Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Conversion: With targets & incentives, new breed of evangelical groups are like start-ups

T V Mohandas Pai in The Economic Times

The Rajya Sabha has been paralysed by the Opposition on the “Ghar Vapasi” programe of a few organisations from the right. However, if you follow the debate, it is clear that this is a political battle by the left and the left of centre parties to embarrass and discredit the right of centre party in power. Maybe even with the intent to show up the government as incapable of bringing in reforms and development. The so-called conversion debate was an excuse to paralyse the Rajya Sabha, and a great opportunity was missed to debate the issue of large-scale surreptitious conversions across India (which is the real problem).
There is no doubt that large scale conversions have been taking place across India, accelerating over the last 5 years led by evangelical groups from the West. The North East has been converted with Arunachal and Tripura being now targeted. Tribal belts across Odisha, Jharkhand, Gujarat and MP have seen large-scale conversions for several years now.
The new phenomenon over the last 5 years has been the huge increase in evangelical conversions in Chennai and Tamil Nadu, clearly visible via the vehement advertising on particular channels on TV. Andhra Pradesh, particularly the interiors, Hyderabad and the coastal regions, has been specifically targeted due to the red carpet laid by a now deceased Chief Minister whose son-in-law is a Pastor with his own outfit. The visible impact across this region to any observer shows clearly that a huge amount of money has come in and that there is targeted conversion going on. Some evangelical groups have claimed that 9-12% of undivided AP has been converted, and have sought special benefits from the State (which has been reported in the media).
There is a very sophisticated operation in place by the evangelical groups, with a clear target for souls, marketing campaigns, mass prayer and fraudulent healing meetings. Evidence is available in plenty on videos on YouTube, social media, press reports, and on the ground. Pastors have been openly tweeting about souls converted, and saving people from idol worshippers. Some pastors have tweeted with glee about converts reaching 60 million, declaring a target of 100 million, and have also requested for financial support for this openly. Violence in some areas due to this has vitiated the atmosphere. The traditional institutions of both denominations are losing out to the new age evangelicals with their sophisticated marketing, money and legion of supporters from the West. One can almost classify these groups as hyper-growth startups – with a cost per acquisition, a roadmap for acquiring followers, a fund-raising machine, and a gamified approach (with rewards and incentives) to “conquering” new markets.
Our Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, which includes the right of the individual to choose her religion. This is not in question, and is a very important concept for a nation like ours. But this right is terribly constrained by religions, which severely punish apostasy. Our laws prohibit conversion due to inducement, allurement, undue influence, coercion, or use of supernatural threats. Every debate on TV misses this point -people argue on grounds of constitutional rights and abuse right wings groups who protest such conversion forgetting that these new age evangelicals are clearly breaking the law! They go to the desperate, and prey on their insecurities by offering education for their children, medical services for the sick, and abuse existing religious practices and traditions.
People also point to the approximate 2.3% share of this minority in the last 3 censuses to deny such conversions. Of course, the 2011 census figures on religion has strangely not been released and we need this data. However, the reason why inthe conversion numbers do not show up in the census is that conversions are happening in communities entitled to reservation benefits. It appears that they are clearly told not to reveal their conversion in the census or officially to prevent loss of benefits. Most conversions happen amongst the tribals and rural and urban poor, who are soft targets to inducements.
I have a personal experience of evangelical groups trying to convert members of my family. Two house maids who converted said that the school where their children went raised fees and due to their inability to pay, they were told they would waive it if they converted (which they were forced to do). Of course, the school was rabid in their evangelism with these children. I use a taxi company for travel over the last ten years. I have noticed over 30% of drivers have converted over the last 5 years.
When asked, inevitably they spoke about evangelicals groups that gave them free education for children and paid their medical bills, provided they converted.
It is obvious that large-scale conversion by illegal means is happening in many places and the impact is clearly visible to anybody who would choose to see openly. Some apologists ask – where are the complaints about inducement or coercion? The law needs enforcement by the police independent of complaints, as is happening when rightist groups proudly announce conversions. These rightist groups lack sophistication, but they have squarely focused attention on this large-scale conversion activity. Law enforcers need to act before this becomes a bigger flashpoint.

Reconversion to Hinduism - Challenges of Ghar Wapsi

Jug Suraiya in the Times of India

The ‘ghar wapsi’ campaign needs to rebuild the ‘ghar’ they want people to return to.
The RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha and other elements of the Sangh Parivar who want to turn India into a Hindu rashtra through mass conversions called ‘ghar wapsi’ have their work cut out for them, because they face a couple of serious obstacles in achieving their objective. And these obstacles are not their ideological opponents like Congress and Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party. Nor is it the trifling matter of the Constitution, which clearly defines India as a secular republic.
No, the real problem with the so-called ‘ghar wapsi’ campaign is that many of those whom the Parivar is urging to come wapsi-ing back to their ghar didn’t belong to the ghar in the first place, which makes it difficult, semantically at least, for them to come back to it. For a lot of people being targeted for ‘reconversion’ by the Parivar belongs to tribal communities, which by and large were animists and did not belong to the Hindu fold. Indeed, as the story of Eklavya in the Mahabharata shows, tribals were given short shrift by mainstream Hinduism with its caste hierarchy: Eklavya, a tribal, is made to cut off his thumb and give it to Dronacharya as guru-dakshina because Dronacharya fears that his ‘low-born’ pupil will outdo the ‘high-born’ Arjuna in archery.
Tribals apart, many of those being ‘reconverted’ are dalits who, if anything, have been even more badly treated than tribals by casteist Hinduism, which looked down on them as being ‘untouchables’, literally and metaphorically. It was this enforced ‘untouchability’ which impelled many dalits to embrace religions like Buddhism. How can those who were considered outcasts – or ‘outcastes’- be brought back to a Hinduism which excluded them to begin with?
But perhaps the biggest problem faced by the ‘reconversionists’ is that, unlike Islam and Christianity, Hinduism has never been a proselytising religion. Before the Arya Samaj leader Swami Shraddhanand launched a programme of mass conversions in the 1920s, Hinduism never had a tradition of conversions, much less ‘reconversions’.
So before the Hindu brotherhood of the Sangh Parivar goes about converting, or ‘reconverting’, people to Hinduism it might have to do a bit of converting of Hinduism itself so as to bring proselytising within its purview. In order to bring in recruits to swell its ranks, Hinduism might have to convert, or reinvent, itself.
But should it do so, it might run a risk. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, recruits to Hinduism could well say that they did not want to join a religion which would have them as converted members.

Batting on bouncy pitches: The secret behind Vijay's success

The Indian opener does not play the horizontal-bat shots, but he has a good record in Australia regardless
Aakash Chopra in Cricinfo
December 31, 2014

The best way to play the short ball? Get out of the way © Getty Images

Get lighter bats, bat in the nets against bowling machines or with wet tennis balls on concrete, and practise the horizontal-bat shots. These were a few bits of advice that came my way before I embarked on the tour to Australia in 2003.
We had all heard about how tough it was to bat on the harder, bouncier, faster Australian pitches, and of how important it was to mould one's game for the conditions. Cover drives and flicks off the legs were my lifeblood on Indian pitches, but these shots are useless down under, I was told.
While you cannot undervalue the importance of horizontal-bat shots against Australian fast bowlers in Perth or at the Gabba, it's a fallacy to think that players who don't have an attacking game off the back foot are doomed. M Vijay is a good example of how a solid defensive technique off the back foot, knowledge of where your off stump is, and the ability to transfer weight onto the front foot can do the job just as well, if not better. Vijay has scored over 200 runs against pace in the first two Tests of this series without much square-cutting, hooking or pulling.

Vijay v pace
 RunsBalls% of runs% of ballsWicketsS/R
Front foot24343389.374.8256.12
Back foot2914610.725.2219.86

Vijay's head when the bowler releases the ball is in line with the top of the off stump. That gives him a fair judgement of which balls are to be left alone and which are to be played. He has left alone about 34% (the highest percentage for any active international batsman today) of the balls he has faced in Test cricket since 2011. Most of these are deliveries bowled in the channel outside off. If you regularly allow the ball to go through to the wicketkeeper, bowlers will have to come closer to the stumps in search of the elusive outside edge, which works in your favour. Vijay is old-fashioned in the way he leaves a lot of balls alone and then punishes the full balls that are close to him.
In addition to leaving a lot of balls alone outside off, he leaves alone almost everything directed at his head. In his last three overseas series he has left 96% of all bouncers bowled to him, and hasn't played a single pull, hook or uppercut. It's possible to not attempt attacking shots against bouncers while being comfortable against them. If you find yourself in a tangle while leaving the ball, a lot of bouncers will come your way. Vijay is exceptional in being able to stay out of harm's way by ducking or swaying away. It doesn't come as a surprise that he isn't peppered with short-pitched stuff as much as some other Indian batsmen are.
Since Vijay scores a lot of runs off the front foot, you might be inclined to think that he commits himself on to the front foot and so has a long stride forward. That's not the case, and it is exactly why he is successful, for if you commit yourself on the front foot too early and too much, you can't get back in time, and you become suspect against deliveries that are short of a good length and bounce steeply. Vijay has a short front-foot stride but he has acquired the expertise to wait for the ball to come to him and to then transfer his weight a fraction before the ball arrives. A lot of players with short front-foot strides tend to reach out to the ball with their hands, but Vijay doesn't.
The success of this method also largely depends on the length and line most bowlers bowl in international cricket - full and outside off, for that's what the slip cordon is designed for. Not many batsmen get out nicking to the slip cordon off the back foot, even in places like Australia and South Africa, because it's relatively easier to deal with extra bounce and sideways movement when the ball is short, with the extra time you get at the crease. It's the fuller balls that draw you forward and lure you into playing false shots that end up finding the outside edge to the cordon behind. Don't they say that a half-volley in Feroz Shah Kotla is a half-volley in Perth?
When touring Australia or South Africa it's important to have a solid back-foot game, defensive or offensive. It's equally important to remember that you will be getting out mostly off the front foot, so you shouldn't be abandoning your front-foot skills.
The subtle adjustment that one must make is to stand a little taller and have high hands on the bat, so that the ball isn't hitting higher on the bat than it does elsewhere. A lot of players from the subcontinent have low hands and tend to stay lower to deal with the low bounce back home, and that results in not timing the ball well overseas. Vijay has ticked that box too. He stands tall, plays the ball on the rise, and most importantly, plays it close to his body and under his eyes.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Cricket: Step in before its too late

