Wednesday, August 20, 2014



     The Silicon Mind: Manikarnika Lagu: Become Pages 367: Price Rs 250/-

The book belongs to the genre of science fiction and it is Manikarnika Lagu’s first novel. She has a doctorate in physics and as a teacher and researcher has contributed many research papers in scientific journals. This background eminently suits her to write a science fiction novel based on a subject as complicated and sophisticated as the neural chip project.

The story centres around the protagonist- young, handsome and successful medical practitioner Dr Aman Kapoor who is involved in a horrific car crash and falls into a state of comatose. Another important character in the story is Prof. Narayan Murthy aka Ray who is a brilliant neuroscientist and the founder of ‘Chetna Coma Clinic’, India’s state-of-the-art specialized care hospital located at Bengaluru. Ray has been collaborating with Prof John Smith also a neuroscientist based in USA in the pioneering neural chip project. They have jointly developed a neural chip, an Artificial Intelligence device, considered to be top of the line and way ahead of competition. It has the capability of enhancing human memory and substantially increasing computational skills. Though this discovery has been an outstanding success in theory, there really has been no volunteer yet prepared to take the risk of having a neural chip implanted in his/her brain even after a year of its discovery. This is a source of great disappointment, frustration and desperation to both Ray and John. As pioneers of a breakthrough scientific development, both the neuroscientists are deeply disturbed at the cold reception the neural chip has received. It has dashed all their hopes of receiving international recognition, money and fame. It had become imperative to urgently get hold of an unconscious patient in a state of coma to implant their neural chip into the human brain to find out its performance. This objective had to be achieved by means fair or foul, as time was running out.   

Immediately after the car accident, Aman is admitted to ‘Get Well’ hospital in Bengaluru. Ray’s technical assistant Murthy is able to have Aman transferred to ‘Chetna Coma Clinic’ in spite of resistance from Dr Tapan Dutta, Director of ‘Get Well’, who has excellent coma care facilities in his hospital. Murthy is helped in this illegal activity by one Velu Swamy- a crook, blackmailer and a money-extracting peddler who provides patients to doctors for their experiments. Aman now comes under the direct care of Ray. The arrival of a comatose patient in their clinic, gives Ray and his team hope and a golden opportunity to implant their discovery in Aman’s brain which would given them a testing ground and invaluable feedback on how it performs in the company of the natural brain.

The chip implant takes place under the supervision of Ray and John and a few specialists from the US. The complicated surgery is performed by a talking robot Haku. Haku has feelings and emotions too!  
A 2mm hole is drilled at a predetermined spot and an extremely sophisticated silicon chip coated with collagen is installed in Aman’s brain. The operation turns out to be successful though Ray keeps his fingers crossed hoping that complications should not arise at a later date.

Unfortunately for Ray after some lapse of time, Aman starts facing some burning problems in his hand and depletion of physical energy. He approaches Ray to seek answers to these unwelcome manifestations. Ray’s responses are unconvincing to Aman. He gradually loses faith in Ray and asks Manasi, a clinical psychologist, to study his CAT scans. Aman is able to obtain these images through Ishan, a journalist and Manasi’s friend. Ishan uses his contacts to break into Murthy’s office and is able to steal the floppy containing the required images. Manasi was sure that the scans would help in giving a clue to identify the probable causes of these weird occurrences. Manasi, a strong-willed woman puts her heart and soul into this project to ascertain the cause of these bizarre incidents. She is single-mindedly focused to enhance her reputation in her field. Aman meanwhile gets further perplexed as he seems to be exhibiting miraculous healing powers which he suspects will not last long. He accidentally discovers this when he attends to a young boy Sameer’s knee injury. The youngster is amazed that there is not even a scar where the wound near the knee which was dressed by Aman had occurred. Aman is deeply concerned that this would bring him fame and later a bad name if this newly acquired power faded away. He disappears for a while from the glare of the media. With the help of Ishan, Mandira makes rapid progress with her investigation albeit a few setbacks and is on the verge of almost hitting the bull’s eye. By a stroke of good luck, Sameer and his friend Sakshi meet Manasi. After finding out that Sakshi is Ray’s daughter, Manasi asks her to convince her father to remove the chip from Aman’s brain because that alone can save him. Manasi is convinced that the neural chip is the culprit. Sakshi who is a brilliant and smart girl agrees to help them for Aman’s sake as she respects him as a kind doctor. Sakshi has the ability to make her doting father Ray run around her in circles. But she insists on proof of the presence of the neural chip in Aman’s brain. Sakshi is convinced. She confronts her father. Ray realizes that the game is up and that his reputation will be in tatters. He realizes that prudence is the better part of valour. He and his team of John and Haku and other specialists perform the chip removal surgery.

