Nidhi MathurThe Vicks Mango Tree, Anees Salim, HarperCollins Publishers, Pp 381, Rs 399.00
This story is set against the backdrop of a small fictional village named Mangobaag, which is limping back to normalcy after 21 months of declaration of a state of Emergency in the country.
A Vicks mango tree stands near the end of the alley, a foot head taller than the tenement block where Teacher Bhatt lives on the third floor as a retired teacher and so does Raj Iyer, a young journalist. Teacher Bhatt has written a manuscript titled, The Autobiography of an English Teacher which he is keen to publish. When he runs into Raj Iyer, he asks him, “What’s news Raj?” Raj replies, “Not good news, if you are a great fan of Indira Gandhi. JP is going to be the next man in power.” Teacher Bhatt gets worried at her plight and expresses his concern as to what would happen to her. Raj tells him that she will have to step down, considering the rallies that are being held in every part of the country.
One day while talking to each other, Raj enters Teacher Bhatt’s house and his eyes fall on the photograph of the latter’s wife in the living room, right in front of the front door. He is reminded of his adolescent days when he had a serious crush on her.
In the same building, but on the other side, lives Aladin with his wife Rabia and two sons, who keep visiting Teacher Bhatt’s house to pluck mangoes from the Vicks mango tree. Rabia loves making pickles, marmalade, and chutneys out of the mangoes. She spends her time cooking and listening to the radio on which she loves a particular programme that is hosted by Sweet Didi. Rabia loves the programme so much that she harbours the desire to meet her Sweet Didi one fine day.
Rabia is unhappy that her mother does not keep in touch with her except to visit her once or twice a year because she believes that after marriage, the daughter’s place is in her in-law’s home. Rabia is educated quite unlike her mother and once when she hears Aladin curse Indira Gandhi for imposing the state of Emergency in the country, she sympathises with her. “She had her reasons – good, valid reasons. She understood what it must have taken to raise two children – that too, two boys – without a husband. She gave full marks to Indira Gandhi. She knew the hardship of bringing up two boys Farook and Haroon without Aladin being of any help.”
One day journalist Raj’s father sends him a letter from Calcutta, telling his son to be careful of Indira Gandhi, who was silencing her critics. As it happens, Raj had written an article, criticising Indira Gandhi. This letter has been handed to Rabia’s flat as it was in the same building as Raj’s. Rabia, unable to curb her curiosity, opens the letter and reads it and knowing that she has already opened it, instead of delivering it to Raj’s home, hides it.
One day while Raj is away, the police swoop down on his flat as they have come to arrest him. When Raj returns and is on the way to his flat, Aladin stops him midway to warn him and advises him to go back to Calcutta as he would be taken away for having written a derogatory article on Indira Gandhi. “It was an obituary note in fact. A disguised one.” Immediately Aladin rushes to the back of the building while Raj goes and hugs the Vicks mango tree to which he has got attached. Aladin emerges on his scooter and instructing Raj to climb behind him, he drives him to the railway station.
The police take turns to await Raj’s return. One day Raj’s father, Sunder Iyer arrives all of a sudden to meet his son but when he is told by Aladin that he had dropped his son at the railway station to make him leave for Calcutta, alarm bells rings in the father’s mind. He, however, decides to stay on and await his son’s return though with faint hope.
Some years later in a corner of the municipal park emerges a bronze statue of Raj. No one knows why he has become famous as to have a statue carved of himself, though rumours are afloat that a book is being written on him, hailing him as a hero of Mangobaag.
Teacher Bhatt goes to the window and notices the absence of the Vicks mango tree which has been felled a day before.
(HarperCollins Publishers, A-53 Sector 57, Noida, UP-201301)
Black Bread White Beer, Niven Govinden, Fourth Estate, Pp 185, Rs 350.00
In this fictional work, the story begins with the protagonist Amal seated in a park upon a bench, partly hidden by trees. He is watching a dinghy float by with two men squatting in it, while he is deeply immersed in his thoughts.
He goes to a car park where two Polish guys offer valet service. Though overpriced, they do spotless work. He gets his car polished from one of them, though he remembers his wife Claud would ask him in perpetuity if she ever got wind of his spending spree by joking, “What has happened to my tightwad husband?”
The Pole, while polishing the car, advises Amal to replace his Mini Cooper with a BMW because “it will impress people when you drive to your important meetings.” Amal informs him that the Mini Cooper is his wife Claud’s car in which he has to rush to the hospital, where she is recovering from a miscarriage at 21 days. After that he goes and gets stinking drunk.
Amal’s friend Hari calls to enquire about Claude. Hari has been responsible for bringing Amal and Claud together in the first place. It is he who helped to wean him off those shady night club girls he fruitlessly chased for most of twenties. Amal is forced to admit to himself that Claud was “cleverer, who was on a faster career path and earned more.”
