Archive for the 'Books' Category

Dogfight over Karachi

Khademul Islam at Granta:

For me the war began in the predawn dark on the fourth. My father shook me awake from sleep. ‘Get up!’ he commanded urgently. As my head cleared I heard the air raid siren. And through its wail came, muted but steady, a droning noise, like heavy motors in neutral gear, from somewhere in the sky. Bombers, I realized. I scrambled out of bed and we – my parents, younger brother, sister and our servant boy Bhola – hustled out of the side door to stand beneath the main stairs, which is what the civil defense authorities recommended during bombing raids. The upstairs family – the two small sons not quite fully awake – were already there. The other upstairs family had stayed put. The side door of our neighbouring flat, Tariq’s, was ajar and I heard voices coming from inside. But they didn’t join us beneath the stairs. We knew why. We were two Bengali families standing there, and they were Punjabis, there was no way they going to cower with us beneath the stairs, bombs or no bombs, air raids or no air raids. Especially not during an Indian air attack. Pakistan was in its death throes and this war was the final act of separation between East and West Pakistan.

Seconds later the anti-aircraft guns opened up with a vengeance. Light, medium, heavy guns – they were throwing the kitchen sink at the Indians. Through the open entrance we saw searchlights criss-crossing the dark sky, and tracer shells arcing upwards in fiery lines. Then the bombs landed, a string of crisp explosions followed by a heavier series of blasts that shook the ground. Larger guns joined in the firing, booming. More:

Nixon and Kissinger: Looking away from genocide

Gary Bass in The New Yorker [via 3quarksdaily]:

On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched a devastating military crackdown on restive Bengalis in what was then East Pakistan. While the slaughter in what would soon become an independent Bangladesh was underway, the C.I.A. and State Department conservatively estimated that roughly two hundred thousand people had died (the official Bangladeshi death toll is three million). Some ten million Bengali refugees fled to India, where untold numbers died in miserable conditions in refugee camps. Pakistan was a Cold War ally of the United States, and Richard Nixon and his national-security advisor, Henry Kissinger, resolutely supported its military dictatorship; they refused to impose pressure on Pakistan’s generals to forestall further atrocities.

My new book, “The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide,” tries to reconstruct this dark chapter of the Cold War, using declassified documents, investigative reporting, and countless hours of White House tapes, including about a hundred newly transcribed conversations. Thanks to the secret taping system that he installed to record his own blunt conversations, Nixon inadvertently left behind the most transparent Administration in American history. The tapes offer the most revealing account of Nixon and Kissinger’s raw thinking. Staffers at the White House and the State Department were often more pragmatic than their principals, so the documents they produced make the Administration appear more moderate than it was. It’s only on the audio tapes that Nixon and Kissinger’s full radicalism is on display. More:

Video: Ramachandra Guha Talks to Vinod Mehta

Gandhi Before India is a play on words of his earlier book, India After Gandhi. In this book, historian and writer Ramachandra Guha talks about the formative years Mohandas Gandhi spent in South Africa, the people who influenced him and how his later philosophy was formed there. It’s about little-known people who were his mentors, friends and followers in Joha­n­n­esburg, who are never given eno­ugh space in the Gandhi story. Vinod Mehta,  editorial chairman Outlook group, spoke to Guha.

How two madmen brought the world to the brink of a third great war


An extract from ‘The Blood Telegram: India’s Secret War in East Pakistan’ by Gary J Bass (Random House India), in Open magazine:

Back on November 23, Kissinger had enticingly suggested to a Chinese delegation in New York that India’s northern border might be vulnerable. Now, on December 6, Nixon told Kissinger that he “strongly” wanted to tell China that some troop movements toward India’s border could be very important. “[D]amnit, I am convinced that if the Chinese start moving the Indians will be petrified,” the president said. “They will be petrified.” He shrugged off the obvious problem of winter snows in the Himalayas, admiringly recalling China’s bravery in the Korean War: “The Chinese, you know, when they came across the Yalu, we thought they were a bunch of goddamn fools in the heart of the winter, but they did it.”

Kissinger had personally and repeatedly promised Indian leaders at the highest levels— including Haksar and Gandhi herself— that the United States would stand with India against threats of Chinese aggression. Now the Nixon administration was secretly doing the opposite.

Kissinger was heartened at US intelligence reports of truckloads of military supplies flowing from China into West Pakistan. But the CIA insisted that China was “keeping its head down,” neither prepared for nor capable of a full-scale war against India. In harsh mountainous terrain, it would be tremendously hard to move forces fast enough to matter. The CIA argued that it would take at least two months for China to get ready for a moderate amount of combat with India. Still, the CIA noted, with India’s “traumatic” memory of the last war with China, Chinese saber rattling and harassing attacks could cause real trouble for India, even without a war. India would have to divert large numbers of troops to guard its northern flank. As Kissinger wrote to Nixon, the CIA did think that China could launch smaller but still substantial military efforts, from “overt troop movements” to a “limited diversionary attack.” More:

Ramachandra Guha on ‘Gandhi before India’

Ramachandra Guha has just published “Gandhi Before India“, a new work chronicling the life of Mohandas Gandhi before he became the Mahatma. Interview in WSJ:

WSJ: What do you think Mahatma Gandhi would have made of Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat and prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s main opposition party?

