The Art of Rest: How to find Respite in The Modern Age – Claudia Hammond

The Art of Rest: How to Find Respite in the Modern Age by Claudia Hammond

In an utterly compelling and engaging book, “The Art of Rest”, British author, occasional TV presenter, and frequent radio presenter with the BBC World Service and BBC Radio 4, Claudia Hammond, takes head on, the one elephant in the room which has been singularly responsible in stymying creativity and exacerbating stress levels in the modern contemporary professional world. The hustle and bustle of everyday life, the perennial rat race, not just leaves a greater part of the populace disillusioned, exhausted and unhealthy, but also takes away the critical aesthetics of contentment and fulfilment from the very lexicon of life. At the heart of the book lies the “Rest Test.” The Rest Test represents a survey involving 18,000 participants spread across 135 jurisdictions. The participants provided their own choice of activity that each one considered to be the most restful. “The Art of Rest” dissects the top 10 activities (in reverse order) that were considered to be most restful by the participants. So, without further ado, here goes a concise review of the top 10 activities that participants in the aforementioned study deemed to be restful. With an avowed objective of not depriving readers of Ms. Hammond’s unique and lovely work, I am providing a mere sneak-peek into each activity:

10. Mindfulness

It is not surprising at all to see an ancient Buddhist technique find itself in the list of activities deemed to be most restful. As Ms. Hammond informs her readers, ‘The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness” defines the practice as “the skill of thinking you’re doing something while you are doing nothing.” This Tantric relaxation methodology perfected by experts such as Jon Kabat-Zinn has almost discarded its avatar of a noun to become a ‘hot’ verb. From Corporate Boardrooms to Constituencies of Ministers, mindfulness is the order of the day. While there is no doubting its efficacy in so far as stillness of a mischievous mind is concerned, as Ms. Hammond warns her readers, this is not for everyone, and aspirants should be careful and convinced about the authenticity of Mindfulness courses and the experience of the teachers.

9. Watching TV

Yes! You read that right! Poleaxed? If yes, we are not done yet. The ‘Idiot Box’ that has been at the receiving end of so many recriminations and reviles might not be that insidious an influence after all. In a study that has now attained legendary proportions, and has also been encapsulated in stupendous detail in the best seller “Flow”, Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi discovered, amongst others, that people declared that watching TV was more relaxing than playing sport or even going to clubs. But as Ms. Hammond illustrates, TV viewing is not immune to the rule that anything done in excess is dangerous. While you can indulge in a nostalgic delight dished out by a Big Bang Theory or 2 ½ Men, (the Charlie Sheen version only), once in a way, ensure that you do not binge watch for more than five hours a day, since a Japanese study found in 2016 that if people exceeded 5 hours of TV watching a day, their risk of dying from pulmonary embolism doubled! Correlation and causation notwithstanding, it pays to be safe. Personally, I am not a huge fan of the telly, except on those occasions when there is a live telecast of a cricket match, which unfortunately is almost every day!

8. Daydreaming

Who on earth would have thought that a mind which impudently wanders off in the middle of a conference to mull about dalliance with damsels and duels with demons would constitute an exercise in restfulness! Not until one read Ms. Hammond at least. She brings to our attention a complicated method named Descriptive Experience Sampling which is used to analyse daydreaming and its patterns. The psychologist Russell Hulbert identifies five elements that creep into the wanderings of the mind: visual imagery, inner speech, feelings, sensory awareness, and unsymbolized thought. The brain as Ms. Hammond explains even when in a state of rest is extremely busy with its hardwired circuitry as illustrated by the pioneering neuroscientist Marcus Raichle. If the word daydreaming sounds too very prosaic then how about ‘mind wandering?’ Left to its own contrivance, this mind wandering focuses on the future. As Ms. Hammond illustrates once a future event actually occurs, this mind wandering ensures an element of preparedness in the dreamer.

7. A Nice Hot Bath

Even though the merit of a good bath has been extolled since Roman times, I will give this a go since yours truly has to be contended only with a walk-in shower! Watch out for the name Amou Haji.

6. A Good Walk  

The virtues of walking have been explored, evaluated and expounded at length. The therapeutic benefits of a peripatetic lifestyle have been captured in reams that would take more than a lifetime to absorb. Some of the inveterate walkers are immortal geniuses such as Henry David Thoreau, Soren Kierkegaard, William Wordsworth, Immanuel Kant, Aristotle etc. They have all declared an invigorating walk to be an uncompromising facet of their life. However, the most absorbing aspect of this Chapter is the author’s own experience hiking through the Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile to view the three vast granite spires. These are the spires after which the park itself takes its name. Ms. Hammond’s agony and ecstasy during the hike itself and the transformation the experience ushers in her makes for some remarkable reading.

5. Doing Nothing in Particular  

This is the most peculiar, yet most obvious choice for activities epitomizing rest. Hence it is a surprise that is occupies only the fifth, and not a higher place. For a bewildered soul, the answer lies in the very quandary. In a world where a premium is placed on sleeplessness, workaholism and accumulation of flying miles (at least before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic), doing nothing in particular can seem to be the most difficult act. I thought I wouldn’t do anything for a fixed period of 2 hours post lunch this noon. An hour and 25 minutes after consuming my food, here I am furiously typing away at my laptop eager to complete this review and tag Ms. Hammond on Twitter! This Chapter is a perfect complement to Jennifer Odell’s brilliant book, “How to do nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.” But as Ms. Hammond clarifies doing nothing does not mean sitting in a statuesque fashion and glancing at the wall in front. This refers to consigning the taken for granted hustle and bustle to the confines of neglection and doing something that will accord relaxation.

4. Listening to Music  

An act which resonates with universal acceptance, listening to music bags the 4th place in the survey on most restful activities. Ms. Hammond illustrates in detail why. Extensive research has been performed on the myriad ways in which music soothes and mellows a restless mind – and head. For instance, mothers started playing Mozart to babies after a research waxed eloquent on the positive impact of listening to Mozart on infants. Even though there was skepticism in terms of correlation and causality, there is no disputing or doubting the alleviating effect music can have. Yet another study conducted on Finnish teenagers revealed that music at once made them feel relaxed and also instilled in them energy. I personally play an advertising jingle on loop whenever I hit the sack.

3. I want to be Alone

“Me Time” has to be arguably one of most frequently employed words of late. A need to extricate oneself from the claustrophobic grip of a mad, perpetual motion machine that is the everyday rat race has spurred people to seek solitude. A solitude that is quite different from loneliness. Ms. Hammond educates her readers about empirical evidence that unearthed the startling fact that a study of eighteen-to-twenty-five-year olds in the USA revealed that spending time alone was associated with greater creativity. However, Ms. Hammond also warns her readers of the peril of getting into a rut of loneliness as was illustrated in great detail by great figures such as Petrarch, Montaigne and Wordsworth.

2. Spending Time in Nature

In sharp contradistinction to walking, spending time in nature refers to getting oneself ‘immersed’ in nature. Ms. Hammond illustrates this fact beautifully with reference to the Great Fen Conservation Project which is currently one of the largest restoration projects of its type in Europe where a barren landscape is being restored and transformed for the benefit both of wildlife and of people. With an ornithologist for a father (and an avid gardening enthusiast herself), Ms. Hammond undoubtedly possesses the credentials to hold forth on the benefits of being enveloped amidst nature. This Chapter has one of the most poignant passages in the book. Ms. Hammond explains the ‘overview effect’, (the impact which a view of earth from outers pace can have on people) as elucidated by Annahita Nezami. The intense feeling that almost overwhelms an astronaut not just makes us realise our infinitesimal place on the Planet but also makes us cherish the same. Remember “The Pale Blue Dot?”

1. Reading

An inveterate bibliophile myself, this finding warmed the very cockles of my heart. The participants in the Rest Test overwhelmingly voted “reading” as the most restful activity of all. I can unequivocally and wholeheartedly vouch for the same. Irrespective of the genre, a book paradoxically keeps me both rooted at a spot for hours on end, while at the same time transporting me across continents separated by mountains that are unscalable and oceans that are unnavigable. Whether it is a Carl Sagan or a Virginia Woolf, Scott Fitzgerald or Daniel Kahneman, I am an armchair Alexander Humboldt measuring the world from the confines of my settee. Digest this: “A poll of 5,000 people living in Britain found that 38 percent of those who watched TV in bed said they sleep poorly most nights, while 39 percent of those who read before they go to sleep said they sleep very well.” That, ladies and gentlemen, should seal any debate!

