“Without Fear” – life & trial of Bhagat Singh

I had no idea who Bhagat Singh was, except for the mentions in the popular press. This didn’t amount to much, and I pictured him as a young man, full of fevour and zeal, who tried to prove he was a patriot, and ended up killing a British man to prove that.

How wrong I was.

I am glad I picked up Kuldip Nayar’s “Without Fear” – a book about Bhagat Singh, and his life, and the trial that convicted him. The book is well written, and captures the essence of Bhagat Singh and his views.
I was pleasantly surprised by the clarity of thought, purpose, and articulation in Bhagat Singh’s writings.
He turned out to be a well-read young man (he was 25 when he was hanged) with an unwavering objective – initiate a revolution, rid the British from India, and make India a socialist country – and a deeper understanding of what it means to be a socialist, and an atheist.

Bhagat Singh’s concern for people, as individuals, and his expressed love for his family – especially his last letter to his brother – brings his humanity, and big-heartedness to the fore.
His conflicts – of ideas, methods, and philosophy – with that of Gandhi, as detailed in their writings about, and to, each other, were an eye-opener too.
I intend to read a bit more of his writings, and the books that he recommends (Books by / about Marx, Lenin, Trotsky), to understand the ideas of this man, and his humanity better.

The Elephant Whisperer

During a busy work day, I got an email to a news item titled “Wild Elephants gather inexplicably, mourn death of Elephant Whisperer”. I instantly clicked on it, and read the article, and then read it a few more times. I was left dumbfounded by what was described there. A herd of wild elephants, which had been rescued and rehabilitated with a lot of care, had trooped to their caretaker’s, Lawrence Anthony’s, house the day he passed away. They just hung around there for a couple of days, and then melted back into the bush. Continue reading “The Elephant Whisperer”

1857: The Real Story of the Great Uprising

I recently read Mrinal Pande’s English translation of Vishnu Bhatt Godshe Versaikar’s “Majha Pravas“. It’s called “1857: The Real Story of the Great Uprising“.

I couldn’t put this book down. The translation was good – I felt I was reading Vishnu Bhatt’s experiences as he had written them down, and not be slowed by the translation. The book is about his experiences while traveling in central India, and the events that he got caught up in.

The lucidly written details of the various people, their personalities and qualities, battles between the British army, and the various Indian princely states, the suffering of the people as a result of such battles – the looting, massacres, and pillaging, by both the warring sides – gave me a rich perspective of that time.

Some of he details which I ended up mulling about, or stayed with me, after reading the book were:

  • The parts where he talks about the Ganga – sparkling clean waters, the intense emotions that he felt on sighting the river for the first time, and the associated spirituality.
  • The preparations for war, by the Hindu kings, always included elaborate rituals and offerings to various deities, and Brahmins. Reasons for a defeat, and subsequent pillaging and destruction were attributed to Fate, or a displeased deity.
  • The war machine of the local rulers seemed to lack the discipline, single-minded purpose, and industriousness of the British war machine.
  • A major reason for Brahmins to travel or migrate was the lure of making some money; at some location or the other there was a ruler or rich person who wanted to perform a significant “yagna”, or rituals related to death, or to commemorate a milestone in life.

This book reminded me of the unadorned details from the first hand account of the Peloponnesian War

Etruscan Places – D H Lawrence

The first book of Lawrence‘s that I read was “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” . His style of writing and expression made an impression on me; he has a certain earthiness, an empathy for all things natural, and a disdain for morals.
The second book was “Etruscan Places”  – his travelogue through the places associated with the Etruscan civilization, in Italy. There is a passage in the book where he emphasizes that death and life are continuations of one another, and that constructing palaces, or as he calls it “phallic symbols” on the face of the earth, are of no consequence when compared to the blade of grass and the life that it sustains. This is when he compares the qualities of the Etruscan civilization and their celebration of life and death, with the rather material and ambitious focus of the Romans who succeeded them. I was constantly thinking of Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass“, when I read through this book.