The Spy Chronicles. RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace

Authors: A.S. Dulat, Asad Durrani, Aditya Sinha

Category: Non-fiction, history, politics

SpyChronicles-min

When I first heard about the Spy Chronicles, my first reaction was, “That’s not possible! A book like this couldn’t possibly exist.” The idea that two ex-chiefs of the RAW and the ISI had gotten together and co-authored a book about the relationship between India and Pakistan seemed impossible. For people who don’t know about the rivalry between these two agencies, it is somewhat comparable to a book being written by a collaboration between the CIA and the KGB during the Cold War.

As it turns out, not only does the book exist but it’s also pretty informative. The fact that Aditya Sinha managed to get ex-heads from both agencies is what sets this book apart. Sometimes, in a conflict, it is necessary to look at the issue from both viewpoints, and the Spy Chronicles does exactly this. The entire book is divided into chapters, where each chapter is in the form of a dialogue between these two men.

If you’re someone like me, you’ll probably be disappointed in the beginning. Nowhere in the book have either of the spymasters revealed any confidential or classified information. But then again, why would they? The book covers a vast range of topics from the beginning of the Kashmir problem to recent events like the surgical strikes. Both the men put forward their views and try to be as frank as possible. Well, as frank as you could expect two spymasters to be. They provide an insider’s view on a lot of issues, and this makes for a pretty interesting read.

The India-Pakistan relationship has undergone numerous ups and downs in recent years. It was refreshing to see two cold analysists, sitting together, speaking about the dynamic based on pure facts. At certain points in the book, a noticeable feature was that whenever a topic came up which could cause embarrassment to one side, that person became extremely diplomatic. For example, when Asad Durrani was asked about the terrorist Hafiz Saeed and why the Pakistani government wasn’t taking action against him, he retreated behind a number of rhetorical questions and tried to sidestep the topic. A.S. Dulat didn’t press the issue. Both the men talked about “choreographed responses”, agreed that the enmity between the countries was promoted by their respective media and that politicians on both sides thrived on this animosity.

The last few chapters of the book were dedicated to an idea of “Akhand Bharat” or undivided India, comprising of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Both of the men presented ideas on how to bring this about, the potential problems and how it would benefit both sides ultimately. Frankly, I found this idea to be excessively optimistic. Both the viewpoints were based on the idea that if one side did the other a favor as a sign of goodwill, it would be reciprocated. However, this is highly improbable.

The book is fairly interesting to read. However, people who don’t know about the politics and history of the two countries will have a tough time keeping up. I’d give this book a 3.8/5 because the book does get a bit dull at certain points. Overall, it’s a pretty decent book and I’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in world politics.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Category: Non-fiction, Autobiography

Mandela

From the son of a Thembu tribe chief to the first democratically elected black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s story is one of extreme hardship and struggle. Before I begin, I would like to emphasize the fact that Nelson Mandela was a great man. He was one of the pioneers of the freedom struggle in South Africa and continues to be a symbol of social justice around the world. The review I’ve written here is about the BOOK, not on Nelson Mandela as a person.
I confess, when I read the book I was a little disappointed. I personally felt that the narrative style wasn’t that great. In many instances, it seemed as if there were too many new characters being introduced at the same time, and the pace at which events moved was a bit slow. This made for a bit of dull and confused reading in the beginning and the book picks up pace only after a few chapters.
However, the book was also extremely informative for me. Apart from learning a lot about South African culture, I learned quite a bit about the mindset of the South African people who lived at that time. Their views on the white man, their initial indifference towards apartheid and how in the beginning everyone focused on the benefits of colonialism instead of renouncing it. As an Indian, I was surprised at how similar the South African liberation struggle was to the Indian struggle for freedom. Nelson Mandela’s defiance campaign had an uncanny resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi’s Non-cooperation movement. The Sharpeville massacre, where unarmed, peacefully protesting South Africans were shot at was similar to the infamous Jallianwala Bagh incident.

The book is truly exciting to read once the pace picks up. Nelson Mandela’s peaceful ways of protest and his subsequent transformation into an “enemy of the state” during the freedom struggle make for a very interesting read. He would peacefully board trains meant only for whites to protest against apartheid and then would promptly be sent to jail. After the Sharpeville massacre, he caused social unrest in the masses and was declared a terrorist by the government. In the events following his arrest, he describes the appalling conditions of his jail, the cruelty of the guards and the grueling labor. The book is too large for me to have a “favorite part”, but there was one passage which had a pretty profound impact on me as a reader. Nelson Mandela describes his first day of school when his father decided that his son should be dressed properly. He proceeded to cut his only pair of formal trousers at the knees and using a piece of rope as a makeshift-belt, gave it to his son. I learned that when we think about heroes, we often forget that they too had a childhood. They also experienced the little things which we experience every day. Reading about these little things makes us feel closer to these legends, and we can relate better to them.

Overall, this book is quite enlightening, and one of the few autobiographies I’ve managed to finish. The tale of his patience, perseverance, and generosity will inspire any reader to reach new heights. I’d restrict this book to a 4/5, mainly because of the sheer length of the book. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in Nelson Mandela’s life and the history of South Africa. However, make sure you have the necessary patience before you start to read it.

 

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

By Randall Munroe

Category: Non-fiction, ScienceImageHandler

What would happen if I assembled a periodic table with bricks and each brick was made of the corresponding element? From what height do I need to drop a steak for it to be cooked by the time it reaches the ground? If everyone on Earth disappeared, how long would it be before the last man-made light source went out?

If you’re a person like me, who’s intrigued by science you probably found the above questions to be interesting, albeit slightly strange. That was my reaction when I started reading this book. However, once I had begun reading, I was hooked. The questions given in this book have all been submitted by the author’s fans and are all purely hypothetical. Most of these questions sound silly when you read them for the first time and you think “Why would something like that even happen?”

However, the most impressive aspect of the book is that Randall Munroe manages to give a smart, concise and scientific answer to all of them and that’s what makes this book so interesting. He includes cartoons and funny little footnotes alongside his answers to provide comic relief and to make sure that the reading doesn’t become too monotonous. Another remarkable feature of this book is that the answers do not get too technical. Anyone familiar with simple high school science will be able to understand this book.

The book also contains a section wherein the author reveals some worrisome questions he has received in his inbox. Each time, he makes fun of the sender and includes a cartoon below the question.

The book doesn’t seem to have any sort of organization whatsoever. The questions covered come from a wide variety of topics and there doesn’t seem to be any specific pattern in how they are arranged. Randall Munroe’s style in the book is quite informal, as though he was talking to a friend instead of writing a book on science. The language is simple, clear and easily understandable which I found surprising, given that Munroe used to work at NASA and you’d expect someone like him to use really big and complicated words.

In conclusion, I think this is one of the better books I’ve read on hypothetical science. Proper scientific explanations have been given in all places, and there wasn’t a moment when I felt bored while reading it. I’d give it an easy 4.5/5 and would definitely recommend it to anyone who has an interest in science.

Let’s get started

Hi everyone, I’m Kshitij. I am extremely new to the art of blogging so I hope you’ll excuse any little mistakes I make in the beginning.

Like I’ve mentioned in the description, this blog is primarily going to focus on reviewing books which I read over time. It’s also going to contain certain thoughts and opinions which I have as I “travel through life”. Sounds cheesy, right? I suppose all of us have a little of that within us.

I’ll try to be as regular as possible, reviewing two books a month if I can. Shouldn’t be too hard. I could do more, but I’m a college student right now so I’m not sure if I’ll find the time. I’ll do my best though! 🙂