Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Book Review: The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse

The Glass Bead Game is no simple game but a rigorous study and practice of culmination of many subjects such as Mathematics, Music and Philosophy. It is the synthesis of all the sciences and arts existed on this world. It is taught to a chosen few in the elite school of Castalia.

Joseph Knecht, protagonist of this novel, is selected by the The Music Master for his talents in music to study at the elite school. His passion and commitment to the study of the Glass Bead Game attracts the attention of the management who runs the elite school of Castalia. After his studies, he joins the service of The Order as part of management in the same school he studied. He goes on an assignment to another institution to advocate them on the game and the success he receives there catapults him into the hierarchical top position known as Magister Ludi in his home institution. Though he has risen to top position, he thinks the foundation of school he serves are not strong as he thought them to be and The Order having political inclinations would not suit well for the development of glass bead game or the culture of their school. He has some driving force to leave behind all this to go to the external world. He has a friend who came as guest student into the elite school when Knecht was a student. After long and painful thought process, Knecht decides to leave Castalia and go to his friend to tutor his son. After reaching there, his life comes to a swift end as he drowns in a brief swimming race with his student.

As the novel ends, there begins the posthumous works of Knecht. A set of poems and three short stories (or biographies) which Knecht wrote based on his imagination of what he was in his previous lives. These three stories under “Three Lives” titled Rainmaker, Father Confessor and Indian Life are good reads than the main novel itself. They have strong reflection psychic functions and are capable of changing one’s perspective (like the author’s earlier novel Siddhartha). They can enhance one’s understanding of spiritual life and how the transformation takes place. Rainmaker is about the tragic end of the person who predicts rain to help his community to begin their agricultural activities. Father Confessor is about the discussions between two Christian hermits on understanding of their role in life. In Indian Life author explains the concept of Maya in the form of a life story.

For those who have read Herman Hesse’s works Siddhartha and Steppenwolf, this book would appear to be continuation of his writing mold, but more philosophical.

Herman Hesse was born in Germany in 1877 but moved to Switzerland during the First World War, the times during which arts and literature were oppressed. This novel symbolically represents that with the protagonist moving away from where he belonged protesting the change in culture.

All of Hesse’s novels have spiritual inclinations and author dissects the process of spiritual transformation with a lens of psycho-analysis. He was awarded Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Book Review: Traitors in the Shadows (Empire of the Moghul series by Alex Rutherford)

This is the sixth book in the series focusing on the sixth Moghul emperor Aurangzeb.

Probably due to troubled childhood of losing his mother Mumtaz at a young age and neglected by his father Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb grew up to be a complex person. He was neither a drunkard nor a womanizer, and his courage in the battlefield and skills in striking the enemy at his weakness were no less than his great grand father Akbar. So under his rule, Mughal Empire expanded consistently. Even after his sixties, he actively led the wars, annexed Golkhonda and Bijapur which were not ruled by Mughals until then.

Aurangzeb was clever and cruel. People either respected him or feared him. He had put most of his enemies to merciless deaths. His main enemy Shivaji died a natural death but his son Sambhaji was killed by Aurangzeb after subjecting him to sever physical torture. He crushed all the rebels including those from his sons. He ruled for five decades until his late eighties. He was in control of his empire till his last day.

Aurangzeb trusted no one completely but he had the finest ability to get into the minds of his enemies. He could guess their moves early and counter them effectively. He lost no war and compromised with no one. After all, he had become emperor after killing his own brothers and putting his ruling father into a confinement. He ruled with an iron bar. His strength came for his beliefs in religion. Being a strict follower of his religion, and turning a blind eye towards other religions and their followers had attracted much enmity. Rajputs, who were long time associates of Mughals from the times of Akbar, turned against Aurangzeb. Jats, Sikhs, Marathas opposed his rule. But Aurangzeb paid no attention to anyone’s advice; he just brushed away the suggestions from his sister not to go against Hindus. He was determined to put his thoughts into action which he believed is good for his kingdom and he even thought that is moral too.

But when death was nearing him, Aurangzeb got into a melancholy. After hearing deaths of his sisters, two sons and a daughter, he realizes that his father would have been in the same situation after failing to win the confidence of his own sons. To avoid the fight among his surviving three sons for his empire, he decides to split the kingdom among them. He dies of old age and ill health far away from his capital, preparing to hear the judgement of the God he believed in.

Getting into the heart of a complex person is not any easy task. But this novel brings the history alive. Unlike the previous books in this series, this book has more details on the preparations for war conquests, strategies, using spies and messengers etc. rather than characteristic details of the protagonist but yet gives no less shape to the person Aurangzeb was.

Alex Rutherford is the pen name of two writers, Diana Preston and her husband Michael Preston. This couple have spent considerable time of their lives into the study, research and getting this series of six books on the Moghul kingdom. And they have shown to the literature world how a historical fiction should be written.

Monday, March 21, 2016

True savior of India: Indian soldier, who else?

There are many discussions on whether India will remain unite. Some of India’s neighbors are hell bent on breaking down India. Let them do their best but taking a look back at the true saviors, real heroes of India, no one can doubt how our enemies are fighting a losing war.

It was 1999 and India was at war with its neighbor. A fighter pilot on strike had to eject off his plane with a parachute after his plane was hit by an enemy missile. He was captured, made a prisoner and was subjected to severe physical and mental torture. The experience was difficult to describe in words and he felt that “death would have been a better solution”. Some efforts made him to return to his home land. He was Nachiketa, a Flight Lieutenant serving Indian Air Force. When asked what he would do now, he said he would take another fighter jet into enemy skies. That was his wit, but the injuries he suffered barred him from flying a fighter but he still serves Indian Air Force flying transport planes. After several years of this incident, he reaffirmed his opinion “I am a soldier and is expected to undergo torture but I never repent in life”. Thanks to him and his colleagues, India won that war.

It was 2010, Bishnu Prasad Shrestha, a 35 year old Gurkha soldier serving Indian army, had taken voluntary retirement and was returning to his home town in a train. That train had to face robbery attack by a gang of around 30 armed bandits. Apart from snatching valuable goods, those bandits attempted to rape an 18-year old girl in front of her helpless parents. That girl appealed to Bishnu “You are a soldier, please save a sister”. The soldier got on his feet, and in a fight that lasted 20 minutes, he killed three bandits with his khukuri (a curved knife), injured eight and the rest fled losing their courage to face this determined lone soldier. This real life hero said “Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier; taking on the dacoits in the train was my duty as a human being”. Army brought him back to service with a promotion. Indian Railways issued him a free pass and what a genuine reason they had. He indeed deserves a better attention than he got to makeover the image of India.

The Siachen Glacier, located at the northern tip of Kashmir, is the highest and coldest battlefield in the world. Guarding this border at fierce cold temperatures has killed hundreds of soldiers so far. In this place during the last month, struck by an avalanche, Lance Naik Hanamanthappa was buried under 25 feet of snow in temperatures that hovered above minus 40 degrees Celsius, for six days before the help arrived. Many called it a miracle, but the soldier was on a mission to guard India. This soldier stands tall amidst the forces with a plan to destroy India. Had he been alive, he would have got back on his job by now leaving no one second guessing his commitment toward his mission.

Against all odds of survival, at the borders or the interior lands, alone or with a group, these brave soldiers risked their lives to keep threats away. They never left their guard or morale down even when death stared at them. They are the true saviors and real life heroes of India. There is no threat to India as long as they are at work.