Though a scientist by training, Manikarnika Lagu has shown great flair in writing. This sci-fi book has a lot of imagination and style in it. She provides just enough scientific and technical information on the neuron chip and its implantation without making it excessively boring for the lay reader. The conversations between the various interesting characters laced with Hindi expressions make the book humorous and a fun to read. She has even provided a glossary at the end of the book for those not so familiar with the Hindi language. As a clever author, she has also brought in an element of sex to keep the interest of the reader stimulated. There is an entire chapter where Mandira, a bored wife and patient of Aman, gets excited by his touch during her physical examination to the extent that her sexual fantasies enable her to have an orgasm.

Sci-fi writers and ‘futurists’ have a common vision. This is called singularity, a point when technology and our bodies meet. We then become different people and at a higher stage of evolution. There are already some courageous people (cyborgs) who have had technological implants into their bodies for a number of reasons and are reaping the benefit of enhanced functions of their body parts. ‘The Silicon Mind’ is a trailblazer and welcome book by Manikarnika Lagu. We need more and more books in this category. Suitably adapted, ‘The Silicon Mind’ has the potential of being turned into a Bollywood movie.


Tuesday, August 12, 2014



The author, Vivian Fernandes, is a well-known journalist who has been in the field for about three decades. As a keen observer of economic policy and governance in the country and a frequent visitor to Gujerat during the last six years, he is eminently qualified to write a book on our new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As the title of the book rightly suggests, he focuses on the three important pillars of Modi’s attributes- leadership, governance and performance.

Each of the ten chapters of the book has an interesting title. The kick-off starts with the fascinating victory of BJP in the recent national elections and achievement of a majority on its own at the Centre. The author calls it as a Modi tsunami arising out of his own charismatic personality, strategy and tactics, and a raising of levels of hopes and aspirations of people cutting across all differences of caste, creed or religion. It is a great opportunity that Modi has in his hands. To create a society on the basis of citizenship and not on identity and to re-engineer the BJP as a liberal and right of centre party. With a meticulously and painstakingly planned campaign and outstanding branding of Modi ( Abki baar, Modi Sarkaar), the juggernaut could just not be stopped by a weak and disintegrating opposition. The naysayers were many and very eminent people too. They questioned Modi’s emphasis on infrastructure over human development and threat to secularism.

The author is all praise for Modi for his performance as Chief Minister of Gujerat. He had a long and uninterrupted run which enabled him to keep in touch with the common people and ensure that his administration is rooted to ground realities. He made development a mass movement and not the privilege of a few intellectuals or politicians in power. The author explains how Modi dovetailed his government’s leadership with people involvement. He emphasized on ‘minimum government and maximum governance.’ Modi’s RSS background gave him the necessary organizational skills, and with his remarkable oratory he was able to capture the imagination of the audience wherever he went and convince them that “acche din aayenge.” Agricultural growth in Gujerat is an eye-catcher -8% average farm growth against a national average of 3.1%. The Krishi Mahotsav programme saw a rejuvenation of sorts in agricultural production and productivity and the author refers to it as a ‘celebration in agricultural outreach.’ Before the arrival of the monsoon about 100,000 officials from eighteen departments visit farmers in their villages to help them with testing of the soil and advise them on use of nutrients, hybrid seeds and crops for profitable cultivation.