“The Art of Rest”, is persuasive, provocative and poignant. An essential read in today’s tumult and turbulence caused by a pandemic and exacerbated by politics.

(The Art of Rest by Claudia Hammond is published by Canongate Books and will be released on the 20th of October 2020.)

Man Down – Irma Venter

Man Down (Rogue Book 2) - Kindle edition by Venter, Irma, Schimke, Karin.  Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Alex Derksen is an intrepid reporter who finds himself bang in the middle of the crosshairs of an ugly duel between the South African cops, and hoodlums of the illegal Zama-Zamas illegal mining syndicate. Breathless running and dodging, bruises and scratches, a dead constable, and a bullet lodged in his Kevlar vest later, Alex is unbelievably lucky to find himself alive, let alone in one untampered piece. However, curiosity gets the better of him and bests his good luck, when he gets a midnight call, while convalescing in a motel. The caller identifying himself only and imaginatively as “Gadhafi” lures Alex to a shady pub, promising a wealth of information on the Zama-Zamas cartel. A hastily drunk beer is not the only disappointment greeting the report as within the blink of an eye Alex finds himself abducted.

The only individuals capable of rescuing Alex from his predicament are two women, both having a bit of history with Alex. Ranna Abramson, a fighting fit, tall lanky photographer and Alex’s lover, with a gruesome past of her own, has for some unfathomable reason disappeared like the night from Alex’s life. Sarah, a geek of the highest degree and a wizard with anything remotely resembling an automobile, had a brief dalliance with Alex when he was torn apart by the disappearance of Ranna. When Sarah succeeds in tracking down Ranna in a small cubby hole bang in the middle of a claustrophobic environ in the teeming metropolis that is Mumbai, both women know that there has arrived a point of no return. Poles apart in both their attitude and outlook, the only factor that unites the duo is a raging purpose and relentless intent to save Alex from the clutches of his kidnapper.

Ghosts that were thought to have been exorcised in the past come with renewed fury to haunt Ranna and Sarah as they go about the most dangerous task they have ever attempted until now in their lives. Their enemy is not just unseen, but also seemingly unpredictable and invincible. Will the courageous duo succeed in their mission? Or has Alex tempted his fate one time more than what was acceptable? Irma Venter in “Man Down”, which is the second book in her “Rogue” series, (“Hard Rain” being the first), once again puts her main protagonists, the romantic duo that is Alex and Ranna into a bind. However, the book is more of a Sarah-Ranna combo than Alex. Alex’s angels perhaps!

Unlike a gripping tome by Tom Clancy where the cast of characters exceed the stars in any Galaxy, Irma Venter’s book is an exercise in thrilling simplicity. There are protagonists and there are antagonists. They combat each other both savagely as well as subtly. “Man Down” is more “Die Hard” than an “Inception” or “Minority Report.” There is absolutely no tedium whatsoever as the plot races through in a crisp and tight fashion. There is a judicious blend of wit and vitriol. The action sequences are taut, yet never overboard. There is not a moment that is neither dull nor vapid in the book.

“Man Down” – a feast for thriller aficionados!

13 ½ Reasons Why Not to be a Liberal – Judd Dunning

13 1/2 Reasons Why NOT To Be A Liberal: And How to Enlighten Others -  Kindle edition by Dunning, Judd. Politics & Social Sciences Kindle eBooks @  Amazon.com.

What could and should have been an engrossing and enlivening book peters out into a discursive assemblage of thoughts.   Marinated in right wing ideology and sautéed in its philosophy, “13 ½ Reasons”, is an unashamed paean to Conservatism and the Conservatives. Judd Dunning, in his book, pays exaggerated obeisance to Donald Trump and in the process resorts to waging a blistering attack on the Democrats and their principles. While the intention as professed at the outset – to engage in informed deliberations with a bipartisan bent of mind in tackling issues that transcend party politics and philosophies – is noble, the execution falls explicitly and woefully short of the avowed cause. The end seems to be tangentially divergent from the means. While Dunning raises a few issues that are both topical in their contemporaneity, and ambivalent in their perception, the better part of the book, however, is lost, unfortunately in a byzantine exercise of personal vilification and vituperative outrage.

The title of the book itself is a throwback to the transformation induced in Dunning, in so far as shifting allegiances go. An actor and a producer known for his roles in ‘The Young and The Restless” amongst others, Dunning hosted a horde of television shows, including ‘Conservatively Unplugged!’, and ‘Judd Dunning Unplugged!’ A former liberal and a Democrat, Dunning is now an uncompromising Conservative, and 13 ½ Reasons is a Handbook for Conservatives to handle the many popular allegations hurled by Democrats against their opponents.

Part 1 of Dunning’s book titled “Economics” glorifies free market capitalism and also expounds on the supposed fallacies and foibles of a big government. There is no pulchritude or putsch here since, the segment is a reinvention of the tried and tested spiel that has become the hall mark of every Economist graduating out of the neoclassical school of economic thought pioneered by Milton Friedman, and perfected by the Chicago School of Economics. Railing against measures that advocate redistribution of wealth and lambasting selective bail out strategies that rescue a Bear Stearns but leave Lehman Brothers all strung up, Dunning pooh poohs Keynesian economics. As he does in every part of his book, he takes recourse to a few books to bolster his arguments. His Man Friday in the Chapter on Economics is Tom Del Beccaro, and his book, ‘The New Conservative Paradigm.’

The most interesting segment of the book however deals with the climate change and global warming conundrum. There is no semblance of doubt that the common man/lay person is left staring from the depths of a cleave which has at either side an outlook that is contrasting and conflicting. From one side abutting the chasm, emanate Panglossian voices in the mode of a Steven Pinker trying to assuage us that all is well. From across the optimistic side of things are hurled pessimistic warnings from prophets of doom such as Andrew Dessler, who claim that the only opportunity we had to save Planet Earth was the one that passed us by, yesterday! The outspoken student environmental activist Greta Thunberg recently was the receiving end – rightfully so in my personal opinion – of the scorn of a million Indians, when she expressed umbrage, via her Twitter handle, over a decision made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India to go ahead with a professional examination called National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (“TEET”) in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thunberg’s hold on the intricacies surrounding the topic is as good as the hold which the Cro-Magnon Man had over the laws of thermodynamics. While acknowledging the perils of climate change, Dunning exhorts the need for cultivating a balanced outlook between anthropocentric changes and natural causes that imperil the environment.

Dunning also makes some telling points about the disturbing ascendancy of the woke mentality where every harmless and genuine comment is painted with the brush of neologism. As Dunning illustrates, according honest appreciation for the manner in which a woman is dressed or for the patterns in her attire would attract a cant of prejudiced mentality and an incredulous accusation of judging a woman not for her intellect but for totally extraneous factors.

The most controversial Chapter in the book is reserved for gun control, or rather against it. Taking firm refuge in the Second Amendment, Dunning argues that gun control is evil and the possession of guns solely as a matter of self defense leads to a considerable reduction in crime. Resorting to arguments ranging from the shallow to the silly, Dunning engages in a circular argument about employing guns for defensive purposes rather than for any offensive action. He also brings about an incredulous argument that elucidates that “in England, where it’s almost impossible to get a gun, a woman is three times more likely to be raped than in America.”  In so far as support from books are concerned, Dunning’s companion for this Chapter is National Review’s John R. Lott Jr, the President of the Crime Prevention Research Centre and his book, titled, surprise surprise, “More Guns, Less Crime.”  Dunning in all probability has been reading the wrong book. His point of reference ought to have been “Repeal the Second Amendment: The Case for a Safer America” by Allan Lichtman.

Dunning also shoots himself in the foot on a few occasions in the book. Whilst directing his anger at the woke brigade for misinterpreting genuine comments of appreciation as exercises in gender bias, he engages in some of his own with gay abandon. In listing out a litany of ‘improper sexual conduct’ practiced by Joe Biden (every single one of which looks like Montessori stuff when compared with the shenanigans of Trump), Dunning completely absolves Trump of all his sexual misdemeanors by terming them as consensual.