By now Amal is no longer moonstruck as he watches Claud waiting for him, her body’s bagginess giving “her a wizened quality, the double knot tied at the waist making her appear swaddled. Bleached out by sunlight, she is so pale as if to emphasise her blood loss, though the bed curls and the detailed embroidery across the coat breast give her a gothic quality; a vampire in urgent need of food.” He knows she is grieving for something which was not yet a baby and just a cluster of cells, a mere six weeks of growth but which is responsible for an unseen, immeasurable emptiness in her.
One day while out shopping, Claud sees two tartan car blankets available for 25 pound sterling and wants to purchase them. Amal tries to dissuade her from buying them by saying, “Since when have you been into tartan?” Her stinging reply, “It’s not a question of being into. Tartan’s something everyone’s brought up with in Britain,” reminds him of his many perceived inadequacies, including that of being a brown son-in-law in a white gamily and which sits like a redwood tree upon his shoulder. Here the author hastens to add that this is a phenomenon not simply restricted to skin tone. Amal’s other friends, “white skinned and robbed of voice, are also in the same boat: pussy-whipped. Life is good so long as the missus is happy.”
Amal and Claud once had a fight over religion when she told him that his parents wanted their baby to be raised as a Hindu. He told her, “Didn’t you hear them? One God, any God.” But she had shot back, “Read between the lines, Amal. Are you really that stupid? This is about you becoming a Christian. It’s their way of getting back at me.”
It is Hari who points out to Amal that he is a weak, whiny little man, “You are spineless and unable to stand up to your wife.”
In this novel, Amal is caught between his own desires and those of his wife Claud and his in-laws, between whom there is an understated tension at his being an Indian. One day, Amal is forced to visit a village fair in Sussex but he is unable to deal with the festivities based on a pagan fertility ritual. He takes refuge in a church to meditate on life, his parents in India and Catholicism (he had become a Christian to marry Claud). He finds that when Claud gets drunk, she becomes loose limbed and uninhibited and he also discovers that he is able to assert himself when he has had one too many. Finally they both have a reason to look forward to a future together.
(Fourth Estate, HarperCollins Publishers, A-53 Sector 57, Noida, UP-201301).
Knowledge Management, Sanjay Mohapatra, Macmillan Publishers India Ltd, Pp 259, Rs 234.00
Meant for educators, this book provides a practical approach to designing and implementation of knowledge management, which is today used as a strategic tool in business organisations.
Knowledge management (KM) is defined as a process in oriented approach to identify, capture, store, disseminate and then apply knowledge throughout the organisation, so that the business transactions can be finished faster while being able to reduce the cost of production and also by reducing re-work. Another definition says that KM provides solutions that will successfully help in taking decisions for business purposes by using knowledge. Here KM solutions are also known as intellectual capital management solutions (ICM) and are of business value to the organisation. The book covers basic KM concepts, components of KM and the steps that are required for designing KM strategy.
It is of importance to identify the knowledge that is of value to that business and which is at risk of being lost to the organisation. This loss can be of employee turnover, retirement or competitors using ethical means to study the knowledge. The best way to retain valuable knowledge is to identify knowledge at individual level and then ensure that it can be retrieved and reused easily. This knowledge needs to flow among individuals in the form of best practices, lessons learned, intellectual capital and organisation memory. Thus the author says that there are four different phases in knowledge management – gathering, organising, generalising and reusing them.
Knowledge is always generated in tacit form at individual level and then it is practiced and accepted at group-level community of practice (CoP). Once the community of practice accepts the knowledge, the same is converted into explicit form by recoding in formal media such as multimedia, audio tapes, documents, etc. During conversion, knowledge is categorised, coded and metadata are created after conversion of tacit knowledge to explicit form as it is easy to share with the entire organisation and then reapply it elsewhere to get business benefits.
Overtly KM seems to be exploitation of knowledge and information within an organisation. However, in a deeper sense, it is a way of building the foundation for improved business advantages and strengthens the capabilities of sustained culture. The more KM is embedded in an organisation’s culture, practices, and processes, the more successful it ought to be. This apart, the real asset of an organisation are its employees and here KM is more about leveraging people and knowledge and fostering culture, interactions and sharing of knowledge and ideas.
(Macmillan Publishers India Ltd, B-41, Sector 4, Noida-201 301; www.macmillanpublishersindia.com)
By MV Kamath
Sri Ramakrishna: Love That Knows No Limits, M. Sivaramkrishna, Indus Source Books, Mumbai, Pp 281, Rs 275
If there is one country in the entire world that can incontrovertibly be said to be a land of saints, surely it is India that is Bharat. They come in many shapes and forms. Think of Nivratti, Namdeo, Sopana, Muktabai, Eknath, Tukaram, or Meera who sang her way through life, devoting it to the one and only Krishna: mera to giridhara gopala dusar na koi.
