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Different perspectives of the same time and story

The Language of History by Audrey Trushchke analyses a hitherto overlooked group of histories on Indo-Muslim or Indo-Persian political events, namely a few dozen Sanskrit texts that date from the 1190s until 1721. This book seeks, for the first time, to collect, examine and theorize Sanskrit histories on Muslim-led and, later, as Muslims became an integral part of Indian cultural and political worlds, Indo-Muslim rule as a body of historical materials. This archive lends insight and perspectives into formulations and expressions of premodern political, social, cultural and religious identities.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter titled Local Stories in Fourteenth-Century Gujarat and Fifteenth-Century Kashmir.

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Different perspectives, different storytellers, always complicate the narrative; that’s good because what we are trying to make sense of is complex.

—Githa Hariharan, 2016 interview

As Indo-Muslim rulers made further inroads into parts of the Indian subcontinent from the fourteenth century onwards, authors developed locally based traditions of Sanskrit historical writing that detailed this political trend. In this chapter, I investigate and compare two regional traditions that took off in the fourteenth century and fifteenth century, respectively: Gujarati prabandhas and Kashmiri rajataranginis. Gujarat and Kashmir had both witnessed Muslim-led military activities and, at least in parts, Muslim- led rule for centuries prior to the inauguration of these respective bodies of Sanskrit texts. Both sets of materials narrate some of that history as relevant to their region. Additionally, because they are plural rather than single texts, these materials allow me to compare authorial choices and see trends and exceptions within a deepening interest in Indo-Muslim history among premodern Sanskrit intellectuals.

Front cover of The Language of History
The Language of History || Audrey Trushke

The Gujarati and Kashmiri materials that I discuss here differ from each other in numerous ways. Four Gujarati texts were composed within a tight time-frame, dating between 1301 and 1349. A trio of Kashmiri works stretch across more than three centuries, with Kalhana penning his Rājataraṅgiṇī (River of Kings) in 1149 and two successors writing in 1459 and 1486, respectively. The two series of texts were authored by men belonging to different religious communities: Shvetambara Jains (prabandhas) and Kashmiri Brahmins (rajataranginis). They exhibit distinct styles and foci. Nonetheless, both constitute regionally based Sanskrit traditions of history writing in areas shaped, relatively early on, by Muslim-led political activities. I consider Gujarati prabandhas and Kashmiri rajataranginis together here, not as two sides of the same coin but rather as two distinct local traditions. When read against each other, these series of texts enable us to sketch out the increasingly complex contours of Sanskrit historical writing on Muslim-led incursions and rule in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

 

Pairing Difference in Gujarati and Kashmiri Materials

The Gujarati and Kashmiri works both addressed local audiences, although delineated in rather different ways. Jain monks envisioned the four prabandhas I discuss below as being inspirational to the Jain faithful. Two authors, Merutunga and Rajashekhara, penned collections of stories about Jain ascetics and laymen. The other authors—Kakka, Jinaprabha and Vidyatilaka (Jinaprabha’s continuer)—structured their narratives around Jain pilgrimage destinations. Extant manuscript evidence indicates that the four prabandhas were often read in and around Gujarat. In contrast, Kashmiri Brahmins penned the first three rajataranginis for a more politically defined audience. Kalhana, who completed the inaugural Rājataraṅgiṇī in 1149, claimed to write for others who lived through the vicissitudes of sovereignty. For Kalhana, this was a personal subject since his father had been ousted from the court of King Harsha (r. 1089–1101), leaving Kalhana unemployed. Kalhana’s chronicle found a reception, a bit ironically, among those who enjoyed royal patronage, and Jonaraja and Shrivara, the authors of the next two rajataranginis—who imitated Kalhana in style and focus—were court poets of the Shah Miri dynasty. The Rājataraṅgiṇīs of Jonaraja and Shrivara doubled as extensions of Kalhana’s text and as official court chronicles for an Indo-Persian polity.

Despite the distinct origins of these two bodies of historical materials, the founding authors of both local traditions envisioned the same key antecedent: the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata. Kalhana alludes to the Mahabharata throughout his work and also assigns his chronicle the same unusual aesthetic goal attributed to the epic in the Kashmiri thought of his time, namely, inducing quiescence (śāntarasa) in the reader who would shun the world after perusing the monstrous cycle of politics. Merutunga, who penned the earliest prabandha work I discuss here, was more direct. In an opening verse, he billed his Prabandhacintāmaṇi (Wishing-Stone of Narratives, 1305) as ‘pleasing like the Mahabharata’. Neither Kalhana nor Merutunga refer to any of the historical materials that I have dealt with earlier in this book, which accords with the generally fractious nature of Sanskrit historical writing on Indo-Muslim political events. But neither did these authors posit their works as clean breaks with the Sanskrit literary tradition. Rather, the authors imagined themselves as updating established ways of writing about past events in Sanskrit, modernizing (or early modernizing?) them for new times and in response to new occurrences. Analysing the prabandhas and rajataranginis together here underscores the self-proclaimed continuity of both sets of authors as well as their differences in interpreting what it meant to write political history in Sanskrit.