The final Chapter of the book however makes for some poignant reading as it touches on various facets of the abortion debate. A debate between pro-life and pro-choice. Here Dunning takes a measured approach. While scorning at the landmark verdict in Roe v Wade, he also emphasizes that each State ought to be accorded an element of latitude in formulating their own choices, and well within the limits of statutes such as the Human Life Protection Act, and Reproductive Health Act.

Overall, 13 ½ Reasons flatters to deceive.  

 (13 ½ Reasons Why Not to be a Liberal by Judd Dunning is published by Humanix Books and will be released on the 10th of November 2020.)

Elevated Economics: How conscious consumers will fuel the future of business – Richard Steel

Elevated Economics: How Conscious Consumers Will Fuel the Future of Business  by Richard Steel

On the 3rd of January 2020, two of the largest Private Equity funds, KKR and TPG, with a combined asset base of approximately $330bn between them, decided to report by April 2020, both the positive impacts as well as negative externalities, of their investments, on environmental, social and governance aspects. This announcement illustrates the growing popularity amongst investors to adhere to the tenets of Socially Responsible Investing (“SRI”). SRI has transcended from being a mere exercise in lip service to a set of binding principles that determines the growth trajectory of many Multinational Enterprises. In tandem with the investor bent of mind, even corporates themselves are beginning to transform the way they operate. Shareholder activism is no longer the sole driver spurring a company along. Shareholder value has been replaced by stakeholder value where the latter encompasses within its ambit the Environment, Society and Governance (“ESG”).

American entrepreneur, investor and former advisor to the White House Business Council in his forthcoming book, “Elevated Economics” illustrates these transformational trends ushered in by a shifting consumer mindset that demands ‘values’ over value and invests in a product more for what it stands rather than for what it does. The book is an outcome of extensive research and interviews conducted with CEOs and Ivy League Professors of business, marketing, and consumer behaviour. Hence the plethora of anecdotal emphasis that runs throughout the book.

Mr. Steel defines Elevated Economics as “a coalescence of several complex factors. Changes in consumer employment, social, marketing, environmental, and corporate governance practices all contribute to this single term. Essentially the Elevated Economy represents what research and analysis seem to indicate will be the next great change in capitalism.” This change, Dr, Steel emphasizes, would be triggered, to a significant extant, by a humungous “Wealth Migration” where approximately $68.4 trillion would change hands over the course of the next couple of decades, from Baby Boomers to Gen Z and the Millennials. When it comes to customer preferences, the new owners of wealth surely know to put their money where the mouth is. They also demand accountability, responsibility and societal obligations. This is the very demand that made Nike abandon their whole ‘sweatshop’ initiative and remake themselves as a brand of responsibility. Not to be left behind, its fiercest competitor Adidas teaming up with “Parley for The Oceans”, are making sneakers out of plastic ocean waste. As Mr. Steel illustrates in his book many companies such as Method, Impossible Foods, Patagonia, TOMS shoes, and Birdies have taken the concept of ESG to hitherto unseen levels. In India, the business practices of the TATA Group of companies have birthed a paradigm shift in the very fundamental manner in which a Corporate Group goes about its activities. The “TATA way” thus stands for integrity, empowerment and aggrandizement. One classic illustration of the apotheosis that is the TATA way is the path-breaking labour welfare measures which were instituted within the Group even before the relevant statutes were incorporated. Some of them include an eight-hour working day, free medical aid, establishment of a welfare department, leave with pay, workers’ provident fund scheme, workmen’s accident compensation scheme, maternity benefits, profit sharing bonus and retiring gratuity. Maybe this is the direct result of TATA employees putting in decades with the company, ignoring much more lucrative competing offers.

On the 19th of August 2019, some of the top CEOs in the US, jointly pledged to place stakeholder value over shareholder value in a remarkable show of societal obligation. Mr. Steel identifies four “Cornerstones” that might have a solid and significant influence on the changing Corporate Philosophy.

  • Diversity and Inclusion (going beyond mere tokenism and compliance with hiring policies);
  • Equality in Pay;
  • Impact (ensuring that ESG activities impact the community as illustrated by Wells Fargo in its CSR initiatives);
  • Bring The Market (instead of Go To Market);

The impact of all this is a burgeoning growth in “ESG” assets. According to the US SIF Foundation’s “Report on US Sustainable, Responsible and Impact Investing Trends”, Socially Responsible Investor assets are growing at nearly 40% year-over-year since 2016. In fact, more than $12 trillion are invested in a variety of socially responsible ways.

While the book contains many interesting illustrations of companies consciously deciding to invest in CSR initiatives and the consumer loyalty towards such companies, the one segment where I have serious issues reconciling with Mr. Steel’s views and his own practice is his patronage towards Starbucks. Waxing eloquent over their matching 401(k) payments even for part time employees and The Starbucks Partner Achievement Program, Mr. Steel says he will not mind dishing out a premium to enjoy his Pike Place every morning. In a report damningly titled, “How Starbucks avoids UK Taxes”, Tom Bergin of Reuters illustrates that “Accounts filed by its UK subsidiary show that since it opened in the UK in 1998 the company has racked up over 3 billion pounds ($4.8 billion) in coffee sales, and opened 735 outlets but paid only 8.6 million pounds in income taxes, largely due because the taxman disallowed some deductions.” Over the past three years [since 2012], Starbucks has reported no profit, and paid no income tax, on sales of 1.2 billion pounds in the UK. McDonald’s, by comparison, had a tax bill of over 80 million pounds on 3.6 billion pounds of UK sales. Kentucky Fried Chicken, part of Yum Brands Inc., the no. 3 global restaurant or cafe chain by market capitalization, incurred taxes of 36 million pounds on 1.1 billion pounds in UK sales, according to the accounts of their UK units.”

Katherine Campbell and Duane Helleloid of the University of North Dakota have published a full-length paper titled, “Starbucks: Social Responsibility and Tax Avoidance.” The European Commission has also initiated proceedings against the tactics initiated by Starbucks to avoid paying its rightful share of taxes, even though to the credit of the beverage giant the European Commission was unable to demonstrate the existence of an advantage bestowed by the Dutch Tax authorities in favour of Starbucks.

Thus, this is the only part of the book that rankles me. Else “Elevated Economics” is a thought-provoking work that illustrates in telling detail the future vector of both buyer behaviour and Corporate Strategy.

 (Elevated Economics: How conscious consumers will fuel the future of business by Richard Steel is distributed by the Green Leaf Book Group and published by Fast Company Press, and and will be released on the 6th of October 2020.)

Rainbow Housing Society

The Rainbow Housing Society by Meha Sharma

To paraphrase the immortal genius, Vincent Van Gogh, “let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives and we obey them without realizing it.” Meha Sharma captures this spontaneous interplay of emotions in a spectacular way in her collection of short stories, “Rainbow Housing Society.”

Recounted by a loving labrador named Bruno, “Rainbow Housing Society” embraces within its confines and embraces within its scope a myriad of human emotions that invoke, in equal and alternative measure, laughter and tears. For the uninitiated “Rainbow Housing Society” is an upmarket condominium, that houses inhabitants ranging from the peculiar to the pleasant. As is to be imagined, there is a simmering undercurrent of relationships, overt and covert that characterises the mutual recognition of the inhabitants of the society.
The context for the lovely collection is set in the first story titled, “Animal Instincts.” Bruno takes his eager readers through the methods employed by him to gather secrets which hitherto remained locked and would have continued to remain that way but for the intrepid outlook of Bruno!

What follows is a mesmerizing patchwork of 25 stories that make the reader to sit up and take notice. A pastiche of contrasting emotions, these stories cause pleasure and inflict pain. While it would be both unjustified and unethical to reveal all the 25 stories, here are five of my favourites:

Caregiver:

Caregiver is a heart rending story of a geriatric who sacrifices every perceivable comfort in life to take care of a grandson. Necessitated by economic circumstances, hers is a trial that bears ample testimony to the human character of resilience and selflessness;

Flawless:

The heartwarming story of Arjun, his wife Alia, and their child Adira brings a tear to the eyes of the reader. This story teaches the tenets of co-operation, love and a reciprocal respect that keeps every relationship not just going, but positively humming!

