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The Brontë Sisters of Urdu Literature

In Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard, Aliya lives a life confined to the inner courtyard of her home with her older sister and irritable mother, while the men of the family throw themselves into the political movements of the day. She is tormented by the petty squabbles of the household and dreams of educating herself and venturing into the wider world.
But Aliya must endure many trials before she achieves her goals, though at what personal cost?
Here is an excerpt from the afterword of the book by translator Daisy Rockwell, titled The Brontë Sisters of Urdu Literature.


Khadija Mastur and her sister, Hajira Masroor, have been called the Brontë sisters of Urdu literature. This comparison seems to have been made primarily on a biographical basis— they’d led tragic lives, were meek and unassuming in person, but wrote with conviction. But from a feminist perspective, the comparison is quite apt. Khadija Mastur wrote two novels and five collections of short stories in her fifty-five years, and it is a rare story that does not contain a critique of patriarchy, chauvinism and misogyny. Happy endings are few and far between.
Though the Brontës’ books are often described as romances, they too took a bleak view of male behaviour. The Brontës sometimes came up with a ‘happy’ ending, though it often feels tacked on, for the sake of the formula. ‘Reader, I married him’—Charlotte Brontë’s famous last line in Jane Eyre cannot be seen as a truly happy ending to the brutal tale. After all, our romantic hero is by now old, blind, disabled and semi-homeless. Mr Rochester, as has been explored in countless retellings and analyses, is not a very nice man: one who locked up his mentally ill Creole first wife in the attic, and then lied about her very existence. It is only when Mr Rochester is tragically maimed and reduced in the eyes of society that Jane Eyre can hope for a relationship built on trust and mutual respect. In fact, throughout their works, it is clear that the Brontës did not have a high opinion of male motivations and behaviour—as with Anne Brontë’s description of married life in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, in which even the supposedly positive character of the male narrator often behaves poorly himself; or the unappealing and disappointing male love interests in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette.
Unlike the Brontës, Mastur and Masroor came of age writing at a time when there was a strong progressive writers’ movement. Though they could have chosen to write romances, they were politically engaged, Mastur for a time serving as the head of the Pakistani Progressive Writers’ Association. Because of her political views, shaped in part by a youth marked by poverty and deprivation, Mastur felt no obligation to deliver happy endings to her readers. It is clear from her writings that she saw patriarchy and classism as systemic poisons that destroy and kill women intellectually, emotionally and physically.
Not that Mastur treated her female characters with unstinting kindness either. Far from it. In characters such as Aliya’s mother and grandmother in The Women’s Courtyard, Mastur paints a detailed and unforgiving portrait of the role that women play in perpetuating the rigid bonds of patriarchy and class hierarchy. Indeed, Aliya’s mother and grandmother play active roles in destroying the lives of those who dare step outside the boundaries of tradition. The behaviour of these women is so brutal at times that they end up looking far worse than the actual patriarchs in the family, whom Aliya regards with love and respect despite their neglect of their families in favour of outside political involvement. Aliya’s mother is by far the most toxic character in the novel; she makes it clear that she considers her mother-in-law a flawed role model, one who ruined the family by failing to poison her own daughter when she was discovered in a romantic liaison with a lowerclass man.
Aliya herself wonders what it is that makes her so forgiving of her father’s and uncle’s neglect of their families’ welfare:

How she wished that Amma hadn’t driven anyone from the house; it was Safdar who had divided everyone, and then Abba was so busy with his animosity towards the English that he wouldn’t even turn and look at anyone. He didn’t even acknowledge her love. But she couldn’t say any of this out loud. She herself wondered why, despite Abba’s indifference, she still loved him the most. Abba’s affectionate eyes were so expressive. She’d never been able to say even one word against him (see p. 77).

Aliya sees her father and uncle as brilliant, politically principled men, even as their families are slowly wiped out financially and emotionally by their failure to step into their roles as patriarchs. But Aliya’s love is an intrinsic part of patriarchy as well—she has infinite forgiveness for her male elders, but little sympathy for the shrewish women who work desperately to keep the family and class structure in place.
Still, Aliya knows that the worst thing she can do to perpetuate the system is to step into the role awaiting her as a wife—specifically as wife to her cousin Jameel. Despite her suppressed love for Jameel, and a certain physical attraction to him, she sees capitulation to his advances as a sure way to end up just like her mother and aunt: a whinging housewife with a neglectful and politically active husband. The only way she can see clear to break the cycle is by refusing to marry. Implicit in this choice is the belief that marriage is a tool to perpetuate the system of patriarchy, a notion that is still radical more than fifty years after the publication of the novel.


The Women’s Courtyard cleverly brings into focus the claustrophobic lives of women whose entire existence was circumscribed by the four walls of their homes, and for whom the outside world remained an inaccessible dream. For more posts like this, follow Penguin India on Facebook!

The Republic of Beliefs – an Excerpt

In The Republic of Beliefs, Kaushik Basu, one of the world’s leading economists, offers a radically new approach to the economic analysis of the law. He argues that the traditional economic analysis of the law has significant flaws and has failed to answer certain critical questions satisfactorily.
Here is an excerpt from a section of the introduction, titled Practice and Discipline.