Kalhana and Merutunga headline focusing on the present as a crux of their innovation. Again, Merutunga is more forthcoming. In an opening verse, he claims that his work narrates recent history (vṛttaistadāsannasatāṃ), which sets it apart from old stories (kathāḥ purāṇāḥ). Kalhana indicates his emphasis on recent history by becoming more precise and verbose as he comes closer to his present day, such that his later chapters, on events increasingly close to his own time, are far longer and denser than his earlier ones.9 More than half of Kalhana’s Rājataraṅgiṇī concerns the sixty years prior to the text’s composition. In this emphasis on recent history, Kalhana’s Rājataraṅgiṇī is a far cry from the Mahabharata epic that was always, even in its own internal frameworks, about times and people that were long gone. More generally, the prabandhas and rajataranginis I discuss here concentrate on the lives of real, historical people and sometimes include specific dates and citations of sources. Their authors coupled these historiographical innovations with an incorporation of stories about how Indo-Muslim political actors were shaping the contemporary political and social realities of Gujarat and Kashmir, respectively. By reading these two bodies of works side by side, we can see both their shared similarities and substantial divergences that added texture and depth to the growing tradition of Sanskrit historical writing.

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How to live a sustainable lifestyle the fun way-a chat with Sahar Mansoor and Tim De Ridder

  1. How do you think the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the way industries and individuals are looking at waste generation and sustainability?

-The pandemic created such a large amount of waste from the outset. However, it also rekindled intimacy with parts of our lives that we may have disconnected with. Examples include our kitchen, homes and nature. This reconnection found at an individual level is mirrored by many industries that have grown and/or launched during the pandemic. Specifically, food packaging and e-commerce businesses have developed new ways to operate in a changed world while reducing environmental footprints. In these ways, the pandemic has provided additional perspectives about the things that truly matter on an individual level and what can be innovated and developed at an industry level.

 

2. The zero-waste life is difficult but as your book has shown clearly doable especially for individuals?  Do you have some tips for larger families especially those with infants since infants do generate a lot of waste such as diapers etc.?

  • One thing that we have focused on in the book is to illustrate that choosing to make a change is the first big step and one that has been undertaken by individuals and organisations across the country. The examples we have used are there to highlight how doable these actions are and what resources are available. For families with infants for instance we have detailed some organisations that retail cloth diapers such as Bumpadum and Super Bottoms. Additionally, In the first two years of life, an average child needs 280 pieces of clothing, most of which are only worn for about two or three months. As a result, a vast amount of kids’ clothing ends up in landfills, losing value and creating adverse environmental impacts. Sharing/circulating clothes among friends and family or at clothes exchanges are ways to reduce waste while making your own gifts for your children and/or involving them in the creation is a unique and memorable way to reduce waste.

 

3. Capitalism is to a large extent dependent on obsolescence and therefore, on waste.  What message can you send to large business concerns that could inspire them to adopt more sustainable practices?

  • There is no doubt these days that sustainability and reducing waste is the way forward, there is so much research on this now. For businesses wanting to know how to do this make sure to keep it simple by designing out waste from your current system, this could include creating/using high quality products that have a longer life and can be reused in other fashions in the long term. A prime example is e-waste where the core elements of computers, phones and other devices needs to be reused because there is a finite supply of the raw materials. By incorporating models of reuse and refill into business operations each company can make a positive difference for their people, the planet and profit too.

 

4. Both of you have travelled extensively. Can you describe one incident or anecdote from your travels that really shaped your ideas on sustainability and its impact?

  • Tim: I’ve been fortunate to visit a number of remote and beautiful locations such as the Himalayas. Yet, when I visited there was always waste that polluted rivers and mountain tops. This impact changes the way that people live and needs to be addressed at a systemic level so that the livelihoods of communities and the environment can improve. I’ve witnessed community-based initiatives recently that promote the sale of sustainable and traditional products rather than imported plastic items that was one of the causes of waste in the area. This type of example illustrates a number of benefits of sustainability.

 

  • Sahar : Throughout my narrative, in our book I speak about my time working in northern Karnataka. This opportunity provided me with the opportunity to spend time in rural India and learn from communities that were choosing sustainable practices, including hand sewing traditional clothes designed to last a lifetime not just to be worn a few times and replaced. This type of practice fills my heart with so much love, it is a perfect picture of how sustainable practices value the environment, rural communities and experiences of travelers who are truly fortunate to visit these locations. There are many lessons to be learnt from people across our diverse country.

 

5. Bare Necessities has some wonderful recipes and DIYs using easily available ingredients that replace many less environmentally-friendly products. Let’s simplify these even further. Can you name 5 ingredients that you could survive with on a desert island?

  • This is a fascinating case study! I hope I never end up trapped on a desert island but if I did and wanted to create some of the DIY recipes I’d hope to find coconuts, bananas, yellow gram & green gam, along with honey and turmeric. Many of these ingredients form the backbone of the recipes we have shared and could provide sustenance too. For instance, coconut oil/water and the flesh of the coconut can be used for rehydration and if needed for personal care recipes for your skin, hair and teeth. Similarly, bananas, gram, honey and turmeric can be used for nutrition, cleaning and self-care. It’s pretty cool to think about but let’s hope we never get stuck on an island, I much prefer to make these products in Bangalore with my manufacturing team.

 

6. Have you noticed any positive impacts on your personal health since you switched to more sustainable personal care products?

  • There are many that I gained from the point where I made the shift to a zero-waste life. I would actually enjoy taking a deep dive into the benefits of the changes to my personal care routine through a longitudinal study now that I use organic face masks among other products. One area that doesn’t need a long-term evaluation is on the impacts in the kitchen. Many of the benefits I gained in my life combined both the decisions in my personal care routines for the things I placed on my body with the items I consumed. Overall my health improved markedly due to this combination of not using products with harmful chemicals while eating more raw and whole foods instead of packaged.

 

7. Which sector of the economy do you think will experience the most change as more buyers shift to sustainable consumerism in the future?