Mr. Guha: I don’t want to say what Gandhi would have made of Modi, after all he died 65 years ago. But clearly Modi departs from the Gandhian mode of politics in many ways.

The obvious departure is that under Modi’s regime thousands of Muslims were butchered and hundreds of thousands still languish in conditions of poverty and insecurity.

Gandhi died for the cause of Muslim-Hindu harmony. You could argue that his attempts to keep India united failed, but he recognized this. He spent his last years fasting and taking on the might of Hindu fundamentalism and it was a Hindu fundamentalist from the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu organization] who killed him.

Modi is true to the RSS view of Hindu supremacy and in that sense he’s clearly not a Gandhian. But the question is that of personality. Gandhi was an open-minded questing person, always curious about other people’s views, always conscious of his own fallibilities.

Whereas Modi is a megalomaniac; It’s all ‘me, I, myself.’ This is a man who in terms of his authoritarian personality is as far removed from Gandhi as any Indian could be and any Gujarati could be, since he’s also Gujarati.

Of course I don’t want to single out Modi. There are other politicians who dissemble, who lie, who are secretive, Indian politicians who are hypocritical including the Congress party, which violates Gandhi’s teachings on an almost daily basis. More:


Video: Jhumpa Lahiri at work

In The New Yorker:

Jhumpa Lahiri, who has been publishing stories in The New Yorker since 1998, has a new novel out this week, “The Lowland,” which tells the story of two Calcutta-born brothers during an attempted Maoist revolt, in the late nineteen-sixties. One of them eventually emigrates to the U.S., and part of the book is about his painful reckoning with the past as he tries to establish a new life.

During a visit to Lahiri’s house in Brooklyn (she currently lives full-time in Rome), we asked how she went about writing the book.

See video here

Living in Calcutta

Amit Chaudhuri at n+1:

Naturally, I’m queried sometimes about why I returned to India—and why to Calcutta. Although India, in the so-called boom, might be a place for a certain kind of professional to come back to, Calcutta, on that boom’s outer reaches, with its precipitous political future, is a curious place to make a home. Unless, of course, you belong to that species condemned, all over the world, to uniqueness—I mean the only child—and you have ageing parents. Only recently, a woman whom I know slightly told me on the telephone that she was going to leave Bonn and her thriving career in the UN in Europe and return to New Zealand. “I worry about my parents, especially about my father, these days,” she laughed with some embarrassment. “It’s the curse of the only child.” If not the only child, then, in India, the sole male offspring. Not long ago, my wife met a young, good-looking, clearly successful couple in a friend’s house for tea. She heard the man had relocated from an enviable position in a foreign bank in Bombay to a similarly responsible position in what is, however, today’s Calcutta. Was it disaffection that had caused the move? Not really. It was something that’s older in this part of the world than disaffection, and more obstinate: the sense of familial duty. The father had aged, and the son decided (after discussions with a tolerant wife) that he should be nearby.

Yet living in Calcutta is hardly to live in Kabul or Baghdad or even Johannesburg—nor is it comparable to inhabiting a suburb in Atlanta, or moving to Ipswich. As a city, it’s neither too threateningly alive, nor too defunct (if extinction can be measured and graded). Anyway, if Calcutta today suffers in comparison, it’s not really to other cities, but principally to itself and what it used to be. Anyone who has an idea of what Calcutta once was will find that vanished Calcutta the single most insurmountable obstacle to understanding, or sympathising with, the city today. More:

Suketu Mehta in Brazil: “Then I saw the gun, going from my head to the cell phone”

In the New York Review of Books:

My Brazilian friend Marina and I were picking up a visiting friend from New York, who heads an NGO, in her hotel lobby near Paulista, the most prestigious avenue in São Paulo. It was 7:30 on a busy Friday night last October.

We walked up to a taxi outside the hotel. I sat in the front to let the two women chat in the back. Marina asked me to Google the restaurant menu. I was doing so when I saw a teenage boy run up to the taxi and gesticulate through my open window. I thought he was a beggar, asking for money. Then I saw the gun, going from my head to the cell phone.

“Just give him the phone,” Marina said from the back seat.

I gave him the phone. He didn’t go away.

“Dinheiro, dinheiro!”

I didn’t want to give him my wallet. The boy was shouting obscenities. “Dinheiro, dinheiro!”

