Posted in book review, india

Book Review: The Emergency-A Personal History

Emergency was undoubtedly the darkest phase of Indian democracy. What made it all the more remarkable was that there was no precedent for such a bold step before the event, nor has there been one after. The move shocked the country because of the instantaneous and harsh implementation and also as no one believed the daughter of Nehru-an upholder of democratic values-would behave like a dictator. Indeed many people have compared Indira in the emergency period to Hitler, but as the author of the book mentions, she went one step ahead of Hitler and tried to installed her son as her political heir and successor.

According to the author, there were three main events that contributed to the decision of Indira Gandhi to announce an internal emergency. Mind you, there was already a state of external emergency in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The first reason was the death of D.P.Dhar, one of Indira’s closest advisors. Then came the news that her party had lost the elections in Gujarat. To make matters worse, Indira was stripped of her membership in the Lok Sabha in response to the Election Commission finding certain irregularities in the process, chiefly the improper use of a public servant in the campaign and the use of more money than the permitted amount. These events led her to proclaim the emergency and begin one of the darkest phases in Indian democracy.

The author presents evidence to the fact that while people think the emergency decision was taken in a few days, it was infact the culmination of several events that took place since 1971. There was an increase in the power of Indira Gandhi, both within the party and outside. She began removing CMs (Chief Minister-the head of the government in a particular state) from their post unceremoniously, particularly those who were showing some hesitation in accepting and blindly following her orders. She abolished the privy purses of the princely states and thus went on the wrong side of many princely families, in particular that of Gwalior. Indeed, the Rajmata of Gwalior was one of the first high profile prisoners in the jail following the imposition of the emergency. Another event which convinced the opposition of her growing clout was the installation of a junior Supreme Court advocate as the Chief Justice, bypassing several people who were senior. People saw this as an indication that she wanted a judiciary that was subservient to the government, but her supporters maintained that she only wanted both of them to have the same ideology.

The author, being a close relative of Subramaniam Swamy-one of the firebrand politicians of this country-devotes substantial space to his work in mobilizing the opposition in the country and the support for the opposition in the USA to defeat the ruling party. The contributions of Jayaprakash Narayan and George Fernandes are also mentioned in detail. JP, a leader of the masses hailing from Bihar, was close friend of Indira’s family, with her mother and JP’s wife regularly exchanging letters. The trouble between JP and Indira started from the time of 1969 elections, with Indira feeling that JP wanted to wrest power from her hands, while he was against power in the hands of a single individual. The author mentions how JP was kept in squalid conditions in the jail, mostly in solitary confinement and was denied access to a doctor even when he complained of severe stomach pains. The festering rats, the heat, poor food quality and lack of communication with people, took its toll on the politician and he died soon after.

The story of George Fernandes is not too different. He led a revolt of the railway union and a warrant was issued for his arrest. When the police could not find him, his brother was arrested and tortured for months.

But probably the main man of the emergency was Sanjay Gandhi, the younger son of Indira Gandhi. His controversial projects which included development of a small sized car for the Indian public and the mass sterilization program built resentment against the ruling party and prompted Indira Gandhi to call for elections in 1977 and lift the emergency.

Emergency was indeed a dark phase in the strong democratic traditions of Indian democracy. It exposed what corrupt politicians, hellbent on maintaining their strong hold on the government and not let the opposition win could do. Never was there a precedent for such an initiative and as a responsible citizen, I hope there never will be.

Coomi Kapoor captures the essence of the public during the emergency having lived through it and experienced it. She tells about the imprisonment of her husband, and that of her relative Subramanian Swamy. She tells about countless other people who were tortured and imprisoned in unhygienic conditions in the name of emergency. This book is a must read for all those interested in Indian politics and the emergency in general.

