportant things. It never tells you why you need to do what you need to do. It poses cooking as all art or something which comes innately.

I was also inspired by this trend in the West which reduced cooking to the science of it and people like Harold McGee. It lets people be more inventive with cooking. So, I wanted to create something like the first user manual for Indian cooking, targeting beginners. Moreover, the pandemic brought the right time for this as more people stepped into their kitchens for the first time.

Q: Is cooking really all science and no intuition?

A: Yes. But I’m talking about the chore of cooking—done two to three times a day, especially by a vast majority of women. When you are cooking to eat, not living to cook, it is not an art. It is a constrained, high-pressure and laborious task. Home cooking is more of a craft than an art, unambiguous and scientific. It needs to be done in the most efficient manner. Of course, more high-end cooking, like those spectacular dishes at a Michelin star restaurant with a lot of visual appeal, is definitely more of an art.

Q: What, in your opinion, then makes for good cooking?

A: You can describe a “good cook” in terms of statistics like a “good cricketer”, but good cooking is something deeply personal and driven by nostalgia. It also has to do with what you grew up eating and what sort of ingredients you had access to. For instance, my mother cannot stand the smell of mustard oil, but it is essential to someone cooking in Bihar and Bengal. So, food and flavour and nostalgia are tied together. There is the larger element of nutritional value and other objective parameters for “good food”, like a balanced mix of flavours and textures and visual appeal, but, ultimately, the perception of good cooking is deeply personal.

Q: Does your emphasis on putting down the science of cooking have to do with the recent rise in pseudoscience and fake facts?

A: Yes, very much so. Our grandmothers’ techniques are way more scientific than what one reads on the Internet today. That is the reason why they still work. But we need to use modern science to verify and validate traditional knowledge and methods now. Unfortunately, false and often contradictory information spreads faster—which is no help for beginners. For instance, it is a common misconception that carrots and tomatoes eaten raw in salads are healthier. But actually, they are richer in nutrition when cooked.

Q: Was there a period of intense research before writing the book or was this more of putting down whatever you have learnt in the kitchen so far in life?

A: No, these all come from my notes which go back several years. For instance, I would make chapattis with 80% hydration and note down the results and do something differently and compare it the next day. However, the challenge was about how to organise all that in the book—what to pick and what to leave out. And my editor instructed me to explain things as if I was speaking to someone who had never paid attention in science classes. So, I had to write about things which are useful and observable, instead of gratuitous explanations for the sake of science. So, writing the book was also an exercise in restraint.

Q: Was there anything more you wanted to add to the book?

A: In an ideal world, I would have liked this to be a hardcover, full-colour, 500-page manual—like a basic encyclopaedia of Indian food science.

Q: Do you see Masala Lab being turned into a TV/web series? For instance, Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat tried something similar, explaining the elements of cooking, and it went on to become a popular show.

A: Yes, and there are discussions underway regarding something like that.

Q: You have also mentioned speaking to chefs in restaurants to learn about their cooking methods. What have been the most valuable lessons learnt so far?

A: There is much to learn about maintaining consistency in taste and speed, especially from low-end or mid-tier restaurants, which are incentivised to put out food faster and keep costs low. They do things in a more industrialised manner, for instance, combining pre-cooked ingredients and base gravies before serving a dish. This is why they are able to serve dal makhani in ten minutes, whereas it takes two hours to make it at home. For instance, their bhindi masala turns out tastier because they fry the bhindi and masala separately at certain temperatures which allows for the Maillard reaction. The same does not happen with homecooked one-pot bhindi masala. Another thing I have seen in restaurants outside India is the process of brining meats instead of marinating them. Marinades do not penetrate the meat, but salt does, through osmosis, which lets the muscle tissue absorb all the salt and makes the chicken softer and taste better. So, from an algorithmic point of view, restaurant cooking can teach home cooks a few things. I have put some of those modular approaches down in Chapter 7 of the book.

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An unmissable love story set in Mughal times

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The Romance of Roopmati and Baz Bahadur

Malathi Ramachandran

Niyogi Books, Rs 395

Mandu is a perfect set up of historical tale and fiction as perceived by author Malathi Ramachandran. The book is a glimmering imagination and magnificence materialised on paper. As an author, Malathi has been successful in portraying the historical city of Mandu—situated in the Malwa region—with all its grandeur and lifestyle. The architecture of forts, the greenery of the city, river Narmada, and the background of the story have been very well described in the book.