  • An area that we mentioned a little above with innovations from businesses aiming to reduce their environmental impact. Specifically, the creation of sustainable packaging is an area that is likely to experience significant growth. The use of hemp, mycelium and seaweed for example is seeing the development of alternatives to packaging made out of plastic and styrofoam among other harmful materials. This is an area of exciting change for the future and one that may well revolutionise business and increase the uptake of people involved in the circular economy, thus enabling a transition to a more sustainable/earth-friendly lifestyle.

 

 

The rise and fall of Yes Bank

The Yes Bank fiasco had several layers of financial misconduct. Furquan Moharkan’s meticulously researched work The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds takes a long look into the role of Rana Kapoor and his hand in the fall of Yes Bank. Here is an excerpt:

By January 2020, when it was clear that things were clearly headed south, Uttam Prakash Agarwal, the then chairman of the audit committee, resigned. But the way he resigned led to a lot of muck surfacing. In his resignation letter to then chairman of the bank, Brahm Dutt, Agarwal said, ‘There are serious concerns as regards deteriorating standards of the corporate governance, failure of compliance, management practices and the manner in which the state of affairs of the company are being conducted by Ravneet Gill — MD/CEO, Rajiv Uberoi — Senior Group President Governance & Controls, Sanjay Nambiar — Legal Head and Board of Directors.’

While informing the public about the exit of the director, the bank said that it was reviewing a ‘fit and proper case’ against Agarwal. ‘In this respect, the bank had obtained legal opinions from eminent jurists. These opinions were to be considered by the Nomination and Remuneration Committee of the board (NRC)/ the board of the bank in their meetings scheduled for today, i.e. January 10, 2020. However, prior to the commencement of the proceedings of these meetings, the bank received the resignation of Agarwal,’ the bank said.

Front Cover The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds
The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds||Furquan Moharkan

The bank was indeed asked by the central bank to review Agrawal’s directorship. The RBI had asked YES Bank to re-examine the ‘fit and proper’ status of the lender’s audit committee chairman after it was found that he had failed to disclose details of criminal cases filed against him, Livemint had reported on 24 November.

In fact, some of the bank insiders told me that Agarwal was allegedly doing this on Rana Kapoor’s behest. In one such conversation, he said, ‘The bank’s management is deliberately doing it so that they can sell the bank to Uday Kotak.’ This struck a chord with the blame-game technique YES Bank, in Rana Kapoor’s last days of leadership, had adopted.

Amid this saga, an executive of one of the institutional investors at the bank told me that it was board-room muck playing out in public as everyone was trying to steer clear of what would be known as India’s biggest banking failure till date. ‘You see, everyone is trying to save themselves. And in all this we are seeing dirty linen being washed in public.’

Interestingly, this was not the only letter by Agarwal that alleged malpractices by the bank. The other letter that was shot out on that day was addressed to RBI governor Shaktikanta Das. The letter alleged that the bank was misleading everyone on the capital raising, governance lapses, evergreening of loans and misrepresentation of facts. But one allegation that brings the role of the RBI an as administrator into question is that the letter alleged a 25 per cent erosion in the deposit base in the December 2019 quarter — information which was sent out to me by one of the bank’s executives. Incidentally, in her press conference after the fall of YES Bank, on 6 March, the finance minister did mention these letters.

Internal red flags were raised by Agarwal in his letters to Brahm Dutt in the beginning of January. By the end of the month, Agarwal had shot out a letter to the then Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) secretary, alleging that the bank was staring at incremental bad loans worth Rs 45,000 crore in the next eighteen months based on an assessment of IDFC Securities. A report compiled by the brokerage was also shared with the DEA secretary. Despite this, on 24 January, a senior finance ministry official quipped in an off-the-record conversation that ‘YES Bank woes were just journalistic imagination. The government didn’t see any problems.’

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Wading through the difficult details of the banking failure, The Banker Who Crushed His Diamonds is a financial thriller that has us at the edge of our seats.

The Absence of Adolescence

Writer – politician Muthuvel Karunanidhi is amongst the most important political leaders India has ever seen. In Karunanidhi: A Life, author A.S. Panneerselvan tells the story of the man who became a metaphor for modern Tamil Nadu, where language, empowerment, self-respect, art, literary forms and films coalesced to lend a unique vibrancy to politics.

Here is an excerpt from the chapter titled, The Absence of Adolescence.

Karunanidhi
Karunanidhi A Life || A.S. Panneerselvan

 

Like many underprivileged children, karunanidhi’s life moved straight to adulthood from childhood, bypassing the phase of indulgent adolescence. The politicization that began with the anti-Hindi agitation and exposure to the literature of the Self- Respect Movement propelled karunanidhi into becoming an activist right from his days in the second form. The police excesses and the custodial deaths of two anti-Hindi agitators, Thalamuthu and natarajan, had a profound impact on the young karunanidhi.

 

The late 1930s witnessed varied crises for all the political players: the imperial government was getting ready for the Second World War; the great Depression and its fallout was taking its toll; Mahatma gandhi’s supremacy was challenged within the Congress by the election of Subhas Chandra Bose as the party president for the second time; and the Left was emerging as a distinct political force with its leaders gaining a hold over decision-making in both the Congress as well as other popular fronts. There was also a shift in Dravidian politics with the leadership moving from the wealthy section among the non-Brahmins to Periyar and Annadurai.

