Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book review: The Last Nizam

Author: John Zubrzycki
Publisher: Picador (Pan Macmillan)
Pages: 382
Price: Rs 395

Reviewed by Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Friday, February 19, 2010 at 06:49:37 PM

As the battle for Hyderabad heats up with the Central Government's proposal to carve out the new state, Telangana, the city might see yet another turning point in its 500-year-old history. A lot has changed in the city of pearls since it became a part of the Indian Union, yet little of the events that preceded and even followed its forceful takeover has ever been documented. And it is this simple fact, if not anything else, that makes you want to read The Last Nizam by John Zubrzycki.

The Sydney-based author is one of the very few people who have met the last Nizam of Hyderabad who is officially known as His Exalted Highness Rustam-i-Dauran, Arustu-i-Zaman, Wal Mamaluk, Asaf Jah VIII, Muzaffar ul-Mamaluk, Nizam ul-Mulk, Nizam ud-Daula, Nawab Mir Barakat 'Ali Khan Bahadur, Sipah Salar, Fatah Jang, Nizam of Hyderabad and Berar, Honorable Lieutenant-General. The titles are plenty, but Zubrzycki finds the heir to the once richest kingdom in the world in a two-bedroom apartment furnished with glass cases containing royal antiques in Turkey.

Zubrzycki writes, "The Nizams became the most faithful allies of the British Raj and amassed more riches than all the other princely states in India put together. And then, in one man's lifetime, almost all would be lost. Not on the battlefield; not in Hyderabad's attar-scented palaces - but among the dusty red paddocks of a sheep station that bordered the same Indian Ocean the Nizams' Dominions once touched."

Through The Last Nizam, Zubrzycki traces the history of Nizams and Hyderabad - of a state the size of France that was known for its grace, glory, grandeur and gastronomical delights. It talks about how the Nizams built their kingdom, bit by bit, piece by piece with the aid of the Marathas, Mughals and the British. It exposes the rampant corruption and the excesses of the ruling classes - wine, women and wealth - even as the servants and peasants toiled to feed their masters. In 1947, when India became independent, Hyderabad was the last preserve of the Mughal-style feudal aristocracy that seemed straight out of The Arabian Nights.

The state crumbles as the seventh Nizam Osman Ali Khan sees the end of British Raj in India. Keen on self-preservation, he hoardes more and more wealth and often extorts it from his visitors in the form of gracious nazars, even as he moves around the corridors of his palace in tattered clothes. The rich man's quest for an independent nation spoils when India invades Hyderabad. Operation Polo, which killed over 20,000 people, is one of the least documented episodes following the Indian independence. Though Zubrzycki has done well to go through the dusty state archives, he hasn't managed to get too many details of how the operation took place and the casualties.

From this point the book turns more biographical, documenting the life of the next Nizam, Mukkarram Jah, who became a king without a state. Since his taking over as the Nizam in 1967, Jah's career as a ruler and then a farmer has gone downhill. Plagues by lawsuits, hawked by relatives and misled by his financial advisors, the heir to the world's greatest fortune fights it out first in the Australian outback and then in a quiet apartment block in Turkey. As the battle for the Nizam's jewels makes slow progress in courts, Hyderabad sees a quest of a different kind of regional politics.

Zubrzycki's book is a great way to step back in time and see what went miserably wrong with a state so wealthy and powerful. Hyderabad could be the lesson for democratic India's political leaders - of how without infrastructural development and internal security, even the best of states can crumble at the show of power. For those who love history, The Last Nizam's a must-buy. But if you expect a William Dalrymple, you may be left a little disappointed. The book talks a lot of money (especially about how it was swindled or lost), which does tend to get tedious at times. Nevertheless, this well-researched biography of India's greatest princely state, should be on your rack.

