Tag Archives: Book Lovers

Not Just an Accountant: The Diary of the Nation’s Conscience Keeper, by Vinod Rai

Book Review:

 Rating: 7/10

not-just-an-accountantIndia faced public descent and dissidence in the last few years of the previous government, ultimately leading into the change in government with a thumping public mandate. The underlying cause was not the regular question of Roti, Kapda aur Makaan (food, clothing and shelter), but this time it was about corruption, scandals and failure of decision-making. And that was a paradigm shift in the way elections happened in India. This book is about the one agency that provided the public with the educated assessment of the integrity of the application of public funds. And more than that, it’s about the individual who contributed to usher in a new era for this agency – the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

Vinod Rai, the man behind the steering wheel, has been considered one of the most effective CAGs that India has seen since independence, and it’s not without a reason. He might not be a great story-teller and might not know the tricks of sensationalization, but he is definitely good with presenting the chronology of the facts that he lays down in the book. He has elaborated on five of the biggest audits conducted in his tenure, which turned out to be the most controversial as well, eventually bringing down the mighty Congress government of 10 years.

While the cases of 2G scam and Coal-gate scam highlighted the compulsions of turning blind eye in a coalition government, those of Commonwealth Games, allocation of oil fields and the failure of Air India simply highlighted the ineffectiveness and sheer moral corruption of the government of the day. In my view, Rai withstood immense pressure and showed great courage in going ahead with these audits in a period when accountability was being put aside to pave way for ‘crony capitalism’. Rai has articulated his thoughts very clearly and provided irrefutable evidence in the book for his claims, making it an interesting read.

One thing though that I found missing in the book was the answer to a key question: Why were all the audits conducted for a period that began after 2004? I am a big AB Vajpayee fan, but I would have been happier to hear from Vinod Rai that these issues (eventually leading to scams) were handled much better in NDA era of 1999 to 2004. The 2G spectrum, coal mines allocation, Air India losses, etc. were long-standing issues faced by India that stayed as-it-is during NDA regime as well. After reading the book, I cannot be confident that Rai was truly an unbiased auditor who was merely doing his job.

Nevertheless, this book is a good read and I would recommend this to a reader who wants to understand the factors that changed the political battlegrounds in India.

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 P.S.: The pictures have been borrowed from internet with thanks to the owner of this picture.

The five people you meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom

Book Review

Rating: 6/10

MitchAlbom_TheFivePeopleYouMeetInHeavenSuch high expectations from the book and it turns out to be the story of someone who did not have any motivation in his life; or any commitment for that matter. I picked this book thinking it will provide me some nice insights into life, since I’ve been facing an early onset of mid-life crisis at a relatively early age of 31. But as it turns out, I was better without reading this book.

This is essentially the story of an old man – Eddie – who works at a local fun park and dies while saving a young girl in an unfortunate accident on one of the rides in the park. The author has hypothesised that though human beings live their own lives, independent of each other, but we are all linked together, and no story is just one’s own. So, in line with that hypothesis, Eddie (or rather his soul) meets a series of people (or rather souls) before heading towards the heaven.

Each of those souls has been linked to Eddie when they were alive, and had a story to tell to Eddie. And that’s where I have my issues with this book. All those storied failed to impress me with their content, intent and message. The stories do talk about the value of relationships in bits and pieces, but that’s about it. It just goes on to prove that the life that Eddie spent on earth was pointless and hapless, and that he could have done much better.

I would recommend this book to those who love finishing books in a day’s time and moving on without taking away much. It can be a good read if you are not expecting any outcomes or any messages from it. I’d give it a 6/10.

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P.S.: The pictures have been borrowed from internet with thanks to the owner of this picture.

Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle, by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob

Book Review

Rating: 8/10

amritsar-mrs-gandhis-last-battle-pb-original-imae24asxnqz3uafI was born in October 1984, and those who know a little about Punjab and about India will know that it was the month when Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India, was murdered by two of her guards – Sikh guards – apparently to avenge the infamous Operation Blue Star. I have grown up in the Punjab of those times when for the first few years of my life, the state was under President’s Rule. There were several incidents that I’ve heard from family and friends who were either taken off buses to be harassed or had taken to wearing turbans to avoid trouble.

Mark Tully and Satish Jacob, in their masterpiece – Amritsar: Mrs Gandhi’s Last Battle – have given a very objective view on the background of this Punjab where my contemporaries and I grew up. Being BBC correspondents themselves that time, both Tully and Jacob had witnessed the Punjab story unfold in person. This book is an intriguing take on the events (if you may call them so) that took place in Punjab right after Indira Gandhi was ousted by the JP movement right up till the Army attack on the revered Golden Temple/Akal Takht complex in the infamous Operation Blue Star.

The book starts with building a context around the Sikhs and their grievances with the Government of India, which were later to become the major point of contention in the entire conflict. The book then dwells into the now-public theories of the creation, support and rise of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale facilitated tacitly by none other than Sanjay Gandhi and Giani Zail Singh. For the first time, I was able to understand the political compulsions of the Akali trio of Harchand Singh Longowal, Gurcharan Singh Tohra and Prakash Singh Badal in this disastrous turn of events, and how they tried to manipulate, only to fail, the increasing alignment of Punjab’s Sikhs to Sant Bhindranwale. But more than everything else, the book provides immense clarity and objectivity to the whole decade that I regard as the lost decade for Punjab – once regarded as the most prosperous state in India.

This book, written in 1985, provides a full account of most of the incidents, events and circumstances of those times, leading up to the Operation Blue Star and subsequently Mrs Gandhi’s assassination. I would have liked a little more coverage on two of the key characters in this story – Indira Gandhi and Prakash Singh Badal. While the book mentions a lot about Gandhi, it doesn’t explain the reasons why she kept rejecting the negotiated agreements between Centre Government and the Akalis, that could easily have prevented the progress of terrorism in Punjab. The authors also haven’t talked much about Badal in the book, which I know from my elders, had very clear political ambitions and was the primary reason why Zail Singh created THE Sant Bhindranwale in the first place.

I will summarise this review by saying that this book is an interesting and intriguing take on what conspired in Punjab about three decades back that changed Punjab forever. I will strongly recommend this book to the Punjabis of my generation in particular to understand where all the parties falter and how Punjab found itself caught in the situation that left permanent scars in its illustrious history.

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P.S.: The pictures have been borrowed from internet with thanks to the owner of this picture.

And The Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini

Book Review

Rating: 8/10

and-the-mountains-echoedKhaled Hosseini is turning out to be my favourite all-time author, thanks to his innovative storytelling style and the honesty in his stories. I have been a big fan of his first two books – The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns – and I was excited when I first knew that his third book was about to release. And I must say it was a great experience reading this book and I was very happy that I picked this book over others in my To-Read list.

This story does not have a lead character like I would have expected, but it’s even more exciting because of the multiple lead characters that it has. This is a story about a family whose three children have been separated by the conditions in Afghanistan and have lived completely different lives in the different parts of the world. While the eldest brother – Abdullah – has moved outside of Afghanistan and grown up with his daughter and wife, the sister – Pari – grew up in Paris with a lady whom she always thought to be her mother. The youngest stepbrother, Iqbal, got lost trying to make his living shuttling between the refugee camps of Pakistan and his parental village of Shadbagh in Afghanistan.

Khaled has told the same story from various perspectives – the perspective of every character in the story. This new style makes sure that you never lose the plot of the story and are always engaged to the story-line across the book. The story transports you very close to the Afghanistan that was marred by the constant fighting, attacks and destruction over decades; to the Afghanistan where the families were separated my miles, dollars and diseases.

I would completely recommend this book to anyone who is looking to read an honest take on the Afghanistan after years of war.

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