Inhibitions:

This is a story straight out of the Horatio Alger playbook! Meera, a small town girl, an almost village belle is out of her depths in the teeming, throbbing cosmopolitan set up that is Rainbow Housing Society. Matters are not made tolerable when the veteran residents of the Society do nothing pre-preemptive to make this new occupant comfortable. How Meera overcomes her inhibitions and carves a niche out for herself is the core and crux of this marvelous story.

Joy:

Arguably the most powerful story in the book, Joy serves as a lesson to every indifferent parent who either unwittingly or involuntarily neglects the needs, aspirations and expectations of their child/children. The manner in which this aspect has been highlighted by Meha warms the very cockles of the heart. Essential reading for every parent.

Zest For Life:

Bruno’s own story that serves to being the covers down upon the book, hits the reader like a ton of bricks. The story takes an unexpected twist that induces a slobber-knocker impact on the reader!

“Rainbow Housing Society” boldly tackles in a very bold and frank manner a whole gamut of societal issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to InVitro Fertilization. The narrative is refreshing and extremely pleasing on the eye. The stories are not unduly long and the reader can breeze through the same in an effortless manner. This is one rainbow that surely has a pot of gold at its end!

Quintessentially Tata: My Journey Over 55 Years – Syamal Gupta

Amazon.com: QUINTESSENTIALLY TATA: MY JOURNEY OVER 55 years eBook: Syamal  Gupta: Kindle Store

The former Chairman of the iconic TATA Group of companies in India and the recipient of two of the highest civilian awards of India, the Padma Vibhushan (2008) and Padma Bhushan (2000), Ratan Tata, once famously said. “What I would like to do is to leave behind a sustainable entity of a set of companies that operate in an exemplary manner in terms of ethics, values and continue what our ancestors left behind.” This quote epitomizes the very ethos for which this sprawling multinational conglomerate stands for. The business practices of the TATA Group of companies have birthed a paradigm shift in the very fundamental manner in which a Corporate Group goes about its activities. The “TATA way” thus stands for integrity, empowerment and aggrandizement. One classic illustration of the apotheosis that is the TATA way is the path-breaking labour welfare measures which were instituted within the Group even before the relevant statutes were incorporated. Some of them include an eight-hour working day, free medical aid, establishment of a welfare department, leave with pay, workers’ provident fund scheme, workmen’s accident compensation scheme, maternity benefits, profit sharing bonus and retiring gratuity. Maybe this is the direct result of TATA employees putting in decades with the company, ignoring much more lucrative competing offers.

Syamal Gupta is one such stalwart. Joining Tata Steel Limited (formerly Tata Iron and Steel Company) in September 1955 as a trainee in the Central Engineering and Development Department (CEDD), Mr. Gupta bid adieu to the Group fifty-five years later. At the time of his retirement, Mr. Gupta was director of Tata Sons, and chairman of Tata International Ltd, Tata Elxsi, Tata Consulting Engineers, Tata Advance Material and Tata BP Solar. At present, he is a trustee at Tata Medical Centre Trust and is also Honorary Consul of the Republic of Namibia. Mr. Gupta, at 86 has penned a warm memoir of his days at the TATA Group. “Quintessentially TATA” provides valuable insights into the values, culture and practices behind the TATA philosophy. He informs his readers about his exposure to, experience with and the subsequent assimilation of the Tata set values and principles.

The TATA Group as Mr. Gupta elucidates has an uncompromising philosophy of f putting community development at the centre of business strategy. A classic case in point being the “Zambia Model.” When the TATA Group made its initial foray into Africa by establishing Tata Zambia Limited, things did not look promising at the outset. A draconian set of Indian foreign exchange polices invited the displeasure of the Zambian Government. Exporting of goods was difficult with a laborious process of filling up a multitude of forms. “Foreign exchange allowances were low. Anyone travelling abroad had to apply for permission from the Indian government and the Reserve Bank of India, enclosing a letter of invitation from parties abroad, list of meetings scheduled and other relevant details. For instance, when Dhawan was deputed to Zambia, he had to leave within a week of his appointment or be classified as an Indian Resident.”

When Mr. Syamal Sen in his capacity as the Managing Director of TATA Exports Limited visited Zambia, this unfortunate fact manifested in a series of explicit intransigence displayed by the Zambian Ministers with whom Mr. Gupta had sought an audience. Resolving to set matters back on track, Mr. Gupta initiated a raft of measures.

“TEL created a small engineering department in Kolkata where we re-engineered spare parts that were required in Zambia and started exporting them. While developing the business, we took help from Tata Steel. It was an interesting process, which we enjoyed doing and it became a viable business proposition for us; especially when Zambian Copper Mines appointed TZL as its procurement agent for spare parts from India.”

“In later years, TZL bid for acquiring the full equity of Pamodzi Hotel and secured a 70 per cent stake. The hotel came under the Taj Hotels and Resorts umbrella. It has undergone significant refurbishment to ensure that standards are met, and brand consistency maintained.”

“…. Fish farms set up at various sites generated employment for the surrounding communities. We drew from resources within the country using an indigenous species of fish, the Tilapia, to provide protein and nourishment for the majority of the population. The people of Zambia now had a new source of protein to choose from and a more balanced diet.”

“We also ventured into power generation by setting up a 120-MW ITT hydropower station located in Southern Province. It was a joint venture between TZL and Zambia Electric Supply Corporation (ZESCO). Built at a cost of $245 million on the Kafue River, some 300 km from the confluence of the Kafue and Zambezi rivers, the Kafue Hydropower Station was originally constructed to provide storage capacity for the Kafue Gorge Power Station, with both ITPC and ZESCO operating the Itezhi-Tezhi Dam as a shared facility.”

The result: President Kaunda appointing Mr. Gupta as the Honorary Consul General for the Republic of Zambia in Mumbai in July 1987.

Little would Mr. Gupta have dreamt of being conferred with such as prestigious title when he first joined TISCO. In fact, Mr. Gupta shares a very interesting and humorous experience involving his very early days at TISCO. His first assignment extending for a couple of weeks involved his writing the letters A, B, C, D in both upper case as well as in lower case! This exercise in inculcating diligence was followed by associations with some of the giants within the TATA Group such as Sumant Moolgaokar, Ratan Tata, Nani Palkhivala, Darbari Seth, Freddie Mehta, and JRD Tata himself. TISCO also assisted Mr. Gupta in completing his higher studies in the field of advanced Mechanics in Imperial College London, a stint which led to him building lasting relationships with the likes of Professors Hugh Ford.

Mr. Gupta’s glory days were however spent in Singapore. He was the personality behind the establishment and functioning of Tata Precision Industries (TPI). Initially occupying two rooms in the Imperial Hotel, TPI moved into 1, Liu Fang Road, Jurong. TPI in tandem with the Singapore government also established the Tata Government Training Centre (TGTC) jointly under the auspices of the Industrial Training Board of Singapore, TELCO and Economic Development Board. TPI was manned with the best of both intellectual capital and mechanical tools. To remain competitive, TPI introduced CAD/ CAM technology and also arranged for the more advanced CNC machines from Swiss, Japanese and German manufacturers such as Studer, SIP Degussa, Deckel, Argie, Chermilles and Titutoyo. During a visit to the premises, the chairman of EMIL Group of Companies of Australia remarked, ‘I thought that Taj Mahal was located in India!’

The book also contains humorous passages that bears testimony to both the wit and wisdom of some of the most arresting personalities within the TATA Group. “Once, while crossing the street in Singapore, JRD (JRD Tata) asked Dr Mehta a few questions related to Indian statistics. He wanted to know the per capita power consumption and the number of villages in India. I was impressed with Dr Mehta’s instant answers. The next day, JRD again enquired about the number of villages in India. I was surprised that Dr Mehta now gave out a different answer. I tried to draw his attention to the apparent error, but he abruptly gestured to me to remain quiet. Later, in his own inimitable style, Dr Mehta put it across to me, ‘Look Syamal, I am an economist not an engineer like you. Engineers see all measures in black and white. For engineers two plus two is always four. Economists may vary figures as per the circumstances. Definitions change, boundaries change, anything is possible. So, you see, whenever I talk to JRD, never interrupt.”

