Started off as a blog to review books, I gave a much larger meaning to The Bibliophile. This blog is about not just books, it’s about ideas, interpretations, memories and consciousness. The ideas that are fired in us when we read something impactful. The interpretations of those readings that we derive – each one his own. Memories that these thoughts trigger. And the consciousness that is awakened as a result of that reading.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Edward Luce - In Spite of the Gods:The Strange Rise of Modern India

Seldom does one come across a book that teaches and titillates, informs and impresses, disturbs and delights, all at the same time. But then such is the India of today – as described by Edward Luce in his sparklingly brilliant book ‘In Spite of the Gods – The Strange Rise of Modern India’. From the very first chapter, Mr. Luce takes us on a roller-coaster ride dissecting across cultural differences, social bias and traditional inaction that has – and continued to have, since independence - a vice like grip on the tolerant Indian society of today.

Mr. Luce traverses the vast landscapes of the multi-cultural country in its rickety trains. He interviews most of the men that have helped, in one way or the other, shape the physiognomy of the current India and presents those interviews in an objective, and mostly humorous, way. India, according to Mr. Luce, is a land of contradictions. No other country could achieve this amount of economic prosperity without undergoing an industrial revolution. No other country’s society has been so deeply divided by caste inequalities, yet united by its cultural diversity. Stereotyping or generalizing India, based on one particular city or locality could be highly dangerous – not to mention grossly incorrect.

Edward Luce starts off by shedding some light on India’s history and how it affected its current ‘schizophrenic’ economy. Then he talks about the highly intricate red tape – and its offshoot, that is corruption - that engulfs the country so profoundly, that it could be better described not as a part of the system but the system itself. The procrastinating attitudes of the various departments of administration have been greatly ascribed to Nehru’s proclivity for socialism, which in turn resulted in the government control over the majority of systems which propel the economy, and hence the nation (though the nation removed most of the government controls, that is ‘licence raj’, and opened up the economy in 1991).

Mr. Luce then talks about India’s lower casts, and the requirement and repercussions of reservations in government jobs. It is followed by the most engrossing chapter in the book on the growing threat of Hindu nationalism to the country’s strong democratic and secular nature. Here he discusses the political spectrum, enticed mostly by the appeasement of communities or religions to garner votes, which in turn decides the balance of power. He discusses both the majority parties – the Congress (mostly obsessed with dynasty politics) and the BJP (which (mis)uses the plank of Hindu nationalist extremism). The state and social status of Muslims in India is also talked over in detail.

Towards the end, Edward Luce focuses on the international standing of India and the power it exercises and seeks to achieve in the near future. He talks about the triangular balance of power between India, US and China – the 3 nations that would demand – more than any other nation - increasing attention of the world in the coming decades. The sun of a better India is on the horizon of prosperity. But Mr. Luce does a perfect job of beating the trumpet of a new India with an aptly guarded caution.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Arthur Hailey - The Evening News

Very often have critics suggested Arthur Hailey’s use of sensationalism as a way to wean away the readers’ attention from a lack of literary acumen. But then the author himself never claimed that he aimed for anything more than the stupendous success he achieved with every book of his. His books have sold more than 170 million copies worldwide across 40 languages. Now, you would not complain that, would you?

I recently read Arthur Hailey’s second last book, The Evening News which he penned in 1990. Like all his other works, this book also focuses on one particular industry that affects our lives in multifarious ways – the news-casting and media industry being the case here. The story starts off with a spate of confounding introductions of many characters and at first it is hard to fathom who the protagonist is. Crawford Sloane is a lead anchorman at CBA news and is a very well known face in the American household. Harry Patridge has the reputation of being an excellent reporter and is known for getting to the root of a story, even if it means risking his own life. Both Sloane and Patridge have worked together for the CBA news during the Vietnam War, where their different methods of following and reporting a story is discernible. Both are well adored across the populace, so, expectedly, there is a competitively strained relationship between the two successful news-casters exaggerated by the fact that Sloane’s wife Jessica is Patridge’s former lover. Thus, Arthur Hailey, once again, manages to intertwine the characters in a perplexingly connected, yet strangely believable, web of relationships. It is this ability of his that makes his painstaking research into his subject matter blend well into the plot’s background.

What follows, is that Sloane’s son, wife (Jessica) and his father are kidnapped (yes, the event around which the story revolves!) by a Peruvian organisation called Sendoro Luminoso (The Shining Path) funded by the drug trade. Hailey makes the claim by the CBA news president, that the media houses have often been more successful in unravelling the mysterious terror plots that the FBI and other purportedly useless government intelligence agencies, seem plausible by the painstaking details that he provides to bolster any exaggerated instance. Thus begins an untiring search by the specially-prepared CBA investigative team. This investigation is played parallel with the happenings in Peru, where the kidnappers, led by Miguel, are successful in sneaking the victims out to in carefully selected coffins.

The incompetence of FBI and other investigative agencies is blatantly depicted, making one wonder if reality is far from it. All the breakthroughs in the investigation are achieved by the CBA’s investigative team, and none by the FBI, who are also in on the case. The novel turns lurid in the second half when two fingers of Sloane’s son and the severed head of Sloane’s father is sent to Crawford Sloane to make him and others realize the gravity of the demands made by the unrelenting kidnappers who seem to be very well connected. Harry Patridge, with a small team, heads to Peru, where their investigation eventually leads them. The climax includes a sensational, yet utterly believable, rescue of the victims, complemented by the kidnappers’ complacent attitude, from the captor’s den which is situated deep in the jungles of Peru. As expected, not all rescuers make it out of the profuse undergrowth of the Peruvian jungles. Some might consider this loss of one of the most impressionable protagonists as redundant or unnecessary. But in my opinion, it gives a certain adrenaline rush to an otherwise expected climax.

In all, the reader is left with an aching sense of loss at the end as the reunion of Jessica and her past lover Patridge is envisioned by the dreamy reader from the very beginning. But Hailey’s benumbing ability to ravel the plot belies his eccentric claims evident at some places. But overall, The Evening News makes for a gripping read, and if an intelligent plot and a quick paced narration is what you are looking for, this is the book for you.