Book review: Chanakya’s Chant

Chanakya’s Chant is Ashwin  Sanghi’s second novel after The Rozabal Line. It revolves around the life of a Pandit who emerges as a modern day Chanakya.

The style is similar to his debut, linking modern events to those that occurred two millennia ago. We have seen this style many times, flipping between two parallel events – only here, the parallel events are from long ago.

A Pandit from Kanpur with financial banking from a merchant and manpower from a Muslim strongman manages to unite the people of the city and assume political power. He makes his disciple becomes the most powerful woman in the country, just as Chanakya enthroned Chandragupta Maurya. As he develops the plot, Sanghi touches upon many issues in modern India – religious friction, corruption and the like. He is clearly inspired by real world events such as the tussle between the Ambani brothers, cash for votes, the fodder scam and the 2G scam(yes, that one too!). There are several instances where the media is cleverly used by devious politicians – #MediaMafia, anyone?

The description of Uttar Pradesh, I cannot comment upon for  I have confined myself to Tamil Nadu most of my life. However, the unhygienic conditions and the slum might very well fit into any large town in India. One could draw parallels between the two central characters and the BSP in Uttar Pradesh too. A minor quibble I see is that Sanghi has portrayed the Keralite as talking English with a funny accent. He cannot be further from the truth here – I know many Keralites who have a neutral accent; I haven’t seen a person speak with the accent he writes. There are several quotes that are wrongly attributed to Chanakya, but the Acknowledgements & References section makes this clear.

I do not have a large appetite for historical thrillers, and so I cannot compare this work with many others. It might seem at the outset that Sanghi is developing into a desi Dan Brown, given his penchant for history. I hope we can expect a deviation from this genre in his future work.

There is a lot of gore – and not all of it is blood. There are several descriptions of coitus and mutilations that are not really necessary – just page filling material. There is too much profanity on show too. The book could have been shorter by a fifth, and even then I doubt it’d have been a gripping read. However, it is a pleasing way to pass a lazy Saturday afternoon. It is quite entertaining and the history is not as wrong as in many other in its genre. I was expecting better, especially after The Rozabal Line, but Sanghi has not disappointed either.

Plus: A decent plot, Nice real-life parallels, Enjoyable

Minus: Too much narrative  (which sometimes gets boring), Stereotyping

Rating: 7/10

Final Word: Good to read on a  Sunday after lunch

The Legend of Laxman

Every cricketer is defined by his own unique character. I have been fortunate to have seen in action, the grit of Steve Waugh, the technique of Rahul Dravid, the style of Brian Lara and Saurav Ganguly and the brutality of Matthew Hayden and Sanath Jayasuriya. But what elevates Laxman to another plane altogether is that he has three of those defining characteristics in abundance. Maybe that is why we do not have any word to exalt him, as we do with Master Blaster or The Wall.

The first time I saw him with interest was in the Eden Gardens test against the Aussies in 1998. He was opening with Sidhu, and scored a 95, in an innings where the top 6 scored fifties, with Azharuddin scoring an imperious century. Remember, this was the time before the emergence of new India: they still played with three spinners at home with Ganguly sharing new ball duty with Srinath.

After that, he remained in the shadows until the glorious 167 at Sydney. Scored at breathtaking pace, this is an innings I love to watch, although India surrendered for less than 250. Then came the mother of all monumental innings – that knock at Eden Gardens that gave birth to the legend of Laxman. Here was a man unperturbed by the situation or bowlers, heralding the arrival of a new fearless India.

His 89 at Port Elizabeth during Sehwag’s debut series was a match saving innings, although it was in the first innings – India folded for 201 and Laxman had a 9th wicket partnership of 80 with Kumble. This was the first of many rescue acts involving batsmen of lesser calibre, who were inspired by the calm and panache of the seemingly soft man at the other end.

He is like a prodigious student at the end of his school life – tough exams such as the JEE bring out the best in him, igniting his brilliant mind into overdrive; and lesser school exams are too boring for him to expend his energy. He rarely makes wild guesses, but relies on his intuition at times. Laxman rarely slogs or hits out, and relies on the good judgement of the tailenders batting with him.

There are times when the Twenty-20 loving Indian public question the inclusion of technically sound and more importantly, stubborn batsmen in place of the dashers. They’ll realise their folly if they think of one man: Laxman.

Wake up to the harsh reality

I’ve been reading, of late, the William Monk series by Anne Perry. The author’s portrayal of Victorian England is at once vivid and brutally real. The plot is also pretty good. The setting and her narrative might influence the reader to think that she’s inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie in equal measure. The protagonist is a police officer in nineteenth century England, who lost his memory after an accident. How he manages to solve one knotty case after another is the premise of the series. If Sherlock Holmes portrayed the rich and powerful of Victorian England, William Monk portrays the commoner, the layman who isn’t given much importance by the law, or rather the lawmakers.

The first book in this series that I read is Dark Assassin, which mom had bought sometime ago. I loved the book, and got most of the other books too. I am reading the second book in the series now, and a character’s words set my mind in motion, just what one needs at the fag end of a working day. Here are the words:

About aspiring actors in a public house: “They have imagination to take them out of the commonplace, to forget the defeats of reality and feed on the triumphs of dreams. They can evoke any mood they want into their faces and make themselves believe it for an hour or two. That takes courage; it takes a rare inner strength.”

