Saturday, August 30, 2014

Book Review: A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea by Joel Achenbach

This book is about the environmental disaster that happened in 2010 which popularly came to be known as ‘BP oil spill’. It was a technological crisis, geological calculations going wrong, a crisis no one saw coming. Risks of offshore drilling were well known to the oil & gas industry and deep-water drilling for oil was already decades old. While the man appeared to have mastered the art, nature proved him wrong. The tragic explosion on the huge drilling rig appeared to be a manageable accident initially but the oil gushing to the shores and the efforts to plug the hole going in vain only helped the spread of spill, dolphins and other marine life continued to die in record numbers. It was not just a leak in the oil well; the explosion had opened the river stream of hydrocarbons into the ocean. A classic industrial accident turned out to be an environmental crisis, politically sensational and daily news on the media which general public tracked with concern.

It took hundreds of engineers, scientists working together for months, use of remotely operated vehicles in the deep sea, engineers choreographing robotic ballets, pouring miles of cement to seal the well in order to contain the spill. BP had to face criminal charges and this crisis had cost the company $42.2 billion. The total oil discharge was estimated at 4.9 million barrels.

This book effectively brings out the irony that we are inhabitants of a planet that is becoming increasingly engineered. Off-shore drilling is embedding a complex engineered system with complex geological systems of nature. The industry learned its lessons from the crisis and there is no retreat from deep water technology. While technological advancements come there will be incidents of ‘frog in the boiling water’ too. (If you do not know the story here it is: There is a frog sitting in a pan of cold water that is gradually brought to a boil. The frog never realizes the time has to come to jump to safety. Result: boiled frog).

Author of this book, Joel Achenbach is a journalist and a regular contributor to National Geographic. In this book, he looks behind the scene, brings out the human story in the technological crisis.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Book Review: Countdown by Amitav Ghosh

This is a non-fiction by Amitav Ghosh, first published in 1999, after India tested out the nuclear devices near Pokhran. Media published the event as a great advancement for India and announced its time has arrived. Many thought of nuclear bomb as more than a weapon, it may not be used stop small wars but it can avoid a big one and can bring influence in the global pecking order where India is suppressed for long, from colonial times. Few disagree with it and think nuclearization is a threat and if put to wrong to use it can hurt lives of millions.
Amitav travels to Pokhran to learn what the natives think of it and to see the effects of the nuclear explosion in first person. He arrives at Delhi to meet with George Fernandes, the then defense minister who was a critical of nuclear weapons, but made a decision for India go ahead with the tests. George thought five nations who possess nuclear weapons cannot say to rest of the rest world how to behave. Author along with a group of journalists travels to Kashmir along with the defense minister where he gets to meet with defense personnel and know their opinions on the nuclear weaponry.

He then travels to Pakistan, meets a religious group head, a Govt. official, social activists, and many journalists to get their side of opinion. A religious head opines that in the event of a war, there is always a threat that nuclear weapon would be used. During the discussions it comes out that Kashmir is not the principal problem between India and Pakistan. Though both sides are not determined to resolve the issue, but even if it is solved, other issues would take center stage. Water sharing would become an issue; trade may suffer for any reason. A Muslim being mistreated in India can trigger protests and violation in Pakistan and vice versa.

The author later explores the damage caused by the use of a nuclear weapon and its impact on the social life, immediately and in the times to come. He references a study made by M V Ramanna (Bombing Bombay?: He concludes that nuclear programs of both India and Pakistan are more status driven and not threat driven. But for this pride, they will have to run the risk of nuclear accidents, war and the casualties they bring.