The boy’s body suddenly jerked back, as a man’s arm around his neck pulled him off his feet. The man, dressed in a black shirt, was shouting; he had jumped the boy from behind. He started hitting the boy. The taxi driver sitting next to me was stoic. He said that this had never happened to him before, but he couldn’t have been more blasé.

The next thing I saw was the boy and another teenager, probably his accomplice, running away fast up the street. The man in the black shirt chased them a bit, then came back panting to the taxi. “Did the bastard get anything?” our savior, whom we later nicknamed Batman, asked. He wasn’t a plainclothes cop, as I’d originally thought; he was just an ordinary citizen who was tired of the criminals. More:

How we got pukka

Josephine Livingstone in Prospect:

Pyjamas did not exist until the 19th century. I’m not sure what people wore to bed in the 1700s, but it wasn’t pyjamas. Pyjamas by any other name may well have been as snug, but the fact remains: without the English in India, there would be no India in English. The best way to understand this story is to get your hands on a Hobson-Jobson.

As its subtitle says, Hobson-Jobson is “A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, And of Kindred Terms; Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive.” The first edition was published in 1886. And now Kate Teltscher, a scholar at Roehampton University, has heroically abridged the 1903 2nd edition for our reading pleasure (Oxford University Press, £14.99). She has halved its size to a very manageable 570 pages, without cutting any good bits.

The glossary was the brainchild of two men, each representative of their age. The first was born in 1820, in East Lothian, Scotland. He was named Henry, after his aunt. The aunt named Henry is a good metaphor for the life and career of Colonel Sir Henry Yule—Bengal Engineer, editor of medieval texts, historical geographer—perfectly normal for 19th-century Britain; utterly strange to us, looking back.

Yule lived a classic Victorian life. His father, himself a fine Persian and Arabic Orientalist, was in the Bengal army and Henry followed him to India, picking up his interest in languages. As part of the Bengal Engineers, Henry was involved in the expansion of the Indian canal system and railway network. He also received the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal for his English edition of Marco Polo’s travels. More:

Bookshop memories in a changing India

Jairaj Singh at India Ink / New York Times:

In the summer of 1984, two years before I was born, my father, Ajit Vikram Singh opened a small corner bookshop, Fact & Fiction, in South Delhi’s Vasant Vihar area, opposite a decrepit cinema hall that would screen films like ‘The Sex Life of Animals’ to a packed audience. Nearly 30 years later, it’s disheartening to see him disillusioned with the Indian book industry.

A descendant of a royal family, my father was brought up in old, decadent fashions and with a pet elephant in the house. He got a degree in science from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, but veered toward the art of curating, collecting, and making a life selling carefully selected books.

I grew up in a world unlike his, one filled with books. When I was a baby, he would carry me in a tiny basket to the bookstore. One day, he found me crawling on the floor and sinking my teeth on books lying on the floor. “You literally grew up biting into the word,” he chuckled.

In the early 1990s, I would see my father diligently scan catalogues of international publishing houses, highlighting titles he wanted for the bookstore. He knew where a book in the store was kept because he would stack them himself. More:

I love this dirty town

Anjum Hasan in Granta:

I am ten years old, and the bane of the neighbourhood, let’s call him Robert, is peering down a chimney, a piece of pipe really, sticking out from a corrugated metal roof. The chimney belongs to the kitchen of a sweet shop. The fragrance of mithai-making – melting sugar and frying dough – often floats up to us when we play on Robert’s lawn which is level with the roof. Robert has spied a cauldron of milk on the kitchen stove, directly below the chimney. He smartly unzips his jeans and urinates straight into the boiling milk.

I do not stick around to find out whether the mithai-wallah has noticed the stream of lukewarm liquid dripping down his roof and mixing with the milk that will go on to become the pristine white peda and barfi in his shop window. Robert, who is nothing if not brave, doesn’t flee. His insouciance perhaps comes from feeling that he has peed on what is already dirty – being from the state of Bihar, the mithai-wallah is an ‘outsider’ in the city of Shillong, capital of the Indian state of Meghalaya; he could be unclean both literally and because he represents something of an unwantedness. At the same time, Robert knows his act of daring is disgusting because sweets such as those the mithai-wallah makes are loved and consumed in vast quantities by Shillong’s populace. More:

Brotherly Love by Jhumpa Lahiri

In The New Yorker:

Sashmal Road splits in two, there is a small mosque. A turn leads to a quiet enclave. A warren of narrow lanes and modest middle-class homes.

Once, within this enclave, there were two ponds, oblong, side by side. Behind them was a lowland spanning a few acres.

After the monsoon, the ponds would rise so that the embankment built between them could not be seen. The lowland also filled with rain, three or four feet deep, the water remaining for a portion of the year.

The flooded plain was thick with water hyacinth. The floating weed grew aggressively. Its leaves caused the surface to appear solid—green in contrast to the blue of the sky.