Michael Jeh in Cricinfo

Unless the umpires step in quickly and end the talk, we could have a repeat of Monkeygate © Getty Images
As a dramatic year in cricket draws to a close, I am reminded of the great philosopher Sophocles, who wrote in Oedipus Rex: "I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect." He speaks cryptically of hindsight, that priceless tool of wisdom. But to use hindsight as a convenient excuse for not being prescient is sometimes the domain of fools and knaves.
A year ago, the television coverage of the Boxing Day Test was blighted by a skit that had nothing going for it, even with the wisdom of hindsight. At the time, a long time before the tragedy of Phillip Hughes could ever have been forecast, I wrote in scathing tones about the gross stupidity of one of the world's fastest bowlers hurling bouncers at an unarmed, unskilled participant with half the Channel Nine commentary crew standing around giggling. We didn't need an accidental death to tell us that Brett Lee bowling deliberate no-balls at talk-show host Piers Morgan, following him with short balls aimed at his head as he backed away to square leg, to the cackling of Shane Warne, Michael Slater and Michael Vaughan, with Mitchell Johnson and Craig McDermott watching on is just plain negligence on the part of all parties involved. These were the same people who visited Hughes in hospital, cried at his funeral and shook their heads in disbelief at the sheer bad luck of it.
Did it not occur to them that bowling no-balls at the body of an unskilled batsman might just have ended in tragedy? Did it take the death of a skilled batsman, a professional cricketer, early on a hook shot, for all those involved with The Cricket Show to reflect on the utter inappropriateness of this stunt? This from a programme that unashamedly targets young viewers (and does it extremely well in that genre).
To be fair, you only have to read some of the comments on that article of mine to see that this brain fade wasn't the exclusive domain of these star cricketers, production staff and medicos. Clearly many of the respondents, perhaps fuelled by a dislike of Morgan, did not have the foresight to imagine the sort of injury that could so easily have befallen the batsman (if indeed that can be called "batting"). Don't believe how bad it looks in hindsight? Find Brett Lee v Piers Morgan on Youtube. Ask anyone involved in planning, executing or being a bystander to this stunt if they would be willing to participate in something similar this year, perhaps getting a speedster like Pat Cummins to try and hit another celebrity in the head (and not even having the decency to bowl from behind the white line)? Any takers for a repeat show?
A series that has showcased so much high-octane cricket in the dignified shadow of Hughes' memory doesn't deserve to be remembered for all the wrong reasons
While on the "should have known better" theme, both teams involved in the current series need to look at the so-called "banter" being exchanged. With the IPL friendships that now exist, you'd think the Indians would have worked out that it rarely works to sledge an Aussie fast bowler. Where was the upside to poking a dormant brown snake? One can understand the tactic if Mitchell Johnson had been running rampant and they were looking for anything to put him off his game. Instead, for a brief but telling period in Brisbane, they riled him to the point where he not only scored 88 and turned a sizeable deficit into a crucial lead but then came out and blasted out the Indian top order. That Rohit Sharma was in the thick of it defies belief - here's a bloke on the verge of being dropped himself, having done very little in the series, taunting Johnson about his lack of impact. The only impact we are likely to see from Rohit for the rest of the series was Hot Spot on the edge of his bat as he was fired out for nought.
Shane Watson belongs in the same camp; he is never far from a chat, but for a player who continues to polarise even the staunchest Australian fans, he might be better advised to leave the verbals alone and try to convince the nation that he is a budding allrounder - if only he could learn to bat. How much hindsight is required to convince the selectors that he is not the answer at first drop? They might work on the reverse-hindsight theory - keep giving him enough chances until he makes a score and that vindicates the selection.
The Australians, too, need to rethink their targeting of Virat Kohli. Abrasive he may be, hot-headed he is, but by Jove, the boy can bat. Baiting him doesn't work, it just brings out the mongrel in him. He had to score three hundreds this series to underscore the futility of that tactic? His habit of spoiling for a scrap, regardless of whether it's his fight or not, will see him miss a Test soon for disciplinary reasons. You don't need 20/20 vision to predict that!
Ian Chappell, who knows a thing or two about playing tough cricket, has long been cautioning the ICC about allowing the incessant chatter to get to the point where someone gets too hot under the collar and a physical confrontation leaves an indelible stain on a game that is in an awkward no-man's land after the sombre events of the recent past. It is not enough to leave it up to the players to decide where that fine line is between banter, gamesmanship and that final sledge that sparks an unseemly confrontation. The umpires in this series have been far too lax in allowing the players the latitude of walking that fine line - the palpable tension after tea on day four in Melbourne threatens to descend into open warfare unless the umpires take more control.
A series that has showcased so much high-octane cricket in the dignified shadow of Hughes' memory doesn't deserve to be remembered for all the wrong reasons. The ghosts of that ugly series in 2007-08 do not need to be dug up from their uneasy graves. This is not a lesson we need to learn, again, in hindsight.
It is probably incumbent upon the match referee to gather both teams together at close of play and remind them that some situations, like the Monkeygate affair, are too hard to retrieve if tensions run too high. It would make a mockery of all the goodwill that has flowed through the cricket community in the wake of sadness, black armbands and moving eulogies. He might do well to remind them all of this old Irish proverb: "May you have the hindsight to know where you've been, the foresight to know where you're going and the insight to know when you're going too far."

Pakistan post Peshawar: What will we actually do

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi in The Dawn
WE have an unmatched instinct for farce especially when we adopt our most grave and serious postures.
Another all-parties conference; a dash to Kabul; a rage of hangings; a 20-point National Action Plan to succeed the still-born Nacta and NISP; a committee for every point of the NAP; subcommittees for every committee; an overall oversight committee led by the prime minister who proclaims zero tolerance; a defining moment; a do-or-die challenge; an unending jihad against jihadis; eternal cooperation with the military which is invited to discharge his responsibilities; military courts of dubious value and still more dubious constitutionality; warrants of arrest against facilitated ‘fararis’ (absconders), etc.
‘Democratic’ political leaders who until recently were locked in mortal combat are now united in complicit support for a ‘soft coup’ and a resurrection of the doctrine of necessity.
The Supreme Court judges realising the gravity of the situation met under the chairmanship of the chief justice to assess how the prosecution of those accused of terrorism could be prioritised and completed expeditiously.

The credibility of our counterterrorism commitment will need to manifest itself in our foreign policy

They have, accordingly, agreed on an eight-point plan. Their plan has been summarily shoved aside by the 20-point plan. So much for the rule of law! Will the Supreme Court now accept amendments to the Constitution that are against its ‘basic structure’ and clear intent and purpose? The superior judiciary is not incompetent. It has been impeded by those who would now supersede it.
There has been no collective and public (civil and military) leadership apology to the bereaved families and the nation. No acknowledgement of responsibility — indeed guilt — for bringing about a state of affairs in the country that directly and indirectly made the atrocity possible, if not likely. How can anyone say ‘this is a watershed moment’ or ‘we have at last turned the corner’? Our 9/11, no less, have been so many self-inflicted tragedies in our short history including the fall of Dhaka, military surrender and the break-up of the country. There has been the loss of the Siachen Glacier and the fiasco of Kargil. There has been the intermittent war in Balochistan over decades. There were unprincipled deals ceding control in a number of Fata areas to dangerous militants.
These militants have become today’s monsters responsible for the school atrocity and murder and mayhem of every kind in Pakistan. There has been Abbottabad leading to national humiliation and isolation abroad.
Have we responded to all this criminal impunity with a greater concern for national security, governance and leadership? Why, or rather how will it be any different this time? Well, because enough is enough! Our cup of patience runneth over! The leopard will at last change its spots. Inshallah! Indeed, we have a plan for it. Mashallah!
We know the history of inquiry commissions in Pakistan. Even so, why has our suddenly ‘united’ civil and military leadership not immediately sought to ‘break the mould’ by establishing a genuinely independent, repeat independent, and competent commission to inquire into all aspects of how Dec 16 came to pass?
Such an inquiry should, needless to say, seek to ascertain who bore the greatest responsibility for the political and security milieu, as well as the specific lead-up circumstances including lapses, that resulted in the tragedy. It should make a meaningful and comprehensive set of concise, relevant and mutually reinforcing policy recommendations that are continuously monitored and reported upon to the nation on a weekly basis by our ‘born-again’ leadership.
Counterterrorism in Pakistan has to be part and parcel of a comprehensive state and, indeed, societal transformation process. Yes, this is a longer term effort. But given our truly rotten circumstances, unless our action plan is embedded in a simultaneous commencement of this longer-term and much bigger project, it will lose direction, momentum and credibility very rapidly.
Solemn assurances to the contrary are rhetorical and meaningless because outside this broader transformation context they cannot be credible. This credibility of our counterterrorism commitment will also need to manifest itself in our foreign policy.
Take Afghanistan. Unless we deny the Afghan Taliban and their various cohorts and networks safe havens, sanctuaries and cross-border supply routes on our territory, how do we expect our commitments to President Ashraf Ghani and his government to be taken seriously? How would we play an acceptable role in a peacemaking and political reconciliation process in Afghanistan if the government in Kabul has grave reservations about our reliability as a partner?
If the Afghan Taliban in Afghanistan are viable inside Afghanistan without our assistance we can still play a constructive role in facilitating reconciliation without seeking to use them as a check on India’s influence. If a terror-prone Afghan Taliban once again takes over Afghanistan, with or without our deniable assistance, it will be the TTP and not us who will gain ‘strategic depth’.
Take India. We need to have a predictable working relationship with it despite our continuing and significant differences on Kashmir and other issues. We will need to develop and implement modalities for managing our differences on Kashmir and building essential bilateral and regional cooperation to confront the challenges of the 21st century.
A state of ‘no war, no peace’ with a neighbour several times our size provides no context in which to pursue counterterrorism policies against organisations we have been prone to use as ‘proxies’, and which have done us no end of harm diplomatically and domestically.
Unless we radically rethink our external policy strategies how will we develop a credible counterterrorism policy and transform our economy and society? There is no indication of any of this in the national action plan. Will we finally do what we say and dismantle the whole infrastructure of terror inside Pakistan? Will we begin to rationalise our India and Afghanistan policies and come across as credible to ourselves and the international community?

Monday, 29 December 2014

Syriza can transform the EU from within – if Europe will let it


Syriza’s anti-austerity programme is more sensible than radical, and what Greece needs. But the EU is far from convinced
Greek parliament
Presidential guards in front of the Greek parliament. Photograph: Kostas Tsironis/AP

The Greek parliament has failed to elect a new president and the country’s constitution dictates that there should now be parliamentary elections. These will be critical for Greece and also important for Europe. A victory for Syriza, the main leftwing party, would offer hope that Europe might, at last, begin to move away from austerity policies. But there are also grave risks for Greece and the European left.
The rise of Syriza is a result of the adjustment programme imposed on Greece in 2010. The troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provided huge bailout loans, with the cost of unprecedented cuts in public expenditure, tax increases and a collapse in wages. It was a standard, if extreme, austerity package, with one vital difference: austerity could not be softened by devaluing the currency as, for instance, had happened in the Asian crisis of 1997-98. Greek membership of the euro had closed all escape routes.
Brutal austerity succeeded in stabilising Greece and keeping it in the economic and monetary union by destroying its economy and society. The budget deficit has been drastically reduced, the current account deficit has turned into a surplus and the prospect of default on foreign debt has receded. But GDP has contracted by 25%, unemployment has shot above 25%, real wages have fallen by 30% and industrial output has declined by 35%. The human cost has been immeasurable, amounting to a silent humanitarian crisis. Homelessness has rocketed, primary healthcare has collapsed, soup kitchens have multiplied and child mortality has increased.
Since the summer of 2014, the depression has been drawing to a close, helped by the strong performance of the tourist sector. Yet, the damage from troika policies is so severe that growth prospects are appalling. The weakness is manifest in foreign trade, which the IMF expected to act as the “engine of growth”. In 2014, Greek exports will probably contract, while imports began to rise as soon as the depression showed signs of ending. This is a deeply dysfunctional economy.
In the midst of this catastrophe, the troika is insisting on further austerity to achieve massive primary budget surpluses of 3% in 2015, 4.5% in 2016 and even more in future years. Its purpose is to service the enormous foreign debt, which has risen to 175% of GDP from about 130% in 2009. Astonishingly, the IMF still expects Greece to register average growth of 3.4% during the next five years – provided, of course, that it goes full speed ahead with privatisation, deregulation of labour and market liberalisation. The troika has truly embraced the economics of the absurd.
In 2010-11, the Greek people actively opposed the disastrous policies of the troika and its domestic allies, but failed to stop them. After 2012, however, as unemployment and poverty escalated, it became difficult to organise popular protest. Still, exhaustion with troika policies is so great that voters have turned in droves to the left, in the hope that Syriza will offer a better future.
Syriza promises first to achieve a substantial write-off of Greek debt and, second, to lift austerity by aiming for balanced budgets, instead of the surpluses demanded by the troika. It will reconnect families to the electricity network, provide food relief and shelter the homeless. It will take immediate action to reduce unemployment through public programmes. It is committed to lowering the enormous tax burden and to boosting public investment in an effort to accelerate growth.
There is nothing radical, much less revolutionary, in these policies. They represent modest common sense and would open a fresh path for other European countries. After all, Syriza has repeatedly declared its intention to keep the country within the economic and monetary union, and to avoid unilateral actions. There is little doubt that its leaders are committed Europeanists who truly believe that they could help transform the EU from within.
The trouble is that the EU is far from amenable to Syriza’s ideas. Germany’s exporters and banks have benefitted substantially from the euro and have no incentive to abandon austerity. Berlin has its plate full anyway as the eurozone is exhibiting renewed weakness, with France and Italy on the ropes. There is also Mario Draghi at the ECB,rambling on about quantitative easing, a policy that Berlin detests. The last thing that Germany would welcome would be Syriza and its programme.
A scaremongering campaign is likely in the coming weeks to deter Greeks from voting for the leftwing party. Should the campaign fail, a Syriza government can expect hostility from the EU, which is not short of weapons. Syriza’s programme is sensible and modest, but lacks secure funding. Greece also needs substantial finance to service its debts in 2015, perhaps up to €20bn. There are some debt repayments in the spring that might be manageable, but further repayments – €6.7bn – must be made in July-August, which will need fresh funding from abroad. And, needless to say, Greek banking would be rapidly asphyxiated if the ECB stopped providing liquidity.
A Syriza government will probably face an ultimatum to capitulate, perhaps by being offered some watered-down version of austerity. This would be a disaster for Greece and a major defeat for opponents of austerity in Europe. It is vital that Syriza wins and applies its programme without flinching, helped by international support. The battle lines are forming in Greece.

