Category: Books, movies and places


Silent Spring

Book: Silent Spring
Author: Rachel Carson
Introduction by: Linda Lear
Afterword by: Edward O Wilson
First published: 1962 by Rachel Carson
Pages: 378
Price: $14.95 (US)    $19.95 (Canadian)
 

The trees have withered, the stream has run dry and the birds do not chirp anymore. When it is time for spring there is a deathly silence. This is how Rachel Carson introduces us to our world in her book, one where pollutants reign supreme and nature chokes to death.

Carson in the first chapter of the book itself brings us face to face with the magnitude of the problem we are facing and what the repercussions could be. The language is straight and simple. The result is equally impactful.

Silent Spring was written by Carson when she was fighting Cancer in the early 1960’s. Published in 1962 in America the book got instant public recognition yet detractors came down heavily on it. Two things went against it- First was that it was written by a woman and thus 50 years back that meant that its credibility was doubtful. Second and a much more important factor was that Carson had dared to take on pharmaceutical companies head on in her book.

She did not mince her words. She did not have to as all her statements are backed by data that is in the public domain and the environmental changes had certainly not escaped notice. Silent Spring puts the facts in a clear and crisp language which makes it all the more appealing to the reader.

By the time you reach the end of the book you process the acute seriousness of the situation and realize just how much our planet has been damaged. Then reality hits you and you wake up to the fact that Carson wrote Silent Spring in the 60’s. Half a century has passed and things have deteriorated further.

She does not preach rather she presents case study. All the case studies are from America but they apply just as well to any other country. She cites incidents like the anti malarial spraying in Java by the World Health Organisation that led to the large-scale killing of the cats as the composition of the spray was not suited to animals.

Carson blames the environmental damage squarely on governmental agencies and pharmaceutical companies that manipulate information to build public opinion in favour of their products. Though she does not say it that way but in essence it is profit-making at the risk of long-term irreversible ecological damage. Carson reiterates repeatedly that the masses are generally not aware of what kind of toxins are released in the atmosphere in the name of pesticides and fertilizers, as according to her, if they knew the absolute truth they would be up in arms against these chemicals as well.

In spite of being an expert herself she repeatedly quotes statements made by well-known researchers and heads of research institutes- all of them men. She distances her writing from herself and portrays the book as a compilation of information that was well-known but was just not linked together. She also detests form using any scientific term rather preferring to stick to simplified explanations of most of the issues.

An important consequence of the popularity of the book was that DDT was banned across United States of America. However the book does not revolve around DDT. Silent Spring takes a holistic view of nature and links small incidents with the overall picture well. The reader gets a sense of the extensive damage on the global scale that all the minor changes are leading to something that can be credited to Carson’s lucid writing style.

Silent Spring does not just point out the problems but gives solutions too. In each chapter as Carson criticizes the prevalent methods she also points out to alternatives that were looked over. She cites the example of how Klamath weed was controlled in the United States of America by simply importing a plant-eating moth after millions of dollars were spent in trying to weed it out at first.

Though she feels deeply for the environment and that comes through in Silent Spring, her writing is not cynical while her criticisms are constructive. She does not always paint the authorities as evil but at times merely as people who have severely mismanaged situations.

For a book on science it is extremely well written keeping mainstream audiences in mind. The fact that Silent Spring was her fourth book explains why the writing is so polished.

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Djinns of Eidgah

Direction: Richard Twynam
Writer: Abhishek Majumdar
Cast: Adhir Bhat, Ali Fazal, Ankur Vikal, Divyang Thakkar, Faezeh Jalali, Karan Pandit, Meher Achari-Dar, Neil Bhoopalam, Rajit Kapur
Sound: Nadir Khan

There are times when giving a standing ovation seems to be the least you can do to express what you feel towards a play. Djinns of Eidgah was one such experience. Djinns of Eidgah tugs at your heart strings and you witness firsthand the brutality and futility of violence in your very own backyard called ‘Kashmir’.

Being a novice to theatre, Djinns of Eidgah appealed to the viewer in me who cared of a good narrative, knowing precious little about the art of theatre.

The plot revolves around individuals who are each fighting an inner demon, Djinn being a metaphor for all that they fear. Set in Kashmir the play captures the psyche of individuals raised in an atmosphere of dread.

There is Dr Baig, a man who reveres peace but whose only son chooses to be a militant. There is Bilal, a 20-year old who wants to do well in his football trials so that he can escape the mayhem that living in Kashmir entails taking sister Ashrafi along with him. Ashrafi who though a 14-year old finds her mind acting as a 9 year old, shocked by the incident of her father dying in her lap. She talks to her doll, her confidante, the one person who will not let her down.

Then there is the outsider’s perspective. Two Indian army soldiers, one who acts as the voice of reason and another whose fear of the mob propels him to do despicable things to those he has been sent to ‘protect’. The play does not paint a character into black and white, something that no human being is. Each character is flawed in his or her own way.