Posted in book review

Book Review and Synopsis: A Small Town in Germany — DayDreamer

This brilliant narrative by John le Carre features the capital of West Germany- Bonn- as the provincial small town. The plot is set in the 1970’s . Leo Harting, a low level temporary administrative officer in the British Embassy in Bonn is missing and gone with him is the Green File which contains the minutes […]

via Book Review and Synopsis: A Small Town in Germany — DayDreamer

Posted in book review

The Orwell Essays

harryjohnstone

Orwell-Essays-1Brian Sewell, who died in 2015, was primarily known as an art historian. Opinionated, snooty and disdainful of popular culture, he became something of an ironic celebrity in his later years. Between 1996 and 2003, he was a columnist for the Evening Standard with a brief to “express opinion on any serious matter that interested me”. The Orwell Essays presents a selection of these articles, on subjects as diverse as Zionism, fox hunting, pornography, bear baiting, homelessness and the Elgin Marbles.

Throughout these essays, Sewell challenges “political correctitude”. On spoken English, for example, he resents the “inverse snobbery” of the idea that “the ugly accents of Liverpool and Birmingham are better than a received pronunciation that reflects the literary form and is intelligible worldwide”. He describes the hypocrisy of “blinkered” MPs who ignore the cruelty of the poultry and livestock industries, but support a ban on hunting as a “politically…

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Posted in book review, suicide, TV series

13 Reasons Why: A Perspective

The new Netflix TV series ‘13 Reasons Why’ has created a storm. After a long time, there is a TV show that talks about the real struggles in the life of adolescents that sometimes wrecks their lives and drives them to take the final step.

The protagonist of the show is a 17 year old high school girl named Hannah Baker, who has recently committed suicide. Telling the story from the perspective of two people-Hannah Baker and her friend Clay Jenson, the show begins with the news that Hannah Baker has died. Arriving home from school, Clay Jenson is surprised to find a package containing cassette recordings at his doorstep. On hearing them, he realises that they were made by Hannah before her death, detailing the 13 reasons why she took her life. These 13 reasons turn out to be 13 people in her school who had in one way or another, contributed to her suicide. Some had broken her heart, some her spirit and some her soul. What follows after the people involved hear the tapes, and their actions thereafter, forms the crux of the narrative.

The show is groundbreaking in many ways. Not only does it deal with a very important topic, but it does so in a way that makes people really care about Hannah and do everything possible to save her. It is not that we do not care about people, but the main problem is that instead of offering support, most people offer sympathy, which although is required but is not enough in most cases.

So to those reading this blog post, I urge to take a few minutes out and talk to those who are a bit depressed. There are usually some signs that can help you with identifying such people-they offer subtle hints that they need help; or in some cases, you can sense that their primary nature has changed. Reach out to them, talk to them, spend a few moments with them, make them feel wanted. Imagine what would happen if every individual reaches out to another one in need. The suicide and depression statistics would tell an entirely different story.

As I write this, I get the news that within a few hours of the announcement of Class 10 and Class 12 results in India, 12 students committed suicide because of low grades, even though one of them had secured a respectable 74%.  Imagine if someone had reached out to them and talked with them. Imagine if someone had told them that grades ultimately do not matter, what matters is that you do your job well and be dedicated to it.

Some of the most successful people in the world today are dropouts-Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg to name a few and they are a testament to the fact that grades don’t matter.

To those reading this, I urge you again. Help those in need and if you need help, I am one of those you can talk to.

Posted in Europe travel, Photos, travel

Highlights from the Croatia-Slovenia trip

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” -Ibn Battuta

I came to Europe about 8 months ago for my masters at the Delft University of Technology. While studying was at the forefront of my ambitions, I also wanted to travel across Europe in my limited time as a student to try to understand first hand the beauty of this continent. In the first few months, I travelled to Belgium, Germany and saw some cities in the Netherlands. Then, after an exhausting semester of studies, I decided to visit Croatia and Slovenia via a tour organized by pm2am student trips.

The departure date was the 28th of April. Arriving at Amsterdam Sloterdijk station, I was happy to see the bus that would be taking us to the destination was already waiting at the bus stop. Loading my luggage,  I sat down for what would be a long journey to Lake Bled in Slovenia.

About 16 hours after departing from Amsterdam, we arrived in Lake Bled. Located about 55 kms from the capital city of Ljubljana, the lake is a major tourist attraction and a must visit for anyone who visits the region. A church sits on a small island in the middle of the lake and Bled Castle sits atop a hill just beside. The church features prominently in the most viewed photographs of Bled. After soaking in the view and clicking lots of pictures for the next 3 hours, we proceeded to the city of Zagreb in Croatia.