On Pakistan - The real war is the war of narrative

The terrorist narrative of victimhood, denial and conspiracy theories can easily be deconstructed and dismantled.—Photo by Zahir Shah Sherazi
The terrorist narrative of victimhood, denial and conspiracy theories can easily be deconstructed and dismantled.—Photo by Zahir Shah Sherazi
The closer you want to get to eradicating the menace of terrorism, the bigger this menace seems to get.
For the past week, following the attack in Peshawar, our leaders, both in Khaki and Mufti, have deliberated and deliberated. But this piece is not about them and the solutions they might come up with. It is about the sociology of the mindset that either justifies or rationalises terrorism, or impedes tangible action against it.
It is about the failure of the state and the society to come up with a narrative that can defeat the terrorists.
Terrorists of all hues — Al Qaeda, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its countless affiliates, Afghan Taliban and its affiliates like the Haqqani network, India-focused terror groups like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and sectarian terror groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — use two weapons: incredible hatred towards their victims and a narrative to convince and recruit new supporters to the cause.
This narrative of victimhood, denial and conspiracy theories can easily be deconstructed and dismantled. But what with the rising anger in the country, fracturing of the society and the general iffiness of the times we live in, no one has done anything substantial about the issue despite harping on about it at great length.
It is time we change that.
After 9/11, the United States knew whom to blame and the nation’s anger was projected outwards. After 7/7, the United Kingdom knew whom to blame, and the country was able to vent its anger. After Mumbai attack, India too, vented its anger on Pakistan and somehow managed to cool off.
In Pakistan, though, where the state had pandered to extremist inclinations for long, at the time of 9/11 there was a dictator in place, whose rise to fame and then power owed a lot to the Kargil debacle. When General Musharraf decided to take a U-turn in his Afghan/Taliban policy, he gave his people the wrong reasons for doing so.
Instead of telling them that extremism of all kinds is bad for the country; that it can easily turn against the country's own people and that nation states are held accountable if found guilty of exporting destabilising ideologies beyond their borders; he told the nation that had Pakistan not taken the step, it would have been bombed back to the stone age.
That was an admission not of flawed policies but merely of foreign pressure.
At the time, there was neither any parliament nor the free media we see today. Lack of proper debate turned the country’s anger inwards. Later, conspiracy theories of sorts would emerge, people living in denial would scavenge western media sources for whatever half-truths would fit into their narrative.
Today, we have a developed popular narrative which says that Islam is in danger, that Pakistan is about to break; all of this is linked to belief in the end of time.
Look through: Friday sermons
All faiths have eschatological predictions. Since each brand of 'endism' focuses on end of the universe, the predictions are found to be dire and can easily be exploited at any time of adversity. Our local religious extremists and televangelists have very effectively inserted these prophecies into the reactionary narrative. By raising doubts about some of the most well-documented historical developments and mixing it with this narrative, the terrorists have managed to win over a host of fence-sitters.

Just textbooks or more?

A oft-made point is the ideological indoctrination in school textbooks. It is said that our books preach hate and a distorted version of history which unhinges a young impressionable mind from the very beginning.
Be that as it may, such a thought is predicated on the assumption that all Pakistanis go to school and imbibe every word written in the textbooks. While there is no justification of hatred finding way into the school books, these books barely play even a secondary role.
Even if the textbook is saying a certain thing, what the teacher thinks and what the best friend thinks matters much more to the pupil than what is written in the book. A young child spends more time with friends, family and in front of television.
So while it is important that the curriculum must be reformed, let us not lose sight of the fact that the problem is of understated heart-to-heart oral tradition which transmits through culture.
As a child, for instance, I usually internalised much of what my father used to think with considerably less resistance, and when I met my friends, our individual sets of views would collide with each other, evolving into something new altogether.

The tragedy of television

The quality of our television news product is quite important here. In the 24/7 live news cycle where a talk show host and a news director are forced to operate at breakneck speed and take decisions on the fly, very little thought is given to quality or for that matter, narrative.
Then there is the matter of the presence of Taliban and terrorist apologists amongst our midst, which creates a problem because while the moderate majority is too divided and disorganised, the sympathisers of terrorists are very well organised and persistent. So, the resultant end product invariably confuses viewers instead of clearing their minds.
But that is not all. The reason why viewers watch our news channels a lot is because our entertainment industry has been underperforming for a decade. The power of a drama serial should not be underestimated. A playwright can say things which are difficult or impossible to say on news channels.
Sadly, however, while a debate is underway to curtail the appearance of sympathisers of terrorism on live news networks, the storytelling in the entertainment industry still remains with the same forces who played a critical role in indoctrination.
As a result, the teleplays on political matters are often found to be highly reactionary, irrational and riddled with conspiracy theories.

Hostage crisis at the pulpits

Prayer leaders don’t usually go to regular schools or watch television; their tradition is essentially oral. There is no doubt that religious seminaries (some of which are genuinely committed to spreading hate) play a crucial role in forming their worldview. But it is daily interaction with other religious-minded people and groups (Tableeghi Jamaat for instance), the availability of vast amounts literature and personal assumptions which consolidate their distorted perceptions.
The threads which feed their mindsets, some of which I have reproduced below, are of such a nature that every maulvi gets ensnared in the enemy’s propaganda with very little resistance. The message from the pulpit, may it be in the shape of the Friday sermon or the after-prayer dua, is essentially highly reactionary and counter-productive, to say the least.
What we need right now is a supply of religious scholars of integrity who can answer these questions with comfort and authority to reclaim the narrative in the mosques from the terrorists.

The terrorist's narrative

Here are some assumptions that play a crucial role in the terrorist and his sympathiser’s narrative:
Islam is in danger:
Muslims are scattered all over the world. Given their recent turbulent history it is claimed that Islam as a faith is on the brink of extinction and only violent jihad can save it. One look at the 1400 years of their history and you realise that the faith can take care of itself and needs no saviors.
These are end-of-time wars:
Islamic eschatology predicts the arrival of an Antichrist called Dajjal, and it is said that whoever chooses to side with him will never be forgiven. Now, years of propaganda has projected the West as that Antichrist. Ergo the fear that is easily exploited by terrorists.
Muslims all over the world, owing to the absence of timely 'ijtehad' or interpretation, have found it difficult to integrate with local cultures. After every two or three centuries, they are confronted with challenging times and start thinking this is the end of time.
A careful survey of Islamic literature shows no timeframe is originally given about the end. In expert hands, this element of doubt should be enough to debunk the terrorist’s propaganda.
Muslim ideal is a pan-Islamic Caliphate:
The current schools of thought in Islam took their final shape almost a millennium ago. As further debate could generate controversy, no one showed interest in challenging these dated interpretations. That era was the time of empires and nation states did not emerge until much later, till the treaty of Westphalia.
Hence, the last political model known to the Islamic thought is a theocratic Muslim empire called the Caliphate.
Itself an interpretation, this model is highly outdated and inefficient. The Ottoman Empire was a big example of the inefficiency. However, terrorists and a long list of intellectual movements (like Hizbut Tahrir) that serve as bedrock for them, use this thought to recruit new volunteers.
If, however, you study the formative phase of Islam, you will notice that Islam as a faith is not averse to the idea of a nation state. That is another thought which can be expanded to counter the terrorist’s narrative.
Muslims are victims:
Terrorists exploit the all-pervasive feeling of Muslim victimhood to their advantage. It is stunning to see that this perception has lingered on in our country for this long.
Pakistan has accumulated over 50,000 dead bodies as gifts given to it by these 'saviours' of Muslims. How hard can it be to expose these people for who they really are?
Pakistani state is fighting terrorism due to foreign pressure:
I have explained this point at length at the start. The state must own this war and explicitly state that it is being waged for the nation's good, not under international pressure. It's a promising sign that the government is finally doing that. It will also be helpful if foreign countries didn’t appear to be pressuring the country to do more. Any concerns can be conveyed through the diplomatic channel; negotiating through the media should stop.
Democracy is evil and un-Islamic:
This, too, is an ugly propaganda tool. Democracy as the cultural 'other' is used to lure people in to the extremist side.
A bit more sensitisation about democracy and exploration of political thought in Islam would make it plain that democracy is not antithetical to the original teachings of Islam. What we lack is religious interpretation on the matter. It is tragic that no coherent work has been done in this regard during the past 13 years of fighting terrorism.
Terrorists are good Muslims:
Somewhere in their heads is this deep seated regimentation that at the end of the day, the terrorist's demand — imposition of Shariah — is a legitimate one, and so it's wrong to fight them.
This is one of the terrorist’s biggest weapons. Again, the havoc these terrorists have wreaked should speak for itself. But since, for a large number of people, it appears to have not done so, we need organised campaigns to educate the public of the real context and designs of the terrorist movement. It would help if religious figures of authority came forward shattered the myth of 'good terrorists'.
Foreign powers are doing it and blaming it on unsuspecting religious groups:
The proscribed terrorist organisations take responsibility and post videos as proof. All the apologists contributing to an alternative explanation can be and should be confronted in this regard. This can bear fruits.
Pakistan was conceived as a religious state hence it should cave in to the extremist pressure:
You will find this argument widely available in the society. But given that terrorists are essentially against Pakistani state, the state will also have to end its ambivalence on the issue and come up with an identity of the state which is not entirely dependent on religion. It is not that difficult to find such an interpretation.

These are some of the assumptions that the terrorists play with. The state’s reluctance to address them has led to the current proliferation of terrorist outfits. It has played a crucial role in the birth and growth of such organisations. Now, it cannot shut its eyes to their mutating ideology and pretend that the problem will go away. It knows their language, it can speak to them. I understand that it is not easy to control every Friday sermon and talk in every mosque and madrassah. But if the state comes up with a coherent narrative and sells it to the opinion makers, the terrorists’ narrative can easily be undone.
Political and democratic ownership is essential because in the past lack of it has ruined the effort. The state knows how to highlight the narrative and sell it in the media and elsewhere despite resistance from the apologists.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

100 Best Books of all time - the views of Outlook India jury

A hundred essential books, chosen by our jury, and the reasons they should be read—and reread
George Orwell
1949; Pages: 267
The novel that made ‘Orwellian’ synonymous with oppressive regimes that use surveillance to control its citizens, it had a great opening line: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” The dystopian novel features Win­ston Smith, an emp­loyee of the Ministry of Truth. His doubts lead him to secretly begin a critique of the Party. He also falls in love with Julia, a co-wor­ker, and in an eerie twist they have to betray each other to survive. Smith is re-educated to be filled with unsurpassable love for Big Brother, the supreme leader.

A History Of The World In 100 Objects
Neil MacGregor
2010; Pages: 707
A simple idea—to tell the history of the world through the artefacts and objects collected in the British Museum—touched by the genius of its director Neil MacGregor. It started as a radio series for the BBC, which was later turned into a book. So, for instance, object 33 is a slab from the Ashoka Pillar, 68 is the Shiva and Parvati sculpture and 82 is the miniature of a Mughal prince, telling the history of India in these periods.

A Suitable Boy
Vikram Seth
1993; Pages: 1349
If Rushdie served up a dense, rich, fantasy-laden tale of modern India, Seth aspired to Tolstoyan simplicity and insight. Mrs Rupa Mehta’s quest for a husband for her daughter Lata spirals into a 1,500-page-long perambulation among four large Indian families, and plunges boldly into the political, social and economic life of newly-independent India. In this, it captures the zeitgeist in unusual depth and colour.