With a cohesive administration and Modi leading from the front, minimum corruption, and use of technology, not only has Gujerat done well in economic sectors but in social sectors as well. Education levels have improved though healthcare is still lagging. The industrial sector too has made great strides in the last decade. With Modi pushing investors and entrepreneurs all the way, there has been a paradigm shift in the way the industrial segment operates. With six biennial Vibrant Gujerat investment summits held so far, Gujerat is considered the most industry-friendly state in the country. The share of manufacturing in Gujerat’s economy is 24% compared to all-India average of 16%.

Modi has reset tribal lives, says the author. Through high-yielding agriculture, dairy farming and skill development, tribal upliftment has been phenomenal. He does not believe in doles. “Give me power so that I can empower you” is his mantra. In his model, tribal farmers are not wedded to any crop. They are wedded to profit. Van Bandhu Kalyan Yojana resulted in income enhancement, employable skills for the tribals and a jumpover from low yielding varieties to smart hybrids.

The author points out similarities in implementation of programmes by Modi with the Chinese and calls it the Chinese style. Modi wants Gujerat to be the industrial locomotive and the hub of industrial activity. He is likely to achieve that status for Gujerat. Gujerat was referred to by the ‘Economist’ as India’s Guangdong. It has a strong infrastructure with a dense network of good roads, huge industrial estates, 25% of its 41 ports navigable during all seasons, a 2800 km long gas grid and it is self sufficient in power. Modi strongly believes in infrastructure development for economic growth.

The author is unbiased in his assessment of Modi. He lauds his achievements. At the same time, the black marks of the Gujerat riots, his intolerance for dissent, his dictatorial ways of working, his exclusion of certain communities in his growth vision, his strong Hindutva beliefs shown during his Chief Ministership are some worrying factors which are highlighted. Will he now transform himself to a real national leader and statesman and rise above discrimination and high-handedness and make the entire development process all-inclusive in actions rather in sloganeering is something that has to be seen over time.

Vivian Fernandes expects Narendra Modi to bring method into governance of the nation, keep his administration rooted to the ground and motivated and hold his ministers accountable, going by his past performance in Gujarat. Modi is a compulsive campaigner. Modi will like to make Indian society like the Chinese society- mobilized and not argumentative. Modi wants development to be a movement, like our freedom struggle; it must be inclusive and all must wholeheartedly be involved in it. If people have a sense of ownership, the outcome has to be spectacular. In Gujarat, Modi conducted a series of campaigns: Nirmal (sanitary) Gujarat, Nirogi (healthy) Balak (child), Kanya Kelavani (girl's education), Shala Praveshotsav (school enrolment festival), Beti Bachao (save the girl child) and so on. They were all successful in varying degrees.

In conclusion, Vivian Fernandes lists a few priorities for the Prime Minister:
Restructuring of the Railways, denationalizing the coal industry and breaking-up of Coal India, ensuring that electricity flows into all villages which have electricity connection, implementation of Goods and Services Tax, introducing labour reforms and raising the level of FDI in the defence equipment manufacturing sector thereby encouraging international defence equipment manufacturers to invest in India.

The book has a foreword by Raghav Bahl , founder and ex-editor of network 18 who has known Vivian Fernandes for about two decades. He admires his ability to go into details, to make enquiries and to fortify his arguments with facts and figures. The book is objective and non-judgemental. It praises Modi where it is due and does not overlook his weaknesses. Packed with innumerable examples of Modi’s out of the box thinking and his unique and homemade model of governance, the book is bound to appeal to those readers who want to see him as he truly is. Neither overblown for his achievements nor derided for some of his shortcomings.