I haven’t read non-fiction as a genre for quite some time. Picking up Sidin Vadukut’s book recently re-ignited my interest in the genre. I have also been working up an interest in learning about recent Indian history. Books about this era starting from post-liberalization have now been emerging for quite some time now.
Arun Shourie is one of the authors who has written about India’s post-liberalization era. He was also a cabinet minister in the Vajpayee government. He covers three broad areas in this book – bureaucracy, environment and immigration. He shows through examples how the thinking within the government is not directed at solving the issue at hand but in ensuring that one is not held responsible for any errors in the resolution of such issues.
To be sure, some of these issues are complex. He also faces the same difficulty that his predecessors had in resolving the issues at hand. He tends to defend the delay caused during his own regime in the various Ministries whilst not really defending the actions taken by his predecessors in the same Ministries.
The book, otherwise, is a wonderful collection of reflection and insight into the working and the thinking inside the Government towards the end of the twentieth century and that in transition from the license raj to liberalisation. It is also a pretty breezy read despite being a book that cites a lot of correspondence and timelines to back up his assertions and observations, which are few, short and sometimes satirical to drive the point through.
Strangely, there were a lot of Arun Shourie interviews that got aired around the time I was reading this book. Again getting access to the government will hopefully push him to write more books that will help Indian citizens understand the issues with more clarity and depth.
I just finished this book today morning. I just took a couple of hours to synthesize it all. Below is the review as I wrote on Goodreads.
Dance Dance Dance by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am forcing myself to write this. To wrap my head around what I read. This was the 10th book by Murakami that I am reading. He has an ordinariness in his writing that comes through even in his English translations. Mixed with some fantastical elements that I have witnessed in Kurt Vonnegut’s writings that I have read like Cat’s Cradle. His stories have for a fact that everyone is unique. That fact is then laced with emotions of loneliness and sometimes, helplessness.
The Wikipedia page for Murakami tells me that this is one of his earlier work as a writer. To me, this book made more sense, perhaps because I read some of his later works. I don’t know. It also makes his some of his latest works like 1Q84 make more sense too. I am almost a fan now.
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(Posted here from Goodreads. Just in case. Although it seems more likely that the review will stay on Goodreads and vanish from here than vice versa. For posterity, perhaps. I also need to get much better at writing book reviews. I’m working on it!)
The Sceptical Patriot: Exploring the Truths Behind the Zero and Other Indian Glories by Sidin Vadukut
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’ve read Sidin Vadukut’s Dork books and his column in Mint, the newspaper. I don’t think he writes there and more or less jokes around. Those are fun to read. With The Sceptical Patriot, I think Sidin’s writing reaches the narrative style that shines through in some of his blog posts. The versatility of that narration has never ceased to amaze me.
I think this book of myth busting comes around at the right time. After a decade where India was lauded for many things – its achievements, people are slowly sobering up to the fact that India is just another country with its share of issues and strengths. It is during the previous decade that people suddenly started sharing wild assertions of the greatness of India. Some true. Some false.
Sidin does a good job of picking up a few of these assertions and applying rational thinking, researching on the Internet and reading from libraries (I love this!) and illustrating how one could apply the same technique to other facts that one reads everyday on Facebook and Whatsapp (notice how this is absent on Twitter?) if only one spent a little time. Skepticism is what India needs a little more of.
I don’t think Sidin was trying to or reaches the superb awesomeness of Mythbusters or Phil Plait or even Bill Bryson. I hope he doesn’t. I wish he’d go off a bit and explore more genres and doesn’t stick to one. I like this wandering interest that he shows in his work.
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My favourite quote from the book?
(It is truly remarkable how NASA has become the ‘India fact’certifying agency of choice.)
This was said in reference to a 1985 paper written by a Rick Briggs who considered Sanskrit to be one of the few languages worth considering for use in computer programming. He was working with a company that worked as a contractor with NASA. This probably was the start of Indians looking at NASA for bolstering various ‘India facts’.