A Time To Be Happy
Nayantara Sehgal
1958; Pages: 292
In this book about an elite family in the newly independent India by Nayantara Sehgal, nothing really happens. It’s all about atmosphere and mood. But it captures the time so vividly, full of rich details, it remains undated. Sehgal is a prolific writer, her other books and essays may be more serious but this novel by a woman writing in Eng­lish, one of the very few in the ’50s-60s to do so, captures the social mil­ieu, especially women’s place in an urbane setting.

Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain
1884; Pages: 366
The story Twain tells through Huck Finn, in his own words and native Missouri dialect is, firstly, an immortal picaresque adventure and a journey towards manhood. Huck’s runaway thrills with the kind-hearted slave Jim on a raft down the Mississippi, their encountering and surviving a series of challenges from outlaws, murderers, mobs and a general culture of cruelty is dealt with in a breezy, satirical manner. Villainy rears its head, fortuitous coincidences occur, situations are saved. Yet the book has a moral dimension rare in an adventure story, as it is a savage indictment of the practice of slavery. At its end, Huck seems to repudiate the cruel world he inhabits, denying people a chance to ‘sivilise’ him. Huck’s decision is our hidden dream.

Alice In Wonderland
Lewis Carroll
1865; Pages: 192
All sorts of analyses—political, social, Freudian, Lacanian and many more—have been (and continue to be) applied to this hyperkinetic frolic through the illogical and ever-ramifyingly anarchic world of mystery and delight that a math don created for children, who were beloved to him. Despite the anatomisations, Alice and the oddball inhabitants of her frabjous world will endure in the minds and hearts of children and adults for many generations to come. Let’s say ‘Callooh! Callay!’ to that as, in some place ethereal, Carroll chortles in his joy!

All The President’s Men
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
1974; Pages: 349
Bernstein and Woodward broke the Watergate scandal, which led to the resignation of president Richard Nixon. The details are well-known, the break-in at the Demo­crat national committee’s offices in the Watergate hotel, the dogged pursuit by two young Washington Post reporters, the trail finally leading to the White House itself. Written in the third person, the book focuses on how the story came together, one lead at a time.  The story, which ran for two years, was described by the Post’s rival NYT as ‘maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time’.

Annihilation Of Caste, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar
1936; Pages: 100
Ambedkar’s explosive, erudite and evocative short treatise on Hinduism and its curse of caste will make the hair stand on end of every reader even on multiple readings. Ambedkar takes on Gandhi on his stand on the caste issue and shakes up the reader from the inside with the power of his language, his incisive arguments and his sharp wit to bare the gangrene that caste inflicts on Hindu society. It was to be a speech, undelivered eventually, for the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal, a reformist Hindu group in Lahore in 1936. The organisers found the content ‘unbearable’ and demanded a few changes, but Ambedkar shot back: “I will not change a comma.”

Behind The Beautiful Forevers
Katherine Boo
2012; Pages: 256
It took Boo’s rigour and vim to show us the inside of what we pass every day in cities without a thought—an urban slum. It’s an extraordinary piece of journalism, combined with an empathy for the people she is writing about that makes it a compelling book. Like in great fiction, it commands readers’ attention with its narrative power. Now, the book is a successful play running to full capacity in London.

Toni Morrison
1987; Pages: 256
An honest examination through ‘white’ eyes is one matter, but speaking of the long injustice from the inside, as it were, is another. In this Toni Morrison dons the mantle of Richard Wri­ght, James Baldwin and Ralph Ellison. The death-haunted world of Beloved is the years immediately after the Civil War, its protagonists are ex-slave Sethe, her daughter Denver, Paul D. and the spiteful spirit of her murdered daughter. Morrison’s lyrically muscular prose proves equal to the task of expressing the brutality and pain of plantation slavery. This is one of the greatest novels of the exorcision of bondage ever written.

Bitter Fruit
Saadat Hasan Manto, translated by Khalid Hasan
2008; Pages: 708
Manto appeared in the literary firmament like a meteor; in a brief span of time he established himself as one of the first modernists in the subcontinent. Savage, bitter, cynical, darkly humorous, Manto exhumed the noxious and the malodorous of society—most significantly the sham, absurd hypocrisies of Partition (on all sides)—to lay them bare. The writer of Toba Tek Singh, Kaali Shal­war and Colder Than Ice also wrote about the dropouts of society’s reviled figures like prostitutes, pimps, profligates, and the flotsam. True to his death wish, in the art of the short story he can give God a run for his money.

Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy
1985; Pages: 327
As literary westerns go, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian can hold its own in both the gruesome stakes and the grand sweep descriptors. The setting is the 1840s and his hero, The Kid, prone to violence himself, joins up with the Glanton gang who have a contract with the Mexican authorities to bring in Indian scalps. Which is where Judge Holden, he of the bald body (a constant on Ame­ri­can lists of the top 20 villainous characters) holds forth. In the border badlands the gang terrorises, there are no ‘civilised devices’ anymore. As one character put it, “When God made the man, the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anyt­hing”.

Book of Ecclesiastes
The Bible
Remove the few references to God and to keeping His covenant, and this short and powerfully poetic tract by an anonymous preacher, with eerie, pluripotent images like the blossoming of almond trees, the grasshopper being a burden unto itself, and the low sounds of grinding stones, becomes a melancholic song of nihilism. It sings of the vanity of earthly desires. Vanity of vanities, saith the preacher, all is vanity.

Capital In The Twenty-first Century
Thomas Piketty
2014; Pages: 696
It has the dubious distinction of being the most unread bestseller in a straw poll by a British paper. But those who get beyond the longish Introduction are in for a real treat of lucid writing and clear thinking of this French economist on income inequality in the US and Europe since the 18th century.  Piketty argues that if return on income is greater than the economic growth of a country for a long period of time, it makes for the rich getting richer, the poor poorer and leads to grave social unrest.

Citizens: A Chronicle Of The French Revolution
Simon Schama
1989; Pages: 976
The French Revolution has attracted the services of some of the best historians of the past 200 years. Schama’s book, published in the bicentennial year of 1989, covers the first momentous years and shatters received wisdom of a decrepit monarchy and a grasping, backward-looking reactionary nobility. Revolutionary violence, says Schama, was spurred more by hostility to modernisation than by a will to achieve it. The inability to introduce tax reforms and manage the huge debt led to the disaster. Indeed, the ‘profligate’ monarch and his queen spent far less than their British counterparts and the bureaucracy was so efficient that they were recalled by Napoleon to mend the chaos of the revolution years.

Cleopatra: A Life
Stacy Schiff
2010; Pages: 432
Cleopatra—queen, master schemer, lover of Caesar and seducer of Anthony and tragic heroine—has fascinated everyone for two millennia. Stacy Schiff, in this celebrated biography, tries to uncover the person from layers of myth that cling to her larger-than-life persona. What emerges is a portrait of a ruthless ruler and an astute gambler. At the height of her powers, Cleopatra controlled the whole of the Levant and “for a fleeting moment she held the fate of the western world in her hands”. Schiff rescues Cleo’s image from the well-worn idea of a ‘sexual temptress’ to reveal a complex individual and describe her world in compelling detail.

Collected Poems
Philip Larkin
1988; Pages 240
Larkin is the great poet of the demotic, the domestic, the crass, cruel, even cringe-worthy. He is also the least solipsistic. Part of his genius lies, like that of Eliot, in the exquisite phrase-making. The poet who’d write movingly about the dead of the Great War (“Never such innocence,/never before or since. / As changed itself to past/without a word—the men/Leaving the garden tidy./The thousands of marriages/Lasting a little while longer:/Never such innocence again”) would also capture the ’60s zeitgeist in slangy aptness (“When I see a couple of kids/And guess he’s f***ing her and she’s/Taking pills or wearing a diaphr­agm,/I know this is paradise.”). This explains his sheer quotability. In Larkin, pessimism found its Keats.

Communalism In Modern India
Bipan Chandra
1984; Pages: 412
One of the best historians of India’s freedom struggle, Bipan Chandra was also a vocal, lifelong opponent of communalism. In his seminal 1984 book, he inquires into the roots of communalism in India—looking at its social roots, the role of ideological, social and cultural elements, role of British policy and the use of history as a communal tool. As it took roots in the second half of the 19th century, says Chandra, communalism took the form of an ideology, a belief-system through which society and polity was viewed. Though some historians feel this book is historiographically dated, the book’s centrality in understanding a phenomenon that continues to plague India remains undiminished.

Crime And Punishment
Fyodor Dostoevsky
1866; Pages: 545
Deluded enough to believe that crime—even grave crime, like murder—is permitted to individuals like him (or Napoleon!) who are driven by a greater purpose, Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov, an indigent student in mid-1800s St Petersburg, axes an old pawn-broker and her sister to death. His confession to Sofia (also called Sonya), a prostitute, gradually diverts him from the febrile ramblings of his mind, his frenzied night walks through the gas-lit streets and his cat-and-mouse game with the police, leading him towards clarity, acceptance of his punishment and eventual redemption.

Discovery Of India
Jawaharlal Nehru
1946; Pages: 584
One of the makers of modern India, he wasn’t just concerned about politics and policy-making. While incarcerated in the ’40s, he wrote this classic, a somewhat rambling account of the history and culture of India—from the Indus valley civilisation to the British Raj. A reflection of Nehru’s depth of learning, he looks back at the harmony in which diverse peoples had lived in India and argues for freedom from the foreign yoke. This is a book that generations of Indians—and people across the world—have turned to, to discover India.

Michael Herr
1977; Pages: 272
Dispatches did for the Vietnam war what Ernie Pyle, John Steinbeck and Alan Moorehead’s reports did for WW II. It brought to entire generations the hallucinogenic absurdity of war—the bloody courage, the many motives and the various perversions of bravery. Herr’s writing has an awful music; the tone is harsh, and scenes shift with nouvelle vague rapidity. In the stink of war is mixed the smell of hash and the pleasures of flesh. “In Saigon and Danang we’d get stoned together and keep the common pool stocked and tended,” writes Herr, Esquire’s war correspondent.  Dispatches is hell after rock n ’roll.

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?
Philip K. Dick
1968; Pages: 210
Philip K. Dick’s dystopian 1968 offering is set in 2021 San Francisco, a nuclear wasteland where people are encouraged to migrate to Mars and androids are “almost human”.  Which means some of them do go rogue and have to be “retired”, which is where our hero, bounty hunter Rick Deckard, comes in. So far, so good, but then Dick takes a giant leap from the usual SF sweeps to the grand scheme questions: what is human, what is not? Is empathy the ultimate test?  Is collective suffering a way to stave off the “bleak decay” that surrounds you? Then, as now, there are no easy answers. Oh, and the electric sheep in the title, well, would you still love your pet as much if it could be repaired in a shop?

Epic Of Gilgamesh
Author Unknown
Mesopotamian Civilisation
The oldest extant story of humankind (c 2000 BC), Gilgamesh is a Baby­lonian epic poem. In its present form it is pieced together from nearly 30,000 tablets or fragments in three langua­ges, including Sumerian. It tells the adventures of Gilga­mesh, a harsh ruler who battles a primitive figure, becomes his staunch friend, loses him despite trying his best, and finally confers with his shade in the land of the dead. One of its most interesting sections is the talk of the Flood—a remarkable precursor to the story of Noah’s Flood in Genesis.

Ex Libris
Anne Fadiman
1998; Pages: 162
The Fadiman family sits down to dinner at a restaurant, takes up the menu and...starts correcting the typos on it. Journalist and editor Fadiman’s book is a celebration of bookishness, book-love and bibliomania. Through a series of essays—‘Never Do That To a Book’, ‘My Odd Shelves’—Fadiman explores the world of books and characters who are immersed in it. Fadiman’s subjects, presented in her playful, witty prose, range from butterflies and insomnia, Antarctic explorers (her favourite topic) and writers such as Coleridge, Caroll and Lamb. This list deserves a book about books, and their hopelessly smitten lovers.

Gandhi And Churchill
Arthur Herman
2008, Pages: 721
In this fresh approach to history, Herman falls in step with the lives of two great 20th century lives to show how each man’s starkly different worldview was informed by nationality, clan, upbringing and that, when pitted against each other through opposing ideologies of their respective nations for 40 years, the final conclusions were momentous. Chu­r­chill saved the hour for Britain through five years of resolute leadership, but had a big role in losing its crown jewel. Gandhi’s great moral leadership gave spine and purpose to the freedom stru­ggle. The former’s contempt for the latter was legion; the feeling was probably mutual. Their lives were entwined, but they only met once.