Set in 16th century India, this novel is inspired by the legend of the young sultan, Baz Bahadur, and the beautiful peasant girl, Roopmati, who works as musicians in his court. Her passion for music attracts Baz Bahadur and he falls in love with her, going against the will of his mother and wife. But, far away, in Agra, Mughal emperor Akbar is planning his war campaigns and Mandu has been pinned on his map as a kingdom to be captured.

Will Baz be able to protect his capital, and more importantly, the woman he loves, from the enemy forces? 

The author has beautifully painted this love story and brought famous Indian folk tales to life, as well as the independent character of Roopmati. Baz Bahadur and Roopmati’s romance stands the test of time and enemies abound, and that’s quite interesting and inspiring.

With this book, Malathi has delivered a masterpiece. The author has swirled various colours and tinges of love, romance, exuberance and shadiness attached to it without any cease. Roopmati’s passion and aura made Baz Bahadur think out of his wits. Overcoming all the plots of jealousy, revenge and regret, they come out strong in the most unexpected of ways especially when Akbar is also pacified with Roopmati’s talent.

The author has done a great job in character development of both the protagonist. Roopmati and Baz Bahadur and their twisted tale of romance made the plot intriguing enough to let the readers look for more. The story has been very well laid out with events unfolding in line with the plot. It is well paced and there is no rush. The language of the book is lucid and simple. The cover of the book is equally beautiful.

Malathi Ramachandran.

There were some parts that could’ve been detailed better. There is, for instance, a mention of a dwarf and a eunuch; the description seems to be very stereotypical. But it’s a lacuna that can—and should—be ignored for the otherwise gem of a book The Romance of Roopmati and Baz Bahadur is. With prose as stunning as the story itself, the author paints an epoch often told but scarcely written in detail. Highly recommended for historical, love and fictional story lovers.

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Nehru and the Netaji mystery

What Jawaharlal Nehru knew about Subhas Chandra Bose’s disappearance and death.

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1. DID NEHRU KNOW MORE THAN WHAT’S KNOWN TO US?

The answer to this question is an unequivocal and resounding ‘Yes!’ Nehru certainly knew more than he let on. It explains his great reluctance for there to be a public inquiry into Bose’s disappearance as also his stubborn insistence that Bose was dead, having died in the alleged air crash that happened in Taipei. Not only did he know more than he let on, he knew perfectly well that there had been no air crash in Taipei. It was for this reason that he forbade the Shah Nawaz Commission from travelling to Taiwan on the specious ground that this could affect relations with China. 

2. DID NEHRU HAVE SOMETHING TO HIDE? 

It is also clear now with the benefit of hindsight that Nehru and the Congress government was hiding something. It was moreover not something inconsequential that he was hiding, but a powerful secret the disclosure of which would have major international consequences. The question really should be: was Nehru hiding things in general public interest or in his own interest. We will attempt to answer this question just a little ahead but there can be little doubt that Nehru had things to hide, whatever may have been his motivations.

This wasn’t the case of an odd misplaced file, where it may have been possible to give the government the benefit of the doubt. There were hundreds of files on Bose that were available that should have been made available to the committee and commissions that inquired into his death or disappearance. Nehru himself could not have been ignorant of the existence of all these Netaji related files, but deliberately played dumb. One question that arises is: why weren’t at least a few files made available to the Shah Nawaz Committee for form’s sake, if nothing else? Most if not all material within was in any case harmless. There can be only one explanation: the prime minister’s paranoia. Just to be on the very safe side, it was decided not to give any file at all. The stakes for the Nehru were simply too high. Who knows how some wrong paper might get inserted into a file? 

3. WAS NEHRU WORRIED THAT TRUTH ABOUT BOSE WOULD COME OUT?

Yes, without any doubt Nehru was extremely worried revelations concerning Bose could come to the surface. One of the main fears that played in his mind was that the truth would somehow become known that there had been no air crash in Taipei—and therefore Bose could not conceivably have died there.