Economists and legal scholars have had an abiding interest in the question of why so many laws languish unimplemented. But an even more intriguing and philosophically troubling question is its obverse. Why are so many laws so effective, being both enforced by the functionaries of the state and obeyed by the citizens? After all, a law is nothing but some words on paper. Once one pauses to think, it is indeed puzzling why merely putting some “ink on paper” should change human behavior, why a new speed limit law recorded in a book should prompt drivers to drive more slowly, and the traffic warden to run after the few who do not, in order to ticket them.
Traditional law and economics dealt with these questions by avoiding asking them. The purpose of this book is to take on this conundrum of ink on paper triggering action frontally. In the chapters that follow I spell out and explain the enigma, and then go on to provide a resolution. This forces us to question and in turn reject the standard approach and replace it with a richer and more compelling way of doing law and economics. The new approach, rooted in game-theoretic methods, can vastly enrich our understanding of both why so many laws are effective and why so many laws remain unimplemented, gathering dust. Given the importance of law and economics for a range of practical areas, from competition and collusion, trade and exchange, labor and regulation to climate change and conflict management, the dividend from doing this right can be large. This monograph contributes to this critical space that straddles economics and law, and is thus vital for understanding development and peace, and, equally, stagnation and conflict.
The hinterland between different disciplines in the social sciences is usually a rather barren space. Despite proclamations to the contrary, multidisciplinary research remains sparse, its success hindered by differences in method and ideology, and a touch of obstinacy.
The confluence of law and economics stands out in this arid landscape. Ever since the field came into its own in the 1960s, with the writings of legal scholars and economists showing recognition of the existence of and even need for one another, the discipline of law and economics has been gaining in prominence. The need for this field was so obvious and immense that it did not brook the standard hindrances to interdisciplinary research. Laws are being created and implemented all the time; one does not have to be an economist or a legal scholar to see that a poorly designed law can bring economic activity to a halt or that a well-crafted law can surge it forward. For this reason the confluence of law and economics was an active arena of engagement even before the field had a name. In the United States, for instance, concern about collusion among business groups dates back to the late nineteenth century. The Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890 and later the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 and the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936 were landmarks in the use of the law to regulate market competition and deter collusion.
As so often happens, practice was ahead of precept. While there was no subject called law and economics then, small principles were being discovered and acted upon by policymakers and practitioners. It was, for instance, soon realized by American lawmakers and political leaders that while curbing collusion was good for the American consumer, it handicapped US firms in the global space. In competing against producers in other nations and selling to citizens of other nations, it may be useful to enable your firms to collude, fix prices, and otherwise violate domestic-market antitrust  protections. This gave rise to the Webb-Pomerene Act of 1918, which exempted firms from the provisions of laws that ban collusion, as long as they could show that the bulk of their products were being sold abroad. Japan would later learn from this and create exemptions to its Antimonopoly Law, exempting export cartels from some provisions.
The realization of the power of the law to affect markets was in evidence when, soon after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, the Allied Forces quickly imposed a carefully designed antitrust law on Japan. This was the so-called Antimonopoly Law 1947.
Japan would later modify it to reinvigorate its corporations. Not quite as directly as with the American experience but nevertheless with important implications for everyday life, the practice of law and economics goes much further back into history. Human beings were writing down laws pretty soon after they learned to write anything. The most celebrated early inscription was the Code of Hammurabi. Written in Akkadian, the language of Babylon, these laws were developed and etched on stone during the reign of the sixth king of Babylon, Hammurabi, who died in 1750 BCE. Ideas in this code survive today, such as the importance of evidence and the rights of the accused. It also gave us some of our popular codes of revenge, the best-known being “an eye for an eye.” The codes survived, but not without contestation. It is believed that it was Gandhi who warned us, nearly four thousand years later, “an eye for an eye will make the world blind.”


Highlighting the limits and capacities of law and economics, The Republic of Beliefs proposes a fresh way of thinking that will enable more effective laws and a fairer society. For more posts like this, follow Penguin India on Facebook!

Kabul under the Taliban Regime – an Eyewitness Account from Chasing the Monk's Shadow

In 627 AD, the Chinese monk Xuanzang set off on an epic journey along the Silk Road to India to study Buddhist philosophy with the Indian masters. Records of his journey remain a valuable historical source. Fourteen hundred years later, Mishi Saran follows in Xuanzang’s footsteps to the fabled oasis cities of China and Central Asia, now vanished kingdoms in Pakistan and Afghanistan and India’s Buddhist centres. She chronicles her journey in the book Chasing the Monk’s Shadow.
This path breaking travelogue includes an extraordinary eyewitness account of Kabul under the Taliban regime, just one month before 9/11.
Here is an excerpt about this from the book:


