Shivaji Park: Dadar 28: History, Places, People by Shanta Gokhale

A

Shivaji Park: Dadar 28: History, Places, People by Shanta Gokhale

Published by: Speaking Tiger

Non Fiction, 169p

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary:

One of the earliest planned neighbourhoods of Bombay, Shivaji Park in Dadar was conceived in order to decongest the mega city’s residential and commercial centre after the plague epidemic of 1896. With its massive playground named after the Maratha warrior king, gorgeous Art Deco buildings and the great Arabian Sea beyond, Shivaji Park was a coveted residential area long before Bandra and Juhu.

In this little gem of a biography, Shanta Gokhale, author, cultural critic and longtime resident of the area, brings together key events and individuals to create a matchless portrait of the neighbourhood. Through her conversations with friends and neighbours, she relives the thrill and novelty of moving from congested chawls to flats that ensured privacy and the unheard-of luxury of piped gas back in the 1930s.

She recalls the politically charged decades of the 1950s and ’60s, when P.K. Atre’s voice reverberated through the grounds of Shivaji Park during the United Maharashtra Movement and Bal Thackeray launched the Shiv Sena. She also writes of the illustrious people who have contributed to the cultural fabric of Shivaji Park: the freedom fighter Senapati Bapat; town planner N.V. Modak; classical musician Sharadchandra Arolkar; veteran actress Sulabha Deshpande; and cricketers Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, among others.

The designated playground of the neighbourhood, she argues, is also one of the city’s most democratic spaces where hundreds walk every morning and evening in the shade of tall and gracious trees; where people young and old gather around the ‘katta’ to talk politics or share a moment of love. And even as she celebrates the grace and spirit of Shivaji Park, Gokhale also notes how, despite the best efforts of its residents, the area is threatened by rampant redevelopment, and how the sense of community that has always defined it is slowly eroding.

About the author:

Shanta Gokhale is a newspaper columnist, writer, translator, theatre critic, screenplay writer, and part actor. She has received two Indian National Film Awards for her documentary scripts, two Maharashtra state awards for literary creation for her novels, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award 2015 (for her overall contribution/scholarship for performing arts and the Ooty Literary Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.

My Review*

*Thank you Speaking Tiger for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Shivaji Park by Shanta Gokhale is a delight to read that takes readers to the many stories revolving around Mumbai’s best known landmark. The first chapter traces the origin of the neighbourhood around Shivaji Park after the plague epidemic in 1896- 97 that eerily mentions about people running away from quarantine and poor people moving away. What an uncanny co-incidence that I would pick this book at this time of Covid related anxieties!

Why would a neighbourhood park be deserving of a book, one may well ask. But then Shivaji Park is not a regular park but one that is attached to political journeys, a part of cricket history and many other well-known luminaries who lived/lives in its immediate neighbourhood. Shanta Gokhale’s writing is intimate, is full of insights and never loses its way in reminiscing about the past leaving the reader in you enthralled in the way she reveals one layer here, another there: from the architecture of heritage buildings, to the shift of life in Chawls giving way to apartments, the social practice of putting in a separate door for sweepers, the mix and match of cultures and people. It is a sort of dual testimony: a personal and political one for Shanta Gokhale explores the neighbourhood’s earliest residents and traces its ties to the political movements in 1950s and 1960s, including the United Maharashtra Movement and the launching of the Shiv Sena.

I found it a fascinating read and must say, it made me feel like I knew Shivaji Park just a bit better after reading this book. This is extremely readable and is the classic insider’s version of a public place, seeing as it is that the author has lived for decades in the neighbourhood around Shivaji Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Life: A Doctor’s Story of Love and Loss by Rachel Clarke

Proof

Dear Life: A Doctor’s Story of Love and Loss by Rachel Clarke

Published by: Little Brown UK

Non Fiction, 336p

Rating: 4.50/5 stars

Book summary

‘What a remarkable book this is; tender, funny, brave, heartfelt, radiant with love and life. It brought me often to laughter and – several times – to tears. It sings with joy and kindness’ Robert Macfarlane

From the Sunday Times bestselling author of Your Life in My Hands comes this vibrant, tender and deeply personal memoir that finds light and love in the darkest of places.