This is a small book (84 pages long); a quick read and the situations led to writing of this book have gone through a cycle to come up again now. While the world is more aware of the damages after the accident at nuclear power plant in Japan, disarmament is still a distant dream. If Ukraine had its nukes, did Russia dared to annex Crimea? I suppose this thought itself would make Governments pump more money into nuclear programs.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie

This is an autobiographical work by Salman Rushdie focusing on his hiding years during fatwa. His book ‘The Satanic Verses’ had angered religious fundamentalists and they wanted his head in return. The threat looked real as the book’s Japanese translator got killed, its Italian translator was wounded badly and its publisher was shot but survived. Salman went into hiding moving from one house to another under the protection of UK government. Larger segment of the literary world supported him on the basis of right to freedom of expression but his opponents burnt the book along with effigy of the author, even warned those who supported Rushdie. The issue became political and began affecting the diplomatic relations between Iran and the UK. Many countries banned his book and rejected visa requests for him. All these developments took energy and time out of Rushdie’s life but yet he refused to apologize or take back his book. Roaming freely on his own would put his life to a quick end. So he was suggested by the security personnel to choose an alternate name and identity for himself. Salman worked out different combinations of first names of authors he liked and finally he chose Joseph Anton, first names from Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekov.

Though this book is written in third person, author does not distance himself emotionally from the central character. All his memory and feelings rush through the pages. The use of ‘he’ instead of ‘I’ appears more of a trick to avoid the feeling in readers of reading a diary or a journal instead engage them by making it a novel like read. Reading ‘The Satanic Verses’ prior to this would have made one understand some of the arguments in this book better but it cannot be bought it in India. Many book reviews said Joseph Anton is a tough, long and boring book to read but I was hooked into this since beginning and author’s intelligence, wit coming out in each sentence made it an interesting, effortless and enlightening read.

This book reveals details which are not made public such as how the security arrangements work (how one can become nonexistent), what gets priority when two diplomats talk (not what gets reported in media), how personal preferences of political leaders shape their decisions (rationale, justifications come later) and the power of networking (knowing who to call when in trouble) etc. Threat on his life did not make Rushdie lose his creative abilities, he published two books during this period but restrictions to his travel, working out security arrangements and defending his stance with politicians slowed him down. Times did turn for better for Rushdie after a decade. His visit to India was celebrated as his 'coming back home' among the literary circle. Eventually the threat receded, he was able to go around freely, and books continued to be born in him again.

No doubt Salman Rushdie is a self-centered person; he finds supporters and opponents everywhere on this earth like no other author does, he moves from one wife to another with ease, he critics anyone he does not like and takes dig at all of those who did not support him during his exile. But he does that intelligently and with a reasoning no one can ignore. He is a good wordsmith and his literary capabilities make his private life a good story for this book.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: Chikaveera Rajendra (A Kannda Novel)

Chikka Veerarajendra was the last king of Kodagu (Coorg) before it fell into British hands. This book provides a picturesque account of life and time of the ruler, cultural preferences of Kodava community (the locals), gods worshipped by them, and their attitude towards the rulers.

Chikka Veera Rajendra, a spoilt prince has only one confidant in kunta (lame) Basava and when he becomes king, he makes Basava his minister not to support him in administration but to make arrangements for his whims. The kingdom is mostly run by his other two ministers, Bopanna and Lakshminarayanaiah, while the king is busy fulfilling his bodily needs, leaving no money in treasury and acting cruelly when forced to take decisions. While the public in general dislike their ruler, a balancing act is done by the queen, making correcting efforts wherever possible to protect the interests of her family and the kingdom. The king has a sister, Devammaji and her husband Chennabasavaiah who is interested in dethroning the king and taking power into his hands by making his wife the ruler. Becoming aware of this plan, the king puts his sister in captivity but releases her later as per requests from the queen, his daughter and a priest, Dikshit who advises the same. Devammaji delivers a baby boy after her release and her husband devises a plan to run away from the clutches of the king and seek help from the British in dethroning the king. While he puts this plan to work, the couple in a hurry loses their baby on the way and it reaches the hands of the king and the palace. The king receives letters from the British to return the baby to his parents but he refuses to do so and in an act of madness, he kills the baby. This incident causes a revolt in his administration who could not tolerate evil deeds of the king anymore and the opportunist British too come down with a force to attack. The turnout of events leads to capture of the king by the British and Kodagu being annexed into the British administration.

After losing the kingdom and being deported from Kodagu, life of Veerarajendra continues, he lives on the compensation fund he receives from the British. His wife meets death on the pilgrimage and his daughter marries a British, goes on to live in London.