Once this truth was known there would automatically be a powerful seed of doubt planted in the public’s mind: had Nehru known that there was no air crash all the while? The public would then ask a further question: what else had Nehru known? Even if he pleaded ignorance, the doubt would persist, and there would be enormous pressure on the prime minister to uncover the entire truth and disclose it to the public. What is the basis on which can we conclude that Nehru was worried about certain revelations coming to the surface? Two things confirm Nehru’s fears. Firstly, as already stated, the intriguing fact that hundreds of files existed in central government archives but these were never made available to the Shah Nawaz Committee. What was the purpose behind secreting these files away from the scrutiny of the Committee if it was not fear of certain revelations? Secondly, not only did the government not produce Bose related files before the Committee, ostensibly under Nehru’s instructions, it was also worried that some information concerning Bose could come via the post and therefore ordered the interception of all mail to his relatives in Calcutta. It is now a matter of historical record that the Jawaharlal Nehru government spied on the relatives of Subhash Chandra Bose for nearly two decades. It is clear that this was not accidental but a deliberate act on the part of the government. The spying wasn’t confined to watching the activities of the Bose family. As reported in the press, Intelligence Bureau (IB) ‘sleuths intercepted and copied letters written by the Bose family and even trailed them on foreign tours.’

When the facts around this existence of this extensive and prolonged surveillance came to light, the family members of Bose and lovers of Netaji took out a rally condemning the snooping carried out by successive Congress governments. The rally was attended by over a hundred people. 

The question arises: was Nehru worried for himself, and his own political future? Or was it the case that he was genuinely worried for India’s relations with certain countries, notably Russia and the UK were some facts come to light. What were those facts? 

4. DID NEHRU FEEL ‘GUILTY’ ABOUT SOMETHING? 

Nehru knew that there had been no air crash in Taipei. He also knew that Bose had therefore never died in the air crash. He felt guilty for hiding this information from the general public, even though he hid this information based on his perception of where Indian interests lay.

Nehru kept Bose’s family under surveillance for decades. The fear that the truth about Bose would somehow come to light haunted him so much that he even set the Indian Embassy to spy on Bose’s nephew while he was travelling in Japan.

Tailing the Bose family and intercepting their mail was one thing but information has now leaked that Nehru asked for a report as to whether a nephew of Bose had visited the Renkoji temple where Bose’s ashes were stored. Journalist Swapan Dasgupta naively considers that a possibility could have been that ‘Nehru’s curiosity could well have been genuine and not governed by anything sinister.’ Curiosity? Yes, but what about? Curiosity about whether a certain nephew revered his uncle sufficiently to have visited the shrine where his ashes were kept? Or was it concern and fear that the nephew would somehow discover the truth that the ashes kept in the temple did not belong to his uncle Subhash Bose? Why would Nehru even bother with the movements of a stray Bose nephew in Japan? Come to think of it, why should Nehru even be aware that a Bose nephew was visiting Japan? Ah, but they had mounted that surveillance on the Bose family. So much for Harvard professor and Nehru apologist Sugata Bose’s argument that that in the absence of conclusive proof that Nehru ordered surveillance he would be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. If Nehru went to so far as to enquire as to whether the Bose nephew went to the Temple, he had certainly something to hide—a terrible, dark secret.

No, the argument that it was innocent and idle curiosity doesn’t really wash. If it were an ex-lover one could be interested in knowing his or her movements. A nephew?! Not even Bose’s wife or daughter – that at least could have been remotely if not properly credible. If Nehru knew that Bose never died in an air crash did he also know where it was that Bose went? Let me go a step further here now. Yes, Nehru knew very well that Subhash had gone to the Soviet Union via Manchuria and had thereafter met with the Soviet leadership.

Nehru concealed this information from the Indian public. He felt guilty for concealing both these important pieces of information, and he also worried what the consequences would be for him, were the truth to surface.

This was the real reason the Intelligence Bureau had been intercepting all letters to the Bose family for decades? The government of the day was worried about the possibility of a letter being smuggled out of the Soviet Union by Bose or someone known to him revealing how Subhash Bose had entered the Soviet Union and met with the top Soviet leadership. That revelation would really have set the cat among the pigeons, as the English expression goes. 

5. DID NEHRU BENEFIT IN ANY WAY FROM BOSE’S DISAPPEARANCE?

Bose’s appearance in India would have certainly been inconvenient for Nehru for his position as prime minister would have immediately come under threat and his own image-building exercise would have come to a halt. The numero uno in Indian politics was Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru became prime minister courtesy Gandhi the kingmaker who asked an unhappy but obedient Sardar Patel to step aside and make room for his blue-eyed Kashmiri boy. Unlike Nehru, widely seen as Gandhi’s protégé, Bose had an independent stature, position and claim to the crown.