Simple huts stood here and there along the periphery. The poor waded in to forage for what was edible. In autumn, egrets arrived, their white feathers darkened by the city’s soot, waiting motionless for their prey.

In the humid climate of Calcutta, evaporation was slow. But eventually the sun burned off most of the floodwater, exposing damp ground again. More:

The moving story behind Delhi’s Yodakin bookstore

As told by its founder Arpita Das:

In September 2009 I sent out a mail to the entire Yoda Press mailing list saying I had taken a 400 sqft space on rent in Hauz Khas Village, where we would soon be opening an alternative indie bookstore which hoped to become a platform for titles by independent publishers. The aftermath of sending out that mail was the first indication I had of the popularity YODAKIN would come to enjoy in the future. Six people I did not know ‘forwarded’ my email to me.

But unbeknownst to me at the time, a ghastly personal ordeal lay in our path first. My then 4-year-old daughter Amalia had a terrible accident in October that year even as we were getting ready to start doing up the interiors of the future YODAKIN bookstore. She suffered second-degree burns all over her abdomen and thighs from an errant diya catching her ghagra on Diwali night. Full recovery would ultimately take eight excruciating months, during four of which she could not walk.

However, the rent deposit had been paid towards the store space, and I had flogged jewellery, and got the family to invest the balance capital amount—-we were advised that delaying the opening of the store would hurt me terribly professionally. I remember my husband Freddie, who was helping me set up the space, spending the day at the store supervising the workers, and the night in the hellish burns ward at Safdarjung hospital by his daughter’s bedside, even as I went home to be back at the hospital at the crack of dawn. More:

(If you want to contribute monetarily to YODAKIN to help us effectively transition to the new space, please write to

South Asians and the Shaping of Britain

Sarfraz Manzoor in The Telegraph, London:

southasian-bookMahinder Singh Pujji, a 22-year-old Indian man, was queuing to see a film at his local cinema. The man in front of him saw his turban and uniform – Pujji was a member of the RAF – and said: “Sir, you don’t have to stand in the queue.” He ushered him to the front of the line. No one grumbled and the woman working in the ticket office, again seeing his turban and wings, refused to accept money for the ticket.

This incident would be surprising and heart-warming if it occurred today; in fact, the film that Pujji was queuing to see was Gone with the Wind, and the year was 1940. What makes this story so powerful is that it challenges established narratives about south Asian migration to Britain: it shows us that years before Commonwealth immigration there had been migrants from the subcontinent; it questions the assumption that migrants were always treated poorly, and it reminds us of the contribution many made.

South Asians and the Shaping of Britain excavates the archives for letters, diaries, books and articles relating to this subject. Taking the year 1870 – the zenith of empire – as the starting point and traversing 80 years to 1950 – a period that witnessed two world wars, the decline of empire, the fight for Indian independence and Partition – the book demonstrates that Britain has a more complex multicultural heritage than is usually acknowledged. More:

How a single spy helped turn Pakistan against the US

What really happened after Raymond Davis killed two men in the street in Lahore. Mark Mazetti in The New York Times Magazine:

The burly American was escorted by Pakistani policemen into a crowded interrogation room. Amid a clatter of ringing mobile phones and cross talk among the cops speaking a mishmash of Urdu, Punjabi and English, the investigator tried to decipher the facts of the case.

“America, you from America?”


“You’re from America, and you belong to the American Embassy?”

“Yes,” the American voice said loudly above the chatter. “My passport — at the site I showed the police officer. . . . It’s somewhere. It’s lost.”

On the jumpy video footage of the interrogation, he reached beneath his checkered flannel shirt and produced a jumble of identification badges hanging around his neck. “This is an old badge. This is Islamabad.” He showed the badge to the man across the desk and then flipped to a more recent one proving his employment in the American Consulate in Lahore.

“You are working at the consulate general in Lahore?” the policeman asked.


“As a . . . ?”

“I, I just work as a consultant there.”

“Consultant?” The man behind the desk paused for a moment and then shot a question in Urdu to another policeman. “And what’s the name?”

“Raymond Davis,” the officer responded.

“Raymond Davis,” the American confirmed. “Can I sit down?”

“Please do. Give you water?” the officer asked.

“Do you have a bottle? A bottle of water?” Davis asked.

Another officer in the room laughed. “You want water?” he asked. “No money, no water.”