Ghosts Of Empire
Kwasi Kwarteng
2011; Pages: 488
Even in this age of post-colonial studies, there exist apologists of empire. Kwasi Kwarten, a British MP of Ghanaian origin, examines the long history of the British Empire through the eccentrics, egoists, oddball romantics and know-alls who populated the colonial services, and whose callous and misguided policies were responsible for the disorder and chaos of the past, and their present problems. Personalities like Younghusband, Gertrude Bell, Harry St John Philby and Cecil Rhodes might add colour to the colonial canvas, but are guilty of transplanting the snobberies and gradations of rank of Britain on to the colonies. This is empire stripped off its ideals, glitter and pageantry—only of its human costs.

Globalization And Its Discontents
Joseph Stiglitz
2002; Pages: 304
“In terms of wealth rather than income, the top one per cent control 40 per cent”, wrote Stiglitz in an article in, guess where, Vanity Fair, in 2011 and it ignited the imagination of millions, leading up to Occupy Wall Street. One of the few rockstar, Nobel-winning, left-leaning Ame­rican economists in the world working today, this book rubbishes the policies of the International Mone­tary Fund and The World Bank, saying their policies are grossly against the interests of poor countries. Coming from an insider, (he was the chief economic advisor to the World Bank), Stiglitz’s arguments that much more stinging.

Munshi Premchand
1936; Pages: 352
The trials and travails of the poor farmer Hori Mahato and his family caught the period perfectly—the hopes, the fears, the despair, the greed, the urbanisation of 1930s India, waiting to be freed of foreign rule. Godaan was Premchand’s last full novel and perhaps modern Hindi literature’s first. Numerous films, other books, were loosely based on the various strands this novel unfolds, and many of the questions it raises about inequality and injustice are unanswered even today. It’s also perhaps the cheapest book to buy in this list: Rs 30 online, a little less than half the price Mahato borrows from Bhola to buy a cow, which starts off Godaan.

Rabindranath Tagore
1910; Pages: 497
Gora is a quintessential novel of ideas. The central question is the idea of India, the correct path of progress, nationalism itself and the age-old clash between tradition and modernity. Gora’s austere, highly-strung Hinduism meets the ambivalence of Binoy; Pareshbabu and his daughters Lolita and Sucharita practise the different orthodoxy of Brahmoism, while the devout Krishnadoyal is a classic case of radicalisation turning reactionary with age. Gora is a fascinating echo-chamber of debate and discussion, yet shows the power of emotions to influence even the hardest-held ideologies. The knowledge of his true identity frees Gora from the carapace of religious rectitude and sets him towards a liberal acceptance of his world; modern India needs a similar reawakening.

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens
1860; Pages: 544
The story of Pip’s expectation of being a gentleman throws the reader into a journey from the mist-swaddled Kentish marshes to the upwardly mobile clubs of London, by way of the timeless, catatonic Miss Havi­sham in Satis House, gol­den-hearted Joe Gargery and the eternally grateful Magwitch. It was Dickens’s unique achievement to create characters who live on in readers’ memories, and so it is here: the mysterious Jaggers, Herbert Pocket, the histrionic Wopsle and the eccentric Wemmick. Despite its neatly melodramatic plotting, this is a book of sober purpose; at the end of it Pip learns both loyalty and Christian humility. Pip’s narrative voice, through various stages of his ‘expectations’, gets our complete sympathy. After all, don’t each one of us have our own Estella?

Guns, Germs And Steel
Jared Diamond
1997; Pages: 480
This book is a rarity—a bestselling science book which people read enthusiastically. Jared Diamond, an American scholar of physiology, ecology and evolutio­nary biology, explains why things happened in the various parts of the world as they did but consciously steers clear of it becoming a racist treatise. Instead, his focus is on how geography, linguistics and cultures spurred or spurned the rise of capitalism, mercantilism and scientific inquiry. And of course it’s about the nasty germs “that killed peoples of other continents when they came into contact with western Eurasians”.

Heart Of Darkness
Joseph Conrad
1899; Pages: 200
Conrad fictionalises his experience of commanding a steamboat on the Congo for a Belgian trading company into a forceful damnation of colonialism that uses a framed tale for psychological distance. Conrad’s narration is the holder and the picture is a yarn Charles Marlow spins of a dangerous quest for the storied Mr Kurtz, manager of an inner station supplying highly profitable ivory. The station is found ringed by stakes topped with the skulls of natives and Kurtz turns out to be depraved, mad and ill. He dies uttering, “The horror! The horror!”

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou
1969; Pages: 304
Any notion that the Ame­r­ican classics of being Black are treasured relics of a bygone era was dispelled by the recent racial tensions in the country. Like Richard Wright’s Native Son and Claude Brown’s Manchild in thePromised Land, I Know... depicts what it’s like to spend one’s childhood and youth in a defiantly racist society. Angelou’s memoir follows her from ages 3-17, and speaks of her emergence as a future civil rights activist braving poverty, displacement and prejudice. Not only deprivation, Angelou was also a victim of rape and molestation. Her masterpiece is a testament of the triumph of the human will.

In Cold Blood
Truman Capote
1966; Pages: 368
In clean prose, milestoned with concrete details, Capote recreates the Kansas hamlet of Holcomb, down to the lurching tumbleweed. Six years in the research and writing, In Cold Blood used fictional techniques to holistically capture the 1959 murder of four members of the prosperous Clutter fam­ily—Herbert, a farmer, his invalid wife, and two of their children—and get into the minds of the killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, who were hanged in 1965. Smith said he hadn’t intended to kill the soft-spoken Herbert right till the moment he slit his throat.

In Patagonia
Bruce Chatwin
1977; Pages: 240
A piece of a ‘Bronto­saurus’s skin’ in a family spurs a child’s dream of Patagonia, “at the far end of the world”. Years later, the man made the long journey to the wind-carved, remote Chilean province. A book that is as much about wandering, exile (with a cast of anarchists and bandits in Argentina and Chile), as about the fact of arrival and exploration past and present, Chatwin’s richly anecdotal book wears its erudition lightly. Along with The Road to Oxiana and Arabian SandsIn Patagonia is a true travel classic.

India Discovered: The Achievement Of The British Raj
John Keay
1981; Pages: 224
The early colonial players in India—the Dutch, Portuguese, French and English—mostly dismissed it as a place with little culture and the pop­u­lation little better than barbarians. Yet, within a few decades of firming up their possessions, a remarkable group of Orientalists descended upon the country. Their story for the next 150 years—parallel to that of the British Raj—is one of learning and discovery. Art, literature, linguistics, sculpture, architecture, ethnography, geology, arc­h­aeo­logy—their assiduous cataloguing and the writing of texts of knowledge was undertaken. Keay’s book is the tale of changing British attitudes to their colony through the awe-inspiring adventure of coming to terms with its ancient culture. This is the story of the reconstruction of Indian history, piece by piece, by generations of scholars.

Interpretation Of Dreams
Sigmund Freud
1899; Pages: 630
Freud, who formulated psychoanalysis, drew his understanding of the unconscious largely from the study of dreams. This was a pioneering work: dreams had till then been seen as an occult subject. Freud’s genius lay in positing that dreams were symbolic manifestations of wish-fulfillment; the symbols could represent repressed sexual desires. His ‘talking cure’ was built upon dream analysis, through which he helped patients gain insight into the inner conflicts that caused their neuroses.

Into The Darkness
Gitta Sereny
1995; Pages: 400
A journalist and writer of German-Hungarian parentage, Gitta Sereny was among those who saw the rise, rule and defeat of Hitlerism. Into that Darkness is a remarkable piece of investigative journalism; its centrepiece is Sereny’s interview with mass murderer Franz Stangl—one-time commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor extermination camps. A steadfast denier of responsibility, Stangl adm­itted his guilt under Ser­eny’s close interrogation. Hours after his final capitulation, he was dead. Ser­eny’s great work shows that evil wasn’t ‘banal’; it was frighteningly ordinary and commonplace. It is in us.

Invisible Cities
Italo Calvino
1974; Pages: 165
Fabulist, folklorist and novelist Italo Calvino brings together an ageing Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo, where the Venetian traveller regales the Tartar emperor with tales of all the cities he has seen—each imbued with memory, desire, signs, eyes, the dead, the sky. It has the charm of the travelogue, perfumed by a curious medieval mysticism. His are cities of ideas, feeling long-forgotten dreams and unquenched thirsts. Like Isidora: “The dreamed of city contained him as a young man; he arrives at Isidora in his old age”. Desires are already memories.” Or Tamara: “You leave Tamara without having discovered it.” Isn’t life, so like a dream, just like that?

Lord Of The Flies
William Golding
1954; Pages: 182
Golding’s allegory dee­ply explores human savagery and the conflicting needs for peaceful society and for individual power. A group of British schoolboys stranded on an uninhabited island start out decently enough. But they soon des­cend into primitive rivalry. Simon, the mystic, and Piggy, the intellectual, are killed. Drawn by a fire intended to kill Ralph, the isolated leader of the boys, a naval officer from a passing ship arrives just in time to save him. He is stupefied by what he sees.

Lords Of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke The World
Liaquat Ahamed
2009; Pages: 576
The timing of Ahamed’s book, which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, could not have been better. The book, which deals with the fallacies of the heads of the central banks of the US, UK, France and Germany betw­een World War I and the Great Depression of the ’30s, came out bang in the middle of the financial crisis of the late 2000s. It had many lessons for the present times, but it seems few were learnt.

Lucky Jim
Kingsley Amis
1954; Pages: 256
Lucky Jim, in a way the forerunner of the ‘campus novels’ of David Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury, is renowned as a great comic novel. Jim Dixon, a gauche lower middle-class lecturer of history at a redbrick university, gets into awful scra­pes—setting fire to his bed while smoking, drunkenly delivering a rebellious lecture—and draws the laughs. But Amis goes beyond farcical comedy. Dixon, in his own way, is a radical and, clumsily attacking the moth-eaten Bri­tish class system of cozy privilege.

Madame Bovary
Gustave Flaubert
1856; Pages: 256
Flaubert’s novel is one of the crown jewels of the genre. The tale of a bored and disillusioned housewife taking lovers and coming to a sorry end is gripping, but not unexceptional. But the restrained, yet poetically vivid style, the realistic tre­atment of the country-town environment, and life-like characters we all know. With a cast of characters like Homais, Lheureux and Charles Bovary, Flaubert painted a gallery of the shallow, shabby and vulgar that symbolises the middle-class scratching at life and their thwarted ambitions. At its centre is Mad­ame Bovary, wrapped in dreams, delusions and debt, walking towards the end.

Making Sense Of Pakistan
Farzana Sheikh
2009; Pages: 274
As Pakistan lurches from crisis to crisis, its woes have been traced to weak civilian rulers, corrupt politicians and most importa­ntly, rule by the self-serving military. Shaikh delves into the very idea of Pakistan, and crucially, the ambivalent role of Islam in it. The country’s problematic relationship with Islam has decisively frustrated its quest for a coherent national identity, she writes. This dithering started with Jinnah himself, as he veered between the idea of a multi-religious secular state and an Islamic one. The nation’s constitution too became a zone of competition, as religious parties pus­hed for greater Islam­isation. The bitter, bloody squabble that we see today der­ives its potency from Pakist­an’s decades of military rule, broken by inte­rmittent spells of dem­ocracy, where each one used Islam to his own end, always decla­iming the so-cal­­led “Islamic purpose of the state”. Yet, there’s eno­ugh in this comp­lex country—a free press, pow­erful judiciary, educa­ted middle class and increasing opposition to jehad—for Sha­ikh to be optimistic about its future.

Man’s Search For Meaning
Viktor E. Frankl
1946; Pages: 184
From the abysmal darkn­ess of the soul that conc­entration camps rep­res­ented, Frankl brought back sustaining life lessons—going bey­ond endurance to create mea­ning, even beauty. The lessons are from Frankl’s distillation, as a trained psychiatrist, of how inmates like him used imagination to transc­end the demoralisation that killed before the labour, the torture and the gas did. Fra­nkl’s dispassionate eye picks out the states of mind of a prisoner in different stages of the interment, the different techniques of survival, to keep hope alive. Contempl­ation in the constant shadow of death leads Frankl to conclude the high truth, “love is the ultimate, the highest goal to which man can aspire”.

Midnight’s Children
Salman Rushdie
1980; Pages: 647
Born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, Salim Sinai’s life is yoked to the history of his country and to others born at that fortuitous moment, with whom he shares a str­ange telepathy and magical gifts. Linguistically rich, formally inventive, this fantastic saga of independent India won Rushdie the Boo­ker, the Booker of Bookers and remains a cult classic.

One Hundred Years Of Solitude
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
1970; Pages: 448
The years of rain passed, so did the insomnia plagues, Macondo and the Buendias continued to live, brood, breed, prosper. Six generations of them, in fact, compressed into one magical book, One Hundred Years of Solitude. In between, they warred, against the priests, against the foreign banana company, and in that ‘pox of solitude’ with their own illegal loves. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s lyrical, fecund, incestuous book opened up Latin American writing to the western world, pig’s tails, marauding ants and all.

One Thousand Years Of Annoying The French
Stephen Clarke
2011; Pages: 685
For the insufferable Brits, the French are ‘frogs’, their greatest man merely ‘Boney’; their superiority over the French couched by Crecy, Agin­co­urt and Wat­er­loo, 1066 be damned. Clarke, in an engaging, historically rich and boastfully prejudi­ced book, puts forth the thesis that the English always were open to accepting the French; it’s the latter who have been duplicitous, besi­des being second-best at everything. Clarke’s list of French historical blunders range from the murder of Thomas Becket to the 100 Years War, personalities crucified include Napoleon and De Gaulle. And finally, Brit­ownership of great Fre­nch traditions—like cha­mp­a­gne, guillotine or even the unassailable French cuisine— is claimed. This is history at its most palatable.

Origins Of The Second World War
A.J.P. Taylor
1961; Pages: 296
That Taylor’s book is a classic is indisputable now, and many generations have grown up with it. But when it first appeared in 1961, it broke new ground and punctured old wisdom too. Peering into Europe’s crisis-ridden two decades that sowed the seeds of another conflict—from Versailles and Locarno to the Saar plebiscite, the Czechoslovakian affair and the final crisis over Dan­zig—Taylor debunks the theory that laid the blame solely on Hitler’s door. He masterfully shows how the origins go back to confusions and intellectual dishonesties of the western, especially Brit­ish, leaders and to the injustices of Ver­s­ailles, and says that Hitler, a master opportunist without a grand blueprint of world domination, acted as any nationalist German politician would do.

Other Inquisitions
Jorge Luis Borges
1964; Pages: 223
A man so bewilderingly versatile in his labyrinthine short stories and informed by unmatched erudition would naturally gravitate towards non-fiction too. Much of Other Inquisitions, a collection of his essays from 1937-52, have circular arguments woven through them. Borg­es’s prodigious knowledge of everything is apparent from the subject matter: Joyce, P.H. Gosse, John Wilkins’s Analytical Lang­u­age, literary descriptions, Coleridge, Beckford’s Vat­hek, Apollinaire, Wilde, Buddha, Pascal, Kafka, Edw­ard Fitzgerald, Flaub­ert, a history of the Tango. The cerebral metaphysician carries into his non-fiction his other signature property—an extraordinary bre­vity. The book includes such classics as A New Refutation of TimeThe Wall and the Books and A History of the Echoes of a Name. “I have always ima­gined that Paradise will be a kind of library,” says Borges. He seems to have arranged his life in like manner.

Peter Pan
J.M. Barrie
1911; Pages: 267
Barrie’s timeless fantasy play has had its hold over generations of child­ren. Peter, a boy who ran away the day he was born, visits the Darlings and stri­kes up a friendship with their three children, especially Wendy, and teaches them to fly after getting back his shadow, left beh­ind when he had fled with their dog. He takes them to Never Land, a country of lost boys who haven’t grown up and who are protected by a tribe of Red Indians, where a life-and-death contest ensues with the evil pirate gang of Captain Hook. Wendy becomes a mother figure to the boys and Hook is killed in the final fight. Peter takes the Darling children back home, with a promise that Wendy would return once every year to do the spring-cleaning. Peter Pan gave us Never Land, a place where we may escape the artifices of adulthood.

Portnoy’s Complaint
Philip Roth
1969; Pages: 274
American Jewishness has been put under the fictional scanner before (Bellow, Malamud, Schw­a­rtz), but no one was ready for Roth’s comic-abs­­urd-insulting scream in Port­noy’s Complaint. Alexander Portnoy, his domineering and guilt-inducing mother, wimpish and constipated father, and pious sister are all agents of Portnoy’s guilt, chronic rebellion and reve­nge (through constant masturbation, and as an adult, affairs with thoroughly obj­ectified Gentile women). Indeed, along with the solipsistic and agonising Jewish hero concerned with shvitz, goys and shiksas, Portnoy’s world is sch­long-obsessed, and Roth’s lexicographic explanation is a masterpiece of mischief. Clarity, at last, comes to Portnoy in Israel, with a Jewish girl, who confronts him with the contradictions of his existence. The Yid finds his shetl.

A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
James Joyce
1916; Pages: 329
Stephen Daedalus’s growing consciousness—art­istic, emotional, political—is the stuff of Joyce’s immortal work. Formally and linguistically, it’s a prog­ression from innocent baby-talk to complex half-tones: schoolroom banter, Father Dolan’s cane at Clongowes, temptations of the flesh and inte­nse Catholic remorse for­t­ified by the terrifying ‘Hellfire’ sermon, the seductions and rejection of priesthood, and the formation of Stephen’s artistic credo to encounter ‘the reality of experience’, and to ‘forge the uncreated conscience of his race’. With its hazewrapt Dublin, richly symbolic prose, impressionistic setting and the brilliantly-lit central character, Portrait of an Artist leaves a lasting impact.

Pride And Prejudice
Jane Austen
1813; Pages: 272
The plot of Austen’s great comedy of manners and sensibilities does not bear to be repeated. It’s made of Mr and Mrs Bin­g­ley, of Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty and Lydia, of Darcy and Bingley, of Lon­gbourne, Netherfield and Pemberley, of country balls and carriage drives, of pride, prejudice and redem­ption, of rejection and acc­e­ptance of love. But now con­­s­ider this. How does Austen’s novel, published in 1813, with a first draft dated almost to 1796, survive two centuries to remain as fresh and immediate as if it were written yesterday? In the answer to that lies the key to Jane Austen’s genius.

Psmith In The City
P.G. Wodehouse
1910; Pages: 122
Before Wodehouse crea­ted a long line of unge­n­tlemanly aunts and bum­­bling gentlemen of leisure, he created Psmith—loose and long of limb, animated only by his madcap schemes. In this novel, circumstances force Psmith to don the bowler and take up a banker’s job in Lon­don. He rebels in exhilarating fashion, with close fri­­end Mike always at hand. His adventures in the city is a torrent of timeless fun. It shows that Wodehouse’s world of inspired madness has a lunatic logic of its own.

Raag Darbari
Sri Lal Shukla
1968; Pages: 334
Perhaps the greatest state-of-the-nation novel to have come out of north India, Raag Darbari, as suggested by its name, is a measured, melancholy look at the Hindi heartland after two decades of Nehruvian idealism. The premise is a well-tested one: an outsider’s view of a well-structured society. The Uttar Pradesh village of Shivpalganj is scrutini­sed by an educated, idealistic young man, Ranga­nath, who spends six months in the house of his uncle, Vaidji, an influential and dishonest power-broker. Shukla’s unsparing critical eye satirises every level of this smallest unit of society—the economy, education, social structures, the pol­itics, nothing escapes. Needless to say, the rot that Shukla laid bare in his celebrated work is there for all of us to see even today, if we choose to look.

Savaging The Civilised: Verrier Elwin, His Tribals And India
Ramachandra Guha
1999; Pages: 416
This Englishman who worked in India in the 1930s was many things: anthropologist, social worker, evangelist, Gandhian, politician, social activist, writer and commentator but he is most remembered for his work with the tribals—first in Central India, specifically on the Gonds and Baigas, and later after Indep­end­ence in the Northeast. Guha’s book brought the limelight back on Elwin amid some controversy about Elwin’s description of free sex and the hedonistic attitude of the tribals.

Shake Hands With The Devil: The Failure Of Humanity In Rwanda
Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire
2003; Pages: 592
There have been many books and documentaries on the genocide in Rwanda, but French-Can­adian Lt Gen Dallaire’s is unique and particularly heart-rending because it’s by a man who was on the forefront of it as the United Nation’s force commander in 1994 during the horrific period of Rwanda’s history. The force did help save thousands of lives but also had to stand helplessly and watch Hutu terrorists massacre many more Tutsi people. A compelling and traumatic account of a war by an armyman.

Silent Spring
Rachel Carson
1962; Pages: 378
Few ‘isms’ have a truly great source book. Modern environmentalism though has Silent Spring. Emerging in 1962, amidst the boom years of econo­mic progress, degradation of the environment was far from everyone’s mind. Carson’s long concern for the deleterious, often fatal consequences of using chemical pesticides, especially aerial spraying and other uses of DDT, led to years of research, and the unearthing of hundreds of cases of poisoning in humans and animals and a definitive establishment of pesticide carcinogenesis. Carson’s revolutionary achievement was to show the general public, with particular moral force, how pesticides—essentially poison—killed germs, but also entered the food chain, threatened birds and fish and ultimately humans. In her warning to humankind about the dangers of poisoning nature which would, inevitably, poison us, Carson not only pioneered modern conservation and ecology but laid the path on which others would follow.

The Alexandria Quartet
Lawrence Durrell
1962; Pages: 884
Lover of the Levant and the Near East and one of the most celebrated men of letters in the mid-20th century, Durrell’s Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive and Clea was termed an “investigation of modern love”. Mid-century Alexandria, in its perfumed decadence and shadowed by its cosmopolitan history, is evoked in classically allusive and sensuous prose through a rich cast of characters—the vibrant, diva-like Justine, her lover and the narrator Darley, prince Nessim, Scobie, the artist Clea and the insightful Balthazar—and a sprinkling of Cavafy’s poems. The four novels are also unified—Justine expl­ains Balthazar on one level, while Clea explains it at another, deeper level, and Mount­olive keeps time moving.

The Arabian Nights
Full of magic and fantasy, valour and romance, ribaldry and eroticism, tales from the One Thousand and One Nights is something that everyone has read in some form or the other. The orally transmitted Arabic tales were popular as early as the 10th century, and through centuries of accretion and framing, gained their current form around 1450, when some of them were known in Europe. Since then, the jealous sultan Shahryar and his resourceful young wife Shahrzade have become a staple of story-telling. The first European translation was the French one by Anto­ine Galland (1704-17) and distinguished English ones include one by Richard Bur­ton. The Arabian Nights—with stories such as Ali Baba, Aladdin and Sinbad the Sai­lor—is an important cultural artifact, and played a role in forming western assumptions of the “exotic east”.

The Baburnama 
Zahir-ud-Din Muhammad Babur
1529; Pages: 446
Of all potentates who ever took up a pen—Caesar’s campaigns and Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations spring to mind—Babar holds a special distinction, for his Baburnama is the only true autobiography from the medieval Islamic world. “In the month of Ramadan of the year 899 and in the twelfth year of my age, I became ruler in the country of Ferghana,” says Babar in the opening sentence. It ends in mid-sentence in September 1529, a year before his death. Written in Chagatai (later translated into Persian), Babar tells of his struggle to defend his throne, his early failures, the move and consolidation in Kabul and his famous foray into India. But Baburnama is perhaps more famous for the emperor’s lyrical observations of new lands, people, flora and fauna, cities with their distinctive architecture, and music and literature. Lover of the fruits, wines, poetry and gardens of central Asia, Babar found India “as a place of little charm”. In wealth of detail, Baburnama remains one of the most significant royal memoirs of all time.