The benefit was clearly there. This is the reason why Bose lovers and Nehru haters put forward the argument that Nehru conspired with Stalin to keep Bose in custody till he eventually died. 

Nehru may have genuinely believed that the release of Subhash soon after independence would muddy the waters for his leadership to oversee the peaceful transition to socialism. Subhas Bose’s release, he may have worried, could possibly destabilise newly independent India’s relations with the British, which was not the best thing to happen—given the effort he and Gandhi had put into making sure that this did not happen.

Nehru may well have benefited politically from Subhash Bose’s disappearance, but this was happenstance and did not mean that he personally did anything to make sure that Bose did not reappear

Excerpt from the book ‘The Vanishing of Subhash Bose’ (published by Kalpaz Publications).

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BOOKS TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEK

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THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA

Fali S. Nariman

Penguin, Rs 699

On 26 January 1950, the Republic of India came into being with the adoption of a newly written constitution that laid down the supreme law of the land. One of the world’s longest and most important political texts, The Constitution of India signalled the arrival of the world largest democracy. At its enactment, it had 395 articles in 22 parts and 8 schedules and it has been amended 104 times in the seventy years of its being. With a comprehensive introduction by Fali S. Nariman, this classic edition accessibly presents independent India’s most important text.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND THE FUTURE OF POWER: 5 BATTLEGROUNDS

Rajiv Malhotra

Rupa Publications, Rs 795

Artificial Intelligence is only partially visible, just like an iceberg. We must look beneath the surface. The positive side is that technology is making machines smarter. However, the book shows that AI is also making people cognitively and psychologically dependent on digital networks. This book argues that this AI-driven revolution will have an unequal impact on different segments of humanity. It educates the social segments most at risk and wants them to demand a seat at the table where policies on AI are being formulated.

MYRIAD OF PERSONAS: ONE GIRL, SOME NARRATIVES, MANY LESSONS

Vandita Mishra

Notion Press, Rs 225

Unhappy with her life after the wedding, the narrator Tanya embarks upon a journey to meet many other women to learn more about womanhood. Some stories are heart-wrenching while others are more relatable. After having met these women ranging from the one who has been trafficked for prostitution to the other who has married an IAS officer, the narrator is still unable to find her own answer. Then she meets her grandmother, discusses her own life issues after which she is able to understand womanhood better.

YES MAN: THE UNTOLD STORY OF RANA KAPOOR

Pavan C. Lall

HarperCollins, Rs 499

‘Yes Man’ is the story of Rana Kapoor, the rise and fall of one of India’s most promising bankers and his Icarus-like flight that eventually led to the Yes Bank crisis. From starting out as a junior employee at Bank of America to leading a bank worth billions, Kapoor’s rise and fall is a case study in ambition, greed and deceit. In this hard-hitting book, Pavan C. Lall details not only Rana Kapoor’s journey, but also asks tough questions about the banking system, its regulators and even the business environment that led to a point of no return for Yes Bank.

DESIGN YOUR THINKING

Pavan Soni

Penguin, Rs 599

Creative problem-solving is at the heart of innovation, and some of the world’s most innovative companies are very systematic in following this approach. Most people would assume that creativity and discipline can’t coexist and that only when resources are replete and the talent best-in-class can one be creative. Creativity thrives amid constraints and calls for great discipline. This book attempts to offer a practitioner’s perspective on how the tenets, methods and discipline of design thinking can be applied across a range of domains, and help us become expert problem-solvers.

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We Indians are a rebellious race, so dharma works for us: Amish

Amish and Bhavna Roy talk about their new book, decoding the epics to help us lead a meaningful life, and how dharmic religions treat human beings like adults.