The Last Nizam: An Indian Prince in the Australian Outback 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The writing is on the wall

In the remote villages of Dang in south Gujarat, media means the writing on the wall. Literally. Like the oral tradition, this too is the preserve of our ancient system of spreading information over a small geographical area. In Dang, messages of family planning, best quality rat poison and political parties are scribbled on walls of the village store, the panchayat office and even on the chabutara where the village elders hold court in the evenings.

The medium can be paintbrushes, chalk or more primitive forms such as twigs and rough stones. The messages are contained in simple one-liners, sometimes punchy, sometimes straight. The idea is often to just spread the word instead of entertaining. Often, they're pictorial - for example the one of rat poison depicted a bottle and a dead rat - for many in our country can still not read. Chances are that you may miss the message if the 'wall' doesn't fall in your route. You may have to then depend on a fellow villager's word.

Cut through to Twitter - the 141-character microblog networking site that has taken the internet by storm. Once again the writing is on the wall and once again it is defined by space. The messages are often pictorial (where smileys are often used to depict emotions) but they are more or less straightforward. Wit and humour is favoured and sarcasm is often used as a weapon against fellow microbloggers. But the messages are clear and have to reach out to all those people who can read the wall. You track the headline-grabbers relentlessly and there may still be some you may miss. For this, you may have to fall back on your fellow blogger's page.

It is uncanny that new-age media would have any likeness to the rural medium that has existed in our country for centuries. Whereas drums were used to announce a new message or messenger in the old days, now we have a "ping" on GTalk and Yahoo! Messenger. The chalk's given way to the keypad and the wall to the screen, but most things have remained unchanged - even the reactions. It is strange that the world's most modern technology still preserves some of the world's oldest forms of communication - the pictorial smileys and photographs on Facebook for example.

We often say that the media has changed a lot and that new media (the digital forms of internet and SMS) is eating up the old forms (newspapers, books). Certainly, it has grown to an extent that it has shrunk the world into a global village. But, at the end of the day, the writing is still on the wall.


Sunday, February 14, 2010


The wait...

Single and lovin’ it

With the world talking about sex, there are some people who choose to stay away from it

Eisha Sarkar Posted on Times Wellness on Sunday, February 14, 2010

It’s strange that we should talk about singles on Valentine's Day. Stranger it is when we utter the dreaded C-word, celibacy, instead of focusing on candies, candles and couples. But for all the benefits companionship can provide, there are people who prefer to remain single and without sex. But does it help them live a healthier life?

Single, ready to mingle, but no sex please

On UK-based organization for celibacy, Celibrate’s website, one Ajay posts, “I never understood why people want sex so bad. I was quite shocked when I first learned that people do it for pleasure. I consider myself straight because I’m definitely attracted to women, but I have a low sex drive and thus my idea of a good time is cuddling, dancing or just talking. I’ve always found the idea of sex quite boring. I am 24 now, a virgin and I live a celibate life which is fine by me. I could pretty much go through my whole life and never have sex and it wouldn't matter to me.”

Testing times

Mumbai-based Arvind, 30, practised celibacy through his college years well into his mid-20s. “I started reading a lot about celibacy during college. I just wanted to test myself over and over again and I am proud I managed to do control my desires for nearly seven years. I would try to curb my sexual thoughts by focusing on other things I loved, such as sports cars. I quit only because my parents wanted me to marry,” he adds.

Though Arvind's proud of his celibacy days, he believes that talking asexuality is as much of a taboo in India as talking about sex.

Celibacy versus brahmacharya

Celibacy or abstinence from sex has for centuries been used as a tool of self-control by religious leaders and spiritual gurus. The ancient yogis practised brahmacharya and called chastity ‘the best of all penances’. In males, the semen (Veerya) is considered sacred, and its preservation (except when used for procreation) and conversion into higher life-energy (Ojas) is considered essential for the development of enhanced intellectual and spiritual capacities.