Though dealing with an intense subject, the interactions between the characters is full of energy supported by an excellent cast. The scenes between Bilal and his sister Ashrafi, be it him telling her a story or trying to reason with her, make you fervently wish that they have their happy ending.

Kashmir has become synonymous with the sound of bullets and imbibing that experience in a play is a challenge that the sound engineer Nadir Khan takes on head on and succeeds brilliantly. Several times during the play you would find your self jumping out of the seat and getting an eerie sense of being in the middle of all the action.

As one watches the play one wonders how we can talk about the democratic ideals in one part of the country while it remains unattainable to a citizen in another part. Is violence the only solution to contain an agitation borne out of the deepest of misery?

Giving standing ovation seemed to be a simpler solution than seeking answers to these complex questions.


You’ll hear a lot of applause in your life, fellas, but none will mean more to you than that applause – from your peers.

I hate tennis.

This is what one of the world’s greatest tennis player repeats page after page in his autobiography aptly named ‘OPEN’. If you are a fan who has followed him throughout his eventful career you might find it hard to believe. If you are a reader like me who turns to the book with out any preconceived notions then the statement resonates in every page of the book.

Pushed to be the world number 1 by his father from a very young age, Agassi was the tennis prodigy that he never wanted to be. He resented the game, hated it but found him elf with out any choice but to continue playing.

If you are a tennis aficionado then you will find wading through the book pure delight. However even if you are not a person who follows tennis the book will catch you by surprise on more than one occasion. Agassi is what he claims in the title, OPEN. He bares his psyche before every match for the reader. He deconstructs his mind for us and gives us glimpse of how lonely life as a tennis player can get on the tour. The extreme highs and lows that he has been through, the blunders and phases of depression, all are retold.

The only place Agassi holds back is when he is speaking about the women in his life. At no point does he go into a territory that is trashy. He treats chapters involving his girlfriends and ex wife Brooke Shields with utmost respect. In fact if anything, Agassi seems to be the hardest on himself throughout the course of his professional and personal life.

He is considered to be one of the most loved tennis players and yet  was regularly on the receiving end of scathing criticism from the press. Agassi’s flamboyance, his image in media is very different from the individual that he is in real life.

He comes across as vulnerable but more importantly normal. His life has extreme highs and lows, typical of a tennis player’s life. Yet what sets him apart is his resolve to fight back even though he hates the game as much as he does.

For the eternal romantics like me, OPEN is a first hand account of Andre Agassi’s journey that made him cross paths with the greatest woman tennis player ever; Steffi Graf. The rest as they say is history.

It is ironic. It is an eye opener. It is a revelation.

Whether you are a tennis fan or not the book will grip you.

Flipkart

As an administrator Ashoka understood what all cultures have always known yet struggled to implement.

Prosperity goes hand in hand with peace 

Throughout the ancient and modern times, the countries that have witnessed stable geo-political situations have prospered. You cannot be in the midst of simmering tensions and war like state and expect trade and commerce to flourish. Also, a peaceful society gives the residents a sense of safety and belonging which in turn inspires them to work harder.

Ashoka’s act of embracing Buddhism turned out to be a political masterstroke because of this reason in particular. He understood that he needed to have peace reign in his empire and Vedic Hinduism was anything but peaceful with its brutal varna system where humans belonging to the so called lower castes were treated worse than animals.

Ashoka turned to Buddhism knowing that his lead will motivate a huge chunk of the people in his empire to turn to Buddhism and embrace a life where every life form is treated equally. His first wife Devi who was a Buddhist is said to have had a major influence in Ashoka being exposed to the religion.

It was a huge step towards an egalitarian society, one that even Dr B R Ambedkar turned to in more recent times. Both of them had similar motivations, one that aspired to build a progressive and content society.

The varna system was not just restrictive but inhuman in its more serious forms. It had turned our society into a narrow minded one which shunned every sign of progress, the exact opposite of what the system was meant to do when written and codified by Manu.

Maybe the leaders of today can take a page out of the way these leaders instilled pride in their subjects. Or may be it would not work today.

That’s the thing about history. What worked in one period might just not work at another because the social dynamics are vastly different. Also with today’s age of instant communication you can never be sure about how one thing will impact another.

A cricket match is directly proportional to the low voter turn out during elections. Years back when Ramayana and Mahabharata were broadcasted for the first time, it meant empty streets. What I am trying to say is that I might wax eloquent about the kind of administrator Ashoka was but I will not make the mistake of ignoring the fact that the age was totally different. The country that India was then and is now are two vastly differing worlds. It however still does not stop me from trying to wade through the thick 1000 page book on him as I am still determined to read till the very last word.

I am currently wading through a humungous hardback edition of a book on Ashoka which is over 1000 pages. I started reading it over six months back while I was working. It has been a while since I moved to Chennai to pursue my post graduation but I am yet to finish that book. This does not mean that it is boring, it is just so hugeee to even a voracious reader like me that I am still 500 pages away from completing it.

Anyway what I wanted to talk about is not so superficial as the size of a book.