Another policeman walked into the room and asked for an update. “Is he understanding everything? And he just killed two men?” More:

A better quality of agony

Teju Cole reviews Sonali Deraniyagala’s memoir Wave in The New Yorker:

Sorrow flattens her. Then sorrow gives way to anger and suicidal fury, and it takes a dedicated group of relatives and friends to lock away the knives and hide the pills and keep her from self-harm. There’s a period of alcoholism, and for a while she harasses, with demonic inventiveness, a Dutch couple who have rented her parents’ home. Grief is a frightening condition, and at its extreme is like the sun: impossible to look at directly. That Deraniyagala wrote down what happened is understandable. But why would some unconcerned individual, someone who has not been similarly shattered, wish to read this book? Yet read it we must, for it contains solemn and essential truths. I am reminded of what Anne Carson wrote in the introduction to “Grief Lessons,” her translation of four plays by Euripides:

Grief and rage—you need to contain that, to put a frame around it, where it can play itself out without you or your kin having to die. There is a theory that watching unbearable stories about other people lost in grief and rage is good for you—may cleanse you of darkness. Do you want to go down to the pits of yourself all alone? Not much. What if an actor could do it for you? Isn’t that why they are called actors? They act for you.

Carson is writing specifically about Greek tragedy, works of tragic fiction, and of course a book like “Wave” is only too real. There’s nothing put on about Deraniyagala’s suffering. But part of what Carson says applies. In witnessing something far-fetched, something brought out before us from the distant perimeter of human experience, we are in some way fortified for our own inevitable, if lesser, struggles. More:

Thatcher, Chandraswami and I

India’s former foreign minister K. Natwar Singh in The Hindu (Extracted from K. Natwar Singh’s new book “Walking with Lions — Tales from a Diplomatic Past,” HarperCollins):

India House is among the better known diplomatic establishments in London. I first set eyes on the imposing building in 1952, when I was a student at Cambridge University. Thirty years later I entered India House as Deputy High Commissioner. One of my less attractive duties was to meet the unreasonable demands of visitors from India. Not all were disagreeable but many were.

Early in the summer of 1975, Mr. Chandraswamy telephones me. He was in London. The late Yashpal Kapoor had asked him to contact me, Chandraswamy invited me to meet me at his place. I said if he wished to see me, he should come to India House. This he did the next day. At the time he was in his late twenties. He was in his “Sadhu” attire. He did not speak a word of English. Now he does.

At this, our first meeting, he dropped names. After a few days he again come to see me. He invited my wife and me to have dinner with him.

The food was delicious. After dinner he said to us, “I will show you something you have never seen”. He then produced a large sheet of white paper and drew lines from top to bottom and left to right. Next he produced three strips of paper asked my wife to write a question on each strip, make a ball and place each one on a square on the chess board. My wife wrote the questions in English. He closed his eyes and went into a trance. I was, by this time getting restless. Suddenly he asked my wife to pick up any of the paper balls. She did so. Opened it. Chandraswamy then told her what the question was. He was spot on. My wife, who is an amateur astrologer, was sceptical at this stage. When Chandraswamy got the next two questions right, she was amazed and interested. I was intrigued. I could not, as a rationalist, accept mumbo-jumbo. Neither could I dismiss Chandraswamy as a complete hoax. More:

The Judge’s Will — by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

In The New Yorker:

After his second heart attack, the judge knew that he could no longer put off informing his wife about the contents of his will. He did this for the sake of the woman he had been keeping for twenty-five years, who, ever since his first attack, had been agitating about provisions for her future. These had long been in place in his will, known only to the lawyer who had drawn it up, but it was intolerable to the judge to think that their execution would be in the hands of his family; that is, his wife and son. Not because he expected them to make trouble but because they were both too impractical, too light-minded to carry out his wishes once he was not there to enforce them.

This suspicion was confirmed for him by the way Binny received his secret. Any normal wife, he thought, would have been aghast to learn of her husband’s long-standing adultery. But Binny reacted as though she had just heard some spicy piece of gossip. She was pouring his tea and, quivering with excitement, spilled some in the saucer. He turned his face from her. “Go away,” he told her, and then became more exasperated by the eagerness with which she hurried off to reveal the secret to their son. More:

Black and Bengali

Fatima Shaik at In These Times:

The federal census taker comes every 10 years and, for most people in the United States, this has little consequence. But not where I lived, in New Orleans, just outside the historic district of Tremé. There, people talked to each other about whether to lie to the census taker and which lie to tell, and that conversation produced stories about who had disappeared from us and who had stayed, and what was more important: loyalty or money.

That was the mentality in Creole New Orleans from as far back as I can remember—that is, the 1950s—until recently. The lying, the disappearing, the money and lack of it had everything to do with race.

We were part of a mixed-race community of immigrants and Louisiana natives, and there was no place for us in the data tables of the census or in the mind of a black-and-white America. And yet we existed, for generations. Now, in a thoroughly researched new book, Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America, Vivek Bald traces one vein of our lineage, from a most distant country.

Bald follows Muslim peddlers and, later, ship workers who journeyed from India to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. As local Indian markets for fabrics lost value in the 1880s, Muslim Bengali men began traveling abroad to find customers for “Oriental” wares—silk and cotton, handkerchiefs, bedspreads and tablecloths, and rugs. More:

“Wave”: A family vacation turns into the worst kind of nightmare

Economist Sonali Deraniyagala lost her husband, parents and two young sons in the terrifying Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004. They had been vacationing on the southern coast of her home country Sri Lanka when the wave struck. A review of her book “Wave” in Salon:

The first time Sonali Deraniyagala heard the word “tsunami,” she was shut up in a darkened bedroom in her aunt’s house in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was 2004, and the wave had just taken her parents, her husband and her two young sons.

