Sunday, November 11, 2018

Book Review: The Fadnavis Years by Aashish Chandorkar

I have been following Aashish Chandorkar on Twitter (@c_aashish) for a while now. He is a prolific writer on public policy and comes across as someone who is very well-read and extremely witty. So when he announced this book, I knew I had to get my hands on it. I am a huge admirer of and have been tracking & following Devendra Fadnavis’ work since the time he took over as the Chief Minister (CM) of Maharashtra. To be fair, I had not heard of Fadnavis before he became the CM; I am sure there would be many others like me.

The Fadnavis Years is an absolute page-turner of a book; I finished it in almost one sitting. There were many facets of the CM that I came to know about only while reading the book. Aashish’s writing style is easy-to-read, with specific data points thrown in (for the numerically-inclined) coupled with his very witty/sarcastic way of putting across things. This makes the book a great biographical read about the second youngest CM of Maharashtra.
The book takes us through the period from the swearing-in of Fadnavis to the various problems which awaited him to how he went about solving them, equipped with technology, quick decision-making, delegation of powers and monitoring progress via a core group of people known as the ‘War Room’. It ends with a few suggestions on what the CM needs to focus on as we approach the 2019 elections!
Fadnavis took oath as the CM of Maharashtra on 31-Oct-2014 at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and plunged head-long into the political quagmire that awaited him. Today, he is the longest serving non-Congress CM of the state. As is stated in the book, “the brave, positive and pro-merit move by Modi and Shah” of appointing Fadnavis seems to have paid off.
What I did not know and learned from the book was that Fadnavis was a three-time Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). In the 2014 State Elections, the BJP crossed the magic figure of 100 seats for the first time since 1990. This was largely due to the efforts of Fadnavis.
Some of the key initiatives launched/fast-tracked by the CM which the book talks about are: Aaple Sarkar portal, Mumbai Metro, Mumbai Trans Harbour Link, Navi Mumbai airport, Coastal Road, Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway (Samruddhi Corridor), PMRDA, Pune Metro, Pune Ring Road and the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan. I agree with the author when he says “For the first time in many decades, Maharashtra is witnessing such huge and focused investments in changing the urban landscape.” In Mumbai, the rapid pace at which the Metro work is being done is there for all to see.
The Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan has been covered in the media extensively and can be safely said to be Fadnavis’ biggest contribution/legacy. Its success is apparent from the drop in the number of tankers which were deployed in the drought-prone regions from 2016 to 2018. Also, “creating a mass movement out of a government program has been the biggest success of Fadnavis.”
The book also details the investment opportunities Fadnavis brought to the state through his consistent and persistent discussions and the infrastructure provided to industries, including MIHAN SEZ, Aurangabad Industrial City, Amravati Apparel Park, etc.
The book delves into how the politics in Maharashtra has always been intricately linked with control of the agricultural co-operative bodies (district co-operative banks, APMCs and agricultural commodity processing co-operatives, especially in the sugar belt districts), and how Fadnavis went about trying to delink the control one-by-one.
The author gives us a fair sense of the problems/difficulties the CM had to face like the caste protests, farm loan waiver demands, jobs’ reservation stirs, Koregaon Bhima protests, farmers’ long march, etc. According to the author, most the issues stemmed from the fact that “accepting personal irrelevance is never easy in politics”.
Throughout the book, Aashish via several examples, highlights Fadnavis’ vision, foresight, empathy, probity and sense of ownership. He attributes the CM’s success to his gift of the gab, a keen eye for issues of governance and the fact that he is a very social media savvy politician. “The middle class was beginning to like their Chief Minister, who was seen as hardworking in the face of poor odds of succeeding.”
Some of the author’s statements in the book that I really liked:

·         It was the straw which broke the tiger’s back (referring to the effect of the BJP win in Mumbai on the Shiv Sena).
·         Voter expectations often do not wait for an ideal execution environment.
·         As is the wont with the infrastructure projects of Pune, the plan was put on the backburner with deft precision almost immediately.
·         In the presumed-rational world of policy-making, responses to stimuli can be modelled. The control variables behave obediently in social science experiments, while the independent variables determine the course of dependent ones. Real life, however, does not always follow these predictive ones.
·         The wins were pyrrhic, the losses ignoble.
·         It is never easy to manage the individuals who one surpasses to scale a peak, and much more difficult to make them work productively.
·         Merit gets critically assessed every day in politics, surnames stay permanent.
·         Hope is not a strategy, certainly not in politics.