This sums up the attitude of the Indian people. We have corruption everywhere, but we do believe that our country will become a beacon of honesty as in olden days. We see poverty reign our slums, streets and villages; but we take solace in Mukesh Ambani’s billion dollar home. We don’t hesitate even a moment while bribing public officials, but we debate about the ethics of politicians who swallow monstrous amounts of money. We complain about mosquitoes and the diseases that they bring, but joyfully spit on the road and pee on the walls. We admire a rhapsodizing politician on the stage, but curse when (s)he fails to turn promises into action. Indeed, we turn a blind eye to reality and live in dreams.

If we can still surmount what is natural and believe what we wish to believe, in spite of the force of evidence, then for a while at least we are masters of our own fate, and we can paint the world we want.

This is exactly what we do, attain bliss in our Utopia, while the real world stares harshly at us. Until we wake up to the reality that is engulfing our lives, we will continue to vote for the same dirty leaders and scandals will be a way of life.

Fedora Post-Installation

After I installed Fedora 12 for a friend, he asked me what software he’d need for using it as a primarily home desktop user. I have some experience with home users who just need things to work, without the hassle of installing software whenever they want to open a file. Add to that the lack of broadband penetration, or even basic internet connectivity in India, it makes for an awful situation.

I already had many packages cached in my /var/cache/yum directory. We both had the same 32 bit install, so I figured it’d work. I first deleted his /var/cache/yum directory as root, then copied my directory which was around 15 GB to his hard disk. Then I wrote him a small script, which proved pretty useful to install all that he would ever want.

Here goes a slightly modified version of the script that works for Fedora 13:


# Post Install Update script
# To install many required packages that are missing from the default Fedora 12 installation
# Login as root to install the packages
# The -y flag is used to accept downloading and installing all dependencies

su -

# Update all currently installed software

yum update

# This group contains the GNU Compiler Collection and other utilities:

yum groupinstall 'Build Essentials' -y

yum groupinstall 'Office/Productivity' -y

# Add the RPMFusion repositories to your system

rpm -ivh
rpm -ivh

# RPMFusion contains the VLC packages:

yum install vlc* -y

# .. and also the unrar package to extract data from rar archives:

yum install unrar -y

# To install Adobe's flash plugin:

rpm -ivh

rpm --import /etc/pki/rpm-gpg/RPM-GPG-KEY-adobe-linux

yum install flash-plugin alsa-plugins-pulseaudio libcurl ndiswrapper -y

yum groupinstall 'Sound and Video'

# LXDE is a lightweight desktop environment, recommended for older and low end computers.

yum install @lxde-desktop

# Need to be installed from RPMFusion in order to play media files encoded using proprietary codecs.

yum install gstreamer* -y

# To install Google Chrome
echo "[google]
name=Google - i386
gpgkey= " > /etc/yum.repos.d/google.repo

yum install google-chrome -y

Why Mission 2020 will fail.

We all know about the great Dr. Abdul Kalam’s vision for India to become a developed nation by 2020. We’re just 11 years away from that deadline, and what have we done in the past decade moving in that direction? We’ve had three elections, but none of the government seems to figure out and do something about the root causes of stagnation. Yes, there have been several development schemes, but do they deliver to the people? No, sir, the politicians swell their bellies with that money which needs to go and reach the people. Corruption! Unrelentlessly pursued and has become a normal occurrence in our day to day lives. This ought to change, but who is to start the change?

I’ve heard of, read about and seen people shamelessly demanding bribe(Ah, they prefer to call them tokens of appreciation!) even from the poorest of the poor. If this has to stop, people need to change our outlook. Sure, if someone really performs well in their job, you can reward their hard work. But you don’t need to reward  them to carry out their duties! Aung San Suu Kyi once rightly remarked: It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.

Our politicians have become so used to power – its misuse and abuse – that they can’t live without it. OK! I get the point, why can’t they just exit earth and continue their work somewhere? Last I heard, they need lots of people capable of cheating and boring out others in hell.

We need to have a young and dynamic government, and all the old fellows need to accept moral responsibility for the current state of affairs and give up. Yes sir, morality. Many politicians don’t know or have never heard this word. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as:

1    principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour. A system of values and moral principles.
2    the extent to which an action is right or wrong.

Now, another thing politicians do is pamper – especially those parts of the societies who are gullible and are always looking out for things to happen rather than making things happen. Well, they are the so called minorities. I don’t deny there are some sections that are really pitiful and could do with some pampering. But the reality is that, if over six decades of pampering has not helped them grow, nothing else will. Leave them on their own, and let them rise on their own legs. This surely is unthinkable in India. Reason: votebank politics. Since the middle class has better things to do than go out and vote for people who’d never care to think of the voters’ welfare. Now that’s another thing that needs change.

India is becoming a country that could have been the superpower, but was not to be. If these evils and many others are not weeded out, then the saint Kalam’s dreams wouldn’t be a reality even in 2120.