Monday, July 18, 2011



The author researched for seven years while simultaneously writing his in-depth debut novel on Akbar who was considered to be the best of the Mughal Emperors. While researching the Spanish Inquisition, Dirk Collier, a Belgian historian and writer, first came across references to Akbar who had invited Jesuit priests to his court to learn about Christianity. Written in the form of a long letter from Akbar to Jehangir, the book is a compilation of all that he wanted to convey to his dear son who was a rebel. Well-known for his secular outlook which led him to attempt a fusion of three religions- Hinduism, Christianity and Islam which he named Din-e-Illahi which unfortunately failed, Akbar held a modern vision of a prosperous and tolerant country with rich diversity and unity. He conquered the strife and intrigues in the palace and rose spectacularly to absolute power. He had a harem of 5000 women out of which 300 were his real companions. Dirk Collier refers to Akbar as basically “an eclectic, a rationalist as well as a mystic”. His Hindu queen Jodha amassed huge wealth derived from her commercial skills of trading in silk and pepper about which Akbar often discussed with her. Akbar ruled for 49 years till his death in 1605. Jehangir valued his father more when dead than when alive. The conflict between father and son was bitter and never fully resolved. Akbar’s favourite wife Salima personally travelled to Allahabad and brought about the official reconciliation between father and son. Jehangir who held his father with the highest respect often visited his father’s tomb, dismounted, knelt down and rubbed his forehead on the doorstep of the mausoleum. The book is well written and a compelling read. It relates the true story of Akbar’s life and times and can be considered to be an authentic genre in historical fiction.



Only two years back Anuja Chavan’s debut novel “The Zoya Factor” was a runaway success. She has done an encore with her new book, a romantic comedy. She has mastered the right mix of ingredients that go to make a novel a hit. Bittora is a constituency in the state of Pavit Pradesh caught in an election frenzy. Jinny and Zain are childhood friends who contest with each other in the Lok Sabha elections. Jinny(Sarojini Pande) is from a political family but has very little interest in politics. She works in Mumbai in an animation studio. Her opponent is the handsome Zain Altaf Khan. The opponents belong to BJP and Congress in disguise which are named IJP and Pragati Party respectively. Drawing inspiration from her mother-in-law Margaret Alva, the author’s characters and incidents are very real which give the book a touch of reality. Anuja Chavan carries this chicklit book beyond the parameters of a love story. Her message is that there is place for youth and idealism in politics. And she conveys all this in a breezy and humorous style.

Sunday, July 17, 2011



It is a memoir on the author’s two years’ stint at one of the topmost investment banks in the world - Morgan Stanley. It is a saga of the trials and tribulations of a young woman interning in Wall Street. Equipped with four cheap suits and two pairs of Payless shoes, she makes her beginning and by sheer hard work and performance she gets an offer in the coveted Corporate Finance Division on the completion of her internship. It is an insider account of the masochist culture in the world of investment banking and the extreme biases against women.

A decade earlier, Michael Lewis had written a similar book on the goings-on at Salmon Brothers and how their cigar smoking, high-flying executives fraternized among themselves forming an exclusive club and bullied the others. After interning with J P Morgan for a short period, the author joined Morgan Stanley on a two-year scholarship programme. It was a high-stress and male-dominated work ambience.

Nina is one of three children of Zorastrian immigrants from India (Parsis) who settled in Houston, Texas. She was driven by a burning ambition to succeed and prove her worth and win the respect of her father. This book gives an alternate view of children growing up in a Parsi household while the debate over “Tiger Mother” is still raging. She describes her grandmother’s cooking in delicious and mouthwatering detail. A brilliant student who walked into the world of high finance so to say, found the office atmosphere stifling and disgusting due to overtones of gender bias and class consciousness. Unable to accept such an environment, she walked away from her job to pursue her dream. Not that she did not know of what lay in store for her when she accepted the Morgan Stanley offer. She had heard and read all the horror stories from middle-aged women who bitterly complained on how they were sexually harassed; even ordered to wear short skirts. But things were changing as it was not easy anymore to get away with harassing co-workers. However, inappropriate behavior still prevailed and to add salt to the wounds, these high-falutin bankers were callous as well.