I would heartily recommend the book to anyone wanting to know more about Devendra Fadnavis’ life. It is also a good book for one wanting to know more about politics in Maharashtra. I have one complaint though – I wished the author would have covered more about Fadnavis’ life as an MLA and mayor of Nagpur, which could have given a better background to his ascendancy to the CM position. Maybe he will cover it in his next book, when Fadnavis takes over as the CM of Maharashtra for the second time towards the end of next year!

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Book Review: The Land of the Wilted Rose

Image result for the land of the wilted

Those who follow the author, Anand Ranganathan, on Twitter know he's one of the smartest and wittiest persons around. His erudite views on almost any topic under the sun are impressive. And he's a scientist!

I knew absolutely nothing about this book when I picked it up. The blurb is interesting - it mentions the Indian empire and the small colony of England. The book reimagines colonialism as Indians having taken over England and a few other European countries. It elaborates the insecurities 'white men' go through when they come across 'brown men'; something people in India and other colonies can identify with, I reckon.

The book starts off a little slowly but then it really picks up pace as it takes us through the arrival of a 17-year-old Maharaja in London and how the 'white men' prepare for it. There are some super descriptions of the various outfits worn by the Indians including Kanjivaram silk saris and dhotis and the delicious food including kakori kababs and bhindi nayantara to be washed down with rasams and lassis. It then tells us how Jack Riley, the mayor of Dover, is punished by being posted as the assistant to the district magistrate of Dhobipur, Uttar Pradesh.

Part 2 of the book has some lovely and vivid descriptions of Mumba Devi, Imperial India's largest city and the world's busiest harbour. Jack is impressed at the Mumba Central station whose 'large marble tiles had a few intonations from the Vedas'. As Jack takes the train to Delhi, the capital of the world, he thought the whole landscape seemed 'so well lit for the benefit of the train passengers so that thy could stand open mouthed and marvel at the splendour of the largest metropolis in the world'.

Though the blurb calls it an allegorical work, a black comedy, I would call it an utopian work - a what-if kind of book which lays before us a mirror image of the British colonialism especially over India. I have several questions about how could we let the British rule over us; this book only aggravates them. My only grouse - the book ends quite abruptly. My only hope - it's Book 1 of The White Mahatma quartet, so maybe the other three books will be published soon.

Some quotes/sentences/references that stayed with me:
Evening winds had brushed past a thousand chimes at a temple entrance.
The cruel fate, as happens more often that not, did intervene.
We forever crave for that thrill, that kick that we get when we admire something for the first time.
And all it took was a century and a half of Indian rule.
Thank the mighty lord Jesus Christ their saviour, and those few who had been lured into conversion, Bhagwaan Sri Krishna.
They were just empty barren lands inhabited by savage people who did not know the difference between a stone and a sculpture.

Last but not the least there's a passing reference to Karna (from the Mahabharata). I am fascinated with Karna for a very long time and his mention was just the icing on the cake.

Read this book to get a sense of the view from the other side. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Book Review: One Indian Girl

It is a typical Chetan Bhagat novel – from the viewpoint of a female protagonist. I frankly never understood why people hate Bhagat so much. I felt this book was a light read with a few 'feminist' concepts discussed – career-oriented women, career vs. motherhood, etc. It takes you through NYC, Hong Kong & London with a fair bit of Goa thrown in. It does seem like a movie script but I still felt it is better than most movies these days. This book apparently broke all pre-booking records on Amazon thus reaffirming Bhagat's popularity!

The book's blurb states, “Hi, I am Radhika Mehta and I am getting married this week. I work at Goldman Sachs, an investment bank. Thank you for reading my story. However, let me warn you. You may not like me too much. One, I make a lot of money. Two, I have an opinion on everything. Three, I have had a boyfriend before. Okay, maybe two. Now if I was a guy, you would be okay with all of this. But since I am a girl, these three things don't really make me too likeable, do they?”

It's a story about Radhika and her professional & personal life. She's an ambitious woman who will not stop anything to advance in her career and she's also willing to commit herself to somebody & give the relationship her all. The book is a fast-paced, breezy read with quite a few interesting food for thought. Sample this: Radhika's character thinks to herself, “Why do we need our men to praise and validate us in order for us to feel accomplished?” That's quite true, right? By the way, Radhika keeps talking to herself in her mind throughout the book [I guess so do most of us].

