Halt Station India; Rajendra B. Aklekar

It has been years since I’ve read a book in two sittings. This one is it. “Unputdownable” doesn’t quite cut it.

Halt Station India, is a historical biography of the arrival of trains in Bombay. And while sketching this biography of the arrival, birth, and establishment of the locomotives in Bombay, Mr. Aklekar tells you another story, incidentally. That of the Bombay. And he tells it lovingly.  Very lovingly.

I’ve always loved trains and I’ve always loved this city. So, you can imagine, this book made twice the sense for me.

halt-station-india-original-imaefqdav64cru5s16th April 1853, the first passenger train service in India, plied from Byculla to Parel, and the rest, they say is history. Well, this book is about the rest. And of all the events that went in to make this service a reality. The entire narrative that led to this first service, right up to the Mumbai local trains of today, Mr. Aklelkar tells the fascinating story, smoothly, and proudly. There is extensive research backing up the story, but is never obtrusive nor does it affect the flow of the narrative.

The trivia, especially of names of places and such, is total treasure. But unlike other books, Mr. Aklekar uses trivia, not as a filler, but to build proper context, helping the reader visualise the changes that this great city has undergone over the years. I confess, I have started seeing my city completely differently.

It is also a very human story at the same time, lest you may take this wonderful book to be a drab, chronological sequence of the evolution of trains. Mr. Aklekar has taken the care and the effort to bring forth the people and their stories as he takes us on this rail journey.

Like a master craftsman, Mr. Aklekar has weaved art, architecture, emotions, technology, travels, trains, names, places, people, and spaces. Needless to say if you love trains or Mumbai – this is a great read. Even otherwise, this is an easy and an enjoyable read for all of us who like stories.

Mr. Aklekar, easily is the custodian of the heritage of railways in Bombay, And I am glad for it.


My Gita: Devdutt Pattanaik

27318490When a book starts with, “this is my version or interpretation of a classic text,” there’s little that you can say about it.

My Gita is a broad and encompassing interpretation of The Bhagvad Gita, including Hindu philosophy, a bit of comparative study of religions, history, and social structure. It is a non-linear book, so to speak, in that it does not follow the sequence of the chapters as outlined in The Bhagvad Gita. Devdutt Pattanaik, creates his own sequence, for good reason — telling a story (which he usually does).

If you have studied The Bhagvad Gita before, there will be instances, where you may cringe a bit; but you remind yourself, it is his take. If you know little about The Bhagvad Gita, this is a good read to gain a broad context of the book, contemporary life & times, and an idea of the philosophy that is now commonly called Hinduism.

The only risk, I felt, as I read through this easy read, is that if the reader was left with an impression that he or she has a full understanding of The Bhagvad Gita, after reading My Gita. For obvious reasons, there is simplification, and The Bhagvad Gita is much more than what you will read in this book. Perhaps the author should have stressed, at the end of the book, for the reader to read (not just a list of suggested reading) the original text.

Do read, but do not stop your study, with this book.

The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, By Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg

The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, By Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg, is a precursor to the The Future of Thinking, which a longer exposition of the ideas in this report (As the authors have chosen to call it). In that sense, this one, is a good first read. [Free download]


The report discusses the current status of education institutions and asks of the resistance to change, which perhaps is caused by the continuous success that these organisations have enjoyed for a few centuries now. Even where technology is present, it is subservient to the structures and hierarchies of the institutional mentality, which in turn, is not exploiting the potential of the technology that is available to us.

As the authors mention, this is a struggle to move from presumed authority to collective credibility. Key elements that are the defining characteristics of the models for digital, networked, and participatory learning are discussed in brief.

While these models are already in place and people around the world are already accessing them, the question is: when (and under what circumstances) will formal institutions converge to these new models.

For those of us working with technology in education, it’s a good read, even if we have thought (and worked) with these ideas in some form.

For me, the key takeaway was the use of technology in education needs to be free from the traditional codex structure, which is what most eLearning is in these days.

The Gita For Children; Roopa Pai

26043368A good read.

Especially, for children – I’d imagine in the age range 12-16. The book is a very simple expository of Sri Bhagvad Gita. The language, the presentation, and the ideas are in line for children to understand the holy book.

At times, I thought it was too reductionist, but then, that’s a hazard of simplifying such books. For someone who would like to get to know the Gita, this is a good start. But that’s important: it can only be a start. If this is the only book you end up reading the understanding will be quite vague.

Recommended for adults too. (If you can ignore the adolescent examples)

The Indian Struggle, 1920-1942; Subhas Chandra Bose

It’s often said that we don’t find books; books find us. In this case, it was a bit peculiar. I found this book in December 2002, I think at Bangalore airport, at Sankar’s Bookstore. And it has been on my bookshelf since. The book finally found me, thirteen years later.

And I am glad it found me.