This historical novel won the author the prestigious literary honor Jnanapith award in 1983. This hardbound book also provides the images of paintings and historical photographs, and descriptions of references to the history and also about the life of the celebrated author Masti Venkatesha Iyengar.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

ಪುಸ್ತಕ ಪರಿಚಯ: ಗಂಗವ್ವ ಗಂಗಾಮಾಯಿ (ಶಂಕರ ಮೊಕಾಶಿ ಪುಣೇಕರ)

ಈ ಕಾದಂಬರಿಯ ಕಥಾ ವಸ್ತು ಎರಡು ಕುಟುಂಬಗಳ ಮೇಲೆ ಕೇಂದ್ರೀಕೃತವಾಗಿದೆ. ಮೊದಲನೆಯ ಕುಟುಂಬ ಗಂಗವ್ವ, ಅವಳ ಮಗ ಕಿಟ್ಟಿ ಮತ್ತು ಗಂಗವ್ವಳ ತಮ್ಮ ರಾಘಪ್ಪನದ್ದು. ಇನ್ನೊಂದು ದೇಸಾಯಿಯವರ ಕುಟುಂಬ. ಅದು ವಿಧವೆಯಾದ ಗಂಗವ್ವಳಿಗೆ ಆಸರೆಯಾಗಿ ನಿಂತ ಕುಟುಂಬ. ಈ ಕಥೆ ಹಳೆಯ ನೆನಪುಗಳನ್ನು ಕೆದಕುತ್ತಾ ಮುಂದೆ ಸಾಗುತ್ತದೆ.
ದುರ್ಘಟನೆಯೊಂದರಲ್ಲಿ ಪತಿಯನ್ನು ಕಳೆದುಕೊಂಡ ಗಂಗವ್ವಳಿಗೆ ಜೀವನದಲ್ಲಿ ಇರುವುದು ಒಂದೇ ಉದ್ದೇಶ. ತನ್ನ ಮಗ ಕಿಟ್ಟಿ (ಕೃಷ್ಣಪ್ಪ) ಯನ್ನು ಬೆಳೆಸಿ, ಸ್ವತಂತ್ರನನ್ನಾಗಿ ಮಾಡುವುದು. ಅವಳ ಸೆರಗಲ್ಲಿ ಬೆಳೆದ ಕಿಟ್ಟಿ ತನ್ನ ಓದು ಮುಗಿದ ನಂತರ, ಸರ್ಕಾರೀ ಉದ್ಯೋಗ ಒಂದನ್ನು ಗಿಟ್ಟಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಆದರೆ ಅವನ ಮುಗ್ಧತೆ ಅವನನ್ನು ಆಫೀಸಿನಲ್ಲಿ ನಗೆ ಪಾಟಲಿಗೆ ಈಡು ಮಾಡುತ್ತದೆ. ಹೇಗಾದರೂ ಮಾಡಿ ಮೇಲಾಧಿಕಾರಿಗಳಿಂದ ಹೌದು ಅನಿಸಿಕೊಳ್ಳುವ ಹವಣಿಕೆಯಲ್ಲಿರುವ ಅವನಿಗೆ ಗಂಗವ್ವಳ ತಮ್ಮ ರಾಘಪ್ಪನ ಪರಿಚಯ ಆಗುತ್ತದೆ. ಅಲ್ಲಿಯವರೆಗೆ ಗಂಗವ್ವಳ ಕುಟುಂಬದಿಂದ ದೂರ ಇದ್ದ  ರಾಘಪ್ಪನಿಗೆ ಇಬ್ಬರು ಹೆಣ್ಣು ಮಕ್ಕಳು. ತನ್ನ ಮೊದಲನೆಯ ಮಗಳನ್ನು ಕಿಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಜೊತೆ ಮಾಡುವ ಬಯಕೆಯಿಂದ ರಾಘಪ್ಪ ಜಾಲ ಬೀಸುತ್ತಾನೆ. ತನ್ನ ಮೇಲಾಧಿಕಾರಿ ಜೊತೆಗೆ ಸ್ನೇಹ ಹೊಂದಿರುವ ರಾಘಪ್ಪನ ಮೇಲೆ ಕಿಟ್ಟಿಗೆ ಗೌರವ ಬೆಳೆಯುತ್ತದೆ. ಕ್ರಮೇಣ ರಾಘಪ್ಪನ ಜಾಲದಲ್ಲಿ ಕಿಟ್ಟಿ ಬಂದಿಯಾಗುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಆದರೆ ಕಿಟ್ಟಿಯ ಈ ಹೊಂದಾಣಿಕೆ ಗಂಗವ್ವಳಿಗೆ ಸರಿ ಕಾಣುವುದಿಲ್ಲ. ತನ್ನ ತಮ್ಮ ರಾಘಪ್ಪನ ಧೂರ್ತತನದಿಂದ ತನ್ನ ಕುಟುಂಬ ಅವನತಿ ಹೊಂದಿದ್ದು ಮತ್ತು  ತನ್ನ ಗಂಡ ಅಕಾಲ ಸಾವಿಗೆ ಈಡಾಗಿದ್ದು ಅವಳು ಮರೆತಿರುವುದಿಲ್ಲ. ಗಂಗವ್ವ ಈ ಸಮಸ್ಯೆಯಿಂದ ಹೊರ ಬರಲು ತನಗೆ ಕಷ್ಟ ಕಾಲಕ್ಕೆ ಬೆಂಗಾವಲಾಗಿದ್ದ ದೇಸಾಯಿಯವರ ಮೊರೆ ಹೋಗುತ್ತಾಳೆ. ಆದರೆ ಪಟ್ಟು ಬಿಡದ ರಾಘಪ್ಪ ತನ್ನ ಮಗಳನ್ನು ಕಿಟ್ಟಿ ಜೊತೆ ಮದುವೆ ಮಾಡುವದರಲ್ಲಿ ಯಶ ಕಾಣುತ್ತಾನೆ.
 ನಂತರ ಕಥೆಯು ರಾಘಪ್ಪನ ಸುತ್ತ ಗಿರಕಿ ಹೊಡೆಯುತ್ತದೆ. ಅವನ ಅಂತರಂಗ, ಚಾಣಾಕ್ಷತೆ ಮತ್ತು ಬಲ ಹೀನತೆಗಳ ಪರಿಚಯವಾಗುತ್ತದೆ. ರಾಘಪ್ಪನ ಉಪಾಯ ಮತ್ತು ಯೋಜನೆಗಳನ್ನು ಕಾರ್ಯಗತಗೊಳಿಸುವಲ್ಲಿ ಇರುವ ಪ್ರಮುಖ ಅಡ್ಡಿ ಎಂದರೆ ದೇಸಾಯಿ ಕುಟುಂಬದ್ದು. ಇತ್ತ  ದೇಸಾಯಿ ಕುಟುಂಬದಲ್ಲಿ, ದೇಸಾಯಿವರ ಎರಡನೇ ಮಗ ವಸಂತ ಅವರ ಬಲ ಹೀನತೆ. ರಾಘಪ್ಪ ತನ್ನ  ಎರಡನೆಯ ಮಗಳನ್ನು ವಸಂತನಿಗೆ ಕೊಟ್ಟು ಮದುವೆ ಮಾಡುವ ಯೋಜನೆ ರೂಪಿಸುತ್ತಾನೆ. ರಾಘಪ್ಪ ಮತ್ತು ದೇಸಾಯಿ ಇಬ್ಬರು ತಮ್ಮ ಚದುರಂಗದಾಟದಲ್ಲಿ ತಮ್ಮ ಕಾಯಿಗಳನ್ನು ನಡೆಸುತ್ತ ಹೋಗುತ್ತಾರೆ. ಆ ಶೀತಲ ಸಮರದಲ್ಲಿ  ರಾಘಪ್ಪನಿಗೆ ಸೋಲುಂಟಾಗುತ್ತದೆ. ಇದರ ಜೊತೆಯಲ್ಲಿ ನಡೆಯುವ ಘಟನೆಗಳಲ್ಲಿ, ರಾಘಪ್ಪನ ಪ್ರೇಯಸಿ ಮೆಹಬೂಬಾಳ ಮತ್ತು ಪತ್ನಿಯ ಸಾವು, ರಾಘಪ್ಪನನ್ನು ಮಾನಸಿಕವಾಗಿ ಜರ್ಜರಿತನನ್ನಾಗಿ ಮಾಡುತ್ತವೆ. ಕುಗ್ಗಿ ಹೋದ ರಾಘಪ್ಪ ಆತ್ಮಹತ್ಯೆಗೆ ಶರಣಾಗುತ್ತಾನೆ. ಆದರೆ ನೀತಿವಂತರಾದ ದೇಸಾಯಿ ತಮ್ಮ ಮಗ ವಸಂತನ ಮದುವೆಯನ್ನು ರಾಘಪ್ಪನ ಎರಡನೇ ಮಗಳ ಜೊತೆಗೆ ನೆರವೇರಿಸುತ್ತಾರೆ. ಇದರ ಜೊತೆಗೆ ಗಂಗವ್ವಳ ಕುಟುಂಬವು ಸಹಜ ಜೀವನಕ್ಕೆ ಮರಳುತ್ತದೆ.
 ಇದು ಶಂಕರ ಮೊಕಾಶಿ ಪುಣೇಕರ ರವರ ಮೊದಲನೇ ಕಾದಂಬರಿ. ಕೆಲವೇ ಪಾತ್ರಗಳನ್ನು ಸೃಷ್ಟಿಸಿ, ಆದರೆ ಅವರ ಮನಸ್ಸಿನ ಆಳಕ್ಕೆ ಇಳಿದು ಕಥೆಗೆ ಗಂಭೀರತೆ ತಂದು ಕೊಡುತ್ತಾರೆ. ಈ ಕಾದಂಬರಿ ಲೇಖಕರಿಗೆ ಹೆಸರು ತಂದು ಕೊಡುವುದಲ್ಲದೆ ಇದನ್ನು ಚಲನ ಚಿತ್ರವನ್ನಾಗಿ ಮಾಡಿದವರಿಗೂ ಪ್ರಶಸ್ತಿಗಳನ್ನು ತಂದು ಕೊಟ್ಟಿತು.