The Book Of Laughter And Forgetting
Milan Kundera
1979; Pages: 320
Like many 20th century novels, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting aspires to being many things—memoir, philosophy, political tract, erotic speculation and fantasy. Moreover, the personal in Kundera is also the political. It starts from the notorious airbrushing of Communist leader Klement Gottwald in 1952, and plunges into 1971, in Mirek’s life, who says, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. Kundera’s fragmentary, seven-part structure allows him to explore his great theme—the public ironies and private tragedies (soaked in litost, “a state of torment caused by a sudden insight into one’s own miserable self”) of post-war Czech history. Magic impinges when Kundera comes across the Communist poet Paul Eluard dancing on a street in a ring of people, mouthing a poem, as the group takes off and floats in the sky. It is a circle of Communist exclusivity and self-deception that is happy to forsake dissidents like the author. As such, to the reader, the airborne circle remains rooted to the ground of realism. Only a great novel can achieve that.

The Communist ManifestoKarl Marx & Friedrich Engels
1848; Pages: 287
The Communist Manifesto famously starts with the lines “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles”, and ends in the celebrated clarion call: “Working men of all countries, Unite!” In the intervening 12,000 words, Marx and Engels lay bare their understanding of society and their prediction for it—history stretching back to antiquity and towards the future, its internal mechanism a conflict between rulers and the ‘proletariat’, spanning ancient, feudal, early modern, modern economies, each society pummelled by the ructions of ever-changing ‘modes of production’ and exchange, throwing up new superior classes. The modern world of rapid industrialisation is the age of bourgeois dominance, says Marx, and would in the end, through the system of natural competitive materialism (‘dialectical materialism’), lead to a glorious future—socialism and rule of the proletariat. One of the most influential books ever, this purportedly ‘scientific’ text took on the role of a holy book, with millions counting Com­m­unism as their creed. Communism might have been on the wane everywhere, but in an unequal world of continuing capitalistic exploitation of both humans and their environment, the Manifesto has continued relevance.

The Dark Valley: A Panorama Of The 1930s 
Piers Brendon
2000; Pages: 701
It is the ’30s, experts say, that created the framework of world politics that we see to this day. The decade’s early years were spent cowering before an unprecedented economic depression, which itself fanned the fire of totalitarian regimes in three European states. But the ’30s were also a time of bourgeois comfort, with mass-produced cars and home appliances changing middle-class lives forever. Though criticised for overly blaming the tribulations of the Depression for the rise of Fascism, Brendon’s lavishly detailed account of the innards of the decade, including personal lives, is wonderful history.

The Diary Of A Young Girl 
Anne Frank
1952; Pages: 360
“I should like to call you all by name,
  But they have lost the lists.”

— Anna Akhmatova
The six million victims of the Holocaust are usually voiceless. This diary (of a period covering 1942-44) of a German Jewish girl hiding with her family in Amsterdam stands for the faceless dead. Written to a series of imaginary friends, Anne pours her heart out over everyday situations of domestic want, conversation and personal equations in their stifling hideout. She conveys the first stirrings of adolescence too. Signifi­cantly, Anne drafted and rewrote sections of her initial diary in order to preserve it for posterity, as if egged on by a dire presentiment. For the reader, living vicariously, yet authentically, in hiding in Nazi-occupied Holland, the rude shock comes with the sudden cessation of the entries.

The End Of Nature 
Bill McKibben
1989; Pages: 224
McKibben’s ominous title points to man’s tinkering with the earth’s natural processes that evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, and nature’s revenge through the vagaries of global warming—unpredictable weather patterns and natural disasters of increasing ferocity and frequency. McKibben shows the tight links our speedily multiplying species has with processes harmful to nature—everything from cars, houses, pesticides (thus, through food), infrastructure. In his plea that we take a less dominant relation to nature and make a ‘humbler world’, McKibben eschews easy solutions for more practical ones—an internationa­lly-agreed and ‘managed world’ with cautious control of climate, genetics and ecology.

The Female Eunuch 
Germaine Greer
1970; Pages: 432
Greer’s 1970 work is one of the seminal texts of feminism and is read, discussed, criticised and enjoys fervent partisanship to this day. Through a furious fusillade of logic, polemic, scholarship and a willingness to speak of the dirty and embarrassing, Greer talks of the sexual submission of women through history, and agrees that modern, consumerist society, through its patriarchal politics, mores and cultural products, tries to perpetuate it. Written at a time when relatively fewer professions were open to women, Greer’s book is a howl of protest as well as an appeal to women to do their part in being truly liberated—economically as well as sexually.  For this, she says, accepted norms would have to be ruthlessly challenged—marriage, the nuclear family, the obligation to breed.

The Fire Next Time 
James Baldwin
1963; Pages: 128
Racial discrimination (or the ‘Negro problem’ as Baldwin bruisingly calls it) has often been approached through memoir and fiction (including by Baldwin in his famous first novel). In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin tackles it head-on. Drawing from his experiences of growing up Black in Harlem, he delivers an angry indictment on America: “The brutality with which Negroes are treated in this country simply cannot be overstated, however unwilling white men may be to hear it.” Yet, in spite of the bitter despair he feels, Baldwin is hopeful for the future: “to end the racial nightmare”. In his second essay, Baldwin deems the Church to have failed Blacks miserably, to have been another instrument of white supremacy, and to have acted with “unmitigated arrogance and cruelty”. Finally, however angry he may be, Baldwin tempers his anger with a genuine hope of reconciliation and rejects violence in favour of a moral regeneration.

The Go-Between 
L.P. Hartley
1953; Pages: 336
The Go-Between derives its wistful charm from its presentation of an adolescent’s view of being an unwitting “postman” for an upper-class friend’s sister, Marian, and her lover, a farmer, during a visit to the countryside Brandham Hall in turn-of-the-century England. Everything is imbued with a magical, translucent stillness that draws the narrator, Leo Colston, now well past middle age, back to the pain of being used and being linked, though at some remove, to the suicide of the lover, Ted Burghess. It opens with the indelible ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’, and ends with an aged Marian asking Leo to again take a message—to the son of her child with Ted.

The God Of Small Things
Arundhati Roy
1997; Pages: 321
“Christianity arrived in a boat and seeped into Kerala like tea from a tea bag”, wrote Arundhati Roy and set a new tone, rhythm and cadence in Indian writing in English. The Booker winner follows the lives of twins Rahel and Esthappen in Ayamanam, with its Love Laws, pickle factories and Capital Letters. Roy went on to become a social activist and is a powerful voice against big dams, nuclear power stations and big money. She has written extensively and movingly about the exploitation of the marginalised, taken on Gandhi on his attitude towards the caste system, saving the environment and has been a refreshing anti-establishment voice. But when do we see the next novel, Ms Roy?

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
1925; Pages: 180
The drama that engulfs the lives of Nick Carraway, Tom and Daisy Buchanan and Jay Gatsby not just only captures the Jazz Age in all its tinny glitter, this transcendentally great modern novel deals with the universal—the naive-cynical onlooker, the unhappy rich, the ferocious climber and, most of all, the persistence of desire. The expensive new toys and posh accents, the giant advertising hoarding on the freeway, the Saturday night high jinks and that green light winking at the end of Daisy’s pier stand forever for a certain innocent immersion into an age of excess.

The Guns Of August
Barbara W. Tuchman
1962; Pages: 511
Tuchman’s 1962 history of the first month of the First World War doesn’t just recount the pulsating month of July 1914 when the lamps were put out and Europe went to war. She describes on the one hand the inexorable progress of the German Schlieffen Plan till it was stopped at the gates of Paris at Marne, and on the other the decimation of an entire Russian army in Tannenberg in East Prussia by the Germans under the redoubtable Hindenburg-Ludendorff duo. Tuchman’s adroit weaving of the tactical with the personal makes this a model of narrative military history.

The Idea Of Justice
Amartya Sen
2009; Pages: 304
There was some argument among the jury whether to have this or Sen’s later book in the list and Idea of Justice won for being more original and thought-provoking. It’s largely a critique of American economist and philosopher John Rawls’s The Theory of Justice, upholding some of his ruminations and debunking others. The Economist said The Idea of Justice is “a feast, though perhaps not one to be consumed at a single sitting”.

The Left Hand Of Darkness 
Ursula K. Le Guin
1969; Pages: 286
Lists such as this scarcely consider the special pleasures of science fiction, unless convincingly set in a future world of dystopia. It is set in the fictional Hainish universe and interplanetary collaboration and expansion, and among the inhabitants of the planet Winter who are physically and emotionally ‘ambisexual’. Le Guin’s achievement is to present a fully realised world in great vividness and imaginary possibility. This is one of the classics of the genre.

The Leopard 
Giuseppe Tomasi
Di Lampedusa
1958; Pages: 330
The Leopard is one of literature’s great novels of decline and decay and as such—like Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard and Roth’s Radetzky March—is infused with a charming melancholy. Set in mid-19th century Sicily, its tale is that of an aristocratic, pastoral society torn apart by revolution, death and decay. Its main characters—Don Fabrizio, prince of Salina— struggle against the drastic changes that the Risorgimento heralded, and which would be the death of a patrician way of life. In its recreation—in all its warts and absurdities—of an old existence, The Leopard remains unsurpassed. Guiseppe, the impoverished and despondent last prince of Lampedusa, dreamt of this novel, based on one of his ancestors, all his life. He died within a few months of its being published.

The Mahabharata 
Veda Vyasa
India’s greatest epic is not just the story of the Pandavas and the Kauravas that culminates in devastating warfare and blood feud. It hosts a bewilderingly rich store of stories and characters in its capacious body—some its own, many woven in from the myths that predated it. Philosophically and psychologically acute, there runs a vein of the moral, amoral and the morally complex through it.

The Master And Margarita 
Mikhail Bulgakov
1967; Pages: 360
On a hot spring day, the Devil, aka Woland, app­ears in the godless Moscow of the 1930s. His retinue includes a grotesque valet and an enormous, vodka- swilling cat. Their primary target is the Soviet writers’ community which, through the ensuing bedlam brought on by witchcraft and black magic, is shown up at its soulless, shifty, hypocritical self. But the visitors from the netherworld also bring relief to an author in despair (like Bulgakov himself)—the Master and his devoted mistress Margarita. Woland’s depiction and discussion about Jerusalem in the time of Pontius Pilate ties up with the subject of the Master’s novel. Bulgakov serves up an intricate, exuberant extravaganza, richly parodic and profound in its light-hearted philosophic erudition. An attack on stony bureaucracy at many levels, this is a modernist masterpiece.

The Moral Animal 
Robert Wright
1994; Pages: 496
Natural selection does explain much of our species’ physical habits; the forces of evolution impel us to behave as social animals. But are our moral choices—loyalty, love, commitment to principles, resistance to evil—also an evolutionary impulse? In this popular and path-breaking book, Wright explains the riddles of moral psychology in the light of Darwinism. The practices of love (parental, filial, erotic), courtship, care-giving—each is discussed threadbare, and Wright argues that morality is designed to maximise genetic self-interest. This witty book offers one more delight—it examines the life of Darwin, and examines it vis-a-vis the topic under discussion, in the light of Darwinian psychology.

The Remains Of The Day
Kazuo Ishiguro
1989; Pages: 245
Ishiguro’s Booker-winner is a quintessential English book—set primarily in the 1930s in a stately English home, once the seat of Lord Darlington, and told entirely from the point of view of the ageing butler Stevens, who recounts the great days of the house from the vantage point of 1956. Ishiguro’s great merit is to impart the stiffly formal style of the gentleman’s gentleman—bereft of wit or flourish—a curiously moving tone. Its significance also lies in the inadequacy in conveying what it describes—especially momentous negotiations revolving around the political crisis—through the hedgings and omissions of its singularly unreliable narrator. Ishiguro the novelist has chosen a handicap and made a triumph of it.

The Sandman Series
Neil Gaiman
1996- Present
Neil Gaiman already had a wunderkind reputation after Black Orchid when DC Comics gave him the all-clear to develop the Sandman series. The result was the Endless family, a dream cast (sic!) with Dream aka Morpheus the hero and his siblings Death, Destiny, Despair, Delirium (who was once Delight) etc who are each lord of their realm. And as big bang ideas go, the first story starts with a ‘coven of wizards’ plotting to end Death, but who end up capturing Dream instead.  Storylines in later books bring in little sister Delirium, missing brother Destruction and did we mention Lucifer locking the gates of hell and handing the keys to Dream? The Sandman series wasn’t just a breath of fresh oxygen that revived DC but also was the start of the great reawakening of the graphic novel.  The series ran for 75 issues from 1989-96, after which Gaiman and Sandman called it quits. The spinoffs continue.

