Saturday, July 30, 2016

Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years by AS Dulat

Image result for Kashmir: the vajpayee yearsAS Dulat, is an erudite on the subject of Kashmir and also ex RAW chief, India's premiere Intelligence agency. In Kashmir, the Vajpayee years, Mr. Dulat shares his opinions, thoughts and experiences on the conundrum that is Kashmir. The author has spent a lifetime in Kashmir and knows all the power players personally. His work on Kashmir for the IB, RAW and the PMO make him a considerable expert on the subject.

Mr. Dulat is an ardent advocate of dialogue with all parties involved. During his lifetime he engaged in dialogue with Kashmiris from all walks of life, which included hardened separatists and even Pakistan backed terrorists. From his understanding there are two ways to untangle the 'Gordian knot' as he calls the problem of Kashmir either we blow the Kashmiris to hell and destroy ourselves in the process or talk to them and come to a mutually acceptable solution. Kashmir is a Muslim dominated state who at the time of partition was ruled by a Hindu ruler, Raja Hari Singh, the King of Kashmir was still contemplating on which direction to go whether to stay with India, go with Kashmir or become a sovereign state. This is when the Pak army invaded Kashmir and Hari Singh's hand was forced to accept the help of Nehru. Indian Army was lodged in Kashmir and has not left since.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

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Dan Ariely, is a behavioral economist, and a contemporary of Daniel  Kahneman, who is the author of Thinking Fast and Slow. When Dan Areily was young student in Israel, he was involved in a tragic accident which burnt half of his body, the poor fellow had to go to the hospital to get his bandages changed everyday. It was an excruciating process, the nurses used to pull the bandages quickly to shorten the duration of pain, Dan did not like this approach and after some research and education suggested an alternative, he suggested that the bandages be removed slowly, which would increase the duration but lower the intensity. Dan's recommendation were never implemented on a large scale, he was befuddled by the behavior of the nurses, after all their skills and experience they kept making the same mistakes. Perhaps, other people similarly made the same mistakes, they misunderstand the consequence of their behavior and, for that reason repeat the wrong decisions; This is the scope of this book. The author through repeated experiments and empirical evidence shows how we humans make the same mistakes again and again without learning and delude ourselves into believing that we are logical and rational beings.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Between Military and Mosque by Husain Haqqani

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Husain Haqani is Pakistan's former ambassador to USA, he is also an erudite on the subject of Pakistani politics and History. Through this book the author takes us through the history of Pakistan over the last 7 decades. The influence of religion and Military on Pakistan and how these two institutions have shaped Pakistan for good or bad and will continue to do so for decades to come.

Pakistan throughout it's history has had an arduous existence. From a dearth of resources, hostile neighbors and to a struggling economy. Pakistan has had to deal with a multitude of complex problem some of them her own creation. In fact the idea of Pakistan, as a separate state for Muslims, is in itself a misnomer since there are more Muslims in India than Pakistan.  The author enlightens the reader on Pakistan's three pronged approach to counter these myriad of problems.

A) Perpetual hostility towards India, Pakistan views Kashmir as an unfinished business of partition and feels it was cheated of it's territory. After India orchestrated the split of East Pakistan from the west, this enmity grew further.

B) Islam as the unifying force, Pakistan was created in haste and in this haste a lot of different and incompatible sections of the populace were brought together be it the Bengalis, Baloch, Sindhis, Afghans and Punjabis etc. Pakistan has tried to keep everyone under the prodigious umbrella of Islam.

C) Reliance on an external benefactor - Pakistan quite early in its history recognized the importance of USA; Pakistan started vowing USA. Pakistani diplomats and generals started deftly coaxing large sums of money from America. Pakistan a third world country maintains a first class military and to sustain its military expenses it looks to USA, China and Saudi Arabia to foot the bill. In return the Pakistanis act as bases for these countries to wage war. The author goes into much details about this in his book.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

Image result for sleeping murderGwenda who has lived most of her life in New Zeland has moved back to England with her new husband. She has settled in a beautiful villa in Dillmouth. While she is settling in her new house, she is constantly reminded of some vague familiarity with her new place. Gwenda is in for a shock when these obscure reminiscences are turned into a memory of murder. It turns out Gwenda's new house is actually her old house. As a small child she used to live here, but was packed and sent to her relatives in NZ.

