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I Try to be so Buddhist - Robert Sugg

Oh God, My God - GB Prabhat

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(personal narrative)

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Island of a Thousand Mirrors - Nayomi Munaweera

My Hungry Workers - Sourabh Gupta
(personal narrative)

The Stone - Anupam Choudhary

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(Translated by Bina Biswas)

Dr Bhikbab Changes His World - Sheela Jaywant

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Book Reviews

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(Rakhshanda Jalil)

The Cripple and His Talismans - Anosh Irani
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Their Language of Love - Bapsi Sidhwa
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Silk Fish Opium - Jaina Sanga
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The Almond Tree - Michelle Corasanti
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Nobody Can Love You More - Mayank Austen Soofi
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Along the Red River - Sabita Goswami
(Abdullah Khan)

Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy - Som Nath Dhar
(KG Sreenivas)

Che in Paona Bazaar - Kishalay Bhattacharjee
(S Ramesh)

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Book Review

The Outsider View of an Insider

Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy : Som Nath Dhar

– KG Sreenivas

Publisher: HarperCollins India
Genre: Non-fiction
Extent: 230 pp
Price: Rs 399

Som Nath Dhar says in his preface to From Partition to Operation Bluestar: Tales of a Journalist, Bureaucrat, Spy, 'Old men, like me, tend to look back at their lives; young people prefer to look forward. This is as it should be, but sometimes it is good for the young to understand what lies behind as well.'

Dhar's book affords the reader a more intimate sense of things, a ringside view of history in the making, as it were, with its key players strutting the stage in all their glories and vanities at once. His career, beginning in undivided India in Lahore, as a proof reader-cum-sub editor, straddled journalism and India's covert intelligence services. Forced by the intimations of Partition, Dhar makes it to Delhi where he begins anew, this time as part of India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru's personal staff. This gives him close access to and vital glimpses into the horizons of the great man who helped shape the destiny of modern India.

The phase also gave Dhar the intimate opportunity of observing, with the instincts of a journalist, the dynamics of the relationship between Pandit Nehru and Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, as Nehru presided over the dissolution, and retreat, of the world's greatest empire.

Dhar was witness to much of the commotion in the wake of the declaration of the dominions of India and Pakistan. 'It felt as if we were riding a rollercoaster. Panditji and other leaders had to grapple simultaneously with issues related to Partition, Independence, the Constitution, the resettlement of refugees, the division of assets between India and Pakistan, the status of the princely states and the shape of the administration of independent India,' says Dhar in the chapter aptly titled 'A New Life in a New Country'. Amidst all frenetic pace of nation-making, Nehru, he adds, visited Mahatma Gandhi every evening. Gandhi was Nehru's 'strongest anchor'. This is interesting especially in the light of the rather fraught relationship between the two foremost men of India's independence struggle. Ideologically, both men differed quite a lot, especially when it came to ideas of political struggle and, later, about the developmental path India should take.

Dhar's position also meant that he was witness to some fine debates among some of the tallest leaders of the time at Pandit Nehru's house, especially concerning administration in the states – so, Maulana Azad, Govind Ballabh Pant, Ravi Shankar Shukla (chief minister of central provinces, now Madhya Pradesh), and Bidan Chandra Roy, who was due to become the chief minister of Bengal. 'Thinking back to those times, I am struck by how freely they all expressed their views, whether or not those views found favour with Panditji and other national leaders,' observes Dhar. Not quite irrelevant to contemporary times.

In the wake of the upheaval of the Partition, when over forty lakh people were uprooted from their homes and lands and had to be rehabilitated quickly, Dhar notes how it was 'Nehru's vision' and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel's 'untiring work' that saved the day.

Dhar was also witness to another headline-grabbing event in the July of 1947. After the Dutch police action in Indonesia, Nehru had called a press conference at his residence. An American correspondent provoked Nehru, who called the Dutch action an 'inhuman and brutal military action which was totally colonial in its concept and execution'. A fuming Nehru lost control and added for good measure: 'I think there is no place for any European in Asia or Africa.' The international press was stunned. In the event, Nehru called the secretary-general of the External Affairs Ministry, Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, and managed to get his remarks appropriately soft-pedalled in the international media!

An interesting nugget, that of Nehru's relationship with Edwina Mountbatten, the wife of Viceroy Mountbatten, finds mention in passing in Dhar's account of his life as one of Nehru's assistants. In retrospect, this incident adds little to the larger narrative of Dhar's historical memoir and could have been easily left out.

Dhar also situates the narrative in the eventful years of the Pakistani invasion of Kashmir in October 1947 when he had just joined All India Radio in its news division and was pushed into the state for frontline reporting on the Kabaili tribal invasion. The beginning of the new year was dramatic. Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on January 30. 'Then came the news flash: Mahatma Gandhi has been shot at thrice. The worst is feared.' After a moment of shock, the editor-in-charge shouted above the din, 'Mahatma Gandhi has been shot – perhaps he is dead.' The entire activity in the newsroom came to a dead stop.

A seminal but brief section reflects on the galaxy of tall men that graced the Provisional Parliament – Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, Dr BR Ambedkar, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Ramaswamy Mudaliar and Nehru himself. He says, 'Whereas Shyama Prasad Mukherjee's speeches were full of emotion and sentiment, Dr Ambedkar used logic and argument... Nehru always spoke extempore. His speeches, particularly in English, were thought-provoking and showed concern about the future of India.' It is germane to wonder about the state of parliament today and the parliamentarians that stalk its hallowed portals.

Another substantive section of Dhar's memoirs focuses on the India-China war, where 'China had achieved its purpose of humiliating India and exposing the hollowness of our diplomacy, which was not supported by matching force.' The situation today doesn't seem to have changed significantly as this review goes to print in the wake of the recent India-China standoff on the border!

Nehru's passing away and the rise of his daughter Indira Gandhi as prime minister until her assassination in 1984 takes up the rear of the book. Contextualizing the narrative in the Indira-Syndicate clash, it dwells on it at scholarly length. Following the lacerating debate on the question of nationalization of banks and Indira's taking over of her deputy Morarji Desai's portfolio of finance – he describes it as a 'slap in the face'. Dhar captures with dispassion the many twists and turns in the sordid saga of the bloody fight between Indira and the Syndicate, with Nijalingappa, then acting Congress president, suspending Indira from the primary membership of the party forcing a vote of confidence in parliament. Though Indira was defeated, she managed to stay in power with the help of the DMK. Little really changes in the world of politics.

After a stint in India's external intelligence services, Dhar returned to Delhi in 1981 as director of news at All India Radio. Dhar's tenure makes for an excellent commentary on the art of news management vis-à-vis the political bosses of the time.

In the final analysis, Dhar concludes that while Pandit Nehru had a 'somewhat ambivalent attitude to power, resigning or threatening to resign at least four times while he was prime minister, for his daughter it 'was all about wielding and projecting power'.

Dhar's strength lies in his power of observation without being intrusive and in his ability to see the larger picture while drawing vital and timeless lessons from the smaller details.