As a specialist in palliative medicine, Dr Rachel Clarke chooses to inhabit a place many people would find too tragic to contemplate. Every day she tries to bring care and comfort to those reaching the end of their lives and to help make dying more bearable. Rachel’s training was put to the test in 2017 when her beloved GP father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She learned that nothing – even the best palliative care – can sugar-coat the pain of losing someone you love.

And yet, she argues, in a hospice there is more of what matters in life – more love, more strength, more kindness, more joy, more tenderness, more grace, more compassion – than you could ever imagine. For if there is a difference between people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it is simply this: that the terminally ill know their time is running out, while we live as though we have all the time in the world.

Dear Life is a book about the vital importance of human connection, by the doctor we would all want by our sides at a time of crisis. It is a love letter – to a father, to a profession, to life itself.

 

About the author:

Rachel Clarke is an English physician specializing in palliative care for the National Health Service. She is an author, a former journalist and an activist.

My Review*

*Thank you Little Brown UK for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

 This is a book that will touch you in the deepest way possible. Rachel Clarke, a former journalist takes to studying medicine and through her interactions with the people she comes into contact, make us pause and think of what is it that a person wants most when he/she is sick and ailing. Peppered with personal anecdotes that tells us part of her life journey, ‘Dear Life’ not only gives us a peek into the time when the author is the doctor but also gives personal insights of her experience of being a doctor, care giver and daughter in the section drawing from her most intimate experience of caring for her father, a doctor who is diagnosed with cancer.

Clarke writes with compassion and empathy yes, but also gives much of herself: all her doubts and insecurities when she engages with the people in her care, her learnings and due respect for the people around her: her colleagues and the patients and their families.

She makes a compelling point about the meaning of life and its purpose when faced with the inevitable that in the end, it looks like nothing: to be alive in the moment, to draw a smile, to feel the moment. Making a strong call for empathy, she makes readers informed about how people who come in as patients loss control over their bodies when doctors, medicines and medical equipment take over. The anecdotes and insights on palliative care and how medical personnel can make a difference in the last moments of people and their loved ones will make you teary eyed for sure but also is deeply informative for mostly, we end up subjecting those we love to what we think is the best.

Personally, I cared for my father for two years when I was just in my early 20s and it’s taken a me a long time to realize that those two years have affected me in a way that I am still unraveling. How I wish, such a book was around to give me courage and some sound knowledge. Many sections left me weeping but never despondent and therein lies the beauty of this book: that it takes you to the most intimate and scary notions about illness, dying and grieving but that it also gives profound insights and hope.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Barabanki Narcos: Busting India’s Most Notorious Drug Cartel by Aloke Lal

narcos

The Barabanki Narcos: Busting India’s Most Notorious Drug Cartel by Aloke Lal

Published by: Hachette India

Non Fiction: True Crime, 190p

Rating: 3.50/5 stars

Book summary

In 1984 – a politically charged time in northern India – Aloke Lal, a young officer, is posted to Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh, as the Chief of Police.

In the small, backward district, known for little other than its opium production and smuggling rackets, Lal finds himself in the middle of a well-entrenched web of crime run by a dangerous drug mafia whose seemingly endless supply of black money appears to have bought out local politicians and district officials and influenced higher rungs of power.

Determined to annihilate the opium chain, Lal sets out on a path that sees him make unlikely allies and deadly enemies as he is led from the red-light districts of Lucknow to midnight highway interceptions and perilous raids that shake up the Barabanki cartel. But do such actions against powerful criminal organizations ever come without consequences? And what political games are being played in the corridors of power even as this upright officer tries to ride the gathering storm of an enraged underworld?

The Barabanki Narcos is the thrilling true story behind the largest-ever opium bust in history – the methodical build-up to the operation, the deadly aftermath and the ensuing events that would leave a lasting impact on north Indian politics – narrated by the man who led the action at the centre of it all.

About the author:

Jane Aloke Lal is a fomer Indian Police Service Officer who has been awarded medals for meritorious and distinguished services, rising to the top rank of Director General of Police. Apart from being a writer, Aloke Lal is a well known painter.

My Review*

*Thank you Hachette India for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

Coming from a region whose proximity to the Golden Triangle, which produces the world’s purest and maximum amount of heroin and other narcotic drugs, I was most fascinated to read this account of a drug bust in the 80s by a Police Officer in the badlands of North India. Most non fiction writing by Indian authors, except historical narratives lack steam and tend to be dry but not this one. The sole complaint you will have of this book is that you want more anecdotes, more stories. At 190 pages, this is too short a read, more so since the build up is crisp and taut that leads to an electrifying account of the largest opium bust ever.