Gwenda is now suffering from panic attacks and wants to get behind the mystery of her past. Can she verify the veracity of her childhood memory? what happened to her family? who is the murdered person in her visions? The old spinster Miss Marple steps in to help Gwenda decode her past. Miss Marple warns her to let sleeping murder lie or she might get more than what she bargained for.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Killing Patton by Bill O'Reilly

Image result for killing pattonBill O'Reilly is an American right wing political commentator and a news personality, with a daily show on Fox News. Bill is like the Arnab Goswami of USA or vice versa. Outspoken and sometimes even boorish Bill is loved and hated in equal measure by his audience, although watched by millions. Bill, along with Martin Dugard, is also the co-author of several popular historical books. Most notably their popular 'Killing' series. Killing Patton is their attempt at documenting the last few years of the audacious US general, George S Patton, who led the military campaign against the Nazi forces.

The authors try and uncover the mystery behind Patton's strange and sudden death. It seems that the General was on the hit list of not only the Nazis, who regarded him as a superlative military commander but also Russians and some clandestine US Govt agencies. The reason why the latter wanted Patton dead was because by the end of the war Patton's status had grown legendary and he was planning to ascend to important political offices, but his view did not fit the new political views especially of some of his peers and these Govt agencies.

There is some genuine evidence brought forward by Bill and Martin which indicates foul play in the car accident which lead to the death of Patton. I'm not sure what the governments response has been? This incident is reminiscent of the mysterious death of another military leader SC Bose, post the second world war.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Meditation on Murder by Robert Thorogood

Image result for a meditation on murderDI Richard Poole loves England. The afternoon tea, cold weather and the formal attire. Unfortunately for him he has has been transferred to the gorgeous Saint Marie island in the Caribbean. Most folks would give their right hand to be sent to the tropical paradise, with pristine beaches and friendly faces, but not DI Poole. Poole hates the sun, the food and is not too fond of people. The man insists on wearing a blazer, tie, trousers and formal shoes in the sweltering heat; putting him in perpetual discomfort and earning him the title of pucca sahib.

 Besides Poole's poor people skills and inappropriate attire, the man is a brilliant detective. He has already solved a perplexing murder earning him the respect of his subordinates and locals. Now, Poole has another case on his hands. A seemingly kind and gentleman has been murdered in a meditation room. The room made up of paper walls was locked from inside. A meditation session was in progress with 5 people in attendance besides the victim. Cries were heard from the hut, when it was broken in, the victim a new age guru, was lying dead and a woman with a bloody knife was standing on top of him, while the other people looking dazed and confused. The woman confesses to the crime but has no recollection of how or why she killed this man? Everyone thinks that they have got the killer except DI Richard Poole.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union by Serhii Plokhy

The last of the old European empires was the USSR. All the other empires had fallen decades ago German, British, Ottoman. Through sheer terror and propaganda USSR had survived. A detailed analysis of the last days of the Soviet Union, its major players and events are captured in this book by Serhii Plohky. The book can be used as a text book in schools, it captures minute details and always keeps an objective tone about the last days of the last empire.

USSR was a collection of republics, some were willing others were forced in the union. Russia and Ukraine being the largest nations in the USSR. Russia was the powerhouse, and the pivot of the USSR. USSR was ruled by the communists, starting from Lenin, Stalin to Nikita Khrushchev and so forth..

USSR was the antithesis to the USA. Much of the world was divided in two blocs pro USA or NATO or pro USSR, the Warsaw countries. The two had often come close to destroying each other and the world with their powerful nuclear weapons. Hell bent on wiping each other out, the final days of the soviet union forced the two to become sort of allies.

USSR, like an unhappy marriage had run its course and the parties involved wanted a divorce. Russia felt that it carried the weight of the other countries, Ukraine wanted total independence and wanted to ally with the western European nations, Baltic nations wanted freedom and the Muslims nations of central Asia wanted to form their own separate bloc. In the middle of all this was the President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev.