Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Book Review: Accelerating Out of the Great Recession

I must confess that dry economic topics make me switch off from a conversation. Yet, with China recently devaluing its economy, I inferred that this was the right time to read a book on economics. While the title ‘Accelerating Out of the Recession’ did not really catch my interest, it was the subtitle: ‘How to Win in a Slow Growth Economy’ which made a significant difference. Anchored firmly with exceptional research and outstanding advice, this book explains the magnitude and enduring nature of changes which have taken place in the global economy.

In a tone that provides both education and entertainment, the book is enhanced with engaging examples which are narrated in an appealing manner. Their research packages business and historical lessons from The Great Depression and how to apply them during the current Recession. It shows executives how to learn from the decisive actions taken by companies such as General Electric, IBM, P&G in order to accelerate out of past downturns. It also urges leaders to take the fight directly to their competitors by diversifying and expanding at a time when the markets are significantly affected by the economic turbulence. The book also spells out a vision which can help in shaking off conventional wisdom in order to protect and grow a company’s market share by developing a new managerial mindset for tough times.

In a concise manner, it is indeed commendable that the tone of the book is not dry. With occasional redundant examples, the writers seem to express their support for conservative fiscal politics. The writers highlight the shortfalls and downsides of administrative interventions championed by the Democrats in the United States and offer minimal criticism of deregulatory policies pursued by the Republicans. Despite trying to sound politically neutral, it is easy to infer that the political shades are present in undertones given that there is not much written about the role of Republicans in the securities crises, multi-level ponzi schemes and the mortgage market meltdown, three reasons which led to the economic meltdown in 2008.

This book, despite being placed in the economics section under the larger umbrella of non-fiction, is an enriching read. The authors diagnose economic problems by providing firm evidence based solutions for executives who are trying to generate profits in a rigorous fiscal environment. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in economics. Corporate leaders, strategists and managers who wish to provide an impetus to their sales and generate a wave of excitement in a period of slow business growth will also benefit from reading this book.       

Friday, 21 August 2015

Book Review: The Woman Who Walked Into Doors

At first glance, I must admit that it was the title ‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’ which caught my eye. I had purchased this book in 2008 while researching on a project about domestic violence. However, this book remained on my to be read list for several years. It is only recently that I finished the book.

‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’ by Roddy Doyle charts the life of a middle-aged Irish homemaker, Paula Spencer, who answers the door to find the police officer, informing her that her husband Charlo’s death. It is here that she recounts memories of brutal abuse at his hands. With a series of flashbacks, we are acquainted how Paula came to marry a man who tortured and abused her for seventeen years and how she found the strength to kick him out of her house. Narrated in first person through flashback as a defence, her elder sister Carmel speaks up by laughing at Paula for inventing happy memories instead of confronting the truth head on. Through the unsteady relationship between the two sisters, we are told that their introduction to domestic violence has not been recent.

Paula’s father had been responsible for introducing her to the ugliness of domestic violence when she was still a child. She recounts seeing her father ruling over his wife and his household with an iron fist. As a child, she remembers seeing her sister Carmel being tortured and yet, in her defence mechanisms which have been to put to play, she justifies the violence as an expression of fatherly love. At this point, I must admit that the tone of the book is unprecedentedly frank in its portrayal of domestic violence. Alternating in phases with Paula’s life, the author creates a character recounting the turbulence in her life. With a rattled mind trying to put itself in order, the writing style seems natural. With dry insertions of humour and a fine eye for detail, the author makes Paula’s life seem alive, making her plight so vivid that it almost seems familiar.

This was the first book by Roddy Doyle that I read and it did not disappoint me. The fine eye for details and their complete transitions into gentler truths reflect wonderfully in the book. Reading about Paula Spencer, a mother of four who has been repeatedly battered finds consolation in alcohol and creates for herself a wall which is filled with self-loathing, we realise that the story is universal. The language and tone of abuse is so familiar that it seems normal. Yet, I must warn that it has some graphic descriptions about violence. ‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’ brings forward a new perspective on a topic which is normally brushed under the carpet.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Book Review: Vaadivaasal

Jallikattu, the traditional bull-taming contest,  held as part of
Pongal celebrations in Tamil Nadu between a man and bull forms the central theme of the Tamil novella ‘Vaadivaasal’, originally written by N. Kalyan Raman. The bull taming contest is named ‘Chellayi Jallikattu’ and takes place in a remote village named Periyapatti Zameen in interior Tamil Nadu  and is visited by two men: Pichchi and Marudhan from the neighbouring village in the east, Usillanoor.

The title ‘Vaadivaasal’ refers to the arena where the game of jallikattu is played. The 88 page novella revolves around the happenings on a single afternoon and reports faithfully how the drama involving human emotions, pettiness, desire, magnanimity and camaraderie unfolds when the bulls and men arrive at the arena. With an old man as the central character, the novella talks about the death of Pichchi’s father, Ambulithevan, who had been gored to death at the same arena a few years ago while trying to tame Kaari, a vadipuram bull.

While the first half is about the two men who breathe in experiences with a local and sharp shrewdness, the next half concentrates on how the animals are brought out, leaving the field open for anyone among the crowd or otherwise willing to tame the bull. Kaari’s arrival in the story is delayed considerably even as we find references to him through the initial parts of the story. The book’s pace accelerates almost to the level of breathlessness when Kaari and Pichchi are face to face.

It is during adversity that the need for survival is felt at the greatest. The final pages highlight Pichchi’s frantic ways to ensure his survival and success as he sizes up with Kaari. This instance alone is enough to prove the author C.S. Chellappa’s command over how to narrate stories in a vivid and engaging manner. It is important to recognise the effort put in by N. Kalyan Raman who has tried his best to retain the rustic tone of Tamil. It is indeed hard to say whether if Vaadivaasal is a story about Pichchi or Kaari. For whatever it is, the only thing that we are informed for sure is that it is about pride. The pride that hurts both: the human Pichchi and the animal Kaari.

Summing up, Vaadivaasal is one of the finest translations I have read in recent times. The clarity and description in the author’s style of narrating has made me explore more of his works. The 88 page novella has been edited with a scholarly eye and care. The glossary at the end which contains a list of local Tamil words which are used to describe incidents in the novella only enhance the value of the book.

P.S.: This review is part of the Reading India Challenge hosted by #TSBC and covers the state of Tamil Nadu. To know more about the Reading India Challenge, you may read about it here:

Monday, 10 August 2015

Book Review: Our Moon Has Blood Clots

‘I was 14 when we were forced to leave our home in Srinagar along with my family. For me, exile is permanent. Homelessness is permanent. I am uprooted in my mind. There is nothing I can do about it. My idea of home is too perfect. My idea of love is too perfect. Home and love are intertwined. I am like my grandfather, who never left his village his whole life. It was deepl embedded in his matrix: too perfect to be replicated elsewhere,’ said an emotional Rahul Pandita at the book launch of his book, ‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots’ in February 2013.

The heartbreaking story of Kashmir has so far been told through the prism of the brutality by the Indian state and the pro-independence demands of separatists. ‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots’ is a document about the unspoken chapter in the story of Kashmir which rarely receives any attention. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits: the Hindu minority in a Muslim-majority Kashmir which was purged in a violent ethnic cleansing backed by Islamist militants. Consequently, 350,000 Kashmiri Pandits were forced to live in exile as refugees in many parts across India.

‘Our Moon Has Blood Clots’ is a heart wrenching tale about how heinous atrocities took place in a state and yet the government failed to soothe frayed tempers. The exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, sadly, remains one of the most disturbing chapters in India’s history. As Milan Kundera once wrote, “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Yet, we see the indifference of our society which has been highlighted significantly in the book as the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits have been ignored. Theirs, unfortunately, is a story which has not received media coverage, no support from NGO cheerleaders, total ignorance from society at large and near neglect from successive central and state governments.

In a deeply personal account against forgetting, Rahul Pandita recounts how ‘home’ for him is no longer a reality. Having lost his brother during the violence, his book is revisiting history through the eyes of a local who has seen it all. The powerful tone of the book throws a sharp new light on to one of the most tragic conflicts in modern India. With every paragraph of this deeply compelling memoir ringing true, this book is a must read for anyone who is willing to explore truth in their own way. 

P.S.: This post was written as part of the Reading India Challenge hosted by #TSBC. To know more about the challenge, you may read about it here:

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Zero Miles: Centre of India

Picture Courtesy: Google Images
Nestled in a tiny corner southeast of the Vidhan Bhavan and the RBI Square of Nagpur, is literally located the centre of India. The Zero Milestone is a sandstone pillar and has four horses beside it. The four horses denote the four cardinal directions. The passion for surveying and cartography by the British led to many cities having zero stones. However, the zero milestone of Nagpur is unique because it marks the geographical centre of India. Erected by the British as the central point to measure distances to all major cities, the zero milestone is a significant but often overlooked part of Nagpur. 

When India was divided into provinces, Nagpur was the erstwhile capital of the Central Provinces and Berar Provinces. The Central Provinces and Berar was together made up of 22 districts, which were grouped in five divisions. The divisions of the Central Provinces were classified as Jabalpur, Narmada, Nagpur, Chhattisgarh and the Berar division. The Jabalpur division comprised of areas such as Jabalpur, Sagar, Damoh, Seoni and Mandla. The Narmada division included areas such as Narsinghpur, Hoshangabad, Nimar, Betul and Chhindwara. The Nagpur division incorporated areas such as Wardha, Chandrapur, Bhandara, Balaghat and Nagpur. With 1905 districts within the Chhattisgarh division, the most prominent cities in this division were Bilaspur, Raipur and Durg. The Berar Division comprised of areas such as Amravati, Akola, Ellichpur, Buldhana and Bashim. 

When the states were reorganised on the basis of linguistic boundaries in 1956, most of the areas comprising the erstwhile Central Provinces formed the new state of Madhya Pradesh. Three of the five divisions became a part of the new state while Nagpur and Berar became a part of Maharashtra. The reorganisation of states in 1956 witnessed Nagpur being stripped of its title of being the capital of the Central and Berar Provinces and saw it being geographically shifted to Maharashtra. The reorganisation of states led to Nagpur becoming the only city in Independent India to lose its state capital status, despite being the capital of the erstwhile Central Provinces. Despite this minor setback, Nagpur still retains its importance as an administrative city and is today the second capital of Maharashtra.

The Zero Milestone is quite literally the centre of India. The major National Highways (NH7 from Varanasi to Kanyakumari along with NH6 from Mumbai--Sambalpur--Calcutta traverse through the city. In addition to these, the Grand Trunk Route from Mumbai--Howrah, Howrah--Chennai, Chennai--Delhi railway lines pass through the city. Though the milestone has a historical value to it and is an important monument, there is not much importance accorded to it. Nonetheless, it is still an amazing landmark which certainly deserves a visit, especially to boast about while clicking selfies. :)