As the tittle itself gives it out, this is Aloke Lal’s account of the way he tackled the drug/opium menace in Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh: starting from how he builds contacts with the local people, steering clear of political interference, corruption and intimidation by gangs. The humane look at how addiction ravages individuals, families and society as a whole is captured poignantly. Apart from the events that lead to the drug busts, the author brings a vivid capture of the socio economic and political backdrop of Uttar Pradesh in the 80s and takes one to a time when the Indian Police fought its battles with the right adversary and came on top too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amma by Perumal Murugan, Translated by Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan

Amma

Amma by Perumal Murugan, Trnslated by Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan

Published by: Eka/Westland Publications

Non Fiction, 191p

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Book summary

Perumal Murugan’s tender yet truthful essays capture the life of a strong, independent and extraordinary woman: his mother. She raised her children with the income from just a few acres of land that she managed on her own, tending to the cattle and crops with maternal concern, all the while minding her unruly husband. Every obligation met, all accounts squared up, each meal cooked to satiate the tongue and heart—Amma never rested, not even when bedridden with Parkinson’s. She lived a farmer’s life and died a farmer’s death.

 

Amma is a homage to a way of life and values—simplicity, honesty and hard work—lost to us today. Peppered with unsentimental nostalgia and delightful humour, and vividly documenting village and farming life in the Kongu region, Amma tugs at generational memory. Murugan’s non-fiction writing, his first to appear in English, is as deeply affecting as his fiction

 

About the author:

Perumal Murugan is a critically acclaimed and much loved Tamil writer and poet. He was written novels, short stories and poetry anthologies. Many of his novels have been translated into English to wide acclaim. The English translation of his novel Madhorubhagan, or One Part Woman, by Aniruddhan Vasudevan, won the Sahitya Akademi’s Translation Prize in 2017 but also mired the author in controversy.

 

 

My Review*

 

*Thank you Eka (Westland Publications) for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

 

 

Perumal Murugan’s writings in the realm of fiction have already made strong connections with readers and literary critics alike and his latest ‘Amma’ is going to be much loved and appreciated as well. A collection of 22 chapters/essays that revolve around the writer’s mother, this latest offering from Perumal Murugan is not just a memoir of the author’s childhood but also, the memories of his ties to his mother juxtaposed with his social cultural commentary. This combination gives an intimate look into the author’s early life filled with the everyday rigor of hard agrarian life and how it consumes his mother.

 

The essays are deeply personal in the way the author has taken readers to the domestic life he lived in: a father who has a small job but a big addiction to local toddy and how it leads to domestic strife and physical abuse. Any reader who has read Murugan’s work will be able to see the seeds and grains of the author’s fictional characters in his mother: her innate wisdom and knowledge of farming practices; the way she is full of heart and deep courage but still follow patriarchal stereotypical practices as dictated by society in the way she defends her husband’s vagaries and later, when her own father comes to live in her house; in the way she is practical and contradictory, taking charge of things around her.

 

It is difficult to pin down a favorite chapter from this book given the way the author has captured memories and presented to them but I will have a special place for ‘The Gift Accounts’ based on the practice of Moi (Mandatory gifting). I come from a different part of the country but we practice the exact same socio cultural practice under the name ‘poppaang’ for gift in kind and ‘poyeng’ for gift in cash in times of family functions like birth, death, sacred thread rituals, marriage/engagements etc and could relate to the sometimes deep churn that such a practice leaves on a close knit community when gifts are a burden or an accounts waiting to be tackled.

 

Two translators – Nandini Murali and Kavitha Muralidharan are credited for the book and while the weight of translating from one language to another and hence, shifting a socio cultural context from one culture to the other is not felt, the initial chapters that speak about the food that the author’s mother makes, felt a bit lost in translation for someone who is not familiar with the food and the terms used.