The plot of this novel revolves around two families. One of Gangavva, her son Kitty and her younger brother Raghappa. And of Desai family who are a great support to Gangavva after her husband’s death. And the story makes frequent travels to the past while it makes progress.

Gangavva after losing her husband due to tragic events has only one purpose in her life, bringing up her only son Kitty (Krishnappa). Her son joins a Govt. office after completing his education but becomes a funny subject at his office due to his innocence. While he is on the lookout for ways to become closer to his higher officials, he comes across Raghappa, Gangavva’s brother who was not in contact with the family for many years. Kitty is drawn to Raghappa sensing he has closer relationship with his boss which would be of some help to him. Raghappa has a secret ambition, of marrying his daughter to Kitty in the name of reviving old relationship. Gangavva does not approve this as she knows that Raghappa is the reason for her family losing the riches and untimely death of her husband. She seeks support of Desai who is a great support to her in the course of events. But the adamant Raghappa succeeds in making Kitty marry his daughter Ratna.

Then the story develops around Raghappa, his past, and his plans for the future. And Desai is the prime opponent for bringing his plans to life. Desai’s family too is not perfect and Desai’s second son Vasant is his weakness. Raghappa develops a plot to marry his second daughter to Vasant. Both Raghappa and Desai make their moves but eventually Raghappa loses out the cold war and in the ethical war, Desai emerges the victor. Other events in Raghappa’s life such as death of Mehabuba, a singer who was in relationship with him and death of his wife makes him lose all his life energy and commit suicide. But Desai ensures that his son Vasanth marries Raghappa’s second daughter. And Gangavva’s family returns to normal life.

This is the first novel of Shankar Mokashi Punekar. Limited characters in this novel make the story interesting read and bring the desired impact through their psychological depths. This was made into a Kannada movie which fetched art awards and brought fame to those associated with it.