Ashraf gave me a few survival tips. ‘At around 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., the ministry to fight vice and promote virtue patrols the city,’ he said. ‘That’s the time to be careful.’’
That was what kept Kabulis cowed, their eyes filled with fear, men and women. This old and gracious city stank of fear.
‘My barber trimmed my beard, but too much. I told him, you idiot, I’m too scared to go out now.’ Men as much as women felt the pressure of strictures imposed by the Taliban.
Tolibohn.
A semblance of calm drifted back into my head, but in thin layers. The Taliban brought peace, Ashraf said. Kabul was so divided among the fighters, divided by ethnic rule. We sipped our tea and chatted, but soon I wanted to take his leave and lie in my bed with the sheets over my head. It was a lot to digest.
‘Come,’ Ashraf said kindly. ‘Let me drop you back, I will show you around Kabul. We’ll say I’m a taxi driver. Actually, I did used to drive a taxi. You sit in the back so they don’t stop us, because men and women don’t sit together.’
As the afternoon faded into evening, we drove around Kabul. Ashraf pointed out from the front seat of his battered yellow car the old Indian embassy, the fortified Iranian one, the Turkish—all gone, all emptied out, locked up behind high walls. We drove by the Kabul Hotel where a bomb had, two weeks ago, smashed a wall in, so that a pile of rubble descended onto the pavement. Was it the opposition? A discontented Taliban faction? Nobody knew. The front line was once again just forty kilometers north of Kabul.
Ashraf harked back to 1994–5, when the two sides fought over Kabul, when shells rang across the city and the inhabitants crumpled in their homes.
‘Here is the office of the justice minister, he’s a hardliner,’ Ashraf lowered his voice. ‘Here’s the office of the finance minister, he’s also a hardliner.’
As we drew up at the Ariana Hotel gate, he pointed to the traffic circle ahead: ‘That’s where Najibullah was hanged from.’ My stomach lurched. There was so much I did not know, but I did know that in 1996 the world saw images of a mutilated President Najibullah hanging from a traffic post, that Najibullah’s widow had fled to New Delhi and still lived there. I tried not to look at the traffic circle, though it was empty and perfectly innocuous. It’s as though places where violence happened bore their traces. Nothing much, only that at dusk that spot was a darker shade of grey. The weekend trickled by. Ensconced in the Ariana, one afternoon, I simply decided not to be afraid. It was crippling me. I had come to Kabul pulling a truckload of inherited fear up the mountains with me. I had come in full mental armour, my mind clogged with walls of it. It was as though, expecting the worst, I had found a few butterflies, a rose garden and some bird droppings.
‘I need to telephone,’ I said to the man in the lobby, mimicking a phone, holding a fist to my ear with thumb and pinkie held out. In Urdu, we made arrangements to go to the public phone booth in the market. One of the Afghans from the hotel would escort me.
I phoned S. in Hong Kong. His voice quickened with worry.
‘I’m okay,’ I said. ‘I’m in Kabul. I’m staying at the Ariana Hotel.’ I got used to broken-down, beaten-up Kabul. I could banish the fear, but not the sadness. I felt wretched all the time, for this country, for the Afghan children who came up, fair, with pointed chins and clear eyes, to beg. They were tiny, their hair mussed and caked. The children, old men and women and sometimes a woman in a burkha lurched towards me, hands held out, whispering. I couldn’t see their eyes, dark behind the lilac net. But I could sense the desperation.
Unlike the Indians, who imbue their begging with a certain professionalism, even humour, these were not people used to supplication. An old woman hobbled up to me, palm held out. I handed her a bag of apples I had bought. She gestured, no.
‘What is she saying?’ I asked the driver.
‘She has no teeth, she says she can’t eat the apples.’
‘Oh.’ I took the apples back and gave her the peaches instead.


With its riveting mix of lively reportage, high adventure, historical inquiry and personal memoir, Chasing The Monk’s Shadow is a path-breaking travelogue. For more posts like this, follow Penguin India on Facebook!

Chanakya and the Art of Getting Rich by Radhakrishnan Pillai- An Excerpt

Chanakya’s Arthashastra is an unrivalled political treatise that has been used by scholars, academics and leaders across the world. In Chanakya and the Art of Getting Rich, Radhakrishnan Pillai brings out the inherent lessons from Arthashastra to present a strategic and practical way of wealth creation. This is a holistic study, written for anyone and everyone.
Here is an excerpt from the Stages of Wealth:
There are all types of wealthy people: educated, not so educated, large-hearted, miserly, first-generation wealthy, those who inherited their wealth, those who became wealthy at a young age, those who became wealthy after years of struggle, from rags to riches, from rich to very, very rich . . .
The best part about wealth is that there is no one group of wealthy people. They come from all backgrounds, from rich countries and poor countries, they are males and females, they make their money in various fields and industries: food, fashion, books, cinema, science, sports, medicine, real estate, automobiles, computers, technology, art . . . You will find more than one rich and successful person in every field.
There are some patterns common to every rich person’s life. If we understand those patterns, we can identify the principles that are common to the approach of all these wealthy people.
That one underlying rule is: they all loved their work and committed themselves to their work for years before they became rich. They had a long-term approach. Even after they became rich, they continued to work. All wealthy people have enough money to not worry about paying their monthly bills. They might even be able to afford to buy a fleet of limousines with just their leftover pocket money. They can sit by the seashore, sip on a drink and do nothing till the end of their lives. Yet, you will find these people working hard. They enjoy their work and are busy with their teams creating more, better things than what they created in the past. Many can afford large mansions but continue staying in the small apartments they owned even when they were not rich. They have a different mindset, which ordinary people miss to note.
Warren Buffet continued to stay in his hometown of Omaha while he could have moved to a plush penthouse in New York. Steve Jobs continued to wear the black turtleneck T-shirt and jeans till his death when he could have had the best fashion designers at his disposal. Sam Walton continued to drive a simple car though he was among the richest men in the United States of America. Narayana Murthy of Infosys and his wife Sudha Murthy continue to create jobs and distribute wealth the same way they did years ago. The simplicity of their lifestyle has not changed with the fortunes they have earned. The other founders of Infosys sport the same attitude and continue to work in fields they love.
If the owners of Tata group decide to convert their trust’s wealth into personal wealth, they would become the richest people on earth. Yet their commitment to social work and philanthropy continues with the same attitude with which they started over a century ago. They continue to build hospitals, factories, centres of research, along with countless new companies.
The Ford foundation still contributes to unknown areas of education and research. Warren Buffet and Bill Gates give away fortunes in charity and make donations in projects they love. Some rich people donate as individuals, while some donate through their companies and foundations. Yet they give as lavishly as they earn. A study of the lives and the mindset of rich people gives us insights into many such habits, usually not known to others. Once we understand their world, we too can create our world of richness—different, yet similar.
As we read and think about Chanakya, one needs to understand that the world has changed a lot from his days. The world we live in, the twenty-first century, is very different from the world of the fourth century BC.  So even the definition of being rich has changed.
During those days the wealth was concentrated with the kings and royal families. Then there could be a few merchants and traders. The occupations were limited and opportunities were few. For someone of the working classes to become rich, he had to fight against established systems of society. The rich and powerful saw this as a threat to their ‘blue blood’ status and would not let others rise. There were many limitations and becoming rich would often end up being just a dream that you would die with—an unfulfilled wish.
Yet all of us living in this generation are lucky. Anyone can become rich. In fact, all of us can become rich. Today wealth is not limited to a particular family or a group of people. You need not be qualified with only a specific set of skills to become rich.
 