Some thoughts that stuck with me while reading the book – she says sorry to a guy for 'snapping' at him – I wonder how many men would say sorry to a woman for 'snapping'? That's an intrinsically feminine thing, I guess. The book also deals with women's insecurities and asks if women can take compliments. It also talks about a world that has been designed by men where women cannot even rejig office timings, as they want to fly while also have a nest at the same time.

Bhagat also highlights how men mostly seem to have the upper hand in a relationship; when a woman exerts authority/control, she's made to feel guilty & bad about it. Bhagat is qualified to write about women's careers considering he gave up a full-time job more than 10 years ago and is a proud house-husband taking care of his twin sons while his wife works full-time.

There are a whole lot of restaurants that feature in the book including in NYC Harry's Cafe & Steak, Nerai, Whiskey Blue and Dishoom in London.

I am rating this book 3 out of 5 – it's not one of Bhagat's better books (like Five Point Someone or Two States) but it's definitely not as bad as his critics are making it out to be.

I was given a review copy of this book by Rupa Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: My Gita

I have been a big fan of Devdutt Pattanaik's writing and so when My Gita was published, I naturally had to read it. However, the book kind of disappointed me.

The book's blurb states, “In My Gita, acclaimed mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik demystifies the Bhagavad Gita for the contemporary reader. His unique approach – thematic rather than verse-by-verse – makes the ancient treatise eminently accessible, combined as it is with his trademark illustrations and simple diagrams. In a world that seems spellbound by argument over dialogue, vi-vaad over sam-vaad, Devdutt highlights how Krishna nudges Arjuna to understand rather than judge his relationships. This becomes relevant today when we are increasingly indulging and isolating the self (self-improvement, self-actualization, self-realization – even selfies!) We forget that we live in an ecosystem of others, where we can nourish each other with food, love and meaning, even when we fight. So let My Gita inform your Gita.” [The highlight is my emphasis].

The book is divided into 18 chapters with a brief history and introduction of The Gita. I enjoyed reading the introduction more than I did the actual chapters. This talks about the approaches to Hindu history through eight phases – Indus, Vedic, Upanishadic, Buddhist, Puranic, Bhakti, Orientalist and Modern. After this, it mentions the various readings and interpretations of The Gita wherein the first wave involved Sanskrit bhasyas by Vedanta scholars. The second wave involved retellings in regional languages – Devdutt mentions the Gyaneshwara here (which was in the 13th century) as also Dasopant Digambara and Tukaram (in the 17th century). The third wave was translations by Europeans, the fourth wave involved retranslations by Indian nationalists. This was followed by the fifth wave which involved reframing following the end of the two World Wars.

I loved the bits about Karna (I have been besotted with him since The Palace Of Illusions). Karna's circumstances made him an outsider though technically he was an insider. While narrating Karna's story about previous lives, Devdutt chooses to remind us that our story is part of a grand jigsaw puzzle, we are part of a larger narrative.

Throughout each of the chapters, there are several verses mentioned in a paraphrased form which are then elaborated upon by the author. Some of them make interesting reading, some, I felt, were too stretched and made no sense to the theme of the book. Each chapter ends with a small gist. There are, of course, several illustrations throughout the book which seek to take the explanation forward.

The book ends with yet another discourse by Krishna after the conclusion of the Bhagavad Gita. Devdutt says that the yearning for perfection stems from the desire to control and organize the world to our taste, to create a cocoon where everything makes sense to us. The Gita does not aspire for perfection.

To sum up, the book does give an insight into Krishna's discourse to Arjuna before the war. But it also digresses a bit into unrelated topics. I did not enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Jaya (a retelling of the Mahabharata). I am rating it 3 out of 5.

I was given a review copy of this book by Rupa Publications in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Book Review: I Made a Booboo by Shivangi Sharma

Shivangi Sharma's debut book is a hilarious and first-person account of the birth of her child. The book's blurb reads: “Once upon a time there was a woman who used to sleep eight hours a day and laze around on weekends. Her clothes were mostly free of gross body fluids and her bag rarely had biscuit crumbs. Then she decided to have a baby. With books and the internet for friends – and a husband who answered commonsensically – she thought she had it all sorted. But then her baby arrived, and turned everything upside down! The baby made it his mission to present a new surprise every day. Mommy, after fighting hours of helplessness, came to learn that parenting was a lost battle. There was only one way to survive – keep calm, laugh on and write when the baby dozes. The result: I made a Booboo, a rollicking account of the trials, tribulations and occasional triumphs of a first-time mom. P.S: Everyone did live happily ever after (albeit only when the baby willed so).”