Utpal Kumar

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In their new book, Dharma: Decoding the Epics for a Meaningful Life, Amish and Bhavna Roy explore the idea of dharma and its interplay with karma, love and sacrifice. The authors explain how dharma lets us make our own choices and live with the consequences, adding that “dharmic religions treat human beings like adults.” In a freewheeling interview with The Daily Guardian, Amish and Bhavna Roy tell us more about the book, how our epics can help us lead a meaningful life, and why idol-worshipping cultures are innately liberal. Excerpts:

Q. How did the idea of writing this book come to you?

Bhavna Roy (BR): The project started around 2013-14. By that time, my brother Amish’s three books had been released. We are a talkative family and every dinner table conversation begins at philosophy and ends, nine out of ten times, at philosophy. One evening while talking about Amish’s stories and the philosophies behind them, we started discussing idol worship. At that time, Anish (another brother) suggested we write a book on the philosophical basis of idol worship. I wrote around 20 pages and forwarded them to Amish, who transformed those 20 pages with his magical touch. He turned the initial thinking of mine into conversations, vibrant and exciting. He sent them back to me, and this exchange and counter-exchange happened for some time. Then it went into cold storage for four or five years. During the lockdown, Amish showed his desire to restart the project, and here we are with this new book.

Q How was your experience of working with Amish, the celebrity author?

BR: Honestly, it was as smooth as butter. We were on the same page. There were times we disagreed on something, but we would talk and sort them out. We have a good working relationship. When he forms the structure, I add flesh and mass to it—and vice-versa. It was a lot of fun.

Q. This book deals with different aspects of dharma, a very complicated subject otherwise. You mention the dharma of Bhishma, Karna and Kumbhakarna; they all were pursuing their dharma and yet not doing the right thing. So, what is dharma, after all?

Amish (A): It is complicated. The philosophy at the heart of the Indic religions—be it Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism or Sikhism—is dharma. There is another approach, which is the commandment way, in which you are told that, if you do things in a certain way, you will go to heaven, and if you don’t, then you’ll go to hell. I’m not saying one way is better/worse or right/wrong than the other. They’re just two different ways. But one approach treats human beings as children who have to be constantly guided and the other approach, which is the approach of the Indic religions, treats human beings like adults. Dharma essentially tells you about the options, the philosophies. It lets you make your choices and live with the consequences. So, there is no one to blame, whether God or parents, as it’s all about individual choices. All decisions, positive or negative, are made by that particular individual, which means that we are treated like adults. We Indians are naturally more comfortable with being treated like adults. We are a rebellious race, so dharma works for us.

Now, if we›re being treated like adults, then the keyword that comes in addition to dharma is “vivek”. Like dharma, this is also an untranslatable word. It means the ability to distinguish, the ability to be wise, and the ability to see the context in a situation, because only when you understand these things, you will make a mindful decision. Whatever decision you may take, there can be positive and negative results. It’s the nature of life. So, dharma is something that will need constant exploration; there is no simple list of dos and don’ts. You can say ahimsa is good but it depends on the context. For ordinary citizens, ahimsa is good, but for a soldier on the border, hinsa is also dharma at times. Is respect good? Again, it depends on the context. If someone is worthy of respect, you must treat him with respect. If someone is not worthy of respect, you should still speak with him politely, but you should do what you think is right. Even if a person is older and if he’s demanding something adharmic, then you must refuse. The story of Bhishma Pitamaha is a perfect example.

Q. At one point in the book, there is a discussion around Gandhari’s sacrifice and dharma. Her sacrifice is called the blind sacrifice, whereas Bhishma’s sacrifice is called an act of self-indulgence. Can you explain?

BR: For a moment, let’s counterfactually imagine that Gandhari maa had not decided to blindfold herself. Then what would have happened? A dharmic woman, dutiful wife and loving mother, she would have been able to better advise her husband who was born blind and better guide her son. She would have been able to advise her sons more intelligently, with more discernment and vivek. But she chose to sacrifice; she chose to blindfold herself to her husband’s overarching ambitions, her son’s all-encompassing envy, anger, and wrongdoing. Had Bhishma Pitamah not chosen to submit himself to his father’s desire to get married again, he would have been a very good king, an excellent husband and a fantastic father. Having chosen to do what he did, was this the best that he did? I really don’t think so.

Q. Bhishma’s sacrifice is invariably projected in a glowing light. But your book opens a new perspective to this. Tell us more.

A: The key point in the field of dharma is that if you’re selfish, then you cannot be close to dharma. But even if you’re self-sacrificing, it should not be for projecting your individual ego. You have to see the consequences of your actions on those around you. If Bhishma had been honest with himself, he would not have ignored the fact that he would make a very good king and a king’s duty in the Indian way was not to himself, it was to his people. For example, in the Middle East and the West, all public land was owned by the king, but in India it was not the case. A king’s duties are to his people, he exists to make sure that his people are served better. So, the question is: Did Bhishma actually hurt his people by not taking up the responsibility of becoming a king? Then was that sacrifice dharma, because others got hurt? Maybe the Mahabharat war itself, as we have discussed in the book, would not have happened had he become the king. All of us are blessed with a talent, and it’s our duty to find it and then be good at it and use it for the good of the community. That is dharma.