Deraniyagala had been vacationing with her family in a seaside hotel near a national park when, through a terrace window, she saw the sea rising rapidly past its familiar bounds. With her husband, Steve, she grabbed Vikram, 8, and Malli, 5, and rushed out the door and up the drive. They jumped in a passing jeep, but soon the wave overwhelmed even that. The last time Deraniyagala saw her husband’s face, he was looking in horror at something over her shoulder. Then the jeep overturned, and for Deraniyagala the next few hours were chaos, violence and filthy water, the tsunami tossing her miles inland and then sucking her out again. Just before she would have been swept out to sea, she grabbed an overhanging branch and felt the ground materialize under her feet. She never saw her family again.

“Wave” is Deraniyagala’s account of this nightmare, but the tsunami itself only takes up a handful of this spare, radiant book’s pages. The rest is what came after, months in that darkened room contemplating suicide, then a period of getting drunk every day and conducting a demented campaign of harassment against the Dutch family to whom her brother rented her parents’ house. Deraniyagala, an economist at the University of London and Columbia University, had been living with Steve and the boys in London, but she wasn’t able to set foot in their English house for two years. More:

And in NPR:

Sri Lanka, July – December 2005

Someone had removed the brass plate with my father’s name on it from the gray front wall. It had his name etched in black italics. I sat in the passenger seat of my friend Mary-Anne’s car, my eyes clinging to the holes in the wall where that brass plate was once nailed.

This had been my parents’ home in Colombo for some thirty-five years, and my childhood home. For my sons it was their home in Sri Lanka. They were giddy with excitement when we visited every summer and Christmas. Vik took his first steps here, and Malli, when younger, called the house “Sri Lanka.” And in our last year, 2004, when Steve and I had sabbaticals from our jobs and the four of us spent nine months in Colombo until September, this house was the hub of our children’s lives. More:

Love and ambition in a cruel world

Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times:

mohsin-hamid-bookMohsin Hamid’s 2007 novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” was an artful tour de force, a lapidary monologue delivered by a young Princeton-educated Pakistani that opened out to become a puzzlelike exploration of identity, and a suspenseful, post-Sept. 11 meditation on the nervous, mutually suspicious dynamic between America and the Muslim world. Mr. Hamid’s new novel, “How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia,” also tells a compelling story that works on two levels — in this case as a deeply moving and highly specific tale of love and ambition, and as a larger, metaphorical look at the mind-boggling social and economic changes sweeping “rising Asia.”

Set in an unnamed country that resembles Pakistan the novel chronicles the 70-odd-year-long life of an unnamed hero who journeys from an impoverished village to a sprawling city and who makes — and loses — a fortune in the water (“bottled hydration”) business. The story is couched as a kind of self-help book and told in the second person, with a protagonist referred to only as “you.” What might initially seem like a clumsy narrative technique is actually a device that allows Mr. Hamid to zoom in and out from his hero’s life, as though he were using a telephoto lens, moving in to give us up-close-and-personal glimpses of “you’s” enduring relationship with a woman he meets when they are teenagers (she is always referred to as “the pretty girl”) then moving back to show us the ways in which his entrepreneurial career mirrors that of millions of others as they become part of a new urbanized demographic that is changing the shape of the world. More:

The Nandy bully

S. Anand in Outlook:

Ashis Nandy is a reason-buster. That is his e-mail id, his raison d’etre. And when he makes totally unreasonable comments, his friends expect us to stand and applaud. His acolytes—who have predictably and unimaginatively started an online petition to save his right to free speech and have created a blog dedicated to him—tell us that the political psychologist (a term he uses to describe himself) likes to “illuminate through anecdote, aphorism and irony”. But apparently Dalits, adivasis and OBCs—he lumps together 70 per cent of the population—and those of us non-Dalits whose work requires us to actually know something about caste, cannot understand such nuances.

 At the outset, let me state that I am not for Nandy’s arrest—though an absolute right to free speech should make us defend the Thackerays and Akbaruddin Owaisi as well—under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, for that would trivialise the realities of caste violence. Like my friends Chandra Bhan Prasad and Kancha Ilaiah have said with such grace and maturity, let us forgive Nandy and not drag him to court.

 But first let us look at what exactly Nandy said in Jaipur. Here is a faithful, unedited transcript based on a YouTube video via ABP News. My comments figure in parenthesis, and these are necessary, for what transpired on stage was a performance with gestures, pauses and interruptions adding to the overall effect.