The Selfish Gene
Richard Dawkins
1976; Pages: 224
Dawkins, a diehard rationalist-atheist, mustn’t be too happy that most of the attention this path-breaking book has attracted comes from the pathetic fallacy in its title. The big idea, simplistically stated, no doubt to the author’s annoyance, is that every gene pushes in a direction that ensures its own survival through maximal replication, damn the organism (species or individual) it’s part of. This is Darwinian evolution at the genetic-molecular level. Despite the easy writing style, understanding the book and Dawkins’s extrapolation of the idea to the propagation of useful ‘memes’ could take more than a couple of readings.

The Shadow Lines
Amitav Ghosh
1988; Pages: 246
Ghosh’s Sahitya Akademi-winning novel speaks of the blurring of boundaries—between memory and forgetting, togetherness and separation, and love and loss. Like Rushdie and Seth, the setting is the momentous years before and after Partition, following the fortunes of the Datta Chaudhuris, specifically the narrator Tridib and the family’s grandmother. The lines of the plot move from Dhaka, Calcutta and London, in a progression of quietude, unrest, tragedy and reconciliation. Bengal’s Partition, and its cost, has rarely been told better in English fiction.

The Siege: The Attack On The Taj
Cathy Scott-Clarke and Adrian Levy
2013; Pages: 344
It’s that rare non-fiction page-turner. It’s about an event that’s etched in our minds very clearly, it would seem the TV coverage and news stories of those four days didn’t leave anything more to be said about the 26/11 attack but British journalists Cathy and Adrian dig up such detail and nuance that the reader is left in a daze. Open the book and you can’t put it down before you’ve read the last page.

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914
Christopher Clark
2012; Pages: 736
It’s rare in the constantly ploughed field of ww-i scholarship that a new book immediately acquires classic status. That seems to be the case with Sleepwalkers. Clarke’s magisterial account of the pre-war years’ continental politics expertly explodes myths that have endured for a century. For example, he debunks the theory of the inevitability of war between two armed camps of European nations, and reveals levels of mistrust between allies on both sides, so much so that, in the summer of 1914, Britain had contemplated dropping Russia and seeking an understanding with Germany.

The Sonnets Of Orpheus And The Duino Elegies
Rainer Maria Rilke
1996; Pages: 224
Rilke spent much of his life as an unattached wanderer and traveller—in Russia, Italy, Germany and Paris. While the poems of Heine, steeped in folklorish wit, were an early influence, he developed a highly personal style soon after. His use of nouns as verbs and verbs as nouns, of everyday words in highly lyrical context, of abstraction in concrete senses, provides a vantage point suited to the probings of his existence. In Duino Elegies and The Sonnets of Orpheus (1923), his late, great works, he aspires to “find, in art, a way to transform the emptiness, the radical deficiency of human longing into something else”. Authentic experiences are exasperating: “Who has not sat, afraid, before his heart’s/curtain?” The mercantile world is often repellent:“For adults only/there is something special to see: how money multiplies, naked,/right there on stage, monkey’s genitals, nothing concealed...” Yet he is also witty: “Squares, oh square in Paris, infinite showplace/ where the milliner Madame Lamort/ twists and winds the restless paths of the earth...”; and tender and loving: “Call me to the one among your moments/that stands aginst you, ineluctably: / intimate as a dog’s imploring glance/ but, again, forever, turned away....”

The Story Of My Experiments With Truth
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
1927; Pages: 528
Mahatma Gandhi’s celebrated autobiography covers his remarkable life till 1921. In it Gandhi recounts incidents from his childhood, early influences, his marriage at 13, death of his father, his years as a lawyer in South Africa, his struggle against discriminatory practices against Indians, his return and the start of the great phase of political agitation using the method of non-violence and Satyagraha. The ‘experiments’ in the title referred to the moral and the spiritual, as well as the political. One might agree or not with Gandhi’s political methods, but has to marvel at his introspective nature and fidelity to truth.

The Stranger
Albert Camus
1942; Pages: 123
The Outsider has for long borne the burden of a great existential novel. Does not Meurseult’s terrifying indifference to guilt and mortality stand for the absurdity, the emptiness of high-minded lip-service in a morally corrupt mid-20th century? But Camus’s novel is also a plea for total honesty and self-absorption in a world of half-tones and adulterated feelings. Meurseult is misunderstood and mistaken for a monster because he stands close to “the tender indifference of the world”, because this immensely perceptive person (how acutely he understands other’ motives!) wouldn’t play the game of self-preservation.

The Tin Drum
Gunter Grass
1959; Pages: 576
Like his compatriot Heinrich Boll, much of Grass’s work is an examination of his country’s darkest episode and a quest for an answer to the question: How was it that an entire generation of 30 million people was seduced by the evil of Nazism? In the Tin Drum, he takes recourse to the fantastic and the inexplicable. Memoir, allegory and Bildungsroman rolled in one, it tells the story of the ugly, dwarfish Oskar Matzerath in Danzig, and that of greater Germany. In Oskar’s personal choice not to grow, in the dissonant banging of the titular drum is a raucous cry of protest against the crazed 20th century, its concern with only the profit motive and its deadly political pustules.

The Valley Of Death: The Tragedy At Dien Bien Phu That Led America Into The Vietnam War
Ted Morgan
2010; Pages: 752
Sixty years ago, the French empire in Southeast Asia was reduced to a pulp in the floodplain of Dien Bien Phu—where a 10,000-strong French garrison was ground to dust in siege warfare of horrific proportions. Morgan depicts the war in blood-and-guts luridness—the astonishing bravery of the garrison in the face of doom; the amazing resilience of the Vietminh, and Gen Vo Nguyen Giap’s willingness to take great casualties. He intersperses this with the great powers’ conference at Geneva to resolve the issue and answers the riddle of what led the US, a ringside viewer of the French debacle and delusion, to wade into the quagmire presided over by Ho Chi Minh’s men of wire. Morgan, a Frenchman who fought in Algeria, knew a colonial war first-hand; his tale of American hubris remains a classic.

The Voyage Of The Beagle
Charles Darwin
1839; Pages: 448
Charles Darwin shocked Victorian society by suggesting that humans and apes shared common ancestry and triggered a seismic shift not only in politics, art, literature and society but in the very mental make-up of modern man. The voyage of the HMS Beagle (1831-36) half-way across the globe to the South Americas and the Pacific gave him an unprecedented opportunity to examine unspoilt tropical forests, grasslands, exotic animals and birds and scores of fossils. In 1835, on the voyage back home, he visited the Galapagos islands and noted the mockingbirds that were to play a crucial role in his theory of evolution through natural selection. The book he wrote on his return is a classic; a happy marriage of natural science and adventure hasn’t been made.

The War Of The End Of The World
Mario Vargas Llosa
1981; Pages: 568
Some nations and certain times  are more ‘epic’ than others—the ancient world, for example, or 19th century Russia with its vast interiors. The Peruvian Llosa’s millenarian tale is set in the backlands of Brazil’s Bahia state in 1897—a time of optimism for the new republic and for millions of its Blacks just freed from slavery. The story is about the mysterious spiritual leader Antonio Conselheiro, or the Counsellor, and his complete sway over the masses, whom he ignites with his anti-republic, ultra-orthodox-Catholic rants. The stage is set for a showdown between mystical orthodoxy and the combined power of the Church and the state. Llosa’s vast novel points at the truth behind revolutionary zeal at all ages, and recapitulates its eternal and elemental struggle with the establishment.

These Old Shades
Georgette Heyer
1926; Pages: 352
Georgette Heyer is a genre in herself. This Janeite sometimes surpassed her mentor, some readers feel: her historical romances are so well-res­earched that they serve as definitive documentary of the period she sets her stories in. She was highly prolific, writing a thriller and a romance each year, finishing with 48 books in all. These Old Shades, an early work which became an instant hit, follows the fortunes of Justin Alistair, the Duke of Avon and Leon Bonnard, a Paris urchin who becomes his page. But Heyer never gained the adoration Austen did.

Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
1958; Pages: 148
One of the foundational texts of post-colonial literature, Achebe’s novel is set amongst Nigeria’s Igbo people—inheritors of a proud and ancient culture, and describes, in dry, deceptively simple language, the tale of the strong, wilful head of the clan Okonkwo’s rise, overweening pride and fall. The prime agent in his misfortune: ruthless western missionaries. Achebe’s cycle of class warfare and tournaments, premium on honour, sacrificial killing, exile and disillusionment and the importance of pre-ordained fate is all rooted in Igbo culture. But there are parallels to the Greek tragedies. What sets Achebe’s tale apart is his dispassionate portrayal of the destruction of an ancient way of life by European civilisation. In that, Things Fall Apart is a refutation of the white man’s burden, while using his own cultural tools.

Akara Mudhala Ezhuththellaam Aadhi Pakavan Mudhatre Ulaku, the first of 1,330 couplets in Tamil, written about 2,300 years ago by the poet-philosopher Thiruvalluvar, roughly translates to: As Aa is the first of letter of all languages, eternal God is the first of all living beings. These timeless couplets give insights into the human condition with wit and rhyme.

To Kill A Mockingbird
Harper Lee
1960; Pages: 324
Race, a horrible miscarriage of justice and the warmth of childhood in the American Deep South of the 1930s—alive in memory with romance as well as horror—is the subject of Lee. Jem, Scout and Atticus Finch, ‘Boo’ Radley, Dill, Tom Robinson and others are players in a drama, ultimately, about friendship, integrity and dignity in the face of disappointment. A classic forever, Mocking­bird is also a stepping stone to the more complex handling of ‘race’ in the works of Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor.

Train To Pakistan
Khushwant Singh
1956; Pages: 181
Partition is seared in the nation’s consciousness, especially in Punjab and Bengal. Singh places his story in the Sikh-Muslim village of Mano Majra, on the border with Pakistan, and describes in prose of simple beauty the descent of a peaceful community into hatred, brutality and chaos. Singh particularly spends energy on recreating the ecosystem of half-truths, rumours and the new ideology of nationalism that fed and fanned communal terror. Partition has been well-served by Bhasha literature. In English, its depiction in Train to Pakistan is unsurpassed.

Twilight In Delhi
Ahmed Ali
1940; Pages: 304
E.M. Forster described this 1940 novel calling for a free India “new and fascinating­—poetic and brutal, delightful and callous”. Ahmed Ali and his friends wrote the collection of short stories Angaarey in Urdu, which was banned by the British for being inflammatory. There were two translations of this collection in English this year, incredibly, for the first time since its publication in 1932.  Twilight in Delhi is one of the first books of that time to be written in English and published in London. Ali, one of the founders of the All-India Progressive Writers’ Movement, moved to Pakistan in 1948 and was its first envoy to China.

War And Peace
Leo Tolstoy
1869; Pages: 1296
Tolstoy’s amphitheat­rical sweep of impe­r­ial Russia during the Napoleanic invasion intertwines the lives of the Bolkonskys, the Rostovs and countless other characters, memorably limned only as the great master could. Plodding through it all, and participating in it, is the corpulent, bumbling Pierre Bezhukov, reminiscent of the author, now dissolute, now saintly, always human. Tolstoy’s clear and passionate vision captures inscapes and landscapes, joy, tragedy, humour, guilt, indeed every facet of life, using, as he once boasted, every rhetorical device of the Latin grammarians.

Wolf Hall
Hilary Mantel
2009; Pages: 672
The epitaph ‘the greatest living novelis’ is often used to describe many writers but perhaps the superlative suits Mantel the most in the present crop practicing the art of the novel in the English language—she is a consummate wordsmith who takes the reader along with her in her adventures and it feels as if both are meeting the characters and exploring the places together. Wolf Hall, a historical novel on the fictional Thomas Cromwell family, a politician in Henry VII’s court, is part of a trilogy, the second of which is Bring Up The Bodies. Both the books have won the Booker Prize.