In his autobiographical The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Mahatma Gandhi, who practised celibacy for over a decade, wrote, “An aspirant after brahmacharya will always be conscious of his shortcomings, will seek out the passions lingering in the innermost recesses of his heart and will incessantly strive to get rid of them.”

Dr Rajan Bhonsale, head of the department of Sexual Medicine at KEM Hospital, says, “Brahmacharya is not practiced celibacy. It is about transcending to another space where sexual pleasures and materialistic things don’t really matter. It is not about fighting against sexual thoughts and desires that celibacy advocates. I’ve come across several Jain munis and priests who have had difficulties dealing with their sexual desires. Practising celibacy under the garb of devotion and spirituality is wrong. You can’t suppress your sex hormones. Over a period of time, this kind of forced restraint can make you tend towards perversion.”

Tool against STDs

Sexual abstinence is often recommended as a way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). While there have been cases where HIV+ people have found HIV+ sex partners, in many cases, the patients choose to remain celibate for life in order to avoid spreading the disease to another person. In early 2003, Sushma Swaraj, the then health minister of India, had said that the country's AIDS programme had to focus of sexual abstinence and faith rather than just condoms.

However, Dr Bhonsale says, “We recommend that HIV+ individuals should abstain from sex so that they don’t pass on the virus to others. But that doesn’t mean they have to remain celibate. They are free to have sexual thoughts and even self-pleasuring by way of masturbation. It’s free, it’s natural and it’s safe!”

Saturday, February 13, 2010


We shall overcome...

Ok, let me come straight to the point. I am a Shah Rukh Khan fan. And it has been disheartening for me to watch him on TV again and again trying to prove he's Indian when all he had asked for was to open the doors to our neighbours. Well, only in India loving thy neighbour can breed home grown enemies. Still, I am glad I managed to get tickets to watch My Name is Khan, probably the most controversial release of SRK's career (and it doesn't really have anything to do with the film).

As we entered Inox (Vadodara) for the 10 pm show, I looked up only to see the hoarding of Ishqiya. I looked everywhere, searching for SRK's dimpled face but I couldn't find it. Were it not for the crowd at the ticket counter I would have doubted the fact that the film was been screened. I looked above the counter window. MNIK:10PM:Fast filling. Aah! Posters or not, SRK had managed to pack in a full house.

We went in, took to our seats, heard a couple of co-viewers complaining of how the security had been stepped up because of the SRK-Sena controversy. The movie rolled and SRK dominated 98 per cent of it (when not visually present, he was audible enough). But nobody complained.

SRK plays Rizwan Khan, a Muslim from Mumbai, suffers from Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism that complicates socialisation. The adult Rizwan marries a Hindu single mother, Mandira, in San Francisco. After 9/11, Rizwan is detained by authorities who mistake his disability for suspicious behaviour. Following his arrest, he meets Radha, a therapist who helps him deal with his situation and his affliction. Rizwan then begins a journey to meet the US President Obama. He has just one message, "My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist."

The movie is heavily inspired from Forrest Gump and SRK has done a fairly good imitation of Tom Hanks. The storyline is engaging, though it's a little predictable at times. At the end of the day, the movie is about hope. It's about triumphing odds to make way for opportunities. And what I take back from the film is a song that I had long forgotten, "We Shall Overcome".

"We Shall Overcome" is a protest song that became a key anthem of the US civil rights movement. The lyrics of the song are derived from the refrain of a 1901 gospel song by Charles Albert Tindley of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. The song was published in 1947. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr had made use of "we shall overcome" in the final Sunday March 31, 1968 speech before his assassination.

In India, renowned poet Girija Kumar Mathur composed its literal translation in Hindi "Hum Honge Kaamyab / Ek Din" which became a popular patriotic/spiritual song during the 1980s, particularly in schools. In Bengali-speaking India and in Bangladesh there are two versions, both popular among school-children and political activists. "Amra Karbo Joy" (a literal translation) was translated by the Bengali folk singer Hemanga Biswas and re-recorded by Bhupen Hazarika.