Nandy: How should I put it? Almost a vulgar statement on my part. [Raises his voice and speaks slowly, with deliberate emphasis on each word.] It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs, and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes. And as long as this is the case, [the] Indian Republic will survive… [some interruption, with moderator Urvashi Butalia saying “Alright” as if sensing the tension and wanting to move on; TV journalist Ashutosh is raising his hand in protest, but Nandy soldiers on]. Also, I’ll give an example. One of the states with the least amount of corruption is the state of West Bengal, that is when the CPI(M) was there. And I want to propose to you, draw your attention to the fact that in the last hundred years [pause] nobody from the opp… [opposition? oppressed?], nobody from the OBCs, the Backward Classes, and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state. [Point made, Nandy wants to pass the mike.] More:

The truth about Mahatma Gandhi: by Patrick French

In The Telegraph:

This week, the National Archives here in New Delhi released a set of letters between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and a close friend from his South African days, Hermann Kallenbach, a German Jewish architect. Cue a set of ludicrous “Gay Gandhi” headlines across the world, wondering whether the fact the Mahatma signed some letters “Sinly yours” might be a clue (seemingly unaware that “sinly” was once a common contraction of “sincerely”).

The origin of this rumour was a mischievous book review two years ago written by the historian Andrew Roberts, which speculated about the relationship between the men. On the basis of the written evidence, it seems unlikely that their friendship in the years leading up to the First World War was physical.

Gandhi is one of the best-documented figures of the pre-electronic age. He has innumerable biographies. If he managed to be gay without anyone noticing until now, it was a remarkable feat. The official record of his sayings and writings runs to more than 90 volumes, and reveals that his last words before being assassinated in 1948 were not an invocation to God, as is commonly reported, but the more prosaic: “It irks me if I am late for prayers even by a minute.” More:

Why Salman Rushdie could not set foot in Calcutta

In The Telegraph:

The state machinery swung into action to prevent Salman Rushdie from setting foot in Calcutta today and launched an equally spirited effort to conceal its footprints, accounts from multiple sources and events through the day suggest.

 Hours after it was confirmed that Rushdie would not reach the city, one of the senior-most government officials made a statement at Writers’ Buildings on one condition: his name cannot be revealed.

 The official declared: “The state had no information about Salman Rushdie’s visit. But a rumour spread last evening that the author was supposed to come to the city for a series of programmes. The city police were asked to enquire about this. The Mumbai police confirmed to the city police that Rushdie was not supposed to visit Calcutta today (Wednesday). The city police informed the state home secretary last night.” More:

The Dalai Lama in conversation with Pico Iyer at Jaipur LitFest

William Dalrymple: a life in writing

In The Guardian:

How could you write such an off-message book, I ask Dalrymple. Even though he’s travelled overnight from his farm outside Delhi to his publisher’s offices in Bloomsbury, and left his wallet in India, he giggles amiably. “We have a very good record of defence secretaries saying clever things about Afghanistan. ‘They won’t even have to shoot a single bullet’ – remember that? John Reid. I was on a panel with him last year and reminded him.” He laughs again, and admits that the timing of the publication of Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan is not entirely fortuitous. “There was an element of calculation that this could happen – that they could withdraw some troops.”

And is the fourth occupation of Afghanistan, featuring Hamid Karzai’s western-backed regime, a debacle? “Well, Kabul is the safest place in Afghanistan by a long way. It’s almost like a French finishing school – lovely-looking French girls working for NGOs and handsome-looking French archaeologists digging away. But when I was last there last year you couldn’t go outside Kabul in safety. I wanted to go to the wonderful Buddhist monastery one mile outside the city – one mile – but couldn’t. Jalalabad – you take your life in your hands. As you drive there, you see burned-out cinders of other cars that have been hijacked. Ghazni is so dangerous that I’ve never been there. And as for Kandahar …”

Dalrymple pulls out his phone and shows me a holiday snap from Kandahar. A single bullet has shattered a pick-up’s rear window. “I was with a security company’s driver out at the airport – fortunately behind bulletproof glass. A sniper shot to the back of the head. This is the driver,” he says, showing me another photo, “looking chuffed to have met me.” Why were they shooting at you? “Because we’re an occupying army and they assume I’m intelligence or army up to no good.” More:

Left with no choice

A chilling account of the circumstances under which a Kashmiri Pandit family was forced out of the Valley. Excerpts from Rahul Pandita’s latest book, Our Moon Has Blood Clots, in Open:

19 January 1990 was a very cold day despite the sun’s weak attempts to emerge from behind dark clouds. In the afternoon, I played cricket with some boys from my neighbourhood. All of us wore thick sweaters and pherans. I would always remove my pheran and place it on the fence in the kitchen garden. After playing, I would wear it before entering the house to escape my mother’s wrath. She’d worry that I’d catch a cold. “The neighbours will think that I am incapable of taking care of my children,” she would say in exasperation.