While most of us have a vague idea about Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s contribution (and most of it related to the Azad Hind Fauj), to know specifically his life, thoughts, ideals and struggles, before Azad Hind Fauj, is a completely different thing. This slice of history of the struggle for Indian Independence, perhaps systematically, has been denied to the public at large, to ensure that an otherwise popular version stays popular. I say this only in context of published material that’s promoted as important scholarship, as far as the history of Indian Independence is concerned.

5013856This book is 2nd in a series of a collected works by Netaji. I’ve not read the first, so I am yet to know more about Netaji’s life before 1920. This book covers the events between 1920-42, and are primarily related to goings-on of the Indian National Congress and the various people and personalities associated with the movement. In The Indian Struggle, 1920-1942, Bose presents the larger canvas of context that determined the struggle. The narrative is multi-dimensional; at the same time — a sequence of events, the impact of the effects, and the collective emotional upheavals, of all concerned. He takes care to bring in details at the right time, and importantly – in the right amount. He dwells on them, just as much is pertinent. Many events are cross-referenced often, and in good measure, which helps make sense of the complex organisation that was the Indian National Congress. The book has key insights on the arrival and growth of Communism, the nature of the devices of negotiations used by the British, and the background to a few events that we take for granted. In all this, the modesty with which he speaks about his own achievements and actions, often only through footnotes, is conspicuous.

Three personalities figure prominently: Mahatma Gandhi, Deshbandhu CR Das, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in that order. Of these, the presentation on Gandhiji is most intriguing. As the reader is exposed to the inner workings of the Congress, the role played by Gandhiji, and his nature, the popular edifice of the Mahatma starts shaking, inch by inch, page by page, chapter by chapter. He continues to remain the Mahatma, but we also see him as a human. Netaji and Gandhiji disagreed more than many times on various issues, yet, Netaji clearly criticises and praises, wherever and whenever it due. The criticism and praise come in equal measure and force—evidence that Netaji understood Gandhiji like none other.


The Indian National Congress of today is largely his (Gandhiji’s) creation. The Congress Constitution is his handiwork. From a talking body he has converted the Congress into a living and fighting organisation. It has its ramifications in every town and village in India, and the entire nation has been trained to listen to one voice. Nobility of character and capacity to suffer have been made the essential tests of leadership, and the Congress is today the largest the most representative political organisation in the country.


[…] the Mahatma has failed, because he had to play a dual role in one person—the role of a leader of an enslaved people and that of a world-teacher, who has a new doctrine to preach. It is this duality which has made him at once the irreconcilable foe of the Englishman, according to Mr. Winston Churchill, and the best policeman of the Englishman according to Miss Ellen Wilkinson.

As we try (and often fail) making sense of Indian politics, these books — the other side of the story — are invaluable in providing a perspective. Most of us have a curated, rose-coloured, and abstract sense of our history imposed on us, which then becomes the only lens for us to see through, and limits our perspectives.

The story behind the curtain is another story, altogether.

Why I Assassinated Gandhi?; Nathuram Godse & Gopal Godse

24233334There’s much commotion these days of books being banned and such. While this is not a book in the true sense of the word (it is a statement by Nathuram Godse, given in court as he stood accused of assassinating Mahatma Gandhi), it is perhaps one of the earliest documents that was banned by the government, from being published. (The ban was lifted in 1968).

It has been converted to a book form by his younger brother, who was also imprisoned as a co-conspirator for abetment and was imprisoned for life (released in 1964 after serving 16 years). While the statement of Nathuram Godse is the meat of the book — 102 of the 208 pages — Why I Assassinated Gandhi? has now been released with context, by his brother, Gopal Godse.

Like most medium-sized Indian publications, the book suffers heavily from a lack of editorial and design intervention. All the more unfortunate for this specific and critical episode in our history. Needless to say, the controversial nature of the content, even after six decades, is perhaps the reason no major publisher in India will ever seek to acquire such a title. It, then, automatically falls to the small-and-medium sized publishers.I’d like to congratulate Farsight Publishers for that.

Irrespective of your own beliefs of the role, contribution, and the impact of various leaders in the Indian Freedom Struggle, this book is worth a read. That this man assassinated the most popular figure in the history of Indian independence cannot be a reason not to read the book; in fact it is the reason, why this book needs to be read. The statement by Nathuram Godse is an articulate statement of his reason. And this being a court record, there is little scope for a fiction-creep, and perhaps, therefore, less easy to dismiss as fiction.

It matters less whether your reasons are right or wrong, and which prism they are viewed from. It matters more how convinced you are in your purpose and how well you can rationally defend and articulate that purpose. Nathuram Godse did that with great skill and art.

For that one reason, at least, this is a definite read.

Marxism Today: The Forgotten Visionaries Whose Ideas Could Save Labour; John Harris

I would imagine that you would need to have some interest in British politics, if this article is to become an interest read. My interest, however, has stemmed from some recent books that I have read. And even with a very basic understanding of British politics, this article came across as interesting. Some excerpts:

In leftist circles today, one frequently hears the argument that the world was changed for ever by the crash of 2008. But a much older point has still to be satisfactorily answered: has the left ever really understood the consequences of the economic and political changes that began to reveal themselves in the 1970s, defined the 1980s, and have been hugely accelerating ever since?