Though brought up by parents who insisted on hard work, long hours of study and holding the Parsi culture, the author did not exactly fit the mould. She was in a way a rebel. She dated and even brought a blind date home during her New York days. She drank but now she has reduced it as she has a baby. The irony is that she is married to an investment banker but he understands the fat-boy culture. Nina has started her own company which offers stress-reduction courses to professionals. Her rich experience of dealing with the stress in the almost all-male culture in Morgan Stanley must be holding her in good stead. The book is a gripping read. It is funny and heartwarming. There is a strong message. Ask yourself what are you working for. Is it worth it? Money is not the only goal.

Saturday, July 16, 2011


Nammaazhwaar, the 9th century Vaishnavite mystic saint had composed in
Anthaadi style, eleven paasurams which are part of the Thiruvaaimozhi, on the
Lord of Thiruvananthapuram.

Starting from

kedum idar aaya ellam, kesava enna, naalum
koduvinai sheiyyum, kootrin tamargalum kurukakillaar
vidam udai aravil palli, virumbinaan shurumbu allattrum,
tadam udai vayal, ananthapuranagar pugudam inre. 10-2-1

and ending as

andam il pugazh, ananthapuranagar aadi tannaik,
kondu alar pozhil,kurugoor maaran shol, aayiratthul:
aindinodum aindum vallar, anaivar poy amar ulagil,
paintodi madantaiyar-tam, vai maru tol inaiye. 10-2-11

All our difficulties will disappear when we chant the name Kesava. The
dreaded Yama's messengers too will come nowhere near us.
Let us, therefore, all go to Thiruvnanthapuranagar, surrounded by
fertile fields, where the Lord reclines on his poisonous serpent
couch. 10-2-1

This composition of thousand songs composed by Kurugur Satagopan
on the Lord of eternal glory will ensure the embrace of well-
bede,cked women in the celestial world. 10-2-11

In 10-2-7, Nammaazhwaar says that even sweeping the yard there will
undo all the karmas. In 10-2-9, he urges everyone to worship Vaamana's
feet as that would end the seeker's woes. And in 10-2-10, Nammazhwaar says
that those who worship Him with sandalpaste,lamp,incense and fresh
lotus petals will attain eternal glory.

The Aazhwaar says that the Nityasuris living in Paramapadam come to
Thiruvananthapuram for service. 'Sarveshwaran' is sleeping here. Thiruvanantha
Himself is praapya. The Lord has made HIs 'Nitya Sannidhi' here and therefore
whatever kainkaryam I would like to do when I reach Paramapadam after leaving
this mortal coil, I can do it here says Nammaazhwaar.

It doesn't matter if you have been a sinner. It is better to repent now than never.
Without hesitation take his name. Not necessarily only the name Kesava.
Take any one of His thousand names. Before you leave this body hasten to
Thiruvananthapuram; the Lord who has Vamanatva and Madhavatva will remove your 'samsaarabandhanam' (worldly attachment) and make you a Nityasuri
(a permanent resident in Paramapadam)
says Nammaazhwaar.

Rush to Thiruvananthapuram and chant one of His thousand names. You
will attain Moksha.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Sree Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram is literally in the eye of a storm with the discovery of an estimated Rs 1 lakh crores (Rs 1 trillion) in the temple's treasure trove on June 30th. The discovery consists of gold, silver, gems and precious coins from the vaults of the 9th century temple. As per temple records, the temple was built around the 10th century by the Ay dynasty who ruled prior to the Travancore royal family. There is a raging nationwide debate on what should be done with the treasure which has got accumulated over thousands of years. The Kerala Government insists that the assets belong to the temple and that it should not be relocated outside the temple premises. It has also beefed up security to protect the temple's wealth. The treasures have immense heritage value and under constitutional obligation these objects have to be preserved.

