Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Lakshmi Subramanian’s “Singing Gandhi’s India: Music and Sonic Nationalism”

February 21, 2020

This is a small but engaging book, which talks about many different aspects of Gandhi and music. I enjoyed reading it and strongly recommend it!

Here are a few thoughts about the book! Inevitably, the book also talks about other aspects of Gandhian politics. For example,

What was important though, was that religion could not be divorced from politics, for then, it was like a corpse ‘only fit to be buried’.

There is even a specific discussion towards the end if Gandhian politics can be differentiated from that of Paluskar’s strident Hindu nationalism (and, the annswer is Yes, in case you are wondering!). I also liked the discussion on the need for poverty in Gandhian politics:

As Anthony Parel has correctly observed, the virtue of poverty was indispensable for the practice of Gandhian politics. By poverty, Parel reminds us Gandhi did not mean monastic poverty but rather the moral will to think of the larger good, to align wealth to the general welfare of the community.

There are also comments on Gandhi’s attempts being clumsy, his attitude being like that of a strict headmaster, how he sometimes brought his puritanical distaste to the discourse, and how he sounded like an exasperating busybody — with examples and anecdotes at times — all of which gives a different picture of Gandhi which is not often discussed. Having said that, Gandhi always seem to surprise us with his sensibilities and the way in which he puts it across. Here is an example:

We have a moving description for instance, of the passing away of Tilak, whose relatives, as Gandhi put it,

“…may have been stricken with grief and their eyelids may have dropped pearls, but the villagers from the ghats who went out with their musical instruments did by no means go weeping and lamenting. They had gathered to celebrate a festival. Their musical instruments and their bhajans reminded the people that Tilak Maharaj was not dead”

Finally, I will leave you with another quote from the book — which I found very layered and strangely moving!

Quoting from Meerabai, the mystic poet and saint, he wrote `God has tied me with a cotton thread,’ in a letter to Purushottam K, Jerajani, a khadi worker in Bombay, dated 1 August 1945; ‘… whichever way he pulls me, I am pierced by the dagger of love. Swaraj hangs by that thread; it does not snap because the weight is that of love.’


Nell Freudenberger’s Lost and wanted 

February 6, 2020

This novel got loads of good reviews: here, here and here, for example. I am happy to say that it did not disappoint me. In fact, at no point in the novel, I felt that the narrator is not a scientist — it is as if Oliver Sacks wrote  a novel — the descriptions of the academic life, research collaborations etc are some of the best I have read in a novel. Strongly recommended!

Steven Strogatz’s The calculus of friendship

January 30, 2020

This is a gem!! The book is short; but I savoured each chapter for a few of days. With wonderful sketches by Strogatz’s teacher, interesting mathematics and with the intertwining of the personal life of the teacher and the student, it is such a pleasure to read. The subtitle of the book is “What a teacher and student learned about life while corresponding about math”. The readers will learn about both life and math — by reading this correspondence! Strongly recommended — even if you are not keen on maths.

Samanth Subramanian’s A dominant character 

January 30, 2020

I enjoyed reading Samanth Subramanian’s A dominant character: The science and politics of J B S Haldane. I knew very little about Haldane; I knew that he was in ISI, Calcutta; I knew that he did some of the calculations related to altruism (thanks to Professor Raghavendra Gadagkar’s lucid exposition — in his Survival strategies, a must, must read by the way — and talks in IISc); and, I vaguely remembered that he might have been a socialist.

Samanth Subramanian’s book is very well written; it is very engaging; and, gives a complete picture of the man, his science and his politics (as indicated in the title). It is also laugh out loud funny at places!!

I did have difficulties in reconciling myself with some of the stands that Haldane took — especially with respect to the Lysenko affair; but I guess the moral of the story is that it is very difficult for us scientists to separate our science from our politics and we have to be constantly on our watch!

On the whole, a very good read and strongly recommended!

Ashokamitran’s Fourteen years with boss

January 13, 2020

A very good read — and a quick read too! Among other people, Rajaji, Kalki, RKN’s brother who was a film editor, and RKN himself make an appearance — not to mention some monkeys and elephants. There are also some interesting titbits such as Vasan and Pather Panchali in Calcutta theatres! Now I am going to read his Iruttilirundu velichcham and Bioscope.

Tamil Characters of A R Venkatachalapathy

January 1, 2020

A very good read; the essays are of varying lengths, tone and depth — which is to be expected given that this is a collection of several published versions; the overlap is still minimal. The pieces on Periyar, Anna and Cho are real eye openers for me as well as those on Jayakanthan, Ashokamitran and Cho. Darman. Strongly recommended for those who are into Tamil culture and politics as well as those who are not!!

Jane Borges’ Bombay Balchao

December 18, 2019

A very nice read! At times laugh out loud funny — as you can see in this excerpt for example!

Here is a review of the book!

I enjoyed the book thoroughly and strongly recommend for a leisurely read!

Daniel Mendelsohn’s An odyssey

December 8, 2019

This book came with very high praise from Maureen Corrigan at NPR:

This past summer, I made time to catch up on a book I’d missed when it was published two years ago. Ever since, I’ve been telling friends, students and random strangers on a train that they must read Daniel Mendelsohn’s memoir called An Odyssey. In it, he recalls teaching a seminar on Homer’s Odyssey that his then 81-year-old father sat in on as an auditor.

An Odyssey is the best account of what teaching is really like that I’ve ever read; it’s also (like Homer’s epic) a spell-binding story about the tenderness of a father-son bond, as well as the inevitable limits that one’s own personality and mortality impose on that bond.

It indeed is a great book about teaching, about Homer, about odyssey, and about father-son bond. Strongly recommended!!

Cees Nooteboom’s The following story

November 17, 2019

One of the best novels I have read in several years. Picked it up thanks to A good read podcast!! Strongly recommended. This less than 100 pages of novel will draw you deep into the book and will make you read it again and again for the sheer pleasure of reading such a well-crafted book!

The cost of living by Deborah Levy

October 20, 2019

A very good read. Short and very nicely written.