Contract Terms Are Common Sense – An excerpt

It is crucial for managers to understand the terms of the contract that they work with. This exceedingly effective guide helps readers explore and master the many terms and conditions set up for conducting businesses. The book makes the subject readily accessible by employing easy-to-understand and discover-yourself techniques.
Akhileshwar Pathak is a professor of business law at IIM Ahmedabad. He holds a doctorate in law from the University of Edinburgh, UK, and an LLB from Delhi University. His areas of interest are corporate law and the globalization and liberalization of India.
Let’s read an excerpt from the book here.
Ticket, Vouchers and Receipts
Case: wrong show
A person approached the ticket booking counter of a cinema theatre in a multiplex. A display had announced the ticket prices and show timings. A gold ticket was for Rs 250. When his turn came, the man told the booking clerk the film he wanted to see: ‘Two tickets, gold, Rs 250 tickets, 3–6 show.’ The clerk announced: ‘Yes, sir.’ The clerk printed the tickets. The customer gave Rs 500 and the clerk the tickets. The customer put the tickets in his pocket and left.
It was show time. The film started but it was not the one he had bought the ticket for, but another popular film! He was startled. The attendant in the theatre informed him that there was a technical problem and instead, another film was being screened. The customer protested and demanded a refund from the theatre. The theatre refused to give him any refund. The theatre manager asked him for his tickets and showed the terms written on them:
If the theatre is not able to screen a film due to technical reasons or otherwise, it will screen another film and there will be no refund for the ticket holders.
The customer protested that he did not know of the terms. The theatre persisted that these were the printed terms and binding on the parties. The customer insisted on getting a refund. Let us analyse the formation of the agreement between the theatre and the customer in the language of the offer and the acceptance and application of the printed terms on the ticket.
Who offered? Who accepted?
When was the agreement formed?
Did the ticket come before or after the formation of the agreement?
Are the terms a part of agreement between the parties?
The customer offered when he asked for the tickets. The store accepted when the attendant declared: ‘Yes, sir.’ A contract got formed at that point of time. The terms on the ticket came after the agreement was formed! The terms should not be binding. The answer is slightly nuanced. With the expansion of railways, steamers and cloakrooms in the last century, issuing of tickets became prevalent. When disputes arose, the ticket issuers contended that everyone knew that there were terms on the tickets. Thus, they contended that the terms were implied in the offer of the customer. The courts could not dismiss the point. However, they reasoned that the customer did not expect unreasonable and harsh terms. So these terms would not bind unless notice was given of them. Therefore, harsh and unreasonable terms are not binding unless notice is given of them. Terms that are reasonable and ordinary bind the parties even if they come after the contract is formed. Further, terms that are beneficial to the customer are binding as the ticket issuer has full notice of it and the customer has no objection to it. We could now appraise whether each of the terms on the ticket issued by the theatre would be binding or not. The terms read:
Avail of the 30 per cent discount on a large bucket of popcorn.
Suitcases and big baggage are not allowed inside the theatre. Kindly leave them with the theatre security.
If the theatre is not able to screen a film due to technical reasons or otherwise, it will screen another film and there will be no refund for the ticket holders.
The first term is binding as it is beneficial to the customer. The second term is also binding as it is ordinary and reasonable. The third term is not as it is harsh and onerous. In numerous consumer contracts, tickets and receipts are issued and the principle finds application. This includes dry cleaners, repair stores and shops. It finds application in most commercial contracts.
A business contract is formed on the phone or by email or through signed forms and documents. Later, invoices, receipts or vouchers are raised or goods delivered with delivery notes. These acknowledge a contract that is formed earlier. The documents sent contain terms. The same principle applies to these terms. Ordinary and reasonable terms would bind while the harsh and onerous terms will bind only if notice is given of them. An interesting case on the theme is Interfoto Picture Library Ltd. v. Stiletto Visual Programmes Ltd. 2 A contract was made on the phone for use of photos in transparencies. A bag of transparencies was delivered with a delivery note. The delivery note had several terms. It required that all the transparencies were to be returned within fourteen days. A holding fee of £5 per day for each transparency was to be charged for retaining them for longer than fourteen days. The customer did not read the terms. The photos were not used. The bag was put aside and forgotten. The customer was raised a bill for £3783 in holding charges. The court held this to be a harsh and onerous condition and not binding as notice of it was not given at the time of delivery.
There is something that leaves one uncomfortable. It will always be contentious whether the terms are onerous or not. Further, if the terms were ordinary, they will end up binding, even if one did not know of it or wanted it, merely because the other party issued an invoice, ticket or voucher. What can be done to prevent this post-contract intrusion? Put a term in the contract itself that nothing coming later will be binding. To neutralize the ticket terms, a term to this effect is added in contract documents. It reads:
The contracting parties will not be bound by any voucher, invoice, receipt, packing list, delivery note or printed conditions that impose a term at variance with or supplemental to the contract.
Case: past practices
A customer had taken his car to a garage three times in the past four years. Every time, as a part of the contract for servicing the car or carrying out repairs, the garage required him to sign a form that exempted it from all liabilities for any damage to the car. This time, the car got stalled in the middle of the road. The customer called up the garage. The garage sent him assistance. The mechanic towed the car to the garage and the customer took a taxi to his office. There was a fire in the garage and the car got damaged. The garage, this time, had not got any papers signed by the customer. The garage claimed that the terms exempting it from liability are implied as it was a past practice between the parties. There is undoubtedly a contract between the parties for repair of the car. Should the past practices, that the garage is not liable for the damages, be incorporated in the contract?
An answer can be that the terms are implied in the contract. The point then is how long and frequent should the past dealings be for these to be implied in the contract. The courts, thus, came to formulate that the past dealings must be invariant and long enough for these to be implied. They are most stringent in applying this criterion. Only in rare cases has a court implied past dealings in contracts. Thus, past dealings are inadequate means of incorporation of terms into a contract. These should never be relied upon.