 

The twists and turns of the Left’s mobilization need elaboration in order to understand how, despite its revolutionary aura, karunanidhi remained with the Dravidian Movement’s social reform agenda. in his essay, in the January–March 1984 issue of The Marxist, E.M.S. namboodiripad points out that when the Congress Socialist Party was formed in 1934, the Communist Party of india initially branded it as Social Fascist. With the Comintern’s change of policy towards the politics of the Popular Front, the indian communists’ relationship to the inC witnessed a reversal. The communists joined the Congress Socialist Party (CSP), which worked as the left wing of the Congress. Once they had joined, the Communist Party of india (CPi) accepted the CSP demand for the Constituent Assembly, which it had denounced two years before.1

 

in July 1937, the first kerala unit of the CPi was founded at a clandestine meeting in Calicut. The five persons present at the meeting were E.M.S. namboodiripad, krishna Pillai, n.C. Sekhar, k. Damodaran and S.V. ghate. The first four were members of the CSP in kerala; ghate was a CPi Central Committee member, who had come from Madras. Contacts between the CSP in kerala and the CPi had begun in 1935, when P. Sundarayya (Central Committee member of CPi, based in Madras at the time) met with EMS and krishna Pillai. Sundarayya and ghate visited kerala several times and met with the CSP leaders there. The contacts were facilitated through the national meetings of the Congress, CSP and All india kisan Sabha.

 

in 1936–1937, the cooperation between socialists and communists reached its peak. At the second congress of the CSP, held in Meerut in January 1936, a thesis was adopted which declared that there was a need to build ‘a united indian Socialist Party based on Marxism-Leninism’. in kerala the communists won control over the CSP, and for a brief period controlled the Congress there.2

 

While the Congress in kerala had a distinct leftward tilt, in Tamil nadu it was virtually under the conservative leadership of stalwarts such as C. Rajagopalachari and S. Satyamurti.

 

Thiruvarur became a microcosm of the play of these multiple forces. Smitten by Periyar’s radicalism and Annadurai’s eloquence, karunanidhi began devouring the entire oeuvre of Dravidian literature. Periyar had already published the Tamil version of The Communist Manifesto in 1937; a number of serious political publications were being published from various parts of the state. Periyar’s Kudiarasu (The Republic) was the key vehicle for dissemination as well as articulating new ideas and planning political mobilization towards an egalitarian society.3

 

While Muthuvelar and Anjugam were rejoicing at their son’s tireless learning, little did they realize what he was reading about. Textbooks were last on karunanidhi’s reading list. The extensive literature in politics was revelatory for young karunanidhi. For the first time, he realized that he too had two priceless possessions—his oratory and his pen. His first public speech was a clear pointer. it was a school competition. And karunanidhi decided to make a mark. He looked at some of the redeeming features of the so-called villains within Hindu mythology. karunanidhi spoke at length about the friendship between karna and Duryodhana—a friendship that cut across both caste and class.

 

The speech was well-received, and the teachers developed a new respect for their wayward student. But, what they did not know was the effort that went behind this oratory. karunanidhi worked on the text of the speech for nearly a week; rehearsed the speech frequently before the mirror; changed the words, similes and metaphors to get the rhythm that would alter the art of public speaking in Tamil forever.

 

He also created his own publication—Maanavanesan (Friend of students). A handwritten fortnightly of eight pages in demy size that dealt with a range of issues—from questioning orthodoxy to exploring the poetics of early Tamil. He and his friends would make about fifty copies of the magazine and circulate it for a modest fee that managed to just cover the cost of the paper. Years later, when i met him at Murasoli along with Kungumam editor Paavai Chandran for a short interview for the Illustrated Weekly of India, karunanidhi said the handwritten journal was a great learning experience. ‘We could not afford to make any spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. A single mistake meant rewriting fifty copies. The sheer labour of correcting made me write a very clean first draft, without any corrections or overwriting,’ he recalled. He also took pains to mail a copy of the magazine to the leaders of the Self-Respect Movement.

 

But not all of karunanidhi’s icons were happy with the handwritten magazine. Bharathidasan, the well-known poet and a life-long supporter of the Dravidian Movement and karunanidhi, called it a waste of time and effort. He told karunanidhi: ‘The madness of expecting changes from handwritten publications can only be compared to the madness in thinking that development will happen due to spinning charkhas.’

 

Muthuvel Karunanidhi was ardent as a social reformer and unrelenting as an opposition leader. To read more about him, his life and his work, get your copy of Karunanidhi: A Life.

Success stories of people with diabetes

Making Excellence a Habit is a behind-the-scenes account of a person honoured internationally for delivering path-breaking care to hundreds of thousands of people with diabetes. While hard work, passion and focus emerge as winning lessons, delicate and tender learnings from Dr Mohan’s life, such as empathy or spirituality, are not forgotten.

Here is an excerpt from the book that talks about success stories of people with diabetes.

 

Front cover of Making Excellence A Habit
Making Excellence A Habit || Dr V. Mohan

Many people with diabetes believe that because of their illness, they cannot achieve their ambitions. Of the two most common forms of diabetes, type 2 and type 1, the former can be treated with tablets, diet and exercise, although some individuals may need insulin at some point in their life. Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, is a more severe form of the disorder where insulin injections are needed from the beginning, and often several times a day, in order to maintain good health. I have seen that when people develop type 1 diabetes (or even type 2 diabetes, for that matter), they often tend to give up. Their family also thinks that they are doomed to a life of mediocrity, devoid of any ambitions or success.