 

If you love reading personal essays, there is no way that you can forgo reading this beautiful book. If you love Perumal Murugan’s writings, you have to definitely read this without fail.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

R.N. Kao: Gentleman Spymaster by Nitin A Gokhale

AAA 

R.N. Kao: Gentleman Spymaster by Nitin A Gokhale

Published by: Bloomsbury India

Non Fiction: Biography, 227p

Rating: 3/5 stars

Book summary

The Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW), India’s foreign intelligence organization is one of the most respected institutions in the world of espionage and foreign intelligence today. It has played a vital role in almost all of the landmark events in India’s recent history – from the 1971 war to the merger of Sikkim, from discovering Pakistan’s nuclear programme to the recent Balakot operation. Yet, as befits its role, very little is known about the organization.

Equally little is known about its founder, Rameshwar Nath Kao or RNK. An intensely private man, RNK was the classical spymaster who operated in the shadows but built enduring institutions. A ruthless professional who believed in putting national interest above his personal preferences, RNK was also the creator of the secretive Aviation Research Centre, India’s premier technical intelligence agency. His finest hour was the role played by the R&AW in the creation of Bangladesh.

Over half a century after R&AW was founded and seventeen years after Kao’s death, Nitin A Gokhale puts together the story of the legend that was RNK. Based on reminiscences of family, professional colleagues and juniors, and using his personal papers, this biography is the first definitive account of the life and times of RN Kao. This book is as much a tribute to Kao as the organization he created.

About the author:

Nitin A. Gokhale , one of South Asia’s leading Strategic Analysts, is a renowned author, media trainer and founder of a specialised defence-related website. Author of five books so far on insurgencies, wars and conflicts, he is visiting faculty at all Indian Defence training

 

 

 

My Review*

 

*Thank you Bloomsbury India for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

 

I picked this book, as I love the world of espionage. After all, a profile on Rameshwar Nath Kao, the man credited with instituting India’s foreign intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) seemed too good to pass by for it would mean personal insights about the man and the workings of the organization he headed (what can be shared in public domain).

 

So yes, there are some select family voices talking about RN Kao and a brief about his family background. Additionally, there are a few behind the scenes anecdotes and cases on the professional front: notably, the merger of Sikkim to India that will surely remind one of the manner that the US uses subversion and propaganda to topple Governments or heads of state and out people they are friendly with in its place and the liberation of Bangladesh.

 

Unfortunately, the writing seems to be bogged down with a heavy air and one cannot help feel a tad disappointed at the lost opportunity of making the life of a truly inspiring man more gripping and fascinating. The writing style comes across as devoid of any personal touch by the author and looks like a verbatim reproduction of interviews of sources and notes. The chapter on a plane crash that could have led to international headlines and some geo political shifts made for the most mundane read instead of keeping the reader in me intrigued and wanting to turn the pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Many That I Am: Writings from Nagaland by Anungla Zoe Longkumer (Editor)

A

The Many That I Am: Writings from Nagaland by Anungla Zoe Longkumer (Editor)

Published by: Zubaan Books

Rating: 4/5 stars

Book summary

A grandmother’s tattoos, the advent of Christianity, stories woven into fabrics, a tradition of orality, the imposition of a “new” language, and a history of war and conflict—all of this and much more informs the writers and artists in this book. Filmmaker and writer Anungla Zoe Longkumer brings together, for the first time, a remarkable set of stories, poems, first-person narratives, and visuals that showcase the breadth of Naga women’s creative and literary expression. The essays are written in English, a language the Nagas—who had no tradition of written literature—made their own after the arrival of Christianity in the region during the nineteenth century. In The Many That I Am, each writer speaks of the many journeys women undertake to reclaim their pasts and understand their complex present.

About the Editor and authors:

Anungla Zoe Longkumer (Editor) can best be described as a free individual discovering her way through creative pursuits in music, writing, filmmaking, and folk traditions. She is the author of Folklore of Eastern Nagaland comprising of translations of folktales, folk songs and real-life accounts, collected from the six tribes who inhabit the more remote districts of Eastern Nagaland.

The anthology features the work of 32 women authors and poets and artistes.

My Review*

*Thank you Zubaan Books for the review copy. All opinions are my own.

This anthology of writings from Nagaland focusing on the voices of women is a must read for not only does it bring together a collection of genres from short stories to poems and slam poetry but also personal essays. By the end of reading this anthology, you cannot help but sense as if you have felt and understood in parts mind you, the socio cultural and political life of the Naga women, sometimes as victims, sometimes as survivors and sometimes as women who will also take advantage of the society around them.