We had an early dinner that evening and, since there was no electricity, we couldn’t watch television. Father heard the evening news bulletin on the radio as usual, and just as we were going to sleep, the electricity returned.

I am in a deep slumber. I can hear strange noises. Fear grips me. All is not well. Everything is going to change. I see shadows of men slithering along our compound wall. And then they jump inside. One by one. So many of them.

I woke up startled. But the zero-watt bulb was not on. The hundred-watt bulb was. Father was waking me up. “Something is happening,” he said. I could hear it—there were people out on the streets. They were talking loudly. Some major activity was underfoot. Were they setting our locality on fire?

So, it wasn’t entirely a dream, after all? Will they jump inside now?

Then a whistling sound could be heard. It was the sound of the mosque’s loudspeaker. We heard it every day in the wee hours of the morning just before the muezzin broke into the azaan. But normally the whistle was short-lived; that night, it refused to stop. That night, the muezzin didn’t call. That night, it felt like something sinister was going to happen.

The noise outside our house had died down. But in the mosque, we could hear people’s voices. They were arguing about something. More:

Rajat Gupta’s phone call: by Sandipan Deb

In Mint, a chapter from ‘Fallen Angel’, Sandipan Deb’s new book on the rise and fall of Rajat Gupta. [Sandipan has two books out in the market in one month. The other book is on Mahabharata set in Mumbai's underworld.]

The only phone conversation between Rajaratnam and Gupta that the US government was able to tap took place in the early evening of 29 July 2008. It lasted eighteen minutes. The conversation is, to say the least, revealing. Gupta sounds unsure and confused at times, and is looking to his friend for career advice. He is also lobbying for a bigger role in the Galleon Group—and more money.

It is obvious from the conversation that Gupta is well aware that his long-time protégé, and McKinsey employee, Anil Kumar, is working on the sly for Rajaratnam and is getting paid for it. Gupta has now been retired from McKinsey for about a year, but the conversation implies that it is very likely he knew about the arrangement between Rajaratnam and Kumar while he was still working at the firm.

After the usual pleasantries, Rajaratnam, who is suffering from a cold, mentions that he has called because he is meeting Gary Cohn, president and chief operating officer of Goldman Sachs, in two days, then goes on: “And there’s a rumour that Goldman might look to buy a commercial bank.” Gupta is initially non-committal, but Rajaratnam asks him point blank: “Have you heard anything along that line?” He mentions Wachovia, at that time the fourth-largest bank holding company in the US in terms of assets, but in deep trouble. More:

Mahabharata set in Mumbai’s underworld by Sandipan Deb

In Open magazine, an extract from Sandipan Deb‘s The Last War. The novel is a re-imagining of the Mahabharata set in the Mumbai underworld:

‘Are you ready?’ asked Kishenbhai.

 Jeet was standing at the window, looking out at the apartment buildings on view. They were all dark, the inhabitants were all asleep. Dead to the world, in deep sleep, or fitfully, or just pretending. Some of them would have their minds peopled with as many ghosts as I have in mine, thought Jeet. No, not as many, but they would never know. Every man gets the number of ghosts he deserves. Or can bear. Lying there in bed, all alone, with his wife sleeping peacefully, a foot or two away…The balconies of all the apartments Jeet could see were grilled. In effect, they had all been converted to little ironing chambers. All of them had ironing boards in them. How many clothes did they iron every day? I have never ironed anything in my life. The ironing just happened. I don’t even know who ironed my clothes. Bizarre.

 Jeet touched the gun snuggled in his waistband. He had dismantled it, cleaned and oiled it and put it back together a few hours ago. He loved doing that. Maybe ironing gave the same sort of pleasure…bringing something back to full efficiency and the original pristine identity. That was perhaps something everything in the world deserved. Except for living beings. They grew old and died. More:

And another extract in Outlook:


The hidden history of Bengali Harlem

From MIT News:

While it is commonly known that a wave of well-educated South Asians arrived in the United States after 1965, this earlier saga of immigration and assimilation has largely been overlooked. Until now, that is: A new book, “Bengali Harlem and the Lost Histories of South Asian America,” by MIT assistant professor Vivek Bald, illuminates this thread of history in unprecedented detail.

“Without these stories, the history of South Asians in the U.S. is incomplete,” Bald says.

One reason the subject has particular resonance for the present day, Bald believes, is that many of the immigrants in question were Muslim. “I wanted to make clear the depth and the persistence of the South Asian presence in the U.S.,” he says, “and specifically the South Asian Muslim presence in the U.S., at a time when Muslims are being portrayed as newcomers, enemies and outsiders.”

The genesis of “Bengali Harlem,” published this month by Harvard University Press, comes in good measure from conversations Bald had with Alaudin Ullah, a New York-based actor and playwright and the son of Habib Ullah. Hearing about the Ullah family’s odyssey sparked Bald’s curiosity. More: