Tantu - The Loom of LifeTantu – The Loom of Life by S.L. Bhyrappa
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The announcement of Emergency in Independent India was one of the darkest hours of Indian Democracy. It is a culmination of the decade long decline of idealism in all forms of life in Independent India. The time of the freedom movement was a period of great Idealism and hope, Millions of men lived for such lofty ideals sacrificed their whole lives for the idea of Independent India. Once Independence arrived, the system of governance that came into existence was something which was completely dependent on the bureaucracy which was more interested in survival rather than nation building. The satyagraha workers were sidelined as the rule was more centralized and had no room for the ideals of Gandhian Decentralization. Hence India was ruled by a bureaucracy and politicians working over them. As the idealism of the early years withered the revolutionary zeal that was achieved during the independence was lost completely.
This novel is a record of this loss in idealism. The novel reflects this loss in multiple layers.
Obviously the functioning of the government, the License-quote raj system which promoted corruption at all levels and resulted in economic stagnation. In addition it also reflects this on the personal lives of the people, the lives of everyday human beings who crave for power and material benefits where common decency is killed everyday.
In addition to the loss of idealism this novel laments, the other fundamental theme of the novel is the complete loss of authenticity and Indian tradition in all lives post independence.
Especially in the education system we inherited from the British was completely lacking in Indian thought and sensibilities. Resulting system could only produce people who are interested only in the economic affluence that modern education rather than character building which education had to promote.

The novel is brilliant in a sense it realistically captures the pettiness of the upper middle class bureaucracy. Especially the culture associated with Delhi based bureaucracy who relish in tax payer money with lavish parties and the way corruption is normalised in this system of over governance.
It also captures the utter lack of ideals and the depression that anyone with a sense of idealism has to suffer at every step with the careless bureaucracy and corrupt politicians.Classic case is the suffering meted out to Anaiah whose only mistake is to yearn for an education which is Indian thought. This utter hopelessness is the very characteristic which this novel portrays over and over in independent India.

Gandhi keeps coming back in this novel, as a sad remembrance to the reader, and as a clown in the curses of Kanti the suave and sophisticated Delhi based women. She is the wife of Ravindra the central character of the novel who is idealistic and hence unable to earn the money that Kanti wants him to. Kanti leaves Ravindra and becomes a garment exporter yearning lakhs of rupees.
It is through the personal lives and the seeming contradiction between them we see this duality getting played. The idealistic Ravindra and the seemingly pragmatic and opportunistic Kanti representing the existential modernism going at each other is a classic philosophical debate of 20th century. In this sense Bhyrappa has put forth a critique of the modernistic thought and the lonely death Kanti suffers is what Bhyrappa should have felt about the loneliness of existentialism.

Inspite of the external situation we see people still inspired not loosing hope as the karma yogi defined in Bagavat Gita fighting the lonely battle on the side of idealism. Even though the novel seem to end at the announcement of the emergency its message is one of the duty against the modernism rooted in existentialism.

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Yayati: A Classic Tale of LustYayati: A Classic Tale of Lust by Vishnu Sakharam Khandekar
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yayati by V.S Khandekar is the modern retelling of King Yayati’s story from Mahabharatha.
Yayati was the king of Hastinapur who married Devayani the daughter of Sukracharya.
He was the son of Nahusha who was cursed for insulting the sages on his victory over Indra.
Yayati’s life was tormented by his unending desire of women. This novel retells the story as a series of recollections from three main characters in the story, Yayati , Devayani and Sharmishta.

Yayati life is filled with continuous oscillation between desire passion on one side and contemplation, love and understanding. He is introduced to the fascination of love through his childhood relationship with Alka , who is eventually vanished when Yayati’s mother knows her closeness to the king. Yayati sees her dying due to the only fault of being born in a lowly caste and getting closer to Yayati. This creates a lasting impression on Yayati’s young psyche.

Yayati in his young age is introduced to the character of Kacha who is a sage and student of Angiras who is undergoing deep penance and is highly knowledgeable in philosophy and religion. Kacha makes a favorable impression on Yayati as he looks upon Kacha as inspiring friend.
As the feud between the asuras and devas , Kacha is asked to get the sanjeevini from Sukracharya and he joins sukracharya as the disciple and finally learns of the Sanjeevini.
Kacha and Devayani fall in love but Kacha forgoes devayani over duty which completely hurts devayani’s fragile ego.

As it goes Yayati meets Devayani on the fateful day when Sharmishta the daughter of Vrishapavarna insults Devayani and pushes her into the well. Devayani and Yayati fall in love as they seen in each of them the mirror image , beautiful and each of them are passionately in loev with themselves. Devayani hurt by the insinuation of Sharmishta, makes her father ask Vrishapavarna to marry devayani to Yayati and make Sharnishta as her maid.

With this eventful day’s activities lives of these three people Yayati, Devayani and Sharmishta gets entangled in a life of misery. Yayati and Devayani’s conjugal lives eventually falls out mainly due to the extreme egoism of Devayani. Yayati could not feel the love that his soul seems to be yearning for and eventually builds incestuous and secret relationship with Sharnishta.
Sharmishta and Yayati find the lasting happiness and conjugal fulfillment that both of them seem to be yearning. And Yayati for once seems to have find what he seems to be yearning for.

Albeit it is short lived as Devayani finds out this relationship, Sharmishta is forced to fled with her son Puru on one eventful night not to see Yayati for 18 miserable years.

Yayati falls to degenerate levels living by wine and women every day for eighteen years.
His complete degeneration is an act of vengeance, retribution and destruction of one soul.
From this lowly depths he is saved from the meeting of Sharmista and Puru and the curse of Sukracharya. Yayati and Devayani realize the value of loving sacrifice and the essence of love by the action of Puru at the ending when he comes forward and accepts Yayati’s curse and is ready to sacrifice the country to Yadu the son of Devayani.

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Isaac Bashevis Singer Collected Short Stories

The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis SingerThe Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer by Isaac Bashevis Singer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Isac Bashevis Singer Collected Short stories there are such Gems.
There are three broad themes in this collection, three broad stages of Singer’s life himself.

1. Stories on the Jewish Heritage
There are stories which are more like Rabbi folklore as collection of stories which are centered around the theme of Sin, belief and the idea of redemption.
There is just bunch of people talking and telling stories directly typically a Rabbi or Hasidim. These are direct lyrical and include elements of magical elements in them. They are free flowing and capture the Jewish life in Poland.
Stories like the Passion, The Gentleman from Cracow , The last daemon, Moon and Madness etc.

2. Stories set in Poland
There are stories in Poland which are from Singer life as young man in Warsaw his understanding of the Jewish life and his impulses facing modernity.
Stories like the Three Encounters. There is a boyish yearning for the lost life.
There are also tremendous gems like The Spinoza of the Market street and The little shoe makers of Frampool which are amazingly lyrical Jewish life and the modern life.

3. Stories post the holocaust.
These stories are just show the life torn apart by holocaust but never over sentimental in any way. Especially stories are so subtle it just magnifies the impact. Stories like Bus, Job, Cabalist in the East Broadway etc.

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Gandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony

Gandhi's Philosophy and the Quest for HarmonyGandhi’s Philosophy and the Quest for Harmony by Anthony J. Parel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book Anthony J Parel builds a fundamental philosophical background on the basis of which various ideas of Gandhi can be best understood. Gandhi has been seen in multiple directions, as an exponent of non-violent civil disobedience (sathyagraha) against the British, one who constantly changed his life style like things he wore to what he ate. He was someone who had multiple identities. This book the author tries to understand this complexity of his life and actions using the ancient Purushartha system . Purushartha an ancient Indian thought which attributes four fundamental inspirations or foundation of life for each human being namely Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha.

Dharma – Its the duty and ethics of any human being.
Artha – Its the money one has to earn through his work.
Kama – Its the part of life associated with pleasure including sexual, aesthetic and related to arts.
Moksa – The part of life through which one attains his salvation.

Any meaningful life should essentially contain all the above purusharthas. All of them should work in harmony for proper life. The author argument is that Gandhi reinvigorated on the fundamental Purushartha system to make it the philosophy driving his life.

Gandhi did multiple innovations to the fundamental system,

1. Over a period of time in India, Moksha took center stage in the philosophical discourse in India.
This tilted the balance against Artha and Dharma resulting in stagnation. This was the discourse even during Gandhi’s time especially on the part of people who wanted to attain Moksha. Life in politics and economics was considered an impediment in the pursuit of Moksha. Infact when Gandhi sent his initial letter containing questions to Raychand Bhai, he was advised not to meddle with the politics of Natal Indians if he really wanted to attain Moksha. Gandhi never could reconcile with the ascetic tradition of renunciation. He fundamentally wanted to bridge this gap between Dharma and Artha on one side and Moksha on the other. For him politics would be completely corrupted if its bereft of spirituality. In a similar vein pursuit of artha without any concern for other Purusharthas would only result in idle consumerism.
Gandhi brought spirituality to the core of worldly pursuit such as Artha and reconciled the pursuit of Moksha with Artha.

2. The dharma of the older cannon was based on the caste system. Unlike many of the conventional Modernists Gandhi thought that initially that the caste system is required. He was initially suggestive that the original system was right but it could have got corrupted over the period of time. But as he evolved he categorically rejected the caste system and called for his complete abolition. In place of the old cannon Gandhi promulgated the dharma of civic nation. Gandhi was not an anarchist as argued by many, in many ways he accepted the idea of modern state albeit a non violent state. But he accepted the nation should have any army to protect against external aggression, he dejected many of his pacifists friends in this regard. But he felt that any law abiding individual should be ready to resort to sathyagraha against the state if unjust things are imposed on him. He was also categorically different in the sense he stressed the importance of duty with rights.

3. Gandhi’s moksha was fundamentally different than the conventional contemplative mode of moksha. He was a man of action, so his path was that of the Karma Yoga which was the chapter in Gita that moved him most. He was also deeply moved by the idea of Saranagathi or complete surrender to attain moksha. He mixed the Karma yoga of action and bhakthi yoga inspired from his Vaishnava theist root.

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Rajaji – Rajmohan Gandhi

Rajaji, a LifeRajaji, a Life by Rajmohan Gandhi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rajaji is one of the personalities who is constantly portrayed as a villain in many of the biopics on other people like the Film on Periyar. One thing everyone in Tamilnadu knows, he was a castiest bhraminical leader who wanted to bring education system based on Varna system.

There is no defender for him in the current scheme of things, by opposing Nehru post independence he cut his links with the Congress. He was bhraminical so never liked by Dravidian politics.

So I had very little opinion or idea about this man’s life. This biography captures the essence of the life of this great man. What stood out of Rajaji,

1. Independent
He is amazingly independent on his thoughts and ideas and till his death was revered as the greatest statesman. Even with the congress he dissented during the independence movement.
He famously opposed the Quit India movement citing the dangers Fascism offers to the independent world. This was suicidal for any leader at that time, and he antagonized the congress cadres base. But he stood by his conviction , as like he did many issues in his long cherished life. He was ready to battle it all alone if required, like the struggle against the License Permit Quota Raj(a line he coined), against the personality worship of Nehru. In these fights of course he did mistakes like aligning with the DMK when he started the Swantantra Party to oppose the Congress.
But he was not the one bogged down by public opinion, and it made him unpopular, loved and hated at the same time.

2. Religious Yet Broad Minded,
We have a template in the liberal circles like any one who espouses the Hindu scriptures like Gita, or one who is a practicing hindu has to be a bigot who supports say things like Untouchability and caste system. Same happened to Rajaji and his bhraminical background not helped in matters.
But in reality he was the first to oppose untouchabilty in tamilnadu. He made his life mission to open Indian temples to untouchable. He famously defended a case on an untouchable entering the Thiruchanoor temple. His ashram inmates comprised of people from different caste backgrounds. He totally believed in the horrors of caste system and untouchability but he didn’t have the standard liberal. So he had to suffer like any independent thinker has to.
So he wrote major works on Gita, Ramayana and his writings were important to the formation of modern tamil prose.

Rajaji’s strength was his witty and memorable one liners with which he won many arguments.
He was one of the most successful lawyers of tamilnadu when he decided to quit the profession to participate in the independence movement. He was one of the finest parliamentarians India produced, and he provided a demonstration of his witty tongue in these debates.

Able Administrator
He was part of the lost breed of administrator who wanted to do the right think not always the popular one. A life long supporter of prohibition of liquor, he changed the lives of poor people through his activities regarding prohibition and khadi. Take for instance the much criticized education policy. The idea was clear and simple, he wanted to increase the admission in schools, with the current financial constraints it was not possible to open more schools neither to increase the teachers. Hence he suggested the school time for children will be reduced to 3 hours and the schools can cater to two batches of students in one day. He also suggested in the remaining time the children can learn their family work. This snowballed into a controversy which was totally uncalled for, and was forced to resign his post. He was adamant to such an extent is surprising but he felt it was the right thing to do.

Funny aspect about Rajaji is introduced as the one with a weak frame in the beginning .
He comes about as one who is often sick and tired wanting to retire. But curiously he outlived all of the major leaders of independence Gandhi, Patel, Azad, Rajendra Prasad, Nehru .
In a way he was active in stages of life from the time British Raj was in full force, the independence movement, to around 3 decades in independent India. This made him involved with so much of issues in a wide ranging arc. He was like the conscious keeper of India for three decades post independence.

This book is a phenomenal learning on his life.