Under American Eyes: Mark Twain in Bombay

For 230 years, America’s engagement with India, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been characterized by short-term thinking and unintended consequences. Beginning with American traders in India in the eighteenth century, the region has become a locus for American efforts-secular and religious-to remake the world in its image. Even as South Asia has undergone tumultuous and tremendous changes from colonialism to the world wars, the Cold War and globalization, the United States has been a crucial player in regional affairs.
In the definitive history of the US involvement in South Asia, The Most Dangerous Place by Srinath Raghavan presents a gripping account of America’s political and strategic, economic and cultural presence in the region.
Of the many interesting incidents and lesser known anecdotes in the book, one interesting narrative is Mark Twain’s visit to Bombay. Here is an excerpt from it.
————————————————————————————————————————————————–
On a sunny morning in January 1896, the visiting American— decked out in a white suit and straw hat—took a stroll on the outskirts of Bombay. On seeing a row of Indian washermen sweating it out, he asked his guide, ‘Are they breaking those stones with clothes?’ Samuel Langhorne Clemens had kept his sense of humour despite the fact that he had practically been forced to travel to India. A failed venture with a typesetting machine and the bankruptcy of his publishing firm had left Mark Twain ensnared in a web of debt: of over $1,00,000. To shake this off, the fiftyyear- old writer had embarked on a year-long lecture trip covering a hundred cities in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and the British Isles, Ceylon and India.
In Bombay, Twain’s first appearance was in the Novelty Theatre before an overflowing audience worshipping ‘at the shrine of the world’s great humourist when he made his debut before his first Indian audience’. Twain spoke of, among other things, how there were 352 different kinds of sins, so that ‘the industrious persons could commit them all in one year and be inoculated against all future sins’. He told stories, some apocryphal, about George Washington and other great Americans, and also read a chapter from Tom Sawyer. Twain lunched with the Governor in his official residence and met Jamsetji Tata over dinner.
Like many well-informed Americans of his generation, Mark
Twain had thought of India as a land of fantasy: ‘an imaginary
land—a fairy land, dreamland, a land made of poetry and moonlight
for the Arabian Nights to do their gorgeous miracles in’. Ahead of his trip, he had written jocularly to Kipling, ‘I shall come riding my ayah with his tusks adorned with silver bells and ribbons and escorted by a troop of native howdahs richly clad and mounted upon a herd of wild buffalos; and you must be on hand with a few bottles of ghee, for I shall be thirsty.’3 After spending two months in the country and visiting over sixteen cities and towns, Twain concluded that India was the most interesting country on the planet. But his view of India was a tad more realistic: ‘This is indeed India—the land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and rags, of palaces and hovels, of tigers and elephants, the cobra and the jungle . . . the one land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for the shows of all the rest of the globe combined.’
Twain was a curious and sympathetic traveller. The people, he wrote, were ‘pleasant and accommodating’. ‘They are kindly people . . . The face and bearing that indicate a surly spirit and a bad heart seemed rare among Indians,’ he added. The sight of an Indian servant in his hotel being needlessly struck by a European manager reminded him of his childhood in the American South and the stain of slavery on his own country. The ‘thatched group of native houses’ along the Hooghly River took him back to ‘the negro quarters, familiar to me from nearly forty years ago—and so for six hours this has been the sugar coast of the Mississippi’.5 Even Indian religion and spirituality, of which he had had no high opinion, Twain encountered with an open mind. On the massive Hindu religious festival in Allahabad, he wrote, ‘It is wonderful, the power of a faith like that.’ Meeting an Indian saint in Benares, Twain gave him an autographed copy of Huckleberry Finn and noted his admiration for men who ‘went into the solitudes to live in a hut and study the sacred writings and meditate on virtue and holiness and seek to attain them’. Twain had heard of the storied tradition of ‘thuggee’ or ritual strangling as a boy in America and wrote at inordinate length about it in his account of the passage through India. Nevertheless, he also observed, ‘We white people are merely modified Thugs; Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization.’
All the same, Twain’s views of India were shaped by a sense of civilizational hierarchy. While India was ‘the cradle of human race, birth place of human speech’ and so forth, it was a civilization that had no notion of ‘progress’: ‘repeating and repeating and repeating, century after century, age after age, the barren meaningless process’. India had been the ‘first civilization’ and remained stuck there. If this was redolent of Britain’s ideological justification for the conquest of India, Twain more explicitly endorsed the political rationale of the Raj: ‘Where there are eighty nations and several hundred governments, fighting and quarrelling must be the common business of life; unity of purpose and policy are impossible.’ The beneficence of British rule flowed logically from these premises. ‘When one considers what India was under her Hindoo and Mohammedan rulers, and what she is now; when he remembers the miseries of her millions then and protections and humanities which they enjoy now, he must concede that the most fortunate thing that has ever befallen that empire was the establishment of British supremacy here.’

Requiem in Raga Janki – An Excerpt

Based on the real-life story of Hindustani singer Janki Bai Ilahabadi (1880-1934), Requiem in Raga Janki by Neelum Saran Gaur is the beautifully rendered tale of one of India’s unknown gems.
Janki Bai Ilahabadi enthralled listeners wherever she performed, and counted as her fans maharajas and maharanis, poets and judges, nawabs and government officials-everyone. She was Janki ‘Chhappan Chhuri’, Janki of the fifty-six knives-attacked in her youth, she surviveed miraculously. Brought up in a nautch house, she rose to become the queen of Allahabad, her voice taking her from penury to palaces and royal durbars.
Here is an excerpt for her incredible story.
Her name lingers in certain locations still—Bai ka Bagh, Liddle Road, Rasoolabad. There is a godown on the Jawaharlal Nehru Road that is used to store Magh Mela tents and other equipment. There is a large field at the Police Lines. And a crumbling monument in the Kaladanda cemetery called Chhappan Chhuri ki Mazaar. I will tell you what I know of her and also what I guess and imagine.
Chhappan Chhuri was Janki’s nickname—she of the fifty-six knife gashes. I don’t think that that figure, fifty-six, is to be taken literally. She herself wrote somewhere that the number of stabs far exceeded the proverbial fifty-six which was a mere metaphor, an attractive alliteration endorsed by confusion and inaccurate reportage. With time it assumed other cloaks of innuendo so that ‘Chhappan Chhuri’ suggests someone armed with many weapons of assault, a woman of lethal witchery, of potentially heart-piercing beauty—such the devilry of words. But really she was none of these. She was just a woman who’d survived a murderous attack and who carried on her body dozens of scars which would become her signature of identity, conjoined to her name, Janki Bai.
There are three different accounts of the stabbings and no one knows which the authentic one was, and Janki’s own account is versions. In one account a crazed fan, spurned, worked his rage on her. But that does seem unlikely. She was barely eight, according to this account, when it is supposed to have happened and her protective mother could not have turned away a besotted lover from her mehfil simply because she hadn’t started entertaining audiences that way. That’s just one of those romantic stories that attach themselves to people as image enhancers for posterity. It seems that Janki herself initiated this account in the introduction to her diwan of verses, little realizing the transparent inconsistency of it. I can understand her reasons, though. She was a marked woman, quite literally, her skin torn in crumpled gullies of stitched together flesh, lines which the decades had failed to erase. That was the very first thing people saw, the disfigurement. It followed her everywhere. I can’t say if she ever really accepted it. It’s possible that it had sunk into the grain but it did not surface in her voice as any obvious ache. Nothing so trite. Rather, there was the powerful swell and soar of overcoming. But for purposes of history some subterfuge was in order, especially in times of circumspect and censored telling. And especially in situations of family shame. What is stated as an authentic truth is not so much a deliberate lie but a carefully composed face-saving fiction to answer the disquieting personal questions that are bound to crop up. Like all the plasters of lentil paste, soaked and buried in earthen pots, the unguents of sandalwood and turmeric and flour, the masks of clayof-Multan and honey and lime, the story doesn’t quite camouflage or convince.
But desperate efforts to conceal what has clearly remained unhealed must be respected. There was a second version in circulation, that she was attacked by a rival singer whom she had outsung at a durbar soirée organized by the maharani of Benaras.
There is even a name to this shadowy assailant—Raghunandan Dubey. She was eight years old, a singing prodigy, and she defeated a much older and far more established singer, and consequently she was the victim of a jealous attack. She did not die but underwent treatment generously paid for by the maharani, who took an interest in her. And when she recovered, her mother, afraid to stay on in Benaras with all its vicious intrigues and rivalries, brought her to Allahabad and they made a life for themselves quite different from the earlier one.
Let me first recount the concocted history, the version invented by Janki as preferable to what did happen. Let us place it all as Janki would want us to, the music chamber, the crowd of connoisseurs, the shy loveliness of the little songstress, who’d trained under Koidal Maharaj of Benaras himself, rendering ‘Jamuna tat Shyam khelein Hori’, and the man who came as just another one in the crowd, accepted the paan, acknowledged the itr and the proffered wine and lolled back on the bolster and listened intently. He wasn’t old and he wasn’t young. They noticed him the very first time when he produced two banknotes from his achkan pocket and beckoned to Janki. She had only just finished a song. Obligingly she slipped up to him, smiled and sank to her knees in a graceful swirl of silk and tinsel and a cascade of tinkling anklet chimes. He circled the notes around her head and tossed them into the ornate silver dish that lay alongside his bolster. They were all taken aback at the amount though they did not show it. Janki raised her jewelled fingertips to her brow in a salaam, a shy flush playing on her young face.