I am still not certain about my religious beliefs in spite of being in my early 20s. Though I was born a Hindu, going to a Catholic school with a church and masses to attend had left me with a fascination for Christianity. To this already simmering mixture, the third ingredient, Arya Samaj was added. When I switched schools in secondary, I joined DAV (Dayanand Anglo Vedic) where for the first time in my life I was exposed to more Hinduism. It is ironic that being a Hindu I did not even know the Gayatri Mantra but with both parents working, Sundays were all about catching up and religion was the last topic one would discuss with a growing child. So it was in school that I did everything from singing bhajans to being exposed to Moral Science lectures where the Arya Samaj and its philosophies were introduced to us.

I went with the flow and read a lot. What I liked about Arya Samaj were their forward thinking ideals. It is not a separate religion of course, just a group of people who believed that Hinduism has to be rid of evils like caste system and the practice of untouchability. It was formed in the late 1800s as an answer to those Hindus who wanted to study science and be more liberal, yet retain their religious identity. Here is where Ashoka comes in. How? I’ll explain.

When Ashoka ascended to the throne o f the Mauryan Empire, Vedic Hinduism was at its peak. Vedic I say because it was a very different version of modern Hinduism. Rituals were prescribed as a solution for all problems. The religion was at its brutal best with religious sacrifices being the norm. Animals and humans alike were ruthlessly slaughtered to please the God. Society followed the varna system strictly. It was in this society that Ashoka threw his weight behind Buddhism just like Arya Samaj threw its weight behind revisiting Vedas to purge Hinduism of its ills. Now you see the parallel?

But why would a Mauryan prince bother with religion?

He did so to be a better leader and consolidate his reach. His legacy has not faded away even 2000 years after his death. He still remains the only ruler to have ruled an area that stretched from modern day Afghanistan in the West to present Bengal.

What is it as a ruler that he saw which aroused his interest in religion as a tool of control for such a vast and diverse empire? Also why the fascination with Buddhism in particular?

As a ruler Ashoka understood one fact…


My Experiments with Truth

                                     My experiments with Truth- M K Gandhi

When I picked up the book I expected it to be a boring autobiography filled with the same details that we were fed with year after year during our school years. I couldn’t have been further away from the truth! The father of our Nation true to his form had caught me off guard.

In Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s own admission he beat up his wife, sampled non vegetarian food when young and turned down a doctor when the doctor wanted to administer his dying son the only medicine known that could save him- beef soup. Gandhi is candid about his flaws and under plays the action when he describes the incidents which have now become renowned as important historical events in our country’s consciousness. The choice of title is apt as throughout the course of his life Gandhi is trying out new methods that test his endurance. He calls them experiments.

Would you have revered him so much if you were told that Gandhi was a wife beater? I was shocked when I read his candid description of his father’s death. He admits that his lust for his wife robbed him of the opportunity of being by his father’s bedside in his dying moments. He beat his wife in his teens as he was away for extended periods of time for studies and was a jealous and possessive husband for the short durations that he spent at home, flying into a rage at the slightest incident.

Gandhi mellows considerably with age and by the time he reaches his late 30s his transformation into an almost saint like personality is complete. As a reader you grow to understand that he is at one level someone who is constantly trying out new things. He goes on a full nut diet, tries out extreme forms of fasting, all in the quest of understanding health and aspects related to it better. His evolution into a man geared for public service runs parallel to his increasingly distant relationship with his wife. Later on in the book he repeats many times of how much he loves his wife but that the nature of his love has changed considerably over time. He embraces abstinence and encourages others to do so as well though the motivation according to him was to limit the size of his growing family. He also wanted to experiment and see if he can live amidst material comforts and still remain disconnected with them.

This makes me wonder, if a woman would treat her husband in the same way as he treated his wife then would she have been revered in the similar fashion that Gandhi is? Why is it alright for a man to be irresponsible about his wife and kids’ welfare but the same behaviour by a woman is condemned. Doesn’t she have any say in the decision that impacts both of them? Is that fair on his part?

While I read the book my heart went out to Gandhi’s wife who gets no say in almost all his decisions. She is either a silent spectator or a weeping desolate woman. Over time though she emerges and becomes his pillar of support who looks up to her husband and revers him. All the while however she remains an utterly powerless individual who is always on the sidelines.

Gandhi’s children seem to occupy even less of his thoughts. In their initial years he is mostly away from them.when they are growing up he is keen on making them model children all the while giving a complete disregard to what they like. This is in complete contrast to Gandhi’s own personality which thrived on freedom of thought, speech and action. He did not follow what was taught to him, rather he at all points seeks more information to gain a complete mastery over the subject and then come to a conclusion.

To a book lover I would say that the autobiography will not always be a page turner and would demand your patience. It will however be a revelation and show you facets of Gandhi’s personality that you never knew existed. It is a good example to understand how far our history text books are from reality.

Screwed Nuts N Bolts

"An idle engineer's mind leads to a screwed up blog."- Anonymous