 

Doctors, too, unknowingly, reinforce this mindset. We were taught as students that if somebody is fifty years old and has had diabetes for twenty years, their arteries and blood vessels would be seventy years old. We therefore recognize what’s referred to as the ‘chronological age’, which is the actual age of the patient, and the ‘biological age’, which is the age of the arteries. In the case of people with diabetes, almost every study has shown that diabetes decreases the lifespan of an individual. Statistics show that in both men and women between seven to eight years of life are lost due to diabetes. Currently, the average lifespan of an Indian is sixty- seven years for males and sixty-nine years for females. Hence, for Indians with diabetes, one would expect that the average lifespan would be around sixty years for both males and females. By this calculation, one would assume that it would be almost impossible to find an elderly person with diabetes in India. Only 0.001 per cent of India’s population today are nonagenarians, that is aged ninety years or above. Hence, finding a ninety-year-old person with diabetes in India would be an absolutely rarity.

 

While these statistics are well established, they’re not necessarily true, and moreover, there are a lot of exceptions to the rule. Over the last few years, we have been noticing at our centre that our patients with diabetes, presumably due to better control, are living longer and longer. In 2013, I published a paper to show that patients with type 2 diabetes could live for forty or fifty years despite their diabetes. This paper was published in the prestigious American journal Diabetes Care and became a landmark paper. My colleagues and I were pleased that we as Indians were the first to report on the long-term survival of patients with type 2 diabetes.

 

After we had submitted the paper, Dr William Cefalu, then the editor of Diabetes Care, visited me in Chennai. Dr Cefalu told me that he was delighted to receive our paper and wanted to learn more about the survival among people with type 2 diabetes. Dr Cefalu then suggested that we have, as a control group, patients who were ‘non-survivors’, that is, had not survived for forty years. I mentioned to him that this would take time, as we would have to painstakingly match the ‘survivors’ and ‘non-survivors’ from our large electronic records. He gave us additional time to do it, and once we were done, we submitted the paper again to the journal. The paper was an instant hit—and was the first in the world to demonstrate the long-term survival of patients with type 2 diabetes of more than forty years duration.

 

In fact, when I received the Harold Rifkin Award for Distinguished International Service in the Cause of Diabetes from the American Diabetes Association, Dr Cefalu was present at the ceremony. I walked up to him and asked him whether he remembered me. Dr Cefalu smiled and said, ‘Why do you think you are receiving this award?’ By then, Dr Cefalu was the chief scientific officer of the association and, despite his high position, he hadn’t forgotten my paper in his journal. ‘That paper of yours was definitely one of the highlights of your career,’ he said. I agreed. I was humbled to receive the award, and even more so because I was the first diabetologist from India to have been chosen for the award.

 

However, in that study we did not take the age of the patients into consideration—only the duration of diabetes. Only recently have we started looking at our electronic medical records again to see how many patients lived very long lives. This time, our study showed that 325 of our patients with type 2 diabetes had survived beyond ninety years of age. This meant that if one applied the formula taught by our teachers, the biological age of these patients was unbelievably long. By now, I have several patients who have crossed ninety-five years of age and are approaching their hundredth birthday. I have also seen my first patient with diabetes cross the coveted hundred-year birth-anniversary mark. This man was the former vice chancellor of two universities and has had diabetes for almost sixty years. This means his biological age would be 160 years!

 

To understand the fundamentals of what makes a person achieve meaningful success, get your copy of Dr Mohan’s Making Excellence A Habit

The tense borders of the subcontinent

Is India in a position to focus on its foreign policy, or does it have more pressing domestic matters at hand? In this excerpt from his book Flying Blind, Mohamed Zeeshan takes a look at the relationship between India and South Asia.

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Welcome to the world’s most fearsome neighbourhood. It hosts two nuclear-armed residents, has seen civil wars in at least three countries, and houses the world’s oldest, earliest and longest- running United Nations military observer mission. There is a third nuclear power just outside the door, and one of those civil wars ran for as long as three decades. All this is while discounting other nearby countries (hint: Afghanistan) which have been ravaged by multilateral fighting and terrorism for decades.

South Asian countries rarely contain problems within their own borders. Over the years, the region has witnessed cross-border military action on numerous occasions on multiple fronts—from Afghanistan in the north-west to Sri Lanka in the south-east. Domestic troubles often have region-wide implications—and civil wars in one country have killed prime ministers in another. Domestic political interests in provinces of India have often compromised deals and agreements with neighbours. In 2011, India and Bangladesh tried to sign a water-sharing agreement, in a bid to put an end to the long-running dispute over the Teesta River that flows across the two countries. The deal was quickly thwarted by opposition from the state of West Bengal.

front cover Flying Blind
Flying Blind||Mohamed Zeeshan

Such difficulties have led South Asia to become the least integrated region in the world. In his 1914 poem titled ‘Mending Wall’, Robert Frost wrote, ‘Good fences make good neighbours.’ South Asia took him seriously. South Asia is one of the world’s fastest-growing regional economies, but that is not because of ties among its members: Trade between South Asian countries is a negligible 5 per cent of the total trade conducted by all South Asian countries (it was 3 per cent in 1990)—and represents just 2 per cent of South Asian GDP. Compare all this with the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in South East Asia: Trade within that region is a healthy 25 per cent of all trade by ASEAN countries—and represents more than 20 per cent of ASEAN GDP. With nearly all intra-ASEAN tariffs eliminated, trade grew from $68.7 billion in 1995 to $257 billion in 2017, according to the Asian Development Bank.

But this sort of heavy fencing makes South Asia a problem for India; indeed, it is so critical a problem that New Delhi’s plans for global leadership will fall flat if India does not win support in South Asia. Consider this the veto vote over Indian leadership. No global power ever rises if it is constantly putting out fires in its neighbourhood. And the bad news is that it is much easier for India to take action and gain influence as far as Nicaragua or New Zealand than it is to win over its neighbours.