The book's chapter titles are funny ranging from “Stork Brings the Baby. Well, Not Exactly” to “Breakfast (and Lunch and Dinner) of Champions” and “His Majesty – the Invincible, the Unrestricted, the Toddler”.

Shivangi starts off by narrating her life before the baby – like any other normal couple's is. But when they learn about the imminent arrival of their first child, their life turns upside now – more the mother's as she adjusts with both the physical and the mental aspects. Shivangi's writing style is matter-of-fact and she doesn't hesitate from discussing even the most basic to the most gross stuff!

The book takes us through her pregnancy to her delivery (albeit with a few false alarms thrown in) and her adjusting to an infant in the house. Anybody who's ever had a baby or been in a house where there's a child can easily identify with most of the points stated in the book.

Shivangi uses dry wit and humour to narrate the trials and tribulations associated with raising a child. Amidst that, she also finds spirituality. As she writes about her son, “He is totally at peace with his existence – not wanting to be at some other place or in some other time. He holds no grudges against anyone. He lives life to the fullest, eats to his heart's content and does what he likes. “ As she points out, there's immense joy that a child finds in the simplest of things. And, as she reminds us, “We are all born like that but then we forget it over the years as we run fast to grow up and reach our respective finishing lines.”

I loved reading the book for the matter-of-fact way in which Shivangi has written without any fancy words or proferring any unwanted advice. I would give this book 3/5.

Note: I was given a review copy of this book by Rupa Publications. Needless to say, the review is independent of the same.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Year 2015 in Books!

So, it's been a really long time that I have updated my blog. I guess I have been too busy reading books to actually take time out and review them. Not that, that's any excuse. So, one of my 2016 New Year Resolutions is definitely to blog more.

I am a regular visitor on Goodreads and, in addition to using it to track the books I have read, also use it to peruse books that interest me, see what others are reading, go through quotes, read up on an author's entire works till date, etc. I am really proud of the fact that I was able to read 50 books this year; the number could obviously have been way higher but guess I will just read more books in 2016 :)

One of the features I really like about this site is the analytics it does. The link given below will give you all the details about the books I have read in 2015 including the total number of pages I have read and the shortest/longest books. 

The Great Gatsby was one of the most popular books I read (2 million people have read it apparently!) My average rating for 2015 was 3.7.

To know which books I read this year, go here:

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Review: The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg

In The Power Of Habit – Why we do what we do and how to change – author Charles Duhigg takes us into the thrilling and surprising world of the scientific study of habits. The book is an eye-opener into how habits change lives both of individuals and corporates. Though all of us know how difficult it is to form good habits and get rid of bad habits, this book made for some very interesting reading. A few examples of what I found fascinating throughout the book follow.

In one example of a man who had lost parts of his memory, one of the doctors makes a beautiful comment, “I saw how rich life can be even if you can't remember it. The brain has this amazing ability to find happiness even when the memories of it are gone.”

Keystone habits” matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. They can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything. While discussing these habits, the book talks about how they help explain how Michael Phelps became an Olympic champion and how Alcoa became one of the best performing stocks in the Dow Jones index, while also becoming one of the safest places on earth.

Duhigg states how routines are habits which we do without thinking. Habits create cultures where new values become ingrained. Small wins help create widespread changes, for example, keeping a food journal helps monitor one's diet leading to better health.

The book also highlights the power of social peer pressure in leading to worldwide movements. Most movements happen because of strong ties of friendship and weak ties of peer pressure giving protestors a new sense of self identities. A wonderful example is the protests against the race issues in the USA.

Another piece of discussion that I found interesting was the one on sleepwalking. Mark Mahowald, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota and a pioneer in understanding sleep behaviours says, “Sleepwalking is a reminder that wake and sleep are not mutually exclusive.” There's also an interesting study conducted by a cognitive neuroscientist Reza Habib where he was particularly interested in looking at the brain systems involved in habits and addictions.

There's a fascinating piece of information on William James whose 1892 quote, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits.” features in the prologue. James spent 12 months believing he had control over himself and his destiny, that he could become better, that he had the free will to change. He later wrote that the will to believe is the most important ingredient in creating belief in change. And that one of the most important methods for creating that belief was habits.

Duhigg offers a four-stage plan to form or reshape habits. Identify the routine, Experiment with rewards, Isolate the cue and Have a plan. As the author says, Once you know a habit exists, you have the responsibility to change it.

I hope now that I have read the book I will be able to at least change a few of my habits and, thus, change my life as many of the people mentioned in the book have done.