The costliest of the treasure found is perhaps a multi-gem studded golden icon of the deity Lord Vishnu. The kallaras are the six chambers around the sanctum sanctorum. Out of these four are routinely opened and shut while two have not been opened for centuries. Most of the treasure found was offered by the Travancore kings and their family members to their family deity Sree Padmanabhaswamy which is substantiated by the temple records which is preserved in the Kerala Archives Department. Marthanda Verma (1729-58) is known as the founder of modern Travancore. He was a dedicated devotee of the Lord unto whom he surrendered his kingdom and sovereignty making the Lord the sovereign Head of Travancore. Thereafter the rulers were called Padmanabha Dasas who ruled the kingdom on His behalf. Marthanda Verma, Swati Thirunal Rama Varma and the last king Sri Chitira Thirunal Bala Rama Varma continued to gift the Lord with precious gems and gold . Situated in the southwestern tip of the country, the temple was safeguarded from marauding invaders.

Why this sudden flurry now? After all, the residents of this holy city and particularly the Lord's ardent devotees have been aware of the wealth lying in the temple's vaults (Thiru-Aras) for hundreds of years. It is one T P Sundararajan,70, a retired IPS officer living just 100 feet away from the temple,and an advocate who literally set the ball rolling. He filed a petition in the High Court alleging mismanagement of the temple's funds by the Trustees and asked for an inventorisation of the wealth lying in the vaults. The High Court issued an order to the State asking it to take over the temple, its assets and management. Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, the 89 year-old king who is fighting a battle in court and is striving to hold on to the last vestige of his empire, the Padmanabhaswamy temple,moved the Supreme Court which stayed the High Court order and asked for a detailed inventory to be listed of all the valuables in the six vaults of the temple. On June 27 when the vaults were opened for stocktaking, the treasures saw the light of the day. Sundararajan was one of the seven member panel formed by the Supreme Court that inspected the six vaults.Sundararajan, a bachelor, who takes his father to the temple every day and prays in the temple thrice a day, has indicated that there is a subterranean vault full of copper pots containing gold coins.His motive for taking the matter to the court was to prevent the royal family from siphoning off the huge treasure.The head of the erstwhile royal family said that he nor any of his family members were not making any claim to the temple wealth.

One vault, the kallara B, has not yet been opened.There is a sign of 'serpent' visible at the entrance and it is felt that it is inauspicious to open it as it may invite the wrath of the Lord. A 'deva prashnam' which is an age-old religious custom and practice may have to be conducted so as not to incur the displeasure of the Lord.

The questions that crop up are:- a) who owns the treasure, b) who will manage it, c) what will the apex court say, d) why is the government unsure of taking over the temple and e) how are the enormous treasures going to be secured and preserved for posterity? And simultaneously there are many who have offered various suggestions for utilising the staggering wealth for the benefit of the temple, the poor and the State.

The eighteen feet long idol of Lord Padmanabha, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu cannot be viewed in one glance. He is shown as reclining on the five-hooded serpent Adisesha, whose body is coiled thrice. The idol is made of a special material and there are about 12,000 saligramas collected from the bed of River Gandaki in Nepal which have been placed inside the idol. Some say that the the idol is made of gold and that it has been covered with soot. Nammaazhvar, a Vaishanavite mystic saint has sung eleven paasurams (verses) on the Lord which is part of the Thiruvaaimozhi section of the Naalayira Divya Prabandham.The temple architecture is a fusion of the Kerala style with the Dravidian style. Before the reorganisation of States after India attained independence, the Travancore kingdom consisted of the modern day southern Kerala and Kanyakumari district and the southernmost parts of Tamil Nadu.

continued in part II