A very interesting segment of the book deals with a chance meeting between Jamsetji Tata and Swami Vivekananda, during the course of which was sown the seeds behind the establishment by the TATAs of the hallowed Indian Institute of ScienceMr. Gupta also reveals to the readers the mettle and métier of the leadership at the TATA Group. He waxes eloquent, in particular, about the extraordinary capabilities of the genius that was Sumant Moolgaokar. “Another Tata stalwart, Moolgaokar was one of the greatest engineers India has produced—a man with farsighted vision. An engineer with hands-on experience, he even had a workshop at his home. He was a man of few words and always wanted a quiet environment to work in. He paid great attention to detail and I have always tried to follow his advice to pay major attention to minor details. JRD and Moolgaokar had many traits in common; perhaps that is why they were great friends. Prof. Ford, who was younger than Moolgaokar, once told me, ‘Syamal, if Sumant were in the US he would be the chairman of General Motors.”

The TATA group of companies has this inveterate tendency to create an enduring and lingering impression in every location they set up their business. In Singapore, Syamal and his team were commonly known by the moniker of “TATA men.” This could lead to quite a confusing as is illustrated by Mr. Gupta in a humorous passage. “One morning, Ratan and I were waiting in the lobby of the Imperial Hotel for our car to arrive. In a few moments, we heard an usher calling out, ‘Tata your car has arrived.’ Ratan approached the usher to ask if he was saying something to him. Pat came the reply, ‘No Sir, I am calling out for Tata to tell him that his car has arrived,’ all the time gesturing to me as if I was Tata. Ratan was amused and laughed.”

The stellar efforts of Mr. Gupta led to a multitude of companies within the TATA fold establishing their presence in Singapore. More prominent examples being Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Communications, NatSteel Holdings, Tata Technologies, Voltas, Tata Chemicals, Tata Power, Tata NYK Shipping, Kalzip Asia (a division of Tata Steel Europe), Tata Capital and York Transport Equipment (Asia), among others, are located in the island state.

Mr. Gupta’s book, even though concise is a glimpse into the personalities, principles and policies of a conglomerate which is driven by a ruthless passion, yet tempered by an even more remorseless set of principles. From a reading of Mr. Gupta’s book, it is clear that Cause is never sacrificed at the altar of capitalism at the TATA Group. Precisely how every business must operate. This indelible tenet is to a great extent the exemplary efforts of the likes of Mr. Syamal Gupta.

Legal Eagles: Stories of the Top Seven Indian Lawyers – Indu Bhan

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The landscape of Indian legal jurisprudence is graced by and littered with stars whose brightness is eternal, and twinkle, indelible. The who’s who of India’s legal fraternity is a precocious Hall of Fame, pride of a nation and a formidable array that intimidates and inspires. A few names – without being disrespectful to the inadvertently omitted – that assail the memory and mind, constitute, H.M. Seervai, a giant of his profession and a doyen of Constitutional Law, the iconoclastic and trenchant Ram Jethmalani, the innately brilliant and trendsetting V.R. Krishna Iyer; one of the longest serving Chief Justices Y.V.Chandrachud, and finally the best in class, the incomparable genius, Nani Palkhivala.

Thus, it is an extremely difficult, and if I may take the liberty to add, courageous endeavour to attempt chronicling the achievements of a select sample from what is a maddeningly lambent pool. This is exactly what Ms. Bhan attempts, and – to give credit where it is deservingly due – succeeds in great measure. Choosing seven powerful and highly successful lawyers, all of whom have carved a niche for themselves in post liberalization India, Ms. Bhan takes her readers on a journey that is exhilarating, enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoyable. The pantheon of luminaries making the pages of Ms. Bhan’s book consists of Harish Salve, Mukul Rohatgi, Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Arvind Datar, Aryama Sundaram, Prashant Bhushan and Rohington Fali Nariman. Quick witted, focused, indomitable and with a razor-sharp hold over their chosen subjects, the magnificent seven have over the years, astounded, amazed and awe inspired peers and the layman alike with their gilt-edged performances within the confines of a Court. Every recent judicial verdict of national prominence has the imprimatur of one of these titans or for that matter, more than one since these alpha males of the legal world constantly find themselves in jousting contests with their equally accomplished peers.

Ms. Bhan’s book provides a sneak peek into the general approach followed by each of the seven stalwarts as they go about their business and lends an insight into how the philosophy each one adopts towards life in general. Hence, the references to music, Yoga, travels and meditation. The book also highlights the travails and tribulations experienced by these lawyers at some point in their lives. Harish Salve failed the Chartered Accountancy examinations twice and was on the brink of giving up before being egged on by his illustrious father N.K.P. Salve. A major surgery in his final year at school medically disqualified Arvind Datar thereby putting paid to his hopes of joining the merchant navy and owning a gargantuan shipping company. Datar has even gone to the extent of naming his prospective company Disco—or Datar International Shipping Company. Facing adversity in the best manner possible is staring it back at its face.

Rohington Fali Nariman was ordained as a priest in the Zoroastrian tradition when he was all of twelve years. He cut his teeth dueling with the very best in so far as law career is concerned. Two significant cases helped him gain invaluable experience at an early age. While one was against well-known lawyer and Advocate General of Maharashtra H.M. Seervai (Needle Industries case, the other was against former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee (Swadeshi Cotton Mills case). However, the case that allowed Nariman to escape the shadows of his illustrious father, (one of the greatest ever lawyers the nation has been graced with) was the He believes that the K.R. Laxmanan v. State of Tamil Nadu (1996), case in which a landmark judgement was delivered. “Some of the other important cases that he has been associated with include Khoday Distilleries Ltd v. The Scotch Whisky Association (2008). For the first time, the Supreme Court allowed the Khoday group to use the word ‘scotch’ on its premium whisky brand, Peter Scot. It rejected the liquor body’s allegation that the word ‘Scot’ was deceptively similar to ‘Scotch’, which led the consumers to believe that the product had a Scottish connection.”

Rohinton Nariman also wrote a landmark judgment where the “Supreme Court bench in March 2015, struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, a provision that so far had been widely misused by the police to justify the arrests of Internet users for allegedly posting ‘offensive’ content on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Stating that the provision was vaguely worded, which allowed for its misuse by the police, Rohinton said the law hit at the root of liberty and freedom of expression. ‘The section is unconstitutional also on the ground that it takes within its sweep protected speech, and speech that is innocent in nature, and is liable, therefore, to be used in such a way so as to have a chilling effect on free speech, and would have to be struck down on the ground of overbreadth,’ he ruled, while upholding the validity of Section 69B and the 2011 guidelines that allowed the government to block websites if their content had the potential to create communal disturbance, social disorder or affect India’s relationship with other countries.”

A lover of Mozart, Verdi, Bach and the like, Nariman has also been instrumental in setting up the Supreme Court Lawyers’ Welfare Trust, which works for the welfare of lawyers. The trust encourages young talent and supports less-privileged members of the Bar.

Prashant Bhushan is well known for his propensity to employ the instrument of Public Interest Litigation (“PIL”). A few disgruntled, genuinely so, voices have even termed him to be a mercenary of the PLI. But this indefatigable lawyer has kept at with a vigour bordering on the maniacal. Whether it be the PIL that had the impact of the Supreme Court declare as arbitrary and illegal, more than 204 government allocations of coal blocks to steel, cement and power companies since 1993, or the one where Prashant Bhushan Prashant “alleged that the Mukesh Ambani–run Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd had been given an undue benefit of more than Rs 20,000 crore by allowing it to offer voice services on its 4G spectrum by converting its Internet service provider (ISP) license into a unified access services license”, the PIL purveyor is in the think of the action. Prashant Bhushan was also involved in the 2G Spectrum scam, which the “Time” magazine listed as being second only to Watergate in so far as abuse of power was concerned. At the time of this review, Prashant Bhushan find himself at the risk of being reprimanded if not prosecuted by the Apex Court for a contempt of court matter.

Harish Salve represented Kulbushan Jadav, who is languishing in a jail in Pakistan, after being accused of spying charges, at the International Court of Justice and secured a resounding victory for India. The heart-warming aspect of this case being the fact that Salve charged just a token sum of INR1 for representing Jadav. An incorrigible Dilip Kumar tragic, Salve’s moment of glory came when he won a landmark decision in the Supreme Court that quashed a jaw dropping income tax demand of $2 billion on Vodafone. Early in his legal career, “Harish decided to relocate to Delhi to try his luck by setting up his practice at the Supreme Court, and joined J.B. Dadachandji & Co. as an intern. It was at this time that he got an opportunity to assist Palkhivala in the Minerva Mills case. Later, in 1980, it was Palkhivala who suggested that Harish join the chambers of senior counsel Soli Sorabjee, who later became the Attorney General of India in April 1991. After that, there was no looking back.” Solicitor General of India (SG) in 1999 during the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) regime, Salve held office till 2002. He was conferred the Padma Bhushan, the country’s third-highest civilian honour in 2015.