This anthology gives a brief overview of the journey from the tribal ways of life to the push and pull that Naga society went through once Christianity came and took root, the subsequent upheavals brought about by militarization – first, being caught between the Japanese and Allied Forces during the Second World War and then the growing insurgency in the state due to various factors. The stories are not only powerfully narrated through the voices of women and keeping women at the center of things but also a nuanced and insightful commentary on the many paradox that women in Nagaland face: as peace keepers in the society when there is a looming threat of violence over a village on one hand and as silent victims of patriarchy and domestic violence within the homes; as a known woman political worker who has the agency to negotiate a Government service for a daughter but one who does not have the time or the inclination to listen to her own daughter’s voice.

There are also stories that focus on universal themes: of forgiveness, of the importance to reclaim one’s roots and the nature of violence and fear. Many of the poems are translations of Naga folk songs that will take you to a time that not many are familiar with.

At less than 200 pages, this anthology, which collates the work of 32 women authors and poets and artistes, is a must read. I loved the way the anthology has been put together touching upon so many facets of life in Nagaland. I will strongly recommend ‘The Many Voices That I Am : Writings from Nagaland’ to lay readers and to those who are interested to read about the socio cultural history of Nagaland through its many women.

 

 

Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop by Emma Larkin

E

Secret Histories: Finding George Orwell in a Burmese Teashop by Emma Larkin

Published by: John Murrays

Rating: 4.50/5 stars

Book summary:

Burma, where George Orwell worked as an official in the Imperial police force, is ruled by one of the oldest and most brutal military dictatorships in the world. Around the country posters promise to ‘crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy’, and a vast network of military intelligence ensures no one says or does anything to threaten the regime. In short, George Orwell’s ‘Big Brother’ is alive and well in Burma. Over the course of a year, Emma Larkin visited the places where Orwell lived, to meet the people who live there today.

Starting in the former royal city of Mandalay, she travelled through the moody delta regions on the edge of the Bay of Bengal, to the mildewed splendour of the old port town Moulmein, and ending her journey in the mountains of the far north, in the forgotten town Orwell used as the setting for Burmese Days. The book journeys into the Orwellian land Burma’s ruling generals have created, a place in which reality is distorted by censorship and truth is a dangerous commodity. Secret Histories uncovers the reality of life inside this secretive, totalitarian state.

About the author:

Emma Larkin is the pseudonym of a journalist who was born and brought up in Asia. She has contributed to newspapers and magazines around the world and has been visiting Burma for ten years. She studied the Burmese language at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

My Review

A non fiction that is part travelogue, part literary overview of the works of George Orwell AND part commentary on the socio political journey of Burma (the name Myanmar is an imposition by the junta there), here’s a book you have to read if you are a fan of Orwell or been fascinated by his writings. It is a book that takes you behind the scenes of a country that has been presented as idyllic and puts you face to face with its oppressive surveillance.

Emma Larkin (a pseudonym of an American Journalist) traces the places and influences of Eric Arthur Blake better known as Orwell through Burma, a country he spent five years of his life as an officer in the British administration and which inspired a majority of his writings. Through Larkin’s meetings and interactions with dissidents, academics and more important, the common men and women of the country, we are treated to an intimate look at Burma and its people and how Orwell’s writings well reflect the various stages of his own literary positioning: the push and pull between colonial rulers and natives in Burmese Days, the growing control by authoritarian forces in Animal Farm and the oppressive air aided by fear and monitoring in 1984. Apart from the three well-known works of Orwell, his essays and poetry too find a place in this book.

The writing is crisp and insightful: I particularly liked the intense look at whether Orwell did root for Colonialism in Burma or was ambivalent about it which the author does through her own lens and that of various people she meets in her journey. It was fascinating to look at Orwell’s life and work in Burma through the eyes of its many people.

Ironically, even as this book is about Orwell and Burma, it is as much about Orwellian realities where nation states operate on the rush of fear and authoritarian control. This is book that one cannot restrict to one country but which hold true for many present realities. This is a necessary read.

Excerpts

On history and the politics of changing names:

‘When a place is renamed, the old name disappears from maps and eventually from human memory. If that is possible, then perhaps the memory of past events can also be erased.’

On Government control over narratives/propaganda in Burma but which might hold true for the country we live in now:

‘The Burmese media: books, magazines, movies and music are controlled by a strict censorship board and Government propaganda is churned out not only through newspapers and television but also in schools and universities.