It's a song we had sung in school, in the gospel choir as well as on the Hindi Diwas. It's a song of hope, prayer and devotion - the three things the makers of this movie featuring this song need most right now to drive home the point that there are good people and bad people and the differentiation should just remain there. Go, watch this one...

Thursday, February 11, 2010



Book review: I Bought the Monk's Ferrari

Author: Ravi Subramanian
Publisher: Rupa & Co
Pages: 163
Price: Rs 195

Reviewed by Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Mumbai Mirror on Monday, February 08, 2010 at 07:38:25 PM

After his pacy first novel on the trials and tribulations of retail bankers in a super-competitive sector, banker Ravi Subramanian tells you how to get a Ferrari in his second book, I Bought the Monk's Ferrari. The obvious reference to Robin Sharma's bestseller, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari gives you a hint that this book by Subramanian is going to be very different from the first. And thankfully, it is.

Like his debut book, this one also starts with a nervous IIM graduate who takes his first career flight from Bangalore to Delhi. He peeps out of the window and sees on the road below, an immaculate bright red Ferrari that soon fades out of his vision. Thus begins, the fresher's quest for his own Ferrari.

However, it's not the luxury car the author's talking about. It's about the Fortune for Every Right Rigorous and Resourceful Individual (FERRARI). Taking off from the young management trainee, the author delves into the lives of corporate leaders who have crossed several hurdles to own their own Ferrari (in some cases, even the car). He writes about how a sixteen-year-old girl aspired to be a successful businesswoman when her father refused to give her the swivel chair in his office. It was her grit and determination that made the young girl HSBC CEO Naina Lal Kidwai. Subramanian gives examples of Laxmi Mittal, Sourav Ganguly, Bill Gates to drive home the point that you need to aspire high to grow big.

The author enlists Ten Commandments that can help you pave your way to success and even get a Ferrari. In short, they are:
1. You need to aspire and when you do, don't go for anything short of the best
2. Be optimistic
3. Don't whine about work-life balance. Be the winner, not the wimp
4. If you are high on integrity, people will respect you and value you
5. Value time, yours as well as others'
6. Nobody's perfect so upgrade your skills regularly or you will be redundant
7. If you are in the company of successful people, their success will rub off on you. But you need to back it up with stellar performance
8. Share your success with others
9. Work hard, exercise harder, build stamina and keep illness at bay
10. If you've followed the above, it's time to build your profile. Target your audience and talk about your achievements

By the time you finish the Ten Commandments, you wonder what this book is about. The management fresher dwells on your mind and you hope this book will take off like If God was a Banker did but it doesn't. Though the author has done well to keep the chapters short, and his language lucid, they don't make much of an impact. Probably because the stories of the achievers are well-known. In his bid to cater to the society's elites, the book doesn't draw in experiences from the broader cross-section of the society.

However, in spite of its shortcomings, the book is worth a read. Subramanian's interactions with his daughter are delightful to read about. Only in these parts does he evoke an emotional response from the reader. You wish for more, but he doesn't offer any. Read this book like you would read a self-help management textbook and it might work for you. Anything more than that will be expecting too much. This book's not a Ferrari!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Picnic paradise: Pavagadh

With its exquisite monuments and adventure sports, this tiny hill station in Gujarat is an ideal weekend getaway

Eisha Sarkar

Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Monday, February 08, 2010 at 08:06:55 PM

Taking off

A red ribbon flutters in the wind. It's past noon. We try to ignore our baked backs as we take in the breathtaking view of the valley below the 2,700 ft Pavagadh hill. "Now!" We turn our heads to see a man running backwards with a giant bow-shaped parachute attached to his backwards. "Not there, not there. There are too many trees," shouts the instructor. The man moves a little to his right, gathers speed and flings himself off the cliff as we marvel at the chute. The paragliding adventure finally kicks off at Gujarat's most popular picnic spot, Pavagadh.