Abhishek Manu Singhvi was just thirty-four, when he was designated as a senior advocate. This made him India’s youngest ever senior advocate. With a stellar academic repute that included distinctions at St Columba’s School, St Stephen’s and Trinity College, Cambridge, Singhvi shot into fame by appearing in a raft of prominent cases. An Amicus Curiae in the D.K.Basu case on custodial deaths, representing Naveen Jindal in the right-to-fly-the-tricolour case, appearing in the NTC Bombay Mills case on urban environmental concerns, Mandal case on reservation for backward classes, and the Renusagar case on international commercial arbitration represent a few shiny feathers in Singhvi’s illustrious cap. In his capacity as the official spokesperson for the Indian National Congress, Singhvi spends a significant time in appearing on various discussions, deliberations and debates on social media and television.

During his college days, Mukul Rohatgi and two of his classmates had a routine to swear by. This continued years after their academic days. Rohatgi, former Finance Minister of India, the late Arun Jaitley and now a prominent lawyer Karanjawala would meet on Saturdays for lunch at Pickwicks, a restaurant at the Claridges Hotel. ‘I would regularly go out with Jaitley and Karanjawala. My father had gifted me his old Fiat car and we would all go gallivanting in it. The day would end with me dropping them to Dhaula Kuan. From there, Jaitley would take an autorickshaw to his house in Naraina, Karanjawala would take one to Saket”, recollects Rohatgi in an interview with the author. An imperious lawyer known for his ferocity in his arguments, Mukul Rohatgi was appointed the fourteenth AG of India in 2014. “The real turning point in his life was leaving the Delhi High Court and then doing cases on a larger canvas by working for the government and various PSUs, be it the 2G spectrum case, the coal scam, mining matters at the Special Forest Bench for Goa, Karnataka and Orissa, or cases of petrol pump cancellations. There were cases that would attract public attention, whether it meant appearing for yoga guru Baba Ramdev, or attending to complaints against Maharashtra politician Raj Thackeray—and that made all the difference.” A keen swimmer, Rohatgi is also a regular contributor to philanthropy. His altruism extends to generous contributions to the Blind Relief Association, Help Age India, and an orphanage in New Delhi.

Arvind Datar would be remembered by many as the lawyer who represented Michael Jackson. A Chennai-based producer filed a suit against the world-famous singer in the Madras High Court seeking an interim injunction against the singer’s concert, which was to be held in Mumbai. He wanted the singer and the organizers to furnish security for his claim for damages against Michael Jackson for breach of a contract that the singer had signed with him. Elaborate arguments later, “the Madras High Court refused to grant an injunction, and the historic concert took place in Mumbai. This was a major victory for Arvind as he was still not yet a senior.” Arvind Datar has one uncompromising principle which he follows even to this day. A refusal to visit the offices of any client or chartered accountant. Deriving inspiration from a famous legal personality K. Bhashyam Iyengar, who had refused to even meet the then British governor who had wanted to consult him on a personal matter, Datar began emulating Iyengar. As Ms. Bhan informs her readers, “one lawyer he particularly admired even as a student was R. Kesava Iyengar. Therefore, when the contempt case came up for hearing, he decided to brief him. They worked together for almost twenty days, and this was an unforgettable period of his life. ‘Although he was ninety-three years old at that time, his mind was razor-sharp. He gave me invaluable advice. For example, he told me that one should spend 60 per cent of one’s time in reading and preparation, and at least 40 per cent in thinking about the case.”

A man who enjoys traveling all over the world, Aryama Sundaram has a house in the picturesque hill station of Kodaikanal and loves the state of Goa as well. A man who quotes Kipling, Sundaram is one of India’s most vaunted and much wanted legal eagles. Enjoying a good career with the advertising and media company Ogilvy & Mather, Sundaram enrolled with the Madras Bar Council on 26 November 1980, and joined a law firm called King & Partridge. A tryst with a literature loving judge whose approbation Sundaram received after quoting Oscar Wilde, his career took an upward trajectory. Branching out on his own, he established Nataraj Rao, Raghu & Sundaram. Making his mark as a leading admiralty lawyer in the Madras High Court, Sundaram soon became a Senior in the Madras High Court. Some of the notable cases argued by this lawyer include the infamous IPL match fixing fiasco where he represented the BCCI and the 2G spectrum presidential reference where he was appointed by the Federation of the Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry to be their lawyer.

“Legal Eagles” is a thoroughly enjoyable read. However, my only grouse with the book is the absence of a woman. One name that instantly comes to mind is that of the mercurial Zia Mody. Hoping that the author brings out a sequel showcasing the legal talents of women lawyers and judges in India.  

Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind – Alexander McCall Smith

Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind

When the Sunday Times offered the bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith – of the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency fame – access to their early 20th Century photograph archive, the writer delightfully viewed this as an opportunity to come up with a collection of short stories. The outcome of this venture is “Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind.” Based on random pictures selected from the Times archive as alluded to above, Mr. Smith conjures up fifteen short stories that are refreshing, romantic and crisp.

The collection begins with the story titled “Pianos and Flowers.” The picture on which this story is based has a couple purposefully striding past a stout topiary. Behind them is a group of individuals comprising of three women and a man who seem to be attentively scrutinizing the couple. Mr. Smith takes his readers on a nostalgic past that traverses across the lush bio diversity of the Malaysian, (or rather Malayan, since this story is set in the times of the British Raj and the Second World War) island of Penang and occupied Singapore before coming to an end in Britain. The lives of Annette, Flora, Stephanie and their solitary male sibling Thomas Sanderson revolves around viewing life from the spectrum of both tranquility and tension. Tragedy seamlessly intermingles with a sense of contentment and the ups and downs experienced by the family of a British Civil Servant, is captured with a poignance that is seamless.

“Maternal Designs” deals with the zealous, nay, overzealous optimism of the mother of a budding architect, which although induces a chuckle in the reader initially, leads her towards hear pulling frustration. A surge of sympathy swells in the heart of the reader for Richard, the patient architect.

Margaret, an enterprising and hard-working Scot gets a job as a secretary in London and this relocation brings her into unexpected contact with a young man of welcome looks and appreciable manners. He also harbours an irresistible inclination towards sculptures of the Sphinx. However, when he misplaces his notebook containing her address, the lady is distraught after not hearing from him. Losing all hopes of re-establishing contact, she attends a dance and meets a courteous bachelor named Alfred. Just when Alfred proposes to Margaret, she finds an advertisement in the newspaper regarding an exhibition revolving around the legend of the Sphinx…

“Pogo Sticks and Man with Bicycle”, has the pioneers of the DNA, Francis Crick and James Watson mesmerized by the contraption that is the Pogo stick. Unraveling the spring mechanism of the Pogo sticks results in the earth-shattering discovery of the Double Helix. This is one of my personal favourites in the book. The revelation at the end of the story hits the reader like a ton of bricks

“St John’s Wort” has a perennially worried husband managing whom is a real concern for his spouse. The worries ranging from the perplexing to the imagined reach their zenith when John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev eyeball each other over the Cuban Missile crisis. As an obstinate and overconfident Fidel Castro exacerbates the worry of the man of the house, his wife finds a friendly neighbor might just have the solution (no pun intended) that has the potential for permanently resolving issues.

Through fifteen sepia images that randomly depict a myriad set of emotions, Mr. Smith peels back layer after layer of imagined fantasies. Employing a breadth that is exemplary and a spontaneity that cannot be practiced, Mr. Smith provides unfettered delight to his readers with plots that are as ingenious as they are innovative. The one word that instantly comes to mind upon a reading of this beautiful bouquet of stories, is wistful. Many of the stories make the reader wonder ‘what could have been’ instead of what is.