In recent years, South Asia has increasingly become a distraction for India while it seeks to spread its reach further afield in the world. For little gain to anybody in the region, New Delhi’s resources of strategic thinking have been drained disproportionately by intractable challenges in the neighbourhood. With every country, there is a headline dispute to which everything else is often held hostage: In Sri Lanka, it is the rights of the Tamil minority and Indian Tamil fishermen; in Nepal, it is the rights of the Madhesi tribes which populate the Terai plains; in Bangladesh and Pakistan, it is the partitions and their many associated headaches. In all countries, there is of course the big white elephant: Chinese interference to counter-balance Indian hegemony.

Indian diplomats are often frustrated that South Asia is not well-integrated. All large neighbours are always treated as threats by default anywhere in the world. But economic interests often help boost at least economic integration. This is what China has managed to do in East Asia and South East Asia, despite long- running animosity in those regions towards Beijing and even explosive ongoing disputes. The Philippines, for instance, welcomes in Chinese investment on its railroads and highways, even as it locks horns with Beijing in an international tribunal over the South China Sea. Yet, in South Asia, even economic ties are scorned at suspiciously.

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Flying Blind is an essential read for anyone hoping to understand the multi-layered complexities of India, its relationship with the subcontinent, and its foreign policy.

 

 

The story of a tea-laborer and his path-breaking journey

If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.- Dr Martin Luther King, Jr

Bike Ambulance Dada, the authorised biography of Padma Shri awardee Karimul Hak, is the most inspiring and heart-warming biography you will read this year. It documents the extraordinary journey of a tea-garden worker who saved thousands of lives by starting a free bike-ambulance service from his village to the nearest hospital.

Here is an excerpt from Bike Ambulance Dada by Biswajit Jha titled A Bike Ambulance Takes Shape.

Front Cover Bike Ambulance Dada
Bike Ambulance Dada || Biswajit Jha

Now that Karimul had a bike, he was no longer dependent on his cycle to ferry a patient. The bike gave the patients a greater chance of survival by ensuring they got to the hospital quickly. Karimul, too, was under less pressure, physically and mentally; he could be more certain of patients getting timely medical attention, be they sick or injured, and riding a motorbike was far less physically taxing than cycling all the way with a passenger.

One day, in 2008, when Karimul was enjoying a cup of tea with some acquaintances at a tea shop in Kranti Bazaar, one of them, Babu Mohanta, suddenly cried out. The engrossing discussion on political affairs was halted abruptly. The small group sprang into action to find out the reason behind Mohanta’s shriek. Investigations revealed that a snake had bitten him just above the ankle. Karimul immediately made up his mind to identify the snake, as this would help the doctor decide on the course of treatment; it was imperative in such cases. He saw the snake but could not identify it. Thinking fast, he somehow caught the snake and put it in a small box so that he could carry it to the hospital. He applied a pressure bandage on the wound as well. With the help of those around them, Karimul got Mohanta tied to his back and asked a villager to ride pillion with him. Before starting out for Jalpaiguri Sadar Hospital, Karimul instructed the man to make sure that Mohanta did not fall sleep. The snake, carefully locked in the box, accompanied them to the hospital.

On the way, they met with a huge traffic jam on the bridge over the Teesta, just 5 kilometres from the hospital. The road was chock-a-block with vehicles stranded on the bridge, all trying to find a way out and, in the process, aggravating the situation. As Karimul zipped past the four- wheeled vehicles, he saw an ambulance stuck in the traffic. When he asked the ambulance driver for the patient’s details, he was told that the man had also been bitten by a snake, and they were heading for the same hospital as Karimul. Manoeuvring his much-smaller vehicle between the cars and moving towards the hospital with Mohanta, the soft-hearted Karimul felt sorry for the patient in the ‘proper’ ambulance, unable to get out.

Karimul soon reached the hospital. Once there, he showed the snake to the doctor, who was at first startled but then observed it intently for a few seconds before springing into action with the treatment.

After getting Mohanta admitted, Karimul went back to the bridge where they had seen the ambulance. He saw that the ambulance, along with other vehicles, was still there; the patient had, unfortunately, passed away.

After a couple of days, Babu Mohanta was released from the hospital. He was the first person bitten by a poisonous snake in the village to be saved—all because of Karimul’s timely intervention and bike ambulance service.

Before this incident, though Karimul had ignored the taunts of some of the villagers and had gone about ferrying patients to hospital, he had sometimes harboured misgivings that his bike ambulance was a poor substitute for the conventional ambulance. But that day, he realized that his bike ambulance was sometimes far more convenient than a standard ambulance. From then on, there was no looking back for him. His new-found confidence enthused him to serve people with increased passion.

After he was awarded the Padma Shri, the Navayuvak Brindal Club, Siliguri, donated to him an ambulance that he used for some months. But the traditional ambulance not only consumed more fuel, it was also rather difficult to drive it to remote and far-flung areas. After some weeks, he stopped using that ambulance; though it is still with him, he doesn’t use it. Instead, he now has three bike ambulances at home; one is used by his elder son, Raju, another by his younger son, Rajesh, while Karimul himself mostly uses the bike ambulance donated by Bajaj Auto, which has an attached carrier for patients.

Thanks to Karimul Hak’s unique initiative, the bike ambulance has become popular in rural areas of India. Inspired by him, some social workers, as well as some NGOs, have started this service too, thereby saving thousands of lives in far-off areas of the country.

While Karimul has saved many lives, he deeply regrets not being able to save some. Still, he derives immense satisfaction from the fact that a person like him, with a paltry income and limited capacity, has made a difference in the lives of so many people. Relatives and family members of those who died en route to the hospital, or even after reaching the hospital, at least know that they, through Karimul, tried their best to save their loved one. This is a noteworthy achievement for Karimul, who dreams of a day when lack of medical treatment will not be the reason for someone’s death.