Talent Wins: The New Playbook for Putting People First – An Excerpt

Turning conventional views on their heads, talent and leadership experts Ram Charan, Dominic Barton and Dennis Carey provide leaders with a new and different playbook for acquiring, managing and deploying talent–for today’s agile, digital, analytical, technologically driven strategic environment and for creating the HR function that business needs. Filled with examples of forward-thinking companies that have adopted radical new approaches to talent (such as ADP, Amgen, BlackRock, Blackstone, Haier, ING, Marsh, Tata Communications, Telenor and Volvo), as well as the juggernauts and the start-ups of Silicon Valley, this book shows leaders how to bring the rigor that they apply to financial capital to their human capital–elevating HR to the same level as finance in their organizations.
Here’s an excerpt from the book.
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The top of the company also must align behind something else: the story you’re going to tell investors. If you’re leading a talent-driven organization but talking strategy-first to Wall Street, there’s a disconnect between your company’s public and private personae. That’s not good for investors, your company, or your workforce.
Telling investors about talent seems like a risky tactical change. Why would a company in, say, the semiconductor industry want to position itself in a way that seems more suited to a movie studio announcing its latest slate of star-driven features?
There are several answers to this question. For starters, shifting to a story built around talent is a sign of the times. Some companies already include slides about their key talent in their quarterly presentations. Financial analysts know the impact people like Jony Ive, Astro Teller, Sheryl Sandberg, and Andy Rubin can have on a company’s valuation. The phenomenon is hardly limited to tech: the performance or career peregrinations of Wall Street stars, fashion leaders, and even manufacturing pros can affect share prices as well.
But your company’s talent narrative isn’t just a story of stars. In fact, in times of great turbulence it can be a sign of stability. GE has made its deep talent-development efforts part of its narrative for years. GE stock has had its challenges, of course. But the company’s education efforts at its Crotonville, New York, facility and its history of always having great talent at the ready give investors confidence in GE’s management pipeline. Google’s track record of giving great leeway to its talented employees is equally well known. At one point, employees were even encouraged to spend 20 percent of their time working on their own pet projects. Investors have applauded CEO Larry Page’s effort to rein in some of the company’s more outlandish experiments, but they wouldn’t want to see the company reduce its commitment to innovation. Analysts have come to expect the unexpected from companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple, and are apt to forgive the occasional failure, because the companies’ talent-first models have produced one unexpected innovation after another. At these companies, there’s a well established narrative history of the power of talent.


 
 