“Zeugma” lays bare the uncongealed hurt contained within the heart of an accomplished and well-regarded grammarian Professor Mactaggart, who tries gamely to mask the pain within by taking refuge in metaphors and sanctuary in the intricacies of English language. When cycling on his way to the library he meets the attractive librarian, Ms. Thwaites, he experiences a sense of belonging. Is this the redemption the Professor has been looking for all along?

To paraphrase Robert Frank, “There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” Mr. Smith embraces this philosophy to the hilt by suffusing humanity in fifteen random photographs. Hs effortless writing combined with a vintage spontaneity births a precious connection between the unknown and unnamed characters in the photograph and the reader. By the time the reader is done with the book, Richard, Margaret, Alfred, Mactaggart and the rest are transformed into friends, foes, heroes, villains, the wrongful and the wronged, the punished and the acquitted, the sufferer and the perpetrator. To produce this kind of an emotion from pictures warrants a degree of talent that is out of the ordinary – which is exactly what Mr. Alexander McCall Smith does.

(“Pianos and Flowers” is published by Pantheon Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York and will be published on the 19th of January 2021.)

 

The Cases That India Forgot – Chintan Chandrachud

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The Supreme Court of India has been accorded an institutional status that is hallowed, and a respect that borders on the reverential. While the Apex Court has distinguished itself with a plethora of judgments, ranging from the seraphic to the sublime, there have also been instances where the highest judicial body of the land has found itself taking positions antithetical to the general tenets of not just the expositions of the Constitution, but also, expediency itself. It is in these latter instances that the last bastion of justice and the bulwark of righteousness has displayed a surprisingly scant regard to the principles of even handedness and righteousness. Thus, the iridescence of a Maneka Gandhi is accompanied by the intransigence of a Mathura, and the dazzling brilliance of an Olga Tellis is dampened by the disappointment of a Kartar Singh. In a concise yet lucid compilation, Chintan Chandrachud, an associate at the London Office of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge, sews together a summary of ten cases where the Courts failed to find their métier. Nine out of ten cases cobbled together in the book are settled at the level of the Supreme Court whereas the remaining verdict was issued by the Bombay High Court. So here goes the hall of infamy:

A case of a pamphlet ‘distributing’ havoc, Mr. Chandrachud begins his book with the discussion involving a case which, considering the phalanx of characters involved and the confounding confusion enveloping it, makes it singularly unique. In Mr. Chandrachud’ s own words, “Who would have thought that a pamphlet distributed by a local politician would paralyse administrative machinery, strain relations between state institutions and provoke a constitutional crisis? This is precisely what happened in 1964. It took the collective efforts of several Supreme Court judges, high court judges, MPs and MLAs, and, ultimately, the prime minister and chief justice of India to restore equilibrium.”

The offending pamphlet in question, bearing the dramatic title ‘Exposing the Misdeeds of Narsingh Narain Pandey’ cast aspersions and corruption allegations on Pandey, a Congress party MLA. Signed by its three authors, it was distributed locally in Gorakhpur as well as in the vicinity of the legislative assembly in Lucknow. Following recriminations and consternation, the pamphleteer, Mr. Keshav Singh was initially arrested and then let out on bail. What followed was absolute mayhem. The speaker of the Lucknow Assembly, indicating that those directly associated with the order – including Singh, his lawyer Solomon, and Justices Beg and Sehgal – had breached the privileges of the assembly. The assembly passed a resolution by an overwhelming majority that Singh remain in prison and be brought back to the assembly to answer for the petition filed in the high court. The resolution also ordered that Solomon and the two high court judges be brought in custody before the assembly. Astoundingly, a Bench of twenty-eight judges was allocated to hear this case. This was the largest number of judges allocated to decide a case in a high court or the Supreme Court at the time. This record still stands over five decades later. A presidential reference made under Article 143 of the Constitution to enable the President to seek the opinion of the Supreme Court on questions of law or fact. Mr. Chandrachud dissects how the legislature is bereft of authority to initiate proceedings against a judge. As the author concludes, “This case is worth remembering – if for nothing else, to demonstrate how easily constitutional institutions can turn against one another and, equally, how difficult problems are best solved through statesmanship rather than brinksmanship.

A damning example of nauseating patriarchy, this case involved the custodial rape of a helpless woman, which when highlighted to the highest Court of the country, attained a misogynistic colour.  The Supreme Court acquitted the rape accused, banking its rationale on the victim’s past sexual history. A throwback to chauvinism, this case represented all that is wrong with the judicial system of out country. Stung by an overwhelming public uproar and outrage that followed, years after the abominable verdict, a Law Commission was instituted to reform the law relating to rape. The Commission recommended a minimum sentence for rape to be seven years in most instances, and ten years in some others – with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment.

A very interesting case that dwells on the perennially touchy subject of “reservation”, State of Madras v Champakam Dorairajan led to the State passing the First Amendment of the Constitution in order to permit caste-based reservation.  Intervening in the matter, the Supreme Court, placing the fundamental rights on a pedestal over and above that of the Directive Principles of State Policy, decided that such reservations were in gross violation of Article 29(2) of the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court also held that \reservations were an exception to, rather than a part of, the fundamental right to equality.

“On Wednesday, 27 July 2005, senior civil servant Rupan Deol Bajaj’s quest for justice finally ended. The Supreme Court confirmed the conviction of K.P.S. Gill, the ‘supercop’ who ended the militancy and Khalistan separatist movement in Punjab, for slapping her on the bottom at a party in 1988. This was the culmination of a legal process that was neither swift nor easy. It involved no less than eight judgements over a period of seventeen years; decisions by several senior judges; complaints to bureaucrats, by bureaucrats, against bureaucrats; and claims of government secrecy and privilege. In the time that the case meandered from one court to the next, India had seen eighteen chief justices and nine prime ministers. And yet, the legacy of this case remained highly contested.”

It is downright obnoxious to note that a person enjoying the privileges accorded by the highest echelon of power was able to bring its entire machinery to bear in overpowering, to a significantly unfortunate extent, unparliamentary deeds and behaviour unworthy of any gentleman.

Following a spate of separatist movements in Punjab, the dreaded Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act was passed by the Parliament. A draconian piece of legislation, “TADA altered existing procedural safeguards by making confessions to senior police officers admissible. Defendants anticipating arrest could ordinarily apply for ‘anticipatory bail’ (a direction for release of the person on bail even before they are arrested). TADA not only negated the right to apply for anticipatory bail, but also made it more difficult to secure bail after arrest. Criminal appeals would normally proceed from the subordinate criminal courts to the state high court, with a further appeal to the Supreme Court. TADA eliminated one layer of appeal, by denying rights of appeal to state high courts and providing for direct appeal to the Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court however upheld the legality of TADA by citing national security to be of paramount importance and nothing could compromise the same. Feeble overseeing measures were attempted to be institutionalized so that a proper watch could be implemented upon the potential nefarious deeds of law enforcers.

What TADA was to Punjab, the AFSPA was to the North Eastern States. Enacted in 1958 in response to insurgency and demands for self-determination in the Northeast, the law was justified by G.B. Pant, the then home minister on grounds of necessity and quelling of armed rebellion. All of seven sections, this tiny piece of legislation enabled the governor of the state (and later, also the central government) to declare any part of any state (or indeed, the whole of the state) to which it applied as a ‘disturbed area’. However, the deadliest outcome of this enactment was the quartet of doom. The licenses to kill, destroy, arrest and search.

The same rationale as employed in the case of TADA was also used to justify the legality of the AFSPA as well. Under the garb of national security, the Supreme Court tuned a blind eye to a raft of human rights transgressions committed by the law enforcers that induced a sense of trepidation amongst the North Eastern populace.

The only case in Mr. Chandrachud’ s book that is not the part of Supreme Court deliberation, the judgment of Narasu Appa Mali was delivered by two judges of the highest caliber, Justice M.C. Chagla and Justice Gajendragadkar from the Bombay High Court. This case involved an analysis of personal law and whether they ought to be insulated from the fundamental rights in the event of a conflict between the two. “Several Hindu men were charged with offences of bigamy under Bombay’s bigamy law – the Bombay Prevention of Hindu Bigamous Marriages Act of 1946. This law not only made bigamous marriages invalid among Hindus, but also made it a criminal offence (punishable with up to seven years in prison) for those that entered such marriages. The cases involving these Hindu men yielded a range of different outcomes.”

The distinguished judges choose to accord priority to religion-based personal laws over the enshrining and fundamental principles and rights as enacted by the Constitution.