We watch as the paraglider hovers at the base of the cloud. The proud instructor, Mumbai-based Sanjay Pendurkar of Indus Paragliding, tells us, "You need to look for a thermal (hot air current that rises up in a spiral manner) as soon as you jump off the cliff. Once you find it, you can stay in there for as long as you want to. The day before, a man was up there for five hours!"

As people wait for tandem paragliding (the term used for the joyride-like experience where a trained paraglider will take you along to give you the feel of the sport), we look at the landscape sprinkled with exquisitely-carved monuments that make up the only UNESCO-World Heritage Site in Gujarat.
Saat Kaman

The temple-pond
On our way to Pavagadh we had passed the Jama Masjid, the Fort of Champaner and Uohra Mosque that had been built by Gujarat's Muslim emperor Mehmud Begada in 15th century AD. We had also gawked at the Saat Kaman - the seven arches made of blocks of stone that were built without using any kind of binding matter. In the queue for the ropeway, we had jostled for space for over an hour with hundreds of pilgrims on their way to the ancient Mahakali Temple at the top of the hill.


From the cable-car we'd spotted the Vad Talav (Banyan Pond) and remains of the Palace of Begada. Making our way through rough paths cut through the thickly forested hill slopes, we'd come across witch-doctors and tantriks clad in black selling talismans even as carefree children got themselves photographed with life-sized stuffed-toy tigers (the vehicle of Goddess Ambaji). For all the developments the government has initiated in the nearby industrial areas such as Halol, Pavagadh is still steeped in Gujarat's magnificent past.

Only here do you find tigers aplenty

"Yeh paper ka hai?" We snap out of history and see a girl pointing to the wing. "No, it's cloth," she is told by her friend. For adventure sports buffs, Gujarat offers little. People are willing to pay as much as Rs 14,500 for a five-day paragliding course at Kamshet in Maharashtra.

"Yeh paper ka hai?"

"We're trying to bring in more activities here and develop Pavagadh as an adventure sports hub with rapelling, rock-climbing, trekking and of course, paragliding," says Captain Rajeev, an ex-armyman and one of the organisers of the Pavagadh Paragliding Festival. "That way, Pavagadh could be of interest to adrenaline junkies, history buffs and religious devotees." Indeed!

View from the cable car

Travel tips

• Avoid Sundays as the place is very crowded with pilgrims
• Accommodation options include Hotel Champaner and Caravan Serai (which is another 15 km from Champaner). Ideally stay in Vadodara and take a taxi to Pavagadh and Champaner as the archaeological sites are scattered all over
• Wear comfortable walking shoes as the slope is steep. It's best to take the cable-car up and the stairs down the hill so that you can get the feel of the place and still save time
• Drinking water is scarce, especially if go monument-hopping into the forest so please make your own provisions

Getting there
The closest city is Vadodara 47 kilometres away. Vadodara is well connected to Mumbai by road, rail and air.

The Flora of Pavagadh (Gujerat State, India)
Prehistoric Champaner: A report on the explorations of prehistoric sites around Pavagadh Hill (Maharaja Sayajirao University archaeology series)
Pavagadh Javu Ke Gabbargadh Javu 

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fireworks images

A random set of cartoons I had created on Adobe Fireworks. The software provides for a Flash-like flexibility for drawing curves and is best for some quick work on images before you upload them onto your website. It also allows for making buttons, pop-up menus and minor animation. If you're into web, this is a certain must-have. The tool I like most is the export area tool that allows you to crop and export a part of the image as JPG, GIF, Fireworks HTML etc. The drawback: If you're looking to work on images extensively, you may as well do them on photoshop for better processing options and quality. And for animation, Flash is the much better software. Nevertheless, Fireworks is handy for those who want to get web pages done quickly.

Do check these cartoons out and let me know what you think:

What's cookin'?

Chemical brother


What's wron' wid da world?