Then we had a Ramana Maharshi who even mesmerised Somerset Maugham. Still later we have had Sai Baba of Shirdi and Satya Sai Baba. But towards the end of the 19th century passed one of the most remarkable saints of our times, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. There was never one like him in the past and it is unlikely there ever will be one like him in the future.
Born on February 18, 1836, he passed away on July 16, 1886 when he was hardly fifty. But in those fifty years he made history. If there was no Sri Ramakrishna, there would have been no Swami Vivekananda and if there was no Vivekananda, would there have been a Ramakrishna Mission? Both Ramakrishna’s parents had learnt that the second child they were going to have would have a divine origin. Named Gadhadhar, he grew up in a village and from his very childhood he showed a uniqueness that puzzled everyone around. Gadhadhar was averse to formal education. What the author called “the orality of religious discourses” suited his temperament.
Significantly when Gadhadhar (known by his nickname Gadai) spoke, even at an early age, he had the “marvellous gift of making his listeners hooked to his words”. The author traces the life and life-style of Gadai – and what an infinitely fascinating tale it is! – from his childhood through teen-age and on to adulthood providing amazing insights into the way he turned into “spiritualism”. He could act, sing and react to Nature with total abandon. It is difficult to believe but we learn that Gadai even experienced samadhi when he was barely eleven years old! Walking through a paddy field, Nature stunned him and he was overwhelmed. The experience of ecstatic absorption came naturally to him.
The truth is: Gadai was more than what he appeared to be, one who could overwhelm anyone with his irresistible love and indefineable charisma. Fate led him from his village Kamarpukur to Dakshineshwar where Gadai as priest got dedicated to Bhavatarini. In time Gadai became Ramakrishna and Ramakrishna turned to sadhana and to an intense longing for God. He would get into a situation where everything physical around him vanished from sight and in their stead got immersed into a “limitless, infinite, effluent ocean of consciousness of Spirit”. When he recovered he could only utter one word: Mother, Mother!
It is claimed that for Ramakrishna the first intoxicating, ecstatic vision came to him when he was barely 20 years old. Later, he took to practice tantra and to the surprise of his friends “practiced it and perfected the art of converting the very snakes of sex and its fulfillment into the ladders of tremendous energy”. This disdain towards sex bothered one of his seniors who thought that Ramakrishna was not ‘normal’ and needed to be restored to “normalcy”. Towards that end he was taken to a prostitutes’ home in the hope he would give up his celibacy. But the prostitutes themselves were in for a shock. They could feel the radiance emitting from his childlike face and could only fall at his feet. His elders, in turn got him married when he was 23 and the girl chosen hardly 5 years old! When the time came for her to join him in holy matrimony, Ramakrishna sought to train her, remaining attached to her as a husband but, as her guru detached from the slighted vestige of carnal desire. In due course his wife was to become Sarada Devi, Holy Mother.
Ramakrishna himself had his guru Totapuri who advised him to take to sanyas, give up the traditional insignia of a Brahmin like the sacred thread and the tuft. In due course - and to the surprise to many – Ramakrishna in an intense desire – the author describes it as “raveous appetite” – to experience the essence of all religions and got involved in the study of Christianity and Islam and even had a mystical experience with Jesus – but ultimately returned to his own world of mystic re-union with God.
Those were the times when the Brahmo Samaj was active and Ramakrishna was greatly interested in its activities. Not that he was bothered with social reform. For example he was curious to meet Devendranath Tagore because he was told that Tagore “meditated on God”. Ramakrishna also met Keshab Chandra Sen and even Bankimn Chandra Chatterji. There is a story about Bankim who once watched Ramakrishna getting absorbed in a samadhi. He was listening to a Brahmo Samajist singing when he became completely absorbed. Bankim watched him attentively. He had never seen anyone in such an instant state of unconsciousness. When Ramakrishna regained consciousness he began to dance in an ecstatic mood. For Bankim it was a never-to be-forgotten experience. There was a perceptible change in the anglicised leader. But the one who got thoroughly mesmerised was Narendra Dutta later to be known as Swami Vivekananda.
How Narendra came to know of Ramakrishna is a story in itself. Nobody could have been more different than Ramakrishna than Narendra whose youth has been graphically described by a contemporary. Narendra, it seems, was gifted, sociable, free and unconventional, a good singer, a brilliant conversationalist, somewhat bitter and caustic, sitting in the scorner’s chair “but biding the tenderest hearts under the garb of cynicism”. That such a man should be so totally captivated with Ramakrishna makes one wonder whether it was more an act of God than a matter of personal acquiescence. Sivaramkrishna, the author has done full justice to the Paramahansa. His stature is global and has captured the imagination of even western thinkers, psychologists, sociologists and mythologists – and no wonder.