Bike Ambulance Dada is a must-read today as it will inspire us to do and be better in our lives.

A brief journey across 5000 years of the making of a civilization

Indian civilization is an idea, a reality, an enigma. In the riveting INDIANS: A Brief History of a Civilization, Namit Arora takes us on an unforgettable journey through 5000 years of history, reimagining in rich detail the social and cultural moorings of Indians through the ages.  Enlivening the narrative with the  idiosyncratic perspectives of the many famous foreign travellers who visited India over millennia, local folklore and his own inimitable insights, Arora guides us through  six iconic places-the Harappan city of Dholavira, the Ikshvaku capital at Nagarjunakonda, the Buddhist centre of learning at Nalanda, enigmatic Khajuraho, Vijayanagar at Hampi, and Varanasi.

Read on for a glimpse into the exciting churn of ideas, beliefs and values that unfolded among our ancestors through the centuries.

 

Front cover of INDIANS
INDIANS || NAMIT ARORA

 

Still, the lack of loud and clear indicators of war or standing armies, so commonplace in other civilizations, is a striking feature of the Harappan Civilization. Further, Harappan cities have not revealed monumental, or even humble, temple structures, a great puzzle for scholars. There aren’t any equivalents of the temples and pyramids of ancient Egypt or the ziggurats of Mesopotamia. Some say the Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro had a religious purpose but this is highly speculative. Or perhaps the Harappans built religious shrines and large sculptures from perishable materials like wood. In any case, while there are hints, we have no clear sense of Harappan gods and rituals, or whether they had any temples or priests. Scholars have offered divergent interpretations of seals with possible religious content: a handsome seven-inch sculpture of a man named ‘priest-king’, who could well have been an aristocrat; a seal named ‘proto-Shiva’ that depicts a multi-headed, seated figure in a yoga-like pose, one of ‘several other yogi images in the corpus of Mature Harappan materials’; another seal that shows a female (deity?) standing under a Bodhi tree with its heart-shaped leaves, a figure kneeling before her in supplication and seven standing figures watching them; other seals that depict mysterious objects and rituals before a unicorn; the swastika motif appears often; some female figurines have a paste-like substance along the middle parting of their hair; a stone object in the shape of a phallus has been identified; two terracotta male figurines have erections; a small terracotta object in Kalibangan resembles the familiar Shiva lingam. All this is very tantalizing. There can be little doubt about cultural continuities. Harappan beliefs clearly shaped later religions of the Axial Age in the subcontinent. Quite possibly, Indian ideas of meditation and even renunciation have Harappan origins. But it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions about this, or about what the Harappans themselves believed, at least until the script begins to speak. Scepticism is essential: The deciphered Mayan script revealed how wrong many scholars were about the beliefs they had attributed to the Mayans (such as being peaceful). The Harappans did not build monumental sculptures, such as of kings or gods, as did the Mesopotamians and the Egyptians. This doesn’t make them any less complex than others, writes Possehl, rather it’s an alternative way in which a civilization, with a ‘highly complex sociocultural system, has expressed itself’.  They did make fine miniature art, as in seals and beadwork. And while their figurines aren’t notable for their artisanship, they still evocatively depict their people ‘in great variety, with many poses: sitting in chairs, lying on beds, holding babies and animals, kneading bread, and other things that people do to round out their existence,’ writes Possehl. Animal puppets, in which a bull might shake its head or pull a cart, reveal a playful sense of humour, perhaps designed to amuse children. There are some fantasy creatures too, but ‘on the whole, the Indus peoples in their art, as in other aspects of their lives, come across as people with a practical bent, a tendency to deal with and represent the real world as they [and we] see it’. That said, what jumps out as the Harappans’ greatest monumental work is the city itself, a marvel of urban design and engineering, city- wide sanitation systems that include the first indoor toilets in the world and sophisticated water management. ‘Probably not until later Roman times did people devise so many clever construction techniques to deal with comforts and discomforts related to water.’ They also excelled at shipbuilding and long-distance trade—another reason to think that they had centralized authority and bureaucracy to mobilize labour, develop trading networks and organize long-distance shipping expeditions. Harappan cities of the mature period (2600–1900 bce) had some walled neighbourhoods with larger buildings and better provisions, suggesting that an elite class resided there. But not everyone agrees. There is ‘no justification’ or archaeological support for this presumption, says archaeologist Jonathan Mark Kenoyer. In fact, in certain stages, the ‘citadels’ in Dholavira and Mohenjo-Daro were hubs of artisanal– industrial activity. There is no evidence of royal palaces; homes differ in size and provisions but not by much. Sanitation and water wells were available to all. Based on the bones of the dead, the rich and the poor seem to have enjoyed similar access to nutrition. Their burials too display a narrow range in their sizes and types of funerary objects. However, as noted earlier, burial practices may have varied across individuals, or social groups. That the Harappans had a social social class hierarchy is clear enough. What’s remarkable is that this hierarchy seems so much flatter than in other ancient (or modern) civilizations.

Get your copy now for a truly epic exploration of the cultural behemoths that continue to shape ‘INDIANS’ today https://www.amazon.in/Indians-History-Civilization-Namit-Arora/dp/0670090433

Why design thinking is need of the hour?