A 34 min read. If it interests you!

The conversations at Wortley Hall touched on the decline of class politics, new conceptions of identity more complex than the hoary category of “worker”, how an insurgent women’s movement had highlighted huge changes to the fabric of everyday life, the rising importance of green politics, the increasing expectation of personal autonomy – and how seemingly unstoppable forces were weakening the traditional nation state. While the right had turned these changes to its advantage, far too much of the left still lived in a world that was fast disintegrating beneath its feet.

Via The Guardian | Marxism Today: the forgotten visionaries whose ideas could save Labour

Without Fear: The Life & Trial of Bhagat Singh; Kuldip Nayar

51xtHN6w3yL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_What a wonderful opportunity this was, to bring out the story of this great patriot. While there is enough detail about the trial, and backed up by research and such, somehow, at the end, I was left with a sense of incompleteness. As if, there’s more to this, than is written in the book.

There’s little about the life of Bhagat Singh, and more of the trial of Bhagat Singh. The author takes on some fictional license at places, and suddenly we find the language to be a bit ornate.

Yet, if you are interested in the life of Bhagat Singh, this is a good book. There’s much to know about the patriot through his writings and thoughts. Like any other popular leader, there is a slice of his life that we have come to know about, and that is what we celebrate, without ever understanding the motivation and the philosophy. That Bhagat Singh was an anarchist, is interesting to note. For me personally so, because the book I finished just before this one, was On Anarchism by Noam Chomsky. It was interesting to note the reference of popular anarchists and their writings in these two books.

The details, of the episode of Gandhi’s intervention to save Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev, and Rajguru, are lesser known, and the author has used extracts and full letters for a better understanding of the circumstances that prevailed, as well as the thinking of the Congress, at the time.

That he was an atheist, I knew. But to read his essay, “Why I am an Atheist” was an eye opener. At such a young age, to have the background, perception, and importantly, the conviction (after “converting” to atheism) is indeed heartening.

The full essay, Why I am an Atheist, is available here.

What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs; Nicholas Carlson;

The title could be misleading; this isn’t about gender. It is the history of, and more like the recent history of, Yahoo! If you are interested in tech, management, companies, strategy, (or a combination of these), do read. (27 minutes) 

“In many ways, Yahoo’s decline from a $128 billion company to one worth virtually nothing is entirely natural. Yahoo grew into a colossus by solving a problem that no longer exists. And while Yahoo’s products have undeniably improved, and its culture has become more innovative, it’s unlikely that Mayer can reverse an inevitability unless she creates the next iPod. All breakthrough companies, after all, will eventually plateau and then decline. U.S. Steel was the first billion-dollar company in 1901, but it was worth about the same in 1991. Kodak, which once employed nearly 80,000 people, now has a market value below $1 billion. Packard and Hudson ruled the roads for more than 40 years before disappearing. These companies matured and receded over the course of generations, in some cases even a century. Yahoo went through the process in 20 years. In the technology industry, things move fast.”

(Via.) What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs – The New York Times, Dec. 17, 2014 

City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi; William Dalrymple

Somewhere deep down, I feel sure of one thing: I am far from being the only one who picked up this book to know more about Delhi. The title is catchy; and it does draw you in.

9780143031062Having a bit of interest in history, I knew the broad strokes of the city’s history. I was hoping there would be more, in the book. I was mistaken. Apart from a couple of historical trivialities, it wasn’t very helpful, from a historical standpoint.

But I got to know the author, very well. Since it is categorised as a “travel book” the lack of a story of Delhi, is easily cast aside. Nothing to begrudge there. Somewhere after fifty pages or so, I didn’t expect to find any history in the rest of the book, but I continued, now, with a renewed interest in what Mr. Dalrymple thought and saw, of Delhi. The rest of the book is all about selective appreciation and a sense of wonderment. Very skilfully, the author picks up personal characteristics of a few people and paints a story of an entire community. In spite of the over-brush of humour, shades of disgust are visible. The shield of objectivity is broad and strong, and useless if someone’s standing beside you.

The story, and I don’t mean the history, is scattered carelessly, and that one trip to Scotland, while in Delhi, is long drawn, draggy, and dreary. Somewhere towards the end of the book, it’s almost as if, the author was reminded by the editor, to write something about Delhi.

Suddenly, we travel in light-speed through prehistoric and mythological times, from the pre-Islamic era. For that part, the author does not find any resources. For everything else, he always finds someone who has a friend who has a friend who provides the best documentary evidence. The last few pages were finished in such haste, you end up dizzy, when the book is done.

Apart from knowing the loosely linked experiences of man’s year in Delhi, there’s nothing worth, in this book. Unless, of course, you are interested in understanding how adjectives and other devices can be used to make a statement, without ever saying it. That is the only reason, perhaps, I give it an extra star.