Sunday, October 27, 2013

Book Review: Argumentative Indian

This book brings together sixteen essays under a single title. Here Amratya Sen reasons how India found its identity during different times. He takes multiple references of Bhagavdgita and the influence ancient writings such as Vedas and Upanishads had on the culture and lives of the people. He argues how the Mauryan king Ashoka and the Moghul ruler Akbar had similar outlooks and were tolerant of different religions. He narrates how Gandhi and Tagore disagreed on many aspects. He explores how much of the grand vision of Nehru as delivered in his speech ‘Tryst with Destiny’ is realized.

This books has no bounds as it travels across different time horizons and subjects. If you are an Argumentative Indian, you should have this book on your study table.

Book Review: Ascetic of Desire

This is fictional biography of Vatsayana. The story unfolds the details of Vatsayana from his birth. His upbringing in a brothel from where he picks up the drivers of the sensuality and lust, and grows up to write the most popular work he is known for.

The story is told through a young scholar, accepted by Vatsayana as his pupil, who puts the pieces together from Vatsayana’ s life. In the course of events, this young scholar ends up having an affair with his wife. After Vatsayana discovers this, he disappears, never to be seen again.

This story set in fourth century AD, reveals the finer details of the lifestyle and mindset of the people lived in those times. But it is the author, Sudhir Kakar, who represents the characters of the story with a psychological depth makes this book a powerful narrative.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Book Review: The Crimson Throne

This book on Shah Jahan’s reign as seen through the eyes of two firangi’s (European travellers Niccolao Manucci and Francois Bernier) gives many insights into the personal lives of Shah Jahan, his family and close aides. It documents the incident which made Shah Jahan develop a disliking towards his son Aurangzeb even before he was born and made him groom his eldest son Dara Shikoh for the throne. It describes how Shah Jahan through his misdeeds of seducing wives of his nobleman for his humanly pleasures created enemies out of his loyalists and that lead to treachery in the decisive battle against Aurangzeb. Personality and behavioral traits of Dara Shikoh are well observed in this book, it shows why he was an able administrator but a poor warrior. Dara’s inability to identify his enemies became an advantage for Aurangzeb which he exploited well to win the war. Aurangzeb gets Dara executed publicly and brutally and that incident creates fear among the crowds and revolt in his commanders. But Aurangzeb learned from that and employed other methods while ending lives of his other brothers and a sister, either first moving them to prisons away from public eye or making use of poison.

I would suggest new readers to begin with ‘Empire of the Moghul’ series where the flow is across generations. Then take up this book which is more lucid, insightful and gives the facts and rationalizes the twists in the tale. Both books offer complimentary perspectives but yet different style of presentation on fifth emperor of The Moghul kingdom.

Now my interest is turned away from The Moghuls and I want to explore other works of Sudhir Kakar, author of this book.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Review: Empire of the Moghul : The Serpent's Tooth

Fifth in the Empire of the Moghul series, this book with Shah Jahan as the protagonist brings history alive. Narration is so powerful, characters and situations unfold in front you like in a movie or a drama.  If you have read the earlier book of this series, you would know Shah Jahan, as prince Khurram, had a splendid up bringing with a great attention from his grand-father Akbar. This book rather deals with his tragic ending.

Unable to overcome grief with the loss of his wife Mumtaz, his priorities in life become different and he fails to notice his young children (without the support of their mother) growing up to be rivals. His complete trust in his elder son Dara to manage the developments, but underestimating ambitions of his third son Aurangzeb makes him fail utterly in his last of years of life. The creator of Taj Mahal,  the Emperor of the World (literal translation of Shah Jahan) becomes confined to four walls and spends his last days overlooking the great monument he built.

His times prove again that enemies for The great Moghul kingdom were more internal than external. The saying in the family 'throne or coffin' continues to haunt Shah Jahan's sons as well. While Shah Jahan himself had to get rid off of his half brothers to ensure no threats survived on his way to become an emperor, he thinks his sons being full brothers will not to go through the similar situation. But Aurangzeb proves him wrong by getting his brothers killed and claiming the peacock throne.