Argued by the brilliant and incomparable Nani Palkhivala, Minerva Mills is a landmark decision in the annals of Indian judicial history. Having a timeless relevance, the case dealt with the unfettered powers of The Parliament to amend the constitution through sections 4 and section 55 of the 42nd Amendment Act 1986. With an avowed objective of preserving and protecting the basic structure of the Constitution, the Apex Court struck down those sections in this case. “The hearing took place before a bench of five judges of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Y.V. Chandrachud. Justice Chandrachud formed part of the group of judges that rejected the basic structure doctrine in the Kesavananda case. Also, on the bench were Justices A.C. Gupta, N.L. Untwalia, P.N. Bhagwati and P.S. Kailasam. The hearing lasted twenty days, from 22 October 1979 to 16 November 1979.” The incandescent Palkhivala posited three pillars of arguments in trying to convince the Supreme Court to dismantle the amendments. First, ‘the donee of a limited power cannot, by the exercise of that very power, convert the limited power into an unlimited one’. Doing so, would permit Parliament, a creature of the Constitution, to become its master. Second, the limited amending power was itself a basic feature of the Constitution. Following the court’s decision in the Kesavananda case, Parliament had no authority to disturb that feature. Third, by emphasizing that no court would have the power to pronounce upon the validity of a constitutional amendment, the amendment damaged the balance of power between the judiciary and Parliament.

The Supreme Court, in this case had the opportunity to review the constitutional validity of the Union’s dissolution of the Bihar State legislative assembly and the consequent proclamation of President’s rule under Article 356 of the Constitution. The Court held that the dissolution of the State assembly and the proclamation of President’s rule was unconstitutional and declared that it had the power to restore a dissolved assembly in an appropriate case. But in a peculiar twirl of events, since elections to the Bihar assembly had been notified prior to the decision of the Court, it refrained from restoring the State assembly in this case. One of the criticisms of the decision, as expostulated by various learned jurisprudence experts is that the Apex Court not only incorrectly identified the stage at which a legislative assembly comes into existence, but also incorporated a hierarchy into the Constitution thereby making a legislative assembly dependent on the executive.

The book ends with a case where scant heed was paid to the directives issued by the Apex Court and where the highest decision-making body in the country was thoroughly rendered helpless in giving effect to its own pronouncements. The compliance took the form of mere lip service as the offending parties continued relentlessly with giving teeth to an armed civilian movement to counter the pernicious threat of Naxalites.

The Indic Quotient – Kaninika Mishra

What unifies an organisation that is devoted to rescuing and repatriating stolen artifacts back to India, with a freelance Yoga practioner who, after successfully fighting a humble upbringing, carves out a niche for himself amongst the elite inhabiting a tony precinct in Gurugram? What is common between a man who moves mountains to produce the first Sanskrit animation movie in India, and a serial entrepreneur whose avowed mission is to provide an eager populace with edibles that are traditional in content, nutritious in value and delicious in taste? Is there a singular thread that weaves together a company that sources products that are all but lost to the current world due to a contrivance of circumstance and practicality, with an author who has built up a reputation by not caring much for mainstream genres, which her contemporaries are more than just eager to purvey?

In an engrossing and enlivening book, “The Indic Quotient”, best-selling author Kaninika Mishra, in seven soul stirring chapters chronicles the efforts of a bunch of myriad but intrepid characters who have taken it upon themselves to showcase India’s teeming amalgam of traditional richness and heritage, which is all but lost to a world characterized by the relentless pursuit of modernism. The protagonists of Ms. Mishra’s work are as diverse as the country which they inhabit and their vigorous endeavours range from the admirable to the astounding.

The India Pride Project (IPP), a brainchild of Vijay Kumar and Anuraag Saxena shows extraordinary obstinance and resoluteness in identifying stolen religious artefacts from Indian temples and securing their return. The crowning glory of IPP, thus far, has been the successful repatriation of Virudhagireeswarar temple’s exquisite androgynous ‘Murti’ of Ardhanareeshwara. This artefact was smuggled out of India before surfacing at the AGNSW in Australia.

The science of Ayurveda has a tradition which is as rich and resplendent as any branch of Medicine. Pioneered by the Ashta Vaidyas, the  masters of the eight branches of Ayurveda mentioned in classical texts, Ayurveda has captured global imagination. No one understands the value of Ayurveda better than Dr. Pratap Chauhan. Jiva Ayurveda, Dr. Chauhan’s company, encompasses a telecentre staffed with 150 doctors. Running clinics across North India aided by a medicine manufacturing plant in Haryana, Dr. Chauhan does topical research in the field of Ayurveda and telemedicine. In the year 2006, Chauhan bagged a United Nations World Summit Award for providing ‘low cost, highly effective and broadly applicable networking solutions.

Ms. Mishra traverses the length and breadth of India from the southern State of Kerala to the Northeastern State of Assam in tracking down the likes of Saxena and Chauhan. One such journey takes her to Maheshwar, in Madhya Pradesh, the abode of the magnificent hand woven ‘Maheswari’ brand of sarees. Visiting a small saree production unit run by Mulchand Shravnekar, a fourth-generation weaver, Ms. Mishra informs her readers about the yeoman service rendered by GoCoop. GoCoop is a boon for the Indian weavers. Incorporated in 2014, GoCoop creates a sustainable livelihood for the individual weavers by facilitating direct access to their customers. As Ms. Mishra elucidates, “GoCoop processes more than 3,000 online orders a month. It gets a small commission on each sale and a listing fee from the weavers and cooperatives featured on its website. GoCoop recorded a 100 per cent year-on-year sales growth in the 2015–16 financial year.” Till date, GoCoop has partnered with more than 4,000 handloom weaving cooperatives, individual weavers, craft-based social enterprises and NGOs across the country.

What GoCoop does to weavers, CropConnect, does to farmers. A Delhi-based start-up, CropConnect sources traditional Indian agricultural produce such as grains, and millets of the nature of jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), bajra (pearl millet), etc., and herbs, directly from farmers before marketing the same to urban consumers. The founders of CropConnect, boast a pedigree that is exemplary. Development economists, Ishira Mehta and Puneet Jhajharia quit plum jobs to found CropConnect with an aspiration to provide some much-needed support to the farmers. Ms. Mehta is a political science graduate from the London School of Economics with a Masters in Public Administration in International Development from Harvard. CropConnect markets its products under the label ‘Original Indian Table’. The efforts of CropConnect are also linear to the shifting tastes and predilections of a younger generation that is health and diet conscious. “Supermarket chains Big Bazaar, HyperCity and Easyday Club have reported 66 per cent growth for wheat substitutes, which includes millets such as ragi (finger millet) and bajra (pearl millet), between September 2017 and August 2018. Meanwhile, flour as a product group grew only by 14 per cent.” As Ms. Mishra details, celebrity chef Anahita Dhondy of the popular Parsi restaurant chain SodaBottleOpenerWala has taken to advocating millets. As a part of The Chef’s Manifesto, a worldwide movement of socially conscious chefs, she has been promoting forgotten Indian grains and millets at various forums.

The book abounds with inspirational stories such as the ones outlined above. It would be doing an avoidable disservice to the author if a review was to encapsulate every success story that permeates the pages. Lest one be lulled into any sense of misinterpretation post reading the title, the book advocates neither ideology nor professes to be a vehicle for purveying the precepts and tenets of any religion. Ms. Mishra, weaves together in a marvelously cohesive manner, an unforgettable tapestry of ingenious vison and innovative excellence. At the edifice of the forays of every person and organisation featured by Mishra, lies a raging and indivisible sense of belonging. A belonging that considers as immutable and invincible the indelible socio-economic practices that have constituted the bedrock of Indian civilization. Every effort instituted by these indomitable men and women represent a bulwark that preserves and protects such practices. Whether it be serial entrepreneur Prasoon Gupta’s resolve to bring a sense of conscious and healthy consumption of food and drink amongst the population, that resulted in the birth of his company Sattviko, or a curiosity on the part of Karan Vir Arora to understand the enigmatic character of the mythological tragic hero, Karna, after whom he was named, that led to the creation of the extremely popular Vimanika comics, Ms. Mishra’s book has lots to offer by way of both delight and respect.

“The Indic Quotient” – an invigorating and insightful read.