In a way Ramakrishna symbolises the ultimate in Hindu spiritual practice. That Indus Source Books has brought this study in the 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda makes it especially attractive. Was Sri Ramakrishna an incarnation of God? This book provides an answer. Or, perhaps, Narendra Dutta who became Swami Vivekananda, does.
(Indus Source Books, 6A, Suvas, 68, L Jagmohandas Marg Mumbai-400006, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.indussource.com)
Manju Gupta\From the Bench to the Bar, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, Universal Law Publishing Co., Pp 265, Rs 395
This is an autobiography-cum-biography of Justice Krishna Iyer – autobiography because in some chapters he talks about himself in the first person, and in others, his friends, fellow lawyers or judges voice their views on him. As we all already know, he served as a Supreme Court judge, earning fame and recognition for his fair judgements, for his way of penning down the verdicts and for his mastery over the English language. It is no wonder that he has written different books on every aspect of law and beyond, displaying his deep knowledge of the subject and his dynamic and enlightened views on law and contemporary jurisprudence for use by the present and future judicial system.
Justice Iyer was born on 15th November 1915 in north Kerala and educated in Annamalai and Madras universities before beginning his life as a lawyer at Tellichery, an old town in East India Company days and known for export of spices. Called to the Bar way back in 1938, he says, “I sprang to lawyerly life with great élan and lucrative practice as a junior in the chambers of my father V.V. Rama Iyer, a leading member of the Tellichey Bar. Young in age, but with propitious opportunities to cross swords with vintage wonders of the Malabar Bar and beyond, it fell to me to spend my vernal years in versatile professional life.”
Justice Iyer got married in 1945 to Sarada with whom he “had a happy span of conjugal, intellectual, aesthetic, ideological, philosophical, spiritual and pubic-spirited community of interests and a hundred other common bonds.” He was so happy with her that he adds, “Rarest of rare is the marvel of matrimony when two souls, in all their finer facets, fuse into one and face the changes and challenges of the world with dynamism too deep to be ruptured and a cultural harmony that beats the sweetest symphony.” He pays glowing tributes to his wife Sarada with whom he built two lovely houses with “aesthetic attention.”
He started practicing law and defending peasants and workers against the exploitation by feudal lords who had full support of the colonial regime. In 1956, he was elected initially to Madras Legislative Assembly and later, after reorganisation of states, to the Kerala Assembly, where he was chosen as minister in charge of important portfolios, like Home, Law, Social Welfare, etc. He was appointed judge of the Kerala High Court in July 1968 and his speech on the occasion of assuming office was, “When my metamorphosis from lawyer to judge or its probability became known, many of my friends and well-wishers were puzzled and some were even scandalised. I was asked why did you? Did you really? I did not give any clear reply. The truth was that the Hamletial dilemma of to-be-or-not-be affected me too when I gave hesitant consent. Life is a rugged journey with its sharp and strange turns; it is an odd adventure where the exciting forenoons are followed by the mellow afternoons.”
He had excellent command over both English and Malayalam, “but there was no conceit. Whatever he had to say he would say euphonically, beautifully and emphatically. He pleaded, he urged, he demanded and he warned, using his huge vocabulary as a sabre.”
Justice Iyer, in a glowing tribute to Motilal Setalvad, Attorney General, says, “Lawyers beware. Today is bad enough. Tomorrow may be too late. Let us create a legal profession for the people as a tribute to Motilal Setalvad, who was a warm human being with a happy family life, a clean career and sensitive span and a long tenure untarnished by temptations to which many in commanding positions succumb.” He is no less in his praise of Justice MC Chagla and Justice PN Bhagwati.
Two years after becoming judge of the Kerala High Court, he became a member of the Law Commission of India. In 1973, the Supreme Court of India beckoned him where he played an important role in an era of judicial activism, public intent litigation, affirmative action though courts and a wide-ranging exercise of judicial review for which the Indian judiciary is hailed throughout the world today. Though his tenure in the apex court was relatively short, he managed to make a lasting impression on the public.
The annexure to the book carries correspondence exchanged by Justice Iyer with many eminent personalities including the then Prime Minister and others. His view on the Ram Janmabhoomi site was that the site should be excavated and if a Hindu shrine is found beneath it, then the Muslim community should willingly agree to the removal of the mosque and handing over the site to the appropriate authority in the Hindu community. “In case the finding is against the existence of a temple, consequential orders regarding possession and removal of the idols must be passed.”
When his wife passed away and he was left alone, he said, “Now that I am alone, alone among six billion humans on earth, the past slowly ebbs away and I conclude with Lord Byron, ‘What is the worst of woes that wait an age? What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow? To view each loved one blotted from life’s page, and be alone on earth, as I am now’.”
(Universal Law Publishing Co Pvt Ltd, C-Ff-1A Dilkhush Industrial Estate, Delhi-110033; www.unilawbooks.com)