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Lake Bled in Slovenia

Croatia is not a part of the Schengen agreement, so visitors (even with a EU residence permit) need to stop at the border control. Now, if you are travelling in a bus (like I did), this process can take anywhere from 1 hour to 3-4 hours depending on how many buses are before you at the checkpoint as each member’s passport and residence permit are checked and the details logged. So the best way to avoid the long lines is to reach the border early and no later than 11 am, otherwise be prepared for a long wait. After crossing the checkpoint, we reached Zagreb where we checked into the Chillout hostel  and went for a city tour with a professional tour guide.

The city of Zagreb is divided into two parts-the old and the new-by a tram line. While the old part sits atop a hill, the new lies on a plain. Compared to the new part, the old city is worth visiting. Some of the major attractions include the Museum of Broken Relationships, St. Marks Square and the Croatian Parliament. All these are very close to each other and can be visited in a short time. Also many locals dress up in different styles and this offers visitors a chance to take some pictures with them.

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Locals dressed in different attires in Zagreb

After a tour of the old city, we came back to the hostels to freshen up and start the pub crawl. Zagreb is home to some of the best clubs in that part of Europe which was evident as we bar hopped from one place to the next, having tons of fun along the way.

The next morning was the highlight of our trip. We were going to visit the Plitvice Lake National Park. After a sumptuous breakfast, we began the two hour journey to the park and arrived there around noon. One note to those reading this blog and who want to visit the park is to arrive there early-preferably 9-10 to avoid the long lines and have a chance to visit most of the park. The park has different routes marked- A, B, C, K etc. with A being the shortest and K the longest. Since we had arrived a bit late, we took the B route.

You get a different feel as soon as you enter the park. One of the first sounds you hear is that of the waterfalls, and that is also the first site you see. The large waterfall is one of the highlights of this park. Another less known location is the place from which the national park can be viewed from the highest point. To get there, take the stairs upwards from the waterfall viewpoint. After a climb of about 5-10 minutes, you will see a wooden cabin. Ahead of the cabin is a road. Take the road until you see a wooden bridge. Turn right at the bridge and take the small trail on the side of the road. By now you should be hearing the unmistakable sound of waterfalls. Keep walking until you reach a stony viewpoint and then marvel at the view that you see (the view is the cover image of this blog). Visitors at the National park also have the option of hiring a tour guide and camping at the site. Also, don’t forget to take the boat ride when going from P3 to P2. I think it is better than walking the whole way around the hills.

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Waterfall at the Plitvice Lake National Park

Our last stop was Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia. We started a bit earlier from Zagreb to avoid the long lines at the border control and arrived at 2 pm. We then began a guided tour which took us into the heart of the city. Home to about 260,000 Slovenians, Ljubljana is not a big city and every major attraction is just a few minutes away. The Ljubljana castle overlooks the city. This is where we started. Visitors can either take the Funicular or walk the way to the castle. We took the first approach to save the time. The castle is home to a museum and offers a fine view of the city. One cannot help but stop and marvel at the city nestled between the mountains. After spending some time at the castle and visiting the detention center for the POWs of the First World War, we came down to visit the rest of the city.

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One of the bridges in Ljubljana

One of the famous attractions is the Dragon Bridge as the city is often called the city of dragons. Four dragons are placed on four corners of the bridge and they are believed to act as guardians. A short distance Near the Dragon bridge is the open market where farmers come to sell their wares. A short distance from the bridge is the Butcher’s Bridge. This bridge features a glass bottom along the sides through which the strong hearted can see  the river below. Crossing the bridge one can see the St. Nicholas Church and the market where every friday there is an open kitchen selling different cuisines.

For the food and drink lovers, Ljubljana has plenty to offer-from good wine to great burgers. Don’t forget to eat the ice cream there which according to Lonely Planet is the best in the world. After spending about 9 hours in the city (which I believe are more than enough), we proceeded back to Amsterdam and after a journey of about 20 hours, I finally reached home. As I lay in bed that night, all I could think about was the lakes and the waterfalls in the Plitvice Lake National Park and the amazing time that I had in the trip.