Creative problem-solving is at the heart of innovation, and some of the world’s most innovative companies are very systematic in following this approach. Pioneered by IDEO and Stanford d.school, design thinking is one such approach that draws inspiration from the realm of product design. This book attempts to offer a practitioner’s perspective on how the tenets, methods and discipline of design thinking can be applied across a range of domains, including to everyday problems, and help us become expert problem-solvers through the use of the appropriate toolsets, skill sets and mindsets.

Here’s an excerpt from the book which elucidates why design thinking deserves to be adopted more seriously and pervasively.

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Whether you are buying a product or hiring a service, at the end of the day you are consuming an experience, and in this experience economy, a lot more of your senses are involved. The traditional products have become more like services, and services have become experiences. In today’s marketplace, customers are shifting from passive consumption to active participation. Memorable experiences are not scripted by leaders or marketing departments but are delivered at the moment of truth by the customer-facing executives. And such experiences must be crafted and delivered with the same precision as the products. We are all seeking authentic experiences and even the most mundane task can be made into a cherishable experience. Such authentic experiences often take shape by allowing for spontaneity, and, paradoxically, this spontaneity must be designed beforehand, and technology is only a small part of that desirable experience.

Do you wonder why people spend such huge amounts to attend TED Talks, when all of these are available for free on the Internet? Because people want to ‘experience’ being in the company of thinkers and doers and get inspired. That is the same reason that thousands of Indians queue up every summer to watch Indian Premier League matches in their cities. Many of them travel across cities, stand in lines for well over four hours, often in scorching heat, when they could have watched their favourite players from the comfort of their living rooms. They seek genuine experiences, and they are ready to pay anything, risk anything to seek that involvement.

front cover of Design Your Thinking
Design Your Thinking || Pavan Soni

 

People, rich and poor, are going beyond amassing stuff to seeking experiences, and that is visible among a wide cross section in India and in several other emerging economies. Abhijit Banerjee, co-recipient of the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics, notes, ‘Generally, it is clear that things that make life less boring are a priority for the poor.’6 He offers a counterintuitive explanation of why the poor spend more on festivities, marriages and other social functions, even if they are often deprived of material goods, such as televisions, bicycles or radios. Another explanation is to do with social equity and collateral, but equally, there is the desire to seek an experience and make life less boring.

Is it possible to infuse experience through design in the most commoditized and undifferentiated products? Yes, and the Indian watch brand Titan has made an empire doing so.

In December 1987, when Titan opened its first retail outlet at Bangalore’s Safina Plaza, watches were perceived as functional products, dominated by HMT Watches and Allwyn Watches and a few international brands whose watches were smuggled into the country. It was Titan that made us think about watches as pieces of adornment and even collectables. (The same was done later for jewellery, accessories, perfumes and, more recently, sarees.) Since its formative days, Titan has paid special attention to how its watches are displayed and to the overall buying experience. Notwithstanding the award-winning designs of its watches, the company’s focus has largely been on designing the buying and gifting experiences. Not just these, Titan has also invested in the product repair experience, setting up repair centres within showrooms to win customers’ trust.

On how Titan went about improving customer experience, Bhaskar Bhat, the company’s former MD, notes, ‘Formalising an informal sector and transforming it for the benefit of the consumer is what we have done best. We are sort of bringing order from disorder. We create elevating experiences for the customers.’7 As Titan demonstrates, designing experiences could be an enduring competitive advantage.

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Time for some tough questions with Deepak Ramola

50 Toughest Questions of Life invites people to have a conversation about themselves with themselves. Author Deepak Ramola’s quest began after he was inspired by the life lesson of a young girl who said, ‘Life is not about giving easy answers, but answering tough questions.’

Today we ask him some questions, to understand him and his journey a little bit better.

At what point did you decide to write a book with your experiences?

Last year, in February, while standing at the self-help section of a bookstore, I had an epiphany that most books were full of answers. I was curious to find out how people would respond to a book of questions. I had so many of them documented over the years, I started to give them shape and context for the book. I started writing in school for debates competitions and school magazine, I guess the seeds were sown there.

What is your favorite part about this book, and what was the most challenging question for you?

Front Cover 50 Toughest Questions of Life
50 Toughest Questions of Life || Deepak Ramola

Favorite part:

The stories that follow each question, encouraging people to put themselves at the centre of their life without guilt has been my goal with the book. I really love the story about the visually impaired girl who talks about the advantage of being blind along with the Mexican stories about the two trees of harm and healing.

Challenging part:

To keep it simple and honest. I was cautious to never over-impose my answers on to the readers but nudge them just enough to come up with their own. I had to go through a personal emotional roller-coaster with each of the 50 questions. Particularly reflecting on my toughest goodbye, how can someone make me feel loved was hard.

You started with around 500 questions, how did you come down to 50?

I followed my instinct on what seemed difficult to me and then, how people over the years responded to certain questions. I shuffled the list quite a bit with each draft. There are so many questions that I am yet to answer for myself, so I pulled them out in hope for a sequel to this book. Lastly, these 50 questions I feel are the ones we all need to answer collectively as the human race to be more kind and empathetic.

Who were the people that inspired these questions?

My mother never went to school but treated life as her classroom was a big inspiration for me growing up. Many questions emerged from our conversations. She taught me that literacy and education were two separate things and if we ask the right questions, we can educate ourselves beyond the infrastructure of curriculums. Apart from that Oprah Winfrey. Maya Angelou. Vishnu Kaushal. My team at Project FUEL. Interactions with Syrian refugees. My sister Deepika. And people I have learnt from and taught over the last 11 years. David Cooperrider once said, “We live in the world our questions create.”

What was the first question you ever wrote? And what is your next question going to be?

First question:

How would you introduce yourself with love?

Next question:

Have you ever given up on something beautiful and why?