Q. The book has come at the time of a pandemic. Lots of people have died and you had a difficult time personally as well. How did you deal with it?

A: I always believe that it’s not the grief that paralyses you; it’s your inability to handle the grief that paralyses you. Yes, of course, it has been a difficult phase. One can say the glass is half empty. One can also say the glass is half full. As I face my personal grief, I am also aware of many other people facing far more difficult situations. I look at the lives of Arjun and Karna to know how I should react to difficult situations. Karna constantly keeps looking at how life has been unfair to him and resents it. Arjun, on the other hand, looks at where life has been more than fair to him and is grateful for that. All of us have Karna and Arjun inside us, all of us have things which we can be resentful of and things we can be grateful for. So, am I missing my family? Terribly, of course. I’m alone in a cold, different, alien city. I can be resentful about this. But I can be grateful for some things: I’ve made friends here, I’m having a new experience. As we explained in the book, it’s only Arjun who can defeat your Karna, it’s only your gratefulness for the things that you have been blessed with, which can blot out the time when life has been unfair to you.

Q. You have interesting characters in the book like Karna, Goddess Kali, Ravan and Lord Ganesh. They all have their own share of problems, but they dealt with them so differently.

A: Our life is not defined by the events that happen to us; it is defined by how we react to those events. As I said earlier, everyone faces their share of grief and suffering, but how we react to it defines how our lives will be. If you see the lives of Karna, Ravan, Goddess Kali and Lord Ganesh, it is fair to say they were treated unfairly by life. Ravan reacted with anger, hatred and rage, and he made the situation even worse for himself. Goddess Kali also reacted with rage but there were at least some boundaries that she would not cross. Karna, in his resentment and rage against how the world had been unfair to him, failed to see how much his own karma became negative due to his attachment to Duryodhan; his attachment to Duryodhan was driven by his resentment and anger at how the world had treated him. Lord Ganesh, on the other hand, had every reason to be angry and resentful with life. Till he met his mother, he genuinely believed he’d been abandoned. Life was unfair to him, but he ended up having a positive impact on others. That’s something we can learn from Lord Ganesh. All of us face unfairness in life. It’s up to us to flip that, not to get angry and resentful, but actually give to others what we didn’t receive.

Q. In the book, you deal with the concept of diligence versus negligence. Can you talk more about that?

BR: Diligence is conscious living. It is effortful. It is not easy to be effortful, day after day, minute after minute. It is so much easier to be effortless. The fruit of effortfulness is growth over a period of time. Every day you try to be a little better than you were the day before. How do you do it? Small things like ensuring that you wake up at six o’clock and without exception, today, tomorrow and the day after, that you will not sleep for an extra minute, doing exercise, doing your work; if you do not have work then generating work because there’s value in work. You need to live with rhythm. You have to learn from nature. The sun is just so diligent. Can you imagine waking up one day when the sun forgets to rise? The sun will never forget because it practises diligence. The thing with being a hero is not that you fall, but that you get up every time you fall. When we strive to be heroic, we strive to tap into the divine in us. That is beautiful.

Q. You talked about working on a book about idol worship. What happened to that? Are we going to see that project anytime soon?

BR: The manuscript around idol worship needs some more work, but the basic structure is ready. Hopefully, it will be out soon.

A: We want to explain the beauty of idol worship. We will explain why the concept of idol worship is so beautiful. Over the last 1,500 to 2,000 years, the so-called idol-rejecting cultures went around the world massacring hundreds of millions of people simply because they worshipped idols. Entire civilisations were destroyed. Tons of universities were razed to the ground, countless books were burnt, tens of thousands of temples were destroyed, not just in India, but across the world. Most of the ancient world was idol worshipping. India happens to be among the few that have survived. Interestingly, there are almost no case studies of the idol-worshipping culture massacring others. One needs to ponder over this. There is something innately liberal that gets engendered into you if you worship an idol; it comes almost instinctively. That’s what we want to explain—the beauty of idol worshipping.

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