A Day In The Life by Anjum Hasan – An Excerpt

Anjum Hasan is the author of two critically acclaimed novels- Lunatic in my Head that was shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award and Neti Neti, shortlisted for the Hindi Best Fiction Award. She has also written the short fiction collection Difficult Pleasures along with a book of poems titled Street on the Hill. Currently, she is the Books Editor at Caravan Magazine. In her latest book, A Day in the Life, Hasan gives us fourteen well-crafted short stories that provide an insight into the daily life of her characters. With protagonists like a non-conformist living by choice in a small town or a middle class woman’s bond with her maid. Hasan shows that there is an unusual charm in normal, everyday life too.
Let’s read an excerpt from the short story The Stranger from Hasan’s latest book- A Day in the Life.
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There were no new ideas to be found in the city so I retired last year to this small town—an experiment to see if I could live in a house with a tiled roof that sometimes leaked and little storybook windows that muffled rather than let in light. Four months straight it rained with pounding urgency, bookended by two of drizzle. Sentences that I thought had no currency any more, not in the twenty-first century, still applied here, in this drenched hill town. It was a dark and stormy night. Or, The wind howled in the trees and loudly rattled the windowpanes.
One could imagine a very old place, a sparser and hardier monsoon existence hidden in the folds of the green valleys, even though they’d been killing off the vestiges in recent years— building hotels over the Christian graveyards and glassy shopping complexes where there’d been trees and empty space. Still, a few bungalows with compounds and driveways from a hundred years ago remained, and in the bazaar lots of those crooked little two -storey split-level shophouses with wooden casements, which too must have been here at least since the British, were writing in their gazetteers about who was up to exactly what business in the district. With the rain and the daily power-cuts, the Gothic mist creeping over everything all the time in season and the silence that lay over the hedgerows in the lanes away from the town centre, this was still a place where you could play at being someone else.
I’d seemed to be coasting along like everyone else in the city but was really eyeing something deeper—a love affair or a glittering friendship. I was lonely and didn’t see it. When this hit me, when I turned forty, then forty-five, and still felt unmade and unresolved, still chasing something just around the corner, I stopped. I had some money from two decades in the industry—if not scaling the heights of the corporate ladder, then not sliding down it either. Enough to ride on for a few years if I yielded all ambition, so that’s what I decided to do. Become nobody or, at least, a sincerely regular man. Cease thinking I was going to get anywhere either in the realm of intellectual achievement or human relations.
What can better aid coming down to earth than a half-forgotten small town: that stained suburban air, the permanent emanations of open sewers and busy bakeries? A whole population’s worth of people with reduced hopes, happy to cut their coats according to their cloth.
I’ve been here almost a year now, one monsoon to the next, and I have a house of three small rooms which is too big for me, a talkative cook in a burka and a target of getting through all the mouldy books in the back rows of the local library, which no one seems to have touched since circa Independence. I do try to give some kind of shape to my days—watching the blackbirds with my morning coffee; walking with the late afternoon sun when there is one; helping, because I was inveigled into it, the landlord’s middle-school-going boy and girl with their homework; just sitting around reading in the evenings as I drink brandy with hot water, or bad wine, or whisky with ice on summer nights when it’s really warm and I’m feeling like I might start to be sorry for myself. Who was it who said Proust’s pinings and dissatisfaction represented the illness of the cultivated classes in a capitalistic society? I’m trying, with the benevolent aid of my neighbourhood liquor store, to undo my cultivation and sometimes casting off these chains can hurt.
I wake up in the dark: it could be 4 a.m. or well past seven. The clacking rhythm of rain on the roof seems to be saying, I’m here to stay. Okay, I tell it. I can live with you. It’s all right to wake up in an indeterminable darkness, not knowing what day of the week it is, and no longer needing to call up the thought of the project I’m working on or dwell on the inexorable nature of modern work. I stay in bed till Amina bangs on the door. The bell’s stopped working.
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Fifty Shades Darker, An Excerpt

Determined to win Anastasia back, he tries to suppress his darkest desires and his need for complete control, and to love Ana on her own terms. Read E L James book, Fifty Shades Darker to dive deeper and darker on their love story,

Here’s an excerpt.

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Get a grip, Grey.
I damp down my fear and make a plea. “You look like you’ve lost at least five pounds, possibly more since then. Please eat, Anastasia.” I’m helpless. What else can I say?
She sits still, lost in her own thoughts, staring straight ahead, and I have time to study her profile. She’s as elfin and sweet and as beautiful as I remember. I want to reach out and stroke her cheek. Feel how soft her skin is…check that she’s real. I turn my body toward her, itching to touch her.
“How are you?” I ask, because I want to hear her voice.
“If I told you I was fine, I’d be lying.”
Damn. I’m right. She’s been suffering—and it’s all my fault. But her words give me a modicum of hope. Perhaps she’s missed me. Maybe? Encouraged, I cling to that thought. “Me, too. I miss you.” I reach for her hand because I can’t live another minute without touching her. Her hand feels small and ice-cold engulfed in the warmth of mine.
“Christian. I—” She stops, her voice cracking, but she doesn’t pull her hand from mine.
“Ana, please. We need to talk.”
“Christian. I…please. I’ve cried so much,” she whispers, and her words, and the sight of her fighting back tears, pierce what’s left of my heart.
“Oh, baby, no.” I tug her hand and before she can protest I lift her into my lap, circling her with my arms.
Oh, the feel of her.
“I’ve missed you so much, Anastasia.” She’s too light, too fragile, and I want to shout in frustration, but instead I bury my nose in her hair, overwhelmed by her intoxicating scent. It’s reminiscent of happier times: An orchard in the fall. Laughter at home. Bright eyes, full of humor and mischief…and desire. My sweet, sweet Ana.
Mine.
At first, she’s stiff with resistance, but after a beat she relaxes against me, her head resting on my shoulder. Emboldened, I take a risk and, closing my eyes, I kiss her hair. She doesn’t struggle out of my hold, and it’s a relief. I’ve yearned for this woman. But I must be careful. I don’t want her to bolt again. I hold her, enjoying the feel of her in my arms and this simple moment of tranquility.
But it’s a brief interlude—Taylor reaches the Seattle downtown helipad in record time.
“Come.” With reluctance, I lift her off my lap. “We’re here.”
Perplexed eyes search mine.
“Helipad—on the top of this building.” How did she think we were getting to Portland? It would take at least three hours to drive. Taylor opens her door and I climb out on my side.
“I should give you back your handkerchief,” she says to Taylor with a coy smile.
“Keep it, Miss Steele, with my best wishes.”
What the hell is going on between them?