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Nine Live

Nine LivesNine Lives by William Dalrymple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have seen the books of William Dalrymple stacked in many book shops.
But somehow never felt so keen to read his books. Always had a thought that this might be one of those books that Western writers come up with about India in a manner that never impresses me.
I was pleasantly proved wrong by this book Nine Lives. Its a travelogue on the live of nine people as the title suggest. It captures the unchanging aspects of Indian life amidst the ever changing modern life. These lives are frozen in a time completely different to the prevailing modernist epoch.
It is just a great strength of our country that we accept so much different lives to flourish and there is no single prescribed path that our tradition mandates. Here are the things that worked for me in this book ,

1. The book is sincere in what it tries to capture, I never felt any tone of condescension to the lives it is capturing which is usually the case. The accounts are thoroughly researched , each life account begins with an incident, captures the historic root of the life and then uncovers the person in a manner we start to feel them real.

2. The lives capture the essence of our tradition, it includes a Jain nun who in her renunciation and sacrifices tries to attain moksha in the other world , to the Bauls of Bengal whose moksha lies in the song and dance and everyday beauty of the life at hands.

3. The conversations that the author has with the characters are one of the high points of the book. Be it the sthapathi in Swamimalai who speaks about the god taking over the artist in the act of sculpture. Or the conversation with the Sufi Saint on the teaching of Sufi Islam and his message of tolerance and peace. They capture the essence of the book and are really poetic.

4. The lives are also conflicting in a way with the epoch of the current times. Everyone who has choose this life are a rebel and in a way are facing the pressure of the times. This is captured well.

5. It captures the underlying humanity of India.

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Dostoevsky – Brothers Karamazov

There are certain questions that surface in Dostoevsky’s works. Fundamental to it is “Does Truth and goodness have any intellectual basis to it”. Is it through intellect does one arrive at goodness or through faith one arrive at it. With the idea of atheism and nihilism that swept through the end of 19th century all our Europe, it is natural that Dostoevsky was deeply moved and affected by this question. With the decadence of the organised church on one side and rampant poverty stricken industrial revolution on the other side, Dostoevsky constantly searched for a spiritual basis to live. It is this brilliant debate that is captured in the book Brothers Karamazov with great detail. The major characters in the novel capture this essence with their different natures.

The father Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov, a self confessed buffoon who has no sense of morality lives the lowest life of filth and decadence a human being can think about. As observed by the elder Zossima he continues to lie to himself and is constantly playing the buffoon. It is the murder of this man and the ensuing investigation that we understand the other sons of him.

Eldest of the Karamazov brothers is Dimitry who is born of the first marriage of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov to Adelaida. Dimitry is sensual like his father and involved in multitude of relationships. He is earnest compared to his father , compared to Fyodor he still has honesty left in him. He is constantly in need of money, insults people especially he drags Ilyusha’s father from a tavern. But he still repents wants to be a better human being unlike his father who is always pretentious always.

Ivan the second of the brothers is intellectual , doubting and a loner seems to be a great mind tormented by doubt. This is one of the fundamental issues that Dostoevsky handles, the Ivan is an intellectual who is bordering on atheism he questions the idea of Christ giving free will to human beings in the chapter “The Grand Inquistor“. He had to suffer a tremendous amount of guilt and torture at the end as he feels he is wrongly the reason for the murder of his father. It is his intellect that has sinned. You can see similar thread in Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment.

On one side you see the sensualist Dimitry the other side you have the Rational atheist Ivan. Their sufferings and the torture they suffer seems to be the central point of the novel.

The youngest of the brothers is Aloysha the central hero of the novel as per the narrator. He is pure and pristine and rarely seems to judge anyone , practices the idea of forgiveness etc. But I think there is a curious aspect of Aloysha that is worth noting. He is so anxious in many occasions he himself seems to be in doubt over forgiveness, love and immortality the very ideas he seems to be preaching. He is still evolving over the novel. Especially when there is a family meting with the elder he is so nervous about things might go wrong. As the elder says in interacting with the lady “Love in reality is lot of hard work and labor”. That seems to have been said to Aloysha. He is waiting for a miracle to happen to believe and attain the faith. But it is through faith that one arrives at miracle.

The central point of the novel is the killing of Fyodor Karamazov , Dimitry is charged with the murder. There is an underlying mystery surrounding the novel. All the central characters are doubted with the murder , like Dimitry , Ivan and Smerdyakov (illegetimate son of Fyodor). Every one suffers due to the murder, Ivan feels tremendous guilt over influencing Smerdyakov over his atheism which he fears might have lead to the murder.

The suffering brings in tremendous faith and love in Ivan and Dimitry. It shows the greatness of Love and belief over